Like growing, unsightly graffiti, ugly whitish-gray sacks have been developing in the branches all along the small trees in the woods running along the back of our property. These webs are the homes of newly hatched tent caterpillars or tent worms as they are commonly called. Their eggs were laid last fall by the Lackey moth. The caterpillars’ scientific name of Malacosoma sounds like the cancer they are. They emerge to feed from their tents on the leaves all around them and then return to digest their food. They can defoliate large sections of their host tree.
My wife, who shudders when she looks out the window and thinks of bags holding hundreds of worms hanging in the trees, kindly asked me to dispose of them. So I took trimmers and a bucket into the woods with me and got to work. Systematically, I cut the branches containing the tents and placed them in the bucket. Each time I filled it, I emptied the bucket into the fire pit on top of a large pile of dead branches and twigs previously placed there.
When the last sack was cut out and placed on the pile, I lit the newspaper tucked in the bottom of the stack of tinder. As the fire began to crackle, it was helped along by a small but steady breeze functioning like a constant bellows. Soon the wood was burning red hot and the flames began melting away the web of the tents. The worms inside, without their protective web (which I learned from an article even consisted of chambers so they could find the ideal temperature to allow them to eat and digest), began writhing and trying to crawl away. Yet the flames were too much, as the very leaves and wood they were set to consume ended up fueling the fire that consumed them.
As I stood there leaning on a long pole I was using as a poker staring at this scene, thoughts of hell suddenly came to me. With its description of unquenchable fire and gnawing worm, the imagery before me served as a microcosmic reminder of the future fate of so many, of too many. For too many are contentedly surrounded by a web of their own making, munching away on the lusts of this life with little thought of the eternal dangers that await them. Even the sight of the tent worms seeking to escape a flame ignited by their own hungry pursuits made me then shudder, for surely the forever flames will burn hot as God’s wrath blazes with exactness upon the illicit pursuits and idolatrous pleasures of the inhabitants of hell.
Surely hell does not appear to be on the consciences of most people these days. If that’s indeed the case, there is one clear source to blame. Preachers. Has not moderatism crept back into the church, with preachers claiming evangelical orthodoxy outwardly but then showing by their own actions and preaching they are far more desirous of having popularity and happy crowds on Sunday mornings than speaking hard truths? Has not individual happiness and self-identification been allowed to triumph even in the sanctuary over Biblical doctrine and God’s view of mankind’s state?
Unlike many preachers, the Bible is not silent on this subject. In a chapter entitled “Thinking the Unthinkable” in his book Heaven and Hell, Edward Donnelly reminds us:
Hell is not something referred to only occasionally in Scripture, in one or two obscure passages. On the contrary, extensive sections of the Word of God deal with this doctrine. The Bible refers more often to the wrath of God than to his love. The Old Testament is full of the Lord’s fierce judgments on his enemies, foreshadowings of hell. Our Lord Jesus Christ had far more to say about hell than he did about heaven.”
What if the pulpits in the land began every Sunday preaching again as if eternity was at stake? If both sinners and saints were faithfully warned about the awful consequences of sin and death? If every Lord’s Day people were told about and prepared for the final Day of the Lord? If when preachers came upon such horrible things as worms and fire in the course of their preaching through books of the Bible, they spoke with sincere conviction of spirit, true urgency of voice, and the warning compassion of Christ?
We should pray this would be. For though my backyard fire is no longer, hell’s fire, along with men and women’s souls, will never be extinguished.