The longevity of Hell, that eternity of torment, has not so much to do really with us, in the greatness of ourselves as human being, but it has everything to do with the grand holiness of the personal, Triune God against whom we have performed that sin. And any sin unatoned for by the perfect blood of Jesus Christ keeps that sinner from being in the presence, the gracious presence, of the holy, infinitely perfect God.
As I headed to the office to write this article, I tuned my radio to NPR, to one of my favorite programs: “1A, with Host Joshua Johnson.” He is an excellent conversational journalist who really knows how to get at the heart of an issue with winsome conversation and grace for folks on all sides of the issue. And today’s topic? Hell. The panel for the day held a philosopher from Clemson University who advises on the new sitcom “The Good Place,” a woman who serves as an Anglican priest, a more traditional evangelical, and a good old-fashioned atheist. I sat fascinated listening to the varying perspectives on the biblical idea of Hell, that place of eternal torment and punishment. What struck me particularly was a question by the philosopher from Clemson University, and I paraphrase: “How bad can anything that we do in this life really be to require that Hell go on forever?” The idea of an unending Hell seemed to boggle his mind, along with the concept of any human act in this life requiring that kind and length of punishment in the life to come. He was making the same logical error that a couple on the panel were unable to avoid, that being the reality and longevity of Hell is rooted in the dignity and honor of who we are as people. With humanity as the starting point, the panelists were right: what would require that length of that kind of punishment? However, they were starting at the wrong point.
As biblical Christians, we believe that God Himself is the fundamental reality of the universe. In fact, some theologians speak of Him as the atmosphere of all reality. We absolutely live and move and have our being in Him. Building on that concept, we understand that God is eternal. He is infinite in all of His being and perfections. That means, when we speak of His holiness, we are stating that he is absolutely, infinitely separate from sin. In Him is light and no darkness at all.