Likewise, let’s assume that all of these “other” places mentioned in the Bible do exist:
1. The place that was prepared for the devil and his angels and which the people on Jesus’ left hand side will be cursed and cast into. Matthew 25:41,46
2. The place where there is an eternal fire that people get thrown into for willingly yielding to sin. Matthew 18:8 – Mark 9:43
3. The place where people will have flesh eating worms don’t die and fire is not quenched. Mark 9:48
4. The place where there is outer darkness, and where there will be people weeping and gnashing their teeth. Matthew 25:30 Luke 13:28
5. The place where the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion and suffered the punishment of eternal fire. Jude 1:7
6. The place of the blackest darkness preserved forever for those people who are selfish, shameless, and pretenders of the faith. Jude 1:12,13
There are more examples of eternal, unending, and utter separation from God, but you get the picture. Are these real places or metaphorical? Does it matter?
Let’s make some further assumptions that these biblical images of fire and outer darkness are metaphorical. You’ve been patient with me so far…
Jonathan Edwards pointed out that the Biblical language for hell was symbolic, but, he added, ‘when metaphors are used in Scripture about spiritual things . . . they fall short of the literal truth.”* To say that these places are not entirely literal doesn’t offer the slightest bit of comfort. The reality will most likely be far worse than the metaphorical description. Whatever these places are, to be sure, they are outside of the presence of God. “Darkness,” in the bible, often refers to the isolation, and “eternal fire,” to the eternal disintegration (not destruction or annihilation) of being separated from God. People are made to live and move and have there being in God. (Acts 17:28) Hell, if we speak metaphorically, is then, that place where people don’t live and move and have there being in God, but become forever entrapped in the contrary. Whatever that place is, it concerns me. I’m not denying that hell might be a literal physical place, but i’m not saying it certainly is. My purpose is to take the argument out of the realm of its physical nature for a moment and have you consider what that place might spiritually be. Most arguments against hell’s existence start with the metaphorical language and then end with negating it’s existence based on bad interpretations of those metaphors.
Some believe that hell is a temporary place of painful pruning or the burning away of our sins, even though there is no biblical support for that. Some believe that there will be a place of annihilation where evil souls will put put out of their misery and simply cease to exist but again, there is no biblical support for that. Some believe that the reconciling of all things** precludes an eternal place of separation from God, but, once more, there is no biblical support for that.
There’s a place where judgement occurs and its final outcome is eternal life in the presence of God. There is also a place where judgement occurs and its outcome is eternal death without the presence of God. Hebrews 9:27 There is no place of second chances after a final judgement.
I can live with the idea of a sort of purgatory place where my sins are purged from me by fire and then I go to be with God. I can live with the idea of a place and time when my soul will be annihilated and I simply cease to exist. After all, ignorance is bliss. I can live with the idea that my suffering is temporary and that all will eventually be reconciled if that means that I eventually get all the benefits anyway. What I can’t live with, and I can’t deny, is the reality of a place of total and eternal separation from God. Can you? Wherever or whatever THAT place is, I don’t want to experience. Do you? A few questions:
Do you believe in a literal physical “Hell?”
Why can’t there be a hell and the reconciling of all things simultaneously?
If someone denies eternal separation from God, does that effectively change the Gospel message?
*”The Torments of Hell are Exceeding Great” in volume 14 of the Yale edition of Edwards works.)
** (Matthew 17:11) (Acts 3:21) (Colossians 1:20)