Hell for many is an uncomfortable topic. We typically focus on attributes of God such as His love and mercy, but less and less on His holiness, justice, and yes, I’ll say it, wrath. The issue I would like to discuss here is God’s relationship to hell.
I often feel that contemporary Christianity has a distorted view on hell in relation to God. Allow me to lay out some basic truths regarding God’s relation to hell and the damned.
First off, God does not delight in the damnation of souls. He does not enjoy condemning individuals to hell. This is one truth that most do accept and hardly any misunderstand.
Second, God does not predestine anyone to hell, that is, God does not choose before the foundation of world anyone to be damned. The fact is, He doesn’t need to. Man does a good enough job on his own to destine himself to damnation. I once had someone tell me that in Romans 9 it appears as if some people are doomed to destruction before they are born. They wanted me to explain this. My first thought was, “you nailed it!” because it is true that man is doomed from birth, even before birth. Therefore, I responded, “Technically everyone is doomed to hell before they are born.” And that’s the truth. God does not need to predestine anyone to hell, for we are born running away from Him and towards hell.
However, what I feel is often neglected in our generation of Christianity is that God is a judge, He does condemn people to hell, and therefore, He does send or sentence people to hell. He is active in damnation.
Allow me to expound.
Sometimes I feel like we have this thought that God is up in heaven bound by this external law: no one can enter heaven who is guilty of sin. He certainly has created heaven for us but we think that in no way, shape, or form has He created hell. Hell, in our minds, is this nasty alternative that man faces when he refuses to repent and if it were up to God it wouldn’t have to be that way. It’s like hell is His obligation and eternal punishment is something outside His character.
But the truth is, God is wrathful and He is ticked off at sin. He is holy and it is therefore part of who He is to hate sin and desire justice, namely, the punishment of sin. Sometimes it is common to hear, “God’s righteousness or holinesses demands that He punish sin.” Although this is true, the phrase can lead to a misunderstanding. It’s almost as if we think God is being forced into punishing us even though it is against His character. On the contrary, eternal justice flows from His character, wrath flows from who He is, and in some sense, hell (at least eternal punishment) flows from these attributes. Hell meets God’s righteous and holy desire to see justice, namely, sin punished.
Another truth that seems rather taboo now days, but must be accepted, is the fact that not only does God save us for His own glory (Eph 1:3-6) but the damnation of souls is also for God’s glory. God’s wrath on mankind is revealed in their destruction. And God receives glory when His attributes are “on display,” so to say.
Romans 9:22-23 – What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.
A popular trend in contemporary theology is to question the “eternal” in “eternal punishment. Scripture is extremely clear that damnation is eternal, not temporary as in purgatory or annihilation (Mt 25:41, 46; Mk 9:43-48; Rev 20:10, 13-15, 21:8). Because sin against the perfectly holy and infinite God of the universe demands perfect and infinite payment (either payed by the infinite God-Man, Jesus Christ, or eternally in hell), to deny the eternal nature of damnation is a direct attack of Christ’s atoning work, God’s nature (namely His holiness), and Christ’s divinity.
And lastly, the entire idea of propitiation centers around God’s wrath. Propitiation is the idea of appeasing one’s wrath. Jesus Christ, the God man, died to propitiate God’s wrath on us (1 John 2:2).
In closing, my challenge to you is to have a Biblical view of God and how He relates to hell. Resist forming your view on damnation from what you would like to believe or possibly have been told. Resist the laziness in accepting the common misunderstandings. Understand who God truly is in relation to this uneasy topic of hell.
* Originally posted on former blog, I’m Calling Us Out.