I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and they asked me why dosen’t God allow for a third option, someting other than Heaven of Hell ,because it seems that an eternal punishement for just some minor sins is not a just punishment and it seems like God is pointing a gun at your head by giving you just two options, one of which beeing eternal damnation. In other words maybe murderers or rapists would deserve to go to eternal Hell but gossipers and ocasional liars should have it easier, somewhere other than Heaven , apart from God, since they don’t particularly like Him very much, but not eternally tormented.
What would be your answer to this question ?
@ciprian.boldi Great question I think that this question ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of what it means to be saved and what Jesus came to do… Heaven is not for good people or hell for bad people. In the words of C. S. Lewis:
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live. -CS Lewis
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the consequence was death. The wages of sin is death. Jesus is life and there is no life apart from Him.
I John 5:12 - Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
We must choose life in Christ or death. There is no third option. However, I also do not agree with your friend’s depiction of ‘Hell’. Below I provide a more nuanced view of the doctrine of ‘Hell’. Not all Christians believe God threatens us with eternal torment and even those who believe in eternal separation from God do not believe it is a threat from God. Rather, God weeps as people face the choice they have freely chosen.
“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.” C. S. Lewis
I think the challenge when we discuss ‘Hell’ is to hold fast to what Scripture teaches while not going beyond what Scripture teaches out of a desire for certainty or to support an already held position. Where the Scripture is clear we must hold fast - Jesus is the only way, repentance is necessary for salvation, there will be a day of judgment. And where there is less certainty - what does that judgment entail, how will God judge this or that person (only God knows the secrets of the heart), what to do with the difficult texts - we should admit uncertainty while still wrestling towards the truth.
The problem with the English word ‘Hell’ is that it is not even a direct translation of any word in the Bible. It is not a Biblical word. There are 4 words used in the Bible that are sometimes translated ‘hell’ and none of them are equivalent to what unbelievers I have met often mean by the English word ‘hell’. They are:
1 - Gehenna or Valley of Hinnom (New Testament)
2 - Tartarus (New Testament) -
3 - Sheol (Old Testament)
4 - Hades (New Testament)
Gehenna was a trash pit that was once a site of great idolatry. Tartarus and Hades were actually Greek terms describing the abode of the dead or a place of judgment . And Sheol was a Hebrew word used to describe the place where both good and bad people go upon death.
But what do English speakers mean by the word ‘hell’? They think of Dante’s Inferno and paintings from the middle ages of people being tossed into a burning pit screaming while little beings wait to torment them. This picture is not Biblical at all.
The three Christian 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
Below are some resources from Christians who I would say have wrestled with this question and arrived at a thoughtful answer. Personally, I do not see Biblical warrant for universalism, but there are sincere Christians who have come to that conclusion and I think it is important to fairly represent their perspective.
What about those who have not heard?
@SeanO Thank you for the overview. I can see that many questions that I get come from a misunderstanding of the Scriptures or from a popularized view of other witings refering to Biblical truths or matters. But as we are being taught, behind every question there is a questioner and also that giving right answers to wrong questions is always wrong so we must learn to discern what is what in order to properly address each particular situation.
Thank you again for your help!
May God bless you!
I think this is a great answer from Sean but, I am wondering if it is not even simpler to say that SIN Cannot and Will NOT exist in the presence of God. Therefore there is no such thing as Big SIN and little sin. If Sin exists in a person (unforgiven) when they die, they will be separated from God BY THAT SIN. This actual “experience of separation” may in fact, differ from person to person but I don’t see how one could view any version of it as Punishment. We are ALL given the option to choose to accept Forgiven and avoid it…no matter what “It” ultimately is.
@1rickolson Good thought I think if we are going to give that particular explanation it is import to add some nuance to the word sin. A lot of folks might just assume you mean hurting other people or doing bad things, whereas in Scripture we know that at the heart of sin is idolatry and replacing God with other things / people. The eternal separation view makes much more sense when you understand the real nature of sin.
I see where you are going and I too like the idea of explaining and digging down into various topics from time to time but, I also like to reduce things to the most basic forms. “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God”. None of us can do anything to avoid Hell. (whatever that experience would ultimately be like). If we could “handle” it ourselves there would have been no need for God to step in and do it. In fact, Jesus himself asked the Father: “If there be ANY other way…never the less not my will but yours be done”). Having said these things: All are guilty and Jesus took care of All of it for us. My point in my 1st response then was: Why do I need to explain Sin or Hell or Heaven for that matter. All I need to do is accept what Jesus has done, receive Him as my Lord & Savior and then I, personally, am free to remained focused on becoming as useful and valuable to the Lord as I can. Another thought on the matter that I have frequently had is: (I have been a fan of the Star Trek movies for years). Matter and Anti-Matter cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Likewise, Perfection (God) and Imperfection CANNOT CO-EXIST. Finally then, the question of a 3rd option doesn’t really make sense to me. I see things as simple as On or Off. Light or Dark. Right or Wrong. Heaven or Hell. And…all the while I THANK GOD that HE has made things as simple as He had for us. For some people explanations are CRITICAL. My experience over that past 40 years is that simple is the best way for MOST. Too much info…especially for baby Christians and/or non-believers can actually CAUSE confusion…not remove it. PS: A question popped into my head as I was about to press send: I wonder if a person who is seeking a 3rd option (or a 4th, 5th, etc) MIGHT NOT be a person who accepts Jesus as their Savior but has not yet or perhaps refuses to make Him Lord of their life? In other words, they want to go to Heaven but otherwise don’t want to bothered with or required to respond to the Word or apply it in their daily lives. This type of person may say something like: “I love Jesus and believe He died for my sins…I’m not a bad person. If ME running my life instead of turning it all over to Jesus is bad and deserves punishment of some type, can’t the Lord send me some place other than Hell for a “season” until I get myself squared away?” This sounds nice and maybe even logical but it isn’t how God has set things up……….Have a Blessed Day Sir!!
@1rickolson Thanks for the response I would disagree regarding definitions. If you do not understand what you mean by the words sin, Jesus and Hell and cannot communicate that clearly to someone else, then your statement has no inherent meaning. While not everyone is equally capable of putting their understand of those words into words - our understanding of them is crucial to our faith and even more important when trying to communicate our faith in a culture where those words are either meaningless or have been given very inaccurate meanings.
For me, it is a simplistic answer - and maybe to some, over simplifying the issue.
God is the Creator of, not only this world, but the entire universe - whatever that may entail (way beyond this small mind).
We also know that God is omnipotent - knowing everything!
Now think about that. Try to let that sink in.
How much knowledge is in a set of top line Encyclopaedias?
Let’s go to an entire town library. Tens of thousands of books.
Now, try to comprehend how much knowledge is contained in the Congressional library in Washington DC, or the entire libraries in the US. The amount of knowledge contained in all the libraries on this planet. Do you see where I’m going?
Whilst I’m talking about the vastness of the entire knowledge contained in this world, it is such an incredibly infinitesimal amount of knowledge compared to what is involved in holding this planet in space, holding the Solar System in place, the billions of Solar Systems throughout the entire universe, yet it can’t compare with the knowledge contained within the mind of God!
My point is, since God is the supreme force/power/knowledge/Creator of the Universe, how He put it together in the way He did, is perfect.
How He planned this world, and our creation, and what is going to happen to the saved and the fallen when He comes for the final time - is perfect.
He can’t do it any other way. It is impossible for Him to do it any other way - He is God.
If it was not perfect, it wasn’t God who did it.
So, my simple view is He has created two pathways, which we can choose to walk - and it is perfect.