Friday, January 27, 2017


The doctrine of hell is routinely denigrated as “hateful.” Why? Secular wisdom believes that:

·       People don’t deserve hell. We are products of our nurturing. Instead, violence makes children violent; hatred makes haters; love makes lovers. Therefore, love conquers all. Meanwhile, belief in eternal punishment will turn us into punishers.

Some secularists take this to such an extreme claiming that if we had just loved Hitler and Stalin enough, we would have been able to turn them from their genocidal intentions. And the fault doesn’t even rest in an unloving society, because we are also products of our nurturing. This analysis, therefore, eliminates any blame or guilt for a pleasure oriented world.

It follows that the secularist can have nothing but disdain for the Biblical teachings on eternal punishment. Instead, I want to argue that we need to know of the eternal consequences for rejecting the only hope available to us.

Contrary to secular opinion, we need to know that God will ultimately judge. It is this knowledge that enables us to leave aside thoughts of revenge, hatred, and unforgiveness and to apply ourselves to what we have been called to do – to love.
Miroslav Wolf, who has survived the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia, has written:

·       The only means of prohibiting all recourses to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God…My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance.

Volf knew that his stance would be unpopular in the West. He understood that when we have no tangible experience with victimization, we also have no experience of the overwhelming, life-controlling need to avenge.

Writer and theologian Timothy Keller, explains:

·       Can our passion for justice be honored in a way that does not nurture our desire for blood and vengeance? Volf says the best resource for this is a belief in the concept of God’s divine justice. If I don’t believe that there is a God who will eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I am sure that there’s a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain. (The Reason for God, Dutton, 2008, 75)

Instead of the belief that hell leads to a more hellish society, it seems that the absense of this believe will incline us to seek our own form of “justice.” Why? The impulse to seek justice transcends the way we had been raised. Even children universally demand justice. Desiring justice is part of our human nature, and it demands expression and satisfaction.

Keller observes that in societies where the doctrine of eternal judgment rejected, brutality reigns:

·       Many people complain that belief in a God of judgment will lead to a more brutal society…[but] in both Nazism and Communism…a loss of belief in a God of judgment can lead to brutality. If we are free to shape life and morals any way we choose without ultimate accountability, it can lead to violence. Volf and [poet Czeslaw] Milosz argue that the doctrine of God’s final judgment is a necessary undergirding for human practices of love and peacemaking.

Love warns. The greater the threat, the more must love warn. This is especially true in regards to eternal punishment. In the West, we readily dismiss this threat as so barbaric that it couldn’t possibly be the design of a God of love. However, it might just be our design.

Keller calls hell “simply one’s chosen identity” (78). In other words, hell is something we choose. Lewis calls hell “the greatest monument to human freedom.” In “The Great Divorce,” he paints a vivid picture of how we choose hell:

·       Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others…but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will be hell unless it is nipped in the bud. (78-79)

How do we nip it? By confessing our sins (1 John 1:9), crying out for Christ’s help (Romans 10:12-13)! How did we get in this mess? According to Lewis, we continue to harden our heart against the Lord until we have no heart left (Romans 1:24-28). With every refusal to turn away from our sins and to turn to Christ, we embrace our final destination. Lewis therefore concludes:

·       There are only two kinds of people—those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. (79)

Is this assessment Biblical? Keller correctly reflects that there are no Biblical accounts of people pleading to be released from hell into God’s presence (Luke 16). This makes perfect Biblical sense. If we hate the Light so much in this life that we flee from it, we will flee all the more hastily when confronted with His greater intensity in the next life (John 3:19-21).

The Apostle Paul taught that we are a stench to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). How much more will our Lord nauseate them in the next life! By that time, their die has already been cast, along with their tastes and preferences.

This is horrific. What then must we do if we love the hell-bound? We must warn!

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