I was reading a discussion on John Piper’s blog about how some theologians are drifting away from the interpretation that hell is a literal place. If you’re interested in the full article you can find it here.
The main objection to hell seems to be on moral grounds; basically that a loving God could not justifiably punish people for all eternity (a very long time) for things done in one lifetime (a relatively short time). It would be unjust, not to mention downright mean. Those who choose not to believe in an eternal hell tend to gravitate toward the idea of annihilation, that at some point, everyone not in heaven will simply cease to exist. No eternal life, but no eternal death for them either.
The people arguing for this view are certainly smarter than me, and honestly, I’m not comfortable with eternal punishment. Who really is? But just because I’m not comfortable with it doesn’t mean it’s not a reality. I think the thing that clinches and helps me understand the hell thing a little bit is actually not the meanness of God – it’s His goodness. A little story here to illustrate.
I was sort of a punk kid sometimes. I didn’t smoke weed, but I certainly did some things I’m not proud of. When I was in the fifth grade, I was playing in a pick-up football game in a field. We had the “don’t rush the passer” rules, so instead of actually chasing after the quarterback, all the defensive person could do was try and block the pass. It never worked, so most people would just drop back and wait. You know, play it cool.
But when I was the quarterback, this kid who everybody thought was incredibly annoying happened to be defending me. Instead of playing it cool, he started jumping up and down and shouting at the top of his lungs. So instead of throwing the pass down the field, I threw it as hard as I could right at his face. It hit him hard, and he went down even harder. Everybody laughed because they thought the kid was annoying.
But imagine if it wasn’t the annoying kid defending against me as the quarterback. Imagine instead it was a 5-year-old girl eating an ice cream cone. And then imagine I did the very same thing, smacking her in the face with a football with all my might. Even a group of 5th grade boys would have thought I was a jerk.
Isn’t it interesting that the “badness” of the act changes with the “goodness” of the one the act is committed against? Same act, but different person. This is why I believe in a literal hell. Hell is so bad not only because of the bad things we do – it’s so bad because God is so good.
God isn’t a 5-year-old girl. He’s God. He’s the Creator and Perfect Sustainer of the Universe. God isn’t defined by good; good is defined by God. That’s how holy, righteous, and good He is. When we wrong Him, that’s a big deal. And it’s so big because He is so good. If God were just a vindictive deity, someone waiting to zap us from heaven, then maybe sin would be a little bit justifiable. After all, that God is a jerk. Who cares if we wrong Him? But He’s not.
He’s the God who wrapped Himself in flesh and walked, talked, and died among us. For us. He’s good. And because He’s so good, hell is so, so real.