My Sunday school class, at the request of one participant, recently ended up discussing first heaven and then hell. I started us off by noting that, while “heaven” (in the sense of the sky) is there from the very first verse of the Bible, the same cannot be said for “hell” (see the recent online article highlighting the infrequency of references to anything that could be so translated).
I was delighted to have the opportunity to raise problems that ought to be considered by anyone who supports the notion of eternal conscious torment. I asked them to consider what they would be willing to inflict upon their own child, if their child had grown up to do the things Adolf Hitler did (Hitler had to be mentioned, as the constant go-to example for people deserving of hell). I asked them how long someone has to suffer to make up for what they did to another person, and whether Hitler suffering literally forever could ever make up for the Holocaust, or whether even eternal conscious torment of the mastermind behind torture and genocide fails to make what was done “all better.”
We also touched on a question that is raised by the depiction towards the end of the Book of Revelation of the New Jerusalem as a city which, on the one hand, has evildoers still living outside it, while on the other hand, never has its gates closed. And so why is the viewpoint so widespread that once one has died, there are no second chances? Presumably Hebrews 9:27 plays a role. But does it really teach that clearly, and even if it does, can one such verse bear the weight being placed on it, when there are so many other relevant considerations?
Have you ever discussed these topics in Sunday school? If so, how did your discussions go?
Of related interest, see Ben Corey's post which highlights this conundrum: if hell is real, then God waited an awfully long time to let people know about it.