Objections to the idea of Hell have long existed, but have recently been stirred up in our culture with the release of a book by a very well-known former pastor of a very large church. This book has reignited the discussion of Hell both in and outside the Church. I recently had a conversation with someone who identifies as a Christian, and they suggested to me that,
“The very idea of God torturing his children for eternity is sick and sadistic. It doesn’t square with a God who is identified as ‘Father’ and described as ‘love’ in his own book.”
I want to speak to that statement first and correct a very bad misunderstanding. God is not going to torture people for eternity. The Bible does speak about a place of everlasting punishment, called Hell, but it does not say that God is going to torture anyone. If that was the claim made by Scripture, then we really would have a difficult obstacle to explain how this God of love could engage in torturing people. But this is not the message of God’s Word! Neither does the Bible teach that God is like a mugger in an ally holding a gun to your head and demanding all you have or else he’ll blow your brains out. “Believe in me or I’m going to smoke you!”
Let me offer a different perspective. Suppose that I am sick with a terminal disease that will eventually kill me. Because I was born with this condition, I don’t even realize I have the disease, but I do experience its symptoms: pain, suffering, sadness, sickness. It’s a debilitating disease that keeps me from living a full life, and yet I don’t even know I have the disease, or what a better life could be, or that this sickness is going to kill me.
God, who is love (1 John 4:8), desires that no one should perish (2 Peter 3:9). And so, he writes a book in order to warn me about my sickness. The first part of the book diagnoses my condition, and the second part of the book reveals the cure. If I read his book, I see a glimpse of what life could be like without my disease, I realize that I am infected with this sickness, and I see the cure, which God offers freely in his book. All I have to do is take it, and I will be healed and free to live the full life that my condition has kept me from living. Better still, now I’m not going to die from this disease!
But, what if I choose not to accept God’s book? What if I decide not to accept the cure for my disease? Does God force it on me against my will? No. Whether or not I accept the diagnosis and the prognosis is my own decision. If I choose not to accept the cure God offers, then I stay infected and eventually I die. Is God a horrible monster because he allowed me to choose not to accept the cure? Is God sadistic because I chose to reject his message and in so doing chose to remain sick and weak and to eventually die?
Friends, this is the condition of our world. We are born in sin (Ephesians 2:3), infected with a sickness that causes pain, suffering, sadness, and eventually death (Romans 6:23). Because of his great love for us, God gave us the Bible. The “Law” (think Old Testament) is like an MRI that diagnoses sin in each one of us (Romans 3:20). If we didn’t have God’s Word, we would never know we were sick with a terminal disease that would end in our death!
But, God’s Word doesn’t just diagnose sin in us. He also offers a cure: his Son, Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we can be set free from our sin (Galatians 5:1) and achieve victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:57). All we need to do in order to be cured of our sin-sickness is accept God’s cure. We simply need to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
This is a decision each one of us must make. To be sure, there are some who will reject God’s cure and remain infected with sin. That sin will eventually end in their death and eternal separation from God (they don’t want to be with God anyway) in a place called Hell. God is not going to force himself on anyone who does not want him. But the fact that someone chooses to reject the cure, remain sick and die doesn’t mean the doctor offering the cure is a horrible sadistic monster. It simply means the person who rejects him is, sadly, a fool.
If you were dying of thirst in a desert, would you turn away the hand offering a bottle of water? If you were dying of hunger in the wilderness, would you turn away the hand offering food? If you were dying from a terminal disease, would you turn away the hand offering a cure? If you are dying in sin, will you turn away the nail-scarred hand offering salvation, freedom and eternal life?