In “The Christian Problem, Part 1” I discussed two popular arguments used against Christianity: the problem of suffering and the problem of exclusivity. If someone were to analyze these two problems honestly, looking at it from within the Christian system he would see that there is no substance to them whatsoever. What Christianity teaches sufficiently answers these two problems. So, yes, they might be a problem for the doubter, but they aren’t a problem for Christianity if one allows Christianity to speak for itself.
A more substantial problem than those is the problem of hell: how can a loving God send His creatures to a place of eternal punishment? I hear the other two arguments much more often, so maybe people don’t like to think about hell that much. But it is a problem. Christianity teaches that if one doesn’t receive the free gift of eternal life offered through trusting in Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son Who died on the cross for all the sins of all the world, was buried and on the third day rose again, then he will be judged according to his works (Rev. 20:12) and if his deeds do not add up to God’s perfect standard he will be cast into the lake of fire, which is a place not of annihilation but of eternal death.
What is interesting about the problem of hell is that it is the exact problem presented in one particular Christian view of the purpose of history. All of Christianity believes that history is ultimately doxological: it’s for the glory of God, but there are various opinions about the details. One view says that human/temporal history is ultimately about the resolution of the angelic conflict. This view says at some indeterminate time in the past (except it may not have been “time” in the sense that we understand it!) God created the angelic hosts. The chief of these created beings was Lucifer. Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 describe this being and his fall. As a consequence of his rebellion God sentenced him to the lake of fire. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that humans will be cast into the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). So: God made Lucifer. Lucifer rebelled and was sentenced to the lake of fire, but he appealed the ruling with this charge: “how can a loving God condemn His creatures to the lake of fire?” Human history is the answer to that charge.
How history answers that charge is in and through Jesus Christ. In Christ God demonstrates His love. The biggest problem in time and eternity is sin: acting in violation of the character of the Creator. It is a BIG deal and has MAJOR consequences. In fact it is such a big deal and has such major consequences that it is impossible for a sinner to solve the problem. So, they are doomed and without hope. But God demonstrates His own love this way: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). So, like the problem of suffering and the problem of exclusivity, the problem of hell is answered by Jesus Christ. In history God is proving that neither environment, nor laws, nor sufficient revelation, nor perfect government is the issue, Jesus Chris is. And God is perfectly just to condemn His creatures who act against Him because He has solved that problem for them and many still refuse to avail themselves of the solution and instead they choose to rely on themselves to have it solved but when they appear before the righteous God they will be found wanting.
Still people could say, “Well, just because God sent His Son to die for me, doesn’t mean I should be punished for forever if I reject it! I don’t think that’s right.” Then, it becomes a matter of understanding just how holy and righteous God is (which no one does) and just how terrible sin is. So, think of the worst person that ever lived. Hitler is the easiest choice though probably every generation has a candidate or two to put forth. If the only consequence for rejecting Jesus was annihilation, then that means that in this life you could do whatever, say attempt the elimination of an entire ethnic group, wage war around the world, spread fire, murder, mayhem and mischief wherever your army landed, then to avoid capture and temporal punishment, commit suicide. And for all of that, you receive the consequence of non-existence. Is that justice? And sure, the average Joe will never attain to the level of evil as Uncle Adolf, but he does have sin. Sin that Jesus died for (so forgiveness is free and readily available) and does it make sense that the punishment for such sin would just be annihilation?
If you have considered the problem of hell, then you are in good company in that you have thought along the same lines as that “signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ez. 28:12), and even the apostle Peter had Satanic thoughts. But in history Jesus Christ has answered that charge. A loving God can punish His creatures, even for forever, because that same being has solved the problem for us, for you, for me. The solution then is not found in stomping your feet and saying, “that’s not fair!” but in receiving the solution. Jesus Christ.