Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult issues in Christianity is the doctrine of hell. Unbelievers reject a religion with a God if He exists who would send anyone to hell. Even those who believe it abhor the concept and have difficulty defending it. Of course, many of us can identify someone who should be in hell, perhaps an ex-boyfriend, boss, ex-wife, or other terrorist. Winston Churchill remarked, If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons. A universalist religion allows for all people to be saved with none being consigned to eternal punishment. However, there are highly significant, even disastrous, reasons why this belief is not valid.
Life's choices no longer make an important difference.
God is the personification and the perfection of righteousness, goodness, love, and justice. If there is no punishment for rejection of all these, then it makes no difference how a person chooses to live. Some religious teachings, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, fall into this category no eternal hell, only reincarnation or temporary purgatory. If these are true, there would be no bright line difference between good and evil. Someone might endure punishment for evil deeds committed, but afterward regain his good standing. This theory discounts the choices of those who have rejected good, rejected God and live rebelliously.
No Free Will
If everyone will eventually be accepted into an eternal reward (i.e., heaven), humans ultimately have no free will. We may choose to reach heaven via the fast lane or through many winding roads, but in the end we all arrive at the same destination. As with the prior paragraph, this fails to account for those who do not want to be in a place where all is good. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli note Eastern religions that do not ascribe to the existence of hell do not believe in free will either. Those people who prefer to make their own rules and refuse to humble themselves before perfect love will have no choice. They will be forced into submission.
If there is no hell, then Jesus died for nothing and He is not our Savior. He may be a teacher, prophet, or guru. This is a serious consequence of non-belief in hell, because the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for sins (Matt. 1:21, 1 Tim. 1:15, 1 Cor. 15:3, 1 Pet. 3:18). With no ultimate punishment for willful rebellion, it was all just a mistake, a tragic accident. As C. S. Lewis wrote, a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.1 The Bible states Christ's substitutionary death was planned from the beginning of the world (1 Pet. 1:19-20, Rev. 13:8). If no one needs a savior, the entire plan His incarnation, life, death, resurrection was unnecessary.
If there is no hell, we may as well recall all missionaries and stop all evangelism. Everyone will be saved in the end anyway, so why bother? And, as Kreeft and Tacelli note, we need to apologize for the martyrs as well. Think of all the resources of time, money, and passion expended by evangelists and missionaries that has been wasted. There is no incentive for Christians to make any attempt to reach others with the good news of the gospel. If there is no such thing as fire, why pay for fire insurance and why train firefighters?
God Is Not Love
The central theme of Christianity is God's love. And, the greatest demonstration of love was Jesus willingly giving His life to save ours. But, from what did he save us? The punishment we deserve for our sin, rebellion, evil, and rejection of good. If there is no such entity as justice, there is no need for forgiveness or mercy, which is God's demonstration of love (Romans 5:8). So, the most beloved doctrine in Christianity - God's love - stands on the same foundation as the doctrine of justice and punishment. If we reject hell, we must also discard His love.
With no hell, there can be no real distinction between good and evil and no absolute morality. Morality becomes only worldly and pragmatic. This is pantheistic reasoning in which everything is God. Therefore, nothing can exist which is not God. Consequences for those who choose evil distinguishes the real value of good and sets the boundary line for what is not good. Without consequences for those choices, it demonstrates there is no higher authority, no source of objective morality, or that source (God) does not care whether humans do good or evil. If God cared, he would not permit evil to continue unabated. But, the truth is He does care that people choose good and, because his morality is the ultimate in perfection, something must be done with people who refuse to change. If every person, given enough chances, would eventually reach the point of loving all that is good and hating all that is evil perhaps through a successive series of reincarnations the problem may be solved. But, we see that some people live many decades in this life, with multiple opportunities to make that choice, but never do.
Is it Reasonable?
Intuitively and viscerally the concept of hell appears to be incredibly unfair and unnecessary. Most of us would prefer to write this doctrine out of the Bible. However, upon close examination of the logical conclusions of this action, quarantining unrepentant rebels is found to be reasonable and, unfortunately, necessary. Lewis considered these same issues and concluded: I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully All will be saved.' But my reason retorts Without their will or with it?' He goes on to ask the insightful question: What are you asking God to do?
to wipe out their sins at all costs, give a fresh start?
But he has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what he does.2
The above consequences are explained in greater detail in The Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli.3