Is the Doctrine of Hell Fair?
We at The Moody Church believe in the doctrine of hell—eternal conscious punishment. At the great White Throne (Revelation 20:11ff), billions of human beings will stand before God to hear their judgment. Lacking faith in Jesus Christ, these people will be sentenced to eternal punishment in hell. Obviously this needs explanation.
What standard is used in this judgment?
Paul taught that those who do not know the Gospel will be judged by their own conscience and by the light gleaned from nature. This judgment will show that no one has lived up to what they intuitively and rationally knew to be right. Now, as for those who have heard the Gospel, that’s a different story. Jesus said that it will be more tolerable in the Day of Judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those cities that rejected Him when He was on Earth (Luke 10:12). Those who heard the Gospel and rejected it—or those who had access to the Gospel, as we do in America—will be more strictly judged. As for children and those with mental disabilities, we believe that they will be exempt from this judgment if they lack the moral capacity to be responsible for their decisions.
Also, those who did evil will be given a lesser punishment than those who not only did evil, but also influenced others to do the same. For example, Jesus said of the person who causes a little child to stumble, it would be better for him if he had a stone tied around his neck and drowned (Matthew 18:6). It is one thing for a man to be immoral; it is quite another when he publishes a pornographic magazine read by millions that entices people to be immoral. Judgment for such people will be immeasurably severe.
Is the lake of fire the same as hell?
Yes, we believe they are the same as Revelation 20:14-15 bears out. As to whether there is literal fire in hell, we cannot be sure, because hell is spoken of as a lake of fire and also a place of “outer darkness.” Perhaps those two ideas seem incompatible to us. The point is that even if these are figures of speech, what they represent is frightful and terrifying (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:47-48).
Doesn’t eternal punishment fly in the face of human compassion and fairness?
That certainly is a common reaction we all might have. But, what if, as Jonathan Edwards said, the greatness of a sin is determined by the greatness of the being against whom it is committed? To throw a snowball at a mailman is one thing; to throw one at a policeman is another. And if you throw a snowball at the President of the United States, you will be arrested. Using that analogy, think of the infinite crime of sinning against an infinite God. Sin is much more serious to God than it is to us. Also, because we are eternal beings, those who are in the lake of fire bear the consequences of their personal guilt forever.
What do you say to the person who has a spouse or a son or daughter who has died as an unbeliever?
It comes down to this: God is repeatedly described as meticulously just. We honor Him by believing and trusting in His justice, knowing that someday we will agree with all His decisions and forever sing, “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints!” We believe that those who are in the lake of fire will agree that they are being justly punished. After all, the sin they committed on Earth will be present to their mind and consciences. This in itself would be a form of hell. This is a difficult doctrine to be sure, but God is more incomprehensible than we generally believe Him to be. And remember, we are talking about the God who actually exists, not the tolerant being we conjure up in our imagination.