A “Repulsive” Doctrine
It’s obvious why many people wince at the earnest belief in hell or judgment. It’s obvious why even some professing Christians are embarrassed by it. Take Rob Bell as one example. A few years ago, his book “Love Wins” questioned the idea that Hell would really last forever. Bell is not alone. He’s one in a select group of teachers that have taught in some fashion or another that it is unthinkable that God would consciously torment sinners forever.
Even earnest Christians can be embarrassed by this view. Consider this gentlemen’s earnest answer:
This brother in the faith seems sincere and reverent but is he right? Does God not really send anyone to hell? We send ourselves to Hell? We refuse to get on the life raft he provides and so it is man that sends himself?
Consider how Matthew 25:41-46 speaks to both Rob Bell and the brother above.
41 “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. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
A few observations:
- Jesus is pictured separating people here for two destinations – as a Judge Jesus is the one sending people to be punishment. He is doing the sentencing. So, of course, in a sense the earnest brother above is correct: We make a choice that we are accountable for. BUT! To whom are we accountable? Who is the judge? Who created Hell? How sentences? Who separates? Who sends? It’s Jesus. That’s what Jesus himself says.
- Now notice how this speaks to Bell’s objections. Bell argues that the word for “eternal” doesn’t always mean forever. It can also mean some other, limited, period of time. And he’s actually right about that. The word must be interpreted according to its context. So, how do we know eternal means “forever” in Matthew 25? Just look at v. 46? If eternal doesn’t mean forever in this context what sense does the verse actually make? If Bell was correct we’d have to read it like this: “And these will go away into “some time of punishment”, but the righteous into “some time of life”. It kinda takes the guts out of the verse doesn’t it?
Noticing the Main Lessons
What are the main lessons for us in Matthew 10:24-33 and Luke 12:4-5
- Hell is a place of physical and spiritual destruction (i.e., ruin)
- We’re told to fear and be in awe of God so that we need not fear anything else, not even Hell or persecution
Lessons from Matthew 5:21-22, 27-29
- Hell is clearly a punishment for sin (so God is not sending “good” people to Hell – and he doesn’t send “good people” to heaven either – there is only one person who is good)
- This teaching is meant to warn us against the consequences of our sin – it’s given to keep us from Hell
- Discuss: How would you answer someone who says that it’s “overkill” on God’s part to send someone to hell forever – for only sinning for a limited time? Why Hell forever when they only sinned for 80 years?
- What is sin according to Romans 1:24-25?
- Sin is not rightly punished based on how long you sinned – sin is the devaluing of the infinitely valuable. We all know and feel deeply the injustice of treating treasures like trash. This is why we passionately defend the things we love – even when they are as trivial as TV shows and sports stars. How much more valuable is God himself and therefore how much more condemnable is it when we worship creation over Him? This is the better answer to the question posed above. Why would a good God send people to Hell? Because He is good. His glory and holiness demand consequences for sin – and deep down we all know it.
Lesson from Mark 9:42-48
- It’s worth a little suffering now to avoid suffering forever. Avoiding sin now is worth the effort and the sacrifices.
Good Reasons for Affirming the Doctrine of Hell and Judgment
It provides certainty that justice will be done
- Are those who accuse God of being absent when they suffer evil and injustice the same people who accuse him of being unloving for sending people to Hell?
- We are all born with an internal desire for justice to be done – children especially have an excellent sense of what hypocrisy is which is why they do what their parents do, not what they say.
It tempers our desire to seek vengeance (Romans 12:19)
It restrains evil (Romans 3:12-18)
It makes evangelism urgent (Proverbs 24:11; Romans 10:13-16)