We like God’s love. Is there anything more wonderful than it?
Polite company does not, however, talk about God’s judgment. It seems so out of touch with how nice things are. The idea of an eternal Hell, wrath filled God, etc. is so entirely incongruous with Disney, Starbucks, and prime time entertainment. I mean, Hell is passe. It’s also horribly uncomfortable to think about. Kinda like thinking about the death of a child of someone you didn’t know very well. Easier to just not think about it.
Unfortunately, Hell is so entirely probable if God is perfect and/or the Bible is in any way true. And if it’s a probable event and we know about it, it’s practically criminal to be silent about Hell. Yet, silent we largely remain, myself included.
But who would go? Certainly the unrepentant bad guys, Stalin, Hitler, and the criminals, especially those we hate the most, like people who do mean things to children. Most people can live with that idea. But what about the idea of a much higher standard? A standard of perfection? The Adam and Eve standard. They were cast from God’s presence and condemned to death for … eating an apple. Disobeying God. Departing from his will. We depart from his will frequently if not continually. When the foundation of God’s law is an affirmative and absolute standard of love, and it is, we typically live in a state of perpetual sin.
The Old Testament features a recurring pattern of God’s judging rebellion, e.g. Sodom, Gomorrah, Noah’s flood, and warning of a final judgment and eternal punishment, e.g. Isaiah 13; Dan. 12. Some have suggested that the New Testament changes things, that somehow God is different or we know him more now that we know Jesus. I find that sentiment most odd — that the God of the NT is somehow “new” or different or more “love” and less “wrath” than what we see in the OT — on at least two counts. First, God’s wrath is nowhere more personal, severe, and painful to witness than what we find in the descriptions of Christ’s passion — his trial, punishment, and execution. It is a brutal, humiliating, and agonizing affair. For all his faults and despite my disagreements with much of his theology, Gibson’s movie The Passion is tremendous work. He uses the power of cinema to drive home the wrath of God visited upon Christ. And this on God’s son! What wrath awaits those that rejected Christ’s sacrifice and stand before God in their sins? No less than Jesus himself explained that God’s wrath remains upon each such person. (John 3:36) Those that pretend the NT changed something about the character of God ignore the entire and culminating point of the NT.
Second, one cannot read the Gospel accounts of Christ and miss his continual references to God’s judgment. Christ talked much more about God’s judgment and punishment than he did about love. In the Gospel accounts, Christ taught on Hell as follows:
- Hell is real (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-30; 23:15, 33)
- Hell is Ruled by God (Matt. 10:28; 25:41, 46)
- Hell Involves Rejection (Matt. 7:23; 8:11-12; 22:13; 25:30)
- Hell Involves Pain (Matt. 13:30, 40-43, 49-50; 18:6-9; 24:51)
- Hell and Demons (Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7)
- Hell and Eternity (Mark 9:42-48)
- Hell and Scripture (Luke 16:19-31)
- Hell and the Present (John 3:16-21; 3:36)
- Hell and the Future (John 5:28; 8:21, 24)
[from Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial 40, 58 (P&R Publ. 1995)] One cannot “accept” Christ and reject Hell.
When the perfect comes, the imperfect disappears. By observation and experience we understand that light and darkness do not coexist. Light naturally dispels the darkness. But what happens if there is something permanent about the darkness? When God breathed life into Adam, he breathed something of God, something eternal into the lineage of mankind. When we cause the eternal stuff of the soul to be marbled with our fallen nature and when that imperfect soul is exposed to the pure presence of God, wouldn’t there be a conflict as long as the imperfect remained in the presence of God? Remember how God would not allow Moses to look upon God’s face and how painful it was for the people of Israel to view Moses’ face after Moses had caught the backwards refraction of God’s presence while sheltered in a cave. I suspect God’s perfection doesn’t “mix well” with our fallen nature.
Regardless of how one contemplates the doctrines of Hell, Christ, the apostles, and the prophets all spoke of the reality of a future, final judgment and of Hell. It’s a terrifying prospect that we must accept unless we want to deny or rewrite what God has plainly revealed. We celebrate Easter largely because through Christ judgment and Hell are avoided for those who will simply accept what Christ has done for us.