Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The issue of hell and eternal punishment

Over at the Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson reviews the impact of Rob Bell's heretical book Love Wins, one year on. Johnson makes some interesting points. What I would like to focus on here, however, is his claims on the issue of hell as follows:

If sound and biblical thinkers could be persuaded out of believing in hell, they would abandon the doctrine. Most people who hold to the doctrine do so not because they want to, but they have simply been overwhelmed by the biblical evidence. For me at least, this is how my thoughts go: “I don’t want to believe in hell, and I can’t imagine the horrors of it, and I can’t imagine how and why it would endure forever and ever, but the Bible is so clear that this is the case, and I am bound to believe what the Scripture teaches.”

Johnson's reasoning is true as far as it goes. However, I would like us to consider one very much omitted aspect to the entire doctrine.

Most of the time, discussion on hell hovers around the aspect of God's love and the necessity of the fulfillment of divine justice. But should we not consider another aspect, the wickedness of Man deserving justice?

God's justice is no mere abstract principle. Damnation is God's rightful and just response to wickedness. God is not merely someone who reluctantly just *has* to send people to hell because they have *unfortunately* broken God's law and thus justice must be served. No, Man fully deserve damnation. Wickedness is absolutely abhorrent to God, and wicked men are an abomination to God.

We shudder at the thought of eternal punishment, and to some extent we should. But do we likewise shudder at the wickedness of sin? Do we recognize how abominable wickedness is to God and thus God relishes to get rid of the sinners who are in their sins? Just as those in pain relish to remove the source of their pain, so likewise God relishes to remove sinners in their sins from His presence. Do we recognize how disgusting all mankind is, apart from Christ, to God?

If we cannot grasp this essential aspect of the faith, we will always struggle to make sense of hell. And without it, we do not understand why God seem to be so "cruel," and our foundation for a belief in hell will always be shaky.

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