No one likes the doctrine of hell. No Christian likes the doctrine of hell. If they do, they have issues. It is that simple.

I have often said that the doctrine of hell is simply the most disturbing doctrine thing known to man. If I could get rid of one of my beliefs, this would be it. Hands down. Better, I would just have God elect all people rather than some and kill two birds with one firecracker!

I have been talking to this guy whom I am pretty sure is not a believer. Let’s just say for the sake of argument he is not. He is a really great guy. While, like everyone, he has his rough edges, he is a very giving person. He has the temptation to horde, but I can see his heart break for people who are in need. He gives and gives consistently. It is hard for me to  believe that, according to my theology, he is going to spend eternity suffering in a place of unimaginable horror.

Eternal fire, outer darkness, lake of fire, bottomless pit, weeping and gnashing of teeth: These are all ways that the Bible describes this place we call hell. No matter how we might spin it, it is not good. R.C. Sproul put it this way:

“We have often heard statements such as ‘War is hell’ or ‘I went through hell.’ These expressions are, of course, not taken literally. Rather, they reflect our tendency to use the word hell as a descriptive term for the most ghastly human experience possible. Yet no human experience in this world is actually comparable to hell. If we try to imagine the worst of all possible suffering in the here and now we have not yet stretched our imaginations to reach the dreadful reality of hell.” (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, 285).

Most people don’t realize this, but almost everything we know about Hell comes from the lips of Jesus.

Listen to the words of Christ here:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:42-48)

I don’t think it is necessary to take any of the descriptions of hell literally. It could be, but it is hard to see how darkness and fire exist together in a bottomless pit! I am not sure that the mere statement that hell is outside the presence of God does the biblical teaching any justice either. There is simply no place in all of creation that is outside of God’s presence. All of the teachings about hell are simply meant to describe a place that is worse than anything we can imagine, but probably unlike anything we have ever experienced.

While C.S. Lewis’ statement “The doors of hell are locked from the inside” does provide some valuable believers therapy in one respect (and I think it is true), it is what goes on behind those doors that is so troublesome.

It is not so much the pain that I have a problem with. As bad as the pain may be, the duration is the most terrifying. Hell is eternal. I don’t like this. I would be much more comfortable with the annihilation of all the ungodly, as some have opted for (conditional immortality). However, it takes too much doctrinal gymnastics for me to concede with the idea that hell is nothing more than the cessation of existence after a period of suffering. Again, I am well familiar with the alternative theories and I certainly understand why people bite the first chance they get when presented with an alternative, but, in the end, these amount to nothing more than “consulation heresies.”

If eternal life is everlasting, so is eternal death (Matt 25:46).

Therefore, as much as I would like to shed this doctrine and mark it up as some archaic vestige of a former and naive form of Christianity, I cannot. I live with the reality that many (perhaps most) people who have ever been created are going to an eternal place of pain and suffering.

How do I deal with it?

There are so many things that God has let us in on. There are quit a few that he has not. Sometimes he does not tell us things because we simply could not understand them. Sometimes they are yet to be revealed. Many times God withholds information that could help us to understand and be comforted. Take suffering for instance. We all go through times of trials and suffering. Most of the time we don’t know why and God is not going to tell us. Look to Job. God never told him why those terrible things happened to him. He could have. Had he, I am sure that Job would have been comforted. God simply let Job know that he knows what he is doing and he is in charge. That is it.

Concerning the doctrine of Hell, I simply must trust that God knows what he is doing. I am sure there is information and understanding that is withheld from us that might make such things more palatable, but he has obviously chosen not to reveal this to us. Belief is not always easy. Sometimes it is. Love, grace, forgiveness, hope, and the new earth are all easy to believe. Election, righteousness, judgment, and hell are not. That is why the latter is so difficult to accept and why, I believe, we have so many alternative answers continually being proposed. We simply want our faith to be more palatable rather than trust that God knows what he is doing. It is very hard to believe God sometimes.

However, I don’t have a vote in truth. My emotional disposition toward a doctrine has absolutely no effect on the truthfulness of the doctrine itself. As I have often said, the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity. God is on the throne and he knows what he is doing. Whenever I begin to feel more righteous than him, I must remember who I am and who he is. “Will not the judge of the earth do what is right?”

  • God loves all people.
  • God is not willing that any should perish.
  • God is in control.
  • Those who don’t trust Christ will spend eternity in hell.

These seem paradoxical. Perhaps they are. But this does not mean that they are not true.

One passage of Scripture that I often think of when I begin to whine about hell is Rom. 3:4:

Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

We all have our temptations to bring divine tribunals against our Maker. We all have our temptations to call him and his word into account. We all have those times when we want to judge God. However, being a believer does not mean that we believed him once. Neither does it mean that we selectively believe him. Being a believer is a characteristic mindset that trusts God always, even when it is hard or it seems unnatural—even when our belief is going to station people we love in hell. But above this, we must believe that God knows what he is doing and he will aways do what is right and good in accordance with his perfect character.

Having said all of this, I don’t believe that God does loves hell anymore than we do.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    181 replies to "A Word About Hell"

    • Denny Burk

      “No one likes the doctrine of hell. No Christian likes the doctrine of hell. If they do, they have issues. It is that simple.”

      I don’t think it’s that simple. Some texts come to mind:

      Revelation 18:20 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”

      The saints are commanded to “rejoice” at God’s eternal judgment on Babylon.

      Revelation 19:1-2 “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.”

      Here the heavenly multitude praises God for His eternal punishment of the great harlot. Verse 3 says, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.”

      It seems clear that at the end of the age, the saints will worship God for His perfect justice. In that day, no one will weep for the damned (Revelation 21:4). Instead, they will be totally transfixed on the glory of God’s holiness and justice in judging His enemies. These people praising God for the His justice aren’t people with “issues,” but are people who have their affections wholly conformed to Christ.

      Now is the day of salvation, and we are ministers of reconciliation. We call people to repent and believe the gospel. We plead with them to be reconciled to their offended Creator through the gospel of Christ. There is coming a day, however, when all such pleadings will cease. All weeping and brokenheartedness for the lost will cease. And all the elect will praise God for His justice.

      A great resource on this is Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous.” I found it tremendously helpful in thinking through these issues.

    • Lynn

      Wow. It feels so good to finally be able to throw off the weight of all that and say what I really think-it’s awful and I reject it.

    • cherylu

      Lynn,

      I’m with Michael on this issue. It is a very terrible thought. But how do you get around the Bible’s teaching on it? I have never read anyting or heard anything from any one that has convinced me at all that the doctrine of hell isn’t taught in the Bible as being eternal torment as Michael spoke of above.

    • Hodge

      Michael,

      I’m torn between you and Denny. I think Denny is right that we are to rejoice over the destruction of evil and God’s victory over it by casting it into the fire. I think you probably would agree with this. However, it is an awful thing to witness the eternal destruction of a human being that was made to glorify God and now forever decays as an unreasoning animal that is good for nothing but to be captured and killed.

      What I’m torn about, however, is whether we see this as awful because of our sin. In other words, because hell torments chaotic agents, and I am a chaotic agent, I therefore think that it is awful. From God’s perspective, does He think it is awful? Why would He do something that He thought was awful? Surely, He may lament those who are caste in their rebellion for having rebelled, but does He lament the destruction of those rebels once they have entered into that state? I guess what I’m trying to get at is whether we really understand justice as sinners, or because we are sinners, pervert it and therefore hate its fulfillment on others who are mirror images of ourselves? Perhaps that’s what Denny was getting at?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “Concerning the doctrine of Hell, I simply must trust that God knows what he is doing.

      Homerun.

      “My emotional disposition toward a doctrine has absolutely no effect on the truthfulness of the doctrine itself.”

      Game-winning grandslam.

    • Lynn

      cherylu,

      I agree the Bible teaches it. But I don’t believe there is such a place. If there is a hell, where is it?

    • cherylu

      Lynn,

      I don’t know where it is. Do you believe in heaven? Do you know where it is?

      I take it you maybe don’t believe that the Bible is trustworthy?

    • Dave T

      Michael, I find it fascinating that you are discussing ‘hell’ not too far removed from your own experience not too long ago. I read ‘broken’ and was actually very encouraged that someone, in your position, was/is honest enough to reveal it. Most don’t!

      I went through anxiety/depression for many years. Actually I would call it a fearful dread unlike anything anyone who went through depression could relate to. (I was a pastor during it) I guess I’m just wondering if it’s made you more aware/sensitive to the lost.
      DL Moody could not talk about hell without weeping. It’s a doctrine about the lost that has/is being, well…lost!

      Thank you for the reminder and I will pray more for my family and friends. I cannot think too long of my sons possibly in hell crying, weeping for mom and dad…..tears are coming must stop now!

    • Sam

      What if, the people in hell, Lake of Fire, actually believe that we, the redeemed, who are in the presence of God have it worse than they do in the Lake of Fire? And isn’t that why they are there anyway? They deemed themselves “right” and God “wrong”? And isn’t the presence of God “hell” to them? Daniel described the river flowing from the Throne as a river of fire, the river that John described as the water of life… same river.

      (2 Th 1:8-9) “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: {9} Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction *from the presence of the Lord,* and from the glory of his power;”

      (Prov 10:29) “The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil.”

      (Hosea 14:9) “Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”

      The AMAZING part is that ALL of us are NOT in hell at the end.

    • Susan

      Michael, see Dave just hit on what I was thinking when I sent you that chunk of Keller’s article on Hell. Maybe that sort of deep dark black hole of depression is about as close to a sample of hell (minus the physical pain) that we might experience this side of it….no sense of God’s love and presence nor any of the benefits from Him that we ALL experience here and now.

      I can’t bring myself to dismiss that the fire of hell is literal. I think that people can be cast to ‘outer darkness’…where there is no sun/moon…no light from God, and yet there will be fire. Whether the fire will give off light (as we know it here) or not…who knows? How do you dismiss Lazarus who said he was in agony in the flames of hell?…even if it was a parable of Jesus’.

      Our knowledge of hell should motivate us to warn others!

      P.S. Michael, is that not a double negative with which you conclude this article?

    • Edward T. Babinski

      Mike: “almost everything we know about Hell comes from the lips of Jesus”

      Not true. There’s plenty about eternal punishment written during the Intertestamental period. That’s also when demons and angels receive names galore, and “Satan” and “Beelzebub” get upgrades or job promotions to the “princes of this world” and “prince of the power of the air.”

      Jesus was a first century Jew and shared a host of beliefs of other first century Jews. Whether or not those beliefs were literally true or not is another question.

      Speaking of other questions, you’d think that a threat of eternal punishment would be something we’d all have convincing undoubted universal evidence of. But we don’t. We only have old books and intertestamental madness like the book of Enoch and other such works. And apocalpytic madness (read not only the NT but other writings as well by early Christians).

    • Edward T. Babinski

      THE “ABOMINABLE FANCY”

      A HEAVEN THAT ONLY “SNUFF FILM” WATCHERS COULD LOVE

      For centuries, Christians believed that the heavenly few would see and even rejoice at the sight of hell’s multitude suffering eternally. As Paul Johnson pointed out in A History of Christianity, “This displeasing notion was advanced and defended with great tenacity over several centuries, and was one of the points Catholics and orthodox Calvinists had in common.”

      For more info, including some of the Bible verses upon which such a fancy was based google “abominable fancy” and keep the quotation marks around those two words.

    • Boz

      In addition to the points outlined, one of my main issues with the idea of hell is that it is a disproportionate punishment.

      Even if I committed hundreds of thousands of the worst actions possible, torturing, maiming and raping for 80 years, hell is still a disproportionate punishment.

      And it gets worse. If I have the wrong opinion, If I am not persuaded to hold the correct opinion, I go to hell. The punishment of hell for a differing opinion! I don’t think it is possible to be more disproportionate.

      And it gets worse again. There are (say) 100 different religions with a hell doctrine, and I am doomed to all 100 hell-equivalents. The opinions that excuse me from one version of hell contradict all the other opinions, so at best I am doomed to “only” 99 hells.

    • Steve Allen

      EDIT: Looks like Sam beat me to the general punch. (I took a while to compose my comment, having started before his comment was posted.) 🙂 Oh, well.

      A couple of random comments….

      1. Regarding the description of Hell as “where God is not”:

      As Michael stated, “There is simply no place in all of creation that is outside of God’s presence.”

      After all, “…if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou [art there]” (Ps. 139:8). Also, “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Eph. 4:10)

      Omnipresent is, well, omnipresent, right?

      2. If you understand

      a) that Love is fire (see Pr. 25:21, 22) to the heart not conditioned for it (I John 4:18);

      b) that God’s very nature is love (I John 4:10), making His presence “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) (unquenchable, and not annihilating, [Mark 9:48]);

      c) that God, as love, loves both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:43-45); and finally,

      d) that the flip side of love is jealousy, which is the vengeful fire (Song 8:6), and the wicked cling to that against which the LORD is jealous and His name is Jealous (Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24 — actually, I heartily recommend a meditation on the whole of Deut. 4 re: this topic– ; Nahum 1)

      — then all that makes Hell pretty much the only possibility for the final state of the wicked, and it’s totally their own fault (Ps. 83:13-18, esp. 16b; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; II Pet. 3:9).

      (Incidentally, this is the reason for the sudden [seeming] “left turn” Jesus takes in Mark 9, at the end of the chapter. One second talking about being salted with Hellfire, and the next saying salt is good and to have salt. Basically, salt = fire = love = salt.)

      One article that has helped me, and might perhaps be of some use to you, is: http://silouanthompson.net/2008/08/river-of-god/

      I find the summation of the article in this quote, towards the middle: “God does not change but we are all different. The experience of His presence is life and health and peace to some; and to others it is destruction and torment.”

      Hope this helps!

    • Denny Burk

      Boz (#11),

      I think your contention about hell being a disproportionate punishment is incorrect.

      If we were to see a little boy pulling the legs off of a grasshopper, we would think it strange and perhaps a little bizarre. If he were pulling the legs off of a frog, that would be a bit more disturbing. If it were a bird, we would probably scold him and inform his parents. If it were a puppy, that would be too shocking to tolerate. We would intervene. If it were a little baby, it would be so reprehensible and tragic that we would risk our own life to protect the baby. What’s the difference in each of these scenarios? The sin is the same (pulling the limbs off). The only difference is the one sinned against (grasshopper to a baby). The more noble and valuable the creature, the more heinous and reprehensible the sin. And so it is with God.

      The heinousness of sin is not measured by the sin itself (its content or duration) but by the nobility of the one sinned against. If God were a grasshopper, then to sin against him wouldn’t be such a big deal, and an eternal judgment would be disproportionate. But God isn’t a grasshopper, He’s the most precious, valuable, beautiful being in the universe. His glory and worth is infinite and eternal. Thus to sin against an infinitely glorious being is the most heinous sin in the universe that merits an infinitely heinous punishment.

      We don’t take sin seriously because we don’t take God seriously. We have so imbibed of the banality of our God-belittling culture that our sins hardly trouble us at all. Our sin seems small and eternal judgment too severe because we think so little of God.

      Once again, I commend to readers the very helpful sermon by Jonathan Edwards “The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous.”

      Thanks,
      Denny

    • Boz

      “God is not willing that any should perish.”

      If this is the case, then hell has a population of zero, because a being with omnipotency and omniscience will always have her desires fulfilled.

    • Matthew Lautensack

      Was the last line a typo? “Having said all of this, I don’t believe that God does not love hell anymore than we do.” I can’t figure out what you (Michael) are trying to say here. Is it that you think God would agree with you that He doesn’t love hell or is it that God would disagree with you and love hell, since we hate it because we don’t fully understand it? Or perhaps it is something else entirely.

      Grace and peace,
      Matthew

    • Denny Burk

      Boz (#14),

      I think you are not clear about how the Bible speaks of God’s “will.” God’s “will” is a multi-valent expression in scripture. The scripture speaks of God’s will in at least two ways.

      (1) Will of Command / Moral Will
      (2) Will of Decree / Providential Will

      An example of God’s Will of Command (or moral will) would be 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “This is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” God’s moral will is that every person would be holy. His moral will, in this sense, is a reflection of His own holy character.

      An example God’s Will of Decree (or Providential will) would be the prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion in Isaiah 53:10, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him.” God’s plan and decree was that Jesus would be crucified (Acts 2:23), but God did not approve of the sinful means by which it occurred at the hands of the Jews and the Romans. Otherwise, Jesus would not have prayed “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). So we see in Isaiah 53:10 not an expression of God’s moral will but an expression of his providential will whereby God decrees and causes everything that comes to pass in the world—as it says in Ephesians 1:11, that God “works all things after the counsel of His own will.”

      So when the Bible says that “God is not willing that any should perish,” it is talking of God’s moral will, not His providential will. It’s His will of command, not His will of decree.

      Any discussion of God’s will has to take into account these two ways in which the scripture speaks of God’s will.

      Thanks,
      Denny

    • Jesse G

      Excellent, Denny!

    • Kyle

      Thank you Michael and Denny. I would highly suggest Jonathan Edwards’ “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”

      http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=71706111141
      http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/je-justice.htm

    • Susan

      Denny Burk, thanks for joining our discussion! I’ve often wondered about that passage. Your comments are helpful. I agree with you that we usually have a far too casual attitude about sin, and do not honor God as we should. I appreciate all of your insights (and your helpful analogy). Please do come again…and again….(!)

      In an article I just read by Tim Keller he said that virtually all theologians believe that the fire of Hell is metaphoric, so I asked Dan Wallace. He said, “I don’t know. What I do know is that hell is the absence of the positive attributes of God; they are hidden from view and all senses. Thus, those in hell do not feel his pleasure, goodness, love, mercy, grace, etc. They only feel his wrath.”

    • TDC

      We do punish partially based on the the nobility of the party being sinned against, but it seems to me that the knowledge of the guilty party is a more important factor.

      If I steal, I’d be fined or go to jail. If a toddler grabs something from the store, we punish him much less. If a baby grabs something on the way out of the store, we hardly punish at all.

      And if we do punish the toddler/baby, it is a corrective/disciplinary punishment. It is not retributive.

      The “God is infinitely noble” argument strikes me as problematic. I’m sure some will disagree with me, but I don’t think most non-Christians realize they are rejecting God (if that is indeed what they are doing). They might believe in a different God, or different morals, and think that what they are doing is no offense at all.

      What I really don’t see is why God can’t just annihilate the lost rather than keep them alive forever. It is the most horrible thing imaginable. None of us would torture any criminal like this.

      But, as I have said before, I have huge emotional problems with this doctrine too, so I could very well not be thinking clearly.

    • John From Down Under

      The fact that hell is so horrific to contemplate, provides an excellent background for the good news, doesn’t it? It helps us appreciate what it means for Jesus to save us from God’s wrath [Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10].

      Is it any wonder that seeker-sensitive churches incubate such a blasé culture to God’s grace, since the remotest reference to God’s judgment their attendants will ever hear is the euphemistic “separated from the presence of God”? Texts on hell are a no-go zone.

      Back in March, Paul Copan posted an article here titled Do We Need to Tell People the Bad News Before the Good News?. While this post deals with the theological question of whether it’s necessary to tell the bad news before the good news, it is nonetheless an interesting discussion.

      I go to an inner-city church where the majority of attendants are people we pick up in our own bus from a halfway house. We get crack-heads, alcoholics, schizophrenics on meds, and we have at least one (former) prostitute and an ex-convict who did time for murder. While some of them are reformed addicts, others are still battling their addictions. As an audience, they would be the last people you’d want to preach to about hell as they’ve had enough misery to cope with.

      No long ago, a sermon on hell was preached in the church to provide context for the good news. While the preacher is not a sophisticated exegete, the sermon was not framed as a scare tactic with dramatization and sensationalism but was not watered down either. It was ‘warts-and-all’ as far as the text goes and it left no doubt to the hearers that hell is just a place of unimaginable horror.

      Do you think it scared them? To the contrary, a few of the folks went up to the preacher and thanked him at the end (these aren’t the type of folks that use cheap flattery, they’re pretty off-the-cuff).

      The following Sunday a sermon was preached on heaven and their smiles were even bigger!

    • Greg

      Your emotional reactions – as against Hell – don’t impact the truth. But your emotional attachments, often cause you to misperceive, fail to see, what is really true. In this case, deeper down, you WANT to believe in Hell; because you cannot trust yourself to behave, on your own.

    • Cadis

      “However, being a believer does not mean that we believed him once.”

      I loved that phrase. What a great post! I wouldn’t think I would be moved to say the following considering the topic but this post did my heart well.

    • Don "Doc" Pagala

      I’ve read some of the posts here and I want to address the skeptics in the crowd who may benefit from a post-modern observation. One of our contemporary writers claims to have had a first-hand experience in hell.

      Bill Wiese wrote a book called “23 Minutes in Hell” that is provocative and really good food for thought.

      I recommend that everyone read this book. Whatever your theological position is or lack thereof, this book will answer your questions, confirm your position, or open up your thought process to question if what you believe or don’t believe on the existence of hell is a valid belief.

      A good read none the less.

      Much can be learned from reading texts that fall way outside the Canon of Scripture. This is one of them.

    • ScottL

      I’m currently reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope.

      I think most Christians have quite an unbiblical view of both ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’. This would be a good book for all to interact with.

    • Lynn

      cherylu,

      Yes, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bible is untrustworthy. I was taught it in a conservative church and sincerely believed and tried to live it for 50 years before that though.

    • Helez

      Michael: “It is hard for me to believe that, according to my theology, he is going to spend eternity suffering in a place of unimaginable horror.”

      Please Michael, change your theology. It is blasphemous to teach that God tortures people in hell forever.

      Acts 3:23 (YLT)
      “And it shall be, every soul that may not hear that prophet shall be utterly destroyed out of the people.”

    • Lynn

      I think having to get used to the awful idea that your lovely friends will be forever tortured and somehow making that okay in your mind-hardens people. It shows how the human mind will accept anything eventually if their religion requires it.

      Their intellect and emotions struggle with it all and finally accept it. And that’s portrayed as a good thing. I disagree. I think it hardens you toward your fellow human beings. You finally accept that you’ll be up there rejoicing while they are burning forever, and that’s somehow okay with you after all.

    • Ishmael

      Excellent post on a difficult subject!!!

      Hell is a disturbing idea and I don’t even pretend to understand all the theological nuances but the way I read the Bible, there will come a time when God will renew creation and his people will live with him, in his presence.

      The people who chose not to be his people will be somewhere else and just as the new creation will be eternal, so will that other place.

      God won’t torture people in Hell — Satan (who brought us things like cancer, AIDS, depression, etc) will be there.

      I’ve heard all the arguments (a loving God couldn’t, etc) but do keep in mind that our Heavenly Father made a terrible sacrifice to buy redemption for all those who would accept our Lord. Whatever Hell is, it’s a horrible place — don’t go there!

    • wandering_sheep

      Lynn,

      Kindred sheep we be on this one, I agree with everything you are saying. That said, Christ does instruct us to see things in terms of an afterlife, and to have faith that such a thing exists. I believe (NB these are my thoughts not His), that this is: a) to give us the ultimate long-term view, enabling us to overcome all the challenges that we face in our efforts to be good people, and b) to enable us to overcome the fear of death which threatens to paralyze many of us at times.

      When Christ speaks of eternal suffering, I believe (again, my puny thoughts not His) whatever else He is trying to warn people of the unhappiness they will endure in the long-term on this earth when they behave in a way that goes against His teachings. Whenever I have ignored or misunderstood His advice, I have not found happiness. Whatever the short-term gain might have been, there was pain in the end. And if I continue to ignore His advice, there will be suffering until the end of my days, eternal in terms of my life.

      It also seems likely to me that we will be better able to help others when we stop fretting about their souls and focus on where they are experiencing unhappiness here in this life, and why.

      Your thoughts?

    • Lynn

      wandering_sheep,

      Thanks. Nice to be agreed with. I like your last paragraph about helping others.

      I think Jesus said some good things that we’d do well to try to follow. And doing those things makes us feel good and helps others.

      Jesus also said (according to the gospels) a lot of very hard things that people today don’t follow. Much of what he said makes more sense if the end really was near, and he was returning shortly-which he said he was going to do.

      As far as hell, didn’t people in the Bible picture heaven on top, earth, flat, in the middle, and hell down below? That turned out to be incorrect. That’s why I ask the annoying question “where is heaven? where is hell? Out there in outer space?

      Ofcourse I may very well be wrong about it all. If so, I don’t know what to say other than if there is a god, he’ll have mercy on me or not as he desires or predestined or whatever. If you don’t believe something, you really can’t just WILL yourself to believe it.

    • Bill Trip

      I know that I deserve Hell. I believe that I won’t go there because I am trusting in Jesus for salvation but I know so many people who are much better persons than I am who may go there because they reject Christ.

    • Mark

      I would comment more on this, but Denny Burk has done such a good job – and far better than I could have – that I’ll only leave one comment.

      I sometimes hear arguments similar to:

      “I don’t think it is necessary to take any of the descriptions of hell literally. It could be, but it is hard to see how darkness and fire exist together…”

      I think people often find “contradictions” in scripture, but the contradictions only exist in the assumptions they bring to the text. Could it be that people in hell will be blind, and thus will be in both darkness and fire at the same time?

      I’m not saying this text should be taken literally, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be rejected because of a supposed “contradiction.”

    • Ken Pulliam

      CMP,

      Once again I applaud you for your honesty. Any Christian that says that an eternal hell doesn’t bother him is either being dishonest, they don’t understand the biblical portrait of hell or they have no compassion or humanity at all.

      I find the position of Edwards to be repulsive, although probably consistent with the Scripture.

      To me, the doctrine of an eternal hell would make God into a sadist. I doubt any of us would be willing to torture someone like Hitler forever and ever. Eventually we would say, “that’s enough.” But not so for God, he never thinks its enough. That tells me that either God is a sadist or the way he is presented in the Bible is incorrect or he does not exist at all. I opt for the latter.

    • Ken Pulliam

      CMP,

      Al Mohler says that evangelicals who apologize for hell are impugning the character of God. He quotes from one who says: “I regret to tell you that the doctrine of hell is taught in the Bible. I believe it. I believe it because it is revealed in the Bible. It is not up for renegotiation. We just have to receive it and believe it. I do believe it. I wish it could be otherwise but it is not.”

      He says that Statements like this reveal a very great deal. The authority of the Bible is clearly affirmed. The speaker affirms what the Bible reveals and rejects accommodation. So far, so good. The problem is in how the affirmation is introduced and explained. In an apologetic gesture, the doctrine is essentially lamented.

      What does this say about God? What does this imply about God’s truth? Can a truth clearly revealed in the Bible be anything less than good for us? The Bible presents the knowledge of hell just as it presents the knowledge of sin and judgment: these are things we had better know. God reveals these things to us for our good and for our redemption. In this light, the knowledge of these things is grace to us. Apologizing for a doctrine is tantamount to impugning the character of God.

    • Ed Kratz

      Ken, you are right. I think we should lament hell and damnation. When people act as if we are going to be celebrating people’s eternal torment, it is just silly, both biblically and psychologically.

      I agree with the other in so far as to say that we will rejoice in the culmination of justice and in God’s righteous judgment, but to act as if we will be rejoicing in the punishment of the damned quit bizarre (even though I know a lot of good Christians of have convinced themselves that this is the case).

      It would be quite odd for us to believe that God does not want any to perish before judgment, but rejoices in their perishing after.

      In the end, we will cry out “righteous are your judgments o’ Lord”, but we don’t rejoice over the consequence.

    • Susan

      Lynn, “Their intellect and emotions struggle with it all and finally accept it. And that’s portrayed as a good thing. I disagree. I think it hardens you toward your fellow human beings. You finally accept that you’ll be up there rejoicing while they are burning forever, and that’s somehow okay with you after all.”

      I can’t speak for everyone else but it does not harden me, rather it compels me to tell others the truth that “the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT for God is eternal life”.

      There’s a penalty for sin and rejecting God, but He loves us so much that he sent Jesus to bear that penalty at no charge to us whatsoever. Jesus bore the agony of Hell in our place. Don’t reject Him, Lynn, or Hell will be a reality in your future. Jesus accepted the suffering of the cross because He loves us…because He loves you. His resurrection from the dead serves as the ‘first fruits’ of what we also who are in Christ will one day experience: the resurrection of our flesh and blood bodies, yet without sickness and sorrow. This is the firmly grounded hope of a believer.

      Simply doing the good things that Jesus did and following His example of how to treat others will not earn you favor with God. God wants us to repent not only of our sin but our self-righteousness (any notion that He might receive us into His kingdom based on our own good deeds).

      Believe it or not, these things are true, and we will be judged accordingly, by Jesus Christ Himself.

    • Ken Pulliam

      One other point–I wonder how many Christians really believe in eternal torment. It seems to me that one’s actions are the best indicator of what one truly believes. Yet, the majority of Christians never try to win anyone to the Lord. They will not even step next door to tell their neighbors or their co-workers. It seems to me that if one really believed in eternal torment they would crawl over broken glass to tell people how to avoid it.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Bill Trip: “I know that I deserve Hell.”

      Me too.

      “I believe that I won’t go there because I am trusting in Jesus for salvation but I know so many people who are much better persons than I am who may go there because they reject Christ.”

      Me too.

      Relative to God’s perfect holiness, we are all wretched, miserable sinners. So they may be “better” than you in some aspect or regard, but they are in filthy, unredeemed, self-righteous, arrogantly prideful rags when they reject Christ.

    • Hornspiel

      Lynn,

      Might it not be that one reason God allows pain and suffering in this life, is to teach us that pain and suffering also exist in the next?

      i think the puzzle of theodicy is connected to the problem of eternal judgement. God made the world a dangerous place to teach us to make provisions for staying safe. And God called this world good! Paul uses the analogy of putting on armor to talk about staying safe the battles of the spiritual world. Eternal safety is in Jesus’ arms.

      Let us not be lackadaisical about entering into the next world. The goals that God desires to accomplish in human souls do not come without risk. Do not be discouraged by the seeming harshness of God. Above all Jesus taught that God was good.

      In any case, this is how I reconcile the love and righteousness of God.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Ken Pulliam: “One other point–I wonder how many Christians really believe in eternal torment.”

      I don’t know either. But I am one who believes what Jesus said and taught about Hell.

      “Yet, the majority of Christians never try to win anyone to the Lord.”

      That is probably an accurate observation.

      I have been and still do try to be a faithful instrument of the Spirit to folks who don’t know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Granted, not even close to being nearly enough, but I do try to remain obedient to the Great Commission.

      Anyways, more to the point…

      Dear Ken Pulliam (and other unbelievers on this thread),

      I echo the words of John the Baptist who said something like “Repent!” For if you do not acknowledge, confess, and repent of your sins in whole-hearted, genuine faith to experience the joy and blessings of serving and obeying Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then yes, you will experience eternal torment by being eternally separated from God in Hell. Jesus’s death on the Cross was for your sins. Jesus’s resurrection was to give you victory over eternal torment.

      Whether that “wins” you to Christ or not, at least you can’t claim ignorance. And if you choose to end up in Hell, and whether everyone feels sorry for you, it won’t change the fact that you’re in Hell and enduring eternal torment.

      I pray that all unbelievers come to a saving faith and knowledge in Jesus Christ.

    • Michael T.

      First things first. I am not wholly convinced that the traditional understanding of Hell is the correct one. I lean that way because it seems to be the clearest reading of the Bible to me, but I have seen some pretty convincing argument other ways. Perhaps if I wasn’t raised the way I was I would buy them.

      That being said the most interesting thing I find about Hell is who people think should be there. If I were to ask the majority of people if Hitler, Stalin, or some other monster is in Hell just about everyone would say that of course they are. In fact many people would consider it a miscarriage of justice to get to heaven and find Hitler there waiting. However, once you start asking about them personally or unbelieving “good” people then you start to hear about how unjust Hell is. Ultimately it would seem many peoples problem with Hell isn’t the idea of Hell itself, but rather what causes you to be there.

    • ScottL

      I think what we might need more, from CMP or others, is a biblical look at the teaching on hell/hades/gehenna.

      We need to establish if statements like these can be fully supported from a biblical, first century understanding: eternal torment by being eternally separated from God in Hell.

    • teleologist

      I too have toyed with the idea of annihilation. One can even argue that the words that refer to the eternality of hell could apply to the unending nature of annihilation i.e., once annihilation, always annihilation. Ultimately I find annihilation unlikely because it is just less parsimonious than the orthodox view of hell.

      We all have our temptations to bring divine tribunals against our Maker. We all have our temptations to call him and his word into account. We all have those times when we want to judge God.

      I think the key is the realization of the distinction between Creator and creature. It is impossible for a person to be a Christian and not accept the doctrine of hell, simply because the Bible is unambiguously clear that all unbelievers will end up in hell. The key for me in wrapping my arms around this doctrine is that to recognize that we are creatures of the Creator. If we truly believe that we are created beings then all our moral values, compassion, justice, and all that we deem good must have been given to us by our Creator. This means that it is impossible for us to be more moral, more compassionate, more just than our God. I don’t think in our fallen nature we are capable of truly understanding how just the doctrine of hell is.

      The problem with the atheist is that he/she is completely out of plumb with the Creator. The atheists become their own gods and elevate their own judgment above that of their Creator. Outside of God there isn’t even an objective standard to judge if hell is good or bad.

    • Hodge

      “To me, the doctrine of an eternal hell would make God into a sadist.”

      Ken,

      Really? Someone who eternally must suppress chaotic agents in order to eternally save His people from them is a sadist? Whatever hell is, it is meant to keep chaotic agents from destroying others. If pain must exist in order to do so, then I don’t think God is unjust for doing it. In fact, I think it is the contrary. Likewise, if people are consumed by evil, then they are completely evil. How can what is good be evil for eternally hating evil? Rather than having indicted God because we don’t understand justice as those who are unjust, humility, once again, probably would have saved you from a fatal mistake. You no nothing about the place, event, or why God does X instead of Y, yet you’re willing to say He doesn’t exist because in ignorance you don’t like it. So be it, but I feel like your posts are beginning to be justification after justification for your disbelief.

    • Patrick Navas

      The traditional doctrine of “hell” (never-ending torture of immortal souls) is a false, unbiblical doctrine. The word “hell” itself is somewhat of a misnomer. Some translations used the word “hell” to translate three different words: hades (Heb. sheol), gehenna, and tartarus, which are actually proper names for specific places.

      I have 3 relatively brief articles refuting the traditional doctrine of hell from the Scriptures. One, by an associate of mine, is the best, concise treatment of this subject I have ever read.

      Please email me if you would like me to forward these articles to you.

      [email protected]

      Best wishes,

      Patrick Navas

    • Michael T.

      “Really? Someone who eternally must suppress chaotic agents in order to eternally save His people from them is a sadist?”

      If he created those chaotic agents and made them to be chaotic solely for the purpose of “suppressing” them through eternal conscious torment for the sake of his own glory, then yes that does seem to be the definition of a sadist to me.

    • teleologist

      Michael T.,

      What makes you think that you do not deserve to be eternally tormented?

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