Mark 9: 44, 48
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Hell is one of the chief grounds on which Christianity is attacked as barbarous and the goodness of God impugned.”
We all can agree that the topic or idea of hell and what it entails stirs our emotions and our moral sensitivities.
However, basing an argument for or against a topic merely on our reactive emotions, or upon what we like and dislike because of how it makes us feel, is not a sound method. Feelings cannot be the base or forefront arbiter in the reasoning of whether hell exists or not, and whether God is moral for creating it.
Let’s briefly look at what Scripture does say to be sure we have a right picture concerning this topic?
(1) Hell is a place of utter hopelessness.
The imagery that we find in Mark 9:44, 48 (see also Isaiah 66:24b) and used in Scripture describing Hell certainly aims at a literal point. Hell is foremost a place of terrible anguish. Hell is clearly described as a place of woeful isolation. Hell, according to Christ, is a dreadful reality. “The worm” is the internal anguish of the soul and “the fire” is the external anguish. The language of the “worm that does not die” is also ancient world imagery meant to create the literal point of hell’s ceaseless frustration. This imagery makes the literal point that hell is a place of utter hopelessness, devastating ruin, and desperate severance from God (2 Thess.1:9).
(2) Hell is not a “one size fits all” reality.
A misnomer that gets lodged into the emotional response to hell is that everyone in hell is in a state of equal anguish. According to Jesus, God’s justice is proportional (Matt. 11:20-24). Plainly, Jesus says in Matthew 11:20-24 that hell will vary in different measure for people. Although hell is still an excruciating place of loss for all who enter it, there are various levels of anguish for individuals. We must understand rationally that people freely shape their lives by their choices and in doing so they shape its eternal trajectory and reality of eternal despair when they reject the redemption of God.
(3) Hell is not a sentence, it is a destination chosen.
This is a crucial and fundamental point. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom.” Humans choose the logical outcome of living their life apart from God and the truth found alone in Christ. Hell, as well as Heaven, does not ultimately come out as surprise realities for individuals. In “The Problem of Pain” C.S. Lewis insightfully remarks that in the end there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” The fact is that no one is dragged into hell. As George Macdonald once said, “The one principle of hell is: I am my own.”
God is not immoral or unjust or not good for creating hell, which was originally intended for fallen angels (Matt.25:41). From the biblical point of view, God hates “hell.” The Scriptures are unequivocally plain that God has no pleasure in it at all (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; Lam.3:33; Hosea 11:8; Luke 19:10; John 3:16-21; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God desires that all people come onto the knowledge of the truth. The only obstacle ultimately to universal salvation is human free will. Therefore, we cannot fault God for the existence of hell—a place of His complete absence—when those who enter there have of themselves freely resisted His love, grace and provisional redemption in life. In actuality, God would be immoral if He forced people to go to heaven who in life did not want to know Him, nor be in His presence, nor know His truth.
(4) The essence of Hell’s agony is principally relational.
Hell is primarily a place for people who do not want to be in heaven and do not want God nor wish to be in His all-satisfying presence. To reject God means banishment from the Source of all love, hope, goodness, truth, joy and the capacity to experience these things as eternally conscious human beings. All that God can fairly do is grant people what they want most, which includes final freedom from Himself. This should lend more insight into the imagery Jesus spoke of in Mark 9, that it is a place where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Absent from all grace and goodness, the flames of one’s pride, paranoia, and self-loathing continues to rage; one’s arguments against others, themselves and against God ceaselessly eats away at their eternal existence (Luke 16:22-31; Luke 13:28; Matthew 13:42).
The provoking sadness about this is that God, who is so loving and morally righteous beyond comprehension, clearly does not and did not leave humankind alone in making hell their final outcome. While respecting human freedom and dignity to reject Him, God continually offers all of His prevenient grace through the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, through history, through existence, through Christ’s very sacrificial death and resurrection!!—patiently drawing and wooing the world (John 3:16-18; John 6:44; 1 John 4:9-10). God is just, ready, able, unfathomably good and eagerly willing to rescue any who will come to Him (Hebrews 7:25; Matt.11:28-30).