Hell is a hot topic on connect, no pun intended. Here is the best treatment of the subject on connect. It is from a resource that @SeanO put together, It was not shareable so I did a cut and paste. I don’t agree with his conclusion but he does an excellent job of presenting all sides.
I think final judgment is a topic we must approach carefully because we do not know what view of hell the person asking the question has and that affects their view of God. If they think God is going to torture people for eternity and if they have been in a legalistic Church background, their view of God may be quite incorrect due to this teaching. In addition, we know that God will reveal the secrets of men’s hearts on the final day of judgment and it is not our right to do so.
A better approach may be what Paul did when preaching to Felix in Acts 24. He explained the reality of judgment and no doubt the beauty of Christ’s work on the cross. But it does not seem he focused on the idea of hell. Rather, he focused on a God who is just, the reality of sin and the reality of salvation.
Acts 24:25 - As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”
A few summary points:
- 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
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.
Reasons I Currently Hold to Annihilation
I came to the conclusion that annihilation is the best explanation of the Biblical texts and have yet to hear a rebuttal I find convincing. Here are some reasons that I find annihlation convincing.
- at this point I’m of the opinion that the idea of an inherently immortal soul is just not in the Bible. It was common in pagan philosophy, but I do not think it can be found in Scripture. The idea of an inherently immortal soul is one of the lynchpins of the argument for eternal torment/separation - if the soul is eternal then obviously God will not be destroying anyone, hence Lewis’ book ‘The Great Divorce’. If Hell is eternal and we do not think God tortures people and we do not think the human soul can be destroyed - what then becomes of the wicked? Lewis basically argues they become their sin, which is an interesting perspective.
- the word for eternal in Greek - ‘aion’ or ‘aionios’ - does not necessarily suggest endlessness like its English equivalent. Bruce Waltke says, “That neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contain the idea endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying “forever”, but “forever and ever”…Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period.” G. K. Beale says, “The context of the passage and of the book must determine whether this is a long but limited time or an unending period”. It can also mean ‘age’ or ‘of the age to come’ according to Steve Gregg.
- eternal fire could be eternal in consequence - it destroys permanently - rather than eternal in duration (Jude 1:7). In fact, this is the very image often used - Jesus talks about the branches that do not produce fruit being burned up and John the Baptist about burning up the chaff with ‘unquenchable fire’. These images suggest the chaff / branches are destroyed.
- Jesus’ reference to worms not die / fire not quenched is from Isaiah 66 and the people are very much dead in that description
- the book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and pressing the images too far is poor exegesis / method - Rev 14:10-11 and 20:10 are often used in support of eternal torment. But I think this is a misapplication of the apocalyptic genre.
- Jesus talks about both soul and body being ‘destroyed’ in Matthew 10:28 in reference to Gehenna. I am aware of a counterargument that destroyed here can mean ‘ruined’, but I do not find it convincing given Jesus’ other talk of chaff and branches being burned up.
- In Ezekiel 18/33 God says He ‘takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked’ and we see zero instances of God inflicting torture on people as punishment. I am not appealing to our personal emotions here - but rather saying that God never uses torture on His enemies throughout the OT. Why is He suddenly torturing people in the NT? I think you can make a Biblical - rather than emotional - argument that this is simply inconsistent with God’s character - even His wrath. Our God is a consuming fire - yes - and does allow people to suffer the evil they have devised for others (Haman in Esther or Matthew 18:34), but He Himself does not seek to inflict torment.
- the idea that because God is infinitely holy He must punish sin with infinite punishment does not make sense to me. It makes an assumption about what God’s holiness means. Whenever an unholy person entered the holy of holies without being clean - like Nadab and Abihu - they were consumed - destroyed. Holiness to me is about being able to enter God’s presence and live - about being set apart - not about the duration of punishment. So I think this argument begs the question / involves circular reasoning by assuming one view of how a holy God responds to sin.
I do believe everyone will be resurrected to a Day of Judgment and that there will be terror / shame for the wicked, but it is unclear to me what that means. After that, I believe the wicked will be destroyed. I am always open to changing my mind if I am presented with good evidence.