In the shifting winds of modern cultures, the idea of everlasting torment and damnation is difficult for many people to grasp. Why is this? The Bible makes it clear that hell is a literal place. Christ spoke more about hell than He did of heaven. Not only Satan and his minions will be punished there, everyone who rejects Jesus Christ will spend eternity right along with them. A desire to reject or revise the doctrine of hell will not mitigate its flames or make the place go away. Still, the idea of eternal damnation is spurned by many, and here are some reasons for it:
The influence of contemporary thought. In this postmodern era, many go to great lengths to assure no one is offended, and the biblical doctrine of hell is considered offensive. It is too harsh, too old-fashioned, too insensitive. The wisdom of this world is focused on this life, with no thought of the life to come.
Fear. Never-ending, conscious punishment devoid of any hope is indeed a frightening prospect. Many people would rather ignore the source of fear than face it and deal with it biblically. The fact is, hell should be frightening, considering it is the place of judgment originally created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
A flawed view of God’s love. Many who reject the idea of eternal damnation do so because they find it difficult to believe that a loving God could banish people to a place as horrific as hell for all eternity. However, God’s love does not negate His justice, His righteousness, or His holiness. Neither does His justice negate His love. In fact, God’s love has provided the way to escape His wrath: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (John 3:16-18).
A downplaying of sin. Some find it shockingly unfair that the recompense for a mere lifetime of sinning should be an eternal punishment. Others reject the idea of hell because, in their minds, sin isn’t all that bad. Certainly not bad enough to warrant eternal torture. Of course, it is usually our own sin that we downplay; other people might deserve hell-murderers and the like. This attitude reveals a misunderstanding of the universally heinous nature of sin. The problem is an insistence on our own basic goodness, which precludes thoughts of a fiery judgment and denies the truth of Romans 3:10 (“There is no one righteous, not even one”). The egregiousness of iniquity compelled Christ to the cross. God hated sin to death.
Aberrant theories. Another reason people reject the concept of eternal damnation is that they have been taught alternative theories. One such theory is universalism, which says that everyone will eventually make it to heaven. Another theory is annihilationism, in which the existence of hell is acknowledged, but its eternal nature is denied. Annihilationists believe that those who end up in hell will eventually die and cease to exist (i.e., they will be annihilated). This theory simply makes hell a temporary punishment. Both these theories are presented as viable options to the biblical teaching on hell; however, both make the mistake of placing human opinion over divine revelation.
Incomplete teaching. Many contemporary pastors who do believe in the doctrine of hell consider it simply too delicate a subject to preach on. This further contributes to the modern denial of hell. Congregants in churches where hell is not preached are ignorant of what the Bible says on the subject and are prime candidates for deception on the issue. A pastor’s responsibility is “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3), not pick and choose what parts of the Bible to leave out.
Satan’s ploys. Satan’s first lie was a denial of judgment. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent told Eve, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). It is still one of Satan’s main tactics. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the blindness he produces includes a denial of God’s holy decrees. Convince the unsaved that there is no judgment, and they can “eat, drink and be merry” with no care for the future.
If we understand the nature of our Creator, we should have no difficulty understanding the concept of hell. “[God] is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4, emphasis added). His desire is that no one perish but that all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
To contradict the Bible’s teaching on hell is to say, essentially, “If I were God, I would not make hell like that.” The problem with such a mindset is its inherent pride-it smugly suggests that we can improve on God’s plan. However, we are not wiser than God; we are not more loving or more just. Rejecting or revising the biblical doctrine of hell carries a sad irony, which one writer put this way: “The only result of attempts, however well meaning, to air-condition hell is to assure that more and more people wind up there.”
I would personally worry about the person who isn’t concerned with the idea of eternal punishment. Even for those of us who should have no fear of it – it’s a terrible thing to think of. Spending eternity separated from God in hell is going to be a reality for a large number of people, and it is not a pleasant thought.
More specifically, I believe that what keeps people from knowing Christ is never an intellectual issue, but is always a heart issue. It is for moral reasons that people ignore the Spirit, not intellectual. If we accept that there is a God, then there might be a purpose for us, and we might be responsible for our actions. Sinners naturally don’t want to face that and want to do what they do best – sin. As a side note, this is why we aren’t to judge sinners because they are only acting naturally.
But, the moment a non-Christian accepts the idea that there might be a place of eternal punishment, they will have no choice but to examine their lives, their sin, and make a decision about their life. It’s not a pleasant experience for a lot of people. Or at least, it’s not pleasant until they accept Christ and then once they are freed it’s a different story.
People in our day and age don’t like the idea of taking responsibility for their actions. Our culture doesn’t allow for the idea of being punished for our sins. So Yes, God is love but He is also holy, righteous and just. His nature, His attributes demand that He honors His own Word. (Isaiah 55:8-11)