1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” 5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” 2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. 3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. 4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” 8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. 10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. 12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. 17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.
Is it possible that a human heart could become so hardened that even in hell it would refuse to repent? Is it possible that a human heart could become so hardened that even drowning in an ocean of divine wrath it would refuse to say, “I am sorry!”?
In January of 1994 Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated philosopher Raymond D. Bradley at Simon Fraiser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on the question, “Can a loving God send people to hell?” At a certain point in the debate, William Lane Craig responded to the objection “that God is unjust because the punishment [i.e., hell] doesn’t fit the crime.” Craig’s response is fascinating.
But is the objection itself persuasive? I think not:
1) The objection equivocates between every sin which we commit and all the sins which we commit. We can agree that every individual sin which a person commits deserves only a finite punishment. But it doesn’t follow from this that all of a person’s sins taken together as a whole deserve only a finite punishment. If a person commits an infinite number of sins, then the sum total of all such sins deserves infinite punishment. Now, of course, nobody commits an infinite number of sins in the earthly life. But what about in the afterlife? Insofar as the inhabitants of hell continue to hate God and reject Him, they continue to sin and so accrue to themselves more guilt and more punishment. In a real sense, then, hell is self-perpetuating. In such a case, every sin has a finite punishment, but because sinning goes on forever, so does the punishment.
2) Why think that every sin does have only a finite punishment? We could agree that sins like theft, lying, adultery, and so forth, are only of finite consequence and so only deserve a finite punishment. But, in a sense, these sins are not what serves to separate someone from God. For Christ has died for those sins. The penalty for those sins has been paid. One has only to accept Christ as Savior to be completely free and clean of those sins. But the refusal to accept Christ and his sacrifice seems to be a sin of a different order altogether. For this sin decisively separates one from God and His salvation. To reject Christ is to reject God Himself. And this is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore deserves infinite punishment. We ought not, therefore, to think of hell primarily as punishment for the array of sins of finite consequence which we have committed, but as the just due for a sin of infinite consequence, namely the rejection of God Himself.
3) Finally, it’s possible that God would permit the damned to leave hell and go to heaven but that they freely refuse to do so. It is possible that persons in hell grow only more implacable in their hatred of God as time goes on. Rather than repent and ask God for forgiveness, they continue to curse Him and reject Him. God thus has no choice but to leave them where they are. In such a case, the door to hell is locked, as John Paul Sartre said, from the inside. The damned thus choose eternal separation from God. So, again, so as long as any of these scenarios is even possible, it invalidates the objection that God’s perfect justice is incompatible with everlasting separation from God.
There is a lot to think about there, but the central point of Craig’s argument seems to be this: the objection to hell seems to depend upon the assumption that those in it are deeply repentant and want out, but we have no reason to think that those in it are deeply repentant, though they very likely do want out.
In other words, what if the great nightmare of hell is that its inhabitants’ hard-heartedness increases with their agony for all of eternity, thereby giving more and more justification for their being there? What if those who have utterly rejected the Lamb do nothing but grow in their hatred of the Lamb, thereby continuously increasing their sin?
If you think that such is not possible, I hope you will listen closely to Revelation15-16, for here we see a picture of (1) the outpouring of great wrath and (2) ever-increasing hostility toward God on the parts of those receiving the outpoured wrath. We will approach these chapters under two categories: