I from time to time have had individuals say to me, “I do not believe that Hell is eternal.” It seems that people believe in eternal reward but not eternal judgment. This statement is usually followed by, “I do not understand how a loving God could punish someone forever.” I do believe in eternal reward as well as eternal punishment. I think that those who do not understand how a loving God could punish eternally, do not understand what the love of God is. I was just wondering if anyone had any good insight on this issue.
@markfishel2010 This is a great question and one that would take a long time to flesh out.
I would recommend the following two books as great reading if you are really interested in this topic. Francis Chan mainly defends the view that the lost suffer eternal torment, while Steve Gregg presents all three views that have been held within Church history.
I also left a link to a website that explores conditionalism - I am not promoting any particular viewpoint. I think these resources are worth studying so that you can have a deeper understanding of the conversation surrounding this topic.
I certainly agree with you that love and justice must go hand in hand - a loving God must also be a just God. There is no mercy without justice - if no punishment is deserved, mercy is a meaningless concept. And if there is no real justice, there is no real goodness. The cross is evidence both of God’s mercy and His justice.
However, I think God’s love and justice can be maintained within a few different views of how God will finally deal with the problem of injustice and sin. For example, once you dive into it you get into questions like: “What did the Church fathers really believe (there is a diversity of views)?”, “What do the words translated ‘hell’ in the Bible really mean (Gehenna, Sheol, Tartarus, Hades) in context?”, “What does ‘eternal punishment’ mean (in Jude 1:7, Sodom and Gomorrah were burned with ‘eternal fire’, but is it still burning today)?” I believe there is more than one valid answer to these questions, though all valid answers must recognize that God is both just and merciful - that sin is real and deserving of judgment and that love does not mean overlooking sin - the cross came at a cost.
The following Bible passage fleshes out how the cross was God being merciful to those who believe while maintaining justice.
Romans 3:25-26 - God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Questions on Hell
Questions from Buddhist point of view
Your thoughts on hell, punishment and death
Is choosing Jesus or going to hell really a choice?
Is there a good reason why we should not give a direct answer to “Do you think I’m going to Hell?”
Definition of love in light of vessels for destruction
Thank you for the resources Sean. I will take a look at them.
Hi @markfishel2010, I asked Dr Stuart McAllister a similar question in Ask RZIM and I quote his answer below for your consideration:
"There are questions we wrestle with that bring discomfort as none of us wants to face the reality of judgement and the fact that there is some kind of final accounting for life. We all want justice when it suits, but usually on our terms.
Christians come at this question in varying ways and can swing between 2 errors. 1. they try to be to clear and offer many details, often coming more from Dante and his Inferno than from scripture, or 2. they go the other way and are so vague or avoidant that they try to fudge that there is some ultimate judgement. As all of us communicate, I can only suggest that you study the many passages, and centrally those revealed by Jesus himself. I cannot tell you “exactly what hell is like” as with you, and with multitudes of others, I have access to the same data and have to interpret it and seek its meaning?
There are those, over time, who have come to believe that God would not extend punishment and who then opt for a summary annihilation. I cannot see this myself in the narrative or texts and do see that there is eternal separation from God and that such is due to those who do not want to be with God anyway and will only be the result of their rejection of the way out or mercy freely available in the Gospel. C.S. Lewis among others, spoke about this, and reminds us of what is both being offered in the Gospel and rejected. He also points out Who it is Who we are rejecting! the scale of the judgement is seen in light of the scale of what is being denied. I don’t believe I can answer why God does it this way as I do not have access to that kind of insight. I do know that God has made provision for us and that He Himself has both made the way of salvation and offers it freely.
Here is the rub. We need to wrestle with this personally and seek what scripture teaches. I would be cautious of offering definitive explanations but do the best we can from the data we have. A possible resource to aid your own reflections might be “4 Views on Hell” edited by Preston Sprinkle. As the one being questioned, you need to find an articulation that you believe is accurate and which you can meaningfully share. We cannot frame an answer that hearts will “like”, but we can wrestle with finding the best way to shed light on what is true. May God grant you much wisdom and courage."
As you can see, Stuart mentions the work of Preston Sprinkle whom Sean points to as well. The 4 views covered in Sprinkle’s book are Eternal conscious torment, Terminal punishment, Universal reconciliation and Purgatory.
Hi Sean, Preston Sprinkle co-wrote the book, Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity, and the things we’ve made up, with Francis Chan. Sprinkle is the editor of the book recommended by Stuart. I’m thinking that he did quite a bit of work on the subject of hell.
@Helen_Tan I very much enjoyed Francis Chan’s book - it was the first one I read. I have not read Sprinkle’s book.
I think Steve Gregg’s is my personal favorite because I think he is the most fair in his treatment of each of the views.
Of course, I have not read Sprinkle’s book, but if Dr. McAllister recommended it I must assume it is well presented.
Hi Mark and Sean, here are 2 short video clips (with transcripts) of theologian NT Wright talking about hell for more consideration and comment:
Thank you Helen_Tan! This quote from Dr. McAllister was very helpful. I have been ill for several days and am finally getting caught up again on correspondence. I ask this question not so much because I have not formed an opinion because I do. I was curious to see what others think on the subject. I think the question makes me bristle because I know that it is usually followed by, “I cannot believe a loving God…” Rather than, what do you see the witness of scripture saying. I think it is an important issue. Thank you for your thoughts and sharing.!
@markfishel2010 I agree it is frustrating when people cannot see what we see about God or they are suppressing it, but let us weep rather than bristle - for such hard hearts are sowing their own destruction. I can sympathize with people struggling to understand how a God of love who sent His Son to die could torture people everlastingly. We have laws even against torturing our enemies and yet God’s love is greater than ours - it is He who said “Love your enemies” and “bless those who persecute you”.
@markfishel2010 this has been a great dialog and resource. Thanks for starting the post.
It’s got me thinking about what implications can we tap to expand and hopefully deepen the discussion when someone gives us the “I cannot believe a loving God…” So my mind has been rambling through a variety of scenarios – of course it anything should be predicate on questioning the questioner to understand where he’s coming from.
"I hear what your saying, but let me ask you:
– Do you believe there is anyone who does not deserve an eternal life? What about Hitler, or a gang-banger, or the person who raped your daughter or harmed your child? Have you really considered what it means if everyone is in heaven? If you still think everyone should be in heaven, where does that leave justice? Is there any such thing? If some do not deserve heaven and deserve justice instead, who gets to decide who deserves what?
– Does your gut tell you there is something after death? Or is that all there is to your life? A lot of people who don’t believe in hell still believe in heaven. What are your thoughts? Certainly there are naturalists who believe there is nothing after death and that we have no spirit, but seems to me that mankind has universally sensed that we have a spirit and there is something after death. How do you think it is that the overwhelming majority of people through all generations have a sense of having a spirit and there being an afterlife? Where do you think that comes from? Wouldn’t that have an origin?
– What can you believe? What should a loving God do? If there is a God who created this extraordinarily complex universe where everything from the macro to the micro sustains life as we know it, how much value is there in us critiquing his means and methods? I heard someone call God arrogant, yet it sounds a lot more arrogant to me to try to tell God he should answer for his ways. Examining what we believe is essential, so I’m not at all ridiculing your feelings or questions. I believe God wants us to know him, to understand him, as much as we can. I think that involves learning truth more than deciding what God should and shouldn’t do based on personal feelings. We have to ask ourselves how much of what I believe is based on self-centered interests? Wouldn’t anyone want to be able to do anything they want without there ever being a penalty? Let’s not even consider heaven and hell for now, what kind of a world would that be? How would there be any morality or law? What would justice be based on? Look at human history. Whenever a person or group decides they get to determine what is moral we get horrors like Nazi Germany and the holocaust, or Stalin murdering millions, or countless genocides.
– If God, out of love, chooses to give you free will about who you believe in, and you choose to deny God and choose not to take the option offered for eternal life, an option that exists because God himself took on human form and suffered brutally to create a means of your salvation, and God honors your free will and allows you to live life eternally without him–how does that make Him unloving? Isn’t that ultimately the definition of loving? To allow you to have your heart’s desire?
– Suppose you are wealthy man. You have a very large family with lots of children. Some of those children are loving and generous and delight in spending time with you, and you with them. Some aren’t necessarily bad children, but they simply have no time or concern for you and prefer to be left alone–you reach out to them but they never reply or even ask you not to call anymore. And some do terrible destructive things to themselves and others. You’ve tried over and over to get them to turn from their evil ways, but they continue to worsen no matter what you do. You love all of your children. You long for all of them to be with you and to have wonderful lives where they flourish and find joy. But what you want isn’t reality. You will not force them because it simply isn’t the kind of relationship you want from them–you want them to be loving. Who is going to inherit from you? And if everyone get’s their share no matter what, what do you suppose they will do with it? If all evil persons such as Hitler are in heaven, does that mean we will be contending with evil people for all eternity?
I apologize. I know I’m late in joining this conversation. I’ve been moving and have been out of the loop for awhile.
This is an interesting conversation with a lot of good posts. I’ve had similar conversations with people, both Christian and non-Christian. I do believe that hell, just like heaven, is eternal. I think the language the Bible uses means eternal. I lean towards what N.T. Wright said in the short videos that @Helen_Tan posted. I don’t know what hell will be like. The Bible seems to have some descriptive language about hell, however I don’t know if they are literal descriptions. I wouldn’t want to find out!
A couple of things I want to touch on…
I’ve had atheists tell me that they wouldn’t want to believe in a God who would send people to hell. My response has been that God does not send people to hell. God loves us so much that He gave us a free will. God wants us to be with Him forever, but He wants us to chose that. He won’t force anyone who does not love Him to spend eternity with Him. So, people choose to be separated from Him. Also, I don’t believe God tortures anyone either. The pain that people experience is a natural result of being separated from God. This is just my view. I don’t know if any scripture that would back that up.
Hi everyone, I know I’m playing catch up. My view on Hell is it will be a permanent separation from God with no hope or reprieve.
We must remember those who end up in hell have rejected Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. And as Ravi Zacharias said in his book Beyond Opinion “True love is the freedom to love”.
I tend to agree with you, I think. When I get asked about this sort of thing I ask a question like “If you were God and you had to judge everyone, where would you draw the line and what judgement would you give?”. To me that always just seems to at least start a conversation about it. But I end up with something along the lines of the fact that Hell is less of a “punishment” and more of a consequence. The essence of “sin” being that we say to God that we don’t want him in charge of our lives… and hell is, at one level, simply God saying ‘So be it’ and the consequence of that is an eternity spent without him. But what they don’t realise is that it’s also an eternity without all the good things that God has provided for our benefit in terms of a wonderful world with beauty and relationships with each other and with him.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
But I wanted to challenge us to flesh that out a little bit - where in Scripture do you guys see God offering this dynamic of self choice? What are the consequences in these Biblical examples?
I think probing some Biblical examples can help us bridge philosophy and theology and root both in Scripture.
Darn it!.. I should have known better than to put an idea without a biblical reference. Now I’ve looked them up and it looks like I might be wrong.
The choices I think are pretty clear: Heb 9:27 “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” By inference that means no salvation for those who aren’t waiting. John 3:36 is a bit clearer, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
However, nearly every other reference I find seems to talk about some form of fire: the “blazing furnace” of Mt 13:42; the “fire which never goes out”, Mk 9:43; and the “danger of the fire of hell” from Mt 5:22. This, plus others seem to point towards some deliberate and everlasting punishment. So maybe I’ve been a little guilty of sugar-coating God’s wrath a little, so I will look into this a little further. Please anyone else who has insight into this would be appreciated.
As to the everlasting nature of hell… while I did find some references that could be ambiguous, I think phrases like that of 2 Thess 1:9 “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”; really don’t leave a lot of room for interpretation (although I’ve already eaten my own words, so what do I know ).
Can I put out there on the back of that 2 Thess quote, however, one question about the eternal punishment side of things. When I think of the idea of punishment, it does seem ‘active’ in a way. But the idea here is that they are out of the presence of the Lord and so to my mind there can’t be any ‘active’ punishment, but just a state that goes on forever. Not sure what my question is… maybe more of a comment.
There are some thoughts, anyway.
@tsbehan Great thoughts! Let’s process these ideas together some more - I think they are very important.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 is an interesting passage - the actual Greek translates to “destruction from the presence of the Lord”. This same Greek construction is also used in Acts 3:19 - where it says that times of refreshing will come “from the presence of the Lord”. So it is possible to understand this passage not as everlasting separation but rather as destruction brought by God’s holy presence - think of the OT when sinners entered into God’s sanctuary without being cleansed - they could die. That is why the priest’s wore a rope around their ankle, in case they died in God’s presence and need to be pulled out.
Does this knowledge change your interpretation in any way?
Regarding fire - consider how Jude 1:7 describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - “And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.”
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.
Here is Strong’s definition which reveals some of the alternate meanings underlying the word: age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.
What are your thoughts?
In relation to ‘choice’ doesn’t the parable of the bridesmaids infer that through ‘poor’ choice / lifestyle not all the bridesmaids made it to the celebration? And when the rich man walked away upset because to follow Jesus would have meant him giving up his wealth?
Another thought has occurred to me, in Hell wherever that may be will time be in play? If not will people be aware of it being eternal?
@David_Cieszynski I certainly agree that based on these parables and even the covenant God made with Israel in Deuteronomy that God offers us a choice to obey Him or to walk on the road that leads to destruction. The rich man is a very sad case and point - the idol of his wealth held him back from the true Treasure of God.
The question of time in eternity and how we will perceive it is definitely completely beyond me. But it is a very interesting question. I imagine that there must be some sense of passing events in the eternal realm, but it is all guess work what it will look like.
Personally I do not think that Hell is eternal. In fact, the English word Hell has no Greek or Hebrew equivalent. Jesus used Gehenna and once Hades when sharing a story, the Old Testament used Sheol and one of the NT authors uses Tartarus.
All of these words are different and none of them mean what the English word ‘Hell’ has come to mean over the centuries. Our picture of the final judgment is taken much more from the middle ages and the pagans than it is from Scripture in my opinion.
What are the main Scriptures that you think infer that there is place called ‘Hell’ and that it last forever? I would be willing to discuss them one by one.
See my comments in my response to @tsbehan regarding the meaning of the word ‘eternal’ or ‘aionos’ in the Bible and the quote from the Book of Jude.
To be clear - I do believe it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God and I think it is very foolish to choose this corruptible world over the incorruptible treasure of life in Christ. And I believe in the Day of Judgment and that Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.
I simply do not believe that the Bible is clear on what happens to the lost after the final judgment based on what I have heard and read over the years.
@David_Cieszynski @tsbehan A movie I may recommend anyone watching who is really interested in delving into this topic is “Hell and Mr. Fudge” - it is based on Edward Fudge’s work. I think it is a well made movie that gets the brain thinking about this topic.
Here is a youtube video with some of Dr. Fudge’s teaching on the subject, the movie itself you would need to lookup on Netflix or Amazon Prime or such.