There can be no question that hell exists. Jesus mentions it several times in the gospels. (Matthew 23:33; Luke 12:5; Matthew 16:18 to name a few.) But it can be hard to imagine how a loving and merciful God could send people to a place described as a “furnace of fire.” (Matthew 13:50)
The last resort
Within the justice system, prison is commonly referred to as the last resort. This is due to the alarmingly negative impact it has on all aspects of a person’s life. As a rule, the longer an offender spends in confinement surrounded by other criminals, the slimmer the chances are of them ever rehabilitating.
Sometimes it is the only option; the last resort. Apart from being a punishment, in certain cases it’s the only way to ensure they will never reoffend. Additionally, the prospect of life behind bars is the only thing stopping some elements of society from committing murder.
A merciful and longsuffering God
When it concerns sentencing people to hell, the scriptures portray it as God’s last resort. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.
God has no desire that anyone should be cast into hell. He fervently loves each one that He has placed on earth. He gives people so many chances to repent and receive forgiveness. God reaches out to individuals in countless different ways, prompting them to be reconciled with Him. He even sent His only Son to earth to show us the way, all so that we could have every opportunity possible to be saved. (John 3:16)
In the days of Noah “the wickedness of man was great, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually,” yet God spared Noah, and actually the future of all mankind, after issuing a death sentence over every living thing. (Genesis 6) This is a vivid example of His longsuffering and mercy.
God is exactly the same today. His abhorrence and hatred for sin and the damage it causes has not diminished with time. Neither has His earnest desire that all should come to repentance. However, He stops short of forcing anyone to repent. The love and respect He has for our free will, prevents Him from doing so. Each one needs to make the decision themselves; to serve God rather than sin.
It all begins with this: “fear Him!” Joseph’s fear to sin against God caused him to see sin the way God does and drove him to exclaim: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9.
Do you think that this is too harsh of a punishment; that a God who would sentence someone to hell is too hard and can’t possibly be loving? Then you don’t see sin for how evil it really is. God cannot permit anything unclean to enter His kingdom, lest it corrupt that which is holy and pure. If sin were to gain entrance into heaven, the curse which the earth lies under would follow, and God will not allow this to happen. His eternal, unchangeable laws stand unshakably fast, and He does not make exceptions.
Make no mistake – hell is not a place where people are simply “sent to.” Just as there is a way that leads to heaven, there is also a way that leads to hell – and it’s heavily signposted. It’s a path that someone decides to take, a direction they have been heading in and a course they have set, long before they get there. When one consciously chooses to live contrary to God’s laws, rejecting His promptings to repentance, they themselves are choosing what the outcome of their life will be.
God, the righteous Judge
“… for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.” Psalm 96:13.
Even people who have never heard of God will be judged by Him one day. These people will be judged according to their conscience, the intuitive sense of right and wrong that every person has, and how they lived according to it.
God is righteous, and no one will be cast into hell for doing something that they didn’t understand was wrong. However, anyone who acts against their conscience will one day have to give account for that. (Romans 2:12-16) God is so righteous that nobody at all will be able to stand before Him on that day and say that something wasn’t fair.
Giving account for your life
But it’s not the intention that the fear of hell and eternal condemnation be the driving force behind our every decision. Rather, God’s longsuffering, mercy, and love towards us should inspire us to love Him in return. So much so that we fear to sin against Him. Pause and ask yourself, “Which path am I on? What thoughts do I harbor in my heart, and what will they lead to if I don’t deal with them?”
You will have an eternity to contemplate the outcome of choices you make now, so don’t dodge the truth about the ramifications of sinning against God. When our time on earth is over, everyone will be required to give account before the righteous Judge. On that day, you’ll stand there, not together with friends, family or colleagues, but alone – just you and God. You will have neither the time, nor the possibility to run back and put things right. Today, you have both.
This is the moment to begin on the right path, one with none of the uneasiness and restlessness that comes from a life that is not ready for review. All those who choose to obey God’s blessed laws experience how good He is! They live incredibly rich lives, full of peace and happiness. Everywhere such people go, they spread joy and sunshine – regardless of the state of their finances, health or other personal circumstances. By living in harmony with God’s commandments, they actually bring a taste of heaven to their surroundings. This is God’s intention for our lives.