The mountain was 9,677 feet high, but at 8:32 a.m. on Sunday, May 18, 1980, the mountain exploded and lost 1,300 feet off the top and blasted ash 15 miles into the stratosphere. While visiting the site, I saw decaying trees strewn about like toothpicks and many other signs of the cataclysmic eruption, although 13 years had passed.
Geologists had warned of a coming eruption, so most people left the mountain — except Ole Harry, a lodge keeper at Spirit Lake who would not budge. He stayed put and kept feeding his 16 cats. Spirit Lake lay near the base of the mountain and was buried 100 feet deep, along with vegetation, animals — and Ole Harry.
Named Harry Truman (no relation to the president), the old man was warned repeatedly that his life was in danger. He answered, “Nobody knows more about this mountain than Ole Harry, and it don’t dare blow up on him!”
But it did, even though it had been 123 years since the last eruption. Like so many people we all know, Harry was complacent and had no plans of changing.
Ole Harry said, “I’m having a ---- of a time living my life alone. I’m king of all I survey. I got plenty of whiskey; I got food for 15 years, and I’m sittin’ high on the hog.” But the mountain blew and all was over. He lay 100 feet beneath mud, rocks, and debris.
Death is so creative. It has myriads of ways of taking us out. The mountain explodes, the Titanic sinks, or the car wrecks. Death is going to get us, one way or the other. However, if we know Christ, death can be our friend. How else can we get from here to there? Only one other way exists, which is the Rapture. Otherwise, we are all going to die.
A.V. Howell, a well-known pastor in Florida, died. Later they found a note scribbled in his Bible that read, “Death is only a porter to usher us into God’s presence.”
Much is said about our crossing. For example, Andrew Jackson mused, “When death comes, he respects neither age nor merit. He sweeps from the earthly existence the sick and the strong the rich and the poor, and should teach us to live to be prepared for death.”
Solomon said, “To everything there is a season ... a time to be born, and a time to die.”
So what became of Ole Harry? We know his body lies beneath dirt and debris at the foot of Mount Saint Helens. But where is he ... the real Harry that will live for eternity? We have no evidence that he knew Christ, that he was born again, which the Bible requires to go to heaven.
In fact, the evidence seems to point another direction. Did Harry turn to God at the last second; did he have time? We don’t have to judge Ole Harry. The Bible says, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Christ will fairly and meticulously judge Ole Harry (and us).
God wants each of us to become productive, committed followers. C.S. Lewis commented: “Every human being is in the process of becoming a noble being; noble beyond imagination. Or else, also, a vile being beyond redemption.”
What if one dies without Christ? Eternity does not have several destinations; no detours, nor packing up and moving if displeased with the accommodations. There is no purgatory, no second chance.
The departure from this life is stunningly final. One minute after you die you will be either in the paradise of heaven, or the anguishing torments of hell. There is no middle ground.
In his book, “Hope for the Troubled Heart,” Billy Graham said: “I have talked to doctors and nurses who have held the hands of dying people, and they say there is often as much difference between the death of a Christian and a non-Christian as there is between heaven and hell.”
Where do we get the doctrine of hell? Actually, the Bible is full of it. Christ himself talked more of hell than heaven.
The crystal clear account (not a parable) given by Jesus is in the 16th chapter of Luke. He tells of two personalities; one was a rich man called Dives and the other a beggar named Lazarus.
Dives died and was buried, probably with a great deal of pomp and circumstance. His eulogy must have been long and elaborate, telling of all the good and great things he did. But he didn’t know God. After his death, Christ’s very next words are: “In hell, where he was in torment ... ” (verse 23).
What an immediate change! The rich man was now a pauper, and the beggar was exceedingly rich.
When you read of the reality of hell, you find that Dives said he was thirsty and in agony. Then, too late, he became an evangelist when he said, “I have five brothers. Let him [Lazarus go and] warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (verse 28).
The other character in Christ’s account was Lazarus, the beggar who died, perhaps from starvation. There is no record of him being buried. But he knew God. Immediately angels ushered him into Abraham’s presence. (Angels will quite likely usher you and me to heaven, too, at death.)
Conversely, “Abraham’s bosom” and “Paradise” aren’t mentioned after Christ’s Resurrection. All is now heaven.
None of us rejoice about hell. We wish there were some other way.
D.L. Moody said that one should never preach about hell without tears in his eyes. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore that Jehovah is a God of justice as surely as He is a God of love.