Hell, That’s Not Fair

The idea of a real place called Hell makes a lot people uncomfortable. It can also be a very personal and emotional subject, and has recently received a lot of attention from differing perspectives in books like Love Wins by Rob Bell and Erasing Hell by Francis Chan. While I do recognize the precarious nature of the topic, the purpose of this post is to provide rational arguments for the fairness of Hell.

Many discussions on this matter begin because people can’t reconcile the idea of God with eternal punishment. The question usually raised concerns how a loving God could send people to Hell forever? As a starting point, C.S. Lewis offers this answer: “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of Hell is itself a question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid this is what he does” (130).
God gave man free will, so mankind either freely accepts God or freely rejects him. Those who argue that God is the one sending people to Hell against their will, get it wrong. Our eternal destination is completely in our own hands. Author and apologist Frank Turek puts it this way: “God is not going to force you into heaven against your will” (Q&A Video Here).

Furthermore, it is not eternal punishment without warning. God clearly outlines the boundaries from the very beginning. Professor John Feinberg points out that Adam and Eve were warned that the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would be death. While Hell isn’t what God wants for his creation, choosing sin brings an inheritance Hell. Perhaps at this point the skeptic would want to interject that he or she was not in the Garden of Eden, and is therefore not responsible for that choice. We will table the discussion of original sin and federal headship for another time, but Scripture clearly teaches that each of us will be judged for our own deeds (Romans 2.6). I think it’s the rare individual who would sincerely and truthfully assert his or her moral perfection. So, we are measured by our own choices, but the same consequence that applied to Adam and Eve, still applies to us today.

Moreover, it is not only in the Garden of Eden that we are warned about the consequences of sin. Theologian William Shedd makes the point that Christ’s teachings consistently and urgently warn mankind about the reality of Hell. It is not some secret or dubious plan that God plans to spring on unsuspecting victims. So, the individual who wants to claim that Hell is unjust or unfair, has much to prove regarding that assertion.

It should also be clarified that just because we argue that Hell is rationally fair, it does not mean that we are in any way lessening the undesirability and unfortunate nature of that reality. However, Feinberg also makes this point: “Consider what people who wind up in hell have done to merit that punishment. They have rejected a relationship with God. No matter how many times they have been called to repent and turn to God, by refusing to do so they have in effect said that they would prefer not to have a relationship with God. Many of these sinners fully understand that the punishment for rejecting God is eternal separation from God, but they still prefer that to having a relationship with God.” So, while Hell is decidedly unfortunate and completely avoidable, people still knowingly choose it. If it is a willful choice, when other and better alternates are provided by God himself, there is no reason to believe that this punishment is unfair. People may not like the idea of punishment, but not liking something is not the equivalent of proving it to be either irrational or unfair.

Shedd expounds on the nature and gravity of the choice to reject God by explaining how “the transgression which is to receive the endless punishment is voluntary. Sin, whether it be inward inclination or outward act, is unforced human agency.” The point here is that man does not sin out of necessity, but rather from his own determination. This, again, reiterates the fact that God is not doing the sending, but we each do our own choosing. So how is this unfair?

Let’s address one more question on the matter, the question of why, assuming punishment for sin is fair, does the punishment have to be eternal? Isn’t that a bit too extreme? One of Shedd’s strongest arguments for the rationality of eternal punishment is the fact that sin is an infinite evil. It is infinite because it is committed against an infinite being. He gives this example: “To torture a beast is a crime; to torture a man is a greater crime…The person who transgresses is the same in each instance; but the different worth and dignity of the objects upon whom his action terminates makes the difference in the gravity of the two offenses.” What he’s saying is that while both acts of torture are technically the same, they are judged differently based on the nature of who or what was tortured. Ultimately, to sin against God is an infinite offense, because God is infinite, and thus sin deserves an infinite punishment.

There’s no doubt that this is a difficult and unpleasant topic. However, we can be left with no doubt that Hell is both rational and fair. That said, I’d like to reiterate again that God does not want any soul to choose Hell over his offer of love and forgiveness.

If you’ve never asked God to forgive you and experienced the joy of being reconciled to him, his invitation is waiting. Won’t you accept such an amazing gift? If you’re unsure how to go about that, here is a very simple presentation of how to receive salvation:

A (Admit & Ask)
Admit to God that you are a sinner (Romans 3:23), deserving the penalty of your sin which is death (Romans 6:23). Then ask God to forgive your sin (Ephesians 2:8).

B (Believe)
You can only sincerely ask God to forgive your sin if you believe that Jesus is God’s Son, who was both fully human in order to be our substitute, and divine in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin (John 3:16-17, Romans 5:8). He is the only one who can save us from our sin (John 14:6).

C (Confess & Commit)
Once you believe in Jesus, confess your sins, and declare that Christ is your Savior, God will forgive you (1 John 1:9). Now, you must commit to living your life according to his Word, the Bible (Psalms 32:8).

Next Steps:
It is important to your new faith in Christ to begin reading the Bible in order to learn more about who God is and what it means to follow him. You should also consider finding a Bible-believing church to attend in order to grow in your relationship with God. You may ask the pastor about being water baptized as a declaration of your decision. The decision to follow Christ does not mean that life will be easy or perfect from this point, but it is the best decision you have ever or will ever make.

Sources for this article:
Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996.
Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2001.
Frank Turek, crossexamined.org.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001.
Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996.
Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2001.
Shedd, William, G.T. Dogmatic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: P&R Publishers, 2003.
Feinberg, John, S. Many Faces of Evil – Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil. Wheaton, IL: Zondervan, 2004.

3 comments on “Hell, That’s Not Fair

  1. I agree with what you are saying Sara. Hell is a reality that we all must consider.

    I wonder if one reason that God the idea that “sends people to hell for all eternity” sounds irrational is an inaccurate view of time.

    Our feeling that time flows has been shown to be an illusion by physicists. (See my article linked above)

    The cosmos is a static whole which we only perceive as moment by moment experience. It is a physical fact, not a theological idea, that the cosmos is a static whole when viewed from outside the universe.

    Perhaps the eternal nature of hell can be understood as a person after death viewing his or her life from outside the universe. Instead of being swept by the flow of time, we view it all at once, like looking at a line from above.

    Every bit of a person’s time line is on view eternally.

    Every improper thought, ungrateful attitude, sinful deed, all the unfaithfullness and failure to live up to what one knows is moral and right, or each time we willfully reject of God’s grace, all the “good left undone” as well as the regret at the realization that the gift of life was wasted is viewed forever.

    So, it isn’t like we are tossed into hell, but rather we see our life for what it really is and are tormented by these stupid, sinful, profane, selfish and rebellious acts, thoughts, attitudes as well as the hurt inflicted on others which are on display eternally.

    Without the cleaning power of Christ, even the best of lives would be hellish viewed from heaven’s perspective.

    That is why we all need the redemptive work of Christ to see our lives through his sacrificial gift of salvation. With Christ we gaze upon him– instead of our sin — for all eternity.

    Here is a great song by Nirvana. While it is meant to be sarcastic and blasphemous, I think that the song is evidence that everyone knows deep down they will be judged.

    Kurt Cobain committed suicide over his addiction to drugs and inability to form functional relationships at the age of 28.

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