Berean Fundamentals
10/30/15 at 01:06 PM 9 Comments

God Will Still Love You, Even in Hell

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Christians believe “crazy” things, at least according to certain non-Christians. Some of the things Christians believe seem so counterintuitive that it is hard to take us seriously at times. For example, we are encouraged to love our enemies and to pray for the welfare of those who despise, use and abuse us. In fact, we are taught that loving those who love us is okay, though not really commendable. But loving those who hate us, now that is inspirational! It goes so much against what is natural that even some Christians have a difficult time digesting it, thereby creating some doctrinal stumbling blocks.

How can the doctrine of hell that is clearly thought in scripture be reconciled with a loving God? How can a loving God send someone to a place of unending torment? Critics of Christianity, and some believers, argue on the basis of the punishment fitting the crime. Is eternal retribution a fitting punishment for a relatively “short” life of rebellion, especially in the economy of a loving and just God? How can endless retribution coexist with endless love? The answer lies in our understanding of God’s love.

Classical Christian orthodoxy holds that God is Love. That means love is an essential attribute of God; it is eternal, immutable, and not merely a character trait. One cannot speak of God without speaking of love, because God does not possess love – He IS Love. Thus, it is not an emotion as we would consider the love that people are capable of possessing. People “fall” in and out of love. God’s love is unwavering and unalterable. People set their affection on others based upon acceptable conditions. God’s love is unconditional; He loves the sinner, and He loves the saint.

John tells us that God’s love for the world was the impetus for sending Jesus to die in our place as a fitting sacrifice (John 3:16); Jeremiah lets us know that this was His everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3); and Paul says that this love was proven even though we were hostile towards Him (Romans 5:8). God’s love for us has nothing to with do with our worthiness (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Ephesians 2:4-5). He loves us because He is Love. However, we cannot apply God’s love to our situation in isolation of His other equally essential and immutable attributes. God is good, just, righteous, truth, and faithful, among others that are no less or more essential than His love. One attribute does not cancel out or diminishes the other, but is manifested appropriately and complimentarily through the wise counsel of God.

How can the doctrine of hell that is clearly thought in scripture and a loving God be reconciled?

Isaiah says God loves justice (Isaiah 61:8). According to the divine decree, the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Hell and the lake of fire is the just reward for willful rebellion against God. The lake of fire is a place specifically created for the eternally rebellious led by the Devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41). But He made provision so that no one else should have to go there; demonstrating His fairness and justice (Romans 3:21-26).

Moral, sentient beings of both men and angels have been endowed with the gift of choice or free will. John says that Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:17). But there are those who refuse to believe, which they are free to choose to do, and so are condemned (John 3:18). However, they refuse to accept salvation on God’s terms and are condemned because they love evil and darkness more than the truth and light of salvation that Jesus represents (John 3:19-21), not because they are ignorant of God’s graciousness. They choose to continue in sin.

How can a loving God send someone to a place of unending torment?

It is not God’s desire that anyone dies in their sins and suffers eternal damnation, but come to repentance. He has consistently and patiently implored people everywhere to repent and turn to Him for salvation (Ezekiel 33:11; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 3:9). God has gone to great length to make himself known to everyone, and so remove any excuse anyone may have for not obeying Him (Romans 1:19-20).

Furthermore, those who refuse to repent do so knowing full well who God is and what He requires, but willfully refuse to obey (Romans 1:21-23). They despise God so much that they do not even want to think of Him because they actually hate Him (Psalm 10:3-4; Romans 1:28, 30). Beyond all that, they are fully aware of the consequences of their rebellion, but do it anyway and encourage others to do the same (Romans 1:32). Those who are consigned to eternal punishment are not “caught” by surprise, but are confirmed in their rebellion through their own willful intent.

Is eternal retribution a fitting punishment for a relatively “short” life of rebellion?

Consistent rebellion against God is a declaration that a person's desire is to either displace or subjugate Him; it is the sin of Lucifer, the Devil. That is not a light matter, but carries eternal consequence. The punishment is not about the amount of sins or the length of time one spends in rebellion. God judges the heart and its intent. We cannot possibly fathom the eternal perspective of the violation of sin, but we can trust that a loving, righteous and just God will always be right in His verdict.

 

How can endless retribution coexist with endless love?

Good Christians have disagreed, more on an emotional level than objectively, on whether eternal retribution really means endless torment. Some think that at the point where death and hell are cast into the lake of fire there will be annihilation, and that will be the end of that. Others think that because of God’s love eventually everyone, even the devil and his angels, will be reconciled with God and universally restored. Throughout biblical and Christian history, however, most accept the biblical narrative as plenary and not having any veiled meaning.

Heaven is real and endless, and hell is real and endless. In heaven saints enjoy the positive presence of God forever. In hell sinners are forever separated unto the reward of their sins. Nevertheless, because God’s love is unwavering, It will never joyful for God when a person perishes without salvation, but He will never stop loving every one of us, whether in heaven or hell.

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