Hell is unashamedly a terrible doctrine. Yet, as we will see a necessary doctrine. We will look at five reasons why a hideous hell is necessary. See the following passages for references to hell: Luke 12:47-48; Hebrews 6:1-2; 10:27; 2 Peter 2:4,9; Jude 6-7; Revelation 14:10-11,13-14; 19:3; 20:10,13-14; 21:7-8 (See also: Deut. 32:22; Is. 33:14-15; 14:9-10; Ps. 94:1-2, 23; Job 21:30-34; Matt. 3:12; 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:8-9; 23:15, 33; 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:5; James 3:6).*
Hear C. S. Lewis’ words,
“There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason” (The Problem of Pain).
First, a hideous hell is necessary because…
We have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous. Yet, if we see something that is less hideous we look at it as a wonder. Why? Because this world is so tainted and steeped in sin and the effects of sin.
To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa. Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and esthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine. And so the ramifications of the destruction of such beauty is greater. We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. In short, through our “war crimes,” we, as humanity, deserve death. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.
Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is.
Second, a hideous hell is necessary because…
God is infinite and sin against Him is thus infinitely heightened. So, we see that we deserve infinite, i.e. eternal, punishment. To illustrate, it is one thing to steal information off of my computer but it is quite another to steal information from the President. An offense is heightened and increased in proportion to a person’s authority and position. God is heightened and glorious beyond what we can comprehend.
Jonathan Edwards says it this way,
“The least sin against an infinite God has an infinite hatefulness or deformity in it; but the highest degree of holiness in a creature has not an infinite loveliness in it: and therefore the loveliness of it is an nothing in comparison in comparison of the deformity of the least sin… We are surely under greater obligation to love a more lovely being, than a less lovely; and if a Being be infinitely lovely or worthy to be loved by us, then our obligations to love Him are infinitely great; and therefore, whatever is contrary to this love, has in it infinite iniquity, deformity, and unworthiness” (The Religious Affections, 252).
Third, a hideous hell is necessary because…
Morally we innately believe that at least some things should be punished. Hell provides just and appropriate punishment. The problem we typically have is quantifying what is wrong or how wrong something is. We often talk of “good people” for example. However, the Bible doesn’t really talk about “good people.”
Part of our problem is that our view of good has been so severely tainted. We may conceive of a man that has been in a deep dark cave his whole life. He comes out of the cave for the first time and sees the first picture he has ever seen. It is just a crude stick man drawn with chalk on rock. But the man proclaims that the stick man is a work of art, a masterpiece. He thinks the little chalk man is great. But why? Because he has been in a cave. He does not know what is truly out there. He has never seen Norman Rockwell’s work, for instance. It is the same with us. Morally we have been in a cave. We think we’re good. But we don’t know. We haven’t seen God!
Fourth, a hideous hell is necessary because…
You can’t make good cake with bad eggs. It may be a crass way of saying it but heaven is not heaven if you let hell in. For heaven to be heaven, infinitely good, etc., all the bad that would inevitably ruin it must be expelled (See for instance Rev. 21:7-8; 22:15). Just as bad eggs would make a nasty cake so bad people make a nasty heaven. So, it is a gracious thing for God to keep those out that refuse love Him.
Fifth, a hideous hell is necessary because…
God justly judges and proportionately pours out His wrath. So, for instance, it will be worse for those that failed to listen to and follow Jesus than for Sodom and Gomorrah (see Matt. 10:15 cf. Matt. 11:24; Mark 12:24; Luke 12:47, 48; Rev. 20:11-12). Thus it follows that there are gradations of judgment in hell.
Thus, though hell is a grave and brutal subject it is also a truth that I can appreciate. Hell does not scream, “God is not good!” Rather, it screams, “God is infinitely good!” Further, He endured hell, or a form of hell, so that we through Him could escape it. Of course, God was not obligated to give His gracious salvation. God created the world and it was good. Yet, we wreaked it. However, He still being gracious provided a way for a renewed and exalted creation. He provided it at His own expense. And He welcomed all in. God is good. He graciously delivers us from the consequences we deserve and casts out the wicked so that all who go to Him can enjoy His glorious master pierce of supreme unending joy.
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*For an in-depth study of hell as eternal conscious torment and its implication for evangelism and missions see Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper esp. pp. 121-127. See also Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1148-153.