What Hell Tells Us About God’s Character

What Hell Tells Us About God’s Character May 28, 2015


(This post is my continuing dialogue with the ideas of Jeff Cook,  from his new book, Everything New: Reimagining Heaven and Hell.)

A.W Tozer once wrote that, “What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

I agree with Tozer and would take it one step further: what comes into our minds when we think about hell tells us a lot about God’s character– or at least what we envision God’s character to be.

Continuing our discussion on hell from yesterday, we arrive at a critical barrier those who hold to the traditional view on hell must find a way to pass: the traditional view on hell, if true, would reveal some disturbing qualities of God’s character.

 Let me summarize the scenario: If hell is a literal place where people are tortured for all of eternity, it must exist somewhere in God’s creation (what Cook calls the “problem of location”). We further know from scripture that everything which has been created was created by the pre-incarnate Jesus himself (John 1:3), that everything created was for Jesus (Col 1:16), and that God looked at everything Jesus created and called it “good” (Gen 1).

Therefore, if hell as a literal place of unending torture exists, it exists because it pleased Jesus to include it within creation, and the infinite torture of people postmortem (the purpose of traditional hell), is somehow good. As Cook makes the point:

“If eternal conscious torment is a potential future for a living soul, that possibility will have been known and embraced by God. As such, the traditionalist must show us the great goods that would not be possible without eternal conscious torment. That is, there must be a something about hell that God finds desirable—otherwise God would not have created it.”

Obviously, even a cursory reading of Jesus as revealed in the Gospel accounts should raise some red flags as to the legitimacy of the traditional position on hell. To truly weigh the traditional view of hell however, one must seriously consider what this would tell us about God’s character– nay– the character of Jesus– since Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being (Heb 1:3).

Cook touches on this point by arguing that if God created a universe where hell exists, and being tortured eternally in flames was a high probability for the pinnacle of his creation, he is at least partly culpable in that result. While he uses one illustration to make the point, I’ll use another: if I had a five-year-old child and let them play near the road instead of on the lawn, I would at least be partly culpable if they got hit by a car, since I would know in advance that getting hit by a car was a very real possibility of allowing them to play near the street.

While I agree with his point, I would make it more forcefully. If we want to move to the question of God’s character, I would skip straight to the elephant in the evangelical living room: the issue of torture.

The traditional view on hell, by definition, states that individuals will be consciously tortured in flames for all of eternity. Since we know that all things (including hell, if it exists) were created by Christ, at the pleasure of Christ, and that the triune God has pronounced it “good,” it would also have to be true that God finds torturing people by burning them alive, yet never dying or losing consciousness, to be in the realm of good, purposeful, and somehow pleasing to him.

Yet, this isn’t what we see in scripture– instead, we’re told that God takes “no pleasure” in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). If God takes no pleasure in the earthly death of those who hate him, he surely would not take pleasure in torturing them, and therefore would not and could not have created a “good” place where such torture takes place.

As I wrote about here on the blog previously, when ISIS burned a man alive and posted the footage on the internet, the world- including Christians- was outraged that ISIS would commit a cruel, evil, and barbaric act on another human being. Yet, the chief irony was these same Christians believe the Jordanian pilot, presumably a Muslim, is being burned in the flames of hell right now. Yet, unlike the ISIS video where the man died and the pain ended, the traditional view on hell states that he will never experience relief from God doing the same thing to him. In this regard, if the traditional view is right, God takes more pleasure in torture than even the most vile ISIS terrorist. He would have to, as such a place would have been created for him, by him, and pronounced to be “good.”

After my previous post on the ISIS burning I received an email from a very conservative, hell-believing friend. He told me, “man, I watched the WHOLE execution video, and you’re right on this hell stuff. There’s no way I can see God doing that to people. It was pure evil.” And, my friend’s God-given moral instinct was correct– if God would do that, it would reveal something disturbingly sadistic about his character. In the end, he would be found worthy of fear but not of worship– just like ISIS.

Finally, Cook asks a question to those who hold to the traditional teaching on hell– one that is painfully difficult (pun intended) for them to answer: “Why would Jesus include the state of eternal conscious torment as part of the inventory of the universe?” In other words, what is “good” about torture? For the traditional view of hell to line up with what we know about God’s character, one must answer this and demonstrate the inherent goodness in torturing people for all of eternity.

I share his question. What is it about torturing people- perhaps the vast majority of everyone who has ever lived– be something that would be pleasing to Jesus and worthy of being called, “good?”

I’d love to hear some answers from the traditional folks– answers that go beyond the canned statement of “because God is perfectly just,” which doesn’t actually answer the question. Or, an answer beyond the John Piper-like alternative explanation, “because God is God, He can do whatever He wants, and we must respect his authori-tah without question,” as if God is more like Cartman from South Park than Jesus on the cross.

I believe this is an impossible question to answer. God is not Cartman; God is Jesus.

For me, the verdict is in: I see nothing about torturing people that is worthy of being called “good” or remotely being associated with the Jesus I find in Scripture. Therefore, as Cook argues, hell must mean something else.

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  • Trev

    Is hell really a “place in the universe?” When Jesus ascended did he go to “someplace” in the universe?

  • Animal

    As a former fundie myself, the scripted answer for the reason of hell’s existence was always that it was the way for God to pour out his wrath upon sinners and to punish them for their transgressions. Even as a fundie I had struggled with this doctrine. It didn’t take me long to conclude that this doctrine flies in the face of how Jesus (being God) actually treated sinners with unconditional love and amazing grace. I have come to believe (at least for now) that IF there is a hell which I am not convinced there is, that the fire is restorative rather than retributive. That it is symbolic of refinement with the intent to purify and make more like Christ in order to reside within the presence of the holy and unblemished Lamb of God, Jesus.

  • Lorie Lane

    This is an interesting question, but I think that when sin happened in the Garden of Eden, and they were removed from it, humans lost a large portion of brain function. With this, we have lost our ability to make sense of many things that originally Adam and Eve probably understood. This is just a guess of course. Also, if we are to believe that there is good and evil, we must believe that there is Heaven and Hell. God made it clear that he hates lukewarm, so that is the reason for the extremeness of Heaven vs Hell. If there was no Hell, there would be no reason for Heaven and vice versa. Otherwise, we could all just do whatever we want to do with no regard for anyone else and expect to live a great life in the afterlife, along with everyone else.

  • jeffcook

    If our minds are unreliable, how can we trust any thinking about God, or life? Would not the claim undermine itself?

  • jeffcook

    “He descend to ‘Hades'”.

    This will turn on your understanding of Hades. Many translate Hades as the “grave”, the greek word picturing the Jewish concept of Sheol.

  • Lorie Lane

    I don’t think our minds are necessarily unreliable, only that there are things we cannot understand, only using a portion of our brains. It just makes me wonder if we had use of 100% of our brains before “the fall” As I said before, it’s only my theory. I’m not sure if anyone has a true answer. It just makes sense to me that if we believe in creation by God, we have to understand someone who can do what He did, will have a mind beyond our understanding. Otherwise, we could do the same creations and miracles as He does.

  • Carolyn Brown

    I was raised a Catholic, with the belief in Heaven and Hell. As an adult, I began studying the Bible for myself and reasoning from the Scriptures. I do not believe Hell exists as it’s portrayed by “traditional” Christians, because a loving God would not, COULD not torture people eternally that way. Now, I do believe you suffer consequences for your acts (can’t just do whatever you want), so maybe Hell is a place to go to suffer consequences. When done with that, Heaven awaits. Anyway, I don’t believe in Hell anymore, although I absolutely believe in consequences.

  • Mark Edward

    the traditional view on hell states that he will never experience relief from God doing the same thing to him.

    It’s often considered that Augustine was the chief proponent of eternal torment during his day, and is more or less the reason it became the default position since that time.

    In one of his discussions on the subject (Enchiridion 29.112), Augustine states that ‘very many’ Christians in his day held to some sort of purgatorial universalism (i.e. God’s mercy outlasts his anger), and he even admits that they drew their belief from scripture. However, he suggests they really just wanted to ‘soften what seems harsh’, writing:

    [they] yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery

    But in the very next paragraph, where he defends eternal torment, Augustine offers a compromise: maybe the people in hell get breaks now and then:

    let them suppose, if it pleases them, that, for certain intervals of time, the punishments of the damned are somewhat mitigated

    Apparently he recognized eternal torment is too horrific a concept in itself, so he had to, you know, ‘soften what seems harsh’ to make it morally palatable.

  • RonnyTX

    Lorie,have you ever wondered why we aren’t told in Genesis,about God/Jesus Christ creating hell? Or have you ever wondered why in Genesis,God tells Adam that the wages of sin is death;but God never mentions and or warns Adam and Eve about hell?

  • RonnyTX

    Amen! For as scripture we ll says,God is a consuming fire. So God adds to us what we need and God burns out of us,what needs to be burnt out. But all God does for us,is for our own good. Has to be,for God/Jesus Christ is love. :-)

  • RonnyTX

    BTW,I’m a former fundie myself. Brought up in church and taught to be that, by some people. So I was taught to believe there was a Jesus Christ created hell of eternal torment. Then from 12 to 16 years old,I faced death for the first two times,when a dear cousin and a Granny of mine,passed on. That was hard enough;but at least I was taught to believe,they were in heaven. Then around 17 years old,an uncle of mine died and the way he was,in the wrong group,taught wrong,not really a Christian,etc-I was taught he must of went to hell and was in torment. Talk about something you don’t want to think about. And to stay sane,that is exactly what I did,from my late teens to my mid 50’s. I did my best to think about hell,as little as possible. Then in my mid 50’s,God brought me in contact with some Christians,who believed Jesus Christ came to condemn no one;but instead,came to seek and to save that which was lost. And that,that is exactly what he has done and is doing. :-)

  • JenellYB

    Lorie, the once accepted and popular theory that humans only use part of our brains, the most common claim was 10% or less, was proven false in neuroscience decades ago. The development of technology that allows non-invasive examination of brain function and activity revealed that parts of the brain once thought to be inactive, doing nothing, actually are important to brain function.

    Of course, that natural capacity can be impaired by injury, disease, or deleterious genetic mutations.

    “Mind,” however is a different matter. How, and to what extent, any individual or collective utilize the functional capacity of the brain, is of course, variable.

  • LostGrrl

    Benjamin, I really would like to believe what you are saying and my thoughts having been shifting on hell lately as well. However, what do you do with Luke 16:23-24:

    23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame. (NASB)

    And what about God destroying the earth and all it’s inhabitants by flood? That certainly shows the more wrathful side of God. I want to believe what you are saying but images of a wrathful and angry God keeping popping up in mind. :(

  • Good stuff, thanks

  • John Thomas

    The concept of hell itself needs to be ascertained carefully if one decides to hold to Biblical understanding of hell, in my opinion. It is very difficult to nail down what exactly Biblical authors meant regarding hell. There are 3 different words used for hell in New Testament. One is Hades, which can mean netherworld or underworld or abode of dead. The only most likely corresponding Hebrew term is Sheol. As people of those times believed (following influence probably from Plato) that souls lived forever, Hades is the place where dead souls lived. The term “hell” if one look at its etymology is closely related to Hades as it also means “netherworld or abode of dead”. So when Jesus says that gates of Hades will not prevail against his church, it means that his church will not die off. Second term used for hell is “Gehenna” (term Jesus uses more often in gospel accounts). We don’t know for sure what that term means. This word is not used in any contemporary Greek literature. The only corresponding term in Old Testament is ‘Ge-Hinnom’ which means valley of Hinnom. There are few references to it in Old Testament. In few cases, it is expressed just as a physical place in the region of Judea. But in other references, it is also referred to as a place where few “not-good” kings of Judah burnt their children in fire as sacrifice. It is condemned as a practice of nations along with other practices of the nations that Yahweh condemned and never demanded from the Jews. But we don’t know how that term developed during inter-testamental period to mean in Jesus’ times i.e. whether it is a physical place or some place beyond spacetime. Final term is “tartarus” which is only used in 2 Peter 2:4. Tartarus is considered in Greek literature as a place within Hades similar to dungeon. Plato talks about Tartarus in his work Gorgias where wicked souls are severely tormented after death.

  • Lorie Lane

    Yes I have wondered about that, and so much more :)

  • Don Lowery

    Saw a movie on this subject the other day on Netflix called “Hellbound”. Very good movie in that the director looked at both sides of the coin with those who hold both views being interviewed. You had Greg Boyd/Frank Schaeffer…as well as fundamentalists like Mark Driscoll and others being interviewed.

    Never having seen Mark Driscoll shoot his mouth off before on video…but having read numerous articles about his problem with “foot-mouth” disease and megalomania…he was one of those who were interviewed. Coming away from the clips I saw in that movie (as well as what I’ve read)…can’t believe that I ever believed anything like this “pastor” would believe. I do regret that I wasted all those years in the past making sure that I would turn people away from Jesus…rather than pointing Him as the author of Love.

  • Don Lowery

    The movie “Hellbound” on Netflix answered this question. Actually…it was almost like a neon casino sign when it occurred. The problem with hell being a place of eternal torment comes from the same place of the rapture. You have “christians” who don’t understand history in that much of what Jesus was talking about in the gospels and the book of Revelation was about the destruction of Jerusalem in the ’60-70’s. You read Josephus and others about the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans…there was an “eternal” fire outside of the city where the bodies were burned…due to the siege the Romans caused…an actual physical place where the bodies were burned to keep disease from killing everyone else. Chances are there were wounded in this pile being thrown alive into the fire.

    Coming down to the modern era where you have those who don’t understand or read history…they claim all of this about hell/the rapture is for the future for those who don’t follow the fundamentalist lies.

  • LostGrrl

    Yes, “perfect love casts out fear…” I never agreed with the fear-mongering approach.

  • Trilemma

    I believe the verses from Luke are from a parable primarily about unbelief and not meant to be a picture of the afterlife. I think Jesus used a view of the afterlife that some believed back then to illustrate that the religious leaders’ idea of righteousness was backwards.

    I believe the stories in Genesis and Exodus are primarily Hebrew mythology and legend and not actual historical events.

  • liberalinlove

    Just a question for thought. Today we have a number of best sellers of people’s personal journey to heaven. But in Christian writing, there are also those stories of people who visited hell.

    What if anything do we take from the “real” experiences of those who we want to believe in and those we don’t want to.

  • Excellent post! Over the years of trying to understand this issue, I’ve come to this conclusion:

    Hell, in a non-traditional traditionalists stand point is the reality of having full conscious awareness of our separation from God on our own accord.

    If we take the parable where the older son sees the party being thrown for the younger son and is livid. Even to the point where the father comes and invites him in to join but the older son refuses. At this moment, the older son has not been rejected by the father, but has by his own actions rejected the invitation and is left on the outside looking in, wallowing in his own decision.

    Edit: To clarify, it’s a form of eternal conscious torment, just not the fire and brimstone kind!

  • Reincarnation

    Well written and appreciated.

  • Trev

    Genesis (esp 1-11) may be legendary or mythological but is it not still True? Is it cast aside because it “didn’t really happen” or do the truths contained within still hold?

  • Trev

    I know. I was using Christ ascending into Heaven as a point meaning that hell does not necessarily needs to be a material place “down there” as Heaven is not a material place “up there”.

  • Sheila Warner

    Jonny Scaramanga–Scaramonga?–presented the idea of a mother punishing her child by holding his head to a hot frying pan. That got my attention. As a mother, I’d never torture my kids. God’s better than I am. Ergo, he wouldn’t, either. Common sense, right?

  • Jim Braman

    Good question ‘libby’…

    I think about CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”; an amazing little book about heaven and hell, where the torture was a self-inflicted and psychological.

    Perhaps he was right. In the book, Hell seems to have been ‘created’ by God as a chosen alternative for those not desiring his presence. In the book the place is not a traditional hell, but a gloomy city where everyone is totally stressed out and miserable!

    But alas, they are not permanently sentenced. There are frequent field-trip buses to heaven! Yet every time they get up a load to go, none of them want to get out, and when they do, they are so uncomfortable, they quickly turn tail back to the security of their misery. (Kinda reminds me of a few people I have known)

    There are many other subtle complexities to the novel that help promote it doctrinally, including the allusion of Jesus becoming tiny/nothing in order to better connect with the miserable souls visiting heaven.

    Thx again for the question! – Jim

  • Jim Braman

    Albeit slightly off topic, a good question. If science and logic are the exclusive yardstick of reality, then your point is valid …at least in as much as people who have never had dreams, paranormal encounters or other experiences that profoundly affected their lives have no reason to “trust” their own thinking about the potential reality or possibility of experiencing these things.

    Another good question might be,

    “If science cannot demonstrate the existence of non-physical realities, is it therefore dangerous, unprofitable or even just a waste of time to consider their existence ? Is the default burden of proof necessarily on proving existence of things …if so what assumptions have we made about measurement technology in doing so ?

    Regardless, I have enjoyed using logic to allow myself to contemplate alternatives outside of the traditional view of the Bible (as well as the existence of God, heaven and hell, etc). The Bible can be loosely defined as a collection of ancient letters (copies) that in 170 AD were beginning to accepted as ‘the ones really from God’.

    Christian tradition demands that the Bible must either be infallible or essentially useless; freedom of choice cannot enter the equation of what was written, nor how people made decisions to include or exclude certain letters. In contrast, the science of manuscript evaluation, the study of political history, in combination with what I call the Spirit of Truth (or intuition of truth), allows me to consider other possibilities.

    Maybe it is our innate desire to know what is true that inspires us to spend such quantities of time here on this forum ….with electronic representations of organic life!

    Peace, Truth, and Love exist. I wish them upon you this evening :)

  • ZitherZather

    Removing the torture element from “hell” is, while admirable, only a slight improvement on the coercive nature of the Christian dogma on salvation.

    Cook suggests his annihilation as “hell is suicide.” The euphemism of “suicide” whitewashes the coercive “or else” implied in the “offer” of salvation, and instead of suicide, is actually a summary execution. So I along with billions of humans get resurrected on judgement day. Then marched to the ovens for my second death simply because we didn’t believe your dogma. Is this concept not as cruel as the fate that Kurt Prüfer designed for Jews?

    Even the universalists can’t get around the coercion. They say that, finally, all men will be reconciled. What if I don’t want to be reconciled? Will I be forced? Turned into a puppet? Locked in a cage until I say uncle? I don’t want reconciled to the Christian god, ever, for good reasons. I will not give my consent. Can you take a “no” for an answer?

  • ZitherZather

    > when sin happened in the Garden of Eden

    It didn’t. Geneticists have proven there was no single breeding pair like Adam and Eve in human history, thus proving the Genesis story factually untrue. Genesis is a myth.

    The facts first. Sheehan et al., building on earlier work by Li and Durbin (references in margin), calculated that the minimum population size associated with the worldwide expansion of humans out of Africa roughly 100,000 years ago was 2,250 individuals, while the population that remained in Africa was no smaller than about 10,000 individuals. For population geneticists, this is the “effective population size,” invariably smaller than the census size, so these are minimum estimates, and ones derived from conservative assumptions. The population sizes are estimated by back-calculating (based on reasonable estimates of mutation rates and other genetic parameters) how small an ancestral population could be and still give rise to the observed level and structure of genetic variation in our species.

    Note: 2,500 is larger than two.

    This means, of course, that Adam and Eve couldn’t have been the literal ancestors of all humanity.

    Jerry Coyne (2013) Scientists Try to Reconcile Adam and Eve Story, Whiff. Again. New Republic.

  • ZitherZather

    > only using a portion of our brains

    Urban legend.

    Brains are expensive—it takes a lot of energy to build brains during fetal and childhood development and maintain them in adults. Evolutionarily, it would make no sense to carry around surplus brain tissue. Experiments using PET or fMRI scans show that much of the brain is engaged even during simple tasks, and injury to even a small bit of brain can have profound consequences for language, sensory perception, movement or emotion.

    Top Ten Myths About the Brain

  • ZitherZather

    Hell is actually the Norse mythological underworld of Loki’s half-dead daughter Hell, which translators inserted into the Bible.

    It is written in the Bible that Jesus descended into the underworld of Zeus’ brother “Hades.” Christianity has borrowed much of its salvation scheme from earlier pagan/Greek sources.

    […] they perform their ritual, and persuade not only individuals, but whole cities, that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices and amusements which fill a vacant hour, and are equally at the service of the living and the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them no one knows what awaits us.

    Plato (4th century BCE) The Republic. Book II.

  • ZitherZather

    There are a couple of catches here.

    1. Translators are pretty fast and loose with “sheol.” When “good guys” die and go to “sheol,” translators put “grave” into the Bible. When “bad guys” die and go to “sheol,” translators said they went to “hell.” Of course, later translations have rectified some of these biblical shenanigans.

    2. The NT was written in Greek, heavily borrowed from Greek mystery religions, and “Hades” does not mean “grave” like Sheol does. There is a Greek word mnemeion, used other places in the Bible (John 11:38, Matt.
    27:52), that could have easily been used for grave if the author actually had meant grave; however, grave was not used, because “Hades” was meant to convey an unpleasant mythical afterlife, not mere death.

  • ZitherZather

    > God burns out of us

    I don’t want anything “burned” out of me.

    for our own good

    That is the mantra of abuse, used by abusers worldwide.

  • Jim Braman

    There is a possibility that atmospheric Oxygen was once much higher than just 21%. This would of course affect brain function!

  • ZitherZather

    The Bible is rather schizophrenic on hell. Paul and those earlier Christians mimicked Epicurus in abolishing Hell, at least one of torture.

    This doctrine becomes highly astonishing when we observe how closely Paul is approaching the position of Epicurus. The declaration of the latter that the gods regarded all who were not like themselves as “alien” should be recalled. How better could this adjective alien be amplified than to say with Paul that “God abandoned them to their reprobate minds and to go on with their sins”? In other words, the wicked have become to God, as they were to the gods of Epicurus, a nameless multitude, with no more individuality than sheep.

    Yet this parallelism of doctrine does not stand alone. God is no longer ordaining any temporal punishment for wickedness. He is thus relieved of his duties as an officer of law enforcement, which Epicurus ridiculed as demeaning to the sanctity of the divine being. Neither is any punishment for wickedness put in prospect for the world to come. Thus Hell is abolished just as it was abolished by Epicurus. There is a difference, however; God is still a god of wrath and the penalty appointed for the wicked is annihilation at the last day.

    Norman Dewitt (1954) St. Paul and Epicurus. University of Minnesota Press. http://www.epicurus.info/etexts/stpaulandepicurus.html

    I think the anguish of Hell was added later in the Gospels and other non-Pauline books as a marketing tool, fear being the greatest motivator.

  • Jim Braman

    I’m a former no-fun-dy also :) Good thoughts ‘Animal’.

    “refinement with the intent to purify” reminds me of George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis’ literary hero, who has written very intelligently (if you can wade thru the 19th century formal sentence structuring) on the idea of hell/justice being the means of destroying sin rather than the punishment of it.

    I have written elsewhere (above) about “The Great Divorce”, a little classic by Lewis, that also reflects the idea of a non-permanent ‘sentence’ involving ongoing choices.

  • Then marched to the ovens for my second death…

    There are some who take those passages to mean that only Satan will be cast into the lake of fire…this is just food for your thoughts, I’m not at a place to really discuss it further.

    They say that, finally, all men will be reconciled…

    Here you simply beg the question, and ask leading questions around your original point of “coercion.” The trail intends to lead the reader astray to side with you, however, it doesn’t work as you describe.

    Can you imagine for a moment (and not to sound like the God Father), receiving an offer, a life, you wouldn’t want to refuse?

    You see, you’ve assume that what the Christian God has to offer you will be something unwanted. Which is not something to stake into the ground and think your tent will stand the stormy night.

  • Jim Braman

    Agreed. ‘Burning’ is perhaps too strong. Language can be either misleading or predictive in a Freudian way of how a person actually thinks and treats himself and others.

    That said, the principle that the difficulties in life can help us in the long run is valid, don’t you think?

  • ZitherZather

    Unfortunately, you do sound like the Godfather, making me an offer I can’t refuse. No, I don’t want your offer. (I’ll concede that I might take an offer of an extra 10-50 years, but not 50 million, or 50 quadrillion, or eternity.)

    I doubt that you yourself will appreciate the Godfather’s offer of eternal life after some long time, say several hundred to several million years. Besides being completely sexless as Jesus said in a ham-fisted attempt to confound his betters the Sadducees, you’ll likely go completely bonkers. Really.

    Following is an excerpt from philosopher Stephen Cave’s book “Immortality” giving his take on Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Immortal.”

    It is easy to see why many immortality narratives promise some kind of radical transformation—either of us or our surroundings, or both. We might enjoy our lives now—but the prospect not just of more of the same but of infinitely more of the same is a chastening one, as the philosophically inclined Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges captured in his 1949 story “The Immortal.” It tells of a soldier of ancient Rome who seeks a river “which cleanses men of death.” After a long and terrible journey, he finds a land of “troglodytes” who live in shallow pits, naked, withered and subsisting on snake meat. They are indifferent and apathetic: one stood up so rarely that a bird had nested on his chest.

    These troglodytes, it turns out, are the immortals. One of them—who happens to be the legendary poet Homer—explains to the Roman why they live as they do. They had realized that, given infinite time, all men would become great and all pathetic; they would each perform every goodness and every perversity. “Homer composed the Odyssey; if we postulate an infinite period of time, with infinite circumstances and changes, the impossible thing is not to compose the Odyssey, at least once.”

    Borges’s hypothesis is that, given an infinite amount of time, any event with a finite probability would happen. You would inevitably one day be a TV chef, at another time prime minister of Belgium and at some point a stripper in a go-go bar. And possibly all these things many times over. And as all things would happen to all of us, there would be nothing to distinguish us one from another: “No one is anyone, one single immortal man is all men,” Borges writes. After we had many times been both victim and perpetrator, monarch and subject, we would cease to regard anything as better or worse than anything else; meaning would collapse. Faced with infinity, life would become a joke—and we would already know the punch line.


  • You mistake “eternity” for “infinity.” And then you delve into what we could call an infinity probability conundrum and further more what sounds more from a quantum physics multi-verse (of possible lives).

    I appreciate the references, but prefer those who share their thoughts rather than quote others.

    You must also remember, I did not make you an offer. And yet, you again spin your argument to suit your case and your perspective. As mentioned, you base your response off of your assumptions of what you expect the offer to be. This, in all honesty, is rather disingenuous.

    You feel an eternity without sex is the end of the world? That a shedding of our base desires will drive a person mad? This pretty much throws enlightened thinking out the window doesn’t it?

  • Jim Braman

    Agreed. Jesus may have agreed as well. The point on coercion is well stated, and it is why I follow Jesus (or at least the stories we have about him that inspire me). And it is why I no longer using the word Christian without context.

    Jesus, rather than coercing people into following him, often left town in the middle of otherwise ‘successful’ campaigns. On one occasion, he also invited all his disciples to leave. Whatever dogma he had, it wasn’t coercive in the sense of “Love and follow me or else”.

    As well read and intelligent as you seem to be, I find it hard to believe you have never noticed the stark difference between the things written about Jesus vs “Christian” dogma. Am I right? If so, why take such a silent stance concerning the original source person of the religion called Christianity?

    Not that it isn’t interesting to see how some of these folks react to the your allegorical closing rant, but that’s a rather torture-some way of ‘helping’ them out, no? :)

  • ZitherZather

    The concept of consent is valid too. I don’t want burned or otherwise abused by your deity.

    Furthermore, like Job argued, Hell [Sheol] is actually a great place to escape the Master/Slave morality (Neitszche, 1887) to which Judeo-Christianity slavishly acquiesces.

    Job yearns to be in Sheol because ‘There the wicked cease from troubling and there the weary are at rest. All the prisoners are at ease they hear not the voice of a taskmaster. Low and high is there and slave is free of his master’ (3:17-19). […] Sheol being such a formidable place, Job desires it. To him the greatest advantage of Sheol is being out of God’s punishing reach. Job alludes to this in slave is free of his master, where the word slave is intended to associate with its use in 1:8 and 2:3. Obviously, if God’s reach extends to Sheol it would offer no asylum.

    Pinker, A. (2007) Job’s Perspective on Death. Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 35 No. 2. pp. 73-85.

    Of course, like Job, I don’t actually accept Hell as logically valid.

    […] the author of Job methodically uses “death as extinction” in his logical arguments, but reverts to the popular concept of Sheol in his emotional ruminations and outbursts. (Ibid)

  • Jim Braman

    Well said, Kyle. And yet, I understand why ZZ may be more than a little ‘pissed’ at the incongruencies of the no-fun-dy people ….and perhaps at the 1000’s of years of religiously motivated wars this planet has endured from ‘Christianity’.

    Perhaps it is better unleashed here than other religious sites that would likely just kick him out. I like the freedom of this place to debate and examine without fear of admin interference.

  • Mark Edward

    While I think it’s certain later Christians used fear of hell as a motivator, it’s *possible* such talk of divine judgment was all added in to the new testament texts, but there is no *evidence* that this is the case.

    At the very least, it can’t be downplayed that virtually all of the language used by the new testament authors to describe divine punishment is well within the stream(s) of thought found in earlier Jewish texts (including the Torah, Prophets, Psalms, Deuterocanon, etc.). There’s no explicit discontinuity.

  • ZitherZather

    No, I’m not making that mistake; that you say so, as you put it so well, in all honesty, is rather disingenuous.

    And I you think sharing just what you think is so great, then why don’t you yourself start thinking for yourself instead of parroting a worn-out belief system?

    You feel an eternity without sex is ok? Sex is a “base desire”?(!) Gotcha. Let’s steer you over here:

    the Church has a long drawn out history of insisting that sex is exceedingly bad

    Christianity Needs a Sexual Reboot
    Mark Sandlin | The God Article

  • Jim Braman

    Why do you keep stating your fears? We have all heard them now, but you keep replaying the same song. Though enjoyably articulate, they are getting old. We (the majority, it would seem) agree with your point about fear and coercion.

    Me thinks you protesteth too much in the company of fellow free thinkers. Chill fellow human …or else!!

    Seriously, we get you.

  • Agreed. Not entirely sure what a no-fun-dy is though?

  • ZitherZather

    But Jesus was coercive, using fear to advance his agenda. Jesus’ tactic is called terrorism in today’s parlance. This appears like an “or else” to me:

    Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

    But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Luke 12:5

    And it gets worse.

    Avolos, H. (2015) The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics. Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd.

  • Jim Braman

    “No Fun” fundamentalist …I know, its bad.

  • Jim Braman

    You presume you have the words of Jesus? You are worse than a fundy now, ha!

    Seriously, if you have read anything by Bart Erhman (the atheists’ would-be hero) he makes it plain with his expose of the effects of historical politics on what went into the Bible, that we really don’t know exactly what he said.

    Having said that, one could also just randomly pit all the pro vs con verses against each other and come up with a ‘majority’ model of what his teachings were generally like.

    But you probably already know that, so please continue :)

  • Trilemma

    I guess it depends on what these truths are. In the flood story I see a horrific disaster caused by god. Should the truth I take away be that god sometimes kills indiscrimminately babies, puppies, and kittens? What truths do you see in the flood story?

  • ZitherZather

    I don’t fear any imaginary deity; I’m merely pointing out the coercive, and thereby immoral, aspect of Christian religion. I keep stating it, because when confronted by the immorality of the Christian creed, Christians backpedal and euphemize, and I just keep pointing to the coercion still there.

  • Jim Braman

    Ha!! You are far, far away from “merely pointing out” anything!

    Yes, you are definitely on a campaign to obviate backpedaling from the truth …which is also what I think Jesus was doing with his rants against the religious power structures of his day. Yet he also went to dinner with some of the members.

    Good on you to expose any bullshit you see in anyone.
    Please include me as well.

    Just know I’m gonna call yours too when I see it :)

  • ZitherZather

    We do know what words of Jesus are written in the Bible and widely accepted by Christians, in spite of the problems you bring up. Would you feel more comfortable if, instead of writing Jesus, I wrote “the Jesus character?” I’ve done it before. There is good reason to think his words are all made up.

    Randel Helms (1988) Gospel Fictions. Prometheus Books. prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1849

    Bart Ehrman (2012) Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. HarperOne.

    Richard Carrier (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield Phoenix Press. sheffieldphoenix.com/showbook.asp?bkid=264

    But, until I see Christians abandoning their Bibles, I’m going to still quote it, if you don’t mind.

  • ZitherZather

    First, you say I’m pointing out too much, then you say I’m not pointing out anything at all. I’m confused. Which is it?

  • Jim Braman

    You are not confused ….just interesting.

  • Trev

    1) It prefigured baptism (and the entirety of Jewish cleansing rites). Water, being one of the things which flows from Christ’s side signals the purification of his people in the Church.

    2) The desire for creation to be “remade” which begins with the Incarnation at the Annunciation and Nativity and will be completed at the end of Time.

  • Jim Braman

    Thanks for the response. While we may know what words are are widely accepted, we don’t know which ones were added nor do we have words from the other Gospels of Jesus included in today’s Bibles.

    Knowing Ehrman’s take on the historacity and the person of Jesus, as well as his take on the writings, it seems a leap for you to state “there is good reason to think his words are all made up” (or is that what you think Ehrman states?) …unless by “made up” you mean that no one was taking notes as he spoke, so they had to go home and remember what was said …not quite the same.

  • Trev

    The NT has the Septuagint as its textual basis and Sheol becomes Hades in the Septuagint.

    I am fairly certain that nearly all of the OT references and quotations in the NT even those attributed to Christ are from the Septuagint so I think it is valid to consider the Greek usage in this discussion.

    Also, Biblical Greek will change the meaning of words to suit its theology, so it is not always perfect to say: This is what the Greeks thought so it is what Christians thought. Metanoia in Classical Greek is a superficial mind change, whereas it is used by John the Baptist and others to mean a complete change in life, often rendered as repent

  • Excellent article. You’ve hit on one of the core problems with the traditionalist view of eternal, conscious torment.

    The Law of Moses gives us some real insights into the character of God, and particularly the way His justice operates. The punishments prescribed by the Law always fit the crime very closely. A thief had to repay what he had taken; a murderer forfeited his life, “an eye for an eye,” etc. There were no jails provided for the Law of Moses (and that’s what Hell – Hades – is usually referred to as by traditionalists: a ‘holding cell’ for the damned). The closest the law comes to referencing anything even close to torture is where it prescribes that a person cannot be lashed more than 40 times.

    Nothing in the entire, and rather extensive, Old Testament justice system hints of the sort of mentality that would conceive of eternal, conscious torment.

    Further, what did God tell Adam and Eve would happen to them if they sinned? He told them they would “die.” He said nothing about being thrown into an eternal barbecue pit, and it seems only fair (at the very least) that He should have done so, as “death” is a far cry from never-ending torture. In this respect, the traditionalist view makes God horrifically disingenuous, as it has Him telling Adam and Eve one thing while He is effectively crossing His fingers behind His back, intent on something far more gruesome. It would be rather like a parent telling his child that he’ll be “grounded” if he does something; and then, after the child does it, explaining that, by “grounded,” he really meant buried alive.

    I was raised a fundamental Baptist, and was taught the traditionalist view for most of my life. Even when I believed it, though, I was always disturbed by how gleeful some believers seemed to be about eternal hellfire. They acted almost as if they wished they could toss sinners into the flames themselves, only to turn around and say to God, “We got ’em, didn’t we?!” There was a morbid fascination with the subject. I remember pastors and evangelists going on and on with terrible descriptions of what eternal damnation might be like. They almost seemed to be enjoying themselves.

    Thanks again for posting.

  • Brandon Roberts

    awesome article :) agreed 100%

  • QueenMab

    Wow…just wow. This is a mind-blowing post. Thank you.

  • This is simply superb, Ben; well done. As a slightly different side to the misrepresentation of God’s Character, may I also respectfully recommend this blog post: http://redeeminggod.com/i-am-sorry/
    …there’s lots in there that relates the common-sense of the general, thinking man-in-the-street, to the hardline Fundamentalist picture of God, or should I say, ‘god’, because God isn’t like that.

  • Perceptive stuff about the ‘gleeful’ aspect. I’d noticed that too; indeed, I used to be guilty of it myself at one time. I find it embarrassing now….

  • What if, if/when you were presented with a ‘depiction’ of what that ‘eternity’ would look and feel like, you decided that it was actually too good a prospect to miss out on? Even for the millions of years that you (imo quite correctly) suggest? Nobody’s going to force you in there, granted. But if you saw it was so good, and free of charge too – and sufficiently interesting to keep you non-bored for those millions of years! – why would you not want to grab it with both hands? I read once that Heaven would be like whatever you love best, but much much better. For me, it would be like flying aeroplanes for as long as I like…. :) If the ‘afterlife’ is indeed real, and if it’s in Heaven, then surely it’s not a distant assumption to also believe it will be, well, designed to suit us?

    Fwiw, I believe in the possibility of post-mortem salvation; I don’t believe that one needs to necessarily accept salvation in this life. So in my view, you just might get that ‘depiction’ the second after you ‘pass on’ from this life.

  • Brilliant

  • Great testimony, Ronny

  • Mmm. Mainly agreed, but just because abusers use that mantra doesn’t mean that each time it is used, it’s abusive.

  • The mistake you’ve made, is creating a straw man argument. Not to mention that you think you have knocked the straw man you created down, when in reality you have not.

    Is it just me, or is it ironic that you accuse me of “parroting” when you are the one using the citations and quotations?

    Yes, by nature, sex is one of the most basic human functions, right above eating and breathing. Do you beg to differ from that point of view?

    Even after these things are pointed out to you, you will continue to make assumptions and try and argue your point across. Which in my opinion is disingenuous. And it’s relatively unclear what your motivation for doing so is? My guess, is that as you share your qualms and information, you simply reinforce what you already believe as true, rather than look objectively at what others are saying.

  • gimpi1

    This has always been a problem with traditional Christianity for me.

    The idea that a God that loves us enough to suffer and die for us would also make a place to torture us, and apparently find that torture good and pleasant just doesn’t compute. Can you say, “mutually exclusive?” I’m glad to see some other interpretations being explored on this.

    Needless to say, Mr. Piper’s “God is a divine tyrant who’s right to torment anyone can never be questioned, and even raising questions earns torment,” view is off the table for me. I think his ideas say disturbing things about both Mr. Piper and Mr. Piper’s views of God, authority and justice.

  • ZitherZather

    Tossing off false accusations again? I’ve created no straw man argument. Suggesting that I have, in my opinion, is disingenuous.

  • Jonathan Hamel

    While you make a good argument, I wonder if you are arguing with good information and understanding. Now, please don’t think I have the lock on understanding the Almighty and Hell.

    However, I don’t really look at Hell as punishment by an evil god who desires to punish forever those who don’t do things his way or refuse to to bow to him. Instead, I regard Hell as the ultimate choice a person can make. In life they have willfully decided to do things their own way – in other words to be their own god.

    God in his infinite wisdom and grace (yes, grace) has given each and everyone of us the ability to decide for ourselves whom we will serve. We can accept His free gift of salvation, or we can go our own way. He created us with the awesome responsibility and privilege of free will. How we use that is our own decision. God does not impose his will on us. He pleads, converses and strives with us. But in the end, it is our decision.

    To be honest, I hope Hell is an empty and desolate place where no one goes or is found. However, just because I decide to live life and the afterlife without God, it does not make Him evil, petty or cruel.

    As CS Lewis suggest in his book “The Problem of Pain”, maybe Hell is getting exactly what you want. To burn forever with the unfettered passions we have pursued in life. Maybe God permits us to ultimately have our own way – a life, future and eternity doing this in our own way away from Him.

    No, I do not believe Hell means that God is evil, cruel or happy with eternal punishment. I believe He has done everything that can be done to provide a way out of a future wrapped up in and tossed about by our passions, waywardness and propensity to really “f–k up”. That way is through Him and His plan for Salvation. The way is laid clear, we make the choice – Life with Him, or without Him.

    And regarding it being ‘good’, I think this is the problem of our understanding of what ‘good’ is God speaking of. Could it be that the free will that He has granted us and the fact that He permits us to be authors of our destiny so to speak be what is ‘good’ – the gift is working exactly as he gave it? It is this free and invaluable gift of choice that He has given us that makes it possible for us to live in Hell in this life and the next.

    God has not only left us to our own devices though. He saw the abuse we would make of this good gift and so on the last day of creation He began His journey to Calvary – to provide a way out when we misuse our gift of free will and really ‘f–k things up’.

    But as Lewis also states, I am sure greater minds than mine have a better perspective than my own. I do not have a lock on this, and I submit to Him who is able save, direct and keep.

  • ZitherZather

    I appreciate your tone that includes the moral concept of consent. And, if your tale of afterlife comes to be true, then I’ll consider your “offer.”

    But, there is no afterlife. We humans try to deny death by making up stories about afterlife. There is a whole scientific theory now that addresses this phenomenon called “Terror Management Theory (TMT),” with 400+ empirical experiments on the subject. http://www.tmt.missouri.edu

    A good introductory TED talk on the subject of Terror Management Theory: ted.com/talks/stephen_cave_the_4_stories_we_tell_ourselves_about_death?language=en

  • gimpi1

    Actually, “doing whatever you want with no regard for anyone else” generally gives you a miserable life. You don’t need any “eternal consequences” to be a decent person, you just need a bit of empathy and basic enlightened self-interest. Generous, honest, kind people are happier. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that. (How many people pay attention in life, now that’s another question…)

    Also, there’s simply no bad thing I could do that would warrant eternal torment. Finite, mortal beings simply can’t mess up that badly. That’s the “justice” equivalent of drawing and quartering a child for shoplifting. My brain works quite well enough to weigh that equation out.

  • gimpi1

    To my knowledge, atmospheric oxygen has not been appreciably higher during human tenure on the planet. It was higher in the Carboniferous period, for sure, but there were no people around to breathe it.

  • gimpi1

    Beat me to the punch, Zither. I was going to address this, but I went with some other points, since you did it well.

  • gimpi1

    I don’t mean to go all science-y on you, but the geologic record shows no sign of a world-wide flood having ever happened. There are scars from many ancient, regional floods over a very long time, but no world-wide flood. With no evidence in the geologic record, (along with all the other problems with the flood story) there’s good reason to believe no world-wide flood ever took place.

    (I married a geologist. Can you tell?)

  • So the question was God offering something that would be impossible to decline. Rather than allowing this to be a thought to entertain, you chose to argue against it.

    Instead of arguing against the possibility of God being able to make such an offer, you make an assumption that “God’s greatest offer,” is eternal life. And then, rather than arguing against eternal life, you create two separate straw men.

    The first being this infinite time and possibilities paradox, where everything imaginable (good and bad) can and will occur. The second straw man being “immortality,” which you quote rhetoric to attempt to show that, immortality is a less than desirable way of life.

    As you’ve failed to demonstrate either of these to be true, and have simply based them as true off of your assumptions and your understanding. This is how you failed to knock down your very own straw men.

    But as you think you have successfully argued against your created straw men, you think that you have therefore successfully argued against eternal life. And by extension against “God’s greatest possible offer.” Yet, you also failed at showing how your infinite possibility paradox and immortality rhetoric actually relate to eternal life. Not to mention, give any reason as to why eternal life should be considered “God’s greatest possible offer that one cannot deny.”

    So, I apologize to burst your bubbly assumptions of false accusations being made against you.

  • gimpi1

    But, why is this hinging on belief when alive? As a living being, I simply have no realistic way of knowing what, if anything, occurs after death. Why, when I’m in a position to know, should it be, “too late?”

    To me, that smacks of gamesmanship, people wanting to be “rewarded” for guessing right, and see others “punished” for guessing wrong. Because, honestly, all any of us can do is guess. We can gather evidence, but it can’t be comprehensive.

  • gimpi1

    That’s the way I do the equation, too, Sheila.

  • ZitherZather

    Instead of arguing against the possibility of God being able to make such an offer

    Hmmm, perhaps you missed my reference to this book:

    Michael Martin & Keith Augustine (2015) The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Seems you want to debate that. Game on?

  • gimpi1

    I’m not sure about some of your statements about the Law of Moses. Women who aren’t virgins on their wedding night are stoned. Some from specific priestly tribes are burned alive, as I recall. People are stoned for converting to another religion. There are all sorts of horrific executions and mutilations discussed in Old Testament law. I regard all that as torture.

  • Well, I apologize for not reading all of your responses in the entire discussion. If my memory serves me well, nowhere in our interaction did you cite that book until now. And I’ll just point out, more lovely parroting from you.

    And, again, sorry to burst more of your assumptions, but I do not want to debate, you are simply set on dragging me into one.

    Anyways, you seem to be shifting the topic off of your previously made straw men as you completely ignored the majority of my response and focused on a minor comment I made.

    I’ll reiterate, the question I originally asked you was for you to entertain an idea. But you do not seem content to simply leave it as that.

  • ZitherZather

    I’ve entertained your idea of an afterlife, quite alot, as have scientists who have studied the reason for humans having concocted stories of afterlife. It’s called “Terror Management Theory,” and is based on the ideas of Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death.” There are 400+ empirical studies on the subject of denying death with afterlife and other immortality stories. http://www.tmt.missouri.edu

  • Again, you are trying to fit the question into your equation. I know the post was on the topic of hell, but the question was of an offer being made by God that there is no possible way you could decline it.

    To make the discussion about eternity, an afterlife, immortality, etc. is simply trying to fit the question inside the box of your choice. So, please stop trying to do this and think about the question asked and not your predisposed replies to what you think it is referring to.

  • ZitherZather

    Again, you become quite petulant when I don’t play your proselytizing games.

  • Jeanne Fox

    Benjamin L. Corey, here is a link to a Lutheran website that defends the traditional view of eternal punishnent. How can I refute this?
    Please note the Scriptures in Section B 2-9. http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.asp?t1=h&word=HEREAFTER

  • Hehe thanks mate :) Thanks too for the links, but I won’t pretend I will definitely look at them, because I already know what I believe – even without empirical evidence – and despite being a professional scientist as well. I know the experiences I have had, and I cannot deny the, well, shall we say sacredness, of them and what they meant to me. They cannot be measured, proven or anything, but for me they are real. That’s why, personally, I am what you could call ‘pro’ afterlife, because I have had, and continue to have, certain experiences that I would be dishonest if I ignored them. My brother, who is an avowed ex-Christian as it were, has some interesting ideas where he says that there’s been found in the brain a sort of ‘God receptor’; a part which, when stimulated, produces what you could call ‘religious feelings’. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know (but I suspect it is, given his scientific integrity), even that does not prove that the feelings are not produced by a real entity – which was his point when he told me about that ‘receptor’. But of course the receptor could be there for just that purpose; who are we to say either way which way it is? So if ‘God’ whatever he/she/it is, decides to make known his presence and that receptor is what gives us that sensation, why is that unscientific?

    I have to say that it’s all very well having talks, theories (and I appreciate of course that a theory is supported by evidence – I don’t buy into people saying ‘Oh that’s *just* a theory!’) and what have you, but – and I say this with total respect for your obvious intellect and studiousness – we cannot know if there’s no afterlife until we get there (or we don’t get there, whichever will be the case). No amount of theorising this side of the ‘veil’ can provide any evidence whatsoever. It’s like when pundits try to predict the outcome of a sporting event; until it’s actually happened then nobody knows for sure. There’s pointers, probabilities and theories/hypotheses, of course, but no real proveable knowledge. And of course this applies to both the pro- and con-afterlife camps!

    Terror management sounds like a really interesting subject – and that IS a link I’m likely to follow! – but even if you can explain the desire for an afterlife with TMT (and I’m assuming that’s part of what TMT does), it still does not mean that because you can explain the desire for it, it does not exist. We cannot know. How could we possibly know until it happens/does not happen to us?

  • Yes, the ‘burning’ bit is a bit loaded emotionally, isn’t it? But what if the thing to be burned/excised/otherwise removed was something you really didn’t want? Like toothache*, bad acne, cancer? That would be for your good, surely? and given that consent would be asked for first! ;)

    *God’s two biggest mistakes: 1) Putting nerves in teeth; 2) giving dogs only a ten-year lifespan. Hehe.

  • Trilemma

    When it comes to seeing truth in stories, I think truth tends to be in the eye of the beholder.

    If the flood prefigured baptism, then why were the ones baptized in the flood the ones that died and the ones not baptized the ones that lived? I can see an argument being made that it was the Earth that was baptized in which sin was washed away and life began anew afterwards. Since water baptism doesn’t actually wash away sins, I don’t see that as a truth the writer of the story had in mind.

    If the flood depicts God’s desire for creation to be remade then that seems to negate the idea of reconciliation.

  • ZitherZather

    I think we can know there is no afterlife (as Christianity defines it,) in two steps:

    1. Paul’s reliance on constantly belittling Epicurus’ atomic theory of of the elements of matter as evidence for an afterlife.

    By way of illustration the first seven [of Epicurus’ Twelve Elementary Principles] are here listed with some adaptation to modern terminology:

    1. Matter is uncreatable.
    2. Matter is indestructible.
    3. The universe consists of atoms and space.
    4. All existing things are either atoms or compounds of atoms.
    5. The atoms are infinite in multitude.
    6. Space is infinite in extent.
    7. The atoms are always in action.

    As was bound to happen, this whole system became known to the enemies of Epicurus by that particular Principle which was most offensive and provocative of ridicule, the third. This was offensive because it implied that the soul of man itself was composed of atoms, just as the body itself, and therefore subject to dissolution, just as the body. It was especially open to ridicule because the atoms were such insignificant things upon which to base a whole system of knowledge. In Galatians 4:9 Paul sneered at them as “the weak and beggarly elements.”

    Norman Dewitt (1954) St. Paul and Epicurus. University of Minnesota Press. http://www.epicurus.info/etexts/stpaulandepicurus.html

    2. We know that matter actually is made of atomic elements; thus, Epicurus’ naturalistic atomic theory has proven correct, and Paul’s sneering at it incorrect.

    Epicurus was right; Paul was wrong.

    Man’s “soul,” i.e., consciousness/salience, actually is dependent on physical atomic elements in the brain, and injury to these physical atomic elements changes a person’s “soul,” e.g., brain injury causing large personality changes.


    Do pursue studying TMT. Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Denial of Death” is widely available, and the Ernest Becker foundation has made a great documentary, including interviews with the main scientists who formulated TMT from Becker’s work, available for free (for now) on youtube under the title “Denial of Death Ernest Becker.” And, just to give you something really interesting by one of the original TMT researchers, look up this interesting study… ;) (I forget where to find it exactly, and it’s on my other computer with the bad screen.)

    Br J Soc Psychol. 2012 Jun;51(2):385-92. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2011.02058.x. Epub 2011 Oct 13.
    No atheists in foxholes: arguments for (but not against) afterlife belief buffers mortality salience effects for atheists.
    Heflick NA1, Goldenberg JL.

  • ZitherZather

    I think we can safely assume the going-to-heaven stories are a bunch of malarkey.

    Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

  • I think you mean, when you play your proselytizing games?

    And my apologies, but you are simply imagining I am “becoming quite petulant,” as it again fits your predisposed ideas and not reality!

  • ZitherZather

    For procedures like pulling teeth, a patient must freely give without coercion their “informed consent.” Lacking informed consent, even a well-meaning professional can be charged and convicted of assault and battery of a person, no matter how much they plead they did it to the patient “for their own good.”

  • Yeah, I get your point on that :) The point I was really making was more that what many people think of God ‘burning away’ are things like ‘sin’, ‘the Flesh’ or whatever. All I meant by my post was that sometimes we might welcome the removal of certain things that irk us.

  • Yes, but all these things are in the physical realm. The spirit, however, (as distinct from the soul) is supposedly intangible and can neither be proved nor disproved. And it’s the same with the afterlife (if any). Intangible. The problem here is that we are using a science toolkit (i.e. evidence-based) to try to measure/prove/disprove/whatever, something that by definition cannot be measured. Which is inconvenient for both sides of the fence, but there it is. That said, this is an interesting discussion, at least from my angle. I hope it is for you too ;)

  • ZitherZather

    Remove what certain things? I have nothing irking me.

  • ZitherZather

    > the physical realm

    If you have evidence of any other realm, be forthcoming. However, I don’t fall for con-man tricks, and that is what biblical faith is: a gaining of somebody’s confidence:

    • Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
    • Ephesians 3:12 confidence through faith
    • 1 Timothy 3:13 increased confidence in their faith

    Unfortunately, the Bible is just a collection of must-believe tales to which people cling to ameliorate their mortality salience.

    • Hebrews 11:6 must believe
    • James 1:6 you must believe
    • 1 John 3:23 we must believe
    • Mark 11:23 you must really believe
    • 2 Timothy 3:14 you must cling to the things which you have learnt and have been taught to believe

    And the more people you get to make-believe your immortality story, the more it comforts you. TMT scholars have done at least one study on how that works. http://www.tmt.missouri.edu

    P.S. Lest you are offended, which I did not intend, it is professional opinion that religion is run like a confidence game.

    Can One Tell the Difference Between Religion and a Con Game?
    Surprising similarities between prophets and confidence tricksters
    Post published by Nigel Barber Ph.D. on Jul 30, 2013

  • I see where you are coming from. A number of evangelicals believe what you describe.

    However, re-read my comment regarding the older son. And note that he arrives late to the party and yet still receives an invitation.

    As for this gamesmanship, I completely disagree. While again, there are those who believe as you describe. I for one do not think God is playing games where you are rewarded for guessing “right” nor is there anything that suggests wanting to see others punished for guessing “wrong.”

  • Not offended, but thanks for the note anyway; I appreciate it :)

    I’ll address your points as best I can.

    “And the more people you get to make-believe your immortality story, the more it comforts you.”

    Well, I like to think that my faith stands independently of others’. In fact, apart from finding corporate Church worship helpful, I am actually what many would call a heretic. I have recently finished fifteen years outside the Church, relearning how to think for myself and being detoxed from the fundamentalist mindset. I don’t try to get anyone else to believe. Sure, I will help and ‘minister’ to those who already believe, or those who don’t (yet) but explicitly would like to. But I’m really not into evangelism and in fact I consider it quite insulting to decent ordinary people when folks try to convert them.

    “If you have evidence of any other realm, be forthcoming.”

    I don’t have any that’s empirical. I freely admit that. Certainly no hard scientific facts. The only evidence I have is anecdotal evidence both of my own and that of my friends and family who have had similar experiences to me. None of this is proveable, but it works for me. As I have said on other forums, I would not presume that what works for me and my family will definitely work for others. I would say not, because I believe that God works with different people in ways suited only to them; ergo these will be as different as the people being worked with.

    But the lack of evidence is my main point – both ways. I have no tangible evidence of another realm. But in addition nobody has any tangible evidence that it does not exist. It has to stay a moot point, by definition.

    “Unfortunately, the Bible is just a collection of must-believe tales to which people cling to ameliorate their mortality salience”.

    Again, this is not something that can be proved. The quotations you made are not tenable if you believe that the Bible is a dodgy document. Also it appears (and I may be mistaken) that you assume I believe and follow everything that is in the Bible. This is not the case. My belief system is *inspired* by the Bible, but it does not depend on it. It’s rather the other way round; I have a belief system that happens to reflect what is in the Bible, but the Bible does not determine it. As a poor analogy, if the Bible is a map, I would rather trust my innate sense of direction, but sometimes I happen to see my position on the map and see where I am. But still my sense of direction has priority.

    I hope this makes sense. Once again, the summary of my post is that intangible things can be neither proved nor disproved by physical methods. Or indeed by any other methods!

    You may have noticed that, unlike many Christian forumers, I do not disrespect you by simply throwing parrot-scriptures at you. You have made that statement, that may be able to be supported by others’ opinions, theories, books etc., and of course by your own opinion, but at the end of the day that’s all they are – just opinions. Just like mine. Yours are no more valid than mine and mine are no more valid than yours.

  • There is such a theory where people can believe *after* death. I have written a piece on it here: http://tinyurl.com/qjozqve . I think you’ve found my ideas helpful in the past; I trust this will be the case in this instance too.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    zither blather is an athiest troll. He is a.k.a. Rust_cohle I think. He has also gone by tim hamner. These ‘convos’ are his way of getting a fix of adrenalin. he binges for days & weeks on many christian blogs. He’s been banned many times. Please pray for him.

  • gimpi1

    I see what you mean about, “… the son arriving late.” However, shouldn’t the invitation be open? That’s how most people would treat their kids. No, “Reject me one time too many, and I’ll never take you back.”

    I’m glad that the “game” view in Christianity may be losing traction. It’s pretty darn unpleasant, in my view.

  • *comment removed as incorrectly posted*

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    Not so much! You don’t wannu be an enabeler do you? Trolls are addicts ya know!

  • There is no, “Reject me one time too many, and I’ll never take you back” in the parable. In fact, after the older son rejects the fathers offer, the father replies with, “You have always been with me, everything I have is yours.” And yet, the older son continues to wallow and reject the father. In other words, the father continues to pursue, even in the older sons rejection.

    The “game” view, has always bothered me. That some people believe that they are being rewarded for something they did while others are punished? Just doesn’t make sense.

  • No worries, I’m well aware that Zither is trolling. It’s not so much an adrenaline fix as it is a way of reinforcing existing [fundamental] beliefs.

    It’s clear that the questions and arguments are to get a rise out of others.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    yes it’s that & so much more!

  • ZitherZather

    Well, we’re down to epistemology, where these things often end.

    > …nobody has any tangible evidence that it does not exist.


    But there is tangible evidence that Christianity’s claims about a supernatural “soul” do not exist. Paul’s afterlife narrative hinged on the “weak and beggardly” atomic elements theory of Epicurus being false. (Dewitt, 1954) Paul quite conveniently made Christian supernatural opinion falsifiable. rationalwiki.org/wiki/Falsifiability As it turns out, Epicurus’ theory of atomic elements was correct, and Paul’s opinion was false.

    (If you want to make other claims outside of Paul’s Christian claims, then ok, perhaps they can’t be disproven, but the burden of evidence is on you to validate those claims.)

  • I love the website yourlogicalfallacyis.com!

    But I’m not trying to prove any point. I’m trying to say that it cannot be disproved using the tools available.

    You can use the burden of proof argument both ways anyway; I could say that about your argument against an intangible spirit: prove it. You have said you have proven the nonexistence of the soul, but you have quoted certain writings; how do I know you have reviewed all the research? One of your references is from 1954; how do I know this is the latest evidence? How do I now you have not simply cherry-picked references to suit your opinion? I am sure there will be a similar number of references disputing the findings of your references; this is how science works and how knowledge progresses.

    So it’s probably best to leave it as you said, with epistemology.

    And, if there is an afterlife, I do hope you choose to go there. I look forward to us leaning on each other and laughing :) Cheers buddy; I’m off to bed now.

  • ZitherZather

    Thanks for the invite, but I’m very happy and comfortable with my strategy to ameliorate my mortality salience with what Stephen Cave calls the “Wisdom Narrative,” named after the Epicurean-influenced wisdom book Ecclesiastes, as follows:

    1. Buck up and face mortality-as-extinction square on.
    A. Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.
    B. Ecclesiastes 3:19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals.

    2. Enjoy life to the fullest in the meantime.
    A. Ecclesiastes 2:24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.
    B. Ecclesiastes 3:12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. (Also see 5:18 & 8:15)

    Or the Tetrapharmakos, the Epicurean 4 part recipe to a happy life, works too:

    Don’t fear god,

    Don’t worry about death;

    What is good is easy to get, and

    What is terrible is easy to endure.

  • Trev

    I don’t know if you are Christian but will assume you are and believe in the inspiration of Scripture. Using that to frame my answer, St Peter tells us that Noah being saved in the flood is a type of baptism because baptism now saves.

  • ZitherZather

    Jesus just doesn’t make sense with his reward system?

    Matthew 5:12 great is your reward in heaven
    Luke 6:23 great is your reward in heaven

  • Oh brother, smh.

    Citing two passages where Jesus mentions a reward in heaven for those persecuted in this life, is the best you can come up with?

    The fact that some people think Heaven is their “reward” for their good deeds and others are “punished” for not thinking the same as they do or those who do “wicked deeds” in their eyes, is what doesn’t make sense.

    No where in my comment was I stating the Bible does not mention “reward in Heaven.” It would suit you well to read for understanding rather than cherry-pick for argumentation.

  • ZitherZather

    Nice backpedal. It’s always fun watching fundies argue out both sides of their mouth.

  • Wow, you really are this desperate, huh? Backpedaling?

    Not in the least. Please do show where/how I’ve backpedaled? Seems to me, you like to accuse others of making false accusations against you, and yet you feel the freedom to make you own false accusations towards others?

    If you read carefully at my comment, I clarified the intended meaning of what I originally said. And I showed how you took my comment out of context to suit you attempt at an argument. But please, give it your best shot.

  • ZitherZather

    Have you been to a Bible College? You seem the type. If you haven’t, I bet you’d do well there, as Hector Avalos, professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University documents, “applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today’s world” and for “being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account,” in his text The End of Bible Studies. prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=52

  • I seem the type, huh? Wrong again with your assumptions.

    It’s just grand to see more false accusations and parroting typed out in your reply. Care to defend your position further or do you just have a few more quips to copy and paste that derail any actual discussion?

    Maybe you haven’t noticed that you have the tendency to change the subject quite often. Unfortunately for the rest of us it’s blatantly obvious.

  • ZitherZather

    Want to go back to heavenly rewards, and how you say they don’t make sense, but Jesus does?

  • Again, you’ve missed the point all together.

    It’s like I sit here and describe oranges to you and you go, “hey look over there, they’re selling oranges.” And I reply, no they are selling apples, I was describing oranges not apples.

    To which you state, “oranges and apples, what’s the difference? They are both fruits.”

  • ZitherZather

    Now you’re stuck in the produce section of the grocery. Are you hungry?

  • {Facepalm} A simple analogy going straight over your head, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised…

  • ZitherZather

    Can we get back to heavenly rewards, or are we just going to watch you dance all over the place talking about nothing?

  • You’re the one dancing. You still haven’t shown where/how I backpedaled?

    Unless you are still attempting to shift the topic to fit your agenda?

    Go on, you know you want to copy another quote/citation and paste it on here!

  • ZitherZather

    Just write the word “rewards,” once. That would be neat.

  • Good talk. Seems you wish for me to respond to your inquiries yet you don’t show the same etiquette when I make a request. I apologize if I fail to see the point you are clearly not making.

  • Chandraclaws

    In the beginning…at least according to the bible, everything in this world that God created was perfect, harmonious and beautiful, including us. Everything changed when sin entered the world, and along with it hate, violence, pain, all suffering and disease, and every evil heinous thing that people have ever done to each other and the planet. Wild animals who were originally herbivores began to kill and eat animal flesh. Even Lucifer, the prince of darkness, was originally an angel of light and beautiful music.

    To me, it would follow that when “hell” was created it was not an ugly, horrible place of torment, but was another element of God’s perfectly flawless world. It would also make sense that it may have been the most beautiful part. It only became a habitat of unending, inescapable torture, if it did, after our collective choice to separate from God.

    I believe the description of hell is used to illustrate what living in the complete absence of God, who is love and the source of all love, would be like. But, he sacrificed himself on the cross to give us the option of living in his presence of absolute love, more than we can ask or imagine.

  • Chandraclaws

    Ronny TX “Or have you ever wondered why in Genesis,God tells Adam that the wages of sin is death;but God never mentions and or warns Adam and Eve about hell?”

    Sin = Separation from God = Spiritual death =Hell?

  • ZitherZather

    You requested we get back to the topic of rewards. Now you won’t touch that topic with a 10 foot pole. What sort of etiquette is that?

  • No, I requested you show where/how I backpedaled. You then sidestepped my request. So I will ask again, please show where/how I backpedaled?

    Or are you willing to admit that your accusation was false? And now you’ll also have to admit that this claim of “getting back on topic” was also never made by me.

    As you see, I stated that you have a tendency to shift the focus to suit your desire. Which in other words means you have been avoiding my requests.

  • >’When ISIS burned a man alive and posted the footage on the internet, the world- including Christians- was outraged that ISIS would commit a cruel, evil, and barbaric act on another human being. Yet, the chief irony was these same Christians believe the Jordanian pilot, presumably a Muslim, is being burned in the flames of hell right now.’

    This is so deeply profound. And I agree totally. I think that the doctrine of hell is one of the key reasons of why people leave Christianity, maybe not the #1 reason but definitely a major factor.

  • There’s a gigantic problem with that view (I suppose there are many issues, but this one sticks out at me the most):

    If someone tries to live a good life and tries to find God, and they die without Jesus in their hearts (or so tradition says), then Jesus will torture them on and on EVEN if the someone sees the error of their ways after death.

    Even if that man looks up, cries out in pain, and begs Jesus to stop all of that– calling upon Jesus to be his savior right then and there– Jesus is going to smile, shuck his shoulders and say, “Nope, too late, cupcake. You had your chance. Now, I don’t care.” Then Jesus turns the burners of the celestial oven back on. The Book of Revelation is pretty clear on this. I’m paraphrasing, but I think the Bible literally says something like “The gates of hell will open even for those that scream ‘Christ is Lord’, for they have no escape now.”

  • Hehe maybe you don’t, and I’m pleased for you – but I myself do have such things. What they are, though, I’ll keep to myself :)

  • otrotierra

    Must be a version of “Frank,” who regularly burns through multiple Disqus accounts due to habitual banning on Patheos Christian blogs. Frank has been banned at least three times on Benjamin Corey’s blog alone.

  • LostGrrl

    Thanks for your insight as the wife of a geologist. ;) However, I had heard that other cultures had recorded accounts of a massive flood a well. Have you ever heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh? That’s supposedly has an account of the Flood. Maybe the flood was just in the Middle East.

  • kaydenpat

    There is no way to rationalize the concept that God is love with the concept that God will burn anyone forever and ever. What’s loving about torturing a human being who only lived for a short period of time (given that most humans don’t even live to be 100 years of age) for eternity? What’s the point of eternal torture anyways?

    And how would anyone in heaven be joyful and happy for eternity knowing that people they knew are being burned alive forever? I don’t get this mindset. This sounds like revenge for no sensible reason and not love.

  • kaydenpat

    Read the “Justifications” section of this wiki article on annihilationsim. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilationism

    I assume you can google “annihilation” and “hell” to come up with other articles. Here’s a good one that has several scriptures in it.

    Also Jude 1:7 refers to “eternal fire” in Sodom, which alludes to the non-literal interpretation of scriptures referring to an eternal hell.

    Hope this helps a little.

  • RonnyTX

    Thank you Tony. :-)

    And after reading some here,I was just thinking again about how I used to be,when it came to the subject of a Jesus Christ created hell of eternal torment. And in the local church I grew up in,I was taught the vast majority of people would end up there. Now put me in a place like Walmart, simply doing my grocery shopping. Or any other place with even a few people,for that matter. My mind would sometimes tend to wonder to the teaching I’d received,that most people would end up in hell. Think about it,like in a store,with a good number of babies and little children,right along with the adults. And I was taught most of those infants and other little ones,they would grow up,die and go to hell. Well,a person can’t stay sane and think on that much. Not thinking about that with the little ones or even the adults. If a person has any love,caring and compassion at all and they believe as I was taught to on this,then you simply have to keep such out of your mind,as much as you can. Like I say,you can’t really stay sane,if you do otherwise. But then I came to learn the truth of this matter. That Jesus Christ did come to seek and to save that which was lost. And that includes all of us. And that all of us have been reconciled back to God the Father,by way of Jesus Christ and the cross. :-) And now,now it’s simply a matter of time,as each person learns this,as they are born of God. :-)

    I don’t really know how,to best to put this in words? But I have loved all people,since I was born of God,at 16 years old. But with my church teaching,I still had the belief,that most people would end up in a Jesus Christ created hell,of eternal torment. But since God showed me better,things have been so different. :-) Now when I’m in a crowd of people,from infants to the aged,I get a smile on my face, thinking about the fact that I will one day get to meet and get to know all of these people. And we will have eternity, to get to know one another. :-) And when I walk my little dog by a local cemetery,I now longer sing this old some as,when the roll is called up yonder,I’ll be there. No,I changed the words a bit and now sing it,when the roll is called up yonder,we’ll all be there! :-) And I know the folks in that cemetery can’t here me now;but I sing it that way for them all,just as much as I sing it that way,for myself. And such,puts a smile on my face and in my heart. :-)

    And here’s another thought,that I got a good while back, from some places. Which produces more of the fruits of the Spirit,like love,joy and peace? Which produces more of that,believing that most people will go to hell,most people will be annihilated or that all people will be made right with God the Father,by way of Jesus Christ and the cross?

    Or as my rewritten old song goes;What a day that will be, when our Jesus we shall see and he takes us by the hand and leads us to the promised land. What a day,glorious day that will be! And for every last one of us,amen! :-)

  • Jeanne Fox

    Thank you for those interesting articles. I have a problem with the coercion issue, too. With eternal punishment, if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will suffer forever in the lake of fire. With annihilationism, if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will be destroyed and your soul will cease to exist. None of these sound loving.

    With eternal punishment, Hitler, who was a Theist, and the six million Jews are in hell. With annihilationism, they both cease to exist. None of this sounds just.

    One of the things that makes people different from the rest of the physical world is that we have spirits that are unchanging and abide forever. I am more than just atoms and molecules. If my soul or spirit is annihilated, then I was just atoms and molecules after all.

    I don’t know what the answer is.

  • RonnyTX

    > God burns out of us

    I don’t want anything “burned” out of me.

    for our own good

    That is the mantra of abuse, used by abusers worldwide.

    Ronny to Zither:
    Zither,what God burns out of a person,as they are being born of God,those are sinful things,within that person. And no,it’s a pleasant thing,as it’s happening to you;but it’s a good and needed thing. Using myself as one example,I was brought up in church and became a church member when I was 12 years old. I thought I had been saved;but I hadn’t. Instead,I had simply believed whatever the preacher said to me. Four years after that,I was born of God. But in the 4 years before that,I was taught to think very highly of myself,in the church I was in. I was taught to believe the lie,that us and those just like us,were the one and only true church of God. So I came to think highly of myself in some ways and to look down on others,who were not part of my church. But then when God met with me and saved me,at that time God let my compare the holiness of God,to my sinful selfrighteousness. God let me see how sinful that was. And that was the goodness of God,that led me to repentance towards God. I repented,I agreed with God. And there is a longer story to this and how God burnt sinful selfrighteousness out of me;but that would take a good bit longer post. :-) But what I’m saying to you,is that God simply burns out of us,that which needs getting out of us. And what God adds on to us,is love. Love and caring for God,for ourself and for all other people. And this is a good thing,that God does for us. It’s not abusive;but it’s corrective.

  • Wow. What a brilliant piece Ronny. You should consider doing a blog yourself…. I will chew that over, lots to think about there.

  • RonnyTX

    Kay,you’re right. And just wondering,have you ever read how down through the centuries,some Christians have said that those in heaven will enjoy being able to watch the torments of those in hell? Makes me wonder about people like that. Makes me wonder,what was wrong with their heart?

  • RonnyTX

    Kay,that Jude 1:7 scripture is interesting. In the King James Version it says,”Even as Sodom and Gomorrha and the cities about them in like manner giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh,are set forth for an example,suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Now the way I was taught to look at this and I’m sure many other people too,is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrha and those about them,were all in hell and would be there for eternity. But then the English word eternal,is translated from the Greek word aionios. And that word meant,pertaining to an age. An age,a period of time with a beginning and an end. And I know some would say that was not true. They would say the Greek aionios does mean eternal or forever. OK then,I would ask them,how is it that in Ezekiel chapter 16,God tells us he is going to restore and bless Sodom,just as he is going to restore and bless Jerusalem? And furthermore,in Matthew 11 and in and around the 23rd verse,Jesus Christ tells us that if the mighty works that he did in Capernaum,had of been done in Sodom,they would of repented and remained. So the way I see this,Jesus Christ is going to restore the people of Sodom and Gomorrha and they will be brought to repentance and took on to faith in Jesus Christ and the cross. And obviously,that is just the opposite of believing they are now in eternal torment hell and will be there forever.

  • RonnyTX

    Swiper,I sure can’t blame those people for leaving what they have been taught is a part of Christianity. Not when that part is the one that says;God/ Jesus Christ,is an eternal tormentor. When we think about it,that way of teaching and believing,it makes say a Hitler,look better than God/Jesus Christ. For at least the ones he tormented,had their torment come to an end. But with God/Jesus Christ,we are told they will torment so many more people and that forever. Amazing isn’t it,that anyone should think that God/Jesus Christ,is like that! But I once did and that because I was taught such in church,by some people. And who I never got such a teaching from, was from God/Jesus Christ.

  • RonnyTX

    Jeanne,I’m going to put a link below,that I believe is very good to start with. And this same page,has links to many,many other good articles.


  • >’And how would anyone in heaven be joyful and happy for eternity knowing that people they knew are being burned alive forever?’

    That’s a pretty important question, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard an answer actually being attempted. I’m sure that someone has tried, but I’ve not really seen it. The closest would be C.S. Lewis in ‘The Great Divorce’. But that’s, first, meant as fiction and not a literal argument as well as, second, a book that argues that people in hell CAN indeed leave hell and repent so hell is temporary (given that people in heaven reach out to those in hell).

  • It’s a pretty crazy yet interesting world that we live in and so many different things get taught about Christianity by Christian teachers, many of it 180-degrees totally different from teacher to teacher.

  • I’m not a Lutheran, and I’ve never been one, but there’s some scriptural arguments against a permanent hell mentioned here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_reconciliation#Biblical_background

    A specific example from there is= Lamentations 3:31-33 (NIV), “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

  • Jeanne Fox

    Thank you for that good article. I believe God is more merciful than we give Him credit for.

  • RonnyTX

    How true! And I gotta tell you a bit about the church I grew up in. It was Baptist/Calvinistic. And I was taught everything we believed and taught,had to be true,was straight out of the Bible and when I heard our pastor or a teacher,it was the same as my hearing straight from God! So,if I doubted anything they said,it was the same as my doubting God. And if I even thought they were wrong on something,I was taught that was the same as me calling God a liar! Then I so slowly came out of that. One time in my teens,though it was seldom mentioned in church,the teaching was that the worst sin a young single person could commit,was to have sexual relations before marriage. Now that,made no sense at all to me,when I considered sins like murder,rape and child molestation! And when I was 17yo,I heard out pastor’s wife say their youngest son couldn’t be a Christian,because he was gay. But then I knew that wasn’t true,for God had saved me the year before that and I was gay. Then God allowed me to escape this church physically,when I was in my mid to late 20’s.

    Another teaching of my home church,was that we and those just like us in belief and teaching,we were the one true church of God. Everybody else,was said to just be members of man made religious orginizations.

    Another teaching,was that the King James Version of the bible,was the only true and 100% correct bible. And in my late 30,an older brother and his family came by to visit and I was shocked to see he had a New King James Version of the bible. :-) (ha) I slipped around some and read a little in it. Then at 40 years old,I noticed some books at out local library,that they were giving away and one was a translation of the bible,that I had been taught was no true bible at all. It took me two trips to the library, before I got up the nerve to take that particular bible home. And even there,I was sure to be careful,that no one saw what I was reading in! (ha) What shocked me,was that it contained the gospel of Jesus Christ and other truths,just as my KJV did. And I went on to get other translations,at Goodwill and places like that.

    Just some things I was taught wrong in church and that over time,God taught me better about. :-) And I’m still learning and I still sure look forward,to God teaching me more! :-)

    Oh and I was completely Calvinist in belief,until just 5 years ago. And that’s when I first learned of anyone,that was Christian universalist in belief. At first,I thought what they believed,was too good to be true;but I hoped it was. :-) So I read more articles by such people,to see why they believed as they did and to see the scriptures they used,to back up their belief. And that’s how I came to see, that they were right.

    Just a lot of things I was taught and believed in my life,that were not of God/Jesus Christ;but which I absolutely believed were. And when I learned of somethings,that were not at all like my early home church teaching,I was shocked at the scriptures I had been taught to redefine or just simply miss completely! A lot of scripture,that I know I’ve read over in the past;but it was just like I’d never seen them at all! And that simply came,from the way I was brought up in church and taught. Taught to listen to and believe some people,instead of simply listening to and believing God.

  • Jeanne Fox

    Thank you for the article. For years I was taught there is nothing but eternal punishment for the unsaved, both as
    a United Methodist (although some Methodists believe in universalism) and later as a Lutheran (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod). I am afraid to say anything at church about it because I am not allowed to question any of their teachings and not only eternal punishment but any other teaching.

    In today’s sermon, the pastor said the world says that God is too loving to send someone to hell, but that is not what the God of the Bible says.

  • RonnyTX

    Jeanne,the real and final answer is,God/Jesus Christ is Love and Love never fails! :-)

  • Kevin Osborne

    “And how would anyone in heaven be joyful and happy for eternity knowing that people they knew are being burned alive forever?”

    Endless reruns of Married With Children.

  • RonnyTX

    Kay and Swiper,please read as much of he following article as you can. Read it,to see how some people have answered that question. I have read it all in the past;but just today,I simply can’t read it all again. It is just that bad! :-(


  • RonnyTX

    Jeanne,I am so sorry the way it is,where you go to church;but I can understand it,as I grew up in a Baptist/Calvinistic type church,that was just like that. And as I’ve said elsewhere,I was brought up in that church taught that what I heard from the pulpit was straight out of the bible, straight from God and the same as if God was speaking to me directly. It wasn’t;but as a kid and young adult,I didn’t know that. Later on,God showed me that teaching I had received,was not of God and was a sin,the taught idol worship of some people.

  • RonnyTX

    Actually Denis,there is not one Bible we have today;but instead,what we have are many translations of the bible and they do not all agree. Some translaters have added things to them,that simply should not be there. And I would say many did that,simply to teach and uphold their particular denominations teachings. Some of those teachings,which were never in the bible or from God,to begin with.

  • RonnyTX

    You’re welcome Jeanne. :-) And you’re right,God is much more loving,merciful and gracious,than so many give God credit for. I just wish more people knew that now;but it puts a smile on my face,to know that everyone will know that,when all is wrapped up and done! :-)

  • RonnyTX

    Denis,I’m not sure who or what you were referring to,when you said people write crazy stuff?

  • RonnyTX

    God in his infinite wisdom and grace (yes, grace) has given each and everyone of us the ability to decide for ourselves whom we will serve. We can accept His free gift of salvation, or we can go our own way. He created us with the awesome responsibility and privilege of free will. How we use that is our own decision. God does not impose his will on us. He pleads, converses and strives with us. But in the end, it is our decision.

    Ronny to Jonathan:
    Jonathan,from my own experience,I can’t agree with this. For with me,God simply let me know that I was not saved,that I was not in a right relationship with God. That was a big shock to me,for I had gone up at church 4 years before this,agreed with everything the preacher told me and thought I had been saved,thought I was a Christian. But at 16 years old,God simply and directly entered my life and let me know,that I was not. Then God simply provided a person who read some scripture to me and as they did,I knew God was there as well. God let me compare God and God’s holiness to my selfrighteousness and God let me see the sinfullness of that. And that was the goodness of God,that led me to repentance before God. And when I had repented/agreed with God. And the love of God began to pour out upon me :-) and God put a picture in my mind of three crosses. And I knew on that center cross was Jesus Christ and that he was there for me,taking all my sins upon himself. I believed God,what God was showing to me. And that was when and how,I was born of God. You could easily say,I was captured of God. :-) But however it’s put,something called my free will,had nothing to do with it. No,it was all about what God did for me,what God showed me and proved to me. And it’s because of how God saved me,that I know that God will do the same,for every last person,from Adam on down. :-)

    And a verse of an old song,puts it so well,as to what God did for me. Twas grace that caused my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear,the hour I first believed. :-) So,it was God who proved to me and saved me. God’s love flowed out to an upon me and just naturally,I loved God in return. And from that,also came the love I then had,for every last person. :-)

  • RonnyTX

    Swiper,one of the best parts to me,is the scripture that tells us that Jesus Christ has the keys to hell/hades and death. So Jesus Christ is in full control and he is love. :-) He is the one who came to condemn no one and to seek and to save that which was lost. And some teach,he has miserably failed,while I simply say,Jesus Christ has completely succeeded! :-)

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    I had to sit through a very unpleasant sermon this morning. The preacher agreed that Hell tells us a lot about God’s character, but was wrong about everything else. In his view hell shows us how truly good God really is, on the grounds that eternal damnation is the only proper penalty for the infinite offense of failing to fulfill the moral duty to give an infinitely good God the infinite love and obedience he automatically deserves.

  • RonnyTX

    Gimpi1,Piper’s problem is that he has been taught to be a Calvinist in belief. And I was taught to be the same and believed that way,until I was 55 years old. So,I know so many of the problems and wrong thinking,that goes along with thinking and believing that way. Now just to be as clear as possible, :-) I will say I am not now an Arminian/free willer in belief. No,I simply say I take the right teachings from both of those camps and hold to those and I don’t believe or hold to the teachings,that I know are wrong in those two groups. And when I do this in my family,I find I can get some on both sides,really upset with me! (ha) LoL Ah well,I figure in such a situation,I might as well laugh as to cry.

  • In my personal opinion, the direct words of scripture are what should count the most, and different books of the Bible appear to be directly contradictory in terms of salvation if taken literally. Thus, the interpretations become the 100% key thing.

    I’m reminded of historical military dramas were a group of soldiers would get two orders at the same time with totally contradictory messages: “Attack the city!” / “Fall back to the outskirts!” And those WWII allied guys basically could do two directly opposite things and still claim to be in the right.

    To be frank, the direct incompatibility of many Biblical messages are a large reason of why I’m not a Christian. However, if someone is opposed to the concept of a literal hell for most of humanity forever, then there are indeed tons of Biblical passages that seem to support that opposition.

  • gimpi1

    You’re right, there have been massive regional floods all over the world at the end of the last ice age. Where I live, in Washington state in the U.S., the Grand Coolie was scoured out by the huge ice-age lake, Lake Missoula, overtopping and finally smashing through a series of ice-dams. Valleys in Washington and Oregon were carved out as the water rushed to the sea.

    There were no doubt floods in the MIddle-East during that period. It’s an interesting length of time, just long enough to have made a deep impression in the human psyche. I, personally, believe that the many “flood” myths are related to this period of time as the glaciers melted.

    However, the very massive evidence for regional floods ranging from 50,000 to 8,000 years ago makes it clear that there can’t have been a world-wide flood less than 6,000 years ago, since it would have destroyed all those canyons, coolies, valleys and erratics that are clearly displayed in the geologic record. Makes sense?

  • Realist1234

    As I’ve said before, I am open to the possibility of ‘hell’ not being eternal, but rather the rejection of Jesus having eternal consequences. But I do not accept universalism. Also, the impression given by many of the other commentators on this blog is that it is all about God’s decision, as in ‘how could God…?’ But is it? Setting the idea of predestination aside (another hot topic), I believe people are free to choose or reject Jesus in this life. But those who believe in universalism seem to think that if people who reject him in this life are given another chance, they will automatically accept him and God. But thats a big assumption to make. I strongly suspect such people would never want to allow God to be ‘king’ – they view themselves as the king/queen of their own lives, and would never willingly bend the knee to another. That is certainly the impression I get from the non-Christians I work alongside – they do not want to know about someone else who might want to ‘rule’ their lives. In many ways, God is indeed treating them as the creatures he made in his own image, able to freely choose or reject him, with all the consequences of that choice.

  • Trilemma

    I’m a Christian but I believe much of the Bible is not inspired. I think Peter just used the flood story because everyone was familiar with it. If the flood story didn’t exist, he would’ve used something else. Personally, I think the story of Naaman would have made a better comparison to talk about baptism.

    Jesus did use the flood story to illustrate how certain events can happen suddenly and with little or no warning. So if God is taken out of the flood story, then I can see a truth in that natural disasters can happen suddenly, with little or no warning, and even our own deaths could happen suddenly, without warning. I believe God does not cause natural disasters and that the OT depiction of God causing disasters is a reflection of Iron Age superstition. I also don’t like the legal term, “Acts of God,” to refer to damages caused by nature such as wind, earthquake, flood, etc…

  • gimpi1

    Well, at some point, I think we all need to take responsibility for what we’ve been taught, examine it in the cold light of day, and see if it proves up. Mr. Piper is not exempt from that requirement of growing up. No one is.

    It sounds like you’ve done this for yourself. Well done. It’s too bad your family can’t deal with that.

  • gimpi1

    Jeanne, you said, “I am afraid to say anything at church about it because I am not allowed to question any of their teachings and not only eternal punishment but any other teaching.”

    One thing that sticks out in my mind, why would you stay with a group that won’t allow honest discussion about beliefs?

  • gimpi1

    Yeah, that sounds pretty icky. To put it in perspective, if you heard about a country where everyone who didn’t show proper appreciation for the “Glorious Leader” was tortured, and the leader’s cadre gave talks about how appropriate it was that people suffer torture for not giving said leader the love and obedience that he automatically deserves, I’m guessing you would assume you were looking at a pretty nasty dictatorship.

    God as Divine Evil Dictator… not quite the image I think that preacher really wanted to create.

  • Jeanne Fox

    I used to be a United Methodist, but changed churches because I found out they are anti gun and anti self defense. My job requires me to defend myself.

    I have a few issues with LCMS, but they are neutral about the gun issue.

  • gimpi1

    Well, if it were me, I’d be more comfortable with a group that disliked my firearms than a group that restricted my freedom of speech, but that’s just me. However, surely there are other Lutheran churches that are a bit more open to discussion?

  • Jeanne Fox

    I heard three explanations as to why people won’t be upset by loved ones and friends being in hell: one person said that people in heaven don’t remember their life on earth, including friends and loved ones. Someone else said that we will see things more from God’s perspective, and eternal punishment won’t be disturbing to us. One of the study Bibles said we won’t see the people in hell.

  • Obscurely

    Benjamin … fascinating post and perspective, but as I reflected on it I asked myself, “Why has it taken 2,000 years for a ‘movement’ against the execrable doctrine of Hell as eternal punishment taken so long to get off the ground in the church?” My provisional answer is that the wider American culture has been evolving for many years now in a more spiritually pluralistic and tolerant direction — a development given greater momentum perhaps by the virulent non-violence of Jesus himself? (see Rene Girard and others). If that’s the case, isn’t it our subjective cultural understanding of “God’s character” that’s evolving quite naturally/spontaneously vs your intentional squaring of church doctrine with biblical teaching? (not to mention your contorted speculations about the “pre-incarnate Jesus”)

  • Andy

    I’m not a professional theologian, but I’m pretty sure that what Ben’s referring to as the “traditional” view was basically turned up to 11 within the last couple hundred years or so, for reasons I’m unclear on. I think I read somewhere that, before that, the prevailing view on hell was less extreme, at least. Seems like we’ve gotten further away from whatever hell is — if it actually exists, of course.

  • Jim Braman

    Looks like Mr. ‘Zither’ has been backpedaling from your response for four days now ….doesn’t he know that he is responsible to keep responding or else become a backpedaler himself? Doesn’t he realize that such backpedaling invalidates all prior logic?

    Seriously ZZ, if you’re listening, your information is interesting and useful, but your attitude of superiority takes away from what you have to offer. If your motive is to help people understand the truth, why not present it in ways most likely for people to read it?

  • Ronny, would you mind if I pinch some of what you’ve written, for my blog?

  • Nelson

    Well, that there’s a cultural shift happening in USA cannot be denied. However, I believe the reason that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment of the wicked became the mainstream doctrine is because the leadership of Christendom was hijacked by power-hungry people who wanted to control the masses. As a result, Christian doctrine was slowly re-engineered into a tool of domination, instead of the message of love, justice and freedom that Jesus and His Apostles preached. The mainstream doctrine of Hell is part of that re-engineering. Now that Christendom has fallen, many of its subjugating doctrines are being questioned in light of the original message of Jesus and His Apostles.

    Another factor to consider is literacy and exposition. More people are literate now and they can more easily go to primary sources to question/corroborate doctrines. Before, when the masses were illiterate, they trusted their leaders, some of whom were honest but most of whom were deceived and/or deceitful. This is happening around the world and not just in USA.

    Also, there is, indeed, a subjective aspect to all of this. There’s a subjective appreciation of God’s character. When you and I, as individuals, establish a relationship with Jesus, we are subjectively influenced by the continuous shared experience of God. Jesus is a person. God is personal. You cannot objectively know persons or personal beings. Certainly God cannot be known objectively. Personal beings are more than just facts or objects. As Søren Kierkegaard said: Subjectivity is truth.

    Note: the idea of eternal conscious torment of the wicked pre-dates Christianity.

  • Obscurely

    You make a great point that the leadership of the church (especially after Constantine cynically absorbed it into the Roman Empire) was “hijacked by power-hungry people” — but wasn’t that a function of human culture too? Also, God/Jesus is not at all personal to me — but I still respect, esteem, and extol (as an agnostic minister) the evolutionary genius of its ethical teachings …

  • Nelson

    Yes, human culture played a big part in the corruption (my opinion) of the Church over time. But the message of Jesus and His Apostles was counter-cultural. The Church was meant to be an alternative culture. Instead, it was assimilated into the general culture of the day, then and now.

    On a different subject, of what are you a minister? What is it that you minister? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Obscurely

    I’m an ordained minister of a small town fellowship in one of the (dying?) liberal “mainline” Christian denominations — and YES, the church should be (subversively) counter-cultural!! That’s why I’m raising the issue here of just how much the culture in which it’s embedded should be influencing the church’s understanding of its own teachings — on the other hand, I think Bonhoeffer’s perennial question is always valid, “Who is Jesus Christ for us TODAY?”

  • babby660

    possibly because God/Jesus does not exist

  • Dearhrt14

    This is an interesting perspective. I do believe that you’re forgetting one possible theological position, though. Traditionally, the majority of evil in this world is a twisted version, a terrible copy if you will, of something good. Death is the evil antithesis to life. Torture and abuse are evil perversions of good and right human interactions. Lies twist true facts into false ones. Assuming this to be true, then, it logically seems that nothing evil exists on its own, but rather as the warped version of a created good that stems from God. There could be arguments as to how these things become perversions – the devil or the natural fallen bent of the human heart – but the point is that evil stems from a corrupted good.

    Following this theologically, then, it is plausible that a traditional hell is not necessarily God’s creation, but in fact a perversion of his original design – peace, love, and everlasting existence with Him in His kingdom – that results in the torture of the human soul. It could have been something that stems from the enemy, or it could be a natural consequence of eternal separation from God in the afterlife, but following this view someone would be hard pressed to argue that God actually created, approves of, or takes pleasure in the existence of a traditional hell. Rather, God allows the corruption of his version of Heaven to exist much like He does on Earth today.

    Using your example, it would be as if God allowed some motorists to take over and drive on a part of the road (for the purposes of this argument, a perversion of his original intention for the road) but forbade his able-minded children from playing there. If they choose not to listen, they will be run over, even though that is not what He wanted. He would not be culpable for the results, as he did not create the motorists on the road (again, for the purposes of the illustration) and did not allow his children to play there, but they went of their own free will. In the same way, God allowing a place of torture to exist does not logically lead to the conclusion that He created it, and if a person chooses that fate they would be responsible for their own eternal welfare.

    I’m not a theologian or anything, so there may be holes I am not addressing, but to me this best reconciles both a traditional view of hell and a high view of God’s goodness.

  • Lee

    Another reflection on Hell. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man presents a scenario in which, following death, the citizens of each afterlife realm can see one another: Lazarus can see ‘Dives’, and vice versa. Dives pleads for release, or at least for someone to inform his family so that they do not suffer the same fate. It is not Lazarus that answers, but Abraham, informing him that there will be neither release for him nor warning for his family.
    Regardless of whether you take this as parable, allegory, or history, my reflection is this. Let’s say Hell is eternal torment, and that we in Heaven are aware of Hell and of the identities of those in it. I suppose that it’s possible that, upon the resurrection, God decides to wipe the memory or knowledge of hell from our minds, and reconstitutes our brains such that we forget those we knew who are now in Hell, but for a moment, lets say we remember everything.
    Presently on earth, we occasionally hear stories of people who suffered at the hands of others, and yet forgave: a victim of Auschwitz who now forgives her Nazi captors; a mother who forgives her daughter’s murderer; etc. Perhaps this happens rarely – more often than not, people desire justice, even vengeance upon those who have harmed them – but supererogatory examples of forgiveness do exist, so we know that it is possible for the human spirit to arrive at a place of forgiveness for those guilty of even extreme acts of evil.
    So let’s say we’re in Heaven, and we have not forgiven our assailant, and so now we have the opportunity to watch them suffer. A year goes by, two years, ten, fifty. We continue to feel just in our retributive appreciation of the suffering that this person is now experiencing.
    One hundred years go by, a thousand; ten thousand. But wait, our own suffering on earth lasted a few decades at the most. At what point do we say ‘okay, I think they’ve suffered enough’? Keeping in mind that, now that we’re in Heaven ourselves, we’ve been perfected. We are in the presence eternally of absolute Love, absolute Mercy (and, yes, absolute Justice, but Mercy, Scripture declares, triumphs over judgment – James), and once He appeared, we became like Him, for we saw Him as He is (- John). Keeping in mind as well that forgiveness for those who have committed unimaginable horrors is demonstrably quite possible, has been demonstrated by a few exceptional souls here on earth. If we’ve all been perfected by Perfect Love, the One who while we were all yet sinners nevertheless loved us so much that He gave His only Son, will we not eventually plead with the Father to extend mercy and to release those who are imprisoned in their eternal death? Will we not see the injustice that is committed as centuries, as millennia of torture goes by, while our own sufferings lasted but for a short time, and are not comparable to the glory set before us? How can we continue on in Heaven with eternal, tearless joy, and yet be aware of their suffering, the duration of which far, far exceeds our life-span while on this world, now strangely dim?

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Hell is not in the bible in the original languages. The translators of most English language bibles were heavily biased in favor of the doctrine of eternal damnation, and produced biased texts to support what they already believed. There are a few exceptions, like Young’s Literal Translation.

  • Ping….Ronny, would you mind if I quoted you in my blog please? This passage above?

  • Rev. Andrew R Gentry

    The rabbinical wisdom from what I am told by several rabbis that I know says hell except for the most evil of people like Hitler and the literalist followers of Mohammed is more akin to a purgatorial state and has nothing to do with fire! In fact one rabbi told me that Jesus use of the Gehenna imagery is only a literary device in Aramaic to emphasise how painful separation from God is. This makes sense both theologically and intellectually and is certainly consistent with the Gospel.

  • Danny James McDonogh

    Your article give me food for thought but I am not entirely convinced.
    At the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was so distressed that He was sweating blood, yet through this distress He made the decision that there was no other way for mankind. It was in this that He allowed Himself to be available for crucifixion. If there is no Hell then what was it that Jesus needed to go through this to save us from.
    I have always held the view that Hell is a place of punishment created for the devil and His fellow fallen angels and a right punishment at that for the evil they have brought to this world.
    Now this bit doesn’t sit well with me I am open to a better interpretation:
    Forgiveness through believing that Jesus sacrifice is sufficient to remove all our sins is a free gift available to all who are willing to accept it.
    We are all everlasting beings (not eternal-eternal = always has been always will be, everlasting = once created will not be annihilated).
    God is omnipresent, as such Hell is a place of special creation (what a horrible term……. shudder). In that God is not there.
    Everlasting beings that are tainted by sin cannot be in Gods presence.
    The only place for everlasting beings who cannot be in Gods presence is the place created as punishment for the devil and his angels.
    I sincerely hope and pray that there is a second chance for those who refuse or in some cases don’t even get a chance to refuse Jesus’ gift. But if there is then Gethsemane doesn’t make much sense.

  • Karl Clark

    Bible is a book about spiritual matters, thus hell is a spiritual concept (not a physical place). To understand hell, we must first understand the attributes of a spirit. God is a spirit, thus to fully understand a spirit requires us to fully understand God (not humanly possible). That said, scriptures are very clear that spirits inspire what people believe. Evil spirits are lying spirits, while God’s spirit is the Holy Spirit of truth.
    Anyone that believes truth will be set free. This is what it means to have eternal life. This is what it means to be in heaven. Christ is the truth, the way and life. When we believe the truth about God’s love for the world (which Jesus manifested), we will live and experience a life that is “born” out of truth. But if one rejects the truth, they will experience a life of death (void of God’s love). This is hell! It is the place where (the nature of) God is absent from one’s conscience. It is an eternal place of suffering and it is very real!
    The only question remaining in my mind is whether God’s liberty allows folks to reject the truth or if His love will eventually persuade all men to see the truth. Bible tells me love never fails, thus perhaps I have my answer.
    P.S. God is the consuming fire, which will burn away all that is not of Christ. This is a spiritual concept aimed at removing deception (Christ is the truth). As of such, hell is exactly the place where unbelievers need to be.

  • Ken

    First off, I agree that it is impossible to know whether the unquenchable fires Jesus describes are literal or figurative.

    However, I personally believe in a figurative fire that is LESS brutal than literal burning but can be MORE unbearable/painful. There are 2 human examples of suffering that I think of that approximate the idea and purpose of hell the most for me:
    1) deprivation and isolation (e.g. solitary confinement)
    2) severe, disabling addictions (e.g. crackheads & dopefiends)

    For #1, I never understood why news outlets make such a big deal out of solitary confinement. I thought throwing criminals in solitary was actually fairly humane–they’re left alone, no one bothers them. I thought solitary may even be nice if you’re in an especially crowded prison. BUT, apparently I am very wrong. Solitary confinement is a particularly painful experience.

    Thus, DEPRIVATION can be extremely painful. Now when I imagine the sense of deprivation when God removes his grace entirely I can understand hell better.

    For #2, I think sin is the most powerfully destructive addiction there is. Intense addictions will destroy and disfigure anyone. And what better picture of intense addictions than drug addicts. The downward spiral of drug addiction could be called hell-ish.

    This picture of a hellish suffering from a slave to sin (instead of righteousness) helps me understand how “the gates of Hell are locked from the inside”.

    In short, the combination of God cutting us off from his grace and kindness, and abandoning us to our sinful cravings I think is incredibly painful.

    I also think this picture illustrates how hell can have varying degrees of punishment because a person’s suffering in hell would depend on their degree of addiction to sin.

    The stronger the desires for sin, the more tortuous the experience of not satisfying those desires.

  • SakuVirta

    “Dives pleads for release, or at least for someone to inform his family
    so that they do not suffer the same fate. It is not Lazarus that
    answers, but Abraham, informing him that there will be neither release
    for him nor warning for his family”

    Dives pleads not for release but that Abraham send Lazarus to serve him: “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

    Frankly, the whole exchange sounds less like someone who’s being burned alive than someone who’s facing the harsh reality of having to go get his damn beer by himself from now on.