Hell: An Eternal Reality
Hell is eternal misery for the wicked. I fully understand that it is popular to deny this, and there are many who would call themselves “annihilationists” or “conditionalists,” which basically means they believe that, at some point in time, the wicked will cease to exist. This is usually promoted because of a concern for the justice or mercy of God. However, an analysis of the biblical depiction of Hell leaves no other option than that it will be misery forever and ever.[i]
First, it is not contrary to God’s perfection that He should punish sin, but exactly because of His perfection that He should punish sin. By sinning, we have violated the perfect character of God, and, because God is perfect, He must enact justice.
Second, it is not contrary to the mercy of God that He enacts justice, but it is His justice that allows for mercy. God’s mercy isn’t a thing He has to give. It is not that He can’t help but save sinners, but that He lovingly chooses to save them. His mercy does not come from a place of pity, but of free, abounding love.
Third, it is not unjust to give an eternal punishment for a crime committed on this temporal earth. We know that justice doesn’t work like this. A man may take only 10 seconds to murder a child, but he won’t get 10 seconds of jail time. Instead, he is given the just penalty for the heinousness of his crime.[ii] The reality is our whole purpose and duty is to glorify God – to love Him, to honor Him, and to obey Him – and the unrepentant never do this. They fill their whole life with the violation of an infinite command obligated under an infinite God. And so, the punishment is justly infinite. The only way to dodge this reasoning would be to deny that God “is infinitely glorious.”[iii]
Fourth, “sin being infinitely evil and odious, it is proper that God should hate it infinitely.”[iv] And if He hates sin infinitely, He must infinitely hate the object which is sinful (Ps. 5:5).
The scripture every where represents the punishment of the wicked, as implying very extreme pains and sufferings; but a state of annihilation is no state of suffering at all. Persons annihilated have no sense or feeling of pain or pleasure, and much less do they feel that punishment which carries in it an extreme pain or suffering. They no more suffer to eternity than they did suffer from eternity.[v]
Consider Jesus’ statement about Judas, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mt. 26:24 [ESV]). In what sense would it have been better for Judas not to be born if his eternal destiny was no different than when before he was born? Judas would simply go from not existing to not existing. There certainly isn’t anything worse or better about that.
Sixth, likewise, the Scriptures promise that the wicked will know that God has justly, and is justly, punishing them. How are they to know anything if they do not exist? For instance, Ezekiel 22:21-22 says, “I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have poured out my wrath upon you” (emphasis mine).
Seventh, punishment for the wicked is said to be like that of demons. For instance, Matthew 25:41 which says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Revelation 20:10 is clear that the devil will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Eighth, Matthew 25:46 parallels the eternal punishment of the wicked with the eternal life of the righteous. No one would doubt that the righteous’ time with Jesus is unending, and so neither should we doubt that sinners’ time of punishment is unending.
Ninth, in Luke 8:28, we see that demons beg not to be tormented. To put it another way, they wish that they could be destroyed. Unfortunately for them and the unrighteous, Matthew 25 shows us that the wicked will not be delivered until their debt is totally paid – but they have an infinite debt, so it will never be paid.[vi]
Tenth, if the unrighteous have relief from wrath, then they lived a better life than Job. Job’s family was killed, he was stricken with sickness, he lost everything he had, and his reward in heaven for his continued faithfulness will surely be great. However, if sinners are annihilated, then, from their eyes, they lived a pleasing life of sin, and then, they just ceased to be, never really experiencing anything worse than Job.
Finally, God has declared that eternal punishment will be administered to all who do not repent and believe. Therefore, if this did not take place, God would be a liar, and God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18). In statements like Matthew 25:46, God is not simply giving a conditional statement (if you do this, I’ll do that; but, if you do this instead, I won’t do that), He is giving actual prophecy to what will happen at the end of time. Therefore, it is a certainty that unrepentant sinners will receive an eternity of misery. Their worm will never die (Mk. 9:48); they will perish, and yet remain – pass away, but have no end (Ps. 102:26-27).
What To Do With Hell?
The only things we can do in response to the doctrine of Hell is:
First, stand in the awe of God’s majesty that is vindicated through the just punishment of sinners. He is worthy, deserving of honor, praise, worship, and anything else infinite value demands. The fact that Hell is a just punishment according to the Bible means that the infinite value of God is infinitely true. So, the doctrine of Hell encourages us to bask in the awesomeness of God.
Second, the doctrine of Hell makes us truly consider where our priorities lie. Romans 9:22-24 says,
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
We see then that we should be totally sold on God’s glorification of Himself. If we are uncomfortable with Hell, we are uncomfortable with the glory of God. And finally, this should make it more sensible and clear the happiness that God has granted us in our salvation.[vii] He has spared us from unfathomable wrath, and that should cause us to praise!
So, “consider attentively how great and awful… eternity is,” and “consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment,” and, mostly, consider that Christ has given a way out.[viii] We committed infinitely terrible sins, and yet He Who is infinitely valuable died for them. We deserved God’s just wrath for all of eternity, and yet Christ took it upon Himself in six hours. Consider the glorious, gracious, merciful, loving, and good God that we serve!
And if you are not a believer, consider this terror! Jonathan Edwards says, “The damned in hell would be ready to give the world if they could have the number of their sins to have been one less in this life.”[ix] Think of how foolish we are who gaze at our sin and say, “One more. Just one more.” You will not think so in the next life. Therefore, today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. He Who lived a perfect life, was crucified for the sins of the world, was buried, and was raised on the third day for the justification of sinners like you and me, ascending to the Father, reigning over all creation for all eternity. What shall we do with Hell? Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is near.
[i] I am indebted to Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, The Eternity Of Hell Torments, http://www.digitalpuritan.net/Digital%20Puritan%20Resources/Edwards,%20Jonathan/The%20Works%20of%20President%20Edwards%20(vol.7)/[JE]%20The%20Eternity%20of%20Hell%20Torments.pdf.
[ii] John Piper, The Eternality Of Hell (Youtube.com: diligentile), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1iHFTS0eys.
[iii] Edwards, The Eternity Of Hell Torments, 398.
[iv] Ibid., 402.
[v] Ibid., 403.
[vii] Ibid., 415.
[viii] Ibid., 418.
[ix] John Piper, “Is Everyone Punished The Same In Hell?” (Desiring God: Ask Pastor John, September 30, 2019), https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-everyone-punished-the-same-in-hell.