Hell Is Real

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.

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  • Rebby says:

    What a great way of describing the reason for such a scary place as hell.

    It made me think of the sermon that Peter gave at Pentecost and specifically what it must of felt like to be a Jew in the crowd that had encouraged the crucifiction of Jesus. After listening to Peter, all of the sudden the lights cut on, and they realize “I didn’t condemn a blasphemer…I CONDEMNED GOD!” You can believe that those guys believed in Hell in that moment.

    And thinking about how I was on a path towards that, eternal death, it feels like the floor has come out from under you.

  • Rebby says:

    I should have said, “what a fitting illustration.” There’s nothing good about hell.

  • Christopher Lake says:

    This is the one thing that seems hardest to convey to Christians in the West– that God is infinitely holy, beyond our greatest, highest thoughts of Him, and therefore, all sin is infinitely bad and worthy of infinite punishment. Please pray for me that I would communicate this better to my non-Christian friends and family, in true caring and love for them!

  • Don Rogers says:

    Why do you wish to believe in a God who would torture 80-90% of his total creation forever? What is it in your heart that makes you feel this is a good thing? Don’t tell me about how “God is just”.Your God, the way you have described him, is a bi-polar, schizophrenic, guy with an anger-management problem. That just seems wrong. Some time at your leisure, check out these articles. If you dare. It will get you to thinking. You should not believe me, just check it out:


    As to my questions, please answer only what I have asked, should you choose to answer them at all. Blessings

  • michaelscottkelley says:

    Don – Thanks for taking time to read my post, and thanks also for your articles. They are really interesting. As you requested, I’ll only respond to what you asked:

    “Why do you wish to believe in a God who would torture 80-90% of his total creation forever?”

    As I said in my post, I don’t really relish the thought of hell. I’m not happy about it, and I don’t enjoy it. I’m certainly not comfortable with it. However, I’m not comfortable with alot of things, but that discomfort doesn’t make them any less true.

    “What is it in your heart that makes you feel this is a good thing?”
    I think I might respond to this one by talking about the nature of what is “good”, and I think there is a more fundamental question at stake here than one about hell – namely, is God good, or is good God? That is to say, is God defined by some outer thing called “good,” or is what is good defined by God? I tend to lean toward the latter, because of my belief that God doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t do anything less than what is perfectly right, and is infallible in all His workings.

    But if it’s the former, then we can sort of sit in judgment of the works of God, evaluating them as to whether they are “good” or not.

    But I also feel compelled to say that while my post was about the existence of hell, it wasn’t about the nature of hell. I agree with your articles, that much of what we believe about hell is not from the Bible; it’s from Dante and other sources. I also recognize that the use of Sheol and Gehenna as names for hell do indicate biblical allusion to specific places on the earth. For that reason, I think the fundamental characteristic of this place called hell isn’t fire or brimstone; it’s separation from God. That is where the true badness comes in.

    We have no idea what such a thing would be like, for even in the worst places on earth there is still an element of common grace. Rain still falls. Seasons still change. Plants grow and a host of other things that reveal the presence of God. But hell has none of that.

    So thanks again, Don, for reading and for bringing another perspective to the discussion.

  • Don R says:

    Thanks for taking the time to check out the articles. I assume that you believe that “hell” is actually separation from God. I have a question for you. If God is ubiquitous, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc; and if he is the Source of all, the creator, as I believe he is, how could there be a place, a separate place, where he is not? He created all. He is a part of every single thing. Where is he NOT? David spoke of God even being present in Sheol. I don’t understand how hell could be separation from the one who created all.

  • michaelscottkelley says:

    Another valid question, Don – I’ve got to say frankly, “I don’t know.” I will add, however, that it’s sort of the same question as to whether or not God could create a rock big enough to where He couldn’t move it. In a way, it’s asking which is greater – God’s power to create or His strength?

    You could say, though, that this wouldn’t be the only example of God’s self-limitation. I think Christ clearly points to that, the “emptying” of Himself. Why not with a place-or realm-where God chooses to limit Himself, even limit Himself completely?

  • Don Rogers says:

    I genuinely believe that God will not limit himself or he would not be I AM. My thoughts of who Jesus was also differ from you. But, that’s OK. Thank you so much for the dialogue. Our roadmaps to reutrn to our Source may be a little different, but we’ll both reach the goal we’ve set for ourselves. Blessings to you.

  • michaelscottkelley says:

    You got it, man – You’re welcome here any time.

  • Michael says:

    Michael, the argument you make in the post, if sound, does not show that the everlasting torment view of hell is real, but only that God would be just to inflict a severe punishment, perhaps the most severe possible, for willfully wronging him. But “annihilationists” (those whom Piper takes to task in his post which you use as your point of departure) could well argue that an extinction of existence that endures forever is the most severe punishment possible. To my mind, it seems it is. It is an eternal capital punishment. What do you think?

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