Can hell be “good news” too?

Christianity and hell have been a toxic mix over the centuries. Christian preachers have either used hell to scare people into becoming Christian, or ignored hell because it scares people off becoming Christian.

But explaining hell is awkward. How do you make hell into good news to fit in with the gospel? It’s like telling your child that the punishment you’re inflicting on him is “good for him” and that you’re doing it “because you love him.” But, the child wails, how can applying punishment be an act of love? And how could you, his caring parents, talk of your ever-abiding love for your darling little offspring while you’re putting him through hell?! It defies logic, the child cries.

“So,” you ask your child, “what would you have me do instead if your brother or sister kicks you on the shin on purpose, or steals your favourite toy and hides it, or tells lies about you to get you into trouble? Would you have me do nothing?”

Well of course not, the chlld cries. When a crime against himself is committed he wants assurance that sufficient punishment will be inflicted on his siblings to stop them hurting him in future. He wants to know his parents are being fair, just and unfailing in their determination to see evil dealt with. And he’s all for them doling out a dose of hell on those doing the hurting to stop them in their tracks. When a crime is committed against oneself, of course hell is justified, because it works. It assures all parties involved that evil will not be tolerated and justice will be done. And that’s good news for those who hate conflict and ugliness in the home.

But it’s not good news on those being punished. Hell hurts. And because it hurts it seems like it’s being done in hate. So how do you let a child know that he or she isn’t hated when being punished? By assuring them that they’re loved. Which is what God did when he threatened hell and terrible punishment on nations and cities for their awful crimes. He assured them he wouldn’t destroy them forever for what they’d done. Sometimes he relented and didn’t punish them at all (Exodus 32), and at other times he cut the punishment short (Hosea 11). He even changed his threats of everlasting destruction to promises of restoration (Ezekiel 16). Punishment, therefore, was only aimed at eradicating evil, not people. Justice had to be done, yes, but with justice came mercy, compassion and hope of restoration.

Hell not only highlights God’s justice, then, it also highlights his unlimited patience – both of which are good news.

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