Hell is a sticky subject.
For centuries the church has sold God as a loving being full of grace and mercy. And yet, equally consistent has been its message that Hell, a place of torment, is the eternal place for unbelievers. That eternal damnation awaits those who don’t make the right choice about God.
Understandably, the two ideals create an odd friction. How is it that God can be loving and full of unmerited favor and send people to torment in Hell for an eternity?
Before we begin, I think the Christian must first recognize the question as legitimate. More than legitimate, even. Most of the time the very asking of this question implies a “benefit of the doubt” being afforded to God. The asker wants to believe in a loving God, who pardons in great and fantastic ways.
There, of course, are other times when the person asking has simply identified what appears to be an odd contradiction in God’s character. Eternal separation does not, on its surface, jive well with ideas like love, mercy and grace.
It’s important to grant these positions.
The Matter At Hand: Judgment
Now, on to the question. In short, yes, I believe it is possible to be eternally separated from God.
A facet of love is justice, and with justice comes judgment. We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament — with Noah and with Sodom and Gomorrah, for example — where God rightly exacts judgment for sin. In fact, the God of the Old Testament is not shy about showing the justice/judgment side of his character. After all, he did hand us the book to read that contains all of those stories.
Sure, there is plenty of patience, love, and grace to be found in the Old Testament, but there’s also some definitive, unforgettable pictures of judgment to the enemies of God and his people. If we believe “all scripture is inspired” by God, then we have to believe God co-signed these stories despite how damaging they are to his “loving” character.
But why? What does he want us to learn through these stories? What’s he trying to tell us? Where might he be leading us?
At the minimum, he seems intent on showing us that judgement and justice is large part of his character.
The Crux of the Cross
The justice of the Old Testament leads us to the Grace in the New Testament.
I remember when I first learned that every color, at its brightest, is white. And that every color at it’s darkest is black. I was fascinated by this sort of color contradiction. Blue, Red, Yellow, they all converged at their brightest point. In a sense, every color is white, even when they aren’t white.
But perhaps thinking about colors this way will help us get a handle on this judgment/grace contradiction. Perhaps it is the case that justice at its highest level, and mercy at it’s highest level are the same, much like blue at its brightest and red at its brightest are the same.
That’s a bit abstract, I know. But luckily, God gave us something a little more concrete to consider. In Jesus, justice and mercy converge in ways similar to colors. Jesus epitomizes both the height of God’s judgement, and the height of God’s grace. If he was not a just God, Jesus would not be necessary. If he were not a God of grace, Jesus would not be necessary. But because he is a God of both justice and grace, Jesus is absolutely necessary.
So then, Jesus takes the full wrath of God for us and delivers to us the fullness of his grace in one swoop.
To reject Jesus, then, is to take on the fullness of God’s justice and to reject his grace. The stakes are pretty high. I won’t pretend to know the whys and hows of God’s “judgment” but if he sent his Son to rescue us from it, I’d say it’s a pretty big deal.
For whatever reason, the Bible informs us that we have this lifetime to make our minds up about what to do with Him and Jesus. The lives we live now is for an eternity later… and like the colors, we’ll either become the bright white or dark black. There is a heaven. There is a Hell. And they are eternal.
Again, this is what makes Jesus so key and crucial to the Christian faith. He is the only way to escape the judgment of God and accept the great grace and mercy of God that leads to the sort of life and relationship we were made to have with him.
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