Recently a reader named Ben, commenting on my posting of the hymn, Christ Shall Have Dominion, took issue with the concept of Hell. He says he believes, instead, in universal salvation, and that he has Scriptural warrant for it. I have invited him to explain his position. He is a guest in my cyber-living room, and I trust he will be treated accordingly.
Modern people, Christians included, are uncomfortable with the concept of everlasting punishment for sin. When we see a medieval painting of souls in torment in Hell, we would much rather see something else. Nevertheless, Hell is part of Christian doctrine.
Jesus Christ Himself mentions Hell sixteen times. I counted. He describes it as a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies–rather like a kind of spiritual landfill, where there’s always something burning and always vermin crawling around, gnawing on the contents. Not a nice image.
If there is no such place, then why does Jesus say there is? If it’s only a figure of speech–and there are plenty of them in the Bible–then what is Jesus talking about? If there is no Hell, then what is the sentence handed down on unrepenting sinners who refuse to accept their salvation in Christ?
Consider His parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16. The rich man is not being punished for being rich, but for being selfish and insensitive, turning a blind eye to real suffering that was literally at his doorstep and which he could have easily alleviated.
Some aspects of this parable are surely figurative speech; a parable, after all, is a story. Our Lord was, among many other things, a story-teller. So perhaps the conversation between the rich man in Hell and Abraham in Heaven is not meant to depict something that actually happens, but rather included to make the point.
But as for the rest of it–well, if the rich man is not in Hell, where is he? If he, too, is to be saved out of Hell, then why doesn’t Jesus say so?
Wherever there is true repentance, God provides forgiveness. This the Bible clearly teaches, throughout both Testaments. But where there is no repentance–not only a change of heart, but a change of behavior–there is judgment. The rich man in the parable changed neither his heart nor his behavior. For him, understanding comes too late–if it can be said to have ever come at all. Even in Hell, it looks like he still hasn’t learned his lesson.
God, says St. Peter, “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This is surely the ground on which universalism is based. But will all sinners come to repentance? In Revelation, they don’t repent even after God pours all sorts of terrible judgments on them.
That’s as far as I’m going to go today. Please, everyone, feel free to comment.
18 comments on “In Defense of Hell”
Literal flames or not, eternity apart from and away from God would truly be hell.
ABSOLUTELY. I tried to imagine it and felt such an immediate terror I can’t even describe. Never felt anything like it before about anything. No way will I sacrifice my salvation for any doctrinal interpretation.
Yes, never being able to see God after a person’s life is over is truly hell. And it does take God’s intervention through His Holy Spirit to cause a person to come to realize what the future holds for them if he or she rejects God’s Way of Salvation. I know that our defeated enemy plays down the reality of hell’s eternal fires and darkness through humanism and other “isms.” A few of my relatives and close friends are still unbelieving and have been on my prayer list. Some don’t see the need to get serious about God and the Bible and some just couldn’t care less and think that’s all myth and fairy tales.
Some in my family are still unbelievers too, Marge. My own sister claims to be an atheist. Anyone who knows unbelievers will recognize the all-knowing ‘you poor dear’ look that nearly always accompanies any mention of Our Lord, Heaven, or His gift of Salvation.
Scripture says, “it is appointed for man once to die, then the judgment.”
Judgement is described clearly enough to convince me that it is to be avoided with everything in me. It makes me shudder to think of being cast into outer darkness, let alone never ending flames. Just the knowledge that you have condemned yourself to this horror by being stubborn and incredibly stupid is enough.
When Abraham was living in the heathen land among idolaters, including his own family, saw that their ways did not make sense and he began to question the truth of it all, and to see that none of these idols were remotely capable of creating the universe. Even this questioning caused
God to take note of him and to call him to Himself and show him the way.
The Lord knew from before creating the universe who would and who would not come to Him and desire to be with Him.
Revelation 13:10 says it clearly. There are many people who are so filled with pride they cannot imagine bowing the knee to anyone- not even the Creator of the Universe. Very sad, and not pleasant to think about, but we all have to make a choice and even those like Abraham, living in a land of idolatry have only to question- they will receive answers.
“He is able to humble all who walk in pride.” (Daniel 4:37; CEB).
Note that: “ALL.”
Of course, it takes faith to believe that, and most people have little faith, which was true in Christ’s day as well.
As for repentance, God is the Author. See Acts 11:18; Romans 2:4; and II Timothy 2:25. Salvation, you see, is much too important a matter to be be left in the hands of men and women. Besides, if God didn’t do it all for us, then we would be able to boast in contributing to our salvation, but “it is debarred” (Romans 3:27; CLNT).
“What is left for us to brag about? Not a thing! Is it because we obeyed some law? No! It is because of faith” (same verse; CEV).
And where do we get faith?
God is the Author, it is His gift to us: Ephesians 2:8.
What are Jesus, the apostles, the prophets, and the psalmists talking about, then, when they speak of “Hell”?
I can’t think of the reference at present but it is eternal separation from God.
Yes, Marge, and the fires may just be eternal shame.
In the best translations of the Bible you will never find the words “forever,” “eternal,” or “everlasting.”
And neither Christ nor his apostles ever spoke of “hell.”
Nor did the apostle Paul. Which is why in the better translations of the Bible you will never find this word because it’s NOT biblical at all. It’s just a curse word used by the ignorant — and originated with the pagans.
The word Hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs sixty-four times, and is rendered “hell” thirty-two times, “grave” twenty-nine times, and “pit” three times.
“The English word may be in part from Old Norse mythological Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija “one who covers up or hides something”), in Norse mythology the name of Loki’s daughter who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl “mist”). A pagan concept and word fitted to a Christian idiom. In Middle English, also of the Limbus Patrum, place where the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc. awaited the Atonement. Used in the KJV for Old Testament Hebrew Sheol and New Testament Greek Hades, Gehenna. Used figuratively for “state of misery, any bad experience” since at least late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.”
The question remains: What does the Bible say happens to unrepentant sinners who refuse salvation in Christ? Do they come up for parole eventually?
God is not cruel. I believe that judgement is everlasting cutting off, alienation from God. I can’t believe that our loving God would proactively torture anyone with literal fire.
Jeremiah 32:35 “They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.”
Sacrifice to Molech involved fire, but such a thing never entered into God’s mind, according to this verse.
Torturing one’s adversaries is not even mentally healthy. Through life experience, I’ve learned that even when I’ve been wronged, the best thing for me to do is to move on. God takes no pleasure in negative judgement and I’m certain that even He, the Sovereign of the Universe will move on, after pronouncing judgement.
I think that the fate of those whom reject salvation will be simply to cease to exist forever. It is not a cruel,fate, in that it doesn’t involve endless torture, but it is an ultimate judgement, in that there is no going back. It would be as if that person had never lived, they would be forgotten for al eternity. No one will receive this judgment unjustly, it will only happen to the truly unrepentant and intransigent.
Someday, all of the ugliness of mankind’s fall will be behind us. We will have the restitution of all things and all life will be able to live as God originally intended. The bad memories will no longer trouble us. Isa 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” We won’t be troubled with thoughts of a loved one acquaintance being tormented forever. We will have let it all go and will move forward with no baggage.
All I say above is from my heart, from my deepest beliefs and stated with the deepest of respect for the viewpoints of others. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe that God will be proven as the very definition of love. Even those whom reject Him and the prospects of life that He offers, will not be able to shake God from His policy and path of love.
With regard to Universalism: I see it as an unlikely way for God to, proceed. He respects our free will, including the free will choice some may make to reject God. Person whom choose wickedness would not make good citizens in a world of righteousness. Endless second chances, “do-overs” and resets would be unfair to those whom choose obedience.
I’ve been ill the last few days (nothing serious, just annoying), so I’m not around as much, but I’m here when I can be.
Amen, Unknowable. You’ve thoughtfully articulated my belief as well.
Matt. 25:29-30; 46 (Jesus speaking)
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Sorry you’re not feeling well. Prayers for your quick recovery.
Thanks Linda. I’ll survive, but the last few days have been less than fun.
Critics of the Bible like to portray God as arbitrary and mean spirited. Nothing could be further from the truth. God IS love, but His love is not manifested by endless tolerance of badness. He has to be righteous in all matters and He is. His judgements will be governed by love and will be just. Even those He judges negatively will be treated fairly.
It’s like a child. Truly loving parents will draw the line and require their child to be obedient. They might forgive time and again, but they are doing their child no favor by allowing bad behavior without consequence. No decent parent takes pleasure in having to discipline an errant child, but sometimes that is the only loving course to take.
Get well soon, kimosabe.
God told Ezekiel that He takes no pleasure in it when the wicked perish.
But I would truly be surprised if Heaven turned out to be full of, say, people who taught their own children to be “transgender” so they themselves could have their 15 minutes of fame–and were not a bit sorry for it, but were busily trying to start up a transgender movement in Heaven.
I agree, wickedness is not the path to salvation. I believe that such persons will enter into cutting off, which is to say that they will cease to exist for all eternity. That is a horrible punishment, but does not equate to experiencing everlasting torture, which I believe to have its roots in pagan belief systems.
Being gone forever is plenty bad for my tastes.
Lee wrote a good question:
“What does the Bible say happens to unrepentant sinners who refuse salvation in Christ? Do they come up for parole eventually?”
The answer is that during the white throne judgment period sinners will be judged, some will be punished, yes, but “the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9) because God will transform their minds through the holy spirit; He will pour out His spirit “upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28).
Then, after “swift destruction” (II Peter 2:1) in the so-called ‘lake of fire’, God will resurrect them with new bodies, making them “all new” (Revelation 21:5). Don’t ignore this, “Behold” what God says (same verse)!