Hell No!

Of all the tacks scattered across the church floor, hell is the sharpest, rustiest and most eagerly avoided. The concept of hell has tormented people for several thousand years, and it is indeed one of the key factors binding believers to their faith. The fear of hell is so compelling that people will lay down their reason and morality in order to not cross its threshold. During my tertiary theological studies one of the topics which I studied was eschatology. This is typically misidentified as being solely a study of the end times, or all of the crazy stuff that is supposed to happen when Jesus returns. It is actually more properly recognised as the study of what happens after death. The study of this topic was important to my understanding of the flaws in biblical studies and Christian doctrine. I will reveal a little bit of what I discovered in this article.

The idea of hell is a very confused one in the Bible. In the Old Testament hell was not referred to directly. They have the concept of Sheol which was a shadow existence in an undefined underworld of some kind. This idea is extremely similar to other ancient world religious concepts of an afterlife. There is also no reference to an eternal paradise of any kind in the Old Testament. Sheol was understood to be an undesirable place by the writers of the OT and it was clearly considered a blessing to have a long life. This betrays a genuine human reaction to the idea of death. In the New Testament everything changes. Suddenly we have a clear duality on afterlife destinations: there is a wonderful paradise for believers, and the most terrible torture chamber imaginable for unbelievers. As time has passed biblical scholars have had to wrestle with the idea of hell and it has seen a number of changes over time. It is truly a quandary for any Christian attempting to hold the concept of a good God. Hell is one of the areas in which cognitive dissidence[1] is strongest within Christianity. The traditional view of hell stems from the use of the word Gehenna[2] in the NT. The punishment is ongoing and eternal. This view has been the most commonly held, and is the most strongly defended view since the first century. It is represented in Augustine’s City of God, and embellished upon in works such as those of Dante. In the Christian view hell is justified because God is just and holy. Sin against such a being is worthy of punishment. The well-known theologian Hoekema said “the Bible teaches it and therefore we must accept it.” This view is the most strongly supported by Scripture: a place of unfathomable suffering, fire, brimstone and torture.

Although horrific at least the literal view of hell is an honest interpretation of the Bible. In more modern times commentators have attempted to water down the concept of hell by reinterpreting Scripture. This has led to a number of different views. The most popular amongst Christians who still want to hold that the Bible is infallible and inspired by God is the Traditional-Metaphorical view. This view elects to not read the Scriptures about hell literally and has its roots in the Reformation. This view attempts to downgrade statements about hell, suggesting that they are only metaphors. It suggests that hell is simply a place of isolation from God. Believers are with God and unbelievers are in a place where God doesn’t exist. The physical burning of the body is retranslated as a “terrible burning within the hearts of the lost for God.”[3] A massive problem with this view is that Scripture states that God is everywhere, so it is literally impossible for God to create a place where his presence does not exist. Therefore hell cannot be a place of isolation from God. In Psalm 139:8 the psalmist says “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” So God is present in hell, clearly overlooking the wonderful work of his eternal torture of those who could not believe in him.

There are two other views on the afterlife, but both of these are liberal views and not supported by Scripture. The first of these is the idea of annihilationism, where the impenitent are not sent to hell but rather destroyed and cease to exist. Carson, a well-known theologian, acknowledged that this view is exegetically unsupportable and just a reflection of this age of pluralism. The second of these views is the most permissive – the idea of universalism. This is the view that most nonreligious religious people ascribe to. It is the idea that all people, regardless of religious belief or any other factor will be saved and brought to heaven. This idea is not in any way supported by Scripture. This is why most evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal Christians believe in either a literal or a metaphorical hell. The concept of a metaphorical hell is just a copout, a pure attempt at watering down the implications of what a literal hell says about God. What type of being does it take to create a place of eternal torture for lesser creatures? If a human being made a place of eternal torture what would we say about them?

One of the most abhorrent things that I have ever heard was something spoken by a preacher and theologian. I heard these words from his own lips and was simply stunned as I watched his lips move. This person suggested, in a ruthless attempt to bypass the implications of what hell says about God, that unbelievers will choose to go to hell. He used the common analogy of an anti-room in between Heaven and Hell which a person comes to upon their death. He acted out the role of both a believer and an unbeliever. The unbeliever was scared away by the bright light coming from the room that led to heaven, and chose to instead take the dark door into hell. I can’t even begin to express my revulsion at this idea. A person manipulated by “God’s radiant goodness” to choose the door to hell. The fact is this, reasonable Christians hate the idea of hell, and especially the idea of having to defend it. It is plainly obvious to any rational person that the existence of such a place would immediately banish God to the realm of the horrific.

Why would God make hell in the first place? We are temporal beings, we have a beginning and as far as most people are aware, we have an end. We are finite, therefore maybe God should be treating us in a finite manner. We have no concept of eternity, or what it means to live in eternity or without time. So surely, a temporal being should suffer a temporal punishment, if indeed they need to suffer a punishment at all! Why make a temporal being suffer an eternal price? If you think this seems cruel, you are not alone. What exactly is the point in creating a hell? Doesn’t it make more sense to simply annihilate those creatures that do not conform to your pattern? Why torture them second after second, minute after minute, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millennium after millennium, ad infinitum? God is not backed into a corner over this, he creates all the rules for all the universes in existence. He even creates existence. God can create any scenario that he wishes: why not send those who do not want to be with him to another very good, if not perfect eternal life? What harm would there be in that? Therefore the only reason that hell would exist is because God wants there to be a hell. Now I ask you, what kind of being would want there to be a hell? I can’t think of any good and reasonable person who would desire that someone who had wronged them would be tortured forever, so what is an all-powerful and supposedly all loving God doing creating a hell? God’s desire to do this shows a thirst for vengeance and punishment rather than grace and forgiveness. But the people that God is sending to hell are not, for the most part, horrific beasts. In fact, God confesses to love these people, and love them like a father. I ask you this: would you send your own child to an eternal hell? If you wouldn’t, then what is a perfectly loving God doing sending his children to hell?

Furthermore, why create an eternal, horrific punishment for people who simply don’t believe in something. We know that it is impossible to believe in something that we don’t believe in. When it comes to belief you either have it or you don’t. You can’t pretend to believe in something. Just try this experiment: for the next five minutes I want you to believe that Santa Claus exists. I don’t want you to pretend that he exists, I want you to actually believe it. And, by the way, if you can’t believe it I will torture you for eternity. Are you starting to grasp how unfair this concept is? If we are going to punish someone severely for their actions then it is our responsibility to make sure that they know that the actions are wrong, and what the punishments for those actions are. The New Testament is crystal clear: a person is not sent to hell because they murdered, committed adultery or stole, they are sent to hell because they do not believe in Jesus. Technically, you can do as much murder, fornication and theft as you like, provided that you ask for Jesus’ forgiveness. Does this sound like a morally virtuous principle? God won’t even show himself, to prove that he exists, so that we have a solid grounding to believe that we will receive the stated punishment. God is most certainly not going out of his way to make sure that “all are saved” and to prevent us from the terrors of eternal torture.

So what is hell really? Hell is a human invention, created to control people through the use of fear. It has been used to control the populous, preventing uprisings, and also to control children, ensuring that they behave themselves. One can also see the motivation that some people might have for coming up with the idea. Hell includes the concept of justice for punishing evildoers who did not receive any penalty for their wrongdoings during their life. It is a way of making people feel better about the fact that there is no justice in this life.

It is striking that Yahweh, or more specifically Jesus should talk about forgiveness so much when he himself is clearly not capable of exercising it. We are expected to forgive our enemies, so why can’t God do the same? We would certainly not expect that a part of being a good person is the creation of a torture chamber in which to punish your enemies with never-ending torments. Any person that would create such a thing is someone that we would consider to be mentally ill, or completely without any moral characteristics. So why is it okay for God to do this? It is clear that the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches about the existence of a literal, eternal hell. Any being that could even conceive of such a place must necessarily be evil, or at the very least morally ambiguous. For a being to actually create such a place and intend to use it on real people is monstrous. The conclusion is simple: if hell exists God is evil. If hell doesn’t exist the Bible is not true and there is no good reason to believe in the existence of God anyway. So put your feet up and relax. Frankly, the idea of hell can go to hell.

 

[1] The mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

[2] In the Hebrew Bible, Gehenna was initially where some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire.[1] Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6).[2] In Jewish Rabbinic literature, and Christian and Islamic scripture, Gehenna is a destination of the wicked.[3] This is different from the more neutral Sheol/Hades, the abode of the dead. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gehenna.

[3] Billy Graham.

2 thoughts on “Hell No!

  1. Just had a read of Psalm 139 and I feel that David is implying that God is ‘watching over him… guiding him in his life’ rather than what you are suggesting in that if David were in Sheol then God would be there with him. Just as you can be looking at a person in the main street in Tawa on CCTV but you are not actually standing in the street there with them. Just a thought, gotta go to Levin to visit my brother so will continue reading your article later 🙂

    Like

  2. How could a loving god create a hell and send people there just because they do not have the luck of being born in a place where they acquire the “correct beliefs”?.

    Like

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