Is it Okay for Christians to Believe in the Doctrine of Hell But Not Like It?
It takes a certain courage to look at what the Bible teaches, not like it all that much, and still believe it. I am thankful for brothers and sisters who believe in hell or believe in complementarianism or believe in election and reprobation or believe homosexuality is a sin despite their internal protestations. It’s a good sign when we take our stand on the Bible even when we’d prefer to take our stand somewhere else.
But it’s a better sign when we take our stand on the Bible and learn to love where the Bible stands.
Take hell for example. Should Christians rejoice in the doctrine of hell? That’s a loaded question that does not allow for a simplistic answer. On the one hand, if God does not want any to perish, neither should we (2 Peter 3:9). Paul has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart at the thought of his Jewish brothers falling under God’s curse (Rom. 9:1-3). It is natural and right that we should be sad to think of people we love suffering in hell. So in one sense it is appropriate for Christians to say “I don’t like the idea of hell.”
But be careful. It’s never safe to dislike the truths God has revealed. We should actually like what the Bible teaches. We may struggle to get there–we may not immediately resonate with the hard parts of the Bible–but the goal is to get to the place where we can. The law of the Lord should be our delight. We should tremble under the word of God, not begrudgingly accept it. Hell is a hard doctrine to embrace, but God sends people to hell for his glory. The punishment of the wicked in hell vindicates God’s honor (2 Thess. 1:5-12), avenges the persecuted church (Rev. 6:10), exposes the utter sinfulness of sin (2 Peter 3:11-13), upholds divine justice (Rev. 19:1-2), and makes known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy (Rom. 9:22-23).
To admit that God says hard things is admirable honesty. But to profess our dislike for what he does or wish that he were a different kind of God who did things in a different way–even if we come around to accept these ways in the end–is not the right kind of humility. It’s one thing to say to unbelievers and skeptics, “I struggled with the same questions you’re asking.” It’s another to throw God under the bus, admitting “I don’t like hell anymore than you do. I’d take it out of the Bible if I could. But it’s in there, so I can’t deny it.”
God is good and his ways are always right. It is a measure of our maturity that we not only affirm the truth of God’s word but rest in the goodness and rightness of it. Christians should have anguish in heart at the thought of eternal suffering, but we should also see the glory of God in the Bible’s teaching on eternal punishment.
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing is one way to put it (2 Cor. 6:10), even with the doctrine of hell.