Is it justifiable that unbelievers end up in hell, why not just make them sleep all eternity?

I was recently asked by another believer who has been debating her unbeliever partner on the subject of God. Her partner is of the view that God does not have to place unbelievers into hell for punishment, but rather, why does He not put them to eternal sleep? Why punish? Why burn? He feels this is unjust and so refuses to accept a God who does this.
So this question falls into the area of a moral one. In other words, God is not fair but harsh and unjust.
I was not part of her conversation with her partner so I cannot add too much more. In my conversation with her at church, I did suggest she ask her partner what he thinks should be done with them and why? What is his sense of justice based on and how should it be applied?
Putting that aside, I would ask how do we respond to this question in a way that communicates that God is just, even though His judgements are at times seemingly harsh? I have no problem asking the opponent questions about his moral code but as an unbeliever he cannot understand all things about God, and so with a limited understanding (no spiritual discernment in unbelievers) what should be pointed out to him in order to disarm his objections? I have never been shy to debate anyone but I am more sensitive to the fact that any response to an unbeliever should be aimed at the underlying premise of the question which is a reflection of the questioners state of mind/belief system.
I have recently purchased several of the books by Andy Bannister on “The Atheist who does not exist” and I will be passing one of them to my associate so it can help her in responding to opposing arguments on God in the hope it will help her. It was not that long ago that my own spouse who is a believer was very sad for a w time because her unbelieving mother passed away and she had to struggle coming to terms with her mother going to the Lake of Fire in torment. Don’t be fooled, it is very hard to explain to someone God is justified to place a person into the Lake of Fire for torment all eternity for unbelief and to be honest I too find that hard to swallow even though I do. A constructive answer would help as it is a question that will come up again and again in different ways.

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@gnslaser For a general way of approaching the issue of God and judgment, I highly recommend the following video from Tim Keller. I’ve included lots of additional resources below on this topic of final judgment. One important thing to note - and Tim Keller points this out - is that no matter what your view of “Hell” the imagery in the Bible is figurative. For example, in Revelation it says that death itself is thrown into the Lake of Fire, but you cannot throw death anywhere - it’s an abstract idea; not a thing. So the picture of people being tormented in the afterlife from the middle ages or antiquity is not what the Bible is attempting to convey. Hope that helps :slight_smile:

A few summary points:

  1. God will judge each person according to the knowledge they possess - the judge of all the earth will do what is right
  2. 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:

  1. Eternal torment - some form of eternal suffering or separation from God
  2. Conditionalism - those who reject God are judged and then cease to exist
  3. Universalism - sin is real, but all people will eventually be brought to repentance

God judges the heart

We should not pronounce judgment before the appointed time when God judges men’s hearts. Rather, we should exhort people to come to Jesus and find life in Him.

1 Corinthians 4:3-5 - I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Hebrews 4:13 - Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 - Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Romans 2:12-16 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

A Person’s View of Hell Matters

People’s view of hell matters and changes the way they view God. When we are answering people who ask about hell, we need to understand that they may have grown up in a very legalistic or judgmental (in the wrong sense of the word) church and may have very incorrect views of God. We do not want to support these wrong views of God.

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.

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.

Hell and Mr. Fudge

This is a great movie about a man who realized the Bible does not say what people think it says about hell. He struggled because one of his unbelieving friends died when he was young and his father was a minister. He wondered if his friend was being tormented forever and the thought horrified him. He came to realize that when we understand what the Bible actually says about Hell, we can see that the idea of eternal torment is not as clear as many would have us believe.

https://www.hellandmrfudge.org/

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Hi, @gnslaser. These are great and challenging questions, and I can think of more than one approach to someone asking them. I saw @SeanO typing as I began to give my response and wanted to wait until he posted his because I knew he would explain a bit about the different views of hell and how that matters ;). That is important to study and understand before going into this, I think.

I noticed that the friend’s partner asked “Why punishment” while at the same time suggesting putting unbelievers in eternal sleep. How is that not punishment? And how does he believe that is any more just than being destroyed? Someone who sleeps eternally is not living but is, for all practical intents and purposes, dead.

But I guess one of the places a person could possibly start would be to ask the person how he thinks about justice. My initial thought is if he accuses God of being unjust, then maybe the issue really lies with his not understanding sin and its gravity (being an unbeliever, I’d wager that is very likely). It might be a good idea to explore that with him. The very question, “Why punish?” may point to a lack of understanding for the need for justice, which Sean also talked about. That may lead into a talk about moralism, which would be a good way to introduce how God’s justice is above our understanding of justice.

Just some thoughts…

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Hello Sean,
Thank you for your response and thoughtfulness. Appreciated…lots. There is a great deal of information here to go through and it will take some time. I will definately work my way through the information. I am unsure if I agree with your comment on hell being figurative. The lake of Fire is not a figurative thing in my mind. Death being thrown into it is possible when you view death a consequence of sin. The works and systems that cause death are destroyed because the authors of them, the fallen realm, are destroyed once and for all. So in that sense they are tossed into the fire and destroyed as a thing. If we are created with eternal souls, and I believe we are, then they cannot be destroyed as such, or at least that seems logically correct to me.

However, I am not completely closed to your comments and I will proceed with an open mind on them as I feel the issue is extremely important and I clearly don’t have the answers.
Thank you for your reply and info. I will definitely follow up on it.
Thank You. Geoff.

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Hello,

Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I too think he has a poor view or understanding of justice and hence my suggestion that my friend go back and ask him how he might deal with justice and where his sense of justice comes from. I suspect though that he is simply using this to justify rejection of God. I also suspect he has no like of acknowledging that there are things greater than he and that he is NOT the final authority on life but that God is.

Anyway, I know this is a difficult subject and while we can offer thoughts on it, only God has the actual answer and we must accept that by faith, even when it seems harsh. The view we hold of hell is related to interpretation. I expect that exegetes would be able to demonstrate their positions from the original language based on hermeneutics and so on. While that is valid for them to do so, it does not help those who are not exegetes nor language scholars and we need something tangible to communicate on and with. Lots of prayer and reading for me to do I think.
I do appreciate the feedback and thoughts from you as it is a tough topic and needs some real answers. Sean info will help a lot for sure.
Thank you.

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@gnslaser I am excited you are choosing to engage the issue and to learn more :slight_smile: And I respect you for being slow to change your mind—that is wise. It always behooves us to take time to study carefully and weigh the evidence as we engage the Word of God. May Christ bless your studies and looking forward to hearing your thoughts as you process the information.

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Respectfully, I would suggest being cautious about this. Even though what you mention is common, there is really no way to know his heart in this. Saying he is using this to justify rejection of God is to suggest an insincerity in the question, which puts us in a place in which it would be easy to devalue the questions and, therefore, the questioner. Until it becomes blatantly obvious that someone is either mocking or is insincere, I treat the question as sincere and leave suspicions at the door. Unfortunately, if we don’t do that, it can have an effect, whether we see it or not, on how we tend to the questioner. I don’t always give the brightest answers, but I find that what matters and usually has the greatest impact on people is the attitude in which I approach both the question and the person.

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Well I would use the objective moral argument if they tend to be a person who relies more so on logic rather than emotion. Even though the question is emotional if the questioner reacts better to logic then I would go that way. If they are more so an emotional individual then I would explain the Gospel to them more deeply cause that’s where the conversation is going to eventually go anyway.

Now when it comes to going to hell I would explain to them about why Jesus died on the cross cause they don’t seem to really understand why he did it. When a person rejects Christ he is not just saying to God that he doesn’t want him but he is also saying he wants to be judged based on his own works and not the work of Christ. Christ took our place because we are guilty of sin. We could not stand innocent before God and so we switched places with Christ. Here is a Christian Apologist named Mike Winger who explains things I think in a really easy way when it comes to the subject of substitution.

And who’s to say a person stop’s sinning when they die? If we have a spirit that is eternal then it’s very possible we continue in our sin after death thus the reason one would be in hell continuously. William Lane Craig talks about it in this article by answering this question.

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@gnslaser what I have found rings true in Scripture and my spirit is that the “second death” of man is they are eternally DEAD. They are punished according their deeds (Hitler and an unbelieving drunk driver who is killed wont go through the same experience) but then are burned up. The eternal torment of Satan described in Revelations does not include humans. I believe the fire burns eternally, but Malachi gives a good synopsis as well.

Mal 4:1-3
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.

To me, to keep souls in perpetual torture is still keeping them alive. There is only eternal life to the overcomer who endures to the end through Christ. The alternative is punishment then death. Only God TRULY knows what it means for a soul to experience the “second death”, but I do not believe it will be what our human understanding is of a body burning in Joan of Arc fashion. Gods ways are higher and unfathomable. SeanO said a lot of good things on this too.
I’m just giving my thoughts on this, eternal torture and burning forever, not on justice, why there is hell etc. They go into different territory and deserve to be addressed separately. I pray God’s grace will lead you on to truthful answers.

Hello psalm151ls, I appreciate your thoughts. You are correct that one should not form a negative view towards a questioner as we do not know their heart. I did make my thought on his opposition based on the fact that he was now very vocal and speaking over the top of my friend at the time. So I interpreted this as frustration and justification from him. I think I did mention that I was not involved in this initial conversation but it was retold to me at church by my friend seeking some advice.
I have spent a lot of time this last few days on this subject of Hell and will continue to do so for a while as I feel it does need a better understanding. I am also looking into some information to pass to my friend which I hope will give her some confidence when she speaks further to her partner on this subject in the future. The subject of moral judgement and sin is also in my mind the real issue to deal with. Please pray the Lord will give myself and my friend the wisdom we need to conduct a proper and respectful response so that the person can consider his position and hopefully be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, in spite of his objections at this point in time. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers on this difficult subject.

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@gnslaser, of course, I will be praying. Frustration, for me, is usually either a sign of insecurity over one’s position and understanding (which oddly goes hand in hand with pride–where there is pride there is insecurity. I know, because I struggle with it), or it may be rooted in something very personal. I’ve even run into people who insisted they did not believe in God, and yet they were very angry with Him. You can’t be angry with something you don’t believe in.

Please keep us updated if possible. I will be praying over you, your friend, and your studies.

@gnslaser. I was wondering. When you say your friend the believer has a partner who is not a believer; what do you mean by the term partner. Partner in business? Partner in life?

Hello again to all,

As I mentioned to SeanO previously, I would follow up on this subject of Hell, Fire & Brimstone, Lake of Fire etc. That is still a work in progress and will be for a while. However, I did see this youtube presentation yesterday from R C Sproul on God, loved ones in hell and how we might handle that, so to speak. His title speaks for itself.

I am assuming it’s ok to place this in the blog? I am NOT pushing any particular theological view here either, I just found the content helpful to my current area of focus.

I am not familiar with this person but I found his talk very interesting if a little slow to get going. I found his comments on how we would be so changed in heaven in the absence of sin that we will have confidence about Gods judgements on those in the lake of Fire. If anything, it shows how little, we, certainly myself to be sure, really understand about the consequences of sin and how it has altered us so much, especially our understanding of life without it.

For those also interested in the subject you may wish to view the link on youtube and listen for yourselves. As I said, I am not familiar with this particular person nor had I heard of him previously. Anyway, some of you may know him already but I came across this last night and found it helpful, even though it did not specifically answer all of my own queries/concerns.

If any of you also have similar queries this link my help,

Thank you for your interest and comments on this subject.

Hi,

I am not sure but I assume they are romantically involved, and if correct, then the subject of belief in God by one partner and not the other will prove to be point of difference/concern for them as they move forward with their lives together.

That’s what I was thinking. If I was the unbelieving partner any duplicity in the believer’s life would cause me to reject any point they wanted to debate with me. If I was versed in the judgement of hell, then I probably know that our relationship stands in disobedience to the Bible as well. I might not say aloud that you are hypocritical, but it would be my justification to dismiss your argument. Sometimes our duplicity is the greatest obstacle to the unbeliever.

Hi,
You are correct when you say that a duplicitous stance undermines things. That is true on any subject in life by the way. In matters of the heart we are very hard pressed to see clearly all the time. I think all of us are subject to that problem saved or unsaved.
I do find that when you look closely, the unbeliever tends to be the bigger hypocrite in my mind. They often want to hold a higher standard than is achievable for others to show when it comes to the subject of God, but they import morality and justice standards given us by our creator and they promptly deny Him. Certainly Christianity has its share of hypocrisy to answer but that should not let the unbeliever off the hook either in my mind.
Anyway, I have learnt many good things by being part of the RZIM group and I try to share those good things with others as an encouragement and support as best I can in these days of increasing anti Christian thinking.

@gnslaser. For certain the unbeliever is not excused for any reason proffered. I was only thinking of ways to help the believer’s testimony become effective. I am confident that as they pray GOD will make known what is needed. They should not be discouraged if the unbeliever responds in the negative. Plant the seed, don’t worry about the results. But by all means, make sure your name is written in the book of life. There, personal responsibility begins and ends.

This is without a doubt an Incredibly difficult and emotionally charged issue that every seriously engaged Christian will run across, both in there interactions with non-believers, as well as within our own hearts and minds as we each individually attempt to reconcile our very limited aversion towards sin,
with an infinitely holy God who is serious about eternally dealing with it.

I think it however entirely crucial to remember something as were thinking about Gods justice:
were all sinners and so by nature we can not hate something with the same intensity as a being with absolutely no sin nature can hate it.
God as an unendingly perfect being can perfectly hate something that is contrary to his perfections, and sin is one of those things.
We, on the other hand, as imperfect beings, can not hate something with a perfect hatred, and so it absolutely is to be expected that the punishments effected by such a being would seem harsh and cruel to creatures who actively participate in the perpetuation of evil, and many who even "approve’ of such things, Roman’s 1:32.

Were part of the perpetuation of the very thing that God in His unending perfection hates! I dont see this as a small point, but I doubt that it’s anywhere near a sufficient one.

The question seems like one of concern over weather or not God can be just while choosing to keep the punishment one of sensible torment extending throughout eternity. I agree with Johnothan Edward’s assessment that led to Him concluding that the torment is eternal and sensible, and that God is completely justified in condemning sinners to such a state at the final judgement. It would be amiss of us not to read, in tandem, two of his classic works on the subject

‘The eternity of hell’s torments’

http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/eternity.htm

And-

‘The justice of God in the damnation of sinners’

http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/je-justice.htm

Be prepared for a read that doesnt take into account our modern sensibilities. The titles of his works alone would probobly not make there way into most modern churches today, which tells me a lot. It’s usually the most significant truths that are the hardest to speak genuinely about

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Two quotes from Edward’s to give you an idea of his reasoning on both the fact that God is justified in eternally punishing sinners, and how the annihilation view of Gods punishment doesnt itself do justice to either Gods vengeance, or his grace

Edward’s reasoning for why God is justified in decreeing that the punishment for sin be eternal

If the evil of sin be infinite, as the punishment is, then it is manifest that the punishment is no more than proportionable to the sin punished, and is no more than sin deserves. And if the obligation to love, honor, and obey God be infinite, then sin which is the violation of this obligation, is a violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Again, if God be infinitely worthy of love, honor, and obedience, then our obligation to love, and honor, and obey him is infinitely great. — So that God being infinitely glorious, or infinitely worthy of our love, honor, and obedience, our obligation to love, honor, and obey him (and so to avoid all sin) is infinitely great. Again, our obligation to love, honor, and obey God being infinitely great, sin is the violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Once more, sin being an infinite evil, deserves an infinite punishment. An infinite punishment is no more than it deserves. Therefore such punishment is just, which was the thing to be proved. There is no evading the force of this reasoning, but by denying that God, the sovereign of the universe, is infinitely glorious, which I presume none of my hearers will venture to do

Edward’s on the weakness of the annihilation view

Annihilation is not so great a calamity but that some men have undoubtedly chosen it, rather than a state of suffering even in this life. This was the case of Job, a good man. But if a good man in this world may suffer that which is worse than annihilation, doubtless the proper punishment of the wicked, in which God means to manifest his peculiar abhorrence of their wickedness, will be a calamity vastly greater still, and therefore cannot be annihilation. That must be a very mean contemptible testimony of God’s wrath towards those who have rebelled against his crown and dignity — broken his laws, and despised both his vengeance and his grace — which is not so great a calamity as some of his true children have suffered in life.

Thank you Chris for your input. I definitely agree that we are far away from truly seeing the depth of oppositionGod has toward sin. Clearly, He takes it seriously enough to sacrifice His Son to deal with it. We can only see aspects of eternity through a dim vale as scripture describes and we must recognise our limited ability to comprehend all things.

What we must do is recognise what God has revealed to us. That in itself is a huge task and a lifetime task. The information you have passed on is certainly compelling and I do acknowledge my limited ability in understanding Gods Justice. My initial query was on behalf of another believer struggling to answer her opponent on the subject of Torment innHell and eventually the Lake of Fire.
What seems to be the case is that there is confusion as to the exact state of unbelievers in there. As a reference see the info that SEANO supplied at the beginning of the post. I have no doubt that God will be justified in what He does and once in eternity with Him we shall ALL be aware and agree with whatever He does.

However, in the meantime I feel the need to be able to reply to some of those queries from unbelief in a way that makes sense to any reasonable person who is willing to consider it. My view though is always to put Christ first as He is the only true issue to resolve. What do you think of Jesus and do you Trust Him? Everything else is second to that question. Having said that, I do recognise the need for the person to have some things dealt with in order to persuade them that Jesus is the answer to life. Thats is Apologetics of course. I have much to look at on this subject and I know I will not get a complete or definite answer to every aspect of hell. It is clearly beyond my limited ability as a human. But I am confident that a truthful response, in love, even though limited, is the best way to respond to anyone. Pray the Lord gives me wisdom on this matter. Thank you.

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