I have to admit, sometimes hell seems, well, kind of harsh. After all, it is eternal torment. Wouldn’t not being allowed into heaven be punishment enough? Or maybe being denied throne room privileges (okay, I’m just being a smart aleck here)? Must people really be damned to suffer indescribable anguish forever?
The answer is that of course hell is too harsh of a punishment . . . IF we judge by human standards. By human standards, the Hitlers and Stalins should be in hell, along with people who fly planes into buildings and blow up city buses, but the rest of us are pretty decent folks. We’re not perfect, but we’re not evil either. Are we?
But what does the Bible have to say about Joe Average? Or—gulp—you and me? Scripture teaches that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Or read Romans 3:10-18 for a description of mankind. Isaiah sums it up saying, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” In modern vernacular, those last two words might be translated to “used tampons.” That’s graphic, I realize, but it’s the image Scripture uses to convey how dirty our souls truly are.
But how can that be? How can sweet little old ladies and lifelong volunteers and upstanding people like Joe Average be compared to . . . filthy rags? Shouldn’t such language be reserved for der Führer? Not if we have the proper benchmark, the proper standard. God does not judge on the curve. On the curve, Joe Average (and, most likely, you and I) looks pretty good. He’s no killer, no adulterer, no criminal. Compared to the riffraff on the end of the scale, he seems deserving of eternal reward, not punishment. But I repeat, God does not judge on the curve. He judges based on Himself, based on His character, based on His holiness. Holiness is a word we use a lot in Christianity, but one I believe we—at least one that I—fall woefully short of understanding. If we truly comprehended God’s holiness, we would stand in awe, for one, and would never question that every human being deserved nothing less than eternal damnation.
So what is holiness? Webster defines the word holy thusly: Properly, whole, entire or perfect, in a moral sense. Hence, pure in heart, temper or dispositions; free from sin and sinful affections. Applied to the Supreme Being, holy signifies perfectly pure, immaculate and complete in moral character. That’s a good definition, and one that fits God as we look at Scripture, where we see numerous examples of His perfection and purity. For starters, six different times in His Word, God declares, “I am holy.” Scripture says that God is perfect, just, and upright. His laws are holy. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God gave commands based on His holiness. The stringent nature of the Mosaic Law pointed to the thorough perfection of God and showed how incapable humans were (and are) of attaining anything close to it. Because of His nature, God cannot tolerate that which is unholy. His holiness speaks for itself. Scripture says, “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.” We know that no one can see God and live, for He lives in “unapproachable light.” God is so holy that His presence makes ground holy and shakes mountains. Even demons recognize God’s holiness. God will be worshipped as holy for all eternity. And, most remarkably, God imparts His holiness (through the blood of Christ) to the elect!
This is only a smattering, a tiny sample. There’s no way I can begin to draw an adequate picture of God’s holiness. The most eloquent of poets lack the words to describe it. In his famous message, “That’s my King!” pastor S.M. Lockridge breaks from a lengthy (one might errantly say exhaustive) description of Christ to state, with tongue somewhat in cheek, “I wish I could describe him to you.” In the same way that words are insufficient to accurately describe Christ, they are insufficient to accurately describe God’s holiness. I could spend an entire year writing blog posts on God’s holiness and fail miserably to properly relate to you its depth, its entirety, it’s . . . holiness. The best way we can understand it is to study God’s Word where His holy nature is on continuous display, where His attributes are repeatedly revealed. Take time to meditate on them, on what the passages cited above (and numerous others) are telling us about God. It will be an incomplete understanding to be sure, but will begin to enable us to grasp the Mariana Trench that exists between the human standard of righteousness and God’s.
Perhaps then we will start to understand that in comparison to the absolute and total perfection of God, our small misdeeds are damnable offenses. Our pretty good lives are absent of any goodness. Joe Average is Joe Despicable Sinner. Our good works and kind deeds are used tampons. We were made in the image of a holy God and we profane that image every time we sin, every time we disobey, every time we fail to be just as holy. In that light, anything short of eternal hell would be unjust.
When people by a human standard, grade on the curve, or consider themselves to be “good enough,” they are—intentionally or not—thumbing their noses at God’s holiness. More than that, they are effectively saying they do not need Jesus’ sacrifice for them. If being unholy wasn’t bad enough (and it is), they have now also “trampled the Son of God underfoot . . . treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and [have] insulted the Spirit of grace.” What should a holy God do with such people?
There’s one more problem with the human standard of judgement, one more way by which we can conclude that hell is indeed a just punishment for all of unrepentant mankind. If it weren’t, why would Jesus have gone to the cross? Christ’s sufferings—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—are, like God’s holiness, something we can’t fully comprehend. But we can recognize, on at least a human level, the horrors he faced. If we aren’t deserving of hell, why did Jesus have to endure hell to save us?
This is the beauty of the gospel, that though we do indeed deserve hell—that is, eternal death—we can have eternal life because “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If we fail to recognize God’s holiness—and thus our just and rightful destination apart from him—we also fail to recognize the magnitude of that beauty. Paul wrote that “now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; [when completeness comes] we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The day will come when we will behold God face to face, and then we shall fully comprehend His holiness and fully comprehend the weight of what Christ accomplished at the cross. Until then, as is so often the refrain, we must walk by faith—faith in God’s holiness, in our hopelessness apart from him, and in our righteousness before Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Jeremiah 17:9
 Isaiah 64:6
 American Dictionary of the English Language “holy,” accessed August 8, 2017, http://www.webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/holy
 See Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 18:30
 See Psalm 19:7; Romans 7:12
 See Joshua 24:19; Psalm 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13
 Isaiah 5:16
 Psalm 47:8
 See Exodus 33:20
 I Timothy 6:16
 See Exodus 3:5
 See Exodus 19:12-18;
 See Mark 1:24
 See Revelation 4:1-11
 See Hebrews 10:10, also the entire book of Ephesians.
 Lockridge, S.M. “That’s my King!” Detroit. 1976. Sermon.
 Hebrews 10:29
 II Corinthians 5:21
 I Corinthians 13:12