Summary: Scripture describes God as both an all-consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and an illuminating light (Psalm 119:105; 1 John 1:5). Both the rich man and Lazarus saw the same reality: God in all His blazing glory. One expereinced heaven; one expereinced hell.
Many people believe that Christianity is one, big, fat lie. It must be, they assume, because they see so much injustice in this world. They say, “How can there be a God if He allows so much evil to exist?”
Even in the Bible we find complaints about injustice in this world. One of the psalms says, “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the well-being of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death, and their bodies are well-fed. They do not have their share of human suffering; they are not afflicted like the rest of humanity” (Psalm 73:2-5). Even Job, the patient one, complained, “The tents of robbers are at rest, and those who provoke God are secure” (Job 12:6).
How do we make sense of this? To begin, how can we expect perfect justice in an imperfect world? We messed up the world, not God! Now we want to blame God for our mess ups? Come on!
Justice does exist in this world. Of course, it is flawed and fallen because we, too, are flawed and fallen. God gives governments authority to “bear the sword,” so widespread anarchy does not run amok in this world (Romans 13:4). Criminals don’t always get away with their crimes. They are often caught and punished. Most of the time, crime doesn’t pay. The average criminal would be far richer if he had honestly labored instead of stealing to gain his wealth.
Other sins are punished, as well. “Don’t be deceived … whatever someone sows he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Getting drunk all the time destroys someone’s liver. Wanton sex spreads many deadly diseases. Anger causes high-blood pressure. Laziness reduces some people to poverty. Rudeness and arrogance turns people into enemies instead of friends. A life of crime often leads to an early death.
When we look at justice, we, as God’s people, are to see everything that takes place though the lens of eternity. For we know that “godliness is of value, because it holds a promise for the present life as well as the one to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). God does provide for His people. He will never abandon them. Yes, “the righteous may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers them from them all” (Psalm 34:19).
So there is a reward in this life for those who love God and keep His commandments. Yet, justice will never be perfect in this imperfect world. This Lazarus knew well! Sores infested his body, and he was too disabled to walk. Every day, someone would place him at the rich man’s gate. There he would wait, hoping to get the leftovers that would otherwise be thrown into the garbage.
The rich man was selfish and wicked. He lived only for his own pleasure and cared nothing for Lazarus, or anybody else for that matter. Yet, he was the one who prospered, while poor, godly Lazarus lived in misery. Finally, poor and miserable, without seeing happy days, Lazarus died. Surely, it seemed that justice had deserted him in this world.
Yet, thanks be to God, that’s not the end of the story! There is perfect justice, after death separates us from this fallen world and our fallen flesh. After Lazarus had died, God’s holy angels carried him into God’s eternal and glorious presence. The rich man also died, but his after-death experience was different--decidedly different!
When the rich man died, he woke up, suffering the natural consequences of his sins. It was as the Apostle Paul wrote. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The rich man had sinned in body, soul, and spirit, and so it was in body, soul, and spirit that he suffered his eternal torments. He mentioned his tongue being tormented by flame. That was the same tongue that he had bathed with cup after cup of delectable wine. That was the same tongue that had scorned poor Lazarus.
Sins do not go unpunished. No one will get away with anything. Justice is waiting ever so patiently in the wings. We find Abraham in heaven saying, “Son, remember that during your lifetime you received blessings, while Lazarus received hardships.”
The experience of hell is eternal. Jesus, through Abraham in the parable, speaks of an insurmountable chasm between heaven and hell, where no one may pass from one to the other. Only one gate leads into each of them, and after someone passes through death, he cannot go back to enter the other door.
Many think God would never be so cruel as to punish people and not relent after they have suffered for a time. People come to such a conclusion based on a shallow and improper understanding of hell. Hell isn’t so much God unleashing His hot fury and anger. Hell is the way Scripture describes eternity for someone who simply gets what he deserves, those who die without faith in Christ Jesus.