Originally published: November 14, 2016
Hell is a tough doctrine.
In his book the Problem of Pain, CS Lewis sums up what I think many would agree with: “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”
We’re fine with the idea of a loving God, but we’re less accepting of a God who judges.
With the idea of hell, It can seem unfair. We can feel tempted to justify why hell doesn’t exist. Or maybe we think that hell is really just for people who are really, really bad.
Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” It’s noteworthy that in the Bible, the person who has the most to say about hell is…Jesus. To reject Jesus is to reject his gospel. It’s to reject his grace.
And ultimately there is no excuse in the Bible for this rejection. God displays his glory and grandeur in nature as Romans 1:18-20 says
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
People who want to reject hell or who question how a holy God can judge are showing the sinfulness of their hearts.
I was watching a video recently. It was a back and forth between an atheist college student and Christian apologist Frank Turek. In the video, the student said she didn’t believe in God, or in the resurrection of Christ, but she believed that if there were a heaven, she should be able to go there.
But why? Why would you get to be with God when you don’t believe in him?
Why would God MAKE YOU be with him when you lived your entire life without any desire to know him? God extends grace freely. He extends the offer of salvation to all who will accept it.
But what’s not an option is saying no. What’s not an option is trying to earn our way to God. The vanity of thinking that we can make ourselves worthy. The vanity of opposing God, of rejecting him and thinking that you should still get to be with him.
We think we’re good people. But the greatest sin we can commit is rejecting the God who made us.
God honors the choice a person makes to reject him and to reject heaven. But what he will not allow is for us to approach him on our terms.
Hell is the logical conclusion of wanting to live this life without God. If a person doesn’t want God now, then why would they want him in eternity? D.A. Carson says, “Hell is not filled with people who are now holy. It’s filled with people who still love their sin and will not bend the knee. And receive the punishment for that sin, in an ongoing cycle, world without end. And that’s what the gospel saves us from.”
I think that’s important to understand. God isn’t rejecting people who have a desire to know him. People who come to him, knowing their unworthiness, knowing their sinfulness.
God is just. His judgments are just.
People aren’t condemned because they didn’t have enough time. They aren’t cast away from God because they didn’t have an opportunity.
God isn’t vindictive. He’s not losing his temper. But he is righteous. He’s perfect. And heaven is a perfect place. God is overwhelmingly glorious.
The gospel isn’t: well no one is perfect so just try to be decent.
It’s that all sin and all fall short of the glory of God. And we are totally separated from the Holy and eternal God because of our sin.
Some liberal churches undermine the necessity of believing in Jesus. Or reduce him to someone to a good teacher. And the best possible roe model for how you could live your life, but not really as being THE way, THE truth, and the life.
But that cheapens the work of Christ. Because he didn’t come just to give some good moral lessons.
Undermining the doctrine of hell might seem like a convenient solution to something you don’t want to think about, but it introduces the infinitely greater problem of making Jesus a liar.
The point of the gospel isn’t saying that you want God because you’re afraid of hell. It’s about wanting to be WITH God.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.
Photo license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/