Hell is real and eternal

My view of hell...

Some who reject Christianity object to the doctrine of hell, thinking it's God's judgment by eternal torture. They ask, "how can a loving God judge people (1) who weren't properly informed, and (2) with a punishment so awful?" Yes, these are troubling, and I add...

  1. The punishment should match the crime
  2. If God were truly just, he would inform us ahead of time of the rules he is using

Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants often reply: we are so radically wicked to the core that God is just in torturing us. (This, the doctrine of total depravity from John Calvin, even Martin Luther.)

I offer more satisfying way of thinking about it...


My View of Hell

Main points...

  1. Those in hell choose to be there with full knowledge of the consequences.
  2. Hell is an expression of God's love for them.
  3. Final judgment of the wicked is not to punish them, but to judge which eternal home is suitable for them — heaven or hell.
  4. Sinful deeds contain within them their own judgment and punishment. When people willfully choose to sin they break fellowship with God. We see this with Adam's sin in his immediate sense of guilt and separation.

I agree with the Catholic teaching, that hell is being alone, absolutely and forever, the eternal experience of ultimate meaninglessness and despair, with sufferings from...

  1. pain of loss — from eternal separation from God
  2. pain of sense — but not sadistic tortures, although the body will share in the punishment of the soul

Based on my Creative Frames theory those in hell are being continually annihilated. They are continuously experiencing God's dissolution of the universe with each creative frame. They are out of synch with God's plan and purpose and don't connect up their soul and it's senses in proper timing to the physical senses and motor nervous system.

Other passages...


What Hell is Not...

  1. Hell is not eternal torture by burning (but it is "eternal fire")
  2. Hell is not punishment as the just judgment for crimes committed against God (it is, rather, the result of the natural consequences of sin)
  3. Hell is not a place completely without God's presence
  4. Hell is not a place where the inhabitants "vex" one another

What Hell Is...

  1. Hell is judgment for wickedness
  2. Hell is the consequence of unrepented sin and wickedness
  3. Hell is eternal separation from God and self-exclusion from communion with God
  4. Hell is a just consequence by a loving and holy God
  5. Hell is the eternal experience of the unredeemed sinner in the presence of the holy God.
  6. Hell is punishment in the sense that the unredeemed wicked are not given the gift of righteousness

God's Purpose for Humans

We should expect that whatever hell is, it fulfills God's purpose for creating humans in the first place. This purpose: we acknowledge him eternally.

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

Certainly the worship of God is a central activity of those in heaven...

The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say... (Revelation 4:10)

The people in hell will be eternally acknowledging God's existence and his power. But since they hate God, this will be unpleasant for them.


What is the "Fire" of Hell?

A few representative passages to illustrate the biblical teaching. Notice the standard view of hell as eternal torture by fire is not supported by the Bible.


What Is Eternal Punishment?

From the following passage we see that hell is eternal punishment...

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)

But what is the nature of this punishment? Is it incarceration against the will for wrongdoing? Is it torture? Or is it annihilation?

In the following passage, note that the punishment consists of everlasting destruction and being shut out from the presence of the Lord...

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

The phrase "everlasting destruction," taken as literal physical fire, leads to a contradiction, because when something is destroyed it is gone forever. So whatever this everlasting punishment is, it does not consist of a one-time permanent irreversible destruction.

This passage emphasizes that eternal punishment consists of being shut out from the presence of the Lord. I propose that this is the essential characteristic of conditions in hell.

In the following passage, everlasting punishment is compared with the punishment of death for people who disobeyed the law of Moses...

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:28-29)

Since physical death is not everlasting torture, eternal punishment is not everlasting torture either. The punishment of death resulted in people being separated from the others in this world. I propose that eternal punishment is also a separation, but it is a separation from enjoying the benefit of coming before the holy God with our sins forgiven.


Sin has Natural Consequences

The natural consequence when people choose to willfully refuse to serve God is that they will begin to live a depraved and sinful lifestyle.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. . . . Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts. (Romans 1:21,24)

A sinful, God-rejecting lifestyle carries with it its own judgment.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)

This passage affirms the following points...

  1. God has made the essential knowledge about himself available to everyone.
  2. Some people willfully choose to reject God and to serve themselves instead of God.
  3. This results in their falling into a wicked and depraved lifestyle.
  4. This sin has natural consequences including (1) separation from God, and (2) a broken fellowship with God.
  5. The natural consequence of a sinful lifestyle is a hardened heart towards God. This is the wrath of God which is a direct consequence of his holiness.
  6. At final judgment, God judges whether a person has a heart which is hard towards God. This is also the wrath of God based, again, on his holiness.

Those who have rejected God are consigned to hell. But hell is merely a natural consequence of sin when it confronts God's holiness. The result is eternal punishment, which is merely the eternal purification of a hardened heart which will never turn to God.


God Hardens the Hearts of the Wicked

The passages about Pharaoh's hard heart relate to the doctrine of hell. For reference, here are the two passages...

The Lord hardens Pharaoh's heart

I will harden Pharaoh's heart. (Exodus 7:3)

Pharaoh hardens his own heart

But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. (Exodus 8:32)

The usual understanding of this passage is that...

  1. Pharaoh first hardened his heart.
  2. Then, in response, God confirmed Pharaoh's decision.

This seems contrived to me. The purpose for stating it this way is to avoid the unpleasant conclusion that God initiates the process. If God first hardens hearts then it is no longer a free will choice when we harden our hearts. This is because no one can resist his will.

There is another way to think about the issue which resolves the problems...


Gnashing Teeth

People generally assume the image of gnashing teeth refers to physical pain, but that's not how the Bible uses it. A couple of typical passages...

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:30)

There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. (Luke 13:28)

Even God gnashes his (spiritual) teeth so the image certainly doesn't refer to physical pain. Yes, God has teeth — in the spiritual realm, since God is Spirit.

God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me. (Job 16:9)

This image is also used this way in the New Testament.

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. (Acts 7:54)

People gnash their teeth at people as a sign of ridicule and contempt. They do it to mock and to show disrespect.

Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked, they gnashed their teeth at me. (Psalms 35:16)

Therefore, people in hell who gnash their teeth do so because of their hatred of God, not because they are in physical pain.


Jonah

The account of Jonah directly pertains to understanding hell. The essentials...

Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me. (Jonah 1:2)

But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)

But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:10)

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you". (Jonah 3:1-2)

Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. (Jonah 3:3)

God persuaded Jonah to go to Nineveh but did not violate Jonah's free will. God put Jonah into a situation sufficient to persuade him to do what God wanted him to do.

I propose that in hell, God provides a situation sufficient to persuade each of the wicked inhabitants of hell to willfully:

It is God's purpose in creating both angelic beings and humans that we all willfully acknowledge that these things belong to God alone.


Lazarus and the Rich Man

The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man pictures conditions in hell. The key verses...

In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:23)

So he called to him, Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire. (Luke 16:24)

And besides all this, 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)

He answered, Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. (Luke 16:27-28)

People commonly use this to prove hell is a place of eternal torture. They assume it's not a parable but a factual story and so it must be interpreted literally. But a strictly literal interpretation has some unintended side-effects, usually ignored...

The purpose of this parable was to show that the Old Testament is sufficient for people to recognize who Christ was. When he rose from the dead he was rejected just like in the parable.


Punishment

Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? (Lamentations 3:39)

It is common for people to think of hell as eternal torture. Certainly hell is eternal punishment...

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)

But the word "punishment" does not imply torture. In fact, in the Bible, punishment rarely refers to physical pain or torture.

Punishment is done for a purpose, to make a change for the better in the future. But when the punishment is eternal there is no possibility of future benefit so the punishment itself must be its own benefit.


Reasons for God's Punishment in this Life

Some of the reasons that God punishes. What he hopes to accomplish.

  1. So that the person or people will repent and turn back to God

    I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. (Isaiah 57:17)

    In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. (Jeremiah 2:30)

  2. Punishment is a natural consequence of sin

    Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart! (Jeremiah 4:18)

  3. Punishment results in God removing his blessings. This is to demonstrate that only God has the power.

    This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression. As a well pours out its water, so she pours out her wickedness. Violence and destruction resound in her; her sickness and wounds are ever before me. Take warning, O Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land desolate so no one can live in it". (Jeremiah 6:6-8)

  4. God's punishment is based on our deeds. This demonstrates his justice

    I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 21:14)

  5. It is the wickedness of man that does the punishing. God merely allows the natural consequence to take its course. Wickedness leads to violence

    The day is here! It has come! Doom has burst forth, the rod has budded, arrogance has blossomed! Violence has grown into a rod to punish wickedness; none of the people will be left, none of that crowd—no wealth, nothing of value. (Ezekiel 7:10-11)

    They will come against you with weapons, chariots and wagons and with a throng of people; they will take up positions against you on every side with large and small shields and with helmets. I will turn you over to them for punishment, and they will punish you according to their standards. (Ezekiel 23:24)

  6. To demonstrate God's holiness, that he hates sin

    This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "I am against you, O Sidon, and I will gain glory within you. They will know that I am the LORD, when I inflict punishment on her and show myself holy within her". (Ezekiel 28:22)

  7. God often uses other humans to punish

    I will lay waste Upper Egypt, set fire to Zoan and inflict punishment on Thebes. (Ezekiel 30:14)

  8. So that people will know who God is

    So I will inflict punishment on Egypt, and they will know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 30:19)

  9. There are various stages of punishment (standard setting, warning, destruction)

    Because you harbored an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax. (Ezekiel 35:5)

  10. Punishment results in people being in bondage to this world

    They offer sacrifices given to me and they eat the meat, but the LORD is not pleased with them. Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their sins: They will return to Egypt. (Hosea 8:13)

  11. To demonstrate that God holds people responsible for their actions

    At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, "The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad". (Zephaniah 1:12)

  12. God can remove the punishment if people repent

    The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. (Zephaniah 3:15)


Reasons for God's Eternal Punishment in the Afterlife

Once someone is in hell there is no possibility of repentance leading to heaven. Whatever the benefit of the punishment, it must be achieved within the context of the punishment itself.

Their punishment causes them to cringe before God. But in cringing before God they are acknowledging his existence and his power.

Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. (Psalms 81:15)

Punishment of children by their parents is for the purpose of benefiting them. Certainly God's eternal punishment of those in hell will be for their benefit as well, since God still loves them.

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death. (Proverbs 23:13-14)

Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (Hebrews 12:6)

There are different kinds of punishment. Eternal punishment does not mean eternal torture. Only rarely is the word punishment used to refer to torture.

Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment. (Ezra 7:26)

God punishes them but still loves them. The punishment is done in the context of love. It is not hateful, spiteful torture but is performed to accomplish a specific purpose.

If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. (Psalms 89:30-33)

Even Christ was punished by God. But there was a higher purpose to be accomplished by it.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

This punishment was a consequence of Jesus taking on human nature, of deifying it, and submitting to the same pain, suffering, and trials we all must endure — some more so than others. Jesus was not punished for each of us in our place, for each sin we commit, except in the sense that Jesus provided a way for us to escape God's wrath by calling out and clinging to Jesus.

Punishment is a natural consequence of sin.

The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment. (Proverbs 10:16)

Punishment of the dead is the same as death itself.

O LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone do we honor. They are now dead, they live no more; those departed spirits do not rise. You punished them and brought them to ruin; you wiped out all memory of them. (Isaiah 26:13,14)

Punishment is the same as judgment

See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer. (Isaiah 26:21)

In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea. (Isaiah 27:1)