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 - combined.

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 well.

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.