"Hell as protection"? How does this idea help us think about God's overthrow of evil?

In Cover to Cover S3 E2 we hit an important discussion about God’s goodness and the doctrine of hell and @Ivy_Tyson suggested we make space to discuss this on Connect—good call, Ivy! Let’s jump in. At time mark 24:15, @Shawn_Hart shares about his experience on university campuses engaging with questions about evil and hell. He notes two common objections:

  1. How can God be good and just if there is still evil and suffering in the world? Wouldn’t a good God remove all that mess?
  2. How can God be good and just if he allows hell to exist?

Shawn astutely notes that these are actually contradictory objections: If we say that to be good God must root out evil and suffering from this world, why do we protest his goodness if he in fact does root it out… and quarantines it eternally (hell)?

Shawn suggests that our desire to see evil abolished is in fact in line with God’s own desire for the healing and renewal of the world—his Kingdom come. And in this light, we might see “hell as protection”—the Divine restraint of evil from tainting the world he is renewing.

How does this concept help you think afresh about God’s ultimate overthrow of evil? What objection to this idea do you anticipate encountering if you shared this with a friend who articulates these objections?

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Liz, comparing hell to quarantining evil is priceless. Thanks for the analogy! I like Shawn’s explanation, but I suspect my friends would say God should annihilate rather than quarantine. Why would God torture people forever in hell when He could put them out of their misery and still not let them into heaven?

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That is a good follow up question, @Jennifer_Wilkinson. I would say that the immortal soul in man comes from the breath of God. Therefore, by it’s very nature, it is eternal and cannot be destroyed. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God hath set eternity in the hearts of men.

Now, that was intended by God as a blessing so that mankind could enjoy communion with God in His immediate presence forever. But as great a blessing as that is in its intended state, so great is the curse in a warped state. If the presence of God is the ultimate blessing, then His absence is the ultimate curse.

But either way, the breath of God in mankind is not such a thing as can be made to cease existing.

I hope this will make sense to you.

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James, that’s a great point. I had never thought of Ecclesiastes 3:11 in that light. Would you consider eternality as part of the image of God that we bear?

What about angels? The Bible doesn’t say they are made in the image of God; however, they will suffer the same eternal punishment as men who reject Christ.

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 (ESV)

I don’t see any evidence that angels can be saved. Why would God create angels as eternal beings who will suffer forever and yet cannot be redeemed?

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Yes, I would say that our eternality is an aspect of bearing His image.

It is true that the angels are never said to have been created by the breath of God. But it is also true that they will suffer being cast out from his presence forever - the very verse you cited is a classic proof for that. In fact, I believe they will suffer on a level far worse than humans.

When II Peter 2:4 says that God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment, the word that he uses for “hell” is “Tartarus”, and this is the only place in the Bible where it is ever found. It refers to the lowest regions of hell where the devils are tormented.

However, people do not generally express any sympathy for the devils’ suffering forever. After all, they rejected the greatest light of all - they’re the ongoing cause of all our misery - we see them (and I think rightfully so) as deserving everything they’ve got coming.

Given that the Bible says they’ll be tormented forever (despite the Bible’s silence on how they manage to avoid annihilation), I would see this as a case of arguing from the greater to the lesser - if the angels (which do not even have the breath of God to secure their immortality) will eternally suffer, then how much more confident should we be that humans who do bear His eternal image will as well?

As for why there is no redemption for them, I’d go back to that part about them having rejected the greatest light of all. The more light that one rejects, the more hardened they become against repentance. Among men, if someone rejects a limited amount of gospel light, we can reason that the same person, if confronted with greater light might reconsider and repent after all.

But as people receive greater and greater light, and stubbornly reject it, the become increasingly hardened until even the greatest light of all can no longer persuade them.

This is what had happened to the Pharisees in Matthew 12 who saw Jesus performing miracles that only the Spirit of God could have enabled - and the Spirit convicted them about the reality of Who Jesus was - and they quenched it, hardening themselves into a state of intractable irrepentance - hardened beyond pardon - not because of God’s limited ability to forgive, but because of their seared consciences that were no longer able to repent. It’s what Jesus called having blasphemed everything the Holy Spirit had revealed to them about Who Jesus really was. It is the sin of an antichrist - someone who has been given the greatest possible light, and they’ve turned from even that!

And once someone - whether man or angel - has sinned against the greatest possible light…well, where is there left to go from there? There was never any redemption available to the unrepentant.

I hope this helps you make sense of this question.

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