The Judgment of Unbelievers


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I want to draw your attention to a change the editors made in the second edition of Trinity Hymnal because it beautifully illustrates a problem I am going to be discussing this evening from the Word of God. We have a conflicted relationship with hyperbole as modern speakers of the English language. We use it a lot, I will give you some illustrations of how we use hyperbole in our ordinary speech, but at certain points we find it almost impossible to believe that hyperbole is really the figure of speech that has been employed and we feel it needs to be corrected to the more literal. So, at the end of the second verse, those of you who are familiar with this hymn from your childhood will remember, we used to sing “and from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess. The wonders of redeeming love and my own worthlessness.” The modern hymnal editor ear said to itself, “You can’t say that. You are made in the image of God. You are not worthless, you are valuable, you are important. Nobody should say such a thing.” Of course they would probably not blanch at the idea of using “worm” to describe a human being in sin because that is in the Bible and they would be reticent to remove something that is in the Bible to replace it with something that isn’t in the Bible, a softer expression. Hold that in your mind as we move through the argument this evening.

There is no particular text. We are going to be quoting a number of verses from Holy Scripture this evening, but not the exposition of any particular one.

We have in our sermons so far in this series considered the importance of the Bible’s teaching of divine judgment, maybe particularly in our own historical moment, the presence of that judgment as we encounter it in human history, and the implications of that judgment for Christians who must, with all men, face divine judgment on the Great Day to receive what is due them in the body for the deeds they have done in the body whether good or evil. Tonight I want….already in human history, and the implications of that judgment for Christians who must, with all men, face that judgment on the Great Day. Tonight I want to consider the judgment of the unbelieving world, a biblical doctrine that is feared by some unbelievers, scorned by many others – no matter that they usually assume its truth in certain respects and to a certain degree – a doctrine that has always been denied, in part or in whole, by some who call themselves Christians, and a doctrine that troubles even the most devout and theologically conscientious of believers. Perhaps the principal reason we don’t talk about divine judgment as much as we should is that we don’t like to think about it. It is a reality we find oppressive and fearful. But as Klaas Schilder, the Dutch theologian and preacher, put it in his very valuable book on hell, first published in 1920, “Let fear not lead to disregard.” [Cited in van Genderen and Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics, 878]

There have always been a few, just a few, who believe that death is the end of human existence; that when a person dies he or she simply ceases to be. But what man has always feared is not that death is annihilation, the destruction of existence, but that it is not. [Cited from H. Lovell Cocks in L. Morris, The Wages of Sin, 7n] When the Scripture says that men live in bondage to the fear of death all their lives, it means that they live in bondage to the fear of what death brings, to what happens after death. You know Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy in Hamlet, it’s all about this particular conflict in the human mind.  As Shakespeare famously has Hamlet muse in his soliloquy:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? [suicide] To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: …

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

Certainly there are few human beings who have ever managed to come to terms with the possibility that the end of life meant precisely the same thing for Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler as it did for Mother Teresa. But what of the rest of the human race? Most people have some belief in heaven, however they conceive of it, but what of hell? It is easy enough to wish for there to be a heaven and to wish there not be a hell, but we wish for a lot of things that never come to pass. Indeed a good many of the things we wish for, you and I, we know perfectly well are pipe dreams, unrealistic, daydreams more than actual prospects.

Then there are the arguments that have been raised against the existence of hell, by unbelievers and so-called Christians alike. Many of you will have heard them, more than once, over the years of your Christian life and some of you will admit that one or more of these objections has caused doubts to rise in your mind.

  1. That hell or eternal punishment (for the two terms are virtual equivalents in both Christian theology and common parlance) is inconsistent with the character of God. How could a God of love and justice subject anyone to endless punishment? Temporary punishment, even a punishment of some length, that may make some sense, but endless punishment?
  1. That the descriptions of hell in the Bible are grotesque and unworthy of the Christian faith: unquenchable fire, the lake of fire, the worm that does not die, terrible thirst, and wailing and gnashing of teeth. To be banished from God’s presence we can perhaps understand, but physical and mental torture surely creates a moral problem.
  1. The prospect of hell seems frankly to represent God’s defeat. Does not the Bible itself teach that God does not desire the death of the wicked but that everyone should come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth? Vast numbers of human beings will forever refuse to love him or acknowledge the justice of his ways. You have to accept that or accept the still more difficult prospect that people in hell are sorry for their sins and are crying out for God to be merciful to them and forgive them and God is ignoring their cries. There are other objections, but these three are sufficient to make the point.

These are significant objections to be sure and they weigh with almost any thoughtful Christian at some level, at some time and to some degree. But what they prove, in a kind of backhanded way, is how powerful the biblical evidence for hell actually is. If one can raise arguments as intellectually, theologically, and emotionally powerful as these are against the very idea of eternal punishment, why is it that the Christian believing church has always rejected them? And the reason is surely that the church has never been able to evade the persistent and emphatic biblical witness to the reality of hell.

It may be that eternal punishment is hard for us to square with the fact that God is love, but what that means finally must be that, however mysterious, “It is the greatest love [in the universe] that threatens the most severe punishments.” [Bavinck, RD, iv, 709] We know that because the one who taught about hell and its nature most often and at greatest length in the entire Bible was none other than the Lord Jesus himself. The meekest man, the man of the purest human feeling, the man with bottomless sympathy for sinners, the man who wept over Jerusalem’s unbelief, was nevertheless the one in the Bible who spoke most of the unquenchable fire. The church has always realized that if she parts company with hell, she must part company with the teaching of Jesus and with his understanding of the world, of salvation, and of his own role in the salvation of sinners. Deny hell and the cross is emptied of its effect, for what was the Lord Jesus doing there but bearing our real punishment in our place. If there is no such punishment that threatens us in that serious and everlasting way, the cross is no longer our salvation but some kind of ghastly miscalculation, a conclusion to which no Christian can possibly come. Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher of the mid-twentieth century could say that Jesus’ belief in hell was the one “serious defect” in his character, but no Christian can follow him in thinking or saying that. Indeed, it is not unimportant that Russell’s statement is found in his address entitled Why I am Not a Christian.

True enough, there have been those in the church throughout history and in our own day who have thought they could read the Bible in a way that did not require us to believe in eternal punishment, but their special pleading and unconvincing exegesis has never convinced the believing church: not in Origen’s day and not in Rob Bell’s. The American aberrant forms of Christianity, universally, and this is certainly interesting – Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Mormonism – either deny the existence of hell altogether or deny that it is eternal. Many so-called Christians have argued that the Bible allows for a second chance after death, or that annihilation not positive punishment is the fate of the unbelieving, or that eventually, after some length of time, God will restore all men to fellowship with himself, his fellowship, but their arguments, and they are largely the same from the beginning of the church to the present day, have been carefully considered and just as firmly rejected. In every case the church has concluded that such people have sought to find in the Bible what they wanted to be there, true, not searched the Bible to find out what is there.

But this is not to say that the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment has always or even usually been stated in the wisest way or the way most faithful to the language of the Bible. Indeed, I would say that much of the problem the church faces in explaining the judgment of the unbelieving to the world and defending it to its own people has been a very long tradition of failing to represent the teaching of the Bible in a fully accurate way. And, I would say, that has been particularly true in two respects. I want to consider those two typical misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the biblical data this evening.

  • The first has to do with the vivid imagery employed in the Bible to describe the punishments of the damned.

It has been generally understood, especially in the biblical scholarship of the last five or six centuries, that the language used to describe the punishments of hell is figurative. But in instructing the church that point has not been made or explained with nearly the emphasis that it requires. The caricature of hell that you find in both Gary Larsen’s Far Side panels and in angry diatribes by atheists is very much based on this imagery: unquenchable fire, outer darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and so on. Think of perhaps the most powerful, we may say so the most brutal, example of such language, which we find in Rev. 14:9-11:

“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and his image…”

But how should we understand that language?

“Many of the opponents of the doctrine [of hell] in the present day are really tilting against windmills. They often fight a form of the doctrine which few [biblically minded Christians and no sophisticated believing theologians] hold… Much of their distaste for this truth stems from the fact that the word ‘hell’ brings to their minds physical bodies writhing in literal flames, but this is not [our position]. As [Charles] Hodge says, ‘There seems no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in the Scripture is to be literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm. The devil and his angels who are to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire…have no material bodies to be acted upon by elemental fire.’” [H. Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, 129]

Klaas Schilder, whose valuable book on hell I have already mentioned, puts the point more strongly.

“Do we still have to tell you that no man who has any reverence for the Scripture understands this literally? Did you think that we Reformed folk did not know that all this gruesomeness, is to be understood not simply symbolically but essentially symbolically?” [Cited in Buis, 130]

We certainly should understand that the imagery used to describe heaven cannot be understood as a literal description. Consider, for example, the description of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21, there called the bride of Christ but then described as a perfect cube made of gold that was clear as crystal. No one can even visualize the picture we are given there. It is like Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels within the wheels. The language is meant to overwhelm and impress, not to furnish the equivalent of a photograph. I thought we believers were the bride of Christ, not a perfect cube of see-through gold!

But this is even more the case with the language used to describe hell. Not only is “outer darkness” not compatible with the “fire that goes not out” fire produces light or “the worm that does not die” with that unquenchable fire,” the language itself is the florid hyperbole characteristic of both the Semitic mind and the Hebrew Bible. The Bible abounds with examples. Before we get to the language used to describe the punishments of the future, think for example of something else entirely to get your mind around the Hebrew penchant for hyperbole. This is Jeremiah’s complaint to the Lord in chapter 20 of his prophecy. The prophet was brooding over the fact that he was stuck with a message no one wanted to hear, that he had become the butt of everyone’s jokes, that he was ridiculed and mocked on a regular basis for doing just what the Lord had told him to do. But he expresses his sorrow and frustration in a way that would never have occurred to you or to me.

“Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you – a son!” May that man be like the towns the Lord overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave…” [20:14-17]

Good grief, we think. That’s a bit over the top! He wants the poor guy who happened to bring his father the news that he was now the proud parent of a baby boy, he wants that man to be ruined, his happiness destroyed, his life blighted. Really? Well, no; not really. His language was a typical Semitism, common enough in the languages of the ancient near east; still today quite common in the languages of the ancient near east [middle east?]. Or consider David’s account of what he did to his enemies, the kind of thing we read in the psalms all the time.

“I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth; I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets.” [2 Sam. 22:43]

That is hardly to be taken literally, however impressive an account of total victory it may be, and may have seemed to those who first heard it. Hyperbole is Hebrew’s stock and trade. We encounter this as well in the imprecatory psalms, the psalms that include prayers that the Lord would punish the enemies of the psalmist, usually the king and, therefore, usually Israel’s enemies as well. It is not enough for them simply to ask that justice be done. No, he asks the Lord to “break their teeth in their mouths,” or speaks of the happiness of those who dash the infant children of Israel’s enemies against the rocks. That strikes the modern western ear as impossibly grotesque, but it is the absolutist and figurative way of Hebrew expression. Let’s take a still more germane example.

Isaiah ends his prophecy at the end of chapter 66 with a magnificent climax describing the triumph of the kingdom of God.

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me declares the Lord. And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Now, no one supposes that the prophet literally expected every human being in the world to travel every week to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Given the circumstances of that day and time, by the time they got there and the time they began to leave, they would have to turn around and return. It is a figurative way to describe a world in complete submission to the Lord. But, then, in the same way no one should take the description of staring at the dead bodies whose worms shall not die as a literal description of the end of the wicked. [Cf. Caird, Language and Imagery of the Bible, 116] So much of our sense of the violence, if not cruelty of divine judgment stems from a failure to respect the figurative character of the Hebrew imagery, which, by the way, we find in the New Testament as well, so much of it written as it was by Jews thoroughly steeped in the thought world of the Semitic world.

Remember this: everyone uses hyperbole. We all do every day. It isn’t as if the Hebrews were the only ones to employ this way of creating emotional effect.

“We use hyperbole when we feel strongly about a matter or when we are trying to be persuasive. We speak about writing until our hand fell off or about how every appliance we own has broken down recently or about having a hundred things to do before we are ready for a trip or [I get this a lot.] about how everyone is dissatisfied with a decision. In all these cases, hyperbole is a literal ‘lie’ used for the sake of emotional effect.” [L. Ryken, Words of Delight, 177]

How much less effect would be made by a remark to the effect that “I disagree with the decision and for all I know there may be somebody else in the church who disagrees with it as well.”

In the Bible friends and enemies are described with hyperbole, victories and defeats, one’s feelings and emotions of fear, sorrow, or joy, and so on. But hyperbole is so much a feature of the style of the Hebrew Bible that we can find it used in almost every conceivable kind of expression. People have long had trouble with such descriptions of hell in the Bible, expressions they have taken to be simply blood-thirsty sentiments, even people who should have known better, such as C.S. Lewis, an expert in literary devices. But this is hyperbole, exaggeration for effect, a characteristic of Hebrew expression and something no reader of the Bible should ever take literally.

It may be that these figures do have a more literal meaning. They have often been thought to say more than simply that hell is a terrible place and to be avoided at all costs.  The worm has been thought to represent the nagging self-reproach with which the damned will live; the gnashing of teeth the fruitless, endless dwelling on wasted opportunities, and so on. But take the main point: the lake of fire is not a literal description of hell. I could not preach Jonathan Edwards’ sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God today. First the world has changed so dramatically that people would not respond to Edwards’ florid descriptions of the sufferings of hell as they did in the 18th century. But, more than that, I don’t think it is helpful and I don’t even think it is accurate to depict the suffering of those in hell in the literal and physical way that Edwards did in that sermon.

One demonstration of this fact is the second of these biblical perspectives on the judgment of the unbelieving, which the failure carefully to consider has likewise bedeviled even the church’s understanding of hell. I’m speaking of the fact that that while the figurative descriptions of the punishments of hell do not provide for distinctions to be made in the judgment of the wicked – everyone goes into the same lake of fire, everyone wails and gnashes his teeth – the Bible very clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically teaches that there will be significant differences in the severity of God’s judgment of individual wicked men and women.

We made the point last time that when the Bible speaks of the Last Judgment it speaks repeatedly of its exact justice, by which I mean that everyone will get precisely what he or she deserves, nothing more and nothing less!

  1. In Romans 2: “He will render to each one according to his works…”
  2. In Galatians 6: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever one sows, that he will also reap.”
  3. In 1 Peter 1: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile…”
  4. In Psalm 62: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.”
  5. In Jeremiah 32: “…O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.”

There are a good many other such statements in the Bible. Everyone is not punished in the same way, just as every Christian is not rewarded in the same way. Is this as clearly a part of the church’s proclamation of divine judgment as it ought to be? Ask yourself. Has this been a major feature of what you have been taught about the last judgment and its consequences for the unbelieving. Each and every human being shall be judged in strict justice. He will get nothing more nor less than he deserves. Great evil will be punished more severely than lesser evil. Terrible crimes against God and man will receive a much heavier sentence than the moral failures of unbelievers that are more petty and run-of-the-mill, if we can speak in such a way. Gossip is a real sin and does real harm and is often a particularly ugly expression of pride and contempt for others, but it is not mass murder. As our Shorter Catechism puts it, “some sins are more heinous than others,” and for that reason the judgment of those sins is more severe than the judgment of others.

But there is more. We are not drawing that conclusion simply by inference from more general statements such as those I read to you. We are explicitly taught that some sins are worse than others and so are punished more severely. This is such a fundamental assumption of biblical teaching that it shows up in passages that are not really about the last judgment but are making another point entirely. Think, for example, of the Lord’s rebuke of the cities of Galilee because they refused to welcome the Messiah when he came among them, even though his miracles testified to his divine authority. He was condemning their unbelief, he was stripping them of any excuse, but in doing so he said something about the standard that will be employed at the Last Judgment.

“Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” [Matt. 11:20-24]

You see the point. I’m sure the average reader of the Bible assumes that Sodom and Gomorrah are the Bible’s idea of the worst sort of wickedness. Surely they, of all people, would have been punished most severely. But the fact is, in the Bible, the worst sinners are always those in the church who betray their gifts and their profession of faith in God. “To whom much is given, much is required,” Jesus said is the principle of God’s judgment. Paul makes that point explicitly in Romans 2. He does not absolve the nations of their guilt before God, for the law of God is written on their hearts and the knowledge of God is made known to them in their very nature and they suppressed that knowledge of God – his majesty and his justice – and rebelled against his law. They are, he says, without excuse. But he is careful to say that such people will not be judged according to standards they knew nothing about.

“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.”

Put those two texts together and you get this: the men of Sodom will be judged by the standard of the law that was written on their hearts, the law they knew because they were beings made in the image of God. But the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum will be judged according to the Word of God that they knew only too well, according to the fact that the Son of God appeared among them and did miracles before them and they refused to believe. Theirs will obviously be a heavier penalty than that of your average thief or murderer or rapist who has never cracked a Bible and has never had the gospel explained to him.

Paul’s point in Romans 2 is put in a more homely way by the Lord Jesus himself in Luke 12:47-48. After telling his parable of the master who is late coming home from a wedding feast, one of the several ways in which the Lord prepares his disciples for a long delay before his Second Coming, and of the wise servants who remain awake through the watches of the night to be ready to open the door for him at his return whenever that return should be, Jesus drew this lesson.

“That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much is given, of him will be much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”

In that Gospel context the Lord is talking about his return and the beating he refers to is obviously the punishment of the world to come. Again it is a figure of speech not a literal description of the punishments of hell.

But, do you realize how fundamentally it alters the caricature of hell …. to recognize that there is such a thing as a light beating in hell. The Greek text of Luke 12:48 reads more literally, “he shall be beaten with few blows or few stripes.” I don’t know about you, but for myself I think that statement one of the most significant in the entire Bible for constructing a view of the judgment of the unbelieving in the world to come. “Not every lost person will undergo the sufferings of a Judas.” [A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 273]

I do not mean, of course, to minimize in any way the force of the imagery of the lake of fire, or the worm that does not die, or wailing and gnashing of teeth. Those figures, figurative as they are, hyperbole as they are, were nevertheless meant to tell us something about the judgments of the Lord on the unbelieving. The Lord is describing a life situation, an existence that any reasonable person would avoid at every possible cost.  When people glibly speaking of meeting one another in hell or when they speak of hell being a more interesting place than heaven, all they are doing is advertising the fact that they know nothing about what hell will be like. The Lord Jesus – and we can detect the bell-like tone of the truth in everything he says about this  – obviously intended furiously to warn us away from hell with the descriptions of it that litter his teaching.

But, still, much of our sense of the injustice of hell disappears if we interpret the biblical descriptions of it intelligently and in their literary context. Dante’s Inferno, I hope all of you who are adults have by now read Dante’s Inferno, – one of the greatest of all performances of human genius – as you may remember makes much of the fact that all men will be judged in strict accordance with the facts and that sinners will receive greater or lesser punishment depending on the nature and measure of their sin. As the poet and Vergil his guide descend through the circles of hell, the punishments become more severe and are always made to fit the particular class of sinners found in that circle. For example, in only the second circle of hell are found the carnal sinners, guilty of sexual sins, who are condemned to be tossed to and fro ceaselessly in the dark by powerful winds. You get the idea. They sought, they gave themselves to the pleasure of lust, of bodily appetites, and now are subject to forces beyond their control. They sought what had to be done in the dark, and so they remain in darkness. So, in the seventh circle the violent, murderers, are punished by being forced to remain in a river of blood; every time they attempt an escape someone is there t block them. In the eighth circle flatterers are condemned to remain immersed in filth. They were constantly saying nice things about people which they didn’t mean and now they can spend their eternity in the dirt. Also in the eighth circle are found those who presumed to predict the future and harmed people by doing so. They are condemned to walk backward wherever they go; to see what is behind but never what is before. And so it goes.

In Dante’s medieval catholic universe, the first circle of hell, where you find the least severe punishments, is occupied by people who lived virtuously enough in an outward way, the kind of people we would describe as good people, and never committed vicious sins but died without baptism.

Here, as mine ear could note, no plaint was heard

Except of sighs, that made the eternal air

Tremble, not caused by tortures, but from grief

Felt by those multitudes, many and vast,

Of men, women, and infants.

And so, says Dante, they live “desiring without hope.” [Canto IV]

Notice, by the way, that Dante has vast multitudes of human beings in that first circle of hell. Now, I don’t cite those lines of the Inferno to approve of Dante’s particular view of who are consigned to the first circle of hell or why – we would certainly not make baptism by itself the standard – but only to commend his general point, a point  he took directly from the Word of God, that there are varied punishments in hell, some much lighter than others. He was simply attempting in the way of an epic poem to do justice to the Lord’s teaching that there will be those in hell who are “beaten with few blows” as there are those who are beaten with many. Dante understood as all Christian theologians have, that hell is perfect justice and the punishment is precisely suited to fit a person’s crimes.

Now, it is important to accept that we still are left with figures: from the general such as the lake of fire, the worm, and gnashing of teeth to the more specific: many blows or few blows. It is very hard to know precisely what this means or what hell will be like or how such punishments, lesser or greater, will be experienced by the damned. We should admit that the Bible never gives us a very clear picture of either heaven or hell, certainly not clear enough to know what human life will be like in either place: what people will do with their time, how precisely they will enjoy the blessings or suffer the punishments of each place. Francis Turretin was nothing if he wasn’t somebody who went to the bottom of things to get a definition, but he admits in his discussion of hell, “But what it is or in what infernal punishments consist, it is not easy to define.” [Turretin, XX, vii, iv; ET: III, 605; cf. Bavinck, iv, 701] That lack of detail has tempted us and even great writers to create pictures of our own or their own, which may or may not be at all accurate.

But we will end with this. Whatever hell is like, it is strict justice, nothing more, nothing less. No one will be able to complain of the punishment he or she has received and some will be punished much less severely than others. I think that is very important to remember!