The latest obfuscation from the Wall Street Journal: “Do We Still Need to Believe in Hell?”
Note the loaded question. I didn’t “need” to fill my wife’s car with antifreeze when it was low on it the other day, but in doing so I helped her to avoid a problem at best — or an accident at worst. I recognized a problem and corrected it to avoid a potentially disastrous consequence.
That brings me to my next point. The author here, professor Scott G. Bruce, also dismisses Hell as a mere deterrent to bad behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. The existence of Hell, like the existence of gravity, is not effected by our opinions. I may disagree with falling down, but it happens from time to time. It is reality.
Despite its invisibility to we humans on this side of eternity, Hell (or more generally, the wrath of God) is important because it’s the “second death,” or final judgement, that comes from God that legitimizes His sacrifice on the cross. That is to say, if Christ didn’t need to die to save us from dying in our sins, why would He have died in the first place?
The truth is that universalism, annihilationism, and other means to “erase Hell” are little more than postmodern attempts to ease the human psyche of an eternal truth we all inherently recognize and have inherently recognized for most of human history: final and complete justice.
God is love; don’t hear what I’m not saying. But that is just one attribute of an infinite, all-powerful, and yes, fully just Being that we cannot even begin to completely comprehend. To strip God of any aspect of His deity would be to belittle the Creator of the Universe. It would be similar to telling an adoptive father his child is not his and then, in the name of “love,” attempting to violently kidnap said child to return him or her to their biological parents.
Would the father be justified in allowing this to happen? I would hope your answer would be “no.” The father would likely do all he could to prevent this tragedy from happening — probably even to the point of sacrificing himself or harming the kidnapper in self-defense. Of course, if that were to happen, it would be up to the courts to decide who would be punished for the various offenses committed. But regardless, justice would hopefully be served.
In God’s case, justice will be completely and perfectly carried out, because God is perfect. The Bible is the operative rule book in this regard and it says God is both completely loving and completely just — just like the father in the aforementioned example. He will stop at nothing to both display His love for people and punish their sin. That, as we all know, was played out on the cross that fateful afternoon 2,000 years ago.
Make no mistake about it: erasing Hell cheapens salvation. It undermines the gospel. It reduces Jesus to a mere puppet or superficial example. Jesus was not and is not superficial. He was and is, instead, sacrificial. Jesus’ death on the cross did not cancel out our final judgement, but instead fulfilled it and backed it up. It’s a reality we can debate, but never dismiss, lest we throw away the essential teaching of the historic Christian faith.
The existence of Hell is not an example of God’s blind fury, but an example of His completeness in total justice and truth. What kind of society would we be to pardon the murderer? The rapist? The child abuser? Who, then, would God be to let guilty sinners off the hook? The Bible says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That encompasses all of us. And it means we all need a messiah. Not as an example. Not as a great guy.
But as our Savior.