Hi Stuart, thank you for taking the time to address our questions. I have what appeared to be an easy enough question to answer when it was asked of me but as I considered it, it became more challenging than I had anticipated. The question is: Can you please tell me what hell is exactly like and if it is eternal torment, why does God not just eradicate those who reject His offer of salvation as eternal punishment appears to be excessive in the light of one’s actions and choices in a life time? Thank you.
Hello Helen, Good to hear from you. 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.
VHi Stuart, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject and directing me to search out what Scripture says about it. It seemed so straightforward when I came to Christ years ago with the primary goal of avoiding fire and brimstone which was so widely preached to draw people to Christ. These days, hell is not talked about much (at least not where I am) and people generally scoff at the idea when the subject is brought up. I was in fact surprised that I was asked the question.
I had a look online for some idea of the 4 views of hell (Eternal conscious torment, Terminal punishment, Universal reconciliation and Purgatory) by Preston Sprinkle and look forward to reading up on that.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to me with such care.
Hi Helen. There is a lot of good material out there now, I reviewed some by Lewis, Tim Keller and others which were useful. John Lennox is an old friend, and I learned from him early on to try the best we can to first explore what the bible says before we jump to conclusions on what it means! this means a careful exploration of all the texts, paying heed to the kind of language being used, and comparing text with text so we get as full a picture as possible.
The modern mind wants to have its cake and eat it and be slim and healthy at the same time. In other words, we want justice and universal salvation and a free pass for all. The Biblical narrative reveals what we would not know unless given to us and it is data that sobers us, challenges us, confronts us, and forces us to think. May God grant you peace and confidence as you explore and seek to share as best you can on these important eternal issues.
Hi Stuart, thank you for your kind advice. I will bear what you said in mind as I explore this subject further.
Blessings on you Helen.