We most recently looked at seven major problems that can arise when one denies the existence of hell. Today we want to deal with an even more difficult issue: the fairness of hell. Jesus' account of the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 helps us to understand the difficult, but nonetheless true teaching about hell. Most of the blog today will be interacting with that text.
IS HELL TOO SEVERE OF A PUNISHMENT?
When we see the attitudes and words of this rich man in Luke 16, we can say with sadness that he got what he deserved. A brief study of that text yields to us three traits of not only that rich man but all of those who are currently suffering in Hell:
1. The rich man remained unrepentant. Luke 16:24
He wanted relief, he wanted comfort, however he was neither repentant nor did he confess any wrongdoing to God.
2. The rich man had re-occurring memories. Luke 16:25
Father Abraham reminds the rich man of how good he had it when he was on the earth. The rich man furthermore still recalls his brothers' and father’s house.
3. The rich man still is rejecting God’s word. Luke 16:30
Just as he had done while on earth, he does all the more in Hell – namely reject God;s Word. At Abraham’s statement about the Law and Prophets the Rich man screams out “No!”. The rich man is still manufacturing his own version of salvation to prevent his brothers from coming to hell.
We can say with sadness that the rich man is not repentant and that he is getting justice. However many will ask: is it too much? is the punishment too severe? Consider the thoughts below:
1. Consider the Nature of the Offended
To deny the fairness of hell as punishment, as well as its eternal duration, is to not grasp the nature of the sinner's offense against God. We have got to remember that all sin is ultimately an assault on God’s very character and reputation.
Whenever an adult experiences a crime, society has set certain laws and punishment for the offender. However have you ever noticed when a crime is committed against a child how society demands stricter punishment? Why? Because the nature of the child is that of innocence, and the injustice is understood to be more offensive due to the nature of the child. Think about God. He is infinite and infinitely Holy. When we look at the concept of justice and punishment, the punishment of the offender always fits the nature of the offense committed against the offended.
2. The nature of the offended party determines the nature of the punishment
If the offended party is a finite creature, then a finite punishment would be warranted. However, God is not finite, but infinite. To do violence to His reputation in any form is sin. Being that His reputation (His glory) is without limit, then any attack against Him is regarded an infinite attack. Humanity’s problem is two-fold – we minimize the enormity of sin and minimize the being and character of God.
3. God is Just and Loving
Romans 9:22-23 reveals that it will take eternity to put on display the glory of God's justice and mercy. Heaven was created for the redeemed, since God through them will be displaying the glory of His mercy. Hell was created for the devil and his angels. All of those who follow the enemy and die without Christ will end up there as well. Thus God will be displaying the glory of His justice for all eternity. So when we consider those three points above, we can only conclude that in light of the attack that sin is on God's infinite Holy character, Hell, sadly but truly, is not an unfair punishment.
IF THERE WAS NO HELL, WE WOULD NEVER KNOW IF GOD WAS A GOD OF JUSTICE When Christ suffered on the cross, He suffered God's wrath in the place of all who would ever believe on Him. He also suffered in the place of the rest of humanity to give them space and time for repentance - thus Christ's death in the historical sense was for all men. In the eternal sense His death is to be applied to all who would ever believe. Thus God displayed His justice and grace in the cross. For those who die rejecting Christ, they will suffer in hell because they never took advantage of the grace poured out at the cross. (John 3:36) Thus as difficult as the doctrine of hell is, without it we could never say God is Just and fair. In order for God to be a good God, He has to be a Just and Loving God.