HELL IS HORRIBLE. There is no other way to say it. The biblical teaching is extremely sobering.

The Bible compares hell to a lake of fire and sulphur (Revelation 20). It is a place where their “their worm does not die and their fire will not be quenched” (Mark 9:48). It is a place of eternal conscious torment. More than anyone else, Jesus warned us about it. Here is how he describes his final verdict on those who reject the gospel. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Jonathan Edwards agonized over the word “eternal.” For him, here was the sticking point. If hell lasted 10,000 years, but eventually ended there would be hope. But hell is eternal. It is therefore, a place of utter hopelessness. That is what makes it so terrible. In addition, Jesus—meek, mild, and gentle—is the agent of God’s eternal torment. “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17).

Because Hell is so horrible it is tempting to think that God is unjust. How could a good God do this? We answer with two faith presuppostions. First, the Bible is inerrant. What it teaches is true. Therefore, hell is real and awful. Second, God is infinitely holy, just, and good. With these two presuppositions in our tool kit we humble ourselves and listen to hell’s lessons about God and man.

First, hell teaches us about God. What is God like? He is holy! The angels about his throne cry “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6). They never stop. Their praise continues day and night. Those who deny hell don’t do so because they think God is too good. They deny hell because they don’t think God is good enough. They don’t comprehend his holiness.

Holiness is separateness. The opposite of holiness is not purity. It is commonality, what our forefathers called the profane. God’s holiness means that, in his utter moral purity, God is separate from what is common. He is totally unlike us. His goodness is infinitely uncommon in ways we cannot remotely comprehend. He hates evil in all of its shades and varieties, just as he loves all that is good and pure, in ways that are beyond our understanding.

This means that holiness defines God’s justice. His justice is infinitely holy. Holiness demands that God’s justice be perfectly and uncompromisingly exercised. Therefore, hell is the justice, no more or less, that each sinner deserves.

Second, the reality of hell teaches us about the nature of human sin. If hell’s duration is infinite, and if your suffering can never atone for your sins and get you out of hell, then your sin must be infinitely offensive to the holiness of God.

Because arrogance is the foundation of Sin, and arrogance is by nature blind, fallen human nature is unable to understand this. It assumes that people are basically good, that we deserve God’s mercy, love, and grace. We must humble ourselves and confess our blindness before we can understand God, the gospel, or the Bible.

The existence of hell teaches us that sin is serious in a way that our arrogant minds cannot even begin to understand. Original Sin, the corruption of human nature, blinds us to the holiness of God and our human sinfulness. The presence of indwelling sin deceives us, and the first subject it lies to us about, is our worthiness. Sin teaches us that all sincere people, those who try hard, deserve good treatment from God. Hell is an adamant refutation of that idea.

The cross is the proof of hell’s lessons. It puts an exclamation on the sinfulness of humanity, the holiness of God, and the reality and justness of eternal conscious torment. The cross is a theodicy—a defense of the existence of hell.

The cross proves that our sin is infinitely serious. Remember, Jesus died as our Penal Substitute. This means that a sacrifice of infinite value, God himself—infinite in his perfections—died to atone for sins infinitely serious, sins that deserve an infinite duration of conscious torment in hell. God’s infinitely holy justice could only be satisfied by a similarly infinitely valuable sacrifice. God supplied that sacrifice. In essence he absorbed the infinite horrors of hell for all willing to humble themselves and believe the gospel. Who can fathom such love?

The cross also proves that God is infinitely holy. It says that his justice is holy, his wrath is holy, and his love is holy. The divine virtues displayed at the cross are not common to our fallen world. God didn’t deal with our sin problem as we would. He didn’t just forgive and forget. The cross convinces us that God is not like us. He does not think or behave like the average human.

Last, the cross convinces us that God’s love, mercy, and grace are holy. Why would God suffer like this for creatures at war with him, that had no use for him, that spent their lives rejecting and ignoring him, creatures that are “by nature children of wrath?” (Ephesians 2:3). There is only one explanation. “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and his love is not common. It is holy. It is love for enemies. God’s love “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). If you are a Believer, you will be eternally soaked, saturated and energized by this love, delighting in it for eternity.

The reality of hell teaches us about God and man. The cross of Christ is the proof of its lessons. Ultimately the Bible’s teaching about hell, culminating in the cross, leads us to the love of God which surpasses knowledge. Delight in that love. Obey the words of Jude. “Keep yourself in the love of God” (Jude 21). Meditating on what God has done for you, in the context of what you deserve, is the sure way to accomplish this.