The nature of hell

It very clearly states in Revelation those who worship the beast will be cast into the lake of fire. Now, you might say this is not literal, and fair enough, but then you need a different way of interpret it. Jesus talked about hell as weeping and gnashing of teeth. In fact, he compared hell in the afterlife to the place that was known at the time as Gehenna. IMO Jesus was talking of an illustration of what hell in the afterlife is. If not, then what was He comparing exactly? It also says in Revelation that Jesus, Yeshua Messiah will avenge the saints who are martyrs for the Kingdom of God. IDK about you, but I have actually faced persecution in some ways for being a Christian. If you have not, I would say make sure you are right with God because Jesus promised persecution to the saints but God says he will “keep” us from falling away if we truly love Him and he will make it up to us as he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for My Name sake, you will receive rewards in heaven.”

But to answer the OP’s question, when you get to heaven, you will know God’s judgement and mercy are good and God has that right as the supreme ruler of the universe to be Holy and that He cannot tolerate sin. While it may hurt you because you were close to these people on earth, when you get to heaven you will have a completely different perspective about those who were not saved because you will have received a heavenly body like Christ’s.

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@Jesse_Means_God_Exists A few things to keep in mind:

  1. The image of a lake of fire most naturally implies destruction; not eternal torment. By its very nature, fire is a destructive force. In fact, in the 264 references to the fate of the lost in Scripture only one mentions eternal torment directly, while the rest mention things such as “destruction”, being “consumed”, or “vanishing like smoke”.
  2. Gnashing of teeth does not refer to agony or pain, but anger, which we can see clearly in Acts 7:54. Those who are condemned are angry because they recognize that the righteous are blessed while they are cast out. It is not an indication of torment.

Acts 7:54 - When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.

I really recommend reading Gregg’s book to have a firmer handle on the various positions and arguments for each.

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IDK who Steve Gregg is.

In any case, there is a sect of Christianity that thinks there is no hell because people don’t think it would be “fair” for God to do that. Well, it was not fair for Job to have all those things happen to him either. It was not fair that the Apostles all died very painful deaths. What I do not understand most of all is that you hold a doctrine that basically says, “If you do good, you go to heaven. If you do bad, God doesn’t care that much. He will just cause you to cease to exist.” To me, that lacks a certain justice about God’s character and IMO, robs him of his sovereignty. I think coming at the angle to try and explain the Bible in terms that aligns with our values rather than making our values come from the Bible is a mistake. God’s ways are higher than our ways. We are evil by nature. God cannot tolerate sin and in Revelation it talks a lot about Jesus coming to judge the world and Satan. If there is to be no recompense for sinning, just a lack of existence, that doesn’t seem like it fully fulfills God’s need for justice.

You are also not taking into consideration that weeping goes along with gnashing of teeth. And you didn’t comment on Jesus reference to Gehenna either.

As I understand it, the lake of fire was designed for Satan and his unholy angels, BUT people do go there because they worshiped Satan instead of Jesus.

To the point, I feel though hell is not a pleasant idea, it actually accentuates the reward that is to be found in heaven. If you say that Satan just ceases to exist as his punishment, why exactly does God let him do so many evil things?

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists Thanks for those thoughts :slight_smile: I do not deny that judgment will bring sorrow for those who reject God, so the weeping is not a problem within my view. I also do not think that we must agree on this issue to seek Christ together.

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.

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic:

  • 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.
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In reply to Jesse, I do believe that I will have a different perspective on God’s judgment and punishment when I get to heaven. And I also believe that the Lord enters into my grief with me as Sean said, “God weeps with us.”

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@SeanO,

How do you reconcile Jesus coming back, the saints of old being resurrected and those alive going up to meet Christ as he descends to create a new earth?

How do you explain the only 2 churches that were doing a good job were the ones who were being persecuted?

How do you explain the martyrdom of Stephen and the heavens opening up? Why would he see that if heaven isn’t real? If you are saying heaven is real, it’s just that we can’t go there, the natural question is “why”?

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists I did not say anything about Heaven. Of course I believe that when we die we will be with God, as Jesus told the thief on the cross (today you will be with me in paradise). And eventually there will be a new Heaven and new earth where righteousness will dwell and there will be no more tears or sorrow or pain.

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@SeanO

I am not sure how you reconcile that with this:

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists I believe that we, as Christians, have eternal life in Christ and that it is God who sustains us for eternity. I believe we have never ending life. But I do not think that our souls live forever whether God sustains them or not… I believe that God is the source of all life and those who choose to separate themselves from Him may very well cease to exist when He ceases to sustain their life. The idea of an inherently immortal soul, in my opinion, is a pagan and not a Jewish idea.

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@SeanO,

I agree that Spirit means life, in a sense. But there must be a knowledge of what the Holy Spirit is and that it is something supernatural. If you don’t believe, for example, that God can heal people, then the natural conclusion is that the Bible was written with overwhelming hyperbole. If that is the case, then the Bible is just a book of stories.

As far as God taking our life away if we are not saved, but if we are saved that our life is “sustained” what exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean we will get an actual new spiritual body? Or is this just a symbolic way of talking about our legacy or something?

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists I think you are misunderstanding my point. I believe in a literal resurrection of the dead when we will receive new spiritual bodies and live forever with Christ. I also believe God can heal people.

Interpreting certain Biblical texts as symbolic is not the same as denying the existence of the supernatural or denying the Day of Judgment / Resurrection of the dead.

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@SeanO,

Okay, what is the difference between Hell just being a symbolic thing and Heaven being a literal thing?

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists I am not saying that Hell is symbolic and Heaven is literal. I am saying that the notion of Hell as a place of eternal torture is not an accurate interpretation of the Biblical texts about the judgment of the wicked.

And simply because something is symbolic does not mean that what it describes is not real. For example, John says that God is light. That is symbolic language. God is not literally a photon. John is using the imagery of darkness / light to convey a truth about God.

Likewise, I am saying that the depictions of Hell in Scripture do point to the very real consequences of rejecting God. But that just like God is not a photon - Hell is not literally a place with fire and worms. Those images are just symbols pointing to the reality of destruction that occurs.

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@SeanO,

Right, but when it does make reference to eternal punishment, you say it does not actually mean what it says. Take the example of Lazarus and Dives. What do you make of that exactly? Also, I would love for you to point out a source that says Revelation 14:11 isn’t about hell.

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists You are begging the question. The question is—do the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus or the passage in Revelation 14:11 describe eternal judgment? The Rich Man and Lazarus is not even about the final judgment, but rather an intermediate state prior to the final judgment. In addition, it is highly probable Jesus is using a story often used in the ancient world, but modifying it for His own purposes, which means He is not describing true events at all (if that is the case).

Regarding Revelation, there are two problems with interpreting it as eternal torment:

  1. Revelation is an apocalyptic book. Apocalyptic literature in the ancient world is highly symbolic and we must interpret it keeping its genre in mind.
  2. Revelation uses lots of OT imagery. In this particular passage, imagery from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis is used. In the Book of Jude, the author says that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered eternal fire. However, that city is no longer on fire today. In addition, the city’s inhabitants were destroyed; not tormented. Isaiah also uses this same imagery to describe the destruction of Edom, which means the Biblical use of the imagery is not to describe eternal torment.

The imagery of their permanent doom is taken from the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone, when “the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace” (Gen 19:28; cf. its symbolic use in Isa. 34:9-10, describing the fall of Edom). Chilton

The Rich Man and Lazarus

I think the reason Lazarus had a name was because Jesus was making the point that even though Lazarus had no name in this world, God knew his name. It was not because Lazarus was a real person…

As Jacoby points out in his book, this story of a reversal of fate was common in the ancient world. Jesus may not have been telling a true story, but rather adapting a common story of his time in order to make His point to the Pharisees. Therefore, we may not be able to get much information from this story about the actual physical layout of the afterlife because it may not be a story that actually happened. Rather, like Jesus’ other parables, it is a story with a point (not necessarily a true story).

A doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam identified seven versions of the parable circulating in the first century.2 The fortunes of a rich man and a poor man are reversed in the afterlife. As often happens in the Bible, a preexisting story is adapted to present a theological truth. Douglas Jacoby

N.T. Wright, explains. The story carries clear echoes of well-known folk tales to which Jesus is giving a fresh and startling twist.

I see so the pagan idea of hell that Christians talk about so much came from Jesus. Makes perfect sense.

Also, what does Revelation 16:1 have to do with grapes?

Right. Eternal fire probably represents a spiritual condition more than a literal interpretation of fire.

I also want to ask if you think sin is separation of God. If so, wouldn’t hell be eternal sinning?

Sin is not separation from God. Sin separates us from God.

The idea that Hell is eternal separation from God is rooted in the idea that Hell is a place where God withdraws His presence and people sink into self-destruction; not unlike C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

No, the pagan idea of Hell that Christians talk about came from pagans. Jesus taught something different.