In our previous article, we explored the nature of God. The underlying quality of God is that He is perfect. He isn’t simply loving, but perfect in His love. He isn’t simply wise, but perfect in His understanding. He isn’t simply fair, but perfect in His justice. How does such a being restore a fallen humanity while remaining in harmony with His perfect nature?
Let’s start with this disturbing Bible passage on hell:
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Let’s quickly give a Biblical context to a few words: Death is the absence of life. Hades is basically, the grave, and the lake of fire is “hell.” But have you ever asked yourself, why a lake of fire?
That involves a little history. In one of the darkest periods of Old Testament Israel, the Hebrews erected a statue of the bull-god, Moloch. The statue was actually a furnace set up in the Kidron Valley to the southwest of Jerusalem. The fires below heated the metal statue and children were placed as a sacrifice on its red hot arms. The screams of the children would be drowned out by the singing of the crowd.
After the reform of Israel, the valley was seen as a cursed place. For centuries, it was only used as a trash dump. The smell and the smoke of the smoldering refuse rose day and night. The name of the place was “Gehenna” which is also the ancient name for hell. The New Testament imagery of hell is based on this; the vilest period of Jewish history.
To be cast into Gehenna is to be removed from the presence of God. Since God is life, it is to exist in a type of “non-life.” (The second death Rev. 2:18) So the bottom line is this; hell is hell because God is completely absent.
As for the torture of hell; Scripture says that ultimately “every knee shall bow” (Phil. 2:10-11, Ro. 14:11). That’s to say, believer and atheist alike, will see God fully. They shall see Him as He really is.
There is a lot of discussion about this, but it seems reasonable to say that the torture of hell will not be fueled by our guilt or by literal flames. The real flames of hell will be the burning remorse of experiencing the direct glory of God only to see it gone forever. Worst of all, it will be a tragedy of our own making. Hell is hell because God is not there.
On the other hand, the throne of God is the central theme of “heaven.” There is not even any need for a sun, since God Himself is light. (Rev. 21:23) Heaven is heaven because God is there; His presence being fully manifested.
The gates of hell are where perfect love and perfect justice merge. We are all fallen, and twisted. So how is it that just God, loving as He is, can allow any of us into His perfect Kingdom?
There’s a simple verse we teach our children, “John 3:16- For 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.” We are given the opportunity to substitute God’s own perfect innocence for our guilt. …But there is another side to it, “John 3:19- This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light.” We are saved or lost by what we choose.
Could a loving God cast people into hell? If it is true that God’s Kingdom is a state of perfect innocence and that God wishes to restore creation to Himself- how could He possibly do anything else? Keep in mind: He is only casting people into the ultimate end they’ve already chosen for themselves; God’s absence. It is certainly food for thought.