First, humanity doesn’t get to decide whether or not there is a hell. Once, a friend of mine asked, “How can you believe in hell?” I simply said, “I don’t think it’s up to me whether or not there is one.” And, it isn’t. We don’t get to decide if hell exists. Either it does, or it doesn’t. Often, the normal human reaction to bad news is denial, but denial doesn’t change reality. If there is a hell, we should believe that it is there –whether we like it or not.
Second, Jesus believed and taught that there was a hell. The most loving, caring, and compassionate man who ever walked the face of the Earth taught about hell more than anyone else in the Bible (Mt. 5:22; 5:29-30; 10:28; 13:49-50; 18:8-9; 23:15; 33; 25:46; Mk. 9:43; Lk. 16:19-31). In fact, he spoke about hell in the most terrifying and vivid language imaginable. He was probably trying to show us how horrible it would be to ever go there.
Third, love without justice is a sham. Some people ask how we can harmonize God’s love with his justice. And yet, God’s justice is not only compatible with his love, but it is actually necessary for his love. Philosopher Norman Geisler writes, “Mercy, detached from justice, grows unmerciful.”
Consider, for example, if your grandmother was beaten to death by a gang of thugs. All eight men are caught and brought before the court. In a dramatic display of emotion, all eight men apologize and break down crying before the Judge. “Your honor,” the gang leader says with tears in his eyes. “We really feel bad for what we did. We promise never to do it again!” The courtroom goes silent. The Judge looks at the men discerningly and says, “Well, okay. It seems like you feel really bad for what you did. I’ll just give you each 40 hours of community service. Case closed!”
Could you imagine this scene? What would you do if you bumped into that Judge at a restaurant the next week? Would you shake his hand? Would you look him in the eye? Would you give him a hug? Would you buy him a beer? I doubt it.
You wouldn’t make eye contact with that Judge. You wouldn’t talk to that Judge. You wouldn’t respect that Judge. Most importantly, you wouldn’t love that Judge. This is the great irony of denying hell. Many people want to make God more loving by denying hell, but instead, they make him less loving! If there is no hell, then God doesn’t need to suffer to bring us into heaven. But, if there is a hell, God suffered hell in our place on the Cross. Why would Christ sweat drops of blood in preparing for the Cross, if there were no hell (Luke 22:44)?
Fourth, moral accountability makes life meaningful. Without moral accountability at the end of our lives, big decisions become trivial along with little decisions. Questions like, “Should I choose Good or Evil?” are virtually synonymous with “Should I eat the green Jell-O or the red Jell-O?” If there is no final accountability, then the human species has no ultimate purpose toward which we are heading. The final moral accountability of God makes sense of our need for purpose.
Fifth, those plagued by moral atrocities have no problem believing in hell. Experience shows that suburbanites are usually the ones to find hell offensive. When you live in the comfort and security of a suburban home, you don’t see why hell should exist as a form of justice. And yet, the little girl who climbs out of Rwandan genocide usually doesn’t find hell offensive; she finds it comforting. Harry Blamires writes, “I suggest that if we start not from some mistily conceived abstraction of God’s love but from the concrete realities of our experience on this planet, we shall realize that hell is necessary.” Without judgment, acts of cruelty make our world absurd. The psalmist writes, “But the needy will not be ignored forever; the hopes of the poor will not always be crushed” (Ps. 9:18 NLT). According to the Bible, the world is currently unjust, but God will eventuallybring the scales of justice into balance.
Return to original article: “Is Hell Divine Overkill?”