For many, the most troubling aspect of the Christian view of hell is the everlasting nature of the suffering. The struggle is reconciling the love of God with His eternal wrath. Is the length of the punishment too extreme? Is it unreasonable for God to condemn people to everlasting suffering for decisions made in a temporary life?
I have found Augustine’s argument for the eternal nature of hell helpful and challenging. People in the day of this early church father were pushing back on the duration of hell, saying eternity was in disproportion to the crime. After all, should someone who rejects Christ for a lifetime really suffer for eternity?
Augustine argued that even on earth the length of the punishment is never based on the length of the crime. For example, if I commit a murder and the murder takes 2.2 seconds to commit, no one would articulate that my punishment should only be 2.2 seconds. The nature of just punishment is based on two things: (1) the nature of the crime and (2) against whom the crime is committed. For example, in our country even a minor crime against the President has serious consequences.
Our sin is against an infinite and infinitely holy God. When I think that a never-ending hell sounds too long for someone, it shows that I do not fully comprehend the holiness of God. The eternal nature of hell speaks to how holy He is.
One night after reading Augustine’s argument, my wife accidentally kicked me during the night (at least I think it was an accident). It woke me up and I was immediately frustrated, even filled with a moment of anger. In that moment, I knew I had sinned. As clear as I have ever sensed the Lord speak to my heart, I knew He was confronting me with His holiness. It was about 3 a.m. and I did not sleep the rest of the night. I realized that if this were the only sin I ever committed in my life that it was enough to demand everlasting wrath because of the gross violation of God’s infinitely holy nature.
Yes, He is a loving and good God. But He is not only loving; He is also holy and pure. And because He is pure and righteous, sin must be dealt with. Otherwise, the holiness of God would be contradicted.
Thankfully, Jesus is my substitute. In His unfathomable grace and mercy, He bore my sin and the wrath I deserve. It took Jesus six hours on a Friday afternoon to bear the full wrath of the Father. It takes a sinner an eternity in hell. He is that holy. Sin is that offensive. And His love is that great.
Next March, David Platt will be leading an intense evening of teaching on “heaven, hell, and the end of the world.” On Good Friday, March 29, 2013, churches and small groups around the world will have the opportunity to participate in Secret Church. LifeWay will again simulcast this event. It will be poignant, yet wonderful way for your church or small group to celebrate the resurrection. If you or your church is interested in becoming a host site for the simulcast, registration is now open.