This is a piece I wrote for the Black Hills Writers Group “topic of the month” several years ago. I think you will understand why I posted it the night before Father’s Day once you’ve read it. Thank you, Daddy for your principle-based life. 

When I was growing up, my dad had a low-key approach to teaching life lessons. He was not a preachy type, amazing for a preacher. Of course, he is more of a Bible teacher than a preacher anyway. However, the important things he taught in little life moments. Instead of reading us the list of rules, he waited for a “teachable moment,” then taught the Biblical principle. 

For instance, I do not remember any one conversation on all the rules of proper language usage. He didn’t give us a list of words not to say and quiz us later. He didn’t even freak out if we said one. “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT, THAT’S A SWEAR WORD. DON’T YOU KNOW THAT’S A SIN.” Instead, if someone around us used one, he would calmly point out what the word meant, why we never should say it, or why it should only be said in its appropriate context. Therefore, without ever having the “Word’s not to say lecture,” I learned the truth of the lesson. 

I still categorize words, based on this approach. There are two basic categories. First, there are the obvious words that you should never say. They are crude, rude, and unacceptable. Usually these words have to do with bodily functions. 

Secondly, there is the “Inappropriate Use of Words” category. This category has two sub-categories. The first is the “Good Words Used Wrongly” category. This includes the names for God. I had no trouble understanding the problem here; after all, it is one of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain.” I cannot say “Oh God,” unless I really mean “Oh God!” I cannot say “Jesus Christ” in frustration; he died to pay my sin debt. Why would I use his name lightly, or disrespectfully. A side category of these are euphemisms. As my dad explained it, these are words that people use instead of names for God (or other words they want to say but know they shouldn’t use that way.) Examples are Gosh, Gee, Golly, Heck, and Darn. 

“God isn’t fooled,” he would say, “by us trying to white wash what we say.” He even looked them up in the dictionary for us once. (gee interj [euphemism for Jesus] – used to express surprise or enthusiasm. Webster’s New Students Dictionary. 

Then there were other words. I like to call them the “Not So Good Words, Used Wrongly.” There were two in particular that my dad explained this way. “Before you say them, make sure you know what they mean. When you say, ‘God Damn it’” he said, “you better think about what you are saying. Do you really want God to damn that thing or person? Do you understand what it means for God to damn something? Do you really want him to send that thing or person to Hell?” This led to the second word in this particular teaching moment, “hell“. Why can’t you say, “What the hell?” Or, when frustrated, “Oh, Hell.” 

“Hell,” my dad would say, “is a place. It is real. And it is terrible. Hell is the reason Jesus came as a baby (Christmas!) and lived among us, died on the cross, and then rose again. (Easter.) Hell is not something to trivialize.” 

I never heard my dad use these words inappropriately either, I guess that’s what makes a real teachable moment. When the teacher lives what he says, it’s easy to believe. 

So, when the topic, “What the hell is that” was announced, my initial response was, “well, I guess I won’t be writing to THAT topic.” Then someone reminded me that Hell isn’t primarily a swear word, it’s a destination. In light of how I have learned to deal with these words, I am choosing to use it appropriately. Using words straight from the Word of God, I have written a poem, answering the question, “What the Hell is that?” 




It’s a sorrowful, pit, no eye can see, 

Dark painful lonely, never set free. 

A profoundly deep and empty space, 

An unquenchable furious fire filled place. 

A wide and welcoming gate it has, 

The road to Hell many shall pass. 

But in it’s depth there’s only grief, 

Just weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth  

The fallen angels, are kept in their chains, 

A bottomless pit, full of infinite pains. 

The smoke coming out is a horrible sight, 

Ascending forever to terrible height. 

The devil someday will be taken as well, 

And cast into the lake of fire with hell. 

A place for those who die in their sin, 

Whose names in the book of life have not been. 

It’s eternal, everlasting, it never will end, 

This place that a Just God all sinners must send. 

Eternal separation from an all- loving Lord, 

A never ending, agonizing, sorrowful reward. 

But it need not be a place that we go, 

For God in His mercy the world did love so. 

He sent His own Son to pay for our sin, 

So we can eternity instead spend with Him. 

With His resurrection the Lord did destroy 

The power of death, and hell, oh what joy. 

And if we repent, and trust in His grace 

He’ll give us a home in a much better place. 


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