I’m not sure if I picked the right category for this question. Something I’ve been struggling with lately is the sheer number of people that must be going to hell every day if what I’ve always been taught about salvation is true (i.e. that you must believe in Jesus alone as the way to God, or you can’t be saved). I’ve always been taught that “Wide is the gate and narrow the way” – and few people find it. It seems like what this means is that the vast majority of people who live and die, die outside of Christ and so end up in hell. But then why does God let the world carry on at all? I guess I’m a pragmatic sort of person, and it bothers me that God would allow so many people to exist and end up in hell suffering for all eternity just for the sake of the few people who end up in heaven. Would it not be more kind and loving not to continue creating new souls, i.e. to have ended the earth centuries ago, rather than so many people going to hell?
@firstpeter315 Thank you for sharing your struggle. I know I have struggled in the past with this very same question and I still wrestle daily with the tragedy of people choosing to die apart from the life Jesus offers. But praise the Lord I have found peace regarding judgment because I believe the Scriptures are clear that God will do what is good and right and true - that He is love and that He is good. I believe if we look at Scripture we see that:
- God will judge each person according to the knowledge they possess - the judge of all the earth will do what is right
- It is not clear that Scripture teaches eternal torment for those who reject Jesus - it is possible that after they are judged by God they will cease to exist - this view is called conditionalism
Within historic Christianity, there are 3 views of how God ultimately handles sin. The three views of how God handles sin ultimately are:
- Eternal torment - some form of eternal suffering or separation from God
- Conditionalism - those who reject God are judged and then cease to exist
- Universalism - sin is real, but all people will eventually be brought to repentance
The point being that the Scriptures provide room for a variety of beliefs on how God will handle judgment for the unbelieving. But I think that ultimately it comes down to this:
Can we trust the God who came to earth as a baby and suffered and died a shameful death out of love for rebels like us to judge people rightly?
God has proven His love for us in Christ - His love for all the world (Romans 5:8, John 3:16). Judgment is very real, but we have every reason to believe that God’s judgment will be good because of His character as revealed in Jesus Christ.
I highly recommend two books on this topic:
The Second Death, What is it?
I like the idea that no one ends up in hell in the end, but then why are we called to evangelize?
What does it matter if people know the truth? And what about Ezekiel 33, which suggests that we must warn people about the danger coming, or they will suffer, and it will be our fault for not warning them, though it’s their own sin that is the ultimate cause of their judgement?
@firstpeter315 I did not say that no one is judged. I believe that Christ will judge the world and that there will be those who go to eternal life and those who go to experience the second death. But if we examine what the words ‘hell’ and ‘eternal fire’ actually mean in the Bible, we see that their meaning is not necessarily what we might at first envision.
Consider how Jude 1:7 describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
Is Sodom and Gomorrah still on fire? What do you think this passage means by eternal fire? What was God’s purpose in subjecting Sodom and Gomorrah to eternal fire?
Keep in mind that the word ‘aionos’ - translated ‘eternal’ in English - has a few different meanings. It is not necessarily equivalent to the English word forever. It can mean ‘pertaining to the age’ - the Bible talks about the ‘age to come’ and the ‘end of the age’. ‘aionos fire’ or ‘eternal fire’ could refer to fire that consumes something completely - that deals completely with the problem of sin.
The Word ‘Hell’
The English word ‘Hell’ is that it is not even a direct translation of any word in the Bible. It is not a Biblical word. There are 4 words used in the Bible that are sometimes translated ‘hell’ and none of them are equivalent to what unbelievers I have met often mean by the English word ‘hell’. They are:
1 - Gehenna or Valley of Hinnom (New Testament)
2 - Tartarus (New Testament) -
3 - Sheol (Old Testament)
4 - Hades (New Testament)
Gehenna was a trash pit that was once a site of great idolatry. Tartarus and Hades were actually Greek terms describing the abode of the dead or a place of judgment . And Sheol was a Hebrew word used to describe the place where both good and bad people go upon death.
But what do English speakers mean by the word ‘hell’? They think of Dante’s Inferno and paintings from the middle ages of people being tossed into a burning pit screaming while little beings wait to torment them.
So - a Greek / Aramaic / Hebrew equivalent of the English word ‘hell’ was never used by Jesus. And certainly not the way most modern people understand it.
The NT is clear that there will be a day of judgment and that the wheat and the chaff will be separated - and the chaff burned. Certainly Jesus used very shocking imagery to describe judgment. But Jesus never used any word that would translate to the current English word ‘hell’ as perceived by the average person on the street.
I have appreciated the discussion on this subject. It is something that has weighed on my heart as well.
@SeanO you had mentions about the unbeliever will experience the second death. I was just curious on what your view is on what the second death is? If those unbelievers would cease to exist, what happened to their eternal soul or does the soul cease to exist too? Is the soul not really eternal?
These questions were asked to me by a young man who is living a sinful life and he told me he thinks he can endure some torment for a while because he is going to cease to exist at the final judgment.
Just some things I have been rolling around in my mind.
@Kevin_Hurst I personally believe that the idea of an immortal soul did not come from Scripture but from Greco-Roman philosophy. I am unaware of any verse that unambiguously states the human soul is inherently immortal. The idea that our soul is not inherently immortal was also held by some of the Church fathers (see thread at bottom). However, this is not an issue that should divide believers.
But I think there is an even deeper problem with your friend’s statement - he is doing a cost-benefit analysis on two things:
- the pleasure he will experience in this life if he chooses sin
- the pain he will experience in eternity if for that same sin
He is asking the question - “Can I handle the punishment if I choose the pleasure?” This is the wrong question. And salvation in the Bible is never motivated purely by a fear of punishment.
Why did the prodigal son run home? Because he was terrified of his father? Of course not!
The prodigal son ran home because he had confidence in his father’s mercy and had come to realize the emptiness of the world. He realized that he had wasted his father’s good gifts and made a fool of himself, so he asked to be made a servant when he fell at his father’s feet. But his father’s kindness went above all he could have asked or imagined.
That is a picture of salvation - a broken sinner aware of their utter lostness and unworthiness coming home. Not a petrified sinner cringing before the threat of eternal torment.
I am not denying the terror of God’s judgment upon the wicked, but rather trying to clearly lay out what motivates true salvation - the recognition that the Father has mercy on those who come home.
Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee. -Augustine
Thank you Sean for sharing that. And I wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed your answers on the different threads that I have read. I have found them very helpful and spot on. So I wanted to say thank you and God bless you for what you are doing.
I read through your posted thread from your above post and it looks like this topic has been debated very thoroughly.
So just a couple of thoughts I would just add into the mix, not to belabor the topic.
I really appreciate your comment on what motivates true salvation. I agree whole heartedly with that. It cannot be from fear only but also the recognition of the Father’s mercy on us. I am reminded of the verses in Jude 21-23
21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
It would seem to me that what Jude is saying here is that for some compassion and love is what will make the difference in their lives and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire. As I have heard Ravi say, If we lose truth or love we will lose God.
Does God send us to hell or do our choices ultimately send us to hell? In one sense the Father is the one who passes judgment but is it not based on our choice of accepting or rejecting Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer?
I believe as far as the soul being immortal, it becomes immortal at the moment of life. As I would understand from the Bible that man became immortal when God breathed into him the breath of life. That is why we are not immortal from all eternity past but will be for eternity future. At each moment of conception an immortal soul is created from nothing if you will. We go from a state of non being to being. Just wondering if you have any verses that you would use to back up your point on immortality not being inherent to the soul.
As far as the second death, I was still wondering what your thoughts are on what happens at that time. Here are my thoughts and you can comment on them if you wish.
Revelation 20:14 says Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. - The lake of fire is the second death.
Revelation 20:15 All those not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire
Revelation 19:20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.
The beast and the false prophet are there.
Revelation 20:10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
The devil is also cast into this lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet. And from these verses it would seem like it is an on going torment.
Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
But here the Bible says that these also will be here in this lake of fire which is the second death.
Just one question I was wondering about, if the unbelievers face this second death and it brings annihilation does that also happen to the devil and his angels. That to me should be the logical out working as well. I am just afraid from my perspective that the view that all evildoers cease to exist feels a little humanistic to me. But I am willing to agree to disagree with you on this point. Like you said in the thread it is a secondary point. But I
As far as the question from @firstpeter315, the quote from Abraham “will not the judge of all the earth do that which is right” has been a real comfort to me. I believe that any one that honestly seeks after the Lord, the Lord will be found of him. I believer God can use many methods to reveal Himself and His plan of salvation to an honest seeker. Through dreams. Through the book of nature. Through the inner conscience of a person. And you never know at what point someone actually does except Christ. It may be on their death bed and God is still working in their hearts to give them that last chance.
God has his times. Why he did not end the world sooner than now, I don’t know. But He has not and He has placed us each here for such a time as this to do His will as best as we know.
But I think at the end of the day for myself, the judgment of each person needs to be left in the hands of God. I must do what I am commanded to do and that is to teach and make disciples of all men. That is my first and great commission given to me as a believer.
@Kevin_Hurst Good thoughts. I don’t want to dive too deep in, but it is difficult to understand my perspective on the verse in Revelation without knowing that there are multiple ways of interpreting that book. One thing to note is that Revelation says that ‘death itself’ will be thrown into the lake of fire. But ‘death’ is not a thing - you can’t throw it anywhere. That is just a figurative way of saying that there will be no more death. So I think we get in trouble when we press the images in Revelation too far.
Glad you found the resources helpful and praying that the Lord Jesus lead you into all truth
Very good point on the book of Revelation. The interpretation of that can throw a wrench into this discussion. (Will have to save that for another thread someday😁) thank you for your thoughts on the subject of hell. Gave me something to think about