Hell is eternal separation from God and all that is good. How can we believe in a loving, powerful God who would also cast people into an eternal destination of pure torment? No matter what one may say about Hell, it is compatible with an all-loving and all-powerful God. Even so, the issue of hell does not disprove the Bible or Christianity, even if people don’t fully understand the nature of hell or why it must exist.
People react against hell because they don’t like it as a concept. In terms of the reality of hell, whether or not we like it is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not it is real. If hell is real, then our feelings need to be tempered by that truth, for reality cannot be altered by our emotions against it. If hell is real, an adverse emotional reaction would not therefore mean that we are exempt from its consequences. So the question is not, “How do I feel about hell?” The question is, “Is hell for real?” Then, what evidence would lead us to the conclusion that hell is real?
Jesus taught the reality of hell. Thus our warrant for accepting the reality of hell is based upon the Lordship and teachings of Jesus. Anyone denying hell will have to deal directly with the authority of Jesus. What did Jesus say about hell? Jesus uses the imagery of Topheth in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom from the Old Testament. This valley was just outside of Jerusalem. Here many practiced the idolatrous form of child sacrifice referred to as passing their children through the fire (see II Chronicles 28:3; 33:6 f; Jeremiah 7:31-32; 32:35). The place was a fire pit and represented that which was an abomination and a place where there could be no fellowship with God. One can only imagine the smoke, the worms, and the stench that would be found there. Gehenna is the New Testament term for this valley, and thus is a fitting description of eternal separation from God. Jesus said that hell (Gehenna) is where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47-48, quoting Isaiah 66:24). He referenced hell as a “sentence” for wickedness (Matthew 23:33). It is where the soul and body meet destruction (Matthew 10:28). Hell is conceived of being “outer darkness”; “in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30). It is the “eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Hell is “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).
It was the apostle Paul who warned us about both sides of God. He said, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). Even a casual reading of Scripture shows that they had no problem reconciling God’s mercy with harsh judgments; they are not mutually exclusive ideas. Paul wrote the following in a context of both grace and judgment:
“And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation” (Romans 2:2-8).
Notice that God’s judgment “rightly” (in truth) falls on those who are wicked. His wrath is not arbitrary, unjust, or out of control. Further, those who ignore the severity of God are thinking lightly of God’s kindness. God’s mercy is continually demonstrated as He gives time for repentance. He is unwilling that anyone perish, but that all come to repentance (I Peter 3:9). Yet He gives us that option, not forcing us to obey, but warning us that failure to obey has its consequences. (2 Thess 1:7-9) The time God gives is purely a matter of His grace, for no one deserves it. To argue that God is immoral for bringing judgment is to make a farce out of His grace.
If we reject God and rebel against His nature, then we will continue on eternally without Him. How can we say that we should be in God’s presence then, when our actions have indicated to God that we don’t want Him in our lives now? If we have repudiated God’s Word, then we judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46). Hell is the consequence for rejection of God’s glory and authority in favor of our own. If we insist on retaining our own autonomous authority apart from God now, then we must recognize what eternity is like without God’s presence when He gives us completely over to our own will.
When Abraham was faced with the knowledge of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he may not have fully understood all of God’s reasons, but he still showed his faith. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25) Whatever the outcome and however God would accomplish justice, Abraham knew that God would do what is right. Can we not have the same sense of trust and faith in God with eternal justice? Our acceptance of hell is not a matter of completely understanding it. It is not even a matter of liking it. It is a matter of whether or not we can trust that God knows what He is doing. For our part, we need to concentrate on doing His will by obeying and keeping the full gospel of Christ, and leave the rest in the hands of the Almighty. (Job 12:10) After all, if hell doesn’t exist, then neither does heaven exist, for God’s Word testifies of both. Therefore, if God’s Word can’t be trusted for truth, neither can it’s reward or punishment be trusted to exist. Thanks be unto God, God’s word is truth. (Jn 17:17) Thanks be unto God, God cannot lie. (Heb 6:18,19) Therefore, heaven is real for all those who obey him, and hell is real for those who do not. (Tit 1:2 f; 2 Thess 1:8,9)