I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell

Me neither. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to go to suffer everlasting torment, however bad they were in life, and I don’t like the idea of a god would want that either. The idea of unending pain is not only intolerably cruel but to pretend that in any sense someone could deserve that fate so unjust as to be positively wicked. Regardless of how bad someone behaved, regardless of how many crimes they committed, no-one could do enough evil to justify an infinite punishment. Even worse is the suggestion that anyone who misses out on salvation will end up with the same punishment; petty crook and genocidal dictator alike, they all must endure an eternity of pain and suffering. A god who behaved in this way could not be described as “merciful“, could not even be described as “just”. Such a god could only be described as wicked. But the God I believe in is both merciful and just, so I can’t believe that He would send anyone to hell.

There is another reason why I can’t believe it – the idea isn’t even biblical. Look at what Jesus says about hell:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28)

Leave aside for a moment what Jesus meant by “soul” and “hell”, it is clear that Jesus did not think of hell as many Christians do. For Jesus, hell is not a place where the soul suffers eternal conscious torment. Instead hell is a place where the soul is killed, destroyed, finished, done.

Look at what Jesus promises to anyone who will accept it:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36)

Jesus promises eternal life. The opposite of eternal life is not eternal conscious torment but eternal death. Jesus makes this clear in the words considered above. Whoever rejects the offer will “not see life”. They don’t go on living in torment and agony for all eternity. They just stay dead. That’s the fate of the wicked, that’s the fate of those who reject Jesus’ offer of life, they stay dead.

The question then is why do so many Christians believe in hell, given that is a horrible idea and not what Jesus taught? For some people, though they call themselves “Christian”, just use the doctrine of hell as a stick to beat their neighbours. There also probably some truth in the claim that the historic church used the threat of hell as a way of controlling its followers. But there are also many sincere and well-intentioned Christians who still believe in hell. This is because they are used to reading the Bible a certain way and have never been shown that it was written differently.

Many Christians believe that the soul is immortal, that it not only survives death but can never die. This is not what Jesus or the early Christians taught, but if you believe that the soul cannot die then you must believe it goes somewhere after death. You wouldn’t want to belief that wicked people end up in a good place (a lot of Christians believe they go to heaven when they die), so there must be a bad place for the bad people to go to. Once you’ve got this idea in your mind then you read the Bible to fit that idea. For example, whilst Jesus never talks about eternal conscious torment, he does talk about “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). If you already believe that bad souls go to a bad place when they die, it is convenient to read “eternal punishment” as though it said “eternal conscious torment”. That’s not what Jesus said, but that’s what many Christians think.

English: Ge-Hinnom, c. 1900.

Ge-Hinnom or Valley of Hinnom, c. 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It also does not help that Christians today have forgotten what Jesus meant when he used the word “hell”. When Jesus talks about hell he is usually using the word gehenna, which literally means “Valley of Hinnom“. This was a place in ancient Israel where the worshippers of the pagan god Molech would perform human sacrifices, including burning children (e.g. 2 Kings 23:10). This practice is condemned by God through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:35). Jeremiah uses the imagery of being burnt in the Valley of Hinnom to portray the fitting punishment for those who practiced such evil (Jeremiah 7:31-32). This is the background to the word gehenna in the New Testament where it represents the fate of the wicked. When Jesus talks about the ‘fire of hell‘ (Matthew 5:22) he is using the word gehenna, using this imagery for the destruction of death. The other word used by Jesus for hell is hades. Though in greek mythology hades was both the abode of the dead and the god of the dead, in the New Testament hades simply refers to the grave. In either case Jesus was not referring to a place of eternal conscious torment for the wicked, as many people now think about hell.

As you can see from this overview I do not think that Christians should believe in hell and as such I do not think that hell provides any obstacle to believing in God. Jesus does not teach that the wicked go to hell and I do not know of any other part of the bible that teaches this idea. Wherever people got the notion of hell from it was not from God and not part of his message to mankind. I can understand that you would not want to believe in a god that condemned people to hell, though your personal dislike would not determine whether or not such a god existed. But the notion of hell is inconsistent with everything we know about the God who does exist; inconsistent with his goodness and inconsistent with his message to mankind.

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Additional reading:

  1. Another way looking at a language #3 Abraham
  2. Sheol, Sheool, Sjeool, Hades, Hell, Grave, Tomb, Sepulchre
  3. Grave, tomb, sepulchre – graf, begraafplaats, rustplaats, sepulcrum
  4. Darkness, light, burning fire, Truth and people in it
  5. Jesus three days in hell
  6. Hellfire
  7. A fact of History or just a fancy Story
  8. The soul
  9. Dying or not
  10. Is there an Immortal soul
  11. Immortality, eternality – onsterfelijkheid, eeuwigheid
  12. Set free from any form of mental torment or self-condemnation
  13. Creator and Blogger God 3 Lesson and solution
  14. Creator and Blogger God 7 A Blog of a Book 1 Believing the Blogger
  15. Fragments from the Book of Job #1: chapters 1-12
  16. Fragments from the Book of Job #4: chapters 27-31
  17. We are ourselves responsible
  18. Self inflicted misery #6 Paying by death
  19. Self inflicted misery #8 Pruning to strengthen us
  20. Bad things no punishment from God
  21. Being Religious and Spiritual 3 Philosophers, Avicennism and the spiritual
  22. Being Religious and Spiritual 6 Romantici, utopists and transcendentalists
  23. Being Religious and Spiritual 7 Transcendence to become one
  24. Atonement And Fellowship 4/8
  25. Edward Wightman
  26. Fear and protection
  27. Fear of God reason to return to Holy Scriptures
  28. Eternity depends upon this short time on earth
  29. A small company of Jesus’ footstep follower

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  • Biblical Hell (focusedandfree.com)
    Because of the symbolic nature of the language, some people question whether hell consists of actual fire. Such reasoning should bring no comfort to the lost. The reality is greater than the symbol. The Bible exhausts human language in describing heaven and hell. The former is more glorious, and the latter more terrible, than language can express.
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    In Christian tradition it is usually associated with the notion of eternal punishment, especially by fire. This idea appears in Isaiah. 66:24, but it is not clearly associated with a place. Jewish writings from the third century B.C. onward, speak of places of punishment by fire for evil spirits and the wicked dead (1 Enoch 18:11-16108:3-7152 Esdras 7:36-38). The book of Revelation describes a lake that burns with fire and brimstone in which the wicked will be eternally punished (Revelation 19:2020:14-1521:8).
  • Gehenna in the ‘Love Wins’ controversy (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
    One aspect of the great controversy about hell, and about Bell’s thesis, is the meaning of the word Gehenna in the New Testament. Most English translations contribute to the confusion by replacing the word Gehenna with hell, instead of leaving it untranslated, as it should be, since it is the name of a specific geographical place on earth.
  • Is Gehenna the same as the lake of fire? (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
    Arthur W. Pink compared Gehenna with the lake of fire in Revelation 20 in his article on Eternal Punishment. He thought these two things were identical. But Pink may have been mistaken about this, as he was about the doctrine of dispensationalism. He eventually realized dispensationalism was false, and wrote a series of articles against that theory, which he previously supported.In his discussion of Gehenna, Pink compared things said of it with the information that is provided about the lake of fire. His comparison is summarized
  • Is Literal Hellfire Torment A Bible Teaching? (debatepolitics.com)
    The teaching of literal hellfire torment is commonplace in Christendom and non-Christian religions. This teaching defames the Creator and portrays him as a sadist who tortures people in flames of fire for all eternity—as punishment for wrongdoing committed during the relatively brief human lifespan. The hellfire dogma was brought into Christianity by the Roman Catholics who copied it from pagan religions. (Pagans are those who do not worship the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible.)
    +
    The scriptures indicate that hell is nothing more than mankind’s common grave. Proof of this is provided by a verse of scripture in the Bible, which no hellfire-believing Christian can explain away. I’m referring to the scripture that says Jesus Christ–the epitome of a perfect, sinless, and obedient man–died and went to hell.
  • What and Where is Hell Anyway? (robertjrgraham.com)
    When most people think of hell, they think of Satan in that red suit with two horns and a pitchfork somewhere in the depths of the Earth where souls are tormented day and night on some kind of giant char broiler. Do something wrong in life and you’re condemned to an eternal damnation of flames. None of this could be further from the truth, and we should know better, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11).The English word hell comes from the Anglo-Saxon hel, or in the genitive case helle, which means a “hidden place”, from the Anglo-Saxon word helan, meaning “to hide”.
    +
    Whether it’s the word sheol in the Old Testament, or gehenna or hades in the New Testament, they all mean either the grave or the state of death.
  • Is Hell eternal or do those who do not choose Christ just cease to exist? (askthepastors.wordpress.com)
    There are four words used in the Bible for the place of the dead, Sheol, the Hebrew term for the grave and also for the place of departed spirits, Hades, the Greek version of Sheol, the Abyss (used for the place of the dead in Romans 10:7, but usually reserved for place of judgment for demons, Luke 8:31; Rev. 9:1,2, 20:1) and Gehenna, the term taken from the Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem where trash was perpetually burned. This last word refers specifically to the final place of torment, most properly translated “hell” (Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9, etc.)
  • Comments on Walter Balfour’s interpretation of Gehenna (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
    In their disputes about the meaning of Gehenna, both men overlooked the significance of Gehenna as a topographical feature in the land of promise, and one of the valleys which Isaiah said will be filled, as John the Baptist proclaimed. [Luke 3:5]From Gehenna, one views Jerusalem as an outsider; the teachings of Jesus encourage us to get into the kingdom of God, and obtain life.
    +The sayings of Jesus about Gehenna also apply to the present age. Gehenna is a judgment. [Mat. 5:22, 23:33] Jesus referred to it as something we should avoid at any cost, even if it means loss of our right eye, or our right hand, or our right foot. [Mat. 5:29, 30] Jesus said God is able to destroy “both soul and body” in Gehenna, and that we should fear him. [Mat. 10:28, Luke 12:5] This suggests that the warnings about Gehenna apply to our present lives; being cast into it represents the spiritual condition, of being outside the holy city.Being cast into Gehenna contrasts with entering into life. [Mat. 18:9] Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites are called “children of Gehenna.” [Mat. 23:15] Balfour correctly pointed out “no Gentile is ever threatened with Gehenna punishment,” as that threat applies especially to those in Jerusalem. One must be in the holy city, in order to be cast out of it. While the threat of “the damnation of Gehenna” applies only to Jews, the heirs of salvation, who are “in Christ,” are called Jews, and “the circumcision,” in a spiritual sense; Jesus used the threat of Gehenna figuratively and metaphorically to warn the saints who dwell in the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • Is Punishment Eternal? (pilgrimpassing.com)
    Thus, sheol and hades were the same place and must have been occupied by the redeemed since the Messiah was there while His body lay in the grave. That the lost were also there, but in a separate area, is clear from Christ’s statement that when the rich man died, “in hades he lift up his eyes, being in torment….” That in his torment he could see Lazarus and Abraham in comfort (Luke 16:19-31) further indicates that the redeemed were also in hades yet distinct from the damned. That part of hades, which Christ referred to as “Abraham’s bosom,” must have been the “paradise” in which Jesus promised to meet the believing thief on the cross that very day (Luke 23:43).
    +
    If God is so loving why doesn’t He universally forgive everyone? Love is only part of God’s character. He is also infinitely and perfectly just. How can God forgive someone who admits no guilt? How can He forgive those who insist that there is nothing for which He needs to forgive them? And would it not be the utmost folly to do so? If in His mercy and grace God simply passed over human rebellion, would that not be condoning evil and even encouraging it? Would that not in itself undermine God’s control of His universe?
  • Walter Balfour’s discussion of Gehenna
  • Hope in Gehenna?
  • John Calvin on Gehenna
  • Gehenna applies to the church, not the world
  • Gehenna in the ‘Love Wins’ controversy
  • To Hell with Hell
  • Philosophy – What Is Hell?
  • Jason Erb critically analyzes biblical doctrines on Truth Hertz with Charles Giuliani, January 1, 2013
  • Lost Soul in Hell
  • The Amazing Race of God
  • God versus Satan
  • A Full Documentary About the Signs of Apocalypse
  • Reality of Hell…
  • To Hell with HellIs Punishment Eternal?
  • There Is No Hell, Look It Up

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