By David Dawson
JACKSON — The book “Heaven is For Real” was hugely popular several years ago, and was eventually used as the basis for a movie of the same name.
But what if the book had been about hell? Chances are, it wouldn’t have been so widely embraced.
David Leavell, outgoing president of the TBC and pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, spoke on the difficult — but urgent — topic of hell during his president’s address on Nov. 13 at the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.
Disputing the popular notion that hell is just a temporary punishment or simply a state of mind, Leavell said it was time for believers to start viewing hell for what it is.
“Jesus taught that hell is an actual destination,” said Leavell. “Jesus had more to say about hell than He did about heaven. So, if you believe in heaven, you have to believe in hell.”
Leavell said he is disappointed that so many preachers shy away from the subject of hell. Leavell said Christians are doing themselves — and others — a disservice by not discussing the subject.
“I would rather ring the bell of warning than to cajole people to sleep on the highway to hell,” Leavell said. “We need to raise our spiritual antennas; we don’t need to adopt wives’ tales or half-truths (about hell).”
Leavell referenced a job he had — as a garbage man — while he attended seminary. There were occasions, he said, when the bags of garbage would burst open “and we would see that juicy garbage. Maggots would literally pour out of the bags on to our legs and our shoes,” he said.
Leavell used this image to demonstrate the potential similarities between hell and Gehenna — the fiery garbage dump referred to by Jesus in the book of Luke.
“Hell could be described as God’s cosmic garbage dump,” said Leavell.
Leavell noted the Bible describes hell, again and again, as a place of torment — a raging fire, a bottomless pit, a place of weeping and screams for mercy.
“It’s a place where you don’t want your loved ones to go,” said Leavell. “I’ll take it one step further than that. If you understood the realities of hell, you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to go there.”
During the past year, while serving as TBC president, Leavell spearheaded the “John 3:16 Challenge” – an evangelism initiative that encourages believers to share their faith on a weekly basis.
Leavell said that hell should motivate believers to witness to their friends and neighbors.
“If we really believed in hell, it would change our lives forever,” he said. “If we truly believed in hell, it would change our priorities. It would change our desire for gospel conversations.”
On his final day as TBC president, Leavell said he enjoyed his role over the past year.
“Words cannot express the joy that Tennessee Baptists have given me the past 12 months,” Leavell said. “Representing you across the state has been a high privilege.” B&R