A Soft View of Hell Makes Hard People

Chris —  March 18, 2011

Denying the reality of hell may be very attractive to some.  But people who hold this position are likely to become hard, embittered people when they encounter evil.

Yesterday, I posted about Rob Bell’s theologically liberal views on the doctrine of eternal punishment (hell).

One of the reasons that Bell’s teaching is so attractive is that we have been relatively protected from violent crime.  Consequently, we don’t feel a great need for justice.  If the worst thing anyone has done to you personally was to accidentally get Roundup on your grass, then you may not feel a great need for justice to be done, even if you are intellectually aware of the Holocaust.

Scripture, on the other hand, interacts with many situations where people have been gravely injured.  As I pointed out in my book Unpacking Forgiveness one of the central ways that Scripture teaches us to avoid bitterness is to rest in the truth that God will see that justice is done.  Hence, Romans 12:17-21 says that we ought not to repay evil for evil, but rather we can rest in the truth that vengeance belongs to God and that he will repay.

Similarly, in Psalm 73, the Psalmist is struggling because many seem to get away with gross sin.  The turning point for the Psalmist takes place when he considers the final destiny of the wicked (Psalm 73:17).

Over and over again in Scripture we see this teaching.  A central strategy for avoiding bitterness is to rest in the truth that God will see that justice is done. In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 Paul soberly encourages the recipients that God will make sure that justice is repaid to those who persecute them.  Or, in 2 Timothy 4:14 Paul processes an injury done to him by Alexander the coppersmith by trusting that God will pay him pack.  In Revelation 6:10 the martyred cry out asking God how long until he avenges their blood.

When Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis, and shortly before he was hung, someone asked him how it was possible to feel love for such evil people.  Bonhoeffer replied,

. . . it is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.

See also:

An article about the murder of Kelsey Grammer’s sister.

What I would say to the parents of a child murdered at Virginia Tech.

Exercises to stop thinking about how you have been wounded.

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