Hell: The Doctrine of a Loving God?

Hell: The Doctrine of a Loving God? - T E Hanna | Of Dust & Kings

[This Article Is Part Of The Old Testament God Series]

Few things have given Christians more trouble than the attempt to reconcile a god of justice, love, and mercy with a god who threatens with the fires of hell.

  • If a temporal sin is punished with eternal suffering, how is that justice?
  • If we stand under the coercive demand, “Love and serve me, or be punished for eternity,” how is that love?
  • If God is so narrow-minded that such torment can only be abated by begging for forgiveness, despite the sacrifice already made by His Son, how is that merciful?

These questions and others like them are difficult and, quite honestly, they are good questions to ask.

The Open Flame

Let’s probe a little deeper. Throughout scripture, the description of hell is hardly uniform. It is described as a fiery furnace (Matthew 13:42), the outer darkness (Matthew 22:13), the place of hypocrites (Matthew 24:51), the state of being cast out (Luke 13:28), as well as the lake of fire and the second death (Revelation 20:14, 15).

Theologians have an equally diverse perspective of hell. There are those who argue for a traditional understanding, drawing off the ‘fiery furnace’ imagery, whereby those condemned will suffer for eternity. There are also those who argue for annihilationism, drawing off the ‘second death’ metaphor, whereby condemnation does not result in eternal torment, but in ceasing to exist. Then, there are those (particularly in contemporary theological developments) who argue for a form of universalism. In this view, hell is a purging place where the sin which corrupts is ‘burned off’ and we are made pure. At this point, they would suggest that we may be granted access to heaven.

None of these address the underlying issue, however. How can a god of love, mercy, and justice be willing to condemn individuals to a torment (or annihilation) entirely disproportionate to their crimes, and still be called good?

Another Perspective

I think there is another perspective, one in line both with historically orthodox Christian theology and scripture. Despite the differences in description, two things remains uniform — there will be suffering, and the suffering given stands in sharp contrast with the joy discovered in the kingdom of God.

We find a similar dichotomy within our own human nature.

We have the capacity to bring great joy to one another, and we also have the capacity to bring great suffering. At the heart of the Christian faith is the idea that, through the redemption of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are being changed. That dark part of ourselves is slowly becoming exposed to the light of Christ and, if we participate in the work that God is doing in us, we discover ourselves slowly being moved from selfishness to self-less-ness; from people of pain to people of love.

This is trumpeted throughout the epistles, with admonitions to put away the old nature (characterized by things like envy, wrath, and malice) and adopt the new nature (characterized by love). It is in our inner transformation that we discover the fullness of what it means to be human, in right relationship with God, each other, and our purpose in creation.

Eternity

If we take this same idea, and expand it to eternal implications, we wind up with two very polarized communities.

One such community is marked by transformation, made up of people who have yielded themselves to the life-altering power of the Holy Spirit, and together have formed the citizenry of a Godly kingdom whose central defining element is love.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find those whose desire for personal autonomy over and against the life-sustaining power of the Holy Spirit results in a kingdom whose citizenry have instead become consumed by their own darker natures. Such a kingdom would be an eternal witness to the depths of horror humanity is capable of. When the separation of the citizenry takes place at the final judgment, the kingdom of outer darkness, fueled by our own inner darkness, would rightly become an existential hell.

This latter community is a hell of our own making, from which the God of love, justice, and mercy seeks to offer us a way out. The alternative, the Kingdom of God, is more than a place of rainbows and butterflies. It is a place where we discover the full breadth of who we were created to be and the true beauty of a utopian society free from humanly vice.

What better opportunity could a loving God offer?

What do you think? How do you reconcile the idea of hell with a god of love, justice, and mercy?

T E Hanna is the author of Raising Ephesus: Christian Hope for a Post-Christian Age and has published articles across the web on issues of faith and culture.

  • Brian Johnson

    If I understand this correctly, you are stating that God created evil. How can that make any sense to you? Why would he do such a thing? Especially a ‘loving’ God, as you mentioned. And you are made in God’s image. Are you evil? I suspect you are not. You seem to be serching out things. At least that is how it appears. If you were God, would you create evil? Nope, you wouldn’t want to. The problem of evil in this world lies with mankind. God is good. And everything he created is good. Man WAS GOOD, in the beginning that is. Yet he choose to leave God, and evil took hold of him. Jesus Christ died, to destroy evil once and for all. And to bring ALL mankind/womankind back to a GOOD GOD! Believe in Jesus Christ, THEN God will answer ALL your questions. I had these exact questions about God as you do. When he opened my eyes, I discovered the problem was with me, not Him. Believe it or not, you are asking the same questions about a good God, that many, many others ask have asked. He has wonderful answers for you too!

  • Brian Johnson

    Friend, I love your attitude. “I do not know for sure if the place exists…. I’m not planning on finding out”. Many, many people need your attitude. Just serve Jesus with your life. Do what he wants you to do, and not what you want to do.

  • http://www.schooleyfiles.com Keith Schooley

    Apologies if someone else said this already; I didn’t read all the comments.

    But this sounds very much like CS Lewis’s characterization: “In the end, there are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God eventually says, ‘Thy will be done’.”

    I like that understanding very much.

  • http://www.justifiedfreely.com Luke

    I let scripture speak for itself.

    Lk 3:6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

    Joh 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the ***world***.

    2Co5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling ***the world*** unto
    himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed
    unto us the word of reconciliation.

    Eph1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might
    gather together in one ***all things*** in Christ, both which are in heaven,
    and which are on earth; even in him:

    Phil 3:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned
    like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is
    able even to subdue*** all things*** unto himself.

    Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and
    that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or
    dominions, or principalities, or powers: ***all things*** were created by
    him, and for him:
    17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
    18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning,
    the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the
    preeminence.
    19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
    20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to
    reconcile ***all things*** unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be
    things in earth, or things in heaven.

    Ro11:32 For God hath shut up all together, in a refusal to yield, in
    order that, upon all, he may bestow mercy.

    Ro5:18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon ***all men***
    to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift
    came upon ***all men*** unto justification of life.

    1Ti2:4 Who will have ***all men*** to be saved, and to come unto the
    knowledge of the truth.
    5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man
    Christ Jesus;
    6 Who gave himself a ransom for ***all***, to be testified in due time.
    The Greek word for “due time” and its’ definition:
    _____Strongs_____

    G2540 kairos kahee-ros’

    of uncertain affinity;

    an occasion, i.e. set or proper time. Compare G5550.

    1Tim4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we
    trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of ***all men***, specially of
    those that believe.

    Php2:9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a
    name which is above every name:
    10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
    11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

    Tit 2:11 ¶ For the grace of God has come, giving salvation to ***all men***,

    Hb 2:7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:
    8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

    1Jn 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours
    only, but also for the sins of the ***whole world***.

    1Jn 4:14 ¶ And we have seen and give witness that the Father sent the
    Son to be the Saviour of the world.

    1Co15:20 ¶ But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the
    firstfruits of them that slept.
    21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
    22 For as in Adam ***all die***, even so in Christ shall ***all*** be made alive.
    23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward
    they that are Christ’s at his coming.
    24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom
    to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all
    authority and power.
    25 For he must reign, till he hath put ***all enemies*** under his feet.
    26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
    27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all
    things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which
    did put all things under him.
    28 And when ***all things*** shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son
    also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that
    God may be all in all.

    1Jo 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

    1Jo 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

  • kenneth dawson

    great subject and I love reading the comments-I like Thomas Torrance and the way he looked at spiritual subjects-he liked looking at them from a realistic viewpoint and the reality is that the bible is just a book of statements and the only way to prove them would be to actually experience them and none of us humans can say we have been to hell and show pictures-all I know is that I have experienced jesus Christ in actuality and he lives inside of me and he talks to me and as far as hell goes I do not know for sure If the place exists nor do I care cause im not planning on finding out.

  • http://www.edwardfudge.com Edward Fudge

    Using your proposed scenario as a beginning point, how can we imagine such a hell NOT leading to the total self-annihilation of all who go there?

    • http://tehanna.com T E Hanna

      Well, the idea of annihilationism is that this ends at some point. Somewhere along the line (most annihilationists place this at the point of judgment) the condemned simply cease to exist.

      In this view, however, hell is perpetual precisely because ceasing to exist is no longer an option. That humanity would destroy itself is implicit, but not ceasing to exist. This is what makes it a place of suffering: that humanity afflicts one another, and death is no escape.

      It is a pretty disturbing picture, a hell of our own making. This is why God was willing to sacrifice everything to free His beloved children from it.

      • Christopher L.

        Mr. Hanna,
        I think this may have answered my question I asked in your other post about free will in heaven: http://tehanna.com/free-will-in-heaven/#comments regarding whether or not you believe in universal reconciliation…

        It seems to me that you’re affirming some people will go to hell which is a permanent and eternal destination (which I agree with, but please let me know if that’s not what you meant.)

        One reason I’m cautious is that I’ve encountered others who talk about existential reality of heaven and hell as beginning now and carrying over into eternity (which I agree with but not to the extent as some). Some however, then try to suggest that heaven and hell are not real places that we get to, but only realities that we experience in the continuing present. Some also believe that this explains how in the end God’s love/mercy will win over everyone (universal reconciliation).

        Again, I’m just interested in clearly understanding your position. Even if you disagree with my views, I am thoroughly enjoying your posts and the challenging topics you bring up.

        • http://tehanna.com T E Hanna

          I think we’re on the same page, Christopher.

          I believe that God gives us a choice, and that choice has eternal implications. If we wish to be part of God’s Kingdom, then we have to submit to the sovereignty of the King. If, on the other hand, we wish to reject that sovereignty, then rejection of that Kingdom is part of the choice. This results in an eternal community either in or out of the Kingdom. Only the Kingdom operates under principles reflective of God’s divine character, however.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.phin Mike Phin

    One must fully understand the depth and involvement god has had in the establishment of mankind and in the conception of each and every one of us. There is nothing within the hearts of men that is unknown to god; the Old and New Testament give testimony to that. Additionally, everything (i.e., physical, metaphysical, natural, super natural, etc.) is of this creator. Therefore, all traits characteristic of man, one could argue, originate from this creator (e.g., they were created by god, not man). I have always had a difficult time trying to understand the fundamental essence of any god (specifically a “good” god) as being that of “love, justice, and mercy” when “evil” (or “the opposite of good”) exists. Why create evil? Following this logic, one cannot suggest that god did not create evil, for (as earlier mentioned) god created everything; therefore evil, then, is a byproduct of god. So, after reviewing the evidence at hand, it is easy to conclude that if the god of the Old and New Testament is a good god, then “evil” is good. The questions now begin to abound almost exponentially.

    • http://tehanna.com/ T E Hanna

      This begins with the assumption that evil is a thing in itself, as opposed to operating in ways that are opposed to good. If God establishes what is “good” and, as part of that goodness, imbues us with the capacity to choose to follow that good or reject it, then the capacity for evil is embedded. God was not the creator of evil, evil came as a result of humanity’s decision to rebel against the good.

    • http://linusd.wordpress.com/ linusd

      God claims he is the creator!
      Exo 4:11 And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?

      Let us examine the goodness AND severity of God!
      Job 38:41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?

      Job 39:27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
      Job 39:28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home, on the rocky crag and stronghold.
      Job 39:29 From there he spies out the prey; his eyes behold it from far away.
      Job 39:30 His young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is he.”

      Rom 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

      Mal 1:1 The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
      Mal 1:2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob,

      So then is his goodness selective?
      In the eternal sense Yes!
      In the natural world what is common to men occurs to believers and vice-versa as Jesus pointed out:
      Mat 5:45 …That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

      God and Evil
      Isa 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
      [Here the context of evil is bringing destruction rather than peace!]

      If GOOD is defined in the ‘moral sense’ then God is good!
      Mat 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

      In the world around us, is Love a Good thing?
      Maybe?
      Did God create Love?
      Maybe?
      Is hate Good?
      Maybe… Not?
      Did God create Hate?
      Maybe?

      Let us now apply love and hate in real life.
      Is “loving” you wife a “good” thing?
      Is your neighbor “loving” your wife a “good” thing?
      So love which seems inherently GOOD suddenly turns EVIL when applied in a certain context.

      God may have created mankind so they may have the potential to experience LOVE which is good but that love needs to be channeled in the right direction lest it also turn evil.

      Now can hate be good?
      The key success of Jesus’ good morals stems from the fact that he “hated” evil:
      “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Heb 1:9 KJV)

      God has a plan and purpose in his creation! This does not suit everyone!
      Cain and Abel were born to Eve! Now Cain grew jealous of Abel and slew him. Was Eve responsible for the murder of her son since she gave birth to Cain? Was Eve the source of evil? It turns out she produced one good son and one evil son! So one may argue that there is purpose to continue as good exists though evil prevails.
      In most justice systems a man is responsible for his own actions. If someone is convicted he cannot tell the jury to punish his parents and his grand parents and great grand parents…. and eventually God!

      Ecc 7:29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

      God’s “love, justice, and mercy” is relative!
      Rom 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
      Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
      Rom 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

      Not all find God good and God agrees! In this parable that Jesus taught:
      Mat 25:24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,
      Mat 25:25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
      Mat 25:26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? …

      But there are those that are optimistic:
      Mat 25:22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’
      Mat 25:23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

      Will evil end? God’s road-map to world peace:
      Promise of Peace:
      Isaiah 2:4
      And he will be the judge between the nations, and the peoples will be ruled by his decisions: and their swords will be turned into plough-blades, and their spears into vine-knives: no longer will the nations be turning their swords against one another, and the knowledge of war will be gone for ever.

      Promise of a just government:
      Isaiah 11:1-5
      1 Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David’s family will someday be king.
      2 The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD.
      3 His greatest joy will be to obey the LORD. This king won’t judge by appearances or listen to rumors.
      4 The poor and the needy will be treated with fairness and with justice. His word will be law everywhere in the land, and criminals will be put to death.
      5 Honesty and fairness will be his royal robes.

      Promise of better quality of life:
      Isaiah 65:17-24
      17 I am creating new heavens and a new earth; everything of the past will be forgotten.
      18 Celebrate and be glad forever! I am creating a Jerusalem, full of happy people.
      19 I will celebrate with Jerusalem and all of its people; there will be no more crying or sorrow in that city.
      20 No child will die in infancy; everyone will live to a ripe old age. Anyone a hundred years old will be considered young, and to die younger than that will be considered a curse.
      21 My people will live in the houses they build; they will enjoy grapes from their own vineyards.
      22 No one will take away their homes or vineyards. My chosen people will live to be as old as trees, and they will enjoy what they have earned.
      23 Their work won’t be wasted, and their children won’t die of dreadful diseases. I will bless their children and their grandchildren.
      24 I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.

      Promise of Eternal life and peace
      Daniel 12:1-3
      1 And at that time Michael will take up his place, the great angel, who is the supporter of the children of your people: and there will be a time of trouble, such as there never was from the time there was a nation even till that same time: and at that time your people will be kept safe, everyone who is recorded in the book.
      2 And a number of those who are sleeping in the dust of the earth will wake up out of their sleep, some to eternal life and some to eternal shame.
      3 And those who are wise will be shining like the light of the outstretched sky; and those by whom numbers have been turned to righteousness will be like the stars for ever and ever

      Promise of deliverance from cruelty of the oppressor:
      Rev 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
      Rev 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

  • http://linusd.wordpress.com Linus Daniel
  • http://oneoflokis.wordpress.com oneoflokis

    I don’t know about your having deleted my “last” comment: I think if anything you deleted my first two: so as not to have my comments make sense.. I had to put about 4 previously on here because of character-number limitations on my non-smart-phone.. thought I’d explained about that? :/

    Well Christians certainly aren’t well-known for their sense of humour! Incidentally: you also (conveniently!) saved Peter above from replying to my very first, non-offensive but inconvenient point: namely: if he is going to use lese-majeste as a justification of hell, with monarchy as metaphor.. well what stops Adolf Hitler or any other dictator from using that same privileged position and justification to send someone to a death camp? There was no dissent allowed in Nazi Germany any more than in Peter’s afterlife.

    And wait – so teasingly telling a Christian hell-believer to “get a life” is “silly”, but his attempting to construct arguments from being burnt on pinkie fingers and bottoms isn’t?! Wait till I tell this to the..

    • http://tehanna.com/ T. E. Hanna

      I only deleted the one comment, and I deleted it because it was rude and condescending. Divergent views are welcome; animosity is not. A post which attacks or demeans another member of the community won’t be published.

  • http://oneoflokis.wordpress.com oneoflokis

    Hell (or “the underground prison”) is called Diyu. http://en.m.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_hell

    The actual entry under “Buddhist hell” talks about Naraka, which seems to be the Hindu/Sanskrit term/version for/of hell, go figure. But as Buddhism grew out of Hinduism I expect it did a lot of borrowing: all religions do.

    http://en.m.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_hell

    Oh: and Buddhism may be “atheistic”: but in practice they worship the Buddha, pretty much. Or various Buddhas – there’s more than one! (You’re American, so I expect you’ve never seen “Monkey” – not a joke but a cult TV programme! That would give you a much better feel for it.. :) )

    &if they don’t have gods they certainly have bodhisattvas (another Sanskrit borrowing) who are like saints who exist in an afterlife and/or constantly reincarnate to help suffering mankind.

    And some Buddhist sects believe in a heaven which is called Pure Land.

    And the Japanese version of the hells I’ve mentioned is called Jigoku and is in their pop culture.

    • http://tehanna.com/ T. E. Hanna

      Hinduism, the oldest of the high religions, developed into Jainism which then developed into Buddhism. Buddhism identifies a spiritual reality, and the working of karma and reincarnation. With the exception of Tibetan Buddhism, however, the religion rejects the idea of any form of creator god or deities. While there may be people who have attained enlightenment who assist others in that pursuit, these are not considered divine. While some Buddhists may pray or worship the Buddha, your Buddhist scholars or teachers would say that those people don’t understand Buddhism.

    • http://graygoosegosling.wordpress.com cgosling

      Thanks for your comment on my blog. I’m imprssed, I have read several of your blogs. You have the makings of a moderate Christian of whom I have respect and no fear. We need more Christians like you.

  • http://oneoflokis.wordpress.com oneoflokis

    Um.. yeah. I think you’re talking about *philosophical* Buddhism and “philosophical” Hinduism – some kind of abstracted, totally non-folk-related form of the beliefs, ie that *isn’t* what most of the adherents believe. There are *hundreds* of different sects of both these Eastern religions, maybe thousands: most of which merge with folk & animist etc beliefs, not just Tibetan Buddhism does that! All you have to do is to go on Wikipedia to prove this to your satisfaction – which is what got me (re) interested in this recently; as did the entries on the different cultures’ hells – which is what got me depressed! :( I agree Buddhists in particular *shouldn’t* believe in hell(s): but many do and it is for some sects an official not just a “folk” belief: but then I knew that before I started Wikipedia-diving! For instance I remember a court drama once where a buddhist believer in UK took an oath saying may I go to a hundred hells if I lie! Something like that.

    In Chinese Buddhism/Taoism (they seem to mix the two)

  • http://oneoflokis.wordpress.com oneoflokis

    Never mind that last comment! :) What I really meant to include was a link to a table of a certain ideological progression through history, drawn up by a neopagan Druid, sadly no longer with us, gone to meet his ancestors a couple of years ago! Have a look at it and something may dawn on you! (It did me: one thing being the reality that Richard Dawkins and his ilk labour under the weight of this matrix too: for it is so – unfortunately – fundamental to Western culture: http://www.neopagan.net/Dualism.html

    Cheers! (You can check me out on Twitter @oneoflokis if you like!)

    • http://tehanna.com/ T. E. Hanna

      That “last comment” was deleted. Conflicting views are welcome here, so long as they are not rude or disrespectful, or hateful to other members of the community. Comments such as “get a life, Christian boy!” are childish and won’t make the cut. That said, let me respond to this comment which I did approve.

      The reality is, shamanism and ancestral religions may have been the earliest forms of religion we know of anthropologically, but they were so diverse that to attempt to identify a coherent thread and label it ‘paganism’ is not honest to the reality of what existed. Until the conquest of Alexander the Great, which then Hellenized the known world, religions were tribal and did not mix beyond the boundaries of nations.

      Additionally, to try to suggest that Judaism owes it’s origins to Zoroastrianism fails to account for the 500-1200 years (depending on the scholar) where Judaism predated Zoroastrianism. In fact, the origins of Zoroastrian monotheism can be traced to the Persian courts during the period of Israel’s Persian captivity, whereby Zoroaster would certainly have been influence by the dualism of Judaism. The only argument for a later origin of Judaism comes from late-date source critics, who attempt to argue that Judaism was created retrospectively following Israel’s return from Persia in order to create a unified nation. The problem is that we know that Israel existed as a nation long before Persia conquered them, and especially given the ANE context, it would be silly to assume them to be atheistic. Yet, we have no evidence anywhere of an Israelite religion other than Judaism, which makes such late-date hypothesis a bit of a stretch.

  • http://oneoflokis.wordpress.com oneoflokis

    Having said that, Hindus and Buddhists (some sects, anyway) ALSO manage to have Hell(s): theirs are quite imaginative and often pretty gruesome; only the difference is, they aren’t eternal (nothing is, in those beliefs!) They just consist of thousands of “kalpas” (eons?) of torment before the soul finally breaks free to find its next incarnation.

    Why humanity should have this propensity at all to dwell on torture though.. :(

    Pagans (like me!) don’t have a concept of Hell at all. We have the Underworld (the oldest belief).

    That is little more than a big waiting room/recycling plant. So it has been revealed to me! :)

    Hell my ass! :)

    • http://tehanna.com/ T. E. Hanna

      Buddhism, with the exception of Tibetan Buddhism, is atheistic. Nirvana is nothingness, your identity ceases to exist, and you are basically absorbed back into the universe. That’s their “heaven”. Hinduism is similar, except that you are absorbed back into the Brahman, which is the central Truth, of which all the multitudes of Hindu gods are but shards. The human soul is also considered a piece of the Brahman, trapped within the body.

      Judaism was extremely unique, in contrast to this, in that not only is this the first time we see monotheism, but it its the first time where body, soul, and spirit are creations of God, rather than fragments of him/her/it.

  • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

    Interesting post. I would ask though about those who are not Christian and who try to live moral and selfless lives? Do they too go to the godly kingdom?

    I ask because I know both personally and through readings of many Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist and such that do work to improve themselves and how they live their lives and it seems to me that they do not fit into the kingdom created by those who follow their darker natures.

  • http://olujordan.wordpress.com Olu Jordan

    Thanks Peter for reminding us of the simplicity of the Gospel. That’s important. Jesus didn’t call people whose heads are full of facts but those whose hearts are full of faith. I agree that many times we fall into the trap of trying to rationalize spiritual things through intellectual accent or theological microscope, whereas, they can only be spiritually discerned, ’cause the things of the spirit are spirit. Only known by revelation through His Spirit in our hearts.

    While it is good to leave some topics till when we get to His presence, Hell is a place NOT prepared for anyone except the devil, but people will still hang out with the devil in there by their volition.

    We all know in part, but sufficient enough to keep us from hell and bring us to his presence. That’s the Gospel.

  • http://bolaolujordan.wordpress.com Olu Jordan

    Umn! Great thoughts.

    I’ve always believed there’s perhaps something missing in the puzzle of the doctrine of hell. Rev.20:14 tells me that “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death”. Firstly, this means that hell is not the same as the lake of fire. Lake of fire, however is a place of torment (torment correctly interpreted as testing).

    This ‘torment’ is for ‘day and night for ever’ (Rev.20:10) ‘Forever’ is correctly interpreted as ‘eons’ or ages upon ages, but not eternal. They will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the PRESENCE of the holy angels and the Lamb. (Rev.14:10). We might wonder why in their presence?

    One of the attributes of the Holy Spirit is fire and it purifies and not destroys. What does fire purify? impurities – sin. In the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb, the Holy Spirit purifies for eons. Does this suggest eternal torment of burning in hell. He is sure a God of love, but also a God of judgment, but not to roast and toast people in hell for his pleasure!

    We that came to him did not come to him on our own and they that are yet to come to him is because he hasn’t called them yet? No man comes to him, without the father calling him and he that the father calls, comes! Mat. 20 sheds more light on this. He is the one calling us to Himself, we are not the one going to him. He calls whoever He wills at His own time. If He is God, who can resist Him?

    • Peter

      Olu,

      Hell is a horrible, horrible concept, and I fully understand that we humans find it very difficult to reconcile a loving God with the idea of a Hell where people are sent to suffer for eternity, if that is in fact the message of Scripture (your point raises some interesting issues).

      It seems that a lot of people dislike the idea of Hell so much that they simply HAVE to find an alternative. These alternatives can include annihilation, degrees of punishment, or a place of cleansing where eventually people are made acceptable enough to be welcomed into heaven.

      My argument with the cleansing/purifying angle is that if Hell is indeed a place of purification and cleansing, then why would I live a life for Jesus Christ here and now?
      If I get to heaven, or if I live in the presence of Jesus and God, no matter how I live in this life, except that maybe the sinful route will take longer and be more painful, I think I’d opt for the sinful route, as would a lot of other people.

      BTW, just by inserting the words “correctly interpreted” doesn’t make us agree with your point of view, nor does it make your point of view the “correctly interpreted” point of view.

      In the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31, Abraham says to the rich man who is being tormented in Hell, that “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:26). Hell is a one way journey with no return route.

      God does not send people to Hell with malicious intent. He does send them there because he hates them. Rather Hell is the outcome of a completely impartial judgment by God. We know the conditions for the different outcomes of this judgment.

      All who repent and believe upon the name of Jesus Christ will inherit eternal life.

      Everyone else goes to Hell.

      I think God probably has certain other criteria which mean that some who have not heard the saving name of Christ will also inherit heaven, but that is all a fuzzy area, which I will leave to God.

      Yes that’s an old-fashioned, fundamentalist, fire and brimstone approach, but I don’t trust Biblical teaching which requires me to be a Doctor of Theology before I can understand Scripture’s true intent. The Bible was written for uneducated fishermen as well as highly educated people.

      When we are before the throne of judgment, don’t you think God will tell us that it was spelled out very simply in the Bible? All of our arguments against hell won’t really matter. No matter how much we dislike the concept of Hell, it isn’t hard to understand.

      I still believe it all hinges on the horrible, horrible magnitude of offense that sin is to God. Really all sin, no matter how miniscule, is horrifically bad, and I don’t think we will realize that until we are before the judgement throne of God.

      (Sorry to go on for so long – again)

      • http://tehanna.com/ T. E. Hanna

        I think you mean, “He does [not] send them there because he hates them.” ;)

        • Peter

          Oh yeah, sorry ’bout that.

  • http://livedlovedlost.wordpress.com livedlovedlost

    First, thanks for visiting my blog! I fear I may not have found your otherwise. Really enjoying it so far :)

    Second, my pastor was talking about this Sunday :) Matthew 25:41 talks about the everlasting fire, that was prepared for the devils and his angels…never us! By accepting Jesus, confessing and believing, the Bible says God is faithful, and just, to cleanse us of sins, and forgive us of unrighteousness. As you said perfectly, God isn’t trying to “put” us there or “send” us there. He’s offering us a way out. This is part of the gospel, the good news! That whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life :) Thanks for posting!

  • http://momentumofjoy.wordpress.com momentumofjoy

    Interesting thoughts on this

  • Peter

    Good post.

    I heard the concept behind Hell explained to me very well not long ago, and I’ll try to repeat the explanation here.

    Hell is not disproprtionate to our sin, even the slightest of sin. It is exactly proportionate.

    Let me explain.

    If I slap my friend on the face, he is offended, but he is my friend, an ordinary guy. Although it is an offence to him, it is soleley a personal offence.

    If I slap a policeman on the face, the law states that I can go to jail because the offence is punishable by law. The same action has greater weight because the policeman’s role is that of a public official with the weight of our society’s laws behind him. He is still just an ordinary guy, but his role gives him greater authority in the eyes of our society.

    If I slap the President of the United States or the Queen of England on the face, again the offence is greater because of the greater weight of authority which they hold.

    Extrapolate this infitely to the all-powerful God who has infinite authority. If I slap him on the face, the authority which he carries means that my offence is infinitely severe. The only just and righteous response for an infinitely terrible offence is an infinitely terrible punishment.

    Hell is the right, just and righteous punishment for any sin, even a teeny weeny sin.

    Sin may not seem so bad to us, but to God it is far more significant than we realise.

    • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

      Peter, two things:

      1. This argument trades on a conspicuous equivocation. A concept like “infinite authority” is not intelligible. What you probably mean is that God has all authority, or complete authority. When it comes to final punishment, however, and you say that it is “infinitely severe,” what you probably mean is that it is “as severe as possible.” Again, the concept of “infinite severity” is not intelligible.

      2. If everyone’s punishment is as severe as possible, then everyone’s punishment is equal. Aren’t there degrees of punishment in “hell”?

      • Peter

        Ronnie,

        1. I understand your point about the use of the word infinite, and I agree that it is not intelligible. That’s the whole point though. God is not completely intelligible and the concepts we are talking about are ultimately beyond our comprehension. That’s one reason why we call God God: we don’t fully understand him, his world or why he does things. If we did, he would not be God.

        As for it being an equivocation, I disagree also. I am not being ambiguous in the language I use, rather I am being very pointed. Infinite is not a term which lends itself to varying interpretations.

        2. I don’t know of anywhere in the Bible that says there are degrees of punishment in Hell. Everyone gets the same treatment there.

      • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

        The illustration was intended to be unintelligible? That doesn’t seem right.

        For the record, the concept of infinity is absolutely intelligible. The point was that it cannot intelligibly be used to modify certain words (such as “authority” and “severity”). When we use it with those words we actually mean something else.

        I showed exactly how the word was being used in two senses, ergo equivocation. How about this, why don’t you explain precisely what you mean when you say that God has “infinite authority” and what you mean when you say that final punishment is “infinitely severe.”

        I’ve never run across a person who adheres to the traditional view of hell and yet denies degrees of punishment. If you don’t then we can ignore that point.

        • Peter

          Ronnie,

          Why can’t the word infinite be used to qualify the words authority or severity?
          This is the English language isn’t it?

          That’s the whole point of the word infinite – limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate: (Oxford English Dictionary) – it conveys something which is beyond measurement. Again that is my whole point. Using All authority or Complete authority would convey that the authority could be measured, but with God it is beyond measurement and beyond our full understanding. That is indeed what I mean and that is indeed what I intended to write.

          How did you show that the word was being used in two senses? All you did was speculate that I did not mean what I wrote.

          I suspect what you are trying to say is just that you can’t comprehend my point of view, perhaps it is too pedestrian for you, and probably it smacks of fundamentalism, for which I do not apologize.

          As for my view of Hell without degrees of punishment, you will have to count me as the first person you’ve heard of who adheres to the traditional view of Hell and denies degrees of punishment. I’ll say it again, I believe everyone in Hell gets the same treatment.
          Hell is the absence of God’s presence. There are no degrees to his absence.

          God isn’t a little bit in Hell and he doesn’t visit only on Tuesdays. Some people in Hell do not eternally burn only on their pinkie fingers while others burn on their bottoms PLUS their pinkie fingers.

          • http://stanpatton.wikispaces.com Stan

            Peter,

            Augustine is probably the man most individually responsible for the widespread acceptance of Endless Conscious Torment in the Christian Church (as opposed to the purgatorial universalism that was widespread at the time, Augustine tells us). Augustine believed in degrees of hell; basically, a more seriously-worded version of your last paragraph.

            So, if you’re going to talk about “traditional views,” the idea that everyone gets a blanket, endless punishment is about two steps beyond the views of the earliest Christians.

      • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

        If by “infinite” you mean “limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate”, then you’re just plain incorrect. God’s authority does a have a such a limit—all of creation, which is finite. He has complete and total authority over everything that exists. And yes, that is something that God could measure if he so chose. Where did you get the idea that God’s authority is “infinite” in the first place?

        All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
        Matthew 28:18

        All authority. Not “infinite” authority. That’s what I said in my first post.

        So for your argument to work, you would need to use “infinite” in the same sense. God has all/complete authority, so an offense against him is all/complete? The punishment would then be all/complete? That is not cogent.

        Not to mention the fact that we are assuming that there is always a direct correlation between the severity of a crime and the authority of the person against whom it is committed (an assumption that has not been established).

        As far as hell being merely the place where God is not, one of most cited proof-texts in defense of traditional hell says just the opposite:

        And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.
        Revelation 14:9-11

    • http://stanpatton.wikispaces.com Stan

      Peter,

      You said, “[Endless] Hell is the right, just and righteous punishment for any sin, even a teeny weeny sin.”

      The ONLY place in Scripture where there is a sense in which all sins are alike is in the sense that the tiniest sin makes us a lawbreaker. And when we’re a lawbreaker, we deserve the First (natural) Death. That is literally the only sense in which all sins are considered the same.

      In every other case, sins are treated differently, stacked in different intensities, and measured according to intensity and according to the individual’s responsibility, in both “man’s eyes” and “God’s eyes.”

      In addition, we’re told over and over again that God’s justice is shown by the fact that he always punishes in exact proportion to what is due a person for his infractions “committed in the body,” including by Elihu in Job, Paul in Romans, and Christ through the angel in Revelation. Those statements would be completely meaningless if, from a toddler stealing a cookie to a serial killer, God simply lets fall a universal hammer on those without a credit of righteousness.

      Finally, the Bible tells us over and over again what Biblical justice means. It doesn’t mean “Whatever we want it to mean — however intractable and ineffable — so that endless hell is somehow just.” It means, “Credit exactly equal to the merit” and “Punishment exactly equal to the infraction.” We’re given all sorts of examples of “perversions of justice,” wherein alien considerations tip those balanced scales and ruin justice. Those alien considerations can include bias against foreigners, indifference to widows, sympathy for the poor, bribery, and weight to a claimant’s great status. The last is what you are trying to employ.

      In each example you cite above, the *purpose* is not blind retribution due the claimant’s great status. Rather, they each have the pragmatic purpose of protecting those offices by means of social deterrence.

      So, no, endless punishment is not at all just, if we care about what the Bible says about justice and how God judges. This is why those Jews who believe in an afterlife generally find the concept of endless hell outrageous, abhorrent, and perverse.

      Yes, there’s a hell. Yes, those not sancitifed in life will be punished there, in a “kolasin aionion,” after the general resurrection. No, it won’t last forever — the Bible tells us, time and time again, that God’s primary mission objective is an eventual reconciliation of everyone under Christ.

  • Tim

    This is surely a good question to ask of one’s faith. The complexity of God’s character is more beautiful than an orchestral masterpiece. Each attribute of God both stands alone and works in conjunction with the others to paint the portrait of God. God is love; so He blesses us with good things and dies for our sins. But why does He need to die for our sins? Because He is a holy God who doesn’t tolerate sin and His holiness and justice requires Him to punish sin as treason against His reign as Supreme King. God has not punished sinners unjustly or unnecessarily by sending them to hell. Every human lives a lifetime of sin lived in complete rebellion to God and totally ignorant of His sovereignty and holiness. We refuse to give Him the glory that is due to Him and for that we incur wrath upon ourselves each day. Thus God being loving does not want us to perish in His wrath so He sends His Son to take the punishment for us. The cross is the place that all of God’s attributes meet and are on public display.