Hell, I would like to suggest, is evidence not so much of God's justice - though partly that - but rather of His mercy. One might, in fact, complain that God was cruel if Hell did not exist. I realize that may sound difficult, but if you will follow along, I will attempt to make that case as best I can.
First of all, think of the Israelites' encounter with God on Mt. Sinai, how God revealed Himself in fire, as He did earlier - in some manner or another - with Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:2,3). The mountain, we are told in Exodus 19:18, "was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire" and "the smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace."
Later, while Moses was atop Mt. Sinai (Ex. 33:19-23) he asked God to "show me your glory." God consented, but warned him that "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." So God shielded Moses in a cleft of the rock and also covered him with His hand while He passed by. This passage graphically illustrates Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29, which say that God "is a consuming fire."
Consider also the Mount of Transfiguration, where the face of our Lord shown like the sun (Mat. 17:2), and Saul's encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascas (Acts 9:3,8), where he was struck down, blinded by a blazing light that physically affected his eyes.
Such passages make me think that it is a very good thing indeed that we now see "but a poor reflection," as Paul writes in I Cor. 13:12. In fact, I can easily understand why someone would not want to see God "face to face," as Paul says later in the same verse.
But this heavenly vision of fire and brilliance doesn't go away. It appears again and again. In Second Thessalonians 1:7 we read that the Lord Jesus will be revealed in "blazing fire" on the Day of Judgement. In 1 Timothy 6:16 Paul writes that God dwells in "unapproachable light." In Revelation 1:16 John writes that he saw the face of Jesus like the sun "shining in its strength." And in Revelation 21:23 he writes that the glory of God illuminates the new Jerusalem. Also, there are angels with faces like the sun and legs like pillars of fire (Rev. 10:1), and in Heaven we find a sea of fire and glass (Rev. 15:2). Then, in Matthew 13:43 the Lord says that "the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father." If mere believers and angels shine like the sun, what dim and insignificant suns they must be when compared with the blazing, glorious sun that is God Himself.
Clearly, for some, this is not an inviting vision. But it is coming. Jesus promised a day of judgement (Matt. 25:31-46).
For those who love the Lord, who are shining as brightly as suns, who have been prepared for this experience by the forgiving grace of Jesus, who wear the proper wedding clothes, that day will be a time of great joy (Matt. 25:210). A wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-13). A meeting with the saints of old (Matt. 8:11, Lk. 16:22). It will be a face-to-face encounter (I Cor. 13:12) with the One whom their hearts have always longed for, and the glory of God will be welcoming and warm and beautiful and loving, like the fresh dawning of a new spring day.
But this same glory will also be revealed to the ungodly, and for these it will be like flames of fire, burning and agonizing (Rev. 20:14-15). The beauty and glory of God which is perfume to believers is, as Paul writes, the stench of death to unbelievers (2 Cor. 2:15-16). The glory of God - blazing like ten thousand suns - will be unendurable to those who are not prepared for His presence.
Perhaps, then, God could simply not reveal himself to the ungodly. But in that case they could go on denying Him for eternity, and God is just and will not permit any lie to endure forever. But He is also merciful, and those who are not prepared to stand directly in His presence, those who do not have on the wedding garments, those who do not love and desire Him, will be cast into the outer darkness (Matt. 8:12). And they will need no urging to go!
Though God's glory is pervasive (Ps. 139:7-8), and though He will no longer let them deceive themselves, He will mercifully shield them from full exposure to Himself, though what exposure they do experience will be to them like a lake of fire (Rev. 21:8).
Then, just as the rich man in Jesus' parable (Lk. 16:23) could look far back toward heaven and see Lazarus, and as, perhaps, those cast out of the wedding hall into the outer darkness could see something of the wedding feast through the windows, so also may those in Hell be able to look back at the saints of God, appearing for all the world like blazing suns, singing and enjoying themselves in the midst of what appears to those in Hell to be a divine inferno. And though they will know well that they could have been there enjoying God's presence, what they see will be as enticing to them as an invitation to join Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the firey furnace (Dan. 3). And seeing this, they will, perhaps, flee even further from heaven.
But suppose a believer from Heaven was to journey to Hell, which - if I understand the parable of Lazarus and the rich man - he could not do (Perhaps because he himself would be blazing so brightly), but if he could, he would feel cold and chilled and would see just the barest hint of light, the distant and filtered glory of God, like a dim star, and he would not understand how that dull glow could cause pain. And he would long to return to the warmth of God's presence.
Finally, if those in Hell were to ask how long it will endure, it seems that it must last as long as God remains glorious.
- Brad Haugaard
© Copyright 2003 Brad Haugaard