Hell and God’s Love
Don R. Camp
There is no doubt that the Bible speaks of hell. In fact, Jesus
spoke of hell more often than of heaven.
When speaking in a parable of the unless weeds that would grow up
along with the good wheat he said that in end the weeds will be
pulled up and “cast into the fiery furnace where there will be
weeping and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 13:42).
When speaking in a parable again of those who did not give the
thirsty something to drink, or the naked clothes to cloth
themselves, or who did not visit those in prison Jesus said that
“they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to
eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
Those two words “fiery furnace” and “punishment” are the most
common descriptions of hell. But there is another. It is “perish,”
and it is found in perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible,
John 3:16. It reads: “For God loved the world so much that he sent
his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but have eternal life.” The point of the verse is that God loves
you and me and everyone and has done everything he could to keep
us or anyone from perishing. But perishing remains a possibility.
Perishing. The word does not mean ceases to exist but existing in
a state of destruction like a crushed car in a wrecking yard. How
could the God who loves us throw us into a fiery furnace or into
blackness forever? And why?
In Revelation 20:12 we are told the why. It is because of what we
have done. We are told also that the judgement would be
proportionate to what we have done. No more and no less. That
suggests that the punishment of hell will not be infinite.
But do not underestimate our sin. God knows us through and
through. He knows our thoughts and intentions. He knows every
hidden thing. He knows the things we failed to do, though we knew
them to be right and good. He knows and has already found that we
are all sinners, and not just a little. Romans 3:11-23 gives us
peek at what God sees of us. That should be frightening no matter
if we are great sinners or small. But even the greatest sinner has
committed a finite number of sins. He will not suffer punishment
beyond that list of crimes. That is love because if desires the
best possible thing for those in hell. And it is justice -
You see, God not only loves deeply and powerfully but he is just.
He must by his nature punish sin. The man who kidnaps a child,
brutally rapes her, and abandons her body in a ditch along a road
has committed an enormous crime, and justice demands that he be
held accountable and punished. We would no doubt demand justice as
The mother who teaches her child to steal from a store has
committed a crime as well. The man who refuses to respond in care
to the needs of the homeless has also committed a crime. They must
likewise be punished. That is justice. But it is only just if the
punishment fit the crime. Hell will be just.
But what about the "eternity" part?
Hell will be eternal, yes. But that part of hell that exceeds the
just punishment for our sins is what every person who has not
availed themselves of God mercy chooses - separation from God.
If we tell God to get lost, we get what we desire. It is not
inflicted upon us. It is what we choose.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 Paul writes: “God considers it just to
repay with affliction those who afflict you.” The Thessalonian
Christians to whom Paul wrote had been terribly mistreated by some
in Thessalonica. In the end they would be punished “when the Lord
Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in
flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God
and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
The punishment, however, was because of their mistreatment
of these Thessalonian Christians. But the consequence of hell was
also because they had not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That means that when they heard of God’s mercy in the message
about Jesus and his love and sacrifice for them, they told God to
get lost. They did not accept God’s forgiveness. Instead they
turned away from it and turned to persecuting those who had
received God’s forgiveness.
These, Paul says, will “suffer the punishment of eternal
destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory
of his might.”
What does “destruction” mean? I paste the explanation from
Strong’s Concordance: “ruination with its full, destructive
results.” Ruination, however, “does not imply "extinction"
(annihilation). Rather it emphasizes the consequent loss that goes
with the complete "undoing."
The nature of that ruination is in the next phrase: "away from the
presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might."
I doubt anyone who does not know the glory of God in experience
will even begin to appreciate the disaster spoken of here. It will
be immense and the more immense because it will be forever. This
exclusion from God's presence is the real horror of hell. But it
is not punishment; it is the consequence of our choice. God offers
love. We may any one of us receive God’s love and forgiveness and
by his love escape the just punishment for our sins. But if we do
not, we choose darkness.
Do not blame God for this. It is our own doing. We receive what we
desire. God respects our choice. And that too is love.