If God is full of grace and mercy, where does hell fit in?
Surely a God of love would not torture people forever and ever, many say. After all, the Bible reveals God to be compassionate, but the traditional doctrine of eternal excruciating torture in hell seems to portray God as a vengeful sadist who is crueler than any human sinner.
But rebellion against God is infinitely terrible, say some theologians, so it demands the worst punishment.
The truth is, we humans don’t have a very good handle on either justice or mercy. Humans aren’t qualified to judge such matters of eternal consequence — but Jesus Christ is.
If we take Jesus seriously when he teaches about mercy, we should also take him seriously when he teaches about punishment. After all, mercy only has meaning if we are escaping a real punishment.
Jesus used a variety of word-pictures for the punishment of those who refuse the mercy of God: fire, darkness, torture and destruction. Whatever hell is, it is a state of alienation from God for those who refuse his unconditional love, grace and mercy.
Second Peter 2:9 tells us: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
But those who persist in refusing such wonderful grace have no other escape. Jesus is the escape, and the only escape, so to refuse him is to choose the natural consequences of sin. It is their choice, not God’s.
At the final Judgment, everything will be brought under the control of Christ, for he has redeemed all creation. And everything will be set right. In Acts 3:21, Peter preached: “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21 NIV)
We don’t know all the answers, but we do know that we can simply trust God, who is full of righteousness and mercy. The most important thing Jesus taught about hell is that he is the solution to the problem. In him, there is no condemnation. He is the way, the truth and the life eternal.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.