Artist Hieronymus Bosch, in his three-paneled painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, c.1503-1504, depicts, in the second, main panel, the joy, lusts and delights that humans enjoy during a portion of their lives. The third panel of the triptych depicts a dark vision of the punishments of hell. Death and destruction follow the sins of man as humanity is forever trapped in a cycle of torture and torment. The strange animal-like creatures now feast on human flesh, swords and daggers slice into the hapless victims and figures, gray with sickness, defecate and vomit trapped in their perpetual agony. More than a few people reject God for this reason: “I could never believe in a God who is so unloving that He sends people to Hell.”
On the surface, that sounds like a reasonably good excuse to walk away from God. Our more comfortable concept of God is that of loving Father and gentle Jesus. Some of us had horrible father’s who never said they loved us and always were punishing us. So the idea of a vengeful father pointing a finger at us saying, “Ha-Hah…to late for you, you blew it…to Hell you go”… not only makes us uncomfortable, but it brings back bad memories.
But, it is exactly the fact that God delivers Hell, or Cosmic Justice, if you will, that makes it possible for us to forgive when we are betrayed. It allows us the luxury of extending mercy to people who have wronged us in evil and harmful ways. It is the fact that God presides over the Supreme Court of Justice in the Universe that makes The Reconciliation Commission possible in South Africa. It is God’s justice that gives the families of Newtown Elementary School and Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston the grace and strength of forgive and move on with their lives without constant anger and bitterness towards the criminal, their situations. That Hell exists is critical to peaceful living among neighbors.
This sounds counter-intuitive. How cold God’s wrath towards the wicked be a source of solace and the principle that drives peace instead of war and revenge? Here is how and why!
If we lived in a world where evil was unchecked and crimes were never punished, we would feel depressed and angry all of the time. If we thought we were powerless over the wrongs done to us and the injustice perpetrated against us, we would either stay angry or grab a gun and seek revenge. The vicious cycle of violence seen in the Middle East is evidence that this is true, but also a dead-end. But God says very clearly in Romans 12:19 (NLT), “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD.” Because God’s ultimate, Cosmic Justice will prevail, we can step aside, forgive and KNOW that evil will be punished… criminals who do not accept Jesus will face Almighty God and pay for their actions. This fact allows us to forgive, to live in peace and be free from the monster of revenge.
Hell and God’s Cosmic Justice should not alienate us from God, but rather we should thank Him for His justice and live with the peace that comes from knowing He has our backs!