Is God so good that he will not punish the wicked in hell eternally?
People have grappled with this question for years. Several answers have been offered.
1. Universalism says God will save everyone. If hell exists, it is for the devil and his angels, but not for human beings. Hell is probably some medieval concoction.
2. Extinction of the soul. The good will go to heaven, but the wicked will be snuffed out of existence.
3. Only a few. Hell exists, but only the really, really bad people will actually go there. You have to work very hard to get into hell.
4. God might change his mind. The Bible talks about hell, and so did Jesus, and, yes, he says few will be saved, but we must let God be God: If he decides to let some people into heaven that, by what the Bible says, won’t be permitted in, then we’ll accept that.
Such positions fail, however, to take into account several truths.
+ God is good *and* severe. To Gentiles who were proud they had been added to God’s people, Paul warns: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). God is more than merely good; he is also righteous, just, and holy.
+ God gets mad. His anger is not like ours, fickle, unstable, a random shooter. His wrath is focused, invariably, against evil. Evil is whatever goes against his nature and character. The Lord has, in his mercy, provided an escape through Christ, where the full horror of sin was faced and dealt with. Those who spurn his grace are objects of his wrath, as well as those who have the gospel in their hands and keep quiet. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
+ God is faithful and true. If God says he will do something, we may be sure that he will not change, for he is “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). To affirm that God tells us that the spiritual world works one way, only to let us get at the end and discover that he had actually decided to do differently would be nothing more than a cosmic joke. God doesn’t operate that way.
+ God has decreed that people live with their decisions. Decision determines destiny. In the end we will be judged by our deeds. “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27). Or as Paul put it, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). In other words, we will reap what we sow, so we shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking otherwise (Galatians 6:7-10).
+ Things are better today, and worse. God offers salvation in Jesus, but the consequences of rejecting it are worse than in the old covenant. The book of Hebrews puts warnings near the beginning and the end of the work, declaring that to refuse Christ will be worse for us than punishment was for Israel (Hebrews 2:1-4; 12:25).
The attempts mentioned above to emphasize God’s goodness so as to downplay eternal punishment for the wicked leave people as they are and encourage them to relax, if not in intent, at least, in their result.
Considering our great salvation, we must “pay much closer attention” (Hebrews 2:1) than ever.
God is good, but his goodness does not pretend sin is something that can be overlooked nor go unpunished.
God is good, so what does that mean for the concept of eternal punishment of the wicked?