Divine Glory Be Damned!
I’m writing an essay for a book on hell. Mine is among more than a dozen essays from various contributors. The book’s overall thread is a rejection of the traditional idea of hell.
I’m arguing that relentless love is God’s glory. This stands in stark contrast to a widespread view that hell glorifies God.
A “Hell Glorifies God” Advocate
When writing my essay, I wanted to quote an advocate of the “hell glorifies God” theory so that readers could compare my alternative to it. I did a Google search for “hell glorifies God” and took the highest ranking article. It was titled, “How Does Hell Glorify God?” The piece is by Jim Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the largest seminaries in America.
Hamilton begins his article with what he calls “The Bible’s Big Story.” God spoke the world into being and “set the terms,” he says. Life now follows God’s pre-decided plot. In the end, God will “consign [the wicked] to everlasting punishment” and “take those who believed the word of God and the testimony of Jesus into a new, better, perfect place.”
The point of hell, says Hamilton, is that God keeps his word. “That God sends the wicked to hell shows God to be faithful and just… If he does not send the wicked to hell, he has not upheld his own righteous standard and he has not been just. If he does not punish rebels in hell, the righteous are not vindicated.”
Hamilton’s reasoning for how hell glorifies God claims the righteous are ultimately proven right. “Hell vindicates those who obey God’s terms,” he says, “even if they suffered terribly for doing so. It vindicates the righteous who were persecuted by the wicked. Hell glorifies God.”
God Sovereignly Sets the Terms
Crucial to Hamilton’s argument is the idea a sovereign God initially set the terms for mercy and justice. God must stay faithful to those terms, which say the unrighteous will be punished in hell and the righteous given eternal life.
God is glorified, therefore, if God stays true to an arrangement God alone decided.
One wonders why God didn’t at the outset set terms that provide eternal bliss to all. Why didn’t God decide to be merciful and forgive everyone? Wouldn’t this be more loving? And more glorious?
No Free Will
Hamilton realizes some perceive his scenario as troublesome. “How seriously should we take those who object to hell,” he asks, “or try to rewrite the story so that hell isn’t part of it?” Hamilton answers his own question: “As seriously as we would take Hamlet critiquing Shakespeare’s work. Hamlet has no independent existence. He can only critique Shakespeare if the author decides to write that scene.”
Hamilton portrays God’s sovereignty as entailing that creatures have no independent will of their own. God is the author who controls the characters he writes into existence, including foreordaining their ultimate fate.
“In order for God to be just and extend mercy,” explains Hamilton, “he must keep his promise to punish transgression… God punishes the wicked in hell to uphold justice against all who refuse to repent of sin, glorify him as God, and give thanks to him.”
According to Hamilton, of course, God determined some would refuse to repent. And they cannot do other than what God pre-decided. But Hamilton seems untroubled by this divine determination, because he assumes God is all-controlling.
In a summary section, Hamilton repeats his key points. “Hell glorifies God,” he says, because it shows that God “keeps his word,” “demonstrates God’s power to subdue all,” “shows how unspeakably merciful he is to those who trust him,” “visits justice against those who reject God,” and “vindicates all who suffer.”
Remarkably absent from this defense of hell is the category of forgiveness. Rather than forgiving all people, the God whom Hamilton affirms only forgives those who trust in him. Rather than calling the righteous to forgive those who harm, God vindicates them by punishing their opponents. Hamilton’s God gets revenge rather than reconciles.
This View of Divine Glory Repulses Me
If this is divine love, I respond, I want nothing to do with it! Call me rebellious if you like. Rather than glorify God, Hamilton’s view portrays God as controlling, limited in forgiveness, and bent on tormenting some in hell everlastingly. No thanks!
I’m repulsed by this vision. If hell glorifies God, divine glory be damned!
 Jim Hamilton, “How Does Hell Glorify God?” https://www.9marks.org/article/how-does-hell-glorify-god/ (accessed 8/10/2022)