Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Justice of Hell

Revelation 20:10

"and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

This week David talked about the reality of Hell. Capitalized, proper noun, place- Hell. It doesn't get much discussion these days. It gets mentioned and hurriedly ignored as a negative we don't like to dwell on. In reality, we really shouldn't dwell on it, since scripture tells us to focus on things above, noble things, things that uplift. And so almost every time it is brought up in a sermon or blog this fact “that it is not discussed much” is highlighted.  My point being, it is rarely a thing we think about.

All that being said, Hell is extremely important. It is a place we don't want to go, obviously, but it is also a place we don't have the capacity to comprehend (eternal suffering doesn’t make sense). I particularly hate the idea of anyone going there but that doesn't mean no one does. People go there every day, and because billions are probably there already, Hell is a reality some are right now living. It's not a place they hear about occasionally in a sermon- it's a place they see, smell, taste and touch at all times.

You can think about Hell in the mild sense as "the place God allows people to go because they don't want to be with Him." This is the version that some have given to diminish the severity of its horror. When God is shown this way, as giving people what they want, it somehow makes Hell less of a problem. It’s a state of mind that you might get stuck in, but it’s almost no big deal; you’ll be fine since that’s what you wanted anyway. This is the vanilla Hell.

Hell is most popularly portrayed as “where you’ll party with all the fun people.” This brings to mind the line in Billy Joel’s song, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, ‘cause sinners are much more fun”. Somewhere along the line, people got the idea that Hell would be an endlessly fun time where no one has to deal with that pesky “God” guy who spoils all the fun. This is the party Hell.

Then there’s the Hell of the Bible, which you would think would be the most believable! Jesus mentions Hell 46 times throughout the New Testament (some are repeats from different accounts of the same speech). He calls it a “lake of fire” (Revelation 21:7-8), “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12), a “furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:42), and a place where there’s “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).  All of these descriptions are of a place unlike the popular notion of Hell. This is the Biblical Hell.

The vanilla Hell is appealing because it tones down the punishment aspect of Hell. The party Hell is easy to popularize because who doesn’t like a party? The biblical Hell, however, couldn’t be further from these descriptions. Yes, you are separate from God, and yes, you are there because you chose to be away from Him. But you are certainly not enjoying your time, and if you do see others, it’s not a time of social bliss.

The reality of Hell is hard for us to justify, simply because our view of God is too small and because our focus is on ourselves.

First, think about creation from God’s perspective. He made creatures who started off perfect. They were given the option to disobey and did. He then covered that disobedience the only way He could, by punishing his son Jesus. Now people have the option, again, to disobey or reject that sacrifice. From that point on, what other option would you have God give? When we see this from God’s perspective, it’s easy to understand why God cannot be with those who have rejected His every advance.

Second, think about who God is and what it means to reject someone like Him. Think about it in terms of physics and Newton’s third law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If you run into a brick wall and don’t hit it with much force, it won’t budge and all of that force will be pushed back on you. How much more if you run into a God-wall? The reaction to your rejection is equivalent to the object you’re rejecting. Since God is infinite, the rejection will be infinite. For mortal humanity that punishment seems severe, but we are not slighting a human here, this is the God who created all!

You may already believe that Hell is real, that the Hell described in the Bible is a real place. You may believe it is justified because God is infinite and this creation is about Him. But have you ever thought about it as not just a necessary and just thing, but actually as a good thing? I would posit that not only is it a good thing, but it makes Jesus’ death even more amazing.

Let me explain. Think about the worst humans in history. Now think about how you would feel if when they died, they simply ceased to exist, crossing into oblivion. Think about that and try to feel good about it. All the pain and suffering they caused others. All the atrocities they wrought, and when they met their end? Nothing. Not even a tiny slap on the wrist. They are let off scot-free. Without Hell, Justice is left unbalanced.  

Now, think about the pain and suffering that you might incur. The awful punishment that God might bring upon you if you die in your sins. Then remember that Jesus not only saved you from an eternity without God, but the punishment you would have endured while you were in Hell. He took away your sins and the ultimate effect of those sins. Though you may still experience the temporary consequences of your actions, He saved you from the end result of your sins- Hell. This thought also brings us even more joy when we realize that not only did He save us and bring us out of Hell, but He drops the awesomeness of HEAVEN on top of His mercy.

Our God is righteous, just, merciful, and good. He will punish injustice and reward those who choose to follow Him. He will give those who reject Him an equal punishment to what they’ve rejected and an amazingly unequal blessing for those who believe in Him.

1.     Why is it hard to believe Hell is justified (Romans 2:6-8)?
2.     When was the last time you talked about Hell? (Philippians 4:8 think about this verse in light of Jesus' death and how it saved you from Hell)
3.     How can we see God’s goodness in light of Hell? Can we see how it is ultimately good that those who reject God are sent away? (Revelation 21:8)

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