Welcome to my two part mini-series on Hell. Part number one will deal with the question:
How can a God of love punish people in hell?
There are many who would say that Hell cannot exist, that God loves us all too much for hell to exist and that the church shouldn't tell people about hell. Unfortunately the church has turned away from preaching 'hell and damnation' preferring to preach an 'easier' message that is more what people want to hear. We shall see over the course of the next two articles how pathetic this is. But first let us turn our attention to the existence of both Hell and a loving God. Can both exist together without contradiction?
“What the theologians would technically call [finger-quotes] hell [finger-quotes]”
I heard a minister say this at a church once. I didn't walk out; looking back on it I wish I had. For it is this kind of insidious thinking that damages the church. Over the course of this article I will prove that not only is Hell an entirely logical part of the Christian faith it is also necessary. Without Hell Christianity is nothing.
But God is love. How can he have created hell?
Yes, God is love. In fact, God is epitome of love; his love is deeper than the deepest ocean and wider than the widest sea. But love is not God's only quality. No! That would be ridiculous. You would never describe a human as being just love. Humans possess a wide range of qualities. In the same way God is love AND he is also a whole lot of other things. Indeed, his main quality is not his love but his holiness.
“Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is coming.”
Revelation 4 v 8
“And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Isaiah 6 v 3
God sets the standard for moral perfection and he cannot abide sin and evil. God's holiness is so far above us that we lose sight of God's righteous anger against sin. God abhors sin.
“You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
with you the wicked cannot dwell.
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence;
you hate all who do wrong.
You destroy those who tell lies;
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
the LORD abhors.”
Psalm 5 v 4 – 6
We must not lose sight of God’s loathing of all that is unholy.
Wait, I still see a contradiction.
“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
Numbers 14 v 18
This verse wonderfully encapsulates God's abounding love and his holiness – God does not leave the guilty unpunished. God is both love and wrath. There is no contradiction here. Hell shows God’s wrath against sin. Salvation shows us God’s love. God punishes sin in his holiness yet in addition provides mankind with a Saviour by sending his One and Only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. Love and Wrath working together in perfect holiness.
Ok, God is holy and loving but what has this to do with Hell?
It has everything to do with hell. To prove it let's turn to the words of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Christian faith Jesus holds the position of Judge over all the Earth. Come Judgement Day it is God the Son who will judge humanity. As John the Baptist said about Jesus.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Luke 3 v 16 - 17
Obviously the image of the burning chaff points towards the existence of Hell for those who are wicked. And as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Matthew 5 v 22
In Jesus' time saying 'you fool' (well, the Hebrew equivalent) was an expression of murderous intent. In other words we see Jesus expressly saying that the wicked will be in danger of Hell. And another time Jesus says:
“But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
Luke 12 v 5
These are just two of many, many examples I could give. The Bible is clear on the subject, Jesus' teaching is clear on the matter: Hell exists.
Logically this makes sense. If God will reward his people for eternity in Heaven then punishment on those not his people should hardly surprise us. A God that knows how to reward good must also know evil and punish it. The punishment of the wicked in Hell goes hand in hand with God's holiness and also God's love of justice. (This is leaving aside the question of who is wicked and who is good for another post).
Even if Hell exists won't Jesus save everyone anyway?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”
John 3 v 16 – 18
Notice that while this passage speaks of salvation through Jesus' death it also speaks of the fate of those who don't believe. Those who don't accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour stand condemned. They shall 'perish'. Mankind is spilt into tow groups: those that believe and those that don’t. What happens to each group is entirely different. There is no notion that all mankind whether believing or non-believing will be treated the same.
And let's look at one of Jesus' parables (as a side point roughly 50% of Jesus’ parables deal with the topic of Heaven, Hell and Judgement):
“"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
Matthew 25 v 31 - 33
We see here that all humanity is not treated the same. Come Judgement Day, the Son of Man (Jesus) will return and all humans will be split into two groups: the sheep on the right and the goats on the left. What happens to these sheep and goats?
Well, to the sheep this will happen:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
Matthew 25 v 34 – 40
The King represents Jesus in his role as Judge. The sheep God's people and the inheritance the King speaks of is Heaven. But what about the goats?
“Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."”
Matthew 25 v 41 – 46
Could Jesus be any clearer? The goats are all those that refuse to repent and believe in Jesus and they shall face eternal punishment. Everyone is not going to Heaven! This is a vitally important point. Every single human will either be a sheep or a goat and will face either eternal punishment or eternal life. The eternal fire prepared for the Devils and his angels is nothing more than Hell – a place for the eternal punishment of the wicked.
The very idea that all mankind would be allowed into Heaven! As if unrepentant, unbelieving, sinful hearts in rebellion against God could merit the glory of Heaven. What type of God would let that happen? But God, in his love and mercy, has provided a way to salvation – Jesus’ death on the cross. So that all those that believe may not perish but gain eternal life.
Let us say that I am wrong and Hell does not exist or that all will go to Heaven anyway. If this is true then pity me for being the most wretched of men. For if Hell does not exist then why did the Old Testament point towards a salvation that wasn't needed. If Hell doesn't exist why did Jesus die on the cross to bring salvation if no salvation was needed? If Hell doesn't exist why did Jesus speak about it so often? If Hell doesn't exist how can God be Holy? If Hell doesn't exist then how can anyone fully grasp the love showed by God through sending his Son to die in our place? If Hell doesn’t exist then why does the Bible speak of the sheep and the goats? Of a Day of Judgement when all peoples will be judged? If Hell doesn't exist then God's word is wrong. If Hell didn't exist then I would renounce Christianity as being a sham.
But Hell does exist. It is as real as you and I. And it exists as a place of eternal punishment for all those that refuse to accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour. So I urge you to think about where you will stand for the rest of eternity. Perhaps you think at this point I have gone too far and that you undeserving of Hell. Well, this neatly leads us to the question I will answer later this week...
Why do good people go to Hell?