Oh Hell! Forget it… It's all those other places that concern me.

Let’s just assume for a moment that Hell doesn’t or won’t exist as an eternal place of torment for those that reject God. Big assumption, I know, but bear with me…

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)

 

0 thoughts on “Oh Hell! Forget it… It's all those other places that concern me.

  1. Peter says:

    I do think that there is biblical support for annihilation. I am not certain that annihilation is correct, but that is what I have begun to lean towards(although, I was previously opposed to it). One verse, which I read today, that supports annihilation is Ezekiel 28:19. We know that Satan is to be cast into the lake of fire and Ezekiel says that he is to cease to be.

    I don’t think that the verses for your 4th point are referencing hell. Instead, they are referencing a place of discipline for unfaithful servants during the 1,000 year kingdom of Christ on earth, so that the unfaithful servants may be formed into Christ for the New Jerusalem.

    I don’t know if there is a physical hell. We aren’t really told whether it is physical or spiritual(that I know of, at least).

    Your second question is another reason to lean towards annihilation. How can all things be reconciled into Christ, if there are still those who are under judgement outside of Christ?

    Denying eternal separation seems to change the gospel message to me, Although, I think that some do spend too much time focusing on the judgement, rather than on the salvation.

    • Tom Schultz says:

      Good comments.
      Whatever the ultimate facts of Hell…Hades…Sheol…Gehenna…our salvation should be TO something more than FROM something. It our message scares people rather than draws people…come unto me, you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…it is the wrong motive.

      • Miguel says:

        I agree with your general premise Tom, but we are “saved from” the wrath of God Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:10 etc.

        Curious though, could you point me to some scripture that say we’re saved “to” something or someone?

        • Peter says:

          Miguel, I think that you are right that there are more verses that say we are “saved from”. But, I found a very sweet verse, which shows that we are saved to God.

          and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” – [Rev 7:10 NASB]

      • Peter says:

        Tom, I agree. I don’t think that the proper motivation for believing into Christ is fear, but love. I don’t recall anywhere that the Jesus and the early saints used fear. Instead, we love Him, because He first loved us.

    • Miguel says:

      Jesus says that there are some who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46)

      Paul said there are some who “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

      John says of these that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11)

      All those things said by Jesus, Paul, and John will be become a reckoning or “reconciled.”

      Heinrich Meyer explains Colossians 1:20 in the same way. He puts it like this:

      Through the Parousia the reconciliation of the whole which has been effected in Christ will reach its consummation, when the unbelieving portion of mankind will be separated and consigned to Gehenna, the whole creation in virtue of the Palingenesia [new creation] (Matthew 19:28) will be transformed into its original perfection, and the new heaven and the new earth will be constituted as the dwelling of “righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13) and the “glory” of the children of God (Romans 8:21); while the demoniac portion of the angelic world will be removed from the sphere of the new world, and cast into hell. Accordingly, in the whole creation there will no longer be anything alienated from God and object of his hostility, but ta panta [all things] will be in harmony and reconciled with him.

      (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistles to Philippians and Colossians and to Philemon [Winona Lake, Indiana: Alpha Publications, 1980 (1883)], 241–42, biblical citations updated.)

      • Peter says:

        That is why I am still on the fence between. I see support in the Bible for both eternal suffering and annihilation. I do think that if annihilation is true, there is prolonged suffering before annihilation occurs(just as there is prolonged suffering in fire, before a person is consumed). The below correspond to your points:

        What if eternal punishment doesn’t mean eternal suffering?

        I would say 1 Thes 1:9 seems to indicate annihilation with the word “destruction”.

        It says the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. Smoke comes up when something is consumed by fire. What if it is just the fire and the smoke from their painful annihilation that is eternal?

        I think that Heinrich Meyer’s explanation may be true, but not fully convincing. I suppose the major issue for me is where is hell? If both the earth and the heavens are reconciled, hell must be someplace else if those within it are still outside of Christ. There is no mention of another realm, though.

        • Miguel says:

          Perhaps this is why Paul omits the place “under the earth” when he says that Christ will “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”

          He does not say: “whether on earth or in heaven or under the earth,” as he does in Philippians 2:10

          The reason would seem to be that there will be a place of “outer darkness” — an “under the earth” — that does indeed have unreconciled beings in it. But this does not take away from “all things” being reconciled in heaven and on the earth in the age to come.

          In God’s new place (the new heaven and the new earth) there will be nothing unreconciled. Those in “Outside” in “darkness.” are real. But not part of the new reality. In the new reality all things are reconciled to Christ by his blood.

          • Peter says:

            Perhaps, but that still leaves me on the fence. I don’t think that the references to outer darkness are about the lake of fire. Instead, the outer darkness is that place of temporary discipline for those who are saved, but refused to be conformed to the image of Christ in this lifetime. Jesus uses it in parables about unfaithful servants and I think that the most telling Scripture is this:

            “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – [Mat 8:11-12 NASB]

            If you look at Matthew 25, you will see different judgments.

            Matthew 25:1-30 is the judgment of the saints. It is fitting that these parables come first, because judgment begins with the House of God.

            Matthew 25:31-46 is the judgment of the living when Jesus comes to set up His 1,000 year Kingdom on earth. The Gentile peoples still living at Christ’s return, after His defeat of Antichrist, are not judged according to the gospel of grace by faith, but according to how they treated His brothers, the saints. This fits in with the eternal gospel that is preached to them by an angel in Revelation 14. This eternal gospel is preached for the benefit of the saints, persecuted by Antichrist.

            You will also note that the sheep on His right will inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. For us, who already believe into Christ and are judged before the nations, we were chosen in Him before(not from) the foundation of the world.

  2. David Woods says:

    A lot of this seems to boil down to a person’s definition of reconciliation. Does reconciling all things into Himself necessarily mean bringing them back into line with Him and His will? Or does it maybe mean putting each thing into the place into which it belongs, and giving it the judgement, and the place in eternity that it has earned (or been earned for it in the case of Christians)?

    When reconciling bank accounts, for example, you don’t necessarily take all the money, put it in one account, and consider it all equal….it’s more like you make sure that the money that’s gone shows on paper to be gone, and the money in each account shows to be in the account it’s actually in. Could this be the kind of reconciliation spoken of in the Bible, or am I maybe way off on this?

    BTW, this isn’t my opinion of what it means necessarily, but an honest question because I truly haven’t studied Biblical reconciliation to the point that I obviously should have.

    • Peter says:

      David, I think that the best verse to describe the reconciliation of all things into Christ is Zechariah 14:9:

      And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. – [Zec 14:9 NASB]

  3. Tom Schultz says:

    Wow, the conversation has gone on at length without me! Calling for a specific verse gave me a pause, but here is a passage with a lot of “TO”s:
    Romans 6:4-11(NET) Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus

  4. Eli says:

    There is no biblical support for any view that disagrees with my own. just kidding but couldnt resist based on your statements miguel.

    I agree that if we stick to the well known english translations we’re likely to come out with views on the afterlife that agree with the theology of those that did the translating.
    Go back to the greek and hebrew and the door is wide open for several views of what happens after we die, be it reconciliation, annihilation or torment. Well personally I only see reconciliation of all as totally compatible with scripture but I am biased by what I think is true.

    I’ve often thought arguments about these things are what the globally priviledged like todo because they are far removed from the general suffering of most people on this planet who need real and practical saving right now to deal with basic needs, not just way down the track when old age and death is at the door.
    Case in point the uproar over rob bells book, absolutely pathetic to see how many christians responded as if it was the greatest threat to christianity of this generation. I’m thinking the churches shocking record on human rights, sharing and transformation should be more on our radar.

    Anyways… I deny separation without end as its incompatible with the way i understand scripture and gods heart, plus his ability to make his will a reality. The gospel through jesus still saves us from all manner of ills here and now, plus without christ we would perish in our graves. Call me simple but I am convinced gods ability to save is greater than our ability to resist in ignorance. I say ignorance because when we see christ next to the father as he is, and his life is realized in us, we would not want to resist as the fish longs for water. In christ we have and yet will have what adam never had, if not there would be a chance we could fall in future and whole mess starts over again.

    shalom

  5. Miguel says:

    Is Annihilationism Biblical? http://zite.to/S0AGWV 

    • Eli says:

      theres so many things flawed with his reasoning i wouldnt know where to begin except to say any scholar can cherry pick scriptures that ‘fit’ their view.

    • Peter says:

      I first discovered that annihilation was possibly Biblical when I read one of David Flower’s blog posts. Here is the link: http://daviddflowers.com/2010/03/21/hell-eternal-torture/

    • Peter says:

      I decided to add this quote from the blog post that I mentioned, in case someone didn’t want to read the whole thing, since it is a bit lengthy. The below quote references the eternal punishment or judgment:

      In this sense, we find that a proper understanding of the adjective aionios (i.e. “eternal”). Eternal judgment does not speak of duration, but of consequence or result (Heb. 5:9). The judgment is final—it is done. The Scripture also declares an “eternal redemption” and an “eternal salvation” that we would never take to mean that God will forever be saving and redeeming us. In the same way, “eternal” describes the far-reaching consequence of this judgment.

      The “eternal” nature of the matter is not that these things will be happening forever (never-ending), but that the results will never end. The results are “eternal” because they proceed and are final in the Age to Come. So when the Scripture speaks of eternal punishment, judgment, and destruction, it means to say that there is no end to the result. It can’t be reversed, as its results are final.

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