Heaven and hell (here and now)

Music has a way of speaking to and challenging me in ways that few other mediums do.

I have a deep appreciation for quality lyrics that not only worm their way into your ears but work their way deep into your soul. I appreciate songs that compel me to pause the progression of my playlist to repeat and process the concept or ideas that are being presented.

Certain songs just hit different. They go beyond mere entertainment to engagement by forcing me to reconsider and recalibrate the way I see the world and interact with those in it. Sometimes, the greatest inspirations and challenges to me as a follower of Jesus come from unexpected places.

One of the most challenging messages I ever heard was delivered through a Brad Paisley song entitled “A Man Don’t Have to Die.” I discovered the song while listening to music on a run. The first line of the song grabbed my attention.

Paisley sings, “Well he yelled out from the back row, ‘Look here preacher man.’” Being a preacher myself, it immediately caught my attention.

The man in the song goes on to explain to the preacher that they know that hell exists because they’ve experienced it here on Earth. The man laments the unceremonious dismissal from a long-held job, overwhelming financial struggles with little hope of relief, the crushing weight of loneliness and the unhealthy ways of trying to suppress it, the exploitation of others for momentary comfort and the desperation of broken relationships and personal failure.

As I listened to the song, I began to cry, slowly at first, then so uncontrollably that I had to stop running. The scenarios Paisley sang about weren’t abstract ideas of situations that might exist out there in the world somewhere. Each of the circumstances he described conjured in my mind images of actual flesh and blood men and women who I knew and loved and the struggles they faced each and every day.

It reminded me of the testimony of a friend of mine who served as a missionary in New Zealand. He had a conversation with a prostitute on the street in which she told him, “I have no doubt hell exists. I live there.”

The man in the song encourages the preacher to stop screaming about hell and turn his attention to extolling the merits of heaven. He sings, “So tell us ‘bout them angels and how they fly around and sing. Tell us how to get there ‘cause we all want to be resting in the arms of Jesus, no shame or pain or tears, there’s hell enough to go around down here.”

While I certainly agree with the man that a strong focus on the grace and compassion of Jesus is of first importance and would push back that attention should be paid to the existence of hell, simply preaching about the glories of eternal reward and the comforts of life everlasting fall woefully short of the full glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe one of the greatest failures of the church is our continued emphasis on hope for the hereafter to the exclusion of hope for the here and now.

In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” I believe this statement applies to the lives we live here on this Earth. It is true that eternal life in the glories of heaven is part of salvation, but full life is to be lived by the living.

Part of our job as Christians is to overcome hell, not by keeping people from going there after they die but to pull them out of the fires that burn them right now.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” The stains of sin will always be with us this side of Christ’s return, but our calling demands that we do something about what we can while we can, that we seek to bring about glimpses and tastes of heaven here on Earth right now.

With all my heart, I want to see men, women and children experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I want them to understand the reality of hell and the hope of heaven in the afterlife. But I also want to help them find hope and healing, restoration and redemption, forgiveness and faithfulness in this life.

We know hell exists because we’ve seen and experienced it here on Earth. As we preach the glorious gospel of the grace of Jesus and the heaven he has promised, we can provide evidence of its existence as we help people see and experience it, however dimly, here on Earth.

May our words and deeds provide evidence of the hope of the gospel as we seek his kingdom come through his will being done on Earth as it is in heaven.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].