Someone I love has been deeply troubled lately by the thought of hell. It troubles me too.
Hell is an awful thing to believe in. It’s no wonder that most Christians, most of the time shy away from looking the doctrine full in the face. Does it mean that so many of the people sitting in the cafe with me, walking past on the footpath, pursuing their Saturday morning lives, are walking, shopping and sipping their way toward a place where they will be tortured forever? I can’t stand to watch even a dog being tortured, let alone allow myself to conceive of such horror.
I guess that’s why we tend to relegate Hell to our peripheral vision. The problem with such a stance is it’s easy to lose sight of the real Christian doctrine of hell, and get slipped a substitute instead.
There are all kinds of substitutes, lots of different ways of populating, depopulating, colouring, shading, and most importantly, relating God to Hell.
The worst kind of substitutes however, are those which leave nothing written upon the face of God other than hate and torture. That is a badly dehumanised God. It leaves him with nothing but naked violence, an emotionally dysfunctional cosmic sociopath. It leaves me afraid of his violence, like a child avoiding an abusive Father. How could he be so much less than us? That is a God with no glory. That isn’t God,
that’s a demon.
But is hell the absence of God? I used to think that, but no, that’s another inadequate substitute.
Hell is full of God.
However, we don’t start our thinking about Hell by reading whatever terrifying passages we might discover in Revelation or Isaiah. The Christian doctrine of Hell, like all our knowledge of God, starts with Jesus and finds its centre in The Cross.
There is a God in Hell, because first and above all else, Jesus went to Hell.
Whatever the wrath of God tastes like, Jesus has drunk that cup all the way to the end because that was his Father’s will (there’s no good God/bad God here).
Yes, he did that to substitute himself for us. He did it so that in his death those who trust him would have life. But that means that Jesus experienced something on the Cross that those who trust in him never will. He shared with those in Hell the truth of God’s wrath. He was abandoned by God and set among the sinners. He was their brother in death, just as he was their friend in life.
There is nothing more true, in life or death, than this:
God loves the damned.
He has demonstrated his own love for us in this, whatever hell there is, in this world or the next, whatever world of torment, you cannot suffer in a way that God has not already suffered. Even in Hell he has suffered with you and for you. You cannot escape him, you cannot go beyond him. NEVER EVER will you be greater than his love.
That is his glory.
Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Ex 34:14 NIV)
Your problem is that, probably because you’ve been a Christian for too long, you think that God loves you because you’re saved. But that’s not the gospel which you first heard. God saved you because he loves you with a love that’s entirely from within himself, and ultimately beyond comprehension. His love comes long, long before the saving. It was while we were still sinners, that Christ died for us.
That’s why I can believe in the God of Hell.
And that’s why I can keep holding on to hope for our family.