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...
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...
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
If we interpret this verse as literal: (1) the wicked are trees, (2) they are annihilated in literal physical fire. But the image is of burning useless trash and of hell as a place where those who don't bear spiritual fruit, who reject God, are discarded from God's plan and purpose.
It doesn't say they are burned and tortured in eternal hell fire. They are eternally being destroyed but never destroyed.
If we take the image of fire as literal physical fire we have annihilation because fire consumes by annihilating, not by eternal torture.
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 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 1:8-9)
From the following passage we see that hell is eternal punishment...
In the following passage, note that the punishment consists of everlasting destruction and being shut out from the presence of the Lord...
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.
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...
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.
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
Pharaoh hardens his own heart
The usual understanding of this passage is that...
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...
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...
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.
This image is also used this way in the New Testament.
People gnash their teeth at people as a sign of ridicule and contempt. They do it to mock and to show disrespect.
Therefore, people in hell who gnash their teeth do so because of their hatred of God, not because they are in physical pain.
The account of Jonah directly pertains to understanding hell. The essentials...
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)
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:
How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart,
I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.
It is God's purpose in creating both angelic beings and humans that we all willfully acknowledge that these things belong to God alone.
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.
It is common for people to think of hell as eternal torture. Certainly hell is eternal punishment...
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.
Some of the reasons that God punishes. What he hopes to accomplish.
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)
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)
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)
Their punishment causes them to cringe before God. But in cringing before God they are acknowledging his existence and his power.
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.
There are different kinds of punishment. Eternal punishment does not mean eternal torture. Only rarely is the word punishment used to refer to torture.
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.
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.
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
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)