The 20th century was the epoch of evil. Yes, it was also a time of great advancement in technology and medicine. Yet even those discoveries were used for mass murder. Most of us know about Hitler’s gas chambers that slayed some 6 million Jews. But did you know that Stalin made the Holocaust look insignificant, killing more than 40 million of his own people in his gulags (labor camps)?
These brutal facts have affected faith in the West. Some historians have documented the correlation between the rise of the awareness of such cruelty and the decline in the belief in hell. After all, who would want to follow another dictator who eternally tortures people who don’t believe in him with fire and brimstone?
And so today, if you were to take a survey in your neighborhood about life after death, the majority would still believe in a blissful afterlife like a heaven, but very few would subscribe to the biblical teaching of hell. It just seems too much like a divine concentration camp.
But if you call yourself a Christian, you have one big problem: Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. If you follow Jesus, you will also follow what he said about hell.
So why would a loving God create such a place? How could the same God who created the heavens and the earth also create the torture chambers of hell?
Jesus himself answered that question when he described his return in Matthew chapter 25. He said that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will resurrect all people so they might stand before him to be judged. He said he will separate all people into two groups. The group on his right will be welcomed into his renewed world filled with God’s presence. (So far so good.) But then Jesus will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41).
Why would Jesus banish anyone to an eternal fire? Why would he have created an eternal fire in the first place? Well, keep reading. He went on to say this eternal fire was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In other words, hell was created for a specific purpose and for a specific group. The Lord God created hell to quarantine the devil and his angels. Hell was never intended for humans.
Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). And he is coming again to resurrect his people and liberate all creation from its bondage of decay (Romans 8:21). But if a person rejects such good news, God will not force himself on them. If a person continues to harden their heart, God will give them over to what they desire.
As C. S. Lewis said in his book The Great Divorce:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
The atrocities from the last one hundred years should not lessen our belief in hell. It should reinforce it. Because of God’s righteousness, there is a hell for the Hitlers and the Stalins who thought they could get away with such sin. There will be eternal justice for all those who escape temporal justice. God will have the final word. And for all those who repent, turn, and receive the invitation called out from the cross, God’s final word will be: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).