FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Upon watching ABC’s “The Ten Commandments,” I was grateful that the movie prompted me to think about some things the Bible says. For instance, there was a scene in which the faithful Israelites killed the idolatrous Israelites who refused to worship Yahweh (after the golden calf incident, see Exodus 32:25–29). As I watched these scenes, what came to my mind was the fact that not only do those who refuse to worship Yahweh meet with misery and death in this life, but they also face an eternal conscious torment.
But why do people go to hell forever?
Has this landed on you? Is it real to you that those who do not know God as He is will face His wrath forever? Have you thought about whether you think people deserve to suffer forever for not worshiping God? Can you think of any reason that would justify eternal conscious torment for a human being?
The only thing that makes this legitimate is that this God whom they had refused to honor and thank as God is of infinite worth. Do we know God in this way?
If we don’t know God in this way, we probably won’t take worshiping Him very seriously, which probably explains why so many churches don’t seem very serious about knowing and worshiping God.
When we think of God, do we think of Him as being this worthy?
When we speak of God, do we speak of Him in a way that reflects that He is this serious about His rights as God?
When we sing to God, do we do so in a way that corresponds with the gravity with which He regards Himself?
To know God as He is means that we hold Him so highly that we regard eternal conscious torment as what is justly due to those who neither honor Him as God nor give thanks to Him.
Do you worship God in a way that reflects the awful weight of a mercy that freely pardons those who trust Jesus — forgiving us of sins for which we rightly deserve to suffer forever?
Is the God you worship so important that those who spurn Him deserve hell? If not, your concept of God is not biblical (Exodus 34:6–7; Isaiah 66:24; Matthew 26:24).
If the god you worship is not so significant that those who deny Him the worship he is due will suffer forever for their wrongs, is the god you serve worthy of your worship? You are hereby invited to trust the God of the Bible and receive the mercy He has shown in Jesus. This is your only hope. Call on the name of the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Romans 10:13).
Far more upsetting to us than the eternal punishment of the lost should be the fact that God is not glorified as God or thanked for His merciful kindness (Romans 1:21). We must pray that God will give us such an all-encompassing understanding of His infinite worth that we are more emotionally troubled when He is denied the glory and thanks He is due than we are when we contemplate hell.
The great problem in the universe for us should not be why people go to hell; rather, we should be provoked when God is not given the thanks and praise He is due — provoked like Paul and spurred to proclamation (see Acts 17:16-17). God must enable us to perceive His own incomprehensible wealth of magnificence and mercy so that we can see beyond the apparent decency of people and stare into the truth that they owe God heartfelt, constant thanks and praise. And the fact that they do not render to Him the worship that He deserves must become for us the greatest ugliness in all creation.
If in our minds the worth of God is not this great, or if we are not confident that He will be justified in all He has done when all the evidence is brought forth, let us pray for grace to search the Scriptures and see there that the One from whom, through whom, and to whom all things are is indeed worthy of all the glory (Romans 11:36).
James M. Hamilton Jr serves as assistant professor of biblical studies at the Houston Campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His first book, “God’s Indwelling Presence,” is due out this August from Broadman & Holman.