Concerning hell, C. S. Lewis once wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” In many ways, I agree with him. No one, Christians included, should like the idea of hell. Those of us who believe in hell aren’t sadists who enjoy the idea of eternal suffering. In fact, the thought of people I know who are outside of Christ spending eternity in hell is heartbreaking. As a young Christian, when I began to learn about hell and its implications, I almost lost my faith. It was that disturbing.
Hell is a difficult reality, but it is something that the Bible teaches, and we can’t fully understand God and his world unless we grapple with it. These seven truths should frame our discussion of hell.
1. Hell is what hell is because God is who God is. People speak glibly about “seeing God,” as if seeing God face-to-face would be a warm and fuzzy experience. But the Bible explains that God’s holiness and perfections are so complete that if anyone were to see him, he would die (Ex. 33:20). Even the slightest sin in his presence leads to immediate annihilation. When Isaiah, the prophet of God, saw God upon his throne, he fell upon his face, terrified and sure that he was about to die (Is. 6:5).
The doctrine of hell has fallen out of favor among many. But it’s there for a reason. God tells us about hell to demonstrate to us the magnitude of his holiness. Hell is what hell is because the holiness of God is what it is. Hell is not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be. Hell should make our mouths stand agape at the righteous and just holiness of God. It should make us tremble before his majesty and grandeur.
Ironically, in doing away with hell, you do away with the very resources that show God’s justice. When a person goes through rape or child abuse, she needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil.
2. Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. Some people try to avoid the idea of hell by saying, “That was the Old Testament God, back when he was in his junior high years and all cranky. But when God matured in the New Testament with Jesus—meek and mild Jesus—he was all about love and compassion.”
The problem with this view is that when you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. In fact, if you count up the verses, Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. One of the most famous skeptics in history, Bertrand Russell, said in his book Why I’m Not a Christian that Jesus’s teaching on hell is “the one profound defect in Christ’s character.” If we want to avoid the idea of hell, we can’t ignore the problem by just focusing on “meek and mild Jesus.”
3. Hell shows us the extent of God’s love in saving us. Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf. On the cross, Jesus’s punishment was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death.
The worst part was the separation from the Father that Jesus felt, a separation that was hell itself. “My God, my God,” he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). In all of this, Jesus was taking the hell of our sin into his body.
People often feel that hell is some great blemish on God’s love. The Bible presents it as the opposite. Hell magnifies for us the love of God by showing us how far God went, and how much he went through, to save us.
Click here for more.
SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
J. D. Greear