The scriptures absolutely affirm the reality of eternal punishment for the wicked after this life (Mt. 25:30, 41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 21:8). Jesus Christ Himself is the most explicit of all God’s representatives about this teaching (Mt. 5:22; 29-30; 8:12; 10:28; 23:15; Mark 9:42-49; et al.). However, it is difficult for us to psychologically wrap our heads around the idea of people suffering eternally. We certainly do not like to think about it. Many are tempted to deny this grim reality that awaits the wicked in spite of the clarity of the scriptures regarding it. Instead of working to save people from hell, many wish to save people from the fear of hell; thus they attempt to reinterpret those Bible verses which teach its reality. But perverting God’s teaching on eternal punishment does not merely affect the meaning of a few verses, it changes the meaning of those biblical doctrines that we hold most precious. Consider a few:
1. Removing hell ruins the meaning of salvation. Salvation is precious because of what we have been saved from. Because of sin, we all deserve to die eternally (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), and we are so thankful to God that we do not have to meet the end we deserve (Rom. 7:24-25). But if we remove any idea of God’s wrath upon those who disobey Him, then we remove the significance of salvation. Unless we have been saved from real danger there is no meaning in salvation.
2. Removing hell ruins the preciousness of heaven. Though the Bible describes both destinations with equal certainty, the majority of people are willing to accept the idea of heaven, but deny the reality of hell. For years, surveys of common beliefs regarding what happens after death have shown this to be true. However, unless evil men are dealt with and separated from the saved, then heaven becomes populated with the same wicked people which plague the earth. Now, don’t get me wrong, I desire that all wicked people repent and be saved because that is what God desires (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but what shall be done with those who continue in wickedness? If they are never punished, nor separated from the good, then heaven is merely a recreated situation of our present earthly state. Heaven, then, is not a precious promise to the faithful, but just earthly life moved to another realm.
3. Removing hell ruins the integrity of our Lord. If we begin to embrace the idea that Lord may not carry through with His pledge to destroy the wicked, but instead reverse their fate, then how can we count on anything He says? If God has said something about the eternal destiny of the wicked that is not trustworthy, then how can we regard His promises to bless those who follow Him as trustworthy (Titus 1:2)? We either can count on what He says in His word or we cannot. A willful denial of clear teaching from the Bible on any particular topic because we do not like it equals a denial of the Bible altogether as a means of molding our beliefs.
We destroy much more than hell when we remove it from our set of beliefs. Seeing it is so clearly taught, and so inseparably woven into other teachings of God, we ought to respond to the doctrine of hell, not by denying it, but by doing our utmost to avoid it and teaching others to do the same.