Theologian John Piper justified why Hell is a fitting punishment for unrepentant sinners, explaining that those who believe infinite punishment is “abhorrent” and “absurd” possess a “small” view of God.
In a recent episode of his “Ask Pastor John” podcast posted on desiringGod.org, the pastor and Bible teacher replied to a woman who took issue with the concept of Hell.
“There is certainly great evil in the world, such as war, rape, murder, racism, oppression, etc. But the majority of the world doesn’t need God to see these things as evil or to make a positive change,” she said. “I certainly don’t see how someone innocent, dying a horrible death, somehow makes my wrongs right in the sight of God.”
Piper first acknowledged that millions of people don’t feel comfortable with the idea of Hell, adding: “Where God is small and man is big, Hell will be abhorrent — indeed absurd — and the cross will be foolishness.”
But most people’s conception of evil, Piper said, “can never be big enough to make sense of Hell or the cross of Christ,” because evil is defined “only in relation to what harms man, not what demeans God.”
Humans will “never understand the depth of our sinfulness without God telling us what the problem is, which He has very clearly,” the pastor said.
“We must learn it from the Bible,” he explained. “And what God has said is this: The essence of evil — what makes evil evil — is not harm done to man, but indignities done to God. Harm to man is horrible. But it is meant to be a vivid parable of the outrage of failing to honor God, failing to glorify God, failing to thank God as God.”
Piper posed a question to his listeners: “If God is of infinite value, infinite beauty, infinite greatness, with all of His perfections uniting in an infinitely satisfying panorama of personal beauty and glory, then of what is He worthy from the human soul?”
The essence of evil, said Piper, is loving, preferring, desiring, treasuring, and enjoying anything above God.
“It’s treason,” he said. “And since God is of infinite worth and beauty and greatness and honor — infinite — the failure to love and treasure and enjoy Him above all things is an infinite outrage, worthy of infinite punishment.
“This,” he continued, “will make no sense where God is small and man is big. It will only make sense where people see God as great, as He really is, and see man, see ourselves, and see our outrageous God-belittling self-centeredness for what they are.”
Turning to God’s creation instead of God Himself to find “the all-satisfying fountain of life and joy” is “high treason and worthy of eternal punishment,” Piper said.
“That ... is why we need a Savior,” he concluded. “Only a God-man can bear an infinite punishment for all who embrace Him for the glorious one that He really is.”
Piper frequently weighs in on Hell, Heaven, and issues surrounding the afterlife. In a previous podcast, he said Scripture reveals there will be “degrees of suffering in Hell.”
“It will be unspeakably terrible for everyone who goes there — just unspeakably terrible, without any experience of good, no sight of beauty, no pleasant sounds, no bodily pleasures, no gratified appetites, no satisfied desires, no hopes fulfilled. That’s everybody,” Piper said.
“But although Hell will be without all good for all unbelievers, it will be worse for some,” he said, explaining that certain sins are “more heinous, more destructive, more blasphemous than others.”
Piper also advised readers to be “seriously vigilant not to misuse all the pleasures of this life by treating them as God or a distraction from God;” to seek to “accumulate the fruit of righteousness;” and be “seriously vigilant over our pride.”
According to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center, while 74 percent of Americans believe in Heaven, just 1 in 4 believe that those who do not know Christ will spend eternity in a place called Hell.
In a recent sermon, Life.Church Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel said if he were the devil, he would try to convince humans that there is no Hell. But if it is real, “let’s not take it seriously and let’s believe that most people would not be going there.”
“If I could convince you of that, then you would probably live however you want,” he said. “You would justify your sin, you would reject Christ, you would live with no real fear of God.”
Groeschel said that while many people have a problem with the idea of a good God sending “good people” to Hell, it’s important to understand that no one is “good.”
“If you, for a moment, stood in front of the holiness of God, you would recognize the depth of your wickedness,” he said. “By nature, we're sinful. We've all sinned. We have to recognize this about God. He is holy and He is just. He cannot be holy without being just, and because He is just, He must punish wrongdoing.”