The biggest problem for those in Hell

(R.C. Sproul)

Many people hope for a second chance after death, yet nothing in Scripture gives the slightest hope of that. The Bible says that "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

In recent years, there has been a revival within evangelical circles of the heretical doctrine called annihilationism, which holds that the wicked are merely annihilated. Their punishment is that they cease to exist. But the Bible is very clear that the punishment of Hell is conscious and unending-a place where the wicked "will go away into everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46).

Almost all the biblical teaching about Hell comes from the lips of Jesus. Modern Christians have pushed the limits of minimizing Hell, in an effort to sidestep or soften Jesus' own teaching.

Yet there is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking, than the idea of Hell.
The Bible describes Hell as . . .
  a place of outer darkness,
  a lake of fire,
  a place of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth,
  a place of eternal separation from the blessings of God,
  a prison,
  a place of torment where the worm never dies.

A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares, "Hell is a symbol for separation from God." To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person. The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. "They say to God: Leave us alone! We have no desire to know Your ways!" Job 21:14

Yes, Hell is separation from the grace, care, and love of God, but not from God Himself. The biggest problem for those in Hell will not be separation from God-it will be the presence of God that will torment them. In Hell, God will be present in the fullness of His divine wrath, actively punishing the wicked. Hell is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God. He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all-consuming fire.

When we are saved, we are saved from God Himself! We are saved from exposure to His fierce wrath and punishment!

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Hell is its eternality. People can endure the greatest agony, if they know that it will ultimately stop. In Hell there is no such hope. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. Punishment implies pain. Mere annihilation, which some have lobbied for, involves no pain. Jonathan Edwards said, "Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be, that they may escape the wrath of God!" "They called to the mountains and the rocks: Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" Revelation 6:16

Hell, then, is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God-a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief.

No matter how we analyze the concept of Hell, it often sounds to us as a place of cruel and unusual punishment. If, however, we can take any comfort in the concept of Hell-we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime. Cruelty in this sense is unjust. God is incapable of inflicting an unjust punishment. The Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. No innocent person will ever suffer at His hand. The last judgment will be administered by a perfectly just and righteous Judge, so there will be nothing arbitrary or unjust about it.