Those of you reading this article probably already believe in the reality of both heaven and hell. Therefore, I enter this discussion not trying to convince you or answer the question, “Is there a hell?” Rather, I would like to consider a further question: “Why is there a hell?” Is it really necessary, and how can we explain hell to the millions of unbelievers who struggle with how a loving God could create and allow such a place?
Even those of the faith sometimes wonder, “How can a loving God create an eternal place of torment knowing that most of His human creation will spend eternity there?”. This is one of the most effective objections of the atheist, the annihilationist and the universalist to Biblical Christianity. The atheist, not believing in God or heaven, does not believe in hell as well. The annihilationist believes those who die without God simply cease to exist; therefore, there is no need for hell or at least an eternal hell. The universalist believes all will ultimately go to heaven; therefore hell, is not an eternal reality or necessity.
But even Christians who believe the Bible and its truths often struggle not with “Is there a hell?” but “Why must there be a hell?” To try to fathom eternity in a hell easily boggles the mind and it should. Having created us in His image, God has placed a portion of His love for mankind in our own hearts as well. When we see people traveling the “broad” rather than the “narrow” way, it should cause our hearts to ache at the thought of anyone spending eternity in punishment without God. It is, therefore, a subject many want to ignore and do.
Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. A doctor does us no favor keeping the truth of impending disease from us and not discussing our options. And Jesus, being our great physician, spent much time warning of hell and teaching man how to avoid it.
In looking over the sermons/classes I have presented over the years, I have probably spoken on heaven many more times than I have hell. But is that Christ like? Is that balanced?
Romans 11:22says, “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God.”We are to look upon God with a balance. He is both kind but also firm as well. It is our preference to ponder His love and mercy at the expense of His severity, but we do that at our own peril.
But would it not be more in the character of a loving and merciful God to simply annihilate the unbeliever’s soul? Maybe, but that is not an option. Being created in His image, our image (soul) is eternal and you cannot destroy something that is eternal. When Jesus says, “fear He that can destroy both body and soul” (Matthew 10:28), the term “destroy” carries the thought of making useless or ineffective, not annihilation.
Did God create hell as an evangelistic tool? A tool to push people to heaven? Many of us may have started our walk with the Lord out of fear of going to hell. And Solomon does tell us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). But hell, or the fear of hell, cannot save anybody even if it starts us on the path. Fear of hell alone cannot get anyone into heaven, because heaven is the eternal abode for those who love God, not for those who simply fear hell. Fear does not prove love.
So why is there hell? Why is it necessary?
First, we must consider the glory of God. God’s punishment of and separation from evil is part of His triumphing over it. The glory of His righteousness is seen in this utter triumph. It also shows the glory of His mercy on the righteous when contrasted with the doom of the wicked. The depth of God’s mercy to all redeemed sinners will be revealed as they recognize that they too deserve hell and escape it only through His mercy.
Secondly, the goodness of God calls for Him to protect the redeemed. Hell, therefore, makes heaven wonderful. Hell takes all the evil away from God’s children. Sin continues and does not end with the end of time (Revelation 22:11). As the righteous will continue in holiness, so will the wicked continue in sin. Hell will contain this sin, so heaven is free from it. A prison is not simply for the punishment of the criminal, but also for the protection of the innocent from the criminal. Likewise, hell is a place that will contain and constrain evil. Evil people or evil itself cannot be allowed into heaven, or it would ruin heaven and torment the righteous. Hell must exist as a prison for evil, or evil would continue to destroy more and more. God cast Satan out of heaven not simply as punishment but to protect and preserve heaven.
Thirdly, the nature of God requires justice for His creation. If we comprehended and appreciated more fully the true heinousness of sin, we would better understand the necessity of hell. Some would claim that eternal hell is too severe for a moment, even a lifetime of sin, that the punishment is far too severe for the crime. Yet the truth is that no amount of suffering by man can be adequate payment for sin and rebellion against God. Hell is the natural and required result of sin. God does not send people to hell, it is something they choose for themselves. God wants all men to come to Him. As C.S Lewis reminds us, in the end there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done” (His children) and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done” (the rejecters).
Yes, hell is an eternal punishment for the wicked who reject God, but it is more than that. It is a backdrop upon which the heavenly glory of God can be seen and a protector for the redeemed as it holds sin for eternity and removes it from the presence of the righteous.