This question has probably been answered more than any other Bible question and yet it continues to be a huge stumbling block for millions. In this blog I briefly discuss what the Bible says about Hell and how Christians are supposed to process the idea that a God with so much love for humans would allow any of them to end up there.
Though we know the Bible often uses symbolic language to express realities that our minds don’t have a framework for understanding, it is clear that the Bible portrays Hell as a real place and a bad place. For example:
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ Mark 9: 47 – 48 [ESV]
And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25: 30 [ESV]
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20: 14 – 15 [ESV]
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. Revelation 21: 8 [ESV]
Further complicating our difficulty in understanding humans ending up in Hell, we read in Matthew chapter 25 that it was apparently just created for the devil and his workers:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’. Matthew 25: 41 [ESV]
To understand Hell we must first be looking at it from the proper perspective, God’s perspective. As with all things biblical and faith related, we must remind ourselves to look from God’s point of view and not our own. The Bible is first and foremost a book about God – who He is, His glory, what He has done and the holiness of His character. It is understandable to say “I don’t like the idea of my fellow humans going to Hell” but more appropriate still to say “I don’t like the idea of my God being rebelled against and disobeyed”.
If I tell you someone was shot and killed last night on Main Street, you would likely feel bad for that person, especially if you were only looking at things from their perspective. But if I told you that the individual had themselves broken into a house on Main Street and killed a family and was breaking into a second house to kill another family when they were shot, the new perspective might change how you feel about the outcome.
When we come to realize that everything (most definitely including you and I) was made by God and for His glory, it radically changes our perspective and understanding on how we see things. This is a difficult mindset for humans (even longtime Christians) to keep but it is the proper way to process a world made by God and for God.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1: 16 [ESV]
The second important element to consider are the horrible consequences of sin. In the first two and last two chapters of the Bible, we read of these incredible scenes set in a paradise setting. And we come to understanding starting in the third chapter of the Bible that man’s rebelliousness against God (man’s sin) is what causes all the curses and suffering in the world. In order for God to recreate a new heaven and a new earth (as promised in Isaiah and Revelation), all sin must be removed. We either accept the work of Christ on the cross to remove it or it is removed from the stage by having the sinner banished to Hell.
Removing sin by placing it on Jesus and having Him suffer God’s wrath is an even less appealing notion than banishing sinners to Hell based on their own sins. Jesus created us and lived His life setting a perfect example for us. Why would a perfectly innocent God have to suffer a torturous and humiliating death to pay for someone else’s mistakes? A Christian should not revel in the love and grace of an innocent Christ on the cross yet wonder and complain about sinners paying for their own mistakes.
Consider one final example. A family is planning a once in a lifetime vacation to Hawaii but the oldest of their children continues to both physically and emotionally harm his younger siblings. The parents have tried to intervene, offering counseling, separate rooms for the children, family meetings to work out issues, etc. However, the oldest child just won’t let up. His younger brothers and sisters are frightened to be alone with him. The parents finally tell the oldest child that if he is going to ruin the family environment and put his younger siblings in danger, he will not be allowed to go on the Hawaiian vacation. Even after a period of time with this warning in place, the son just won’t relent.
It is simply not fair for the older child to be allowed on what would otherwise be a peaceful and enjoyable vacation if he is intentionally ignoring calls and warnings for change and is going to make the vacation dangerous for others. And God will not allow sin to curse His new heaven and earth when He recreates them, when He has given us ample warning that there are only two ways which sin can be addressed.
It is actually quite understandable why God would allow someone to choose Hell if their sins were more important to them than God’s glory. God should not be dishonored and other people should not be put at risk because of my rebellion. God should come first in our lives but we should love other humans enough to be motivated to implore them to accept Christ’s payment of sin on their behalf.
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. II Corinthians 5: 19 – 21 [ESV]
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here