God’s providence was impeccable as I had just so “happened” to be home when I heard the knock at the door. I had just finished my lunch but hadn’t gone back to the office when I opened the door to see an older husband and wife standing there with warm smiles.
They were Jehovah Witnesses. We talked for about a minute or two and I began to ask some probing questions. This excited them and they wanted to come back and do a Bible study with me. I agreed. After all, they never asked me my “profession” and I never offered it to them.
They came over the following Monday and we began examining the Scriptures together. Ultimately they got mad and left when I continued asking them to reconcile Isaiah 44:6 and Revelation 22:13 since they claim Jesus is not Yahweh. I am sad they got upset, but I was able to present the gospel to them, and I can only hope and pray that one day the Lord may use that encounter to rescue them from their deception.
But this post isn’t about Jehovah Witnesses really. It’s about Hell. You see, one of the core doctrines that JW’s deny is the existence of a literal, eternal, conscious place called Hell.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the Jehovah Witnesses who deny this crucial doctrine. Other people who claim to be Christians have denied a literal, eternal Hell over the years. Recently even the Pope (who already is a false teacher) was accused of denying the existence of Hell.
One of the things the lady Jehovah Witness said to me in our meeting was, “If your son disobeyed you, would you hold his hand on a hot stove forever to punish him?” She was quite satisfied in her argumentation. Of course, I would never do such a thing to my son. But this argument completely misunderstands the nature of sin, and both the love, and holiness of God.
In fact, there is a dangerous trajectory I see in many professing Christians toward the same end Rob Bell has arrived at. Namely, being so convinced of an erroneous view of God’s love, that one is compelled to ignore or erase Scripture’s teaching on a literal, eternal Hell, and essentially become a universalist (that is, saying everyone goes to Heaven. Also, Bell has many more false teachings than just denying the existence of hell. He has fully apostatized).
Popular contemporary songs about God’s love may lead some to believe that the chief object of God’s love is us. That we are loved so much by Him that He’s even willing to break His own Law to rescue us. That God’s love is so focused on us that He can be called reckless.
This is absolutely preposterous. God will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). He is holy, holy, holy, (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8) and His divine Law is not something “outside” of Him as though He can choose or not choose to obey it. Rather, the Law is a reflection of the very nature of the holiness of God.
God is Love
Now, we want to be unwaveringly committed to the truth that God is love (1 John 4:8). And that God’s love is manifested to the world in this way: that He gave His only Son for the redemption of all who believe in Him (see John 3:16). God does not love us because there is something worthy in us but because of His grace (Romans 5:8). The love of God truly is astounding and unable to be fully comprehended by the finite human mind.
But if we begin to see God’s love like a teenager’s crush, we’ve grossly misinterpreted a glorious doctrine. If we think He’s merely a reckless romantic high on love, we aren’t familiar enough with Scripture. In this line of reasoning, people start with their own understanding of love and then apply that to God’s love for them. Instead of seeing God as infinitely holy, worthy, and righteous, they begin to see Him as a God of compromise, all for the sake of love. In fact, they think God sees them as they see themselves. They were created in the image of God, but now they’ve returned the favor-seeking to create a god in their own image. They believe God loves them just as they are because of who they are (after all they love who they are).
Yet, if God’s Law is a reflection of His own holy nature, then how can we possibly think it a trifle thing to break? Breaking God’s Law is an attack upon God Himself. And the problem is, we’ve all broken God’s Holy Law (Romans 3:23).
I’ll leave a discussion on these verses for another day, but consider how strongly Psalm 5:5 and Psalm 11:5 speak of God’s disposition toward Law Breakers.
The point is that God will not compromise His own holy character for the sake of “love.” That’s a ridiculous notion of God’s love anyway. God’s love is so pure and undefiled that it can never compromise His own glory.
In fact, this is quite wonderful news in the gospel: God’s redemption of His people is not about us – apart from His own glory. He is after our chief end; we are not to revel in how great we are, but to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. In other words, His love for rescuing sinners is a love that “spills over” so to speak from His love for His own glory. God’s love is about who He is more than who we are.
A Literal, Conscious, Eternal Hell
So, here is where we can begin to wrap our minds around the purpose of a literal, conscious, eternal Hell. Jesus speaks of the eternality of Hell in Matthew: And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:46). Some have tried to argue that “eternal” doesn’t mean eternal, but the problem is Jesus uses the same modifier for punishment as he does life. So if the punishment is not eternal, then neither is the life.
In Revelation 20:10 John writes: 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.
Then in Revelation 21:8 he tells us: But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
A day of reckoning is coming. Because God’s love is about who He is, then the wrath of God will be overwhelming, never ending, unrelenting, purposeful, and unbearable. And it will last forever upon those who have refused to glorify Him and enjoy Him and have broken His Holy Law time and again.
Hell does not compromise God’s love. Rather, it shows us that His love for His own eternal glory is such that nothing and no one can diminish it in the slightest degree without serious and just consequence.
Hell is a place of unimaginable sadness, rage, pain, darkness, suffering, and torment (Matthew 13:42). Hell is not a place where God is “not”, but is a place where God’s justice manifests itself day and night for all eternity. An infinite God has been sinned against, and thus, only an infinite punishment is just.
I will make a side note here on why Jesus has to be God or we don’t have salvation. Only Christ, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, can Himself bear the full and just measure of God’s wrath. No one else could make the payment.
In the gospel of Matthew we see that Hell is place of fire (Matthew 5:22, 7:19), the whole body goes there (Matthew 5:29-30), a place of destruction (Matthew 7:13), many people go there (Matthew 7:22), body and soul are continually destroyed there (Matthew 10:28), and that God does sentence people there (Matthew 23:33).
I don’t know of any believer that can read this and not feel a burden for so many who are self-deceived because of their own self-love which has distorted the biblical understanding of God’s love. They believe they are the highest object of God’s love, and if nothing changes, will one day meet Him in judgment.
Let me conclude with a few applications:
- Let this truth cause us to marvel at grace. May we see that all are deserving of such a place because of our guilt in Adam and our willful besmirching of God’s holiness. We are sinners by nature and by choice. By God’s grace alone many are rescued from God by God for God. Soli Deo Gloria. Let us praise God for His love! That He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).
- Let this truth also cause us to be fervently biblical when teaching and singing about God’s love. The slightest misstep may cause significant and incredible consequences for those around us and those who come after us.
- Let this truth cause us to praise God for His goodness and all that entails. Hell exists because God is good. A world without Hell would be terribly unjust. But because Hell exists, we know that God’s justice will prevail. He is good.
- Let this truth cause us to be zealous in our preaching the gospel to the lost. No, the ultimate purpose for salvation is not to “get out of Hell.” However, Hell is real and terrible and it is a contributing factor to why we must be untiring in our efforts to see people come to Christ in saving faith.