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TEXT: Psalm 18:30
SUBJECT: Doctrine of Hell #7: The Goodness (part 1)
Here's a question you may not have thought about: Are the doctrine and reality of Hell good things? Off the top of your head, you're sure to say no, of course, they're not good things! If our Lord Jesus wept over people on their way there, who are we to say, 'Hell is a good thing'? The very question smacks of a serious lack of thought and no compassion at all.
But, still, it's a question that needs answering. Before we get to the answers, let's be sure we know what the question is.
If we say, 'The doctrine and reality of Hell' means we're happy (or just don't care) that people are going to Hell, then the answer is no: they're not good things. They're also not good in the sense of being enjoyable for us to think about or pleasant to talk about. In these sense, Hell is a very bad thing-the worst thing of all. But, I don't mean anything of these things. What I do mean is this: Is the reality of Hell consistent with the goodness of God? And, Is the doctrine of Hell good for both saints and sinners?
To these questions, I answer with an emphatic: Yes. The Reality of Hell glorifies God and the doctrine of Hell is a blessing to both the Church and those outside of it.
In other words-
As for God, His way is perfect.
Or, if you prefer-
The Judge of all the earth will do right.
He has done all things well!
THE LORD'S ATTITUDE
No one believed in Hell more firmly than our Lord Jesus Christ, and no one taught it more often or in more detail. If you read what He said about Hell, you never get the feeling that He's blushing. Weeping over men going there, yes! But not apologizing for God! Jesus never suggested that, somehow, Hell is unworthy of His Father or that He Himself wishes it weren't so. In fact, more often than not, Jesus presents Himself as the Judge who consigns His enemies to Eternal Damnation. He does it-and He doesn't say, 'Sorry'.
Christ does not regret that there is a Lake of Fire and He doesn't apologize for telling people about it.
Does this make our Lord mean, cruel, hateful? Or indifferent? It doesn't. Because-as appalling as Hell is-it is worthy of God and its doctrine confers many blessings on the world.
Hell is good because it makes God look good. Both God's Word-and our own consciences-tell us that God is holy, just, powerful, and compassionate, and that we're accountable to Him. Let's take each in turn:
What would you expect a Holy God to do about sin? Would you expect Him to ignore it? Chuckle at it? Is this how good people feel about sin? When the American soldiers liberated the Nazi death camps, were they yucking it up? Anti-Semitism was pervasive in our country seventy years ago, but when ordinary American soldiers saw the mass graves and the emaciated survivors, they shuddered in revulsion, and got very, very mad!
Most of the soldiers did not have mind of Christ, but even basic human decency reacted in horror, and correctly so. Well, if decent humans abhor sin, why would you expect the Holy One of Israel to be okay with it?
Hell means: God is not okay with sin! It means just what the Bible says about Him-
He is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).
God is angry at the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11).
Why is His stomach turned by sin and why is God so mad when He sees it? Is He an old cranky man? Is He a Pharisee, 'holier than thou'? No. He's Holy. And Hell proves it. Thus, if the holiness of God is a good thing, so is Hell.
Closely connected to God's holiness is His Justice. He not only disapproves of sin, but He does something about it, in His own good time and manner. The Creed calls Him-
The judge of the living and the dead.
Judges don't simply 'evaluate' people; they pronounce verdicts: guilty or not guilty. If the judge knows his business and is fair in his dealings, he justifies the innocent and condemns the guilty. This is all Hell is: condemning the guilty! There's no injustice in Hell; nobody ends up there, who doesn't deserve to! The Lake of Fire is not full of unlucky souls, but of impenitent sinners-from the devil on down!
Proverbs 17:15 tells us what God thinks of crooked judges-
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the just, both are an abomination to the Lord.
Solomon was himself a judge, and he knew good and well that the courts were not always just. Some judges were bought off; some favored their friends; some were scared; some were lazy; some were prejudiced; some-like the man in the parable, neither-
Feared God nor regarded man.
But Solomon knew that the injustice of the world would not be duplicated in Heaven! That if human judges could be bribed, the Divine Judge could not be! A just God has to condemn the wicked-and that's what Hell is, as Hebrews 2:2 puts it-
The just recompense of reward.
If the justice of God is good, so is Hell.
Hell is also a proof of God's power. God has enemies, and some of them are very powerful, cunning, and relentless. The devil, for instance. His demons. Wicked kings. Conniving thinkers. Armies. Not to mention human folly and inbred weakness. We get tired; we give up; we lose heart: Satan does none of the above!
If he can't lure us into skepticism, he plies us with superstition. If fornication is not your thing, maybe the love of money is. If God has made you good looking, the devil turns it to vanity. If the Lord has given you money, the devil makes you proud of it. If God has called you to be a pastor, the devil has called you to be a Pharisee!
Where subtlety doesn't work, brute power often does. Idi Amin didn't corrupt his enemies, he ate them! The Spanish Inquisition didn't argue heretics out of their false teaching; they burned them at the stake. Paul wasn't seduced, he was beheaded; Peter wasn't bought off, he was crucified.
The enemies of God are powerful, and if there is no Hell, they are more powerful than God, who often allows them to live long lives, die in their sleep, and go down as Great Men in the history books.
But, if you read Revelation 20, you'll see that God finally says, 'Enough is enough'. He has permitted the forces of evil to have their way for a very long time, but then, in v.10-
The devil who deceived them, was cast into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone where the beast and false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Why? Not only because God is just, but because He's able to enforce His justice. This is what Hell is: Justice enforced. This is why Hell is a good thing.
Finally, Hell is good because it proves the Compassion of God. If you read the Psalms, you'll often find puzzling words to this effect-
Judge me, O God!
You wonder how even the best man (other than Christ) could pray for such a thing. Other Psalms resonate with me, but these?
Enter not into judgment with your servant, for in your sight, no man living is justified.
What do the Psalms (and other verses) mean when they ask God to pass judgment on them? They don't mean that they're righteous with respect to God, but that they are righteous in respect to their enemies. This is what David means in Psalm 55, where he contrasts his own loyalty to a friend with the friend's disloyalty. When the friend was sick, David fasted and prayed for him. But when David was down, the friend kicked him! He wanted God to look at the case, justify the innocent man and condemn the guilty.
David sees the judgment of his enemies, as an act-not only of justice on them-but of compassion to himself. God should judge them because He has promised to hear the groans of prisoners, to take up the case of the fatherless, to side with the oppressed.
If God's compassion is seen only in this world, He's got very little of it. The fact of the matter is, many oppressed people will never be relieved in this life and their oppressors will never be brought down. Mao Tse-Tong and Josef Stalin killed more people than any other man in the history of the world-and by a wide margin. Both men died in their sleep, without much pain and, as far as we know, with no regrets.
If there is no Hell, their victims are just what the dictators said they were, 'worthless'. But God doesn't look at victims that way. He sees them as made in His own Image, and in many cases, in the Image of Christ, who was the ultimate victim. God will not mock these people. And that's what Hell is: God taking note of the oppressors and bringing them to Final and Eternal Justice.
This is why, when mistreated, we can offer our complaint to God, and leave it in His hands. Because He will vindicate the innocent, and He will take His vengeance on the guilty.
Hell is good because it makes God look good. Much more can be said here-and will be, Lord willing-but for now, let's quit apologizing for Hell and start singing the hymn-
Whate'r my God ordains is right.
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