October 18, 2017

Open Mic: What Are You Hearing about Hell?

By Chaplain Mike

Yesterday’s Gospel story of Lazarus and the rich man raised some of the usual questions about the afterlife, the judgment, heaven and hell, and the eternal destinies of humans.

Today, over at Jesus Creed Scot McKnight is hosting some discussion the subject and I thought we might do the same. At this point, I would like to keep our discussion focused on two questions:

  1. What are you hearing in your church about final things? There is a sense that these subjects, especially the teaching of hell and eternal judgment, is out of vogue and not being emphasized. I’d like to know what your experience has been in your own faith communities.
  2. How has your thinking developed over the years regarding these doctrines? I’d like to hear about your journey of thinking about these things before God and what he says in the Bible has developed over the course of your Christian life.

Warning: this is one of those subjects where emotions can run hot, so to speak, so be careful.

  • Stick to the two questions above, and keep it civil.
  • Remember, this is a discussion, and although we may strongly disagree with what someone says, we want them to have the chance to say it. This is NOT the place for church discipline, it is an open forum discussion!
  • Don’t send links. If you have something you want to reference, give the information as fully as possible, and we can look it up.

And so (he said, trembling), let the discussion begin.

Comments

  1. Chaplain Mike,

    “There is a sense that these subjects, especially the teaching of hell and eternal judgment, is out of vogue and not being emphasized.”

    I am one who has this sense. Once the focus of much discussion these topics, particularly hell, get little pulpit time.

    The pastor at the church I attend handles these topics in a balanced fashion. I haven’t heard a sermon about hell for awhile, but the topic is discussed in a correct proportion.

    Everyone likes to talk about heaven.

    Most churches that I’ve been in speak of hell too little or too much. It seems like “too little” beats “too much” by a long shot these days.

    On the second question…

    Maybe some scholar can help my development.

    Regarding the eternal nature of hell, the first two verses in those listed below seem to conflict. They are from the NASB.

    “Everlasting” is in Daniel’s verse and “destroy” is in Matthew’s verse. Is there an answer for this?

    The 2 Thess. verse seems to be a toss up.

    Can anyone help me here?

    The last three verses seem clear. Hell is described as a place of fire away from the presence of the Lord.

    And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2

    And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matt. 10:28

    They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might… -2 Thess. 1:9

    But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. – Matt. 5:22

    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. 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. – Mark 9:44

    Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Rev. 20:15

    • {{Maybe some scholar can help my development.}}

      Well, I’m not a professional scholar (I don’t make my living doing scholarship), but…

      Rev 20:15 — I addressed this previously in the thread this morning (after you wrote). Details up there. Put shortly, this isn’t the end of the story. I would put this together with the super-important testimony of Mark 9, too. Speaking of…

      Mark 9:44 — It’s important to go on and finish out the whole thought with verses 49-50, where Jesus explains what, and who, that unquenchable fire in Gehenna is for. (For whom? For everyone. For what? For salting. So, salting is a hopelessly tragic thing? Nope, salting is the best of things, and leads to being at peace with one another. We’re supposed to seek to be salted by the unquenchable fire.)

      Also, as a supernaturalistic theist (and moreso as a trinitarian theist), I would add that there can be only one unquenchable consuming fire, namely our God Himself the Holy Spirit. Anything else amounts to cosmological dualism.

      Matt 5:22 — part of material repeated (at a different time and place) in Mark 9, and so is also qualified by the explanation of the fire’s scope and purpose in vv.49-50. (It’s better not to rebel against the fire, and so be punished by it; but the punishment still has salting as God’s goal. Doubtless not the goal of the impenitent sinner!–but I prefer to put my hope in God achieving His goals. {g})

      2 Thess 1:9 — the grammar there, in Greek, tends more to the “Godly whole-ruination” being ‘from’ as in ‘a result of’ God, not away from God. This notion has a lot of parallels elsewhere in the canon (especially the OT). Such an interpretation also has the advantage of fitting omnipresence doctrines (if those are properly established elsewhere) rather than contradicting them!

      That could still be eternal conscious torment, or annihilation, but it would be due to the concentrated presence of God. Again, as someone who considers omnipresence (and supernaturalistic theism) to be established doctrines, I’m not going to willingly go with an interpretation which denies that.

      Since total destruction is not necessarily hopeless in other texts, however (it can even be considered a necessary preliminary for repentance and restoration in some texts!), it need not necessarily be hopeless here either, even though hope for them isn’t being mentioned in this particular text.

      Dan 12 vs Matt 10 — the Hebrew term translated “everlasting” has much the same range of meaning as the Greek term applied for that word afterward, “eonian”; the safest broad interpretation would be that the object of the adjective is uniquely generated by God, or comes from God’s unique characteristics. It might continue on forever, but it might not either; still it comes from God Who does go on forever. (The use of the term is similar to using “Everlasting” as a euphamism for God.)

      In any case, the term “destroy” in Matt (and the Lukan parallel) has a pretty broad range of meaning within the concept of ruining. People living in (hopelessly) eternal conscious torment would still be destroyed, within that range of meaning. Then again, God can raise and restore those He destroys; which is a big theme in the OT. He can also save those who have been destroyed (whether by Him or by someone or something else); which is used as a pun (it works the same in Hebrew/Aramaic and in Jewish Greek) in the famous parables of the 100th sheep and the 10th coin. The exact same term is used there to describe the sheep and the coin. In the story-frame, they weren’t destroyed, only lost; but theologically their state amounts to the same thing.

      Anyway. Once the broad range of some key terms is acknowledged, there isn’t any conflict between Jesus (via report in GosMatt and GosLuke) and Daniel’s prophetic report. But that same broad range opens up options other than a hopeless result for the destroyed rebels, too. (A result like that of the lost sheep, for example, which the good shepherd goes out after and keeps after until He brings it home and completely restores all His flock. {g})

      JRP

      • {{In the story-frame, they weren’t destroyed, only lost; but theologically their state amounts to the same thing.}}

        Followup: ditto for the prodigal son, who once was destroyed (lost) but now is found!

        In the story itself he wasn’t dead, but he was going through a hellish punishment for his sins, which led to his repentance and restoration with his father. (Which his elder brother had serious trouble about!) At any rate, in the analogy of the parable he was “dead” but now is “alive”.

        JRP

        • Jason,

          I followed your link to the Christian Universalist site and then noticed that you identified yourself above with the name.

          Is it true that you believe in the reality of an afterlife without the existence of a hell?

          I found this definition at Wikipedia.

          If this is your belief, how can you square this with so many references to hell in scripture?

          • Chris,

            Some universalists (call them “ultra-universalists”) do deny any existence of hell in the afterlife; and we have some who post at the Evangelical Universalist forum. But neither I, nor the other guest authors (Robin Parry, chief editor at Paternoster Press in Britain; Thomas Talbott), nor the admins, nor most of the mods, are ultra-u’s.

            So the short answer is, actually I do very strongly believe in post-mortem hell. I just don’t believe hell is hopeless. (I even acknowledge it’s technically possible for someone never to leave God’s punishment, whether before or after the general resurrection. But I think there is scriptural testimony scattered here and there that God will eventually save everyone from sin; it may take eons of the eons, but it won’t be a permanent stalemate, and God won’t ever give up on it.)

            Put another way, yes I agree there are numerous references to post-mortem punishment of the impenitently wicked (both before and after the general resurrection), and I take those very seriously.

            Ultra-universalists… well, I’m not sure I’m the best person to try to represent their case, because while I allow they have some good points I don’t think their exegesis of the hell scriptures holds up under analysis. They tend to be preterist, though: they think the prophecies of punishment for all the impenitent wicked were only about mid-first-century Jews in Palestine and were completely fulfilled with the overthrow of the Temple and the sack of the city in 70CE. Alternately, or sometimes along with that, they also tend to be very strong proponents of penal substitution, and so appeal to the idea that the Son has already been completely punished by the Father (despite being innocent) for all sins, so that there can be no more wrath of God.

            I don’t hold that notion of penal substitution (which, among other things, I consider technically contrary to trinitarian theology. I’d still say the same thing whether I was a universalist or not, btw.) And I really have no idea how some of them manage to combine both notions in their thinking (that Christ has already paid all God’s wrath through His punishment, and that all God’s wrath has been spent at Jerusalem in 70.)

            Fortunately not my problems. {g}

            (To clarify: with most conservative commentors (I think) I do consider some of Christ’s prophecies to be about the fall of Jerusalem, maybe some of them solely so; but I also consider them to have a larger scope in view with multiple fulfillments to be accomplished along the way, with the fall of Jerusalem only partially fulfilling those prophecies. Multiple-range fulfillment is pretty standard in biblical prophecy, of course.)

            JRP

          • Thank you for sharing your position and that of the “ultras.” I appreciate the effort.

            I do have a question. You wrote:

            “But I think there is scriptural testimony scattered here and there that God will eventually save everyone from sin; it may take eons of the eons, but it won’t be a permanent stalemate, and God won’t ever give up on it.”

            Can you share an example of these scriptures?

          • Chris: {{Can you share an example of these scriptures?}}

            (I would have answered in topical line of your question, but we seem to have broken blogger’s comment-nesting system!–there was no “reply” button available back up to this point in the thread.)

            It so happens that my singles group will be covering one of the more famous examples tonight at church: Philippians 2:9-11; itself an application of Isaiah 45:23 (among other things) to the coming total triumph of Jesus. “For this reason [having humbled Himself to obedient death, even death on a cross], God also highly exalts Him, and in joy freely gives Him the name that is above every name–that in the name of Jesus every knee should [or shall] be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, into the glory of God the Father.”

            Even non-universalist commenters and interpreters typically agree that this scope is meant to be absolutely extensive with no reservations or holdouts; thus it’s common to find non-universalists (when they remember to reckon with verses like this, of which there are several others, both OT and NT) claiming on the basis of such verses that even those impenitent rebels hopelessly damned will be forced to acknowledge, grudgingly though that will be, that Jesus is Lord. (i.e., they aren’t just sequestered off in some pocket dimension away from God’s omnipresence–as if that was possible–nor annihilated out of existence. Or not yet anyway.)

            There are several technical problems with that doctrinal interpretation, though.

            1.) Paul himself is adamant elsewhere that only someone in loyal communion with the Holy Spirit (not under anathema) can confess Christ as Lord.

            2.) Paul’s insistence on this makes perfect sense, because the term being used here, which I translated “acclaim” (following Knoch, for example), is itself a technical term that tends to be applied in cases where the doer of the verb is praising God as a loyalist. Not as a grudging rebel holdout, still rebelling in his heart. Moreover, the use of the term in scripture typically involves praising God for His mighty saving victories!

            3.) When Paul writes on this same topic toward the end of another famous paragraph of scripture (Col 1:9-20), the context is very explicitly God’s reconciliation with all things to Himself, making peace through the blood of the cross. And Paul is also extremely emphatic about just how far “the all” goes–an emphasis that is closely connected to the absolute ultimate deity of the Son in Shema unity with the Father. “For in Him the-all is created, that in the heavens and that on the earth; the visible and the invisible; whether thrones, or lordships, or sovereignties, or authorities… whether those on the earth or those in the heavens.”

            Those verses Paul is borrowing from Isaiah involve much the same topical points. The Lord God is calling together the rebels both of Israel and of the fugitive nations, presenting His absolute Lordship as a righteous God and a Savior as something they can reasonably arrive at a conclusion about due to something–at least due to God’s total salvation of Israel in the Day of the Lord to come (vv.16-17)–and though they are now fugitives walking behind the victorious Lord in chains (and making supplication to Israel victorious in God), God still invites them to turn to Him and be saved (v.22). Then He prophecies that this will surely happen: “I have sworn by Myself / the Word has gone forth from My Mouth in righteousness / and will not turn back / that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue shall swear allegience [the connotation of the verb for swearing in Hebrew there]. They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength!’ Men will come to Him and all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.”

            True, some will be put to shame first — the text is quite clear about that. But that includes the rebel offspring of Israel! And yet, they will be saved, justified and glory in the Lord. And the Lord clearly offers the same salvation to all the nations. When He prophecies therefore that all will swear loyal allegience to Him, He is talking about them being incorporated into the total salvation of Israel.

            So again the same topical points: (a) salvation even of the worst rebels; (b) the salvation is total in scope; (c) Israel and the Gentiles are ultimately in the same boat, as rebels, as objects of defeated subjugation to God, and as objects of salvation and restoration; and the strongest possible prophecy of God’s total salvific victory. (As the Hebraist notes in chapter 6 of his epistle, also in regard to the surety of God’s salvation, God swears by Himself because He has nothing greater to swear by!)

            This could be greatly expanded upon, of course. These sorts of things can be found in other prophets than Isaiah (though he may be the most routinely emphatic about it), and in other apostolic authorities than Paul (including John and Peter, in their own ways). Jesus has some things to say along this line as well, per the Gospel reports.

            JRP

          • Jason,

            First, Phil 2:9-11 does not identify the confessors as saved or unsaved.

            Second, on your first point, check out Matt. 7:21. Jesus – “Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” Looking at this verse along with the verse you note it seems to me that Paul is speaking of true confession, not just words as Jesus notes.

            Third, your second point strengthens the point I have just made.

            Fourth, the scripture you quote in your third point is awesome. There is no question that Jesus has reconciled “all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross. Does that negate the “narrow road” verse? May it never be. There is no question that the cross has the power to remove “all” sin. Why some reject that power is a mystery. If you continue reading, verse 23 states “if.” It is a big “if” in my view.

            I agree with much of what you say in the rest of the post, except for where you are going with it.

            There is no clear evidence in scripture that eventually all will wind up in heaven.

          • Chris: {{First, Phil 2:9-11 does not identify the confessors as saved or unsaved.}}

            The word ‘saved’ or ‘unsaved’ doesn’t show up there, no. The word ‘incarnation’ doesn’t show up in the paragraph previous to it either, but the contexts still add up to an incarnation of the Son.

            I gave extensive reasons for why the confessors should be regarded as saved. I can give some more though!

            The term being used in Phil 2 (which I translated “acclaim”) is always used elsewhere in the NT (not even counting the Septuagint, or comparison with contemporary Greek usage), in a sense of cooperation and faithful agreement (even when God is absolutely not who is being agreed with). There is certainly no context of Phil 2 which would count against it meaning the exact same thing there. It’s a specially emphatic version of a word which has several varieties in the NT–none of which involve mere technical acknowledgment, so far as I recall offhand; but I can verify that this particular term never means that anywhere else.

            It’s used for penitent confession of sins (Matt 3:6/Mark 1:5, Acts 19:18, James 5:16; all of which have salvation and returning to loyalty with God in positive view, not confessing sins in some rebellious way); the pagans glorifying God for His saving mercy (thus converting from their idolatry, Rom 15:9-12, using the term v.9 while quoting Psalm 18:49); warning against judging our brother in Christ since we all shall confess and praise God before His seat of judgment (Rom 14:7-12 plus contexts; using the term v.11 in quoting that same Isaiah 45 statement as he does in Phil 2); Christ praising the Father (Matt 11:25/Luke 10:21); and, for that matter, Judas teaming up in agreement with the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:6)!

            Put more simply, if the term everywhere else (even with Judas in regard to enemies of God) means agreeable cooperation in loyalty; and if nothing in the context of Phil 2 goes against that; and if Paul is quoting OT scripture there concerning loyal praise of God (not merely technical acknowledgement); then it’s going to be hard to find a reason to even suppose the term means merely technical acknowledgment there at Phil 2 (such that saved and unsaved both could be said to be doing it).

            As it happens, you appear to agree with that, too! {g}

            {{Looking at this verse [Matt 5] along with the verse you note [Phil 2] it seems to me that Paul is speaking [in Phil 2] of true confession, not just words as Jesus notes [in Matt 7].}}

            So we agree Paul is speaking of true confession there. (Maybe it’s the scope you disagree about…???)

            We also agree that this isn’t the same kind of technical acknowledgment Jesus is talking about in Matt 7. (About which several other similar testimonies could be referenced, too.)

            {{Second, on your first point, check out Matt. 7:21. Jesus – “Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…”}}

            A text I am extremely well aware of, thank you! {g} Adducing it certainly has no bearing against Phil 2 meaning a lot more than mere technical acknowledgment.

            Put another way: if Phil 2 (and some similar texts) are talking about absolutely everyone eventually confessing God loyally, this does not in the least contradict Jesus’ warning that not everyone who calls Him Lord (even with the double-deity emphasis occasionally used in OT forms, and even when they have done many miraculous good deeds in His name!–thus apparently bearing ‘good fruit’ by typical standards) is actually loyally following Him. They might still be in rebellion against Him, and slated for being thrown into the fire. But if that isn’t the end of their story, then they can eventually arrive at the fulfillment of Phil 2.

            One text warns that technical acknowledgment (and mere technical service, even where empowered miraculously by God) can still be done in rebellion; the other text prophecies that eventually absolutely all souls will be loyally professing God. One state of affairs logically precedes the other state of affairs. Either the ones who are cut down and burned for rebellion eventually repent and become loyal to God, fulfilling the prophecy of Phil 2 (and Isaiah 45, not incidentally); or God decides that those who are in fact loyally praising Him are not in fact loyally praising Him and so throws them into the fire where they will never loyally praise Him, basically voiding the whole prophecy of Phil 2 at every level.

            I say go with the one that makes the most logical sense. I recommend the first option. {g}

            {{Third, your second point strengthens the point I have just made.}}

            Obviously I agree. {g}

            {{Fourth, the scripture you quote in your third point is awesome. There is no question that Jesus has reconciled “all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross.”}}

            I am willing to point out, by the way, that the most grammatically accurate translation of the Colossians verse is “through Him the entire complement [of deity, per 2:9] delights to dwell, and through Him to reconcile the-all into Him.”

            It’s about God’s intentions and actions. The verse itself doesn’t say God has already reconciled everyone to Himself, nor that He certainly will one day, only that He delights to do so. But it shows the total scope of God’s intentions and action through the cross, and what the goals are (making peace through the blood of the cross). The total scope was why I reffed it; not as testimony that it had been completed or will be.

            {{Does that negate the “narrow road” verse?}}

            I don’t believe it does. But that isn’t where we have our difference. I don’t believe the destruction of Matt 5:13 is hopeless; but rather that, under God (and as applied by God) it can and does and will lead the sinner to repentance and reconciliation with God, thus to the fulfillment of (among other things) Phil 2.

            {{If you continue reading, verse [Col 1:]23 states “if.” It is a big “if” in my view.}}

            That’s the human side of the relationship, yes. Those who don’t persist in God’s reconciliation will be estranged from God (even estranged from Him again) and so not in reconciliation with God. But human unfaithfulness doesn’t affect God’s fidelity one iota. It is sinners who refuse to act in reconciliation, or who stop acting in reconciliation. God, the One Who is good, doesn’t refuse to reconcile, and doesn’t stop acting to reconcile.

            {{There is no clear evidence in scripture that eventually all will wind up in heaven.}}

            Well, you ended up not disagreeing at all with the exegesis of Phil 2 (as far as I can tell), so I don’t know why you’re saying that that doesn’t count as clear evidence. You may think it’s trumped by testimony elsewhere, but that’s rather different than Phil 2 itself being clear evidence (so far as it goes). And you didn’t explain how or why any evidence elsewhere trumps it. Matt 7 is talking about something very different (as we both agree), which can easily fit within the clear testimony of Phil 2 (and which is exemplified by the quote from Isaiah Paul is making at Phil 2, not incidentally); whereas it can only trump Phil 2 if it completely voids the clear meaning of Phil 2 that you yourself agreed about.

            Other things being equal, I prefer the exegesis that doesn’t annihilate big parts of itself. {g}

            JRP

          • Jason,

            I think a good summary of out discussion would be your statement:

            “I don’t believe it does. But that isn’t where we have our difference?”

            I think we understand the basics of each others position.

            I’ve enjoyed the “discussion,” although I admit concern for those whom you are teaching.

            You would probably same the same thing about me.

            God’s blessings,

            Chris

      • Jason,

        Thank you for your opinion and for trying to help me understand.

        I am in disagreement with you over Mark 9. Yes, everyone is salted by fire per our Savior’s Words in verse 49. It cannot be the unquenchable fire since not everyone is going to hell. The fire of verse 49 has to be a different fire than the fire of verses 43,45, and 47.

        When you write:

        “We’re supposed to seek to be salted by the unquenchable fire”

        you have concluded something that I don’t see. In fact, I see exactly the opposite, since we are told it would be better to lose a hand, foot, or eye than to be cast into hell (v.43,45,47).

        You also wrote:

        That could still be eternal conscious torment, or annihilation, but it would be due to the concentrated presence of God. Again, as someone who considers omnipresence (and supernaturalistic theism) to be established doctrines, I’m not going to willingly go with an interpretation which denies that.

        I appreciate your help with the Daniel, Matthew, and 2 Thess. verses, and your honesty about not being sure about the eternal torment or annihilation.

        One question: How would you define supernaturalistic theism?

        Thanks…

        • Chris,

          Thanks for the questions!

          In regard to verse 49 referring to the unquenchable fire, this is simply a grammatic inference from the post-positive {gar} in Greek for that sentence, translated in English (quite properly, and commonly) as “For”. It means that the sentence has close topical relation to the preceding one, especially where the subjects overlap. In this case the obvious subject is the fire.

          I suspect Mark shortened the historical report there by omitting a recap of the 100th sheep parable, which Matthew (or the Matthean author) retains for that scene while omitting the salting-with-fire saying. The “For” would still link the fire (and the goal of that fire) topically back through that parable to the fire of the previous saying, though. Replacing the 100th sheep parable back into its place would add complexity to the exegesis, but would ultimately reinforce the scope and persistence of God’s salvation. Mark’s account extends the operation of the fire to everyone and explains its goal; Matt’s account extends Christ’s “little ones” to (what appears to be) the totality of fallen sinners, of whom Christ is not willing that even one should perish. Contextually, that would in fact (if unexpectedly) include the ones ensnaring one of the little ones who already believe in Christ.

          I think it’s also pertinent that, in GosMatt, after Jesus repeats some instructions about church discipline (which Matthew might or might not have ported over there for topical relevance), and the scene is over, there is an epilogue where Peter comes back and tries to find some limit beyond which he doesn’t have to forgive his brother anymore. Christ’s warning about looking for such limits is one of the harshest denunciations in the scriptures: the parable of the unforgiving servant!

          Any theology that interprets Mark 9/Matt 18 (and similar condemnation sayings) in a way to put limits on God’s seeking to save sinners, beyond which He is hopelessly unforgiving, has just this parable to face in answer to, I think. (And Mark 9:50a, which involves a small parable about unsalty salt, could easily be a way of saying the same thing another way: taking the salt out of the goal of the Gehenna fire, rendering it unsalty, makes it worthy of only being trampled underfoot by men!)

          {{It cannot be the unquenchable fire since not everyone is going to hell.}}

          Not everyone is going to hell; but you might have noticed that a big theme of my answer in some of your other refs was that the omnipresence of God should not be denied!–and will be apparently becoming very intense.

          There is no escape from the Holy Spirit–our God the consuming fire. Including to some other supposedly-also-unquenchable fire. (That would be cosmological dualism of some kind.) That part really shouldn’t be theologically debatable, not among supernaturalistic theists. (More on your question there in the next comment.)

          It’s the same fire, with the same operation and the same goals. How people interact with the fire, is the big difference.

          JRP

          • Jason,

            Thanks for sharing your position. I don’t agree with it, however.

            You wrote:

            “In regard to verse 49 referring to the unquenchable fire, this is simply a grammatic inference from the post-positive {gar} in Greek for that sentence, translated in English (quite properly, and commonly) as “For”. It means that the sentence has close topical relation to the preceding one, especially where the subjects overlap. In this case the obvious subject is the fire.”

            Even if this is the case, I don’t see how it changes the meaning of the text. Clearly, at least to me, there is no evidence that:

            “We’re supposed to seek to be salted by the unquenchable fire.”

            Verses 43, 45, and 47 tell me that we are to do anything to avoid the unquenchable fire.

            Your second paragraph makes it appear (“would add complexity to the exegesis”) that you are bending the scriptures to say something they don’t.

            Regarding paragraph three, one could view the parable you mention in an opposite manner. Those who don’t forgive will be judged. Nowhere in the parable, however, is eternal judgment mentioned.

            In paragraph four, your “in a way” is a very subjective three words. In no way would I attempt to put limits on God’s seeking to save sinners since I don’t think there is a case in scripture for it.

            Finally, you write:

            “It’s the same fire, with the same operation and the same goals. How people interact with the fire, is the big difference.”

            If I understand correctly, how a person interacts with the fire will determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, a person will not stay there and will eventually be redeemed.

          • Chris: {{Verses 43, 45, and 47 tell me that we are to do anything to avoid the unquenchable fire.}}

            So, how many unquenchable fires are there, beside God? If I say “none”, I think I’m being extremely faithful to the unique and total superiority of our God, the consuming fire!

            We cannot avoid God, and surely it is not disputable that we should seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit–often represented as the fire of God, including in the scriptures.

            We should of course avoid the wrath of God, but I am not disputing that.

            So either the unquenchable fire is the wrath of God in and as the Holy Spirit (which is what I believe), or there is some other unquenchable fire beside God (maybe an equally independent fire created by God???)–a position I am going to strongly dispute against as someone who believes orthodox trinitarian theism is true. (Just as I would deny that the Holy Spirit is an entity substantially distinct from God, created by God, yet ontologically equal to God.)

            Whether or not the fire is the Holy Spirit Himself, however, the grammar still states very clearly what the fire of Gehenna is for: salting everyone. Of course we should avoid the wrath of God (and take personal responsibility for our sins, not make excuses about them, which is one of the points to the imagery about ripping out eyes and hands and feet). But the wrath still has salting in view. Nor can it be disputed (which I don’t think you’re disputing) that we should have salt in ourselves and so be at peace with one another. How does the salt get there? By the fire!–i.e. by the Holy Spirit. I don’t think this can be feasibly disputed either. (Surely the salt doesn’t get there by some other unquenchable fire than the Holy Spirit!?)

            Put more shortly: yes, we should avoid Gehenna, a state of punishment from God for the rebellion. That’s the primary emphasis of avoidance in the text, too, not-incidentally (“than to be thrown into Gehenna”). No, we shouldn’t avoid our God the consuming fire. It’s impossible to succeed in avoiding the omnipresent anyway! But the fire (of God) has the same object whether toward the penitent in Gehenna or toward the impenitent who avoid Gehenna: salting.

            That’s what I arrive at when I put all the contexts together.

            {{Your second paragraph makes it appear (“would add complexity to the exegesis”) that you are bending the scriptures to say something they don’t.}}

            It’s strange that you should say so, since the paragraph you quoted was about harmonizing together what one scripture says there that the other scripture doesn’t say, and vice versa. If you put the two Synoptics together on this (GosLuke doesn’t mention this part of the scene at all), you’re going to have more data, and so naturally the exegesis of that more-data will be more complex.

            If I’m reporting and accounting for more of what the scriptures themselves say about that scene, I don’t see how that counts as bending the scriptures to say something they don’t say. (Except in the trivial sense that GosMatt says nothing about salting everyone with fire, in topical relation to the fire of Gehenna or otherwise; and GosMark says nothing there about the parable of the 100th sheep or Jesus’ smackdown of Peter’s attempt to find an acceptable limit to the hope of forgiveness. You needn’t complain to me about those omissions. {lopsided g})

            Anyway, you didn’t mention what it seems I’m bending the scriptures to say about, in that paragraph, so moving on…

            {{Regarding paragraph three, one could view the parable you mention in an opposite manner. Those who don’t forgive will be judged.}}

            I’m pretty sure that this is exactly how I viewed it. {wry g} And then I put that notion into contextual play: those who interpret what Jesus quotes from Isaiah (in both Gospels; also back at the Sermon of the Mount, of course) had better not do so in a way to deny God’s forgiveness, or they’re going to be in the position at least of Peter (and maybe in the position of the unforgiving servant).

            {{Nowhere in the parable [of the unforgiving servant], however, is eternal judgment mentioned.}}

            Not in so many words, nope. But the unforgiving servant will be staying in torment until he pays the final cent; and non-universalist interpreters do (rather ironically) have a habit of reading hopeless, eternally ongoing punishment into that parable anyway–denying any hope of forgiveness for the unforgiving servant.

            What the parable does say, is that those who refuse forgiveness in regard to others, will not be given forgiveness themselves in regard to their own sins–not until they pay the final cent. The parable doesn’t explicitly say what that final cent is, but it hints as strongly as possible what it is! (“Was it not also required of you to…?!” “So also shall your Father in the heavens be doing to you, each one of you, unless…”)

            {{In no way would I attempt to put limits on God’s seeking to save sinners since I don’t think there is a case in scripture for it.}}

            Excellent! So you in fact agree that God continues seeking to save sinners in Gehenna, then? Including in regard to Mark 9/Matt 18?

            Because if you don’t, then you are in fact putting limits (“in a way”) on God’s seeking to save sinners.

            (Whereas, if you do agree with that, then I really don’t know why you’re disagreeing with me earlier on Mark 9/Matt18. And why you aren’t a universalist.)

            {{If I understand correctly, how a person interacts with the fire will determine whether or not a person goes to hell.}}

            Keeping in mind that I mean “the Holy Spirit; our God the consuming fire” by “the fire” (because I think, from larger contexts, that’s what Jesus and the apostles mean, too). Even Calvinists agree that how a person interacts with the Holy Spirit determines whether or not the person is punished by the Holy Spirit–when they’re talking about the elect. Of course they’re talking about hopeful punishment when they do so; for the elect, they have no problem distinguishing punishment and so agreeing that if God doesn’t save us from punishment He still will surely succeed in saving us from sin. Arminians generally agree, but extend that to the non-elect, too; in fact they agree even more strongly (beyond what a Calvinist would accept), since they consider hopeless condemnation to hell a result of rejecting the Holy Spirit and (thereby) God’s salvation. (Calvs would usually say God, and so the Holy Spirit, never had anything at all to do with the non-elect, only with the elect–whom God will persist in saving. The non-elect are not condemned, in broadly Calvinistic theology, based on how they interact with the Holy Spirit, but because God never gives them the Holy Spirit to interact with at all.)

            Consequently, whether with Calvs or with Arms (though in different ways), I certainly affirm that how a person interacts with God will determine whether that person is punished by God; and with the Arms (though not the Calvs) I would include determination of whether or not a person goes to hell. Rebellion against God’s authority leads to zorching by God in His authority.

            I also believe (from the scriptures, too) that how a person interacts with God will determine whether that person will continue being punished post-mortem, either before or after the general resurrection.

            What I don’t believe is that the goal of God’s punishment is determined by how a person interacts with God. (In this, the Calvs would agree with me and I with them, as it happens, in principle though not in scope; they believe God has different operational goals of punishment in relation to the elect and to the non-elect, though still within the overarching goals, or goal, of God.) God determines His goals (even from eternity), and will act to carry them out, including in punishment; any alteration of result is not an alteration of God’s goal–indeed the alteration of result (returning to loyalty instead of rebellion) is itself the goal (at least for the elect)–and occurs within the range permitted by God’s sovereignty.

            Calvs and Arms disagree with one another on scope and intention (at the operational level anyway, though not at the strategic level, so to speak); but I agree with both of them (including against each other {g}).

            But put very over-simply: yes, I believe how a person interacts with the unquenchable fire (of God’s Holy Spirit) determines whether or not they go to Gehenna; and whether or not they come out. I do not believe that how a person interacts with the unquenchable fire determines the goals of that unquenchable fire, whether the person is in or out of Gehenna.

            Just like I believe that how the servant in the parable interacts with his king determines (within the sovereignty of the king) whether he will go into prison and torment or not; and whether he will come out.

            JRP

          • Jason,

            Verses 43, 45, and 47 tell me that we are to do anything to avoid the unquenchable fire. Do you not agree?

            You wrote:

            “So, how many unquenchable fires are there, beside God? If I say “none”, I think I’m being extremely faithful to the unique and total superiority of our God, the consuming fire!”

            Where is God described as an unquenchable fire? “Consuming fire,” yes, but “unquenchable fire?” Please show me.

            Please don’t put words into my mouth, so to “speak.”

            You wrote:

            “Excellent! So you in fact agree that God continues seeking to save sinners in Gehenna, then? Including in regard to Mark 9/Matt 18?”

            By throwing in the words “in Gehenna,” you have completely changed the meaning of my words.

            You wrote:

            “But put very over-simply: yes, I believe how a person interacts with the unquenchable fire (of God’s Holy Spirit) determines whether or not they go to Gehenna; and whether or not they come out.”

            Again, you have used a term that I don’t see in scripture. Where is the Holy Spirit called the “unquenchable fire?”

            And here is a major disagreement…There is no place in God’s Word, to my knowledge, where anyone escapes hell once there. If you know of an example, please share it with me.

        • {{I appreciate your help with the Daniel, Matthew, and 2 Thess. verses, and your honesty about not being sure about the eternal torment or annihilation.}}

          Actually, I’m quite sure that neither ECT nor annihilation is true (including in regard to those verses)–though of course I might be wrong. {g}

          However, I also try to be strictly accurate about the data, so I’m obligated to note that in 2 Thess (also in the Matt verse you mentioned; I don’t recall about Daniel offhand) no hope for those being destroyed is immediately in view. But there are plenty of times in the scriptures when a partial doctrinal set is being referenced instead of a fuller set as found elsewhere in the scriptures (or by adding up scriptural contexts). It is not usually normal comparative exegetics to read the lesser in constraint against the greater. (Admittedly, that might be a proper exegetic in a particular case, but I would want to see reasons for why. Surely it wouldn’t be the first option by default, though!)

          {{How would you define supernaturalistic theism?}}

          In great detail. {g}

          But for purposes of this discussion: a metaphysic which claims the foundational fact of all reality is actively rational (that’s the “theism” part); which claims systems of reality exist that are not this actively rational foundational reality (i.e. not-God natures exist); and which claims these not-God systems and entities all depend for their existence on the continuing action of this rational foundation. Consequently, the action of God is continually present, and in full state-knowledge of, all points of any derivative existence, even if that existence is not itself God.

          If God created a not-God reality that continued existing without His active upkeep, then He would have created an equally independent self-existent entity substantially different from Himself. Aside from this being self-contradictory (an equally, thus ultimately independent self-existent entity would not be generated by something other than itself, even in a temporal past action), it would also mean that two substantially separate but ontologically equal entities are now sharing a common framework of reality; in which case that common framework is the real IF (Independent Fact), not the entity we were mistaking to be “God”.

          The Judeo-Christian scriptures, relatedly, testify that nothing is equal to God, nor does anything exist beside (much moreso above!) God; God depends on nothing for existence, but is the uniquely “Living” God, “I AM THAT I AM”; all things live to Him; He creates all things, all things are for and by and through Him, and by Him all things continually hold together; whether things in the heavens, or things on earth, or things under the earth.

          JRP

          • Jason,

            Again, thank you for trying to explain your beliefs to me. I don’t know if I understand them completely, but I have a better picture.

            I have two questions and they relate to the hell question.

            How do you explain the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:32-46 in light of your view on hell?

            A few verses from the selection:

            “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for your from the foundation of the world.” (34)

            “The He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…” (41)

            And secondly,

            Will someone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the only Messiah, eventually end up in heaven?

  2. Sometimes it’s hard to tell God apart from the Devil.

    • I’m not sure what you mean, but I pray that you get to understand the vast difference.

      I’m not sure if your judging God based off the actions of His believers, but don’t let any of us put a bad taste in your mouth; experience Him for yourself!

      • I mean that if God sends me to hell, even then I will refuse to bow before him. And if he forces me to my knees, he will be receiving his own worship, not mine. “The mind is its own place…”

    • Interesting point…. how would we describe a being who who would torture you forever for not believing the right things in the brief moment of time that is this life? Keeping in mind that the acts you commit are irrelevant to this being, who only cares if you acknowledged his son as God because it was in a book.

      • Fish,

        We are saved by grace, but our acts are not irrelevant. Paul mentions these two things over and over.

        Is that something difficult for your mind to grasp?

        You are not alone.

        At some point, a Christian must take a step of faith; he/she must lean not on his/her own understanding.

        God is Just. It is stated time and time again in the scriptures.

        If I understand your comment correctly, you are questioning God. It is something that Job did although my guess is that he was more righteous than you. I know he was more righteous than I.

        Your critique seems so much harsher than Job’s.

        Either God is Just or He is not. I believe He is because the Bible says He is.

        Either there is a hell or there is not. I believe there is because the Bible says so.

        Some things cannot be explained. They must be taken on faith.

        I hope that, in the end, you see things as Job did in the end.

        • If there is a hell, then the devil was right to raise high the Pitchfork of Accusation saying, “You are a mere tyrant–powerful, but unworthy of worship.”

        • Sorry, but “faith, not works” is a standard platform for most American Christian doctrine. You know, like the bumper sticker says – Christians aren’t better than anyone else, they’re just forgiven.

          Personally, I go with James when he says show me your works and I’ll know your faith, and if there’s a hell, Jesus gave us the guidelines for avoiding it in Matthew 25.

          My faith does not rest on the Bible, but in Christ. It rests not in a book written, translated, edited and interpreted by man, but in the Word that became flesh.

          God can certainly handle a few questions, He being God. And certainly I question how putting a soul in eternal torment for, say, being born in Saudi Arabia, loving God and neighbor, but not believing Jesus was His son, can be called justice by any stretch of the imagination. Punishment, yes. Justice, no.

    • I can’t answer 1.) as I’m not a regular church goer. And in the few visits I’ve made, I’ve never heard mention of hell.

      While I’m uncertain on the existence of God, I don’t believe in the afterlife. I don’t feel this post is the proper place to write about that, but if so desired, I can expand on that.

      One of my former students had this to say when I asked her about hell, “I believe at the end, we will face Jesus and have a final chance to repent. And no one would be dumb enough to reject him then.”

      What I’ve seen in the Bible about hell (granted, I’ve never been able to get through Acts, I always fall asleep – something that irritated an evangelical girlfriend whose name came from Acts) it seems that the eternal reward does not come immediately after death, but instead upon the return of Jesus. That the dead will be resurrected at that point in time, but prior to that will not be enjoying eternal life in heaven. Also at that time, the damned are cast into hell. Am I reading this wrong? Does my failure to finish Acts hurt my comprehension on the subject? There are plenty of places in the Bible where we are told what actions save or damn us (most notably Matthew 5:35-46), but very few places where what heaven and hell are like or how and when one goes there are mentioned. Or am I missing something fundamental here (no pun intended)?

      • Er, that was supposed to go into the general comment thread. I’m going to double post- if an admin person sees this, can you delete the above?

        Thanks and I appologize for the inconvenience.

      • Then you worship power, not holiness. If Satan wins the war and gives you the same choice, will you bow before Him?

    • DreamingWings says:

      Amen to that. If people saw a ruthless human dictator who tortured every person who disagreed with him they’d call said dictator a monster and justly condemn him. But suddenly behavior much, much worse is attributed to God and it becomes holy and justifiable. One of the few reasons that I’m grateful I was raised in the Seventh Day Adventist church is that they completely and vehemently reject any notion of a hell of eternal torment. And also, thanks for mentioning the nonsense of Divine Command theory. I was highly fortunate to take a college ethics class where it was used as a discussion point, and easily torn to shreds, on the first day. Immensely helpful with continuing escape from fundamentalism.

    • Max, the difference is easy. This may also answer some of the comments made by Fish as well.
      The difference is in the essence of who each of them are.

      The embodiment of evil, the devil, satan, whatever you wish to label it, pulls things inward, like a black hole. It is negation. It focuses on self and self only.
      The essence of God and his power sends things forth, as light shining from the sun. It focuses on all else, quite the antithesis of the aforementioned. God works as unselfish love does, spreading health to everything that it encounters; hence God is Love.

      I didn’t get this from a book, at least all of it anyway. This is what I’ve learned from earnestly searching for spiritual truth all my life. Yes, I even left church for a time and looked at different religions. I came back to Jesus because he is the one that loved the most of all the prophets, even unto death.

      So if this is true, and established, and we know that God is the epitome of goodness, then we may deduce that he is “right”. If that is case, then what He says is right, just, true, etc. Who are we, as a creation to question our creator? This question may offend you, but look at it as a matter of perspective. There are things we don’t see, don’t know, can’t feel, etc. There are energies that exist that we don’t understand, even if we can quantify them. You get the point. God can see these things. In addition to being Love, he can also see the big picture more clearly.

      Now, the problem comes when man says, “God says this….” I don’t, at this time anyway, believe in a hell where human souls are tortured everlastingly. I believe in a lake of fire that consumes the souls of those that don’t want to be with God. They do not see eternal torture, but oblivion. They will cease to exist. Why would God do this? This is something that is hard to answer, and the discussion is probably best saved for a place other than a comment on a blog. However, there is no place beyond good or evil, regardless of what you have heard, and those that choose to serve self are answered with, “If you cannot live for others, then you cannot ever truly live.” If you live for self, then you don’t live for love, and if you don’t live for love, then your purpose, in the ETERNAL scheme of things, is questionable.
      This brings us full circle to our life now. Jesus not only saved us from this oblivion, but also empowers us to do the things asked of us. Faith is all it takes. How this appropriated is how so many Christians get tripped up. They keep getting in the way of God. They live, “according to the flesh” meaning, they try to follow the law on their own steam. Just TRUST. Ugh..again, I digress. Sorry. It’s just that this is NOT a simple subject, and must be addressed holistically to be answered completely.

      I realize this may not at all speak to you. Trying to explain the taste of a food that someone has never eaten is difficult. I agree with the other poster. Taste and see God is indeed good. Open your heart to God’s essence, his spirit, and you’ll answer harder questions than these.

      • Are there only two choices–“selfishness” and Christianity? What about Gandhi and the Dalai Lama? (Honorary Christians…?)

        Most people are a mixture of selfishness and caring. On one hand, as social animals who rear our young we need altruism to survive as a species. On the other hand, we need a certain amount of selfishness for our own protection. Children are typically more selfish than their parents, not because they are evil, but for sound developmental reasons. Will God send them to hell?

        A lot of people argue for oblivion rather than hell, as if that makes God seem nicer for not actively torturing them, but just letting them disappear. In that case, let us consign God to the oblivion which he intended for us!

        • Max,

          Not bad points. True, most people are a mixture..(of course they are). None of us are perfect. “Selfishness for our own protection” is not selfishness. That’s being healthy. There is a difference. Perhaps, I should’ve used the word “greed”? Again, this is almost too heady a subject to volley on a blog. A face to face over a couple of beers would be far more appropriate.
          Ghandi and Dalai Lama? Good point, too. I am not their judge. I will not say they don’t/didn’t know God. Besides, they live(d) for others, as I mentioned before. Ever read “the Last Battle”, C.S. Lewis?

          Is oblivion “nicer” than torture? Are you kidding? Of course it is.

          Regardless, I get the sense you’ve already made up your mind on the subject. You want to argue against the “Christian” point of view because you feel that it is unjust. Am I correct? That is actually admirable, if justice is what you’re really looking for. However, as I stated in a previous post, you cannot see everything. Even if you lived to be 1000 years old, you would not, could not have an all inclusive view of our universe, even if you just narrowed it down to a scientific perspective. Since you don’t see all, you cannot know the bigger picture. It almost seems to boil down to a matter of pride. Do you know more, have a better understanding, than all those who have lived before? I’m sorry to report that chances are good that you do not (nor do I). If that’s the case, and a God actually exists how can you know more than him?
          Now let me shoot me argument down for you…(see how nice I am?) If we step outside the Christian construct of the universe, then my last point is moot….at least to a degree Ok, then why were we speaking within the construct in the first place? Because I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and that is where I am coming from . If you do not believe what the bible says, then why ask the question? My point is this: If you believe in the bible as the word of God, then you will harmonize all these things within yourself, and if you can’t, then you trust in the fact that God will show you truth.
          If you don’t believe, then we have something else to talk about.
          …which takes us in a full circle.
          Philosophy is fun, isn’t it? But that’s why belief plays such an important part. It stops the circular reasoning and points in a definite direction.
          From where I perceive you to be, I admonish you to do this: search earnestly for God, anywhere and everywhere. Pray all the time. Call out to God. Be angry if you need to, but don’t stop searching. Know that the most important thing that there ever was or will be is LOVE.
          …and I want you to know that I learned this from the example of Jesus.
          Otherwise, I sincerely pray peace and happiness for you. Bless you, Max.

          To the moderator: I realize I have typed far too much for a comment space. My apologies. I’ll try to keep it shorter next time…but only if you promise not to start a discussion on such an intense subject.

  3. To answer the question directly, I heard about Hell fairly frequently as an E. Free Church teenager. My pastor did not take the fire-and-brimstone approach, but he did mention it. There was never a feeling that the topic was being avoided. That said, I am sure I heard it more often on the radio, and our youth group went to various youth evangelistic events where Hell was most definitely the main topic. I remember one fellow in particular discussing how much Hell would hurt and that it was eternal — something like being set on fire and dropped into a bottomless pit, which would be something like 1000 times worse than having cancer. Naturally this terminated in an altar call.

    Since college, I’ve been hiding out in mainline churches and the topic comes up but is never commented upon. For example, my current pastor will invoke the sheep and the goats parable, often by playing a recording. But she doesn’t interpret it. She lets it dangle, so I guess we’re supposed to come to our own conclusions.

    My own perspective is not as informed as it should be — I can only say that Hell troubles me as almost no other issue does. It always made me uncomfortable as a young person sure of my beliefs. Later, it brought about a major mental … crisis, I guess you could call it. Right after I discovered how many theological perspectives there were, and started to wrestle with questions like “what is the true church?” and “how can I know I am saved?,” it went from a troubling thought to a completely paralyzing. No matter what I did or thought, there would always be some dim possibility that I was wrong and lost — or simply reprobate. (I had just discovered hyper-calvinism, so I considered my own doubts possible proof that I wasn’t saved simply because God didn’t want it that way — and yes, I know that’s not the the thought double-predestination, but to my mind it’s always been a logically possible conclusion.) And if there was even a one percent change that I was outside grace, how could I stand it? What if I was accidentally not only going to Hell but making other people go there because I was a leader in the youth group? What if I had kids someday, and I misled them, and it was all my fault? Can you take even one step forward, with the possibility of something that terrible hanging over you? I mean, its eternity, how can you stop thinking about something so vast and frightening? I was completely terrified, and I very much wanted to die rather than face it — well, un-exist, not die. (Dieing sounded like probably the worst possible idea, considering the nature of the dilemma!)

    I eventually learned to keep these kinds of thoughts under tight control to avoid falling into this spiral of thinking. How many nights can you really wake up crying? (Answer from personal experience: about a year.) You have to find someway out or give up.

    Oddly, all this had the opposite effect on my husband: he got such a heavy dose of it as a child (largely due to raiding his father’s chic tracts comics and books) that he’s almost totally desensitized to it.

    I know this will make me sound a bit wishy-washy, but think I’ve backed into a bit of an agnostic position on Hell. Part of this is entirely practical: the idea seems only to have negative effects on me. I can’t seem to get anywhere unless I simply make the leap to believe that if God is the kind of God that chooses to die on the cross, then God will somehow not let me fall completely outside grace by accident — even if I turn out to be wrong on major doctrines, or am too psychologically turned around to understand my own heart or motives and how evil they really are …. or … well, insert your favorite misgiving here!

    I guess I would push even further than this to admit, frankly, that I find the idea of anyone going to an eternal Hell, let alone most of humanity, to be almost to terrible to contemplate. I am not prepared to say that Scriptures that discuss Hell are wrong or not describing something real …. but on a basic, gut level, I also find myself compelled to believe that God doesn’t want (let alone predestine or otherwise engineer) creation end up in such a state. I have no idea what lies beyond, but I have to believe …. I guess I hope …. that God’s gracious purposes in the world are too wonderful to imagine and that somehow, someway God’s purposes will be realized, perhaps in ways no one imagines or suspects. I do not know if that makes me a universalist: I guess it means that I pray very earnestly that God is a universalist and that in the end sin will somehow be conquered completely.

    BTW, I hope no one is offended. Please understand, this is a really hard topic for me.

    • Danielle,

      Thank you for sharing your story. Your experiences ring very true, and the place where you have come to in your thinking also mirrors my own journey.

      God bless,

    • I understand your dilemma (to put it lightly). I experience the same kind of wonderings on a regular basis. I understand that a good and righteous judge by nature must exact justice on evil, but then there’s Jesus on the cross. But somehow that is only the remedy for a few certain people, and nobody can agree who, how, or why. The search for the “one true church” and all. I sometimes wonder of the Orthodox ever wonder about this. My agonizing over the issue hasn’t been as severe, as my trite answer has to some degree been able to comfort me in times of doubt: Anyone who possesses within them a fear of damnation and helplessness has the evidence of their election right there. That sort of contrition MUST be the work of God, and it proves our heart’s submission to His justice and plea for mercy.
      Whether or not hell exists for others is another matter entirely. I certainly don’t live like I believe it is true. But I can’t bring myself to proselytize out of fear or threaten sinners with damnation: It just doesn’t seem intellectually honest. I like when Piper says (forgive me if this has been quoted in this discussion 100 times already): “Heaven is a place for those who love God, not those who are afraid of hell.” But if hell is real, how are we rationally NOT supposed to be afraid of it?
      There are some matters of faith I fear that I will never understand. But at least I know I belong to Jesus. I think. I’m pretty sure… As R.C. Sproul says, nobody loves God with all their heart and soul, the way they ought to. But if you find that you love Jesus just a smidgen, barely noticeably at all, then that can only be the result of a regenerated spirit and thus you are elect. Or, not going to hell if it does exist.

    • Thank you for this, I’m not sure that I have anything to add. I admit to not having the strength of character to wake up crying for that long. But I also took the pragmatic approach of ‘stepping back from the brink’ and leaving the whole question up to God – for my own sanity’s sake.

      • As much as I’d love to claim some surfeit of virtue, I don’t think my rather extreme emotional state had much to do with “strength of character.” As far as I can tell, it demonstrated merely that I am capable of being very intense — and maybe of loosing my marbles under the wrong circumstances! 🙂

        Your pragmatic approach strikes me as supremely wise — it all comes back to trusting God in the end, doesn’t it? Funny how impossible it turns to be to subtract from or add to that, even after trying very hard to accomplish the task.

    • I am not offended. I just think your gut assumption is wrong. Sorry, but the God we serve is not some nice cuddly tooth fairy. He is a God of mercy, grace, love AND righteousness.

      • {{Sorry, but the God we serve is not some nice cuddly tooth fairy.}}

        Strongly agree.

        {{He is a God of mercy, grace, love AND righteousness.}}

        Even more strongly agree!

        But then, I keep in mind that the Greek word translated “righteousness”, is literally the compound word “fair-togetherness”. (The Hebrew behind it has much the same connotation, or so I am told.)

        Specifically as a trinitarian theist (and especially as an apologist for that theology), I absolutely affirm that (as Peter says in the epistle) “the way of the Lord is fair-togetherness”. Also, as John says in the epistle, that God is love.

        I am also careful not to turn around and deny that in order to promote some other doctrine: that would involve promoting some other quite different theology, too. (Unitarian monotheism, or subordinate polytheism, or cosmological dualism, etc.)

        Consequently, I will go pretty far out of my way to avoid affirming that the Lord acts toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness between persons. That is what sinners do, rebelling against the (trinitarian) source of all existence, God Himself. And so they are justly ruined in punishment. But if trinitarian theism is true, God cannot be ruining them so as to fulfill non-fair-togetherness toward them!

        (Admittedly, that might be fittingly ironic; so would temporarily doing to them as they would do unto others. But in order that they might learn to do better and repent of their non-fair-togetherness–not so that God Himself shall be found fulfilling non-fair-togetherness, unrighteousness! Let God be true, though every man a liar!)

        Anyway: yay for God’s righteousness, most certainly! No dispute at all here! {g}

        JRP

      • Just to clarify: I am not asserting in any way that God is a “cuddly tooth-fairy,” nor am I asserting that sin does not have dire consequences. Even if you examine the immediate consequences of sin in this world, they are inescapably serious.

        What i mean to say is that the only sure hope I see personally is grace even more ‘serious’ in its intentions and its resourcefulness than is sin or sinful creatures. So, certainly not cuddly. As they say, That Dog Won’t Hunt.

        As for my gut: I admit readily that it could be wrong. But I find that the thought of God simply allowing billions of people to go totally beyond all aid to be so terrible — and I cannot see any way around that essential moral feeling. So I hope that the end of the story will have a twist, and hope that my own moral instincts are not the polar opposite of God’s. Ultimately that is up to God. But it is my inescapable feeling.

    • Andrew Zook says:

      You are not the only one who struggles or has struggled with it… (and yes I got a lot of hell & brimstone preaching/teaching in my youth as well) I too, if I think about it too long and deeply literally feel myself being driven mad – and yes totally paralyzed. What you described in your 3rd paragraph is me too…and it goes around and around in a circle of kind-of-hope and all-out-terror…. To this day I have never ever ‘felt’ that overwhelming ‘warm – fuzzy’ feeling that’s supposed to indicate that I’ve been saved and should therefore have no doubt or fear…I don’t know if it’s some kind of mental defect on my part, but I to date haven’t been able to obtain, receive, conjure…the peace that some other people seem to have…. all I have to fall back on is ‘I’ll keep trying God, and I guess you can do with me whatever you want because I’m powerless to reconcile the tortured conundrums you’ve allowed us to be in.

      • Andrew Zook says:

        If it’s not clear …I am replying to the 3rd post by Danielle near top. and thanks for sharing Danielle…I feel and share your frustration…and some people’s glib and confident answers (O just trust and believe) don’t help much either.

  4. I grew up going to SBC churches in the 60s and 70s–didn’t hear too much about hell. I attend a UMC church now, and the word “hell” is uttered from the pulpit maybe once every three years.

    I have a couple of touchstones in my thinking about hell.

    First, if I don’t believe that I deserve hell, then I don’t need a Savior. Jesus didn’t need to die for my sins because I’m going to heaven anyway, and I can spend my time pleasing myself (which is mostly what I do anyhow).

    Second, if I don’t believe I deserve hell, then I don’t have a Savior, because I haven’t really repented of my sins.

    • I would tend to say that your formulation of salvation as ‘going to heaven when you die’ is at least as much a problem as any idea of hell you might hold and is very likely more of a problem.

      • One of the ways we can test someone who holds to an orthodox view of hell is whether one believes that Adolf Hitler is going there or not.

        • And what would that test look like, Mark? Real Christians think that Hitler’s sins are too bad to be forgiven by the shedding of the Son of God’s own blood?

        • Well, then, I must have an orthodox view of hell, since I have no problem at all believing Hitler is going there. {g}

          I also have no problem believing God can and will save Hitler from his sins, and so lead him out of that imprisonment and punishment into reconciliation with those he has sinned against (both God and man).

          Whether anyone else will be willing to accept reconciliation with him, under God, is their problem, I guess.

          (A problem Jesus Himself warned very strenuously about…! Insert irony as appropriate.)

          JRP

        • Hitler could’ve had that fabled deathbed conversion, in which case he’s in heaven smiling down at Ghandi in hell.

        • Depends, Mark. If he genuinely repented and sought the mercy of God, then he can be forgiven. To think otherwise is (perhaps) the sin against the Holy Spirit (that is, that there are some sins too terrible which means that they are impossible for God to forgive).

          On the other hand, committing murder-suicide as one’s last acts does not strike me as a repentant frame of mind.

        • We now know how many posts it take to reach internet monk’s own, very special manifestation of Godwin’s Law! Somewhere around post 200, someone will use Hitler in a theological example, in an attempt to win an argument … 🙂

        • I hope and pray that he doesn’t. I hope that he communes in the Love of God with his countless victims, who he now calls brother, and basks with them in the endless grace of the Father. I hope that his sins are as far from God as the east is from the west, and that he is blessed that The Lord does not hold his transgressions against him.

          I hope that someday I may call him my brother and worship my father with him in celebration of the Lamb that was Slain for the Sins of the world.

          I do not believe in universal reconciliation, but I do believe in Universal Love, that we are called toward it, and that we should mourn the loss of any man, not relish in it.

          Orthodoxy is important, but if we lose sight of Love and Grace, we are pharisees.

          • Truth is that all those who die in their sins will suffer God’s wrath. Do I know exactly what that punishment will be? No. All I know is that Scripture is clear that there are two destinies after this life is over: one with God and one without God.

            And the poster above who brought up the deathbed conversion point. It is possible that Hitler did have a deathbed conversion and was brought into God’s presence. My point being is that there is no chance in hell (no pun intended) that someone will be with God in glory if he dies UNrepentant according to the Scriptural witness.

            I don’t know how that biblical point escapes many people here. Perhaps I am reading a different bible version from what many of you read.

          • jonthechristian – I am a lifelong Christian meandering on my way and what you said here stopped me short. I have not, in fact, heard it all. Thank you.

      • Scott! I think I write something clever and you pick on a little bit of shorthand I threw in, and you do it in a very opaque way, too! How frustrating.

        “Going to heaven” is shorthand for having a resurrection body in a new heavens and a new earth after Jesus returns to judge the world and to reign forever.

        That wasn’t the main point, and I don’t know if that will satisfy you either.

        • I don’t think the implied problem was with your eschatology, so much as with your motivation. Are we following Christ merely because we wanna go to the theme park instead of the work farm?

          Or is there a deeper moving of God, one that wants to conform to His Way, and His Image? The majority of the Bible does not discuss the afterlife, positively or negatively. The Bible spends most of its wordage discussing how to please God, how to Love our Neighbor and how to Transform into the Image of Christ.

          Heaven and Hell, however you interpret them, are almost an afterthought scripturally, but modern Christianity spends sooooo much time on them. I believe that is what Scott is getting to. But if I’m wrong, I’m sorry, and that’s what I’m getting to.

          • Yes, I think that’s close to what I had in mind. It seems to me that the primary focus is and should be on healing (our own and creation’s) and communion with God and with each other. Of course, both of those are grounded in the Incarnation and Resurrection, and in the promise of the our own Resurrection and the restoration or renewal of all creation. If we are freed from our bondage to our passions and grow in communion, then ultimate realities will take care of themselves. If we ourselves too much as ‘saved’ and others as ‘lost’, we are in danger of being the pharisee in the parable of the publican and the pharisee. The main point is not what happens to us when we die. It’s not that that’s unimportant. It isn’t. But if we live lives focused on things other than love of God and love of others, if we live a life of bondage (even if we call it something else), if we judge ourselves better than others, if we do not grow in communion, then we will have lived a life that says we do not want God. And to our peril, he may allow our heart’s desire to stand.

  5. What I am hearing about hell comes from American Conservative Churches, and it distresses me.

    The people who believe in the “eternal torment hell” seem seem to take great pleasure in the idea of it, imagining that people who are not of “them” will suffer greatly.

    I don’t believe in Hell, because Hell is something that I would some up with. The vengeful, spiteful me. The “fire and brimestone God” would be a monster.

    What happens to “bad” people?

    I think they are given one more chance to repent, to understand what they did, maybe even make amends somehow. (The creeds say Jesus preached in “hell”..) If the do not, at the Final Judgement, they simply cease to exist.

    The wages of sin is death, Paul wrote. He did not write the wages of sin is eternal torture.

    • VolAlongTheWatchTower says:

      “The people who believe in the “eternal torment hell” seem seem to take great pleasure in the idea of it, imagining that people who are not of “them” will suffer greatly.”

      Oh, so you’ve heard John MacArthur preach, too, huh? 😉

      • That is such a slanderous remark against John MacArthur. Never does MacArthur delight in the idea that non-believers will suffer eternally in hell. The reason why he preaches the way he does is because so many so-called Christians these days are moving away from traditional beliefs of the church for more perverted teachings of the modern age which promise freedom when it actually puts people in bondage.

        • Al Bennington says:

          Why wouldn’t he speak delightfully of hell? His doctrine says that hell is one of the reasons why the elect are so happy that they’re saved. His doctrine says that God ordained most people to torture to make the elect happy that they received mercy. And you have to be pretty sick to be happy about that. I don’t know why that would make anyone want to worship. But that’s what he believes and teaches. Why is that slanderous?

          • Yes, it is a slanderous charge. Where does he state in his sermons or books that he takes great delight or pleasure that there will be many suffering the eternal wrath of God after this age? Instead of somehow deducing what you believe MacArthur feels based on his Calvinism, why don’t you provide some actual references?

            I think anyone who believes that all human being will eventually be redeemed should have a look at their bibles because. Jesus, Paul, and the other Apostles taught awfully against such a twisted notion.

          • Rick Penney says:

            Mark, I don’t have actual references, but isn’t that the basic calvinistic interpretation of romans 9:22-23?

    • Cedric Klein says:

      Just a technical point, but the Apostles Creed only says that Jesus “descended into Hell” (I just found out last week that ‘Hades’ is not used there but the Greek word for “the depths” or “the lowest”). It is I Peter 3:18-20 which says He “preached to the spirits in Prison”.

  6. ‘First post on iMonk. ‘Been following a while.

    I was raised in a small Pentecostal denomination that taught the “traditional view” of ET: (“eternal torment,” which says souls are created immortal, and all will spend eternity in either heaven or hellfire). A few years ago I studied this more in-depth and came to “lean” toward CI: (“conditional immortality,” also known as annihilationism, or more recently, conditionalism). I also studied UR: (“universal reconciliation,” aka, universalism, which teaches “post-mortem salvation”). Of the three views I found UR with the least biblical support, ET with not much, and CI the most. However, I currently say “I’m convinced of conditionalism about 95% due to a couple problem passages.” One verse in particular has me leaning toward the CI view: Matt 10:28. This, plus the rest of the teaching of scripture. Someone mentioned, “The wages of sin is death.” Thus, I currently hold that immortality is conditional and do not believe souls are created immortal.

    I haven’t heard much about “hell” in years, as I haven’t been to any fundamentalist churches in a long time. It was “read” from a scripture at a UMC church I was attending for a while not long ago. The pastor was reading from one of the gospels where Jesus mentioned it. (*Note, the English word “hell” is not used in most modern translations. Most translate directly from the Hebrew (sheol) or Greek (gehenna, hades, tartarus).

    I was hoping N.T. Wright might ‘enlighten me’ in some of his more recent writings. But what he seems to have come up with is a mixture of rabbinical views of the NT and Intertestamental eras, mixing it in with the traditional view. A ‘syncretistic theory’ of sorts.

    Right Now – I’m not exactly sure *what* to think!!! The reason being is that when Jesus spoke of “hell” (the NT word “gehenna” is the Greek word, though he probably spoke Aramaic), he seems to have been pointing toward the coming judgment of rebellious Jerusalem in 70CE, where the souls (“the very lives”) of his listeners might be destroyed.

    Winding this down: I don’t know to what extent Jesus himself taught about “hell.” To his contemporaries, you can’t miss it (if “gehenna” is understood to be a literal judgment which would happen soon upon his unbelieving (wicked) hearers).

    Paul preached to Gentiles that Jesus would be the “man whom God appointed” as the judge of the secrets of men, and of all humanity (Ro 2:16, Acts 17:31). Jesus and Paul taught bodily resurrection and final judgment.

    But I don’t know what the details are…and haven’t heard much in church (but I’m not really going to any “church” much—just visiting a couple places from time to time). This is an incredibly DEEP topic! Thank you for reading.

    • Rick C…this was a very good comment for your first comment here. Keep them coming!

    • Rick,

      The term “gehenna” was the Valley of Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem. This was used as the city dump, and Jesus used this as a metaphor to get across the idea that hell is a horrible place. A dump was filled with fire, smoke, rats, vultures, dung, bones, and all manner of stink.

      It’s hard to dismiss the Bible’s teaching of hell, because it was Jesus himself who developed the idea. The Old Testament didn’t deal with it much. I think the Hebrew “sheol” meant “grave” or “shadowy place” or “place of the dead”, or something non-committal like that. The OT does talk about the wicked getting their judgment, but it doesn’t elaborate as much as Jesus did.

  7. What do I hear in church about final things?
    Thankfully, not as much as I did in youth group growing up, where we had the whole “Thief in the NIght” thing going, and hard-line “say the prayer or be tortured forever” beliefs. I was quite stunned to find clergy and laity who felt it was more important to focus on “The Kingdom of God is at hand” sayings, to consider that salvation is now, not after you die, and that what happens now and the choices you make every minute are worth way more consideration than fussing over what happens after you die.

    How has my thinking evolved on it?
    Pretty much like a lot of the posters here–I’m aware of the role it plays is the aspects of Christianity dealing with social control, and I don’t think the fire and brimstone rendition of it is necessarily accurate. I take a great deal of comfort in realizing that your relationship with God NOW is far more important than what happens afterward.

    (Though I always remember the scene in Southpark where everyone’s standing in Hell and Satan says, “For those of you who were wondering, the correct answer was C), Mormonism…” That pretty much captures a LOT of the problems with classic views of Hell. 😉

  8. 1. What are you hearing in your church about final things?
    Not a whole lot, but our pastor does preach on hell occasionally (NEVER on the “rapture” or a Left Behind/Hal Lindsey version of eschatology–in fact, he hasn’t even acknowledged its existence). One of the memorable things he has said is that this life on earth is the closest that a believer will ever get to hell, and the closest that a non-believer will ever get to heaven.

    2. How has your thinking developed over the years regarding these doctrines?
    I have never been very worried about hell. Before I came to Christ, why would I have worried? And after I came to Christ, why would I worry? As Capon said in Between Noon and Three, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I think he got that from the Bible 😉

    Teaching hellfire and brimstone is not a good tactic for evangelism. I don’t know if it even worked well in the past. When Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” it was unusual for him, not typical of his other sermons. And I can assure you that the same sermon would not be effective today in the same church.

  9. In my current church, which I’ve been attending for about a year and a half, I can recall once that the pastor brought up hell, and it was a mention in context (i.e., not an entire sermon on the topic). In general, the pulpit in my church is not used to preach the idea that salvation is all about getting to the right side of things after you die. Salvation is about being taken into and as a result participating in the renewing activity of God, which eventually culminates in earth and heaven being one. That gets a lot more “press time.”

    As far as my own beliefs, I spent my very early childhood in a church that had an overly vivid, Jack Chick-like obsession with the topic. Never sat well with me, even as a six-year-old. I then spent most of my childhood into my college years at a church that preached what probably most evangelical churches preach: a literal, ECT view, but one that was softened by descriptions of heaven and how much Jesus really, really wanted to save you from hell. I can’t say I was ever 100% comfortable with that, but I certainly embraced it much more than the original view I was taught. Toward the end of college, I quit going to church for about ten years, during which time I underwent a serious of questionings and changes and revisions and re-revisions.

    At present, I’m most inclined to a view probably closest to NT Wright’s (of those who have been mentioned) but I’ve not ruled out annihilationism or universalism either. As a rule, I think Tom Wright has done the best thinking and writing on this subject in recent years, both in terms of what heaven/hell actually means, and in terms of what place these subjects should occupy in our theology (i.e., not as the primary goal of “fire insurance” salvation).

  10. Back on the first page of comments, Kenny gave us a link to hear N.T. Wright talking about hell. There is also a clip at that outofur website of Tim Keller talking about hell and also Erwin McManus. I wish I could find all the clips in one place. I found Keller’s by doing a search on his name and I just happened to find the McManus clip. It says they did weekly clips of well-known people talking about hell.

    I liked the comment that someone made after Wright’s clip. The commenter said if Jesus rebuked his disciples who wanted to bring fire down on some people who had rejected him, then surely Jesus would be against the eternal torment of people.

    Chaplain Mike: we will have to add “hell” to the list of things that get people commenting: women as religious leaders, homosexuality, evolution, and now hell. 🙂

    • And for you John Piper fans, he also has a clip at that outofur website about hell too. His is the longest so far at over 5 minutes. Geesh, I am listening right now on a second window and he is kind of screamy, but I guess he is passionate about what he believes. But I get turned off listening to loud people. If they can’t tell me something I need to hear without hollering it, maybe I don’t really need to hear it. Just TELL me what you want me to know. But that’s just me.

  11. On the rare occasions it does come up, it is usually in terms of everlasting conscious torment. Personally, I’ve read a couple of Edward Fuge’s books and seen some of the attempts at refuting them and finally had to come to some conclusions.

    John 3:16 means that those who don’t have eternal life will perish. Sounds like conditional mortality to me.
    Christ himself tells us that we should not fear those who can destroy the body only, but the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. It is the ECT folks who have to explain away why perished souls are still alive and how destroyed souls remain conscious. Yet, whenever I get into a discussion with them on this, they get emotional and say that I am the one misinterpreting scripture and “reading into” it.

  12. I heard a lot about hell in certain ministries and churches. The more evangelical and hardlined they were the more likely I heard about it. I remember one time going to church (mega church in this case) and they had a Q & A session where people could email or text questions. One question had to do with those who never heard of God why would a loving God send them to hell. It was in the context of someone living in Africa before missionaries arrived. I remember one of the pastors boldly and clearly saying that there is no execuse for someone not knowing God. And that someone on the plains of Africa had an equal a chance as someone living in the west with access to chruch, the internet, etc.. It didn’t bother me at the time, today though I am more of an agnostic who doesn’t believe in God. The issue of hell blows my mind and the certainity of which it has been preached.

    Another tipping point for me was hearing evangelicals say that Catholics are not Christians. I remember time and time again in different churches, ministries such as Campus Crusade, etc.. people would say, “Catholics are not Christians.’ Well this issue also hit me hard when my family and I had to bury my Irish Catholic grandmother who I was very close to. I heard stories after her death that simply amazed me, stories of love, grace and concern about those around her. Meanwhile I began to think about all that I heard about Catholics over the years and began to get upset. So again this is another problem for me.

    • Eagle,

      As a dutch cradle catholic I never cease to be amazed all all the fundamentalist nonsense (fundamentalist not as in: believing in the fundamentals of the faith, but as in being incredibly moronic and self righteous) that is being regarded as the true sign of being a true bornagain believer…
      I don’t believe we all “just end up in heaven in the end” but as to the specifics Jesus is the Judge and not us.
      To me any biblical verse about judgement is for me to apply to my OWN life and NOT to the lives of others for I don’t know their hearts.
      The more us christians succeed in living like that the more “unbelievers” will be attracted to us as agreeable human beings…
      as to them converting… that is between them and the Lord.
      Humility is key and often seems to be most absent were the teachings seem to be most “biblical”…

    • Eagle,

      I spend a couple of weeks each year in Ecuador, and sometimes during a church service we gringos will be invited to give a testimonio. It always makes me cringe when somebody says (in English, followed by a Spanish translation) something negative about the Roman Catholic Church. This is always with a microphone (feedback and all) and everyone outside the walls or over the fence can hear it too. And everyone over the fence is a Catholic. And all of the people inside, though evangelico, have Catholic mothers and grandmothers.

      The Catholic Church in South Amerca does have its problems, but gringos badmouthing it with microphones does not help the cause of Christ.

    • I had forgotten about one of my earliest memories of hell, which was being told that all Catholics were going to it.

  13. Why is it that the things that in all honesty we know the least about (what really happened at Creation, what really will happen in the “end times”, what really is the nature of heaven or hell, etc) generate the most comments? I’m as “guilty” as anyone else, but it is interesting to step back and see how hard the positions are that we take and how much discussion there is on the very subjects that are actually the most speculative.

    • Good question, JeffB. I wonder if it is because these are the questions that make people nervous and they want to be assured by having solid answers.

  14. I can’t answer 1.) as I’m not a regular church goer. And in the few visits I’ve made, I’ve never heard mention of hell.

    While I’m uncertain on the existence of God, I don’t believe in the afterlife. I don’t feel this post is the proper place to write about that, but if so desired, I can expand on that.

    One of my former students had this to say when I asked her about hell, “I believe at the end, we will face Jesus and have a final chance to repent. And no one would be dumb enough to reject him then.”

    What I’ve seen in the Bible about hell (granted, I’ve never been able to get through Acts, I always fall asleep – something that irritated an evangelical girlfriend whose name came from Acts) it seems that the eternal reward does not come immediately after death, but instead upon the return of Jesus. That the dead will be resurrected at that point in time, but prior to that will not be enjoying eternal life in heaven. Also at that time, the damned are cast into hell. Am I reading this wrong? Does my failure to finish Acts hurt my comprehension on the subject? There are plenty of places in the Bible where we are told what actions save or damn us (most notably Matthew 5:35-46), but very few places where what heaven and hell are like or how and when one goes there are mentioned. Or am I missing something fundamental here (no pun intended)?

  15. I hear Hell is bad.

  16. Robert Smyth says:

    Let us not forget that we are literally god’s children. What parent would condemn his child to everlasting burnings? Actions brings consequences. Some may be forgiven immediately others may require another course of action which remains to be experienced in the life ahead.

    My feelings about HELL is that for most it will be a conscience matter of what could have been achieved and was lost. I believe God in order to be God is just and therefore everyone will at some point in their existance, have the opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

    We must learn not to judge God as man judges. No one will miss the blessings he has in store for them simply because of where or when they were born.

  17. Mike (the other chaplain) says:

    I have to admit, personally, I am a hopeful Annihilationist. The dillema I have is that I’m convinced that the Bible really does teach that the lost will be resurrected to experience the second death. Eternal, conscious torment; physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological. It is far too much for me to comprehend or even consider.

    I wouldn’t want even my worst enemy to suffer like that. If I have even the tiniest bit of love and compassion for the lost then I know that God’s love for those who reject Him must be perfect in every way. And his compassion far outweighs mine. Knowing that God IS love, leads me to conclude logically that the lost will not suffer for eternity.

    This is my hope based on what I know to be true about God’s love and compassion…….that God will not allow the unrighteous, even the worse of the worst, to suffer forever without end. Again, its my hope—my hope that those passages on hell were more figurative all along.

    • Consider the price Jesus paid for sin. That is the price that must be paid.

      • DreamingWings says:

        Uhm, Jesus was seriously beat on for a day or so and then killed. He certainly wasn’t tormented for an eternity. If Jesus’ sacrifice is the yard stick; that alone destroys utterly any idea of ‘eternal damnation’.

  18. I had a recent argument with someone about their claim that the lack of eternal punishment undercuts morality, since “there would otherwise be no reason to fear God “ (i.e., we fear God out of self-interest). Personally, if the only reason you are not hunting down and killing me is because you are afraid you will be caught and roasted eternally, you’re not “moral” in my book.

    It is true though that this argument of morality as self-interest is echoed to some degree in the Bible, in Job 1:9. This potential Satanic accusation against God is actually a major explanatory model in Seventh-Day Adventism (the Great Controversy); God disproves the accusation through Jesus, showing the watching universe by sacrificial love that He is a God of love and not a tyrant who rules by force, bribes, or other shows of power. Somewhat correspondingly, Adventists are annihilationists.

    I think that gets back to the original question of what I hear about Hell. I don’t, per se, though some SDA preachers can make pretty scary threats even without mentioning eternal torment. And I’ve decided that I don’t know enough on the general topic to feel strongly one way or the other. I will say that if God (through the finished work of Jesus on the cross) decides of His own inscrutable mercy, in some mysterious way, to save someone who didn’t profess a sincere, theologically-perfect, smoke-and alcohol-free faith before they died, I hope I won’t take it like the first-hired workers in the vineyard or the older brother of the prodigal son .