Why Hell Must Exist

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-23

When was the last time you thought about hell? If you’re like me it’s probably been awhile. That’s not a surprise because sometime around the latter half of the 20th century, hell dropped out of our culture’s vocabulary. I’m not sure how it happened or exactly when, but I do remember hell being a common phrase as a kid and then it suddenly just vanished. It wasn’t that it was there one day and then gone the next; it was as if adults had ever heard of such a concept. Instead of a common belief around which morality and life was oriented, it became a dirty word associated with fringe groups. Like those Westboro Baptist guys. It wasn’t a teaching you or your church wanted to be known for. Sure people nowadays may believe in a hell, but this concept is vague and it isn’t quite sure who makes it or who doesn’t. What is certain is that you don’t and no one you’re related to don’t. Not to mention most people. Really, the only people who would deserve hell would probably be Hitler…and that’s about it.

The Christian View of Hell

This places modern Christians in an awkward position since they have always believed in a literal heaven and hell from the time of the apostles. More than that, Christians believe that anyone who doesn’t repent and turn to a man named Jesus will go to hell, separated from any good relationship with God and in the full presence of his wrath. In tolerant times like ours, the Christian belief of heaven and hell is like jumping into a frozen pool, a shock to our system of values. This makes it almost incomprehensible and because of that it’s easy for such views to be socially rejected because of its perceived ‘unfairness’.

Can God really condemn people for a lack of belief? What about the ‘good atheist’? What about Gandhi? More importantly what about the everyday people we know and love like grandma who isn’t a Christian but is one of the most kind hearted people you’ll ever meet? If it’s an outrage when a good man gets the same sentence as a wicked one, how much more when God does so with humans. But if you pause to reflect on the nature of justice, you realize that for a perfect God to be just, hell must necessarily exist. More than that, hell must include people just like you and me.

Evil Isn’t Out There, It’s In Here

While technology like social media has readily opened up the world to us in the 21st century, being more connected to other human beings also means being more open to seeing the injustice and evil that exists in this world. When we see a news report of a school shooting, or a woman who had acid thrown on her face for leaving Islam, or that Syria has attacked its own citizens with chlorine gas, our heart cries out for justice.

But if we want the world to be a better place, wanting injustice to be remedied is only the first step. The second one is to realize that all of the evil we see in others is the same that’s present in ourselves. The scariest thing about the Holocaust, were that its soldiers, its prison guards, and its secret services were just everyday German citizens. They weren’t born monsters, they were human and this was demonstrated in the shock of one Jewish man who attended his perpetrator’s trial. As he looked into his eyes, he saw his humanity and he realized that the two were the same.

We are each capable of infinite evil. Like cancerous cells, they lie dormant within us, awaiting their opportunity to entice our souls. So if we want God to eliminate evil and rectify injustice, we must accept that a perfect God cannot tolerate the least bit of evil in the universe. He must deal with all of it and not just some out there in others. And that includes even the judgment of people like you and me who probably may not ever commit a major crime in our lives, but nonetheless harbor the very same dark desires that when fed, lead to widespread suffering.

Why Only Those Who Believe In Jesus Escape Hell

The Christian doesn’t believe that people go to hell because of their lack of belief in Jesus anymore than we believe that lifelines cause the death of people who drown. No, people drown because they asphyxiate underwater but the lifeline was the only thing that could’ve saved them. So too with Jesus. In any court case, justice demands payment. But in the courts of God, the cost of a crime against an eternally perfect being is more than any man can bear. Unless a perfect substitute exists to bear the guilt of the evil that lies within us, all we’re left with is despair – despair that despite our best efforts to scrub off the evil around us, we can never touch the evil within us and despair because we ultimately know that it will never measure up under the eyes of God. But this is the beauty of Jesus:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Is. 53:5

Disordered Loves

Unlikely Loves

Everyone loves love. Everyone desires love. The anticipation of its fulfillment in its object, the intense longing, the momentary feeling that all is right in the world in its presence, the sharp stabbing feeling of having and of losing, the intimacy of being known and knowing another, like there was no other person who were privy to the knowledge that you had received, the assurance of one’s commitment, the certainty of its endurance and the safety of its acceptance. Yes, all of it. But the object of our love is found in all sorts of strange things. A man ‘marries’ his phone. Narcissus falls in love with his reflection. We also find in our hearts, competing loves. That is, competing desires. The moment I wake up I face the desire to write competing with my love of sleep at 6 am.

The War of Loves

In the light of eternity, our whole lives is a war between loves. In our pursuit of happiness, fulfillment and transcendence, succumbing to some of these loves lead to fatal consequences while others to benefit. Will one choose their long term health or their appetite, and succumb to fatal heart disease? The struggles lies in the painstaking difficulty of giving up a good desire to one that is better. It is an inescapable reality of our lives. Every moment demands a choice. Every choice fulfills one desire and rejects another. Every desire fulfilled is the loss of another and what could have been. To be human is to love and to lose.

But if life is a war of our loves then we are losing it. How do we know the better loves then? Do we accept what society deems lovable or decide for ourselves? Caught in the midst of an affair, the bewildered husband utters “it just happened.” The high school girl, infatuated with the longing for one particular boy is encouraged to do what makes her happy. After all, love is love. Underneath the pining of our culture is an assumption that almost any love is a good one to be pursued. The news is filled with story after story of people giving in to their love all day long. Love is portrayed like cupid’s arrow, an enslaving, all consuming fiery passion that leaves no one outside its grasp. “It just happened.”

Though we know intuitively that love is only good through its appropriate expression and proportions, we are unable to tear ourselves away from certain desires. The love between a man and his wife can never be expressed in the same way to his daughter. Nor any other woman for that matter. Yet “it just happened”. These desires enslave us. they are our masters. At other times, we do not know which desires to follow and which to suppress if at all possible. Do I listen to my heart and break up with my girlfriend to pursue this girl? Is she the one? Blind to reality, we just have to “follow our hearts” and hope for the best.

Why We Don’t Love What We Should and Love What We Shouldn’t

Why do we do such things? Because the end of love’s pursuit is to deny what it knows is coming. The final defeat of death. Death envelops it all. There is no love that endures, no song that remains to be sung through the ages. If we live long enough the love we feel for another becomes bitter like wormwood. if we live short enough, we see death cruelly taking love before it has blossomed, leaving only broken hearts to ask what could have been. The good die young and the bad live long. Love is torn apart by untimely deaths, by broken hearts, by grief, tragedy and despair itself. Death destroys all knowledge of love and love itself. Love is subsumed into the void never to be remembered or lived again.

Deep down we know it to be true. And because we dread this, our “existential angst” leads us to spend our lives giving in to the wrong loves, indulging in our natural desires. Because the wrong loves are also the easiest loves. And if the right loves cease to matter then why waste precious labor to pursue what you will never have.

“What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32)

What we call love is used to fill the chasm of our hearts caused by facing the reality that we will never find fulfillment in our lifetime. It is a fleeting glimpse, a momentary ecstasy. Like a flower it rises up today only to be gone tomorrow. Try as we might the desire for our transcendence never dies even in the face of the absurd. Even death laughs at our futile attempts to enjoy what we can never have.

The Message of Despair

In the midst of our struggle with our existence, we miss the message it sends. Whispering in our empty success, shouting in our pain. It says, “you were never made for this world”. No, the love in this world is merely a signpost to a greater one. One that is enduring and eternal. One that overcomes death. To love love is to completely miss the point. Love is love? Who strives to be happy for happiness’ sake?

We ought to strive to be happy in the object that it is found. But we do not think the same with love. We seek love on its own, without its object, in what we believe will bring it to us. Follow it however and you end up more disappointed than when you started. The love we glimpse in our life amidst our relationships were designed as images of a better one. To seek to find love outside off its narrow road is to be lost, never to find the way again unless by some miracle you stumble upon it.

We will never find love until we give up trying to find it in this life and find it in God. To face the absurd we must give up what we hope will deliver us and seek what we can have no hope of in this life. Yet this seems more absurd). If you consider this too difficult, ask: “is it worth it if it is true?”. We must face facts. We only have two choices. We must choose which loves to pursue. To decide to follow our heart desires death. To desire God is to desire life.

A Call to Trust

The war of loves then is a call to trust. Our hearts were never meant to lead but be led. Do we know which loves will make us happy or does the one who made us? The only reason why giving up our loves is unbearable is if we like children are so preoccupied playing with our mud pies that we have become blind to the sandcastle right next to us. Consider therefore whether you’re seeking love for its own sake or the God who is love.