Hell is a teaching that many people are avoid of for many very different reasons. Some people are afraid to speak or even think of such suffering. Others are fearful of what others may think of us if we speak honestly about hell and who is going there. But beyond simply avoiding the doctrine of hell, there are lots of people who straight up reject it.
One of the biggest objections, among the many, to the idea of hell is that it, in the minds of many, is diametrically opposed to true love. The argument is often stated with this question, “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?” The underlying argument is simple: If God is loving then hell cannot really exists. In short, hell is incompatible with love. It is for this very thought I would like to give you something to think about. Could it be that, instead of hell being something that lessens, degrades, or opposes God’s love, it actually proves it? Does hell reveal the love of God?
I believe it does and I think Tim Keller explains it well:
Fairly often I meet people who say, “I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don’t believe in Jesus Christ at all.” Why, I ask? “My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin.” But this shows a deep misunderstanding of both God and the cross. On the cross, God HIMSELF, incarnated as Jesus, took the punishment. He didn’t visit it on a third party, however willing.
So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: “I don’t think that was necessary.” But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a god like this will be at most impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We could not sing to him, “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Only through the cross could our separation from God be removed, and we will spend all eternity loving and praising God for what he has done (Rev 5:9-14.)
And if Jesus did not experience hell itself for us, then we ourselves are devalued. In Isaiah, we are told, “The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, “It was worth it.”What could make us feel more loved and valued than that? The Savior presented in the gospel waded through hell itself rather than lose us, and no other savior ever depicted has loved us at such a cost. (Taken from The Importance of Hell).
The greater and more terrifying hell is in our eyes, the greater and more wonderful the love of Christ will become to us. As the old song sings, “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul?” To know the greatness of our sin and the terror of our deserved punishment should lead us to marvel at the love of the One who paid our debt in full. Indeed, hell reveals and proves the immensity of God’s love.
For other great resources on the doctrine of hell, see the following:
The Importance of Hell by Tim Keller
Paul On Hell by Douglas Moo
Francis Turretin on the doctrine of Hell
Hell by Thomas Boston
Hell and Annihilationism by Sam Storms
Speaking Seriously and Sensitively About Hell by Ligon Duncan
A Review of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” by Kevin DeYoung
Hell: Remembering the Aweful Reality in the 9 Marks Journal
What Happens to Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel? by John Piper
Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment by Sinclair Ferguson
The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell by John Piper
How Could a Loving God Send Someone to Hell? by Al Mohler
Hell Under Fire, Morgan & Peterson (ed.)
What Is Hell? by Morgan & Peterson
Heaven & Hell by Edward Donnelly
Is Hell For Real? by Christopher Morgan
The Other Side of the Good News by Larry Dixon