How do we reconcile Psalms 107:1 "God’s mercy endures forever " with the doctrine of eternal suffering in hell for those who aren’t saved? Is His eternal mercy only reserved for those who believe?
Good question, @Jlg. In one sense, the answer is no – in another sense, yes.
Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:45 that God sends sunshine on the evil and on the good, and rain upon the just and the unjust.
Paul observed in Acts 14:16-17 that God tolerated all nations going off in their own ways, even though God left them not without witness of Himself in that he did them good, and gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.
So there is a common grace and mercy that God continually shows to the human race. The purpose for it is so that men should be drawn to seek the Lord, to feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being – Acts 17:27-28.
But, of course, the common grace that God’s shows men in this world is not eternal, because this world is not eternal.
The mercy that endures forever is the mercy of forgiveness, salvation and spiritual healing that God freely offers to all who will receive it.
But obviously, a person who refuses to receive His mercy because of unbelief will not benefit from this loving gift. And if He goes out into eternity alienated from God, then He will remain alienated forever.
And that is exactly what the suffering of hell is – for men who were created specifically to enjoy God’s presence forever, to be forever separated from Him.
If God is light, then to be separated from Him is to endure eternal darkness.
If God is the water of life, then to be separated from Him is to thirst forever.
If God is the God of all comfort, then to be separated from Him is all torment.
Is He’s the universal foundation by which all things are upheld, then separation from Him would be to fall forever.
If God is the ultimate blessing, then losing Him is the ultimate curse.
In short, all the descriptions we’ve ever heard of hell are the natural chaos one would expect in an existence without God.
So when Jesus went to the cross, He suffered the darkness, the thirst, the torment. But when He cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? he suffered the essence of hell itself. And the ground shook, rocks brake, graves opened, the veil was rent, and hardened soldiers trembled and said, Surely this was the Son of God!
He suffered the hell meant for us so that His eternal mercy could endure to those who will receive the gift.
I hope this helps you with this question.
James, thank you for your thorough reply. It was very helpful, particularly the statement that God’s ETERNAL mercy is “forgiveness, salvation, and spiritual healing.” Defined this way, it makes it easy to understand that this can’t be given
to those who reject Him.