The pictures of flames and judgment seem like too much. How can a good and loving God require blood to appease his vengeance and wrath? Sending people to hell forever just seems unusually cruel.
Of all the doctrines of the Bible, people react most strongly against God’s judgment. There is this idea that if you believe in the doctrine of hell, you will treat people unfairly and without equity. Belief in judgment means you must believe that some people are better than others. Nothing is more offensive to the modern person than exclusion and division. The moment that people are not included, it means that you are full of hate and must be for violence.
In the modern mind, judgment is associated with hate. Only hate-filled people judge. If God is love, how could he ever judge anyone? But this fails to understand how judgment works. Judgment is not the opposite of love; rather, judgment is love rightly applied.
How could it be that judgment is love rightly applied? Consider a god who never enacted any judgment. If evil went unchecked forever, people would rage against such a god. Humans know intuitively that they defend what they love. If you harm my family and destroy my home, I will seek judgment. Why? Because I love my family and want to protect them. In a similar way God loves the world that he has made (Jn 3:16). He sees the evil that goes on and is not indifferent to it. Rather, he is full of patience and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love (Ps. 145:8), patient, so that people may repent and not perish (2 Pe 3:9). Evil cuts through each one of our hearts (Rom 3:23). Because God is love, his judgment is not vengeful in an uncontrolled rage; rather, his judgment is a settled opposition against all evil and injustice that exists to destroy his creation and his creatures made in his image.
The doctrine of divine justice and eternal punishment enables Christians to avoid revenge. There is no desire to get even; we desire mercy, not judgment (Jas 2:13). The only way we can avoid emotional explosions is to trust in the settled judgment of God and trust that he will deal a mortal blow against all evil in his time.
If there is no hell and God does not act in judgment against evil, then we must enact judgment. And human judgment is often unchecked. Rather than eye for an eye (Lev 24:20), we find that our thirst for justice cannot be satisfied.
But when we trust that vengeance is God’s and it is his to repay (Rom 12:19), we can believe that his love towards creation will only be expressed in pure, righteous judgment. And the good news about bad news is this: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). His patience against evil is to show mercy (Rom 2:4). And who doesn’t want mercy?
Waiting for God,
Missional Action Plan: Is there a situation where you feel you have been wronged? Reflect upon Romans 12:19-21. Instead of vengeance, how can you repay a wrong with kindness and goodness? If the Lord’s kindness leads to repentance, how might your kindness and goodness be used by God to change a heart?
Missional Action Prayer: Lord, I pray for those who struggle with judgment and hell. Please help them to see your patience and kindness. Keep them from desiring to get even when they are hurt, and help me to show them the mercy of Christ. Amen.