The Reality of Hell and the Goodness of God

| Time: 7 Minutes

How to even begin? We don’t take this subject lightly. We hope you don’t either. The concept of hell makes us just as uncomfortable as you. But not liking an idea doesn’t make it any less true. We are not here to give you our personal opinion on the afterlife. We’re here to open the Bible. And we pray that what you read here will help you understand and believe that hell, like every other subject in the Bible, is actually evidence of the goodness of God.

What Is Hell?

What is hell? Though we’ve reduced “hell” to a word we use when we stub our toe, hell is not a joke, nor a place reserved only for fairy tales, nor a cute subject to celebrate on Halloween. It is a real place for real people, and it’s real scary.

Hell is the place of eternal conscious punishment for sinners. The New Testament describes hell as a place “in flaming fire” prepared by God for “those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NIV). They will be “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:1:9 NIV).

Jesus frequently warned people of the turmoil of hell. It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), where “maggots never die” (Mark 9:48 NLT)—a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41 NIV).

Hell Is Hard to Handle

Hell is so hard to handle psychologically that we don’t bother with it or we belittle it. It’s natural that some of what the Bible says doesn’t sit well with us emotionally; we expect this to be the case. The Author of Scripture is our Creator, who isn’t exactly like us. Surely there will be times we find his thoughts and plans perplexing (Isaiah 55:8-9).

But we mustn’t let this incite us to doubt what God says, or toss his words out altogether. If anything, such perplexing subjects give us reason to listen to God more closely.

The Psalms instruct us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). The aim of the Bible is that we would know God and his goodness. Every topic within the Bible serves that purpose—even the topic of hell. But we have a problem—our hearts are always inclined to think the worst of God. Because of our sinful hearts, when we come to the Bible, we have a chronic misconception problem.

We Are Not Good

This is certainly the case when we hear about hell. We immediately think poorly of God—because we are at root narcissistic, unable to hear the diagnosis of our sinful condition due to our false self-evaluation. By nature our sin will always persuade us to make God out to be the bad guy.

However, hell should not make us question the goodness of God, but our own. That there should be such a place as the Bible describes does not indicate that God is a tyrant, but that we are thoroughly rebellious. It does not mean that he is unjust, but that our crimes are incalculable. It shows not how intolerant he is, but how intolerable we are.

If hell is real, we will come to one of two conclusions. Either God is cruel and unjust, or we actually deserve the hell he has prepared. By nature, we’re inclined to choose the first.

But the teaching about hell actually supports the idea of the goodness of God like every other teaching in the Bible, and we would like to explain how.

God Is Good

James tells us that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17 NIV), and Jesus says that “God sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV). Now, hold onto those verses and read Psalm 16:2, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’” (ESV). These verses tell us that God is goodness himself, the source of all that’s right, beautiful, true, and pleasant in the world.

So even if you ignore God or deny his goodness, you cannot escape it. All that you are happy about in life comes from his hand. Sunshine, warm coffee, familial love, water for your thirst, that new job, rest.

Hell Is Separation From God’s Kindness

Now, what would it be like to live for all eternity if Goodness turns his back on you altogether? Every moment of enjoyment gone; every good thing absent. The only taste of goodness you got was his pure and righteous justice for every single moment you were not good and refused to submit to him.

Scripture describes the experience of hell as torturous. But is it pain for pain’s sake? No, it’s actually a pain we choose, an inescapable pain that will come if we reject God, the fount of life and the wellspring of all goodness. If you reject God, inevitable pain will ensue.

We are told that in hell, people gnash their teeth, because that’s the physical response to great loss: resentment. It’s also a place of weeping, but not because God delights in misery—it’s a place of weeping because such will be the natural outflow of the deepest disappointment imaginable.

Having missed the train to eternal life with the Good Creator will be the greatest regret and anguish for anyone to face, and those who reject him will face it for eternity.

This doesn’t mean that physical torture will not be part of hell. The best place to look to understand the torment of hell is the cross of Jesus Christ. Crucifixion includes more than emotional distress. It’s the most brutal form of suffering, engineered for excruciation. If that is what Jesus had to endure in order to atone for sin, we can expect hell to be no less awful. We know from experience that justice requires punishment, and punishment has to hurt to work. Don’t deceive yourself with the comfort that hell won’t be that bad; the Bible doesn’t give us that option.

God Has Offered Us a Way to Avoid Hell

Most people aren’t too nervous about hell. That’s because most people assume they’re on their way to heaven. But this isn’t what the Bible tells us.

Instead, we all, by default, are on our way to hell. We all, by default, reject God and would rather be God ourselves. We worship things in his place, and we don’t care to thank him for the breath we’re breathing 24/7, much less the gifts he has given us.

If you’re reading this, you are not in hell. You may certainly be on your way there. God’s Word says that he does not want you to be destroyed (Genesis 6; 2 Peter 3:9). So God acted for your deliverance at a great cost to himself.

He offered his Son Jesus, God in the flesh, as a substitutionary sacrifice for your sins. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

Jesus Christ came that you might have the true life you were created for—life with God. God was so determined to get you out of hell that he himself suffered in your stead, and he offers you new life if you trust in him. Jesus is the only way to be restored to a right relationship with God. Knowing him and knowing God through him is eternal life (John 17:3).

If you reject God’s only invitation back to him, he will keep you at a distance for all eternity, to know only his wrath towards sin. If you reject Jesus’ offer to bear your sin and the wrath it incurs, you will have to bear it yourself.

Where Are You Headed?

Yes, hell is uncomfortable. Unfathomable. Yet, undeniable. But it’s also escapable, because of the goodness of God. God will keep his word to punish evil; but he went to great lengths so that you might not experience that punishment. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 ESV).

If you already have put your faith in Jesus, take some time to thank him for what great salvation he has given you.

If you have not trusted Jesus as your Savior, as the only rescue you have from hell, as the only way to be in a right relationship with God—then friend, don’t wait. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:3 NLT). Cry out to Jesus for rescue, and he promises, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37 ESV).

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