Why do some of us struggle so much with the Bible’s teaching about hell? Today, R.C. Sproul explains that it’s not because we have a higher view of justice than God does.
You have trouble with hell? I do. I cannot enjoy contemplating for one minute any human being in hell. Oftentimes people say to me, “Do you believe that hell is a lake of fire, literally?” And I say, “No.” And they say, “Well, what do you think it is?” I say, “Well, I think it’s separation from God.” And do you know what their usual response is? “Man, am I glad to hear that. Glad to know that hell is just separation from God.”
Huh? I have to tell you how our thinking gets mixed up here. A couple of things: one, it’s commonplace in our life to say, “Oh, that guy went through hell” or “War is hell” or “This disease is hell,” “Ghettos are hell,” and all that. Hey, that’s hyperbole, and don’t forget it. Because hell is a place where not one ounce of the benefits of God’s grace penetrate. And I don’t care how miserable the worst human condition is in this world; there is nowhere where you can go in this world where the benefits of God’s grace are absolutely absent, where the sun doesn’t shine and the rain doesn’t fall and the air isn’t there to be breathed. That’s part of God’s grace.
Now the second point is, Jesus is the One who talks about the lake of fire and all those ghastly images that the New Testament uses. And people say to me, “Do you think that we should take those literally?” I say, “No, I take them symbolically.” And again they go, “Whew, oh boy.” And I say: “Wait a minute. Did you ever stop to ask yourself why it is that Jesus of Nazareth used the most ghastly images He could conjure up to symbolize the reality of hell?” Does the reality normally exceed in intensity the symbol? A symbol only approximates. I think the person in hell would give anything that he had to be in a lake of fire.
I don’t want to go there and I don’t want anybody to go there and I can’t conceive of anybody being there without being dreadfully upset about it. Yet God says people will be there. That just causes me anguish. I can’t stand that thought. Now I ask myself, “Why do I struggle so much with the biblical concept of hell?” Maybe it’s because I don’t like to see my comrades suffer. Do you realize that I have more in common with Adolf Hitler than I have with Jesus Christ? The gap of righteousness and holiness that exists between Hitler and me is infinitesimal compared to the gap that there is between me and Jesus, and that’s true for you. If we were totally, totally sanctified, on God’s side, we would be horrified not only by our own desecration of His nature and holiness that we perpetrate every day, but by all the rest of it that goes on in the world and we would rejoice to see, finally, the vindication of the purity of God, of the holiness of God, of the righteousness of God, in the death of the wicked.