“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Jesus (Matthew 12:40)

“I am cast out of thy sight.” – Jonah (Jonah 2:4a)


The Belly Was Hell For Jonah

The Belly Was Hell For Jonah

There is no polite way to describe Jonah’s stay in the belly of a fish. It was seventy-two hours of sheer, non-stop agony for the imprisoned prophet. At least that is the way he tells it. He was in the deep, tumbling on the ocean floor, surrounded by utter darkness while gastric acids sizzled into his raw flesh. It was only a few days but Jonah felt like a prisoner bound for eternity in solitary confinement. “The earth with her bars was about me forever,” he notes in his story. (See Jonah 2:6) Make no mistake – it was hell for the guy. And this is what hell will be like for all who go there. Hell is a very dark place. There is no light at all. It is forever. And it gets very lonely. Some say they don’t care about going to hell. “All my friends will be there,” they laugh. Wake up knucklehead, you will never see them! You will never see the light of day! Like Jonah, you will be alone, lost in darkness for all eternity!

I know it’s not pleasant to dwell on hell but, as stated before, it’s important to realize what Jesus delivers us from. And quite honestly, I have spared you up to now. It’s true. We have yet to even discuss the worst part of it. Though Jonah was in the deep, in the darkness, with his flesh on fire, there was something he found even more excruciating. The most disturbing commentary of his confinement was, “I am cast out of thy sight.” This is the nastiest part of Hell – those who go there are totally separated from God. Why is this so terrible? You see, without God there is no hope, none! Even atheists (whether they admit it or not) hang on to the slight hope that there may be a God. You hear them say things like, “Well, if there is someone up there, he will see that I’m a pretty good person and based on that he will allow me into heaven.” In Hell there is no hope of that whatsoever. It is total darkness and total hopelessness. I believe this is the real cause of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Existence without God is absolute misery. It is the total absence of hope, light, joy, peace, fellowship and love. These are things the Father gives. Hell is separation from all that.

King David also feared the idea of being separated from God. After coming to terms with his sin of adultery he pleaded unto the Lord, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11) It appears David had already felt the distance in his own dark pit. Rebellion will do that to you. It severs our ties with God and gives us a little taste of hell. We see this in the Exodus account as well. After the Israelites bowed before the golden calf, God removed His presence from them. Moses tells us exactly how they felt: “When the people heard this harsh verdict, they were plunged into gloom and wore long faces. No one put on jewelry.” (Exodus 33:4)

Sometimes we literally need the hell scared right out of us. A brief separation from God seems to accomplish just that. That is why the Lord allows it. It’s a wake up call. And if we are teachable, we will cry out to the Father like Jonah or David did. This is why the church is instructed to put out the unrepentant sinner. In the case of the Corinthian church, they had a member who was committing adultery with his stepmother. This is how they were told to deal with the situation, “Deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5) This wayward lamb was to experience total separation from God and also the family of God. While we may consider this a harsh measure, that is what happened. And it worked! In the second letter to the Corinthians the church was instructed to receive this fallen brother back.[1] All it took was a tiny taste of hell to break him free of his shenanigans.

Separation from God truly is hell. I’m not suggesting there won’t be a fiery abyss, but I am convinced that the hottest flame will pale in comparison to the awful void of God’s presence. I believe this is what haunted Jesus most and why he sweated crimson bullets in Gethsemane. He never made a peep when he was whipped to a bloody pulp. He never uttered a sound when the stakes were slammed through His hands and feet. He went silently as a lamb to the slaughter, the Bible says.[2] But then there was that dreadful cry just before He gave up His spirit. He wailed from that vile tree, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was when the real pain set in. For the first time in eternity, Jesus experienced utter darkness and total separation from the Father. Why? He took your sin and my sin upon Himself. At that very moment, our iniquity created a chasm between the Father and the Son. The agony was more than Jesus could bear. The torment was far greater than the cross itself. This is what He came to save us from.

The interesting (and unfortunate) thing about Hell is that it will be filled with people who thought they deserved heaven. On the other hand, heaven will be filled with people who knew they deserved hell. That is the thing about heaven; it is reserved for those who are truly in touch with reality. And the reality is that no one goes to heaven because they deserve it. No one is good enough to go there. Heaven is a gift, a freebie. You can’t earn it; you just have to accept it. If you reject the gift, your goodness won’t score any points on that day of reckoning. God’s idea of goodness proves ours to be filthy rags.[3] If you can admit that, and admit that you need a Savior, you will stay clear of hell. Not only that, you will have found the stairway to heaven.

[1] 2 Corinthians 2:6-7

[2] Isaiah 53:7

[3] Isaiah 64:6

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