When Jesus mentions hell it is not a joke, myth, or suggestion about what life is like on earth. When He speaks about hell His words are not vicious or bloodthirsty, but chocked with tears. He loves and cares for people too much therefore He takes a lot of time in His teaching to warn us to avoid it.
When Jesus teaches about hell it is often graphic and vivid. He relates to hell as a place of eternal punishment, eternal fire, the fiery furnace, the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place reserved for those who rebel against God. Jesus shares with a story about two men who have very different ends to their lives. From this story there is a lot of insights about hell:
1. Hell is real (Luke 16:19-23a).
Hell is not a land-of-make-believe for those who are more evil than Mr. Rogers. “Hades” is a real place. So real is hell that Jesus talks about it a lot. Sometimes more than heaven. If God the Son talks about hell, it’s real.
2. Hell is really not fun (16:23b-24).
I enjoy Billy Joel’s music, but it is ignorant to say that “I would rather party with the sinners than cry with the saints.” Hell is not a party or place that anyone should desire. The rich man in Jesus’ story says “in torment”, “I am in agony in this fire.”
3. Hell is real eternal separation from God (16:25-26).
It is a wonderful comfort to know that at any moment, place and time God is with us. He is our Immanuel. I could not imagine being in a place without God, but that is how hell is described, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed…none may cross from there to us.”
4. Hell is for rejects (16:27-31).
Hell is for those who reject God and His redemptive plans in Christ. It does not matter if you were a good person, paid your taxes on time, live by the Golden Rule or follow most of the10 Commandments. Just one breech of the law is rejection of all of it. There is no rescue for rejects postmortem. You must chose to follow Christ today, in your one lifetime. In the story Jesus shares about the rich man, the man pleads for his family who are still alive that someone would warn them. Yet he does not remember and chose to forget that many had warned him. If he or his family does not listen to the warnings from God’s teachers [i.e. Moses and the Prophets] they will not listen to a dead man.
A parent’s have concern over their children’s safety therefore they say, “Look both ways before you cross the street,” “Don’t stick your figure in a light socket,” “Do not drink Drain-O.” This is what Jesus is saying when He speaks about hell. Jesus is pointing out the signs of clear and present danger if you continue to ignore God’s plan. He doesn’t use the scare-tactic, but speaks plainly as a parent who care often do when warning their children of matters of life or death.
Love is what motivates Jesus to talk about hell.
Jesus wants you to listen to Him and avoid it. The cross is where His motive of love led, and there He bore the wrath of God for your sin. Gods love is often misunderstood. “God is love,” (1 John 4), but just because God is love doesn’t mean He loves everything or that His love is His chief attribute. He is also holy, gracious, merciful, just and righteous. God does not love sin (Ps.5:4-6), in fact, He hates it.
God would not be loving if He left sin unpunished.
Imagine living in a world where sin, injustice, and lawlessness reigned. Imagine if police officers let thieves and rapists roam the streets free. Imagine if judges and juries let murders and molesters be dismissed without charge from the courtroom. You would not say those law enforcers were just or right. If God did not deal with sin, He would not be a just Judge or good authority.
Hell is a loving necessity.
It is a place where evil is to be locked up. God created hell to deal with evil. He made it to be a final, inescapable prison where all evil, rebellion against God will be confined never to poison men again. Given all the evil in the world today it is a great assurance to know that God notices it and has a plan to do something about it. God does not overlook evil.
Hell seems unloving when you do not have a good understanding of what sin is against God.
God is holy and without sin. Sin cannot go unpunished from a perfect God. God’s holiness and our sin are infinitely great, therefore, the greater the crime, the greater the punishment. Sin is an eternal offense against God therefore it deserves an eternal punishment. Sin against God is treason. If you were to disobey a king in the Middle Ages you were receive the death penalty. Thus it is so with the King of the Universe who seeks to care for His creation (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
Hell is real. It is no joke or laughing matter. Since Jesus was serious about its future realities, you must be serious about it today too. Rather than asking God, why He would send anyone to hell, you must ask: How can it be that you have been so merciful to a sinner like me?
2 thoughts on “hell, wrath of God, and eternal judgment”
So I just want to say upfront that I love that all of this discussion is coming out on this topic, I think this is an issue that has been “decided” by orthodoxy about hundred different times and in almost as many ways, but for whatever reason modern fundamental evangelicalism has closed the door on this conversation and has seemed for a long time to simply have no interest in even entering into the conversation.
As to your actual points. I would agree with you that Hell is a literal place, one which God has created for the purpose of the final removal of evil from the universe. I would also agree that We must understand that God is, and should be a God of wrath, punishment and even Anger. What I disagree with are three things
First of all I have to say that I disagree with you usage of this Parable as your main support for this discussion. I think there are far better verses and discussions to help us understand the reality of Hell, and the teachings on it. In all honesty I think you are doing what you have said Bell did in his new book you are not applying “sound exegesis” to this Parable. This is, after all, a parable, and to over interpret it, in any way, is a poor usage of scripture.
Secondly, I think that God is Love, that is his “chief attribute.” and I think you believe the same thing. What you are arguing for, I hope, is a better understanding of what love is. you are absolutely correct in saying that it is the love of God that brought about the creation of hell and the need for those who reject him to go there. The fact is, all those characteristics you mentioned are contained within the love of God, it is the one defining attribute of the one true God, and a proper understanding of what love is makes this clear. The real problem is our lack of understanding as to what love really is. This is why so many have responded to this discussion by saying that we must not have Love as the defining characteristic of God, because it is to weak an attribute, too incomplete. when in reality it is not the attribute that is weak and incomplete, it is our understanding of this love that is lacking.
Finally, I disagree with your final statement, kind of. The idea that “Rather than asking God, why He would send anyone to hell, you must ask: How can it be that you have been so merciful to a sinner like me?” is a great reality to come to within the life of faith. and I think it is a point that Christian do eventually come to if given the space to do so. But to say that one of these questions is wrong and the other right, is just unhelpful. The fact is, people ask that first question, they struggle with it, and it IS hard. I think sometimes as we mature and grow in our own faith we can forget just how hard of a question that really is. I think it is even harder for those of us who were saved young, or are even second or third generation Christians, we asked these questions young, and were given satisfactory answers that we were able to slowly digest ad grasp as we grew older, but somewhere in the process we stopped allowing that process, and we are seeing more and more people, people who are growing up in the church, struggle with this in significant and difficult ways. We often look at them, ad at the multitudes of these people who begin to walk away from the faith, and we say they were never Christians, or they never knew God, when in reality I believe that many of them were simply never allowed to deal openly with these question and therefor lost faith, not in God, but in us, The representatives, the very body of God on earth.
The odd thing is, I know you agree with this, or at least you used to. When I struggles through all of these things, it was your ability to let me struggle, and question and argue that drew me closer to God. You did not tell me I need to change my questions, you told me I need to keep questioning. You did not tell me the answer was simple and I was just missing the point, you told me this was difficult and you listened to me. It was your example Justin, of tolerance and love in the midst of my questions that drew me closer to the kingdom. Not a point by point argument or rebuttal, but a listening ear and a god conversation.
Maybe at the end of all this we will find that we are simply arguing over semantics, maybe will will genuinely disagree on how we should approach this topic, and this kind of idea. But no matter how this all goes, I am glad to have a friend with whom I can have these conversations. You challenge and strengthen me brother, always have. Thanks.
Ben, I am grateful for you. Your friendship is an encouragement to me. You are a true friend for your willingness to sharpen my iron and hold my ropes. I agree that the church needs to engage the questions of heaven, hell and eternal realities. Even those who are dogmatic about their biblical position would value from revisiting their stances on such theological and doctrinal issues. A humble discussion would not hurt any evangelical follower, only help.
With that said, I would agree that there have always been a minority tradition within the Christian faith that hold Christ saves everyone regardless of the response they give to Christ in this life. However, the position has been considered to be in error by the vast majority of orthodox Christians [check out unique review by Christianity Today]. For that matter, I don’t think that Love Wins is the most compelling statement of that minority view. Writings by Clark Pinnock or John Sanders would be not as creative and contemporary, but more compelling.
First, explain what you mean by ‘poor usage of Scripture’ and ‘sound exegesis’ as it relates to interpreting this parable? Remember, this post is not an exegetical paper on hell or survey of biblical theology on hell, but simply a sermon in conjunction with Jesus’ parable. I agree there are many passages that would be more poignant, but this passage is still a kingdom story Jesus uses to share the realities of hell. Bringing in a biblical theology of hell, judgment and God’s wrath would also be valuable.
Second, I agree love is a chief attribute of God, but its Siamese twin sister is His holiness. My beef with the Bell and many evangelicals is the lack of connection between the scriptural truths of the love of God and the holiness of God. The Bible holds them up simultaneously. Unfortunately, I think Bell comes up short in considering their partnership and instead pits them against one another. They are not sucker-punching sisters, but harmonious hip hugging sisters.
Here was something that haunted me throughout my reading of Love Wins, it was a sense that Bell was saying that if God was in fact a God who judges the living and dead with eternal heaven and hell, He wouldn’t be worth following. Rob Bell caricatures such a God as moody, one who is all love until the judgment, then morphs into the punishing God.
Using Bell’s logic how do you explain the Father’s purpose in sending His Son to live to die an excruciating death on the criminals cross? Then 3 days later raise Him in glorious splendor? Is the illustration Bell use’s a fair explanation of His love and holiness?
Third, notice I did not say one question is wrong and the other is right. It may appear so. I think one question could be better and more hopeful question than the other. Though that’s up for debate. It is like asking, “Why does God allow the tragedy in Japan happen under his watch with so much death and carnage?” This is a great question. One we should wrestle with and pose biblical justification. However, I would piggy-back that question with another, “Why does God have mercy on me?” Here God’s love and holiness hang in balance.
I love it that we can have these discussions in grace, agree to disagree, hug like bro’s, press on to love God, and eagerly studying His Word. This is where the conversation has practical benefits. I do think there is an issue of semantics, different look at the argument, even different questions. I am still the same Hutts. My building might look different the older I get, but my foundation is still the same.