Accepting The Reality of Hell

llmaime asked:

Hey, I really appreciate your blog. Your honesty is convicting, and it has prompted a lot of growth in my life. I’m just wondering, and maybe you’ve already written about this, but how did you come to terms with the reality of hell? I’ve known a lot of people who have dismissed Christianity because they couldn’t accept the thought of the majority of mankind enduring eternal torment, especially when God claims to be good. How do you navigate through all of that?

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very kind words and thank you for asking. I know this is a tough question that divides many people.

Please allow me the grace to point you to some posts.  The first one here is a little snarky because I was sort of irritated that day, but here you go —

– Do Christians Have To Believe In Hell?

– Hell and Heaven As Motivation For Faith: A Mega-Post

Here are just a few thoughts on this to consider.

1) I believe most people already believe the concept of Hell, whether they admit it or not.

Those who don’t believe in Hell are also saying, “I don’t believe in justice for evil.”  You can’t say one without the other.

I don’t think just anyone goes to Hell.  But certainly there is justice for those who continually choose destruction, tyranny, manipulation, and oppression.  When someone says “There is no Hell,” it means they’ve never faced rape in Rawanda or a murdered child or a national genocide like the Khmer Rouge.  It means they never had to watch their relatives shot in the head right in front of them (my Cambodian friend’s mom watched all five of her brothers executed).  It means they never had to watch their parents get exterminated in an oven. Instead the naysayer’s suffering has only consisted of credit card debt or an egged car at Halloween.

Only over-privileged Westernized Post-Enlightenment thinkers who have been Pavlovian-conditioned with so-called “logic” could ever say that there’s no Hell, because they’ve never been ravaged by evil. [C.S. Lewis calls this “chronological snobbery.”]  And the only motivation for the victims of injustice to stop declaring war is to trust that there is a Hell which ultimately deals justice, so we don’t have to.  [This idea is from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian who is a pacifist and well understands human indignities.]

2) Those in Hell will have tried very hard to get there.

A life apart from God gets us a life apart from God.  They will have ended up exactly where they wanted to go.  As Timothy Keller says, Hell is merely an eternal extension of self-absorption and inner-deterioration that came from a life of selfishness.  To live for only oneself is simply hell.

This also means that there must be some kind of grace for people who had no chance to believe, or perhaps threw a prayer on their deathbed, or who are special needs, or who are very young children.  While I can’t answer all those questions, I believe God’s grace covers them in a way that we can’t humanly comprehend.  We may be surprised in Heaven to see the many multitudes there covered by grace.

3) Jesus paid the price of Hell already.

Here’s what I don’t hear often enough.  God did create Hell for injustice, but He already paid the price Himself so that we wouldn’t have to.

Most people are saying, “It’s not fair that a loving God would make a place called Hell!”  But no one ever says, “It’s not fair that Jesus had to pay Hell for us!”  It’s only unfair when it comes to me.  No one sees the cross for how unfair that was to God.

Imagine the implications of this grace.  It’s like if an architect made a prison, then you commit a crime, and the architect says, “Don’t worry, I’ll carry out the sentence for you.”  No other religion or philosophy or humanism even comes close to this radical kind of grace.  Which brings us finally to —

4) Without justice, then grace doesn’t mean very much. 

I know that some Christians would disagree here.  But without a theology of justice, then grace is just not very electrifying.

If it cost nothing for God to love us, then His love is just sentimentality.  It’s a general warm feeling that gives us fuzzies when we look to the clouds.

This is true for relationships.  If you only love people who are lovable, then that love is cheap.  But if you can love people through the worst of their mess — that love is true, strong, real.  It came with a price.

The love of God is a costly love.  It cost Him everything.  God took on flesh and His whole life was one long crucifixion.  The life and death of Jesus was essentially his descension into Hell. He was tempted with us, suffered with us, grew hungry and tired and thirsty like us, was rejected and abandoned and betrayed and beat up and stripped naked and killed in the worst way possible.  He did this, for us, to endure the penalty of our sin on our behalf.

So knowing this, there is no possible way that His love can be an abstract doctrine.  When people say, “God forgives me, so the Christian can do whatever they want!” — then they have no idea what it costs God to love us.  Grace is free, but it was not cheap.  Grace cost Him everything.

I say all this to say: Christianity does not hinge on whether Hell exists.  That’s not the point, at all.  But rather God rescues us unconditionally out of His costly love and invites us into an eternal journey of joy, and when you can know this: then these other doctrines are the very least of our worries.

I hope we can share these things with sensitivity too.  I’ve had relatives and friends pass away without a knowledge of Christ.  It’s not okay to simply trump this around.  I hope we can navigate these things with a loving heart, full of grace and truth.  Much love to you in caring for your friends about this.

— J

3 thoughts on “Accepting The Reality of Hell

  1. This is one of the best arguments I have heard regarding this highly sensitive matter. I have frequently struggled with the knowledge of Hell – on the one side we are bombarded with the “no grace” gospel who state that everyone is pretty much hellbound unless they are a certain kind of Christian and the other side which say “no worries, grace covers it all” and then go gallavanting around doing what they want with no concept of conscience.

    Thank you for answering this so clearly. I feel, for once, that I could actually talk about this subject now with a non-Christian. Previously, I avoided it like the plague!


    1. Thank you my friend. I know it’s so tough to see eye-to-eye on this one. Hopefully we can all find a balance in both our theology and the approach on that theology.


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