I have become increasingly uncomfortable answering difficult questions isolated from the necessary context surrounding them. Consider, for example, the questions being asked about the nature of hell in an upcoming documentary “Hellbound?“
Without revealing his personal views, Kevin Miller explores different beliefs people hold about hell. But before talking about final judgment, much larger questions are in order, questions about the nature of God and evil; about human culpability and justice must be understood. If sin is no big deal and God is a loving being without judgment, it’s not surprising that people reject the idea of hell.
The four quotes below (from four men who have taught me a lot about Scripture and life) provide indispensable contextual considerations for discussing final judgment. The variety of theological themes that converge in these quotes about final judgment provide excellent material for small group discussion or even a theology class assignment. Ask participants to attach Scripture to each conclusion.
D. A. Carson:
“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).
“All things being equal, God does desire that no one perishes, but all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness be vindicated. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the personal application of it” (Following Christ, pp. 217-18).
J. I. Packer:
“The unbeliever has preferred to be by himself, without God, defying God, having God against him, and he shall have his preference. Nobody stands under the wrath of God save those who have chosen to do so. The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications: nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain that His attitude here is supremely just, and poles apart from the wanton and irresponsible inflicting of pain which is what we mean by cruelty . . . what God is hereby doing is no more than to ratify and confirm judgments which those whom He visits have already passed on themselves by the course they have chosen to follow” (Knowing God, p. 139).
John R. W. Stott:
“Why is it that people do not come to Christ? Is it that they cannot, or is it that they will not? Jesus taught both. And in this “cannot” and “will not” lies the ultimate antimony between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But however we state it, we must not eliminate either part. Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity. Its final expression will be on the Day of judgment. Nobody will be sentenced without trial. All people, great and small, irrespective of their social class, will stand before God’s throne, not crushed or browbeaten, but given this final token of respect for human responsibility, as each gives an account of what he or she has done” (The Cross of Christ, pp. 95-96).