Atheists take issue with a common Christian doctrine; the doctrine of Hell. They accuse Christians of holding a contradictory view of God. Because on Christianity God is supposed to be loving, kind, compassionate, merciful, good, and yet he condemns those who don’t believe in Him to eternal torment. Does this really make sense? Should Christians abandon the doctrine of Hell to preserve the goodness of God? I don’t think so.
First, we must understand that God has two essential attributes which He must have in order to be good. God is loving and God is just. The Bible teaches that God is loving (John 3:16, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16, Romans 5:8). But The Bible also teaches that God is holy and just (Psalm 9:7-8, Psalm 9:16, Psalm 10, Psalm 11:16, Psalm 103:6). So, according to The Bible, God is both loving and He is just.
Since God is just, that means that He cannot let sin go unpunished. A holy and righteous God must punish wicked people for the wicked deeds that they have done. If God does not punish people for their wicked deeds, then that means that He’s not righteous. It would mean that He’s a corrupt judge, that He doesn’t care whether people break His laws or not. But God isn’t a corrupt judge. He is just, and as such, He cannot let evil go unpunished. That’s what Hell is for. Unfortunately, every human being has sinned (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14:2-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Job 9:2-4, Proverbs 20:9). God must punish sin. However, God loves all human beings. God loves us. God love us, and because He loves us, He doesn’t want to send us to Hell to be tormented for our sins. However, a just God must punish people for doing evil deeds. So God is torn. What will God do? Will God send us to Hell to be separated from Himself for eternity? Well, God doesn’t want that. Will God let us into Heaven? If He does that, how will justice be done?
God resolved this situation by becoming a human being (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8) and taking the punishment on Himself. The second person of the Trinity took on a human nature and took the wrath of the first person of the Trinity upon Himself. God suffered His own wrath on the cross. God loved us so much that He was willing to be beaten, tortured and killed so that He could spend all eternity with us and so He wouldn’t have to send us to Hell. Jesus died on the cross for our sins! In fact, historical evidence tells us that this death that Jesus died was one of the worst ways a human being could possibly die. Maybe it isn’t THE worst way, but in my opinion it definitely makes the top 5.
The suffering before crucifixion was horrific! When the Romans crucified a person they would use whips with multiple jagged edges made of sheep bone that would cut through a person’s skin like butter! The Roman lashes often times consisted of 40 of these lashes, so you can imagine how shredded a person’s back would be after being whipped with these multi-thronged, bladed whips. According to some historians who have studied pre-crucifixion scourging, the whipping could get so bad that the white of the spine was sometimes exposed. Eusebius; a third century historian describes the pre-crucifixion scurging thusly; “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews and bowls of the victim were open to exposure.” The Passion Of The Christ got very close to accurately portraying this type of gore that crucifixion entailed but even that didn’t fully portray the goreyness of Jesus’ death! In fact, Mel Gibson himself admitted to this! He said that he wanted to portray what a crucifixion victim went through but couldn’t show the full horror of it because “the human mind can only take so much”. And this is a movie that got an R rating because of the violence.
After that, Jesus had to carry his cross in that weak and battered state. He lost so much blood that he fainted along the way to Golgotha and Simon of Sirene had to help Him carry His cross. After that, the Romans nailed Jesus to the cross and they nailed Him through the median nerve. You know how painful it is when you hit your funny bone? Well, imagine taking that nerve and twisting it with a pair of pliers! That’s how painful being nailed to the cross was! If you want to know more about the horrors of crucifixion, click here.
Jesus went through all of that for you and me. God loves us so much that He was willing to become a human being so that He could endure the pain and suffering that we were going to experience in Hell! My mother has told me before when I was very sick that she wished she could take on my pain and suffering so that I wouldn’t have to endure it. I’ve heard other parents say similar things. The parents say things like that because they love their children so much that they can’t stand to see them… suffer. They also mourn greatly when their children die because they loved them so much. Jesus was tortured viciously!
God has made a way for human beings to attain salvation. All we have to do is except it. God gave us free will. It’s up to us where end up for eternity (see Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15). If you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and pray to Him for salvation, confessing your sins (1 John 1:9) and turning away from your life of sin (Isaiah 55:7, Ezekiel 18) then He will be registered as your substitute, that is to say, His atoning death will be applied to you. His blood will cover your sins and God will forgive you. However, if you reject Him, Jesus will not be registered as your substitute and you will have to pay the penalty for your sins rather than Him. The cross of Christ reconciled God’s conflicting desires. God doesn’t want to send us to Hell because He loves us, and thanks to the fact that Jesus died on the cross, He doesn’t have to.
However, If we reject Him, we have to pay the penalty ourselves.
Think of it this way. You have violated the law and face a $50,000 fine. You tell the judge that you are truly sorry for your crime, but he answers, “So you should be—you have broken the law! Now, can you pay this fine?” He can only acquit you if the fine is paid. If someone else pays your fine, then he can let you go. Now suppose you’re stubborn and adamantly refuse to take your friend’s money so he can pay your fine for you. He’s not going to FORCE you to take the money but you need it or else you’re going to jail. We broke God’s law and Jesus is willing to pay the fine for us but if we reject His offer, then there’s only one other alternative.
There’s a story about a judge whose own son was brought before her for a crime he had committed. The judge felt a deep grief that her son would violate the laws upon which she based her entire life. Tears welled in her eyes and she listened painfully as the evidence against her son was presented. The courtroom sat in silence wondering how the judge would rule. Would she just give him a reprimand in an act of mercy? Would she give him the minimum penalty for the offense? Much to their surprise, she handed down the maximum fine, upholding the law to its fullest degree. The son was in shock, for he knew that he couldn’t pay the fine and was anguished at the thought of imprisonment. He looked up at her in disbelief. But then something happened that nobody expected. She stepped down from the bench, took off her judge’s robe, told her son how much she loved him and then paid, out of her own pocket, the fine she had just handed down. Not everyone understood what she had done. As a judge, she showed her commitment to honor the law, but she then stepped down from that seat of honor and to show her love for her child. Her son never understood the depth of his mother’s commitment to the law until that moment, and, until that moment, he never knew the depth of his mother’s love for him. He felt deep sorrow for the pain he had caused her and for those he had hurt by his act of crime. With his head bowed, and his tears flowing freely, he asked for her forgiveness, which she willingly gave to him.
This story is actually an allegory for God’s relationship to us. Our crimes are our willful departure from the laws given us by God for the way we are to live. When we break those laws, God is grieved and pained. Inevitably there are natural consequences of our failings that hurt others, sometimes affecting lives for generations to come. This is why God’s laws say that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). His holy nature demands that He not just let us off the hook or go easy on us. So what did He do? He came down from heaven to us in Jesus Christ to help us to understand His laws, to show us the depth of His love for us and to pay the price of our sin with His own life. Now suppose the man rejected his mother’s money and no matter what she said to try to get him to change his mind, he refused to take the money to pay for his fine? Well, he would have to pay the price himself. Pay the fine or go to Jail. If he can’t pay the fine, he’s going to go to jail.
Likewise, Christ can die for everyone but we have to accept His offer of salvation and repent. We have to live for God instead of for ourselves. We have to live as clean and pure lives as we possibly can instead of living a life of sin.
The Bible says in Romans 6:23 that the consequence of sin is death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The death it’s talking about is not just physical death, but spiritual death – living for eternity in hell apart from God. Romans 3:23 says we are all sinners, and we all deserve to be separated from Him. Because God is just, He cannot let sin go unpunished. But because of His love and mercy, He provided a way for us to be pure and holy in His sight – to spend forever with Him in heaven. That way is through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a sinless life, providing the perfect sacrifice for our wrongdoing. He willingly died on the cross to pay the price for our sins. Then He rose again 3 days later, defeating death! … 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 tells us that those who do not accept Christ into their lives and live for Him “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.” and Jesus said in John 3:18 says that those who do not believe in Him will be judged for their sins. But God doesn’t want that to happen. He gives us a choice whether to accept Him or not, but His hope is that we will all accept Him. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “God … desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Peter 3:9 says God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” He wants us all to be with Him forever in heaven, but He lets us choose for ourselves ((see Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15, Romans 6:16).
God feels deep sorrow when He has to send Human beings to Hell…the same way earthly parents mourn over the physical deaths of their children (read Luke 19:41-44, Matthew 23:37-39, Jeremiah 48:31, Jeremiah 48:58, Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11) . With love, there is always heartbreak. And since God’s love is the greatest love of all…then I imagine His heart-break is the greatest of them all too. If God wants all people saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4 ) and everyone who gets saved becomes a child of God (John 1:12) then it follows that God loves all people in the same way a mother or father loves their children. God wanted us to stay out of Hell so much that He suffered Hell on a Roman cross. The cross of Christ is God’s way of telling us “I’d rather it be me than you.” Yet we still must repent. If we don’t repent, we have only ourselves to blame. People end up in Hell because they resist every effort to save them, and God grieves their lost…like a parent mourning a dead child. God weeps in His heart over the lost (Luke 19:41-44) and wishes greatly that those in Hell would be with Him forever rather than separated from Him.
1: Sins of finite consequence do not deserve infinite punishment.
“How could a loving God subject people to infinite torment? Not even Hitler deserves infinite torment because although his sins were of a great magnitude, he didn’t commit enough sins of a great enough magnitude to deserve a fate so horrible.” It just seems like the ultimate overkill! Especially for the friendly atheist & kind Buddhist” I thought.
1: Finite sins do not deserve infinite punishment. However, if a person commits an infinite number of sins, then infinite punishment is just. But a person cannot commit an infinite number of sins in a finite lifetime. But…if they continue to send after they’re sent to Hell, then each time they commit another sin, they prolong their punishment. If they continue to sin over and over again for eternity, then they’ll be punished….for eternity.
It would be like when a criminal stabs an inmate to death in prison, he would have time added to his sentence. Now if this theory is true, it could mean that people could eventually realize that if they would just quit cursing God’s name in deep hatred towards Him and just repent, they would eventually (after their time was served) be let out and into Heaven. Though this might be possible, it might not ever happen. Seeing as many of these people had 50, 60, 70, up to 100 years to turn to God in repentance yet continued in their rebellion against him. It could be that some people hate God so much that they’ll NEVER repent, but keep cursing Him in Hell, and hence continue to have time added to their sentence. I mean, Satan has been against God for thousands and thousands of years (millions if he fell sometime during the creation period, for Old Earth Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists). He’s had a Hell of a long time (pun intended) to repent but still hasn’t.
It’s easy to imagine that people still hating God deeply would use blaspheme and cure His name in rage at Him while they burn in the lake of fire.
2: Hell would be temporary for the finite sins commited in this life. But the sin of rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His love for them could be a sin of infinite magnitude in which case infinite punishment would be appropriate for a sin of infinite magnitude in addition to their other finite sins. If God is infinitely good, then rejecting Him would be a sin of infinite evil. Hence, infinite punishment would be well fitting.
3: There’s also another theory about Hell which kind of goes along the lines of theory number 1 (about sinning in Hell prolonging the time that the people are in Hell). Some people think that the suffering in Hell might be caused by the very people in Hell. Think about it this way; look at how miserable this world is because people treat each other unkindly. People kill, rape, molest, mock and steal from one another all the time. I mean, I practically cannot turn on the news without hearing about another murder or another kidnapping that happened. Imagine a world where a bunch of sinners are doing the same things in Hell that they did while they were alive (like Adolph Hitler for instance). In that kind of world, human beings would create Hell themselves! In this view, the talk about “fire” is merely metaphorical speech, trying to give a description of how horrible living in such a world full of evil people doing harm to one another and no Divine intervention to bring good out of it would be like. Imagine….if you were to place a bunch of serial killers in a locked room with each other, and they all were trying to kill each other! That would be horrible (for them anyway)! Well, some think of Hell like a room full of psychos trying to hurt one another. People are torturing one another in Hell, not God torturing them. God is indeed punishing them, but He’s doing it indirectly. And the reason why they have to endure that for eternity is because they’re committing sins (against each other)….for eternity. Therefore, they have to continue to suffer at the hands of fellow sinners for a longer period of time because of their own sins. If this theory is true, Hell could be a wonderful place to be, or the worst place possible just depending it is on who’s living there. If all the people in Heaven were to be living in Hell, and all the people in Hell were to start living in Heaven, pretty soon, Heaven would be the place no one would want to go! Heaven would be Hell and Hell would be Heaven. lol
Although it might not be possible to repent if God is no longer extending grace to the person once that person enters Hell. Romans 1:24 says that at some point, a person becomes so hardened of heart that God hands people over to their sinful desires. John 6:44 says it’s impossible to repent without drawing grace of The Holy Spirit, so if God gives people over to their evil desires and is no longer drawing them to repentance, then it’s probably impossible for the people in Hell to stop doing evil. The reason God gives people over is because they’re so hard of heart that it’s impossible to get them to repent without overriding their freedom of choice. Resistible Grace is no longer effective on such people. I for one hold to a view that God tries to persuade people to come to repentance their entire lives…and that it’s only at the moment of that person’s death that He hands them over to their evil desires.
I like the third possibility the most because it makes the most sense. After all, look at the magnitude of suffering in this world caused by sin. If you take all of the charitable and good people out of the world and only leave the immoral and evil, you’d get a realm identical to Hell. Sin causes suffering, either to someone else or the one doing it.
2: How Could A Loving God Send Infants To Hell?
My view is; He doesn’t. Here, I would just redirect you to the blog post I made on the Age Of Accountability VS. Infant Damnation. In that article, I argued that there is no biblical reason to believe that God condemns people who die in infancy and there certainly isn’t any logical reason to think so. However, there are biblical and logical reasons to think that He doesn’t. So, just click on that link and you’ll see this objection to the doctrine of Hell delt with in more length.
3: Why The “Hell” Would God Punish All Sins Equally?
This objection comes from a common Christian teaching that all sins are equally evil to God? “Sin is sin” as they say. “My sin is no worse than yours” they will say. Christians often teach that while WE think some sins are worse than others, God doesn’t. Of course, if all sins are equal in severity than that must mean that God deals out judgment on all sinners equally. Meaning that he puts the friendly atheist next door on the same level of torment as Adolf Hitler! However, even though this thought is common in Christendom, is it really true? Is this what The Bible teaches? Are sins equally evil to God?
I don’t think so. Let’s look at a couple of biblical passages, shall we? The first one that comes to mind is Luke 7:40-50. The context is Jesus having a meal with one of the religious leaders and an adulterous woman came in and was kissing His feel and washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. The Pharisee is upset that Jesus wouldn’t send this sinful woman away. Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven and then tells the religious leader an illustration. In this illustration, Jesus is speaking of two people who owe their master money. One owes 50, the other owes 500 gold coins. However, the master forgave both their debts equally. Jesus asks him which one will love their master more and the guy answered “the one who owed him the most money”. Jesus here seems to be saying that there are some people who are more in debt to God then others.
Exodus 32:21, Moses asked Aaron: “What did this people do to you, that you brought so great a sin upon them?” Obviously, this is comparative language, indicating that Aaron’s sin was more evil, or had greater implications than some other sin. In the New Testament, we have Matthew 5:19, in this verse, Jesus said that whoever breaks “the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly, certain commandments were considered “least” and, by comparison, others must have been considered “greater.” In Matthew 23:23, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for “neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” His point was obvious, the failure to tithe a rather small amount of spices was much less of a sin than the failure to administer justice and mercy to one’s fellow man.
So, as you can see, not all sins are equal to God. Some are worse than others. We can infer then on this basis that God must also deal different degrees of punishments to people in Hell based on what they did. If some sins are worse than others, then the punishments in Hell must be worse than others. The fact that not all sins are equal would be enough to make the inference that not everyone suffers equally in Hell. However, we have some biblical evidence for varying degrees of punishment also. One example of this is Matthew 10:11-15. In this passage, Jesus sent out the 12 apostles to preach , for them to look for a house with someone in it who will let them stay for the night. If the house is a worthy home, give it a bless and if it was not, then the disciples were to take the blessing back. Jesus tells the disciples that if the townspeople refuse to let them stay the night and also refuse to listen to the gospel message, they were to shake the dust from their sandals and leave. Jesus then says “I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorra will be better off than such a town on Judgment Day.”
According to Jesus, the people of Sodom and Gomorra are going to experience a less severe judgment than the people who reject these disciples and deny them a place to crash for the night. The people of Sodom and Gomorra will be “better off” then those people. This is highly suggestive of differing degrees of punishment. If there are no varying degrees of punishment then how is it possible for Sodom to be “better off” then anyone on Judgment Day?
But you also have Matthew 11:20-24. “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Again, if there aren’t differing degrees of punishment in Hell, then how can anyone who is under God’s judgment be “better off” than anyone else? If there aren’t varying degrees of punishment, then how can God’s judgment be “more bearable” for one person than for another? I think The Bible is clear in teaching that there are both varying degrees of sin and that there are varying degrees of punishment in Hell.
So God Himself would agree that it would be unjust for putting someone who shoplifted a sweater on the same level of torment as someone who killed 6 million Jews.
4: Why Can’t God Just Snuff People Out?
Some say “Ok, I agree with you that God is just and that therefore He needs to punish sin. And of course, in His great love He has provided a way to escape that punishment and found an alternative way of dealing with our sins? But cosigning someone to suffer eternally just seems cruel and evil. Why couldn’t God just annihilate people who reject His offer of salvation? Why can’t people suffer a finite amount of time and then disappear into a state of nothingness? Why this nightmare of unending pain?”
Well, some Christians will say that He does do just that. Some Christians believe that God causes sinners to suffer for a little while in Hell and then just converts them to a state of nothingness (i.e they don’t exist at all anymore). While I find this view emotionally attractive, I’m rather skeptical of it on biblical grounds. Nevertheless, if you look at my answer to the first objection to Hell, I think this plausibly answers the question “Why isn’t Annihilationism True?” If a person deserves to suffer because they do something evil, and if they do evil things for eternity, then it should follow that people deserve to suffer for eternity.
The way I just argued can be represented as a syllogism.
1: People deserve to suffer for their sins.
2: People do evil things for eternity.
3: Therefore, people deserve to suffer for eternity.
Just think about it. Do you think that the people that caused 9-11 deserve to suffer for what they did? Yes? Did Hitler? Yes? If you said yes to both of these, then that means that you agree with premise 1. You agree that people should experience something unpleasant for nasty deeds. Now, if you accept the second premise, then you should accept the conclusion since the conclusion follows by the laws of logic. All that needs to be done to affirm the conclusion is to affirm the truth of the two premises. If the two premises are true, then the conclusion follows inevitably by the laws of logic.
If the people in Hell were to stop sinning, it could very well be the case that as soon as their time was served, God, in His great mercy and love, would snuff them out of existence so they wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. But I think it’s very probable that just because a person is sent to Hell, that doesn’t mean he stops sinning. I think it’s very probable that people continue to sin for eternity. And if people keep sinning over and over, then they’re accrue more and more punishment to themselves.
Another answer that’s been given to this is that because man is created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:27, Genesis 9:6), then if God were to completely annihilate a person, He would be basically destroying His own image. Human life is sacred in and of itself. This is the sanctity of life. Whether or not you find this answer plausible is whether you adhere to the “Sanctity Of Life” philosophy or the “Quality Of Life” philosophy. People debate over these philosophies when it comes to issues like euthanasia. If a person is enduring great suffering, and the quality of life is very low, they endure nothing but misery, should we work hard at preserving that life? The quality of life person would say no. The sanctity of life person would say yes.
So should God snuff people out of existence because their “quality of life” is extremely low? I guess that depends on which of these philosophies you adhere to.
But regardless of how you’d answer this question, I think my first proposed solution to this question is sufficient. People endure eternal torment because they do evil things forever. On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe the annihilationists are correct. I don’t think they are. But maybe. If that’s the case then the presupposition behind the objection is false. However, I don’t think the annihilationists are correct. I think it’s clear that scripture teaches that unrepentant sinners suffer eternal torment.
I don’t find the doctrine of Hell to be incompatible with either God’s love or God’s justice. God gave every human being a way to avoid Hell. Jesus died on the cross for everyone ((John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:6, Hebrews 2:9). He doesn’t want anyone to end up in Hell (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, Ezekiel 12:23) He gives us the choice whether to accept His offer of salvation (Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15, Romans 6:16) and if we end up in Hell, He mourns for us as a parent mourns for a child who has just died (Luke 19:41-44, Ezekiel 18:23).
I’ll have to end it here because this has become a very wordy, very lengthy blog post. But before I close, let me just say that if you’ve taken the time to read this post and if you feel like Christianity is true (perhaps some of the apologetics posts on this blog has persuaded you, or maybe something else has brought you to that conviction), if you believe that God is trying to get your attention and you want to receive His offer of eternal life and pardon for your sins, then pray this prayer:
Lord Jesus, I really need you. I recognize that I’ve made a mess of my life and that I need your forgiveness and cleansing. I confess my sins and I turn away from them to you. I believe that you died on the cross to forgive my sins and restore me to a right relationship with God and that you rose from the dead to prove who you were. Right now, in the best way I know how, I want to open the door to my life and to welcome you in. Come into my life. Forgive my sins. Cleanse me from all wrongdoing and quicken my spirit, Lord, that I might be born again to new life and to the relationship with God that I was intended to have. Right now, as an expression of my faith, I thank you for hearing and answering this prayer. Amen.
If you have prayed that prayer with a sincere heart, and a genuine intention to live your life for Jesus Christ, then I can tell you based on Scripture that God has heard you and he answers that prayer to come into your life. I encourage you now to look for signs of that renewed spirit within you – of a renewal and a relationship with God that previously wasn’t present. Scripture says that when we become regenerate (that is to say, “born again”) Christians, we are like babies and we need to be nourished by the milk of the Word which is the Bible. So you should begin to pray, to read the Bible on a regular basis, and to be nourished by that. Over time, you’ll become a more and more moral person because you’ll be going through a process that theologians call “sanctification”. So like a little baby, you don’t arrive fully grown, but you begin to grow and become stronger in your Christian life as you walk with him. Over time, you’ll become more and more like Christ in the way you live your life. This is what scripture means when says that we “become conformed to the image of the Son” (Romans 8:29).
Want to go into more depth on this topic? Check out Evan Minton’s book “A Hellacious Doctrine: Defense Of The Biblical Doctrine Of Hell”. In this 150 page book, he devotes much more attention to these objections than was dealt with in this blog post.