Caring about All Suffering, Especially Eternal Suffering
I have written about Hell in a number of my books, both nonfiction and fiction. It is an unpleasant subject, one which modern Christians are tempted to avoid and deny. And the church’s avoidance of it inevitably leads to many church-goers denying it.
I wrote in my book If God Is Good that if we regard Hell as a divine overreaction to sin, we deny that God has the moral right to inflict ongoing punishment on any humans he created to exist forever. By denying Hell, we deny the extent of God’s holiness and the extent of our evil. We deny the extreme seriousness of sin. And, worst of all, we deny the extreme magnificence of God’s grace in Christ’s blood, shed for us on the cross. For if the evils he died for aren’t big enough to warrant eternal punishment, then perhaps the grace he showed us on the cross isn’t big enough to warrant eternal praise.
The greatest kindness we can offer people, coming out of a life of humility and faithfulness to Christ, is the good news about Jesus and his saving grace. Spurgeon said, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay....If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned or unprayed for.”
That’s why I so appreciated John Piper’s words spoken at the 2010 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization:
One truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it impels us out toward the alleviation of all unjust suffering in this age. That’s what love does!
The other truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it awakens us to the horrible reality of eternal suffering in hell, under the wrath of a just and omnipotent God. And it impels us to rescue the perishing, and to warn people to flee from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).
I plead with you. Don’t choose between those two truths. Embrace them both. It doesn’t mean we all spend our time in the same way. God forbid. But it means we let the Bible define reality and define love.
Could Lausanne say—could the evangelical church say—we Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering? I hope we can say that. But if we feel resistant to saying “especially eternal suffering,” or if we feel resistant to saying “we care about all suffering in this age,” then either we have a defective view of hell or a defective heart.
I pray that Lausanne would have neither.