Hell is not a threat by God. It’s a diagnosis of the stakes for which we play and the consequences of being the sort of fallen creatures we are in the sort of universe this is with the sort of God who made it. When the doc says “If you persist in your behavior without change you will get liver cancer and you will die” he’s not threatening you. He’s stating a fact. The cancer is not being sent by the doc to kill you. It’s the fruit of the stuff you are doing. The doc is there to heal you. But the healing requires the diagnosis.
Jesus’ diagnosis is that our race is sick with sin. Hell is the fruition of a life obstinately ordered toward sinful selfishness. The endstage of sin is hell just as the endstage of cancer is death. It’s not an extra added punishment for sin. It’s just what sin fully is. So it’s not something God does to us. It’s something we do to ourselves. God is not Daddy Dearest, standing there threatening to shove you into the box of scorpions forever “to teach you a lesson” if you don’t clean up your room this minute. He is the guy on the beach waving his arms and trying to get the oblivious (and contemptuous) bathers out of the surf and into the Land Rover that will speed them to high ground before the tsunami makes landfall. He has done and continues to do absolutely everything—including die—to make sure that we don’t lose the life of grace for which we were created. In short, he is Emmanuel—God with us—not against us.
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