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Is hell really fair punishment?

After death, there are two places a person's soul can go. The children of God will spend eternity with Him, but those who aren't children of God will spend eternity separated from Him. Most people have at least a basic understanding of hell: it is a place of torment and agony where everything unholy and wicked is cast down to suffer. Hell is the destination of those who have rejected the gospel.

One might argue, “If God is so loving, then is hell really a fair punishment? Isn’t eternal pain and torment too much?” God IS loving, merciful, and does want all people to accept Him (1 Timothy 2:4), and when we choose not to accept Him, we reject Jesus' gift of paying for our sin. And, well, that still leaves a debt that needs paid off.

Let's Talk About the Cost of Sin

Sin is disobedience to God. It is a result of our corrupted and rebellious nature (Genesis 3) and is something we're born with (Psalm 51:5). Every human being has sinned (Romans 3:23). Whether we acknowledge it or not, all sin is committed against God Himself. David knew this when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). Instead of saying that he had sinned against Bathsheba's husband, David cuts to the root of the offense and admits to God that he had sinned directly against God by doing this sinful act (Psalm 51:4). He twisted God's design and rebelled against God's directives in his decision. Any time we sin, we are committing a crime that, at the core, goes against God's design, His commands, and His perfect goodness.

The Bible tells us that God hates all sin (Proverbs 6:16-19). God is so holy that He cannot even tolerate sin, and His anger burns against it (Zechariah 10:3; Isaiah 5:25; Hosea 8:5). But this does not mean that God is not loving or merciful. He is the very definition of love itself (1 John 4:8)! And while God can't compromise His own holiness by overlooking sin, He displays mercy and love through His Son, Jesus. God sent Jesus to die in our place for our sins so that we could be forgiven and restore a healed relationship with Him (1 John 4:10). Through this gift, which we call the gospel, God's perfect justice (the need for payment) and His perfect love (providing means to pay a debt we could never pay) work in unison.

God is Eternal. Payment is Eternal.

Since God is holy, righteous, just, and eternal, an eternal payment for our sins is required. While we exist within time, God does not, and our finite selves have rebelled against an infinite Being of perfect justice and goodness. And that's an offense we can't correct ourselves. Only another eternal, perfect Being who "knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21) could pay the penalty we owed. This is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lazarus vs. the Rich Man

"But what about people who never heard the gospel and didn't realize they were in trouble?" This is a common question that's brought up when discussing the fairness of hell, but Jesus addresses it in Luke 16:19-31 with the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

In the story, Lazarus goes to Heaven, but the rich man goes to hell. And the rich man is sharply aware of why he's there. He knows he's rejected the pleas of the poor, and that, while his life was constrained by time, his sins earned him the eternal consequence. He begs Abraham for water from Lazarus, but due to the divide between the eternal darkness of hell and eternal light of heaven, Abraham tells him none is able to cross over from place to the other. The rich man accepts this without argument, and only asks that a miracle be shown to his brothers so they could be spared the same torment he's going through.

Unbelievers in hell are fully conscious of their sin, and they understand that they deserve to be where they are. Romans 1:19-20 says, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." The punishment of hell is the unbearable awareness of one's own sin, of having rejected God, of separation from the divine Creator we were created to be in eternal closeness with.

But the Scary Reality of Hell Makes Grace More Beautiful

Since God is holy and righteous, a payment must be made for our sins against God. But the good news—more like great news!—is that God Himself provided a way to restore our relationship with Him through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). God loves us SO much that He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins, so that we can have forgiveness of those sins and eternal life with Him (John 3:16).

Jesus is the atoning sacrifice—the payment for our sins (1 John 2:2). Ephesians 1:7 tell us, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Only by placing faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf can we be forgiven of all of our sins and receive eternal life with God.

Once we have accepted salvation through Jesus, we become children of God. Jesus’ payment for our sins on the cross is eternal, meaning that once we're forgiven, we're forgiven forever. As believers, we don’t have to pay for our sins in hell for all eternity because Jesus gave us the most perfect, sinless payment on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God loves us, and He wants each of us to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). That’s why He gave us the life of Jesus (Romans 5:8). Jesus also loves us so much that He willingly died so we could be with Him in His family forever. When He rose from death, He proved His perfection; the spiritual death that comes with sin had no hold on Him. This opportunity for new life through Jesus is what He sacrificed so much to give us (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The reality of hell IS scary, but Jesus has already conquered death. And He is extending a welcoming hand, inviting us to join Him in eternal light (Revelation 3:20).

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TL;DR

Since God is holy, just, and righteous, hell is a fair punishment. God cannot stand sin. In fact, He hates sin (Proverbs 166:16-19). Since all people are sinners (Romans 3:23; Psalm 51:5), and we sin every day, our sin debt is overflowing. There must be payment for our sins to live in eternity with God. Hell is the price we must pay for our sins if we reject Jesus. Like the rich man in Luke 16, people in hell are fully aware that their punishment is fair (Romans 1:19-20).

Believers in Jesus don’t have to be afraid of going to hell, because they have accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation by trusting in His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Jesus was the payment for our sins, so we don’t have to pay for our sins in hell. Instead, we become children of God who spend eternity with Him. Hell is scary because it's separation from God. But because of God's grace, we can choose to become His children instead of His enemies.

By: Vivian Bricker

Vivian loves learning, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She is dedicated to helping people learn more about Jesus and is ready to help in any way she can. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, cooking, drawing, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, you can find her soaking up the sunshine or going on an adventure.

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