Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Existence of Hell

When I got done speaking and answering questions in Boston last week and started autographing books one man walked up to me. He immediately said I was a false prophet and that I was going to go straight to hell. The reason he gave was that I taught that we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. He said that prior to the Reformation no one ever taught such a thing. Not only that, but he said you're saved through the Roman Catholic Church and through the Roman Catholic Church alone. If you are not part of the Roman Catholic Church you are a false prophet and you're going to go to hell. That was my first encounter.

I also encountered a man who was very sincere, an unbeliever, who is a man who believes that there are many reasons why he cannot accept the historic Christian faith but is open to reason. That's what we're looking for; people who are sincerely open to reason. This gentleman has a number of questions that I'm going to be addressing with him personally, but I thought it would be instructive to take some of those questions and deal with them in the next several blog entries. These are issues that separate people from the historic Christian faith or Christian worldview. They say it's simply irrational. "There are these unanswered questions, they nag at me, they bother me and I can't become a Christian until they're resolved." That's a problem for him and I imagine it's a problem for many other people as well.

For example, he says that the Bible teaches hell and he thinks that's a horrendously primitive and cruel concept. Or, the Bible supports slavery, or the Bible is full of contradictions, or Jesus is not qualified to be God's representative because He was mistaken about the end times - a question I've got many, many different times as I've talked to skeptics throughout the years. "I find the Bible discriminates against Gay people." Another objection, "The Bible contradicts science." Yet another, "The Bible's prophecies are unimpressive" or "I find the Bible's answer to the problem of evil unsatisfying." So we have the top ten objections here, and again, let's deal with some of them.

The first of these objections is the objection which is often raised with respect to eternal, conscious torment in hell. Why do we, as Christians, believe in hell? I've outlined this in various places, including my book Resurrection and The Bible Answer Book, Volume 1.

The first reason I believe in hell's irrevocable reality is that Christ communicated that hell was real. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount alone He explicitly warned His followers about the dangers of hell a half a dozen or more times.

Secondly, I believe that the concept of choice demands that we believe in hell. Without hell there's no choice, and without choice heaven would not be heaven, heaven would be hell. The righteous would inherit a counterfeit heaven and the unrighteous would be incarcerated in heaven against their wills, which would be a torture worse than hell. Imagine spending a lifetime voluntarily distancing yourself from God only in the end to find yourself involuntarily dragged into His loving presence for all eternity! The alternative to hell is worse than hell itself in that it is taking humans who are made in the image of God and stripping them of freedom and forcing them to worship God against their wills.

So the first reason I believe in hell is Christ taught there was a hell and you can demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the one who spoke and the universe leapt into existence. The second reason I believe in hell is choice demands that there be a hell. Without hell there's no choice.

There's one other reason I should cite, and that is common sense dictates that there must be a hell. Without hell the wrongs of Hitler's holocaust are never going to be righted. Justice would be impugned if, after slaughtering 6 million Jews, Hitler would merely die in the comforting arms of his mistress with no eternal consequences. The ancients knew better than to think such a thing. David knew that for a time it might seem as though the wicked prosper in spite of their deeds but in the end justice would be served.

Common sense also dictates that without a hell there's no need for a Savior. Little needs to be said about the absurdity of suggesting that the Creator would suffer more than the cumulative sufferings of all of mankind if there's no hell to save us from. Without hell there's no need for salvation. Without salvation there's no need for a sacrifice, and without a sacrifice there's no need for a Savior.

As much as we might want to think that all will be saved, I think that common sense precludes the possibility. So I believe in hell first and foremost because Christ taught there was a hell. Secondly, because choice demands there be a hell. Thirdly, because common sense dictates there is a hell. I've outlined in a couple of different places: The Bible Answer Book, Volume 1 and Resurrection. We also did a feature article in the Christian Research Journal on hell.


Dan G said...

OK, that's fine. As long as the physical torment (fire, brimstone, worms, that kind of thing) is either figurative or of a limited duration I think I can deal with it. I have no problem with the wicked being punished for their sin and unbelief.

I do have a problem with the idea of unending, conscious, excruciating physical torment. To say that a normal person (i.e. not a monster like Hitler) would be condemned to such a thing for not believing is simply not reconcilable with a loving God (in my opinion of course).

Eternal conscious separation from God? Fine. Degrees of punishment based on how monstrous the individual was? No problem. Varying degrees or durations of punishment followed by annihilation? That works well too (and there is scriptural support for it as well).

I agree that forcing people into heaven against their will is not reconcilable with a loving God either and as such universalism is off the table.

The Nicky said...

I agree with most of what dan g says, but I differ in one place...I have no real issue with the idea that na eternally loving God could create a place of eternal torment for those who ultimately reject Him.
This is not to say I refuse the concept of eventual annihilation; I simply don't know enough to know one way or the other. (I am a relatively new student of Scripture, and the more I study and read, the more I find that I DON'T know!) All I am saying is I see nothing contradictory in these concepts- why WOULDN'T eternal anguish over separation from God's presence be accompanied by corresponding physical torment? Isn't the human creation an image of God's triune nature, with our body, soul and spirit (pneuma, soma, and psyche, if you prefer)? It just seems logical to me...

David Mackey said...

Two quick thoughts on your post (I am not saying that I (dis)agree with the substance of your post, but I do question these two areas):
1. You argue that hell is required b/c otherwise people like Hitler would go unpunished. But the truth is, people such as Hitler DO go unpunished if they receive salvation through Jesus.
2. You argue that if there was no hell there would be no reason for Jesus to die, I disagree. Jesus died not only to save us from punishment but also to heal us of an inescapable sin nature. This alone requires Christ's sacrifice.

Bill said...

A couple of follow-up questions about David's two comments:

1) If Hitler received Christ as savior, wouldn't his sins have been paid for through Christ's death on the cross?

2) How many people receive Christ and then never sin again?

reality check said...

Sounds to me like you need to believe in hell in order to believe in Jesus. Take hell away and there is no need for Jesus. The doctrine of hell needs to be upheld or the rest of christian doctrine crumbles.

Anonymous said...

We shouldn't be relieved in the fact that these are symbolic metaphors.

Since God is opposed to all Sin and not what society calls "bad sin" which includes rape or murder,
we must take all sin seriously.

We can also assume that Hell is far worse.We must make the same assumption when understanding Heaven w/ "walls of Jasper" and "streets paved w/ Gold."

Jesus used the most awful symbols immaginable to describe Hell.

From the same source we find "God is Love" we also find that He is, Holy, Righteouss, a "God of Justice" and a " God of Wrath."
We must not pick and choose we must accept all of what scripture says about God.

chance n said...

The eternal, physical punishment of Hell is justified not by looking at the degree of the sin, but by looking at who the sin was against. Scripture states that when we sin we do it against an eternal, perfectly holy God. Therefore, the consequences of that act of eternal treason is eternal punishment. If we have a problem with the eternality of Hell then we take sin too lightly. Our view of the seriousness of sin is a direct result of our understanding of the holiness of God. Scripture is clear that punishment in Hell is eternal, leaving no room for annihilationism. (see Is. 66:24; Mt. 25:41-46; Mk. 9:42-50)

Also, it is possible to say that these verses use "figurative" language and to support that by mentioning the "figurative" language in regards to the words that describe the greatness of Heaven. If we do this though, then we must understand that language has limits. We can use language to attempt to describe eternal or perfect things, but it will always fall short. How can mere words accurately describe Heaven? So we must assume that the glories of Heaven will far surpass those words that attempt to describe them. If we do that, though, we must also apply that line of reasoning to the descriptions of the horrors of Hell. The words used in the above verses make Hell seem horrible... It will, however, undoubtedly be far worse.

Jeremy E. Finzel said...

I think it should be strongly emphasized that Christ's sacrifice and his life meant far more than saving us from hell (not that this was Hank's claim). We are given the ability through Christ to truly grow close to God and to live the kind of life that Christ lived, the kind we were intended to live which provides true fulfillment and joy, the sort that we see flowing from Jesus. All this is the case really irrespective of whether or not there is a hell.

But it should be noted that I think this serves to further illuminate what heaven and hell are like. Hell is the natural result of living a life apart from Christ which inevitably ends up in a shallow and unfulfilling existence. Heaven is the natural result of living the sort of life Christ lived, fulfilling our design, which inevitably results in joy and rich fulfillment. What is more, this kind of life is available to us now because of Jesus and nothing in Jesus' teachings indicates otherwise.

Hamlet said...

Either it is the case that our sense of morality is correct (mostly) or it is (mostly) wrong.

If the former then we can use our sense of morality to judge the goodness/badness of an act. If not, then we cannot.

The latter option has serious ramifications to Christianity. If our sense of morality, of justice is wrong, then we cannot call God "good" from an a posteriori standpoint. We can do so from presuppositional standpoint. We can simply attribute the word "good" with the word "God". But as God is also defined as the "source" of goodness, pre-suppositionally defining God as good, and say that God defines what is good, gets us no where. It simply says that God is himself.

If we call God "good", we must be able to do so a posteriori. Based on his actions we recognize that he is good. Moreover, this implies that our "moral sense" of hell is, with high probability , accurate.

So the idea that we have the wrong "idea" of sin, that if we had God's viewpoint we would just "get it" doesn't work.

The idea that a God who is loving and merciful even if such a God is "just", or "holy" offends our moral sense, unless we suspend our moral sense when it comes to God.

It is easy to accept hell if one views everyone going there as a monster. If one views them as human beings however, it becomes a lot harder.

Anonymous said...

I once heard Hank say this...and it certainly is true from the Bible's perspective... "if God can't save Hitler....He can't save me!"

So, (I'm sorry I forgot who wrote it) if indeed Hitler had repented of his sins, I would hope the community of believers would accept him as such. I don't have any problem believing this because it has happened in the past. The apostle Paul called himself the chief of all sinners and he was known to be a killer of Christians. But after God threw him to the ground, and he became one of His, the apostles became his brothers!!! And he became one of the more prominent leaders in the early church.

The fact is...that the fact of sin is what was dealt with on the cross. We need not worry ourselves with the quantity of sin. Even in Hitler's case.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to condemn Hitler to Hell... but what about all the non-Christians who died in the Holocaust as a result of Hitler's evil? Many of those whom Hitler slew will be in Hell themselves, standing side by side with the man responsible for the murder.

What's more, IF Hitler begged forgiveness and accepted Christ as his savior as he lay dying, we have the ironic situation of Hitler being in heaven while his non-Christian victims all roast in Hell.

And you call that justice?

jabcat said...

Hell is a mistranslation of several specific Greek and Hebrew words. Eternal (as in eternal torment) is mistranslated from the Greek word 'aion', having to do with an age, a period of time. Jesus died to save us from death (the wages of sin is death). Paul declares Jesus to be the Savior of the world, not exclusively, but ESPECIALLY of believers (I Tim. 4:10). He also describes how all will be made alive, each in their own order. And that as in Adam all died, in Christ [the same] all will be made alive.

The Lake of Fire is purifying (Lake of Theos Pur = lake of divine purification), and every knee will bow, every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. Lord means 'master'. Confess means to acknowledge openly/joyfully proclaim. One cannot confess Jesus as Lord except IN the Holy Spirit (not BY the Holy Spirit, as incorrectly translated).

There is no other name whereby men must be saved. God gives the faith to believe upon Jesus for salvation, and enables repentance. Our will is not 'free' - we are required to make choices within the parameters God sets. Scripture states we plan our way, but God directs our steps - in John Jesus said "you did not choose me, I chose you". Scripture describes how some are chosen now, the ecclesia, set aside for a purpose - part of which is to rule the nations and bring in the rest - God is reconciling all creation, as described by Paul.

Toward the end of the Revelation, the gate to the city of New Jerusalem is open night and day, as the kings of the earth bring their treasures into it. There is no more tears or pain, and the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. God has a plan for the ages. Jesus will subdue everything, including death and the grave, then He will hand all to the Father, Who will be ALL in ALL - Not all in Some, but All in All. Praise God for His Son - His death, His resurrection, His grace and mercy.

Search the scriptures. "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the honor of kings to search out a matter". "By your traditions you make the Word of God of no effect". Nothing unclean can inherit the Kingdom of God - all our wood, hay, stubble will be burned, the soul will be saved in the day of the Lord.

God's blessing, James.