Hell: Punishment or Consequence

“How can your God send me to hell forever just for not believing in him?” If you interact with enough non-believers you will eventually get this question. Will you have an answer?
    The most famous verse in the Bible may give us a clue. John 3:16 (ESV) says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s action was to prevent a consequence (perishing) that was the natural consequence for the world. The question really is which outcome requires action from God, what causes Him to burn some calories. Punishment is active, consequence is passive. That hell is a consequence, that we’re all going there apart from God’s active intervention, is the opinion I began researching and writing this article with. Was it the one I finished with?
     I very quickly began running into verses like 2 Thessalonian 1:8-9 (NIV), “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. This seems pretty explicit that God will burn some calories to burn some non-believers! About now I want to fall back to Romans 6:23 (NIV), “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Again it seems like the text is saying that there is a natural consequence to non-belief but a definite reward for belief.
    There is a lot that could be said on this subject and a lot that has been said by men and women much more scholarly and/ or long winded than me. What I want to say is this, because we are all born sinners Hell is the natural place to go after death, but God will be the one sending you there and He will have a judgment day set aside to actively do it. My take-away is that God is not uninvolved in the affairs of mankind. We are His creation and He will be the one to give us our final and eternal disposition. If it is Hell He will pronounce the sentence.
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