Hell is certainly a terrible thing to envision, and for many Christians it is a difficult doctrine even to defend. Many believers resolve it at the end of the day by deciding we need someplace to put the Hitlers and the Stalins, and then deciding to not look too closely at it thereafter.
But God does not limit Himself to the sins that we consider high wickedness. In the list of the damned given at the end of Revelation, it is striking what He begins with.
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death”” (Rev. 21:8)
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).
The word rendered as cowardly by the ESV and fearful by the KJV is deilos. It refers to the timid, the skittish, the shy, the cowardly, the fearful. It is the word Jesus uses when He rebukes the disciples on His way to rebuking the winds and the waves (Matt. 8:26; Mk. 4:40).
Now Hell really is an awful prospect, and it will be an awful prospect for all who will be consigned there. Tammerlane will fear when he gets there, but he will not have been sent there for his fearing. But this text teaches us that some will be sent there on account of their fear. This is, therefore, writ large, a form of “if you are going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
To use our phrase for it, the last judgment is going to include the delivery of snowflakes to Hell. There are three lessons we can take away from this.
One is that we should see something of what God thinks of cowardice, and we can do this by noting the company He places it in (murdering, whoring, sorcery, etc.).
Cowardice is not a mere foible.
Cowardice is no bagatelle.
Second, the answer to cowardice therefore needs to be repentance, not outside reassurance.
Cowardice is a moral failing, and not a temperamental excuse that extricates us from any and every responsibility.
While pep talks are pastorally helpful in ministering to the downcast, there comes a point where something more must serve.
And last, as confessing Christians consider the nature of the conflicts approaching us, and the fact that we have been ill-accustomed to the prospect of risking anything serious for the sake of the truth, we must guard ourselves against the pressure to be cowards on the threshold of a very great battle.
But better that than on the threshold of the final word.