The week that the ‘Love Wins’ controversy seemed to sweep the evangelical underbelly of the nation, was the very same week I was set to teach on Hell in one of my classes.
Before you freak out, let me say this: I’m not excited about Hell. I don’t get some sick kick out of believing in the reality of Hell. I have shed many tears over this doctrine, and I believe the grief I feel in the moments I really grasp the existence of Hell is the tip of the iceberg compared to the grief our God feels over the lost.
Nevertheless, I love walking women through the doctrine of Hell. Probably because when I study and engage the Bible on the topic of Hell I come away seeing the gospel more clearly.
Here are four things we can grasp more fully because of Hell:
1. The Horror of Sin. I have been in full-time ministry for almost 4 years and in that short time I have counseled more woman than I can count through the ‘fairness’ of Hell. Do you know how many times I have counseled a woman through the ‘fairness’ of Heaven; how many women I have sat across the table from who are wrestling with how God can be just and yet still welcome sinners? None. I have never had one meeting like that.
The confusing part of the gospel shouldn’t be Hell, it should be Heaven, but at the end of the day we just don’t think we’re all that bad. Hell helps us understand our sin.
My puppy can only tell when he’s done something really bad because the consequences are really bad. He knows that biting me is bad, not because it feels wrong to him, but because of how I respond. On the days when I don’t feel like I’m all that bad, the doctrine of Hell reminds me of the true horror of my actions.
2. The Holiness of God. Some of us see Hell as an appropriate response to crimes like murder or pedophilia, but not to our ‘small’ sins. We don’t understand the holiness of God.
greatness of the person offended = greatness of the consequence
If I squish an ant – nobody does anything to me. If I kill a dog, the penalty is more severe. If I kill a person – it’s higher still. If I kill the president, it’s even higher. Why? Because the penalty for a crime is not based on the action you take, it’s based on the value of the person you take action against. The punishment is greater if the offended party is ‘greater’.
There are cultures and places where a human can be put to death for defaming the name of a leader. If death can be the penalty for wronging a created being of no more valuable than us, what on earth would be the penalty for wronging a Creator so beyond us it is unfathomable?
Usually we can figure out the greatness of the consequence by looking at the greatness of the person offended. But we have a hard time grasping the greatness of God, so Hell helps us work the equation backwards. I can see in Scripture the greatness of the consequence of sin; that helps me grasp the greatness of God.
3. The Justice of God. Some of us think we would be more comfortable with a God who would just overlook our sin, but such a God would not be worthy of worship. Imagine a judge down at the court-house. If he looked at a man who murdered our child and said it wasn’t a big deal, none of us would think that judge was worthy of honor. None of us would want him re-elected.
3. The Love of God. If we understood all three of the above, if we could deeply grasp our depravity, God’s justice and holiness, than the Cross would be more loving than we ever imagined.
This is how we know God loves us: because Hell is very real and His son endured that for us. What Jesus went through on the cross wasn’t some painful physical torture, it was so much greater than that. Many men have endured death on a cross. Many men have been willing to die for those they loved. Only one has leaped into Hell to save His enemies. The more we understand the horror of Hell, the more we will understand exactly how much Christ was willing to endure for us; how great His love truly is.
I’ll end with some thoughts from Tim Keller on the subject:
So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: “I don’t think that was necessary.” But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action… We could not sing to him “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
…We must come to grips with the fact that Jesus said more about hell than Daniel, Isaiah, Paul, John, Peter put together. Before we dismiss this, we have to realize we are saying to Jesus, the pre-eminent teacher of love and grace in history, “I am less barbaric than you, Jesus–I am more compassionate and wiser than you.” Surely that should give us pause! Indeed, upon reflection, it is because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamations of grace and love are so astounding.