Hell is a tough subject. I have fought with the idea of hell for as long as I can remember. I have caught myself in eisegesis searching the scriptures for proof of annihilationism. Hell shouldn’t be easy for us to understand and accept – at least on this side of eternity. I can only hope that my fight, prayer, reading, and thinking have formed a theology of hell that can help others see it for what it is.
I’m writing on the foundation that hell is a real place, separated from the goodness and glory of God, that is an eternal punishment for those that did not accept Jesus as their payment for sin. (Matthew 3:12, 18:18, 25:41, 25:46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Jude 7, Revelation 14:11)
I will try to answer 3 “why’s” of hell: Why does anyone deserve that punishment? Why is hell eternal? Why is it ok for a good God to eternally exist parallel to eternal suffering?
Why does anyone deserve that punishment?
Because God is God. Punishment becomes more severe as the person you sin against becomes more important. Example: You try to break into my house. vs You try to break into the President’s house. You will undoubtedly receive a harsher punishment for the latter. God is perfectly holy, infinite, and unlimited in power. When you sin against him, what punishment can there be that fully pays for your debt? When you sin against an infinite God there is no equal payment other than infinite punishment. Here is another way to explain it: Everything has value attached to it. If you attempt to steal that item, you must pay according to it’s value. You steal a $2 candy bar? Pay $2. You steal an iPod? Pay $200. You steal a car? Pay $20,000. You steal glory from God? Pay… See the problem? There is nothing that can ever define the value of the glory of God. It is infinitely valuable. You can’t choose a finite value to pay for something infinitely valuable, therefore, because God is perfectly just, sin against God deserves eternal punishment.
Why is hell eternal?
Read the answer above: Because God is God. But another thing to think about is this: What if hell had an end? Let’s say it ends after 5 million sets of a billion years (5 quadrillion years). That would mean that God the Just is satisfied with the payment of 5 quadrillion years of punishment. Which in turn means that the souls in hell can completely pay for their sin. Which in turn means that they can now have communion with God. And then to go one step further this means that Jesus is not the only way to the Father. This is blasphemy.
Why is it ok for a good God to eternally exist parallel to eternal suffering?
This has always been the hardest question for me to ponder. The easy answers are the ones above. Because God is God. Because God is perfectly Just. The problem resides in the already/not yet of our existence on earth. We are commanded to love sinners here. We are commanded to preach the gospel to the world in order to save people from the clutches of hell. Because God loves us and we have found salvation, peace, comfort in suffering, life, and worth in Him we want other people to experience that with us now, and also to be with God eternally. Because God loves us, we love people, and ultimately love for people means wanting them to be reconciled to their creator. We DO NOT want people to go to hell. It is torture to picture people we love, that do not know God, in eternal fire and punishment. God has given us to compassion for this purpose. The Holy Spirit moves in us to have compassion and love people even as they sin and rebel against God because we know that that rebellion will send them to hell. Our compassion for them is what moves us to lead them to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate example. He loved those on earth who sinned against him. He called Judas a “friend” all the way through his betrayal. (Matthew 26:50)
However, though Jesus had perfect compassion and was a friend to sinners during his time on earth, while he proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom, this is how he will return:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
God is patient. But there will come a time when the fullness of His wrath and the fullness of His grace will be revealed. Jesus will no longer show compassion to sinners. And neither will we. I think that this is an abstract idea that can only be believed, but not fully realized. Not yet. But when that day comes, we will see the glory of God shining. We will see Him in His perfection and we will fully realize His Holiness. At that time our compassion will be replaced with the full understanding of His justice, and we will know that Hell is what sin deserves. We will no longer have a problem with our good God letting hell exist eternally, but we will know that because of our good God hell has to exist eternally. We will see sin in the light of God’s glory. We will see sinners (that persevere to the end and never accept Jesus’ blood as their payment) as rebels who are against God. We will see them as people who hate God. And we will want them to be punished for it. We will delight in God getting glory through the outpouring of His wrath.
HOWEVER, we are not there yet. I believe that this knowledge of what is to come, and this theological understanding of why hell has to be hell is important. We need to see God higher and higher everyday. We need to know that hell is real and deserved because of who God is. BUT if we bring this into the now instead of leaving it in its rightful place in eternity we will become judgemental instead of compassionate. (Westboro, anyone?) The Holy Spirit leads us to love and compassion, not condemnation and judgement. On earth we are to love God and love people. All people. For, here on earth, God gives the saved and the unsaved the same air to breathe.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
It only makes sense that I would post this on Holy Saturday. The waiting period between “It is finished!” and the glory of the resurrection of Jesus. We reside in the Holy Saturday of eternity. We will see Jesus in His glory, but not until this day has ended. Choose to know Jesus as Lord now.