The idea of hell has been a philosophical and theological discussion topic for centuries. At its core, hell is based on the belief that there is a moral order in the universe and that actions have consequences. Hell is often considered a place or state of punishment for those who have committed moral evils while on Earth but have also rejected God's offer of salvation. There is also a belief held by many religions and spiritual traditions that suggests that individuals can choose whether they end up in a state of eternal suffering or not. By considering the concept of free will, moral responsibility, consciousness, and intentionality, one can argue that individuals can choose whether they end up in a state of eternal suffering or not.
I have preached and taught about Hell and Heaven to Christians and Non-Christians, making a case for why there is a need for Hell and Heaven. I do not think everyone gets their due recompense on this side of our existence. But, some people have described the concept of hell as cruel, inhuman, and brutish. The British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell once argued that anyone who threatens people with eternal punishment, as Jesus did, is inhumane. Some argue that the idea of eternal punishment is inherently disproportionate to any offense committed during a finite lifetime.
St. Anselm of Canterbury is known for his significant contributions to medieval theology and philosophy, particularly his ontological argument for the existence of God. He thought hell was the rejection of divine grace and Beatitude. Anselm believed that hell is a necessary part of God's eternal design and that those who rebel against God must be separated from Him. He believed that God's justice demands that sin be punished and that hell is the necessary consequence of sin. From this perspective, hell is the natural consequence of rejecting God's offer of salvation through Christ.
First, it is crucial to understand what Anselm meant by rejecting divine grace and Beatitude. Grace is often defined as God's unmerited favor or gift, which is bestowed upon humans to bring them closer to God and provide them with salvation. On the other hand, Beatitude refers to the state of supreme happiness and blessedness attained through God's grace.
Anselm's position on the rejection of divine grace and Beatitude can be found in his work "Cur Deus Homo" (Why God Became Man), in which he argues that God became man to save humanity from sin and the consequences of sin. According to Anselm, the rejection of divine grace and Beatitude occurs when humans choose to sin and turn away from God. This rejection, he argues, is not absolute but instead temporary and can be overcome through repentance and a return to God.
A prominent New Testament scholar and theologian, N.T. Wright has challenged the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment for the wicked, arguing that the biblical text does not support this idea. Instead, he suggests that the Bible portrays hell as a final, irreversible state of separation from God and all that is good. This separation, he believes, is the ultimate consequence of rejecting God's love and grace throughout one's life.
Wright also emphasizes the importance of understanding hell in the context of the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. He argues that the ultimate goal of God's plan is not to rescue a select few from a burning hell but to restore all of creation to its original state of harmony and shalom. In this sense, hell is not primarily a punitive measure but rather the necessary consequence of rejecting God's offer of redemption and restoration.
While Wright's perspective on hell has generated controversy and debate among theologians and laypeople alike, his emphasis on the larger biblical narrative and the importance of understanding hell in light of God's ultimate purposes has been widely appreciated.
Some people have emphasized Christ's teaching on love, arguing that it would be challenging to imagine Christ, who said so much about love sending people to eternal torment. The recent publication of a book by Rob Bell entitled "Love Wins: heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived" has rekindled the controversy over the debate. Rob Bell writes in the book: "A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better." According to Bell, these kinds of messages do not only deter people from Christianity but also do not offer consolation to a world that needs comforting words.
In his view, the Christian Gospel should leave room for people to come to God after death. While such a position by Bell is more appealing than the traditional view of hell, the Bible does not offer that possibility. Instead, the Bible declares that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that judgment. The docket is closed immediately after death.
I think Bell faces many problems in his assertions. First, Bell takes one of the attributes of God and intends to make it the totality of God's nature. That is, God is only LOVE. God has many attributes: Love, Justice, Holiness, Righteousness, Perfection, and Sovereignty. God is not only love but just and holy. God's justice and holiness demand that sin be punished and sinners separated from Him. The whole idea of the Christian Gospel is about God reconciling his love for his creation with his justice and holiness. Christ was a propitiation for our sins: reconciling sinful humankind to a holy God through his sacrifice on the cross. Those who accept the offer of Christ as the sacrificial lamb and put their trust in Him are saved from impending doom. That is the Christian Gospel in a nutshell.
Jesus taught about the existence of hell. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 13:40 reiterated, "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire so that it will be at the end of the age." Again, the Olivet Discourse described the final judgment in this fashion, "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" Jesus used unique metaphors to demonstrate the seriousness of hell. In the gospel of Mark 9:43, he warned, "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. You should enter life maimed with two hands than go into hell, where the fire never goes out." Jesus told the story of a rich man and a poor man called Lazarus, who died and were assigned to Abraham's bosom and the lake of fire.
The book of Revelation 20:11-15 says, "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which was in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which was in them, and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
The primary purpose of hell is to satisfy the demands of justice or balance the scale of justice. God demands satisfaction in proportion to the extent of our Sins. One argument for the existence of hell is based on the observation that, in many cases, the righteous suffers while the wicked prospers on Earth. This can be seen as evidence of fundamental injustice in the world and that a reckoning beyond this life is necessary to balance the scales of justice.
From this perspective, hell can be seen as a place of ultimate justice, where those who have lived wickedly and enjoyed the pleasures of life at the expense of others are punished for their wrongdoing. If there were no afterlife and no ultimate judgment, it would mean that the wicked could enjoy their ill-gotten gains without any consequences, while the righteous would suffer without any hope of redress.
What will be the ground for justice and morality if those who committed the holocaust but lived 100 years without sickness or punishment on Earth can escape punishment for good? If justice demands punishments and punishments have to be fair, then we need a just judge who judges correctly without partiality and is all-knowing and all-powerful.
Even Immanuel Kant, the most significant 19th-century philosopher who rejected the idea that morality stems from God's command, believed that we need a just, all-knowing, and all-powerful judge to exact just punishment. The only One who fits this description is the God Almighty. Romans 2:11 says that God does not show favoritism. Abraham asked, "Will not the judge of all the Earth do right?" In the end, the righteous judge will right all the wrongs. The existence of hell can also be seen as a way of affirming the value and dignity of human life. If there is an afterlife in which people can experience eternal joy and bliss, it would be unjust if there were not also a place of punishment for those who rejected virtue and goodness. In this sense, hell is necessary to maintain the value and dignity of human life by ensuring that those who commit wicked acts do not escape justice.
I think people like Bell must understand that God's Love demands hell. The Bible describes God as Love, but God's Love is not coercive but only persuasive. A God who forces his love on people can only be described as a "Divine Rapist." Those who refuse to accept God's Love must be allowed not to love him. The existence of hell can be seen as a reflection of the idea that human beings have free will. If we are truly free to make moral choices, it would mean that we can choose to reject goodness and virtue and embrace evil.
In this sense, the existence of hell is a natural consequence of human freedom and a necessary component of a just universe. So, human free will demands that a loving God create a place for those who have rejected his love in this world. In other words, human dignity demands the presence of hell as a place for those who have rejected God's offer of salvation. In the final analysis, it will be unthinkable and unimaginable for God, who orders creatures to obey, will not enforce sanctions on His disobedient creatures.
Whether one accepts or rejects the idea of hell is a matter of personal belief and faith. The concept of eternal punishment has been debated and discussed for centuries, and there is no definitive answer. However, for those of us who believe in cosmic justice and the importance of moral accountability, hell is seen as a necessary component of a just universe.