Last week I read two rather disturbing articles on hell which you can go and read for yourself over here and over here. The two posts could not have been any further apart from each other theologically, the first one making a case for a God that seeks to personally torture people forever and ever purely because He is holy and good (huh?) while the second called for a Christianity where hell is completely done away with which I assume implied universal reconciliation for all of creation. You have to feel for God sometimes, people like to fight with Him when bad things happen in the world and He is seemingly absent or does not intervene. Yet at the same time when we speak about a day when God will judge the wicked people get angry about that as well.
So while I am sure that I will get 1 view for every 1000 those 2 articles managed; I would like to briefly critique both of them anyway while offering up an alternative as well.
In the first post Tim Challies goes beyond just championing the eternal conscious torment view of hell but actually reasons that “If you want a God who is good - truly good - and if you want a God who is just and holy, then you must have this God, this God who condemns people to suffer the eternal torments of hell” which Tim goes on to explain as infinite torture at the hands of God himself.
The article tries to back itself up with scriptures such as Matthew 10:28 and 25:46 (which both actually support annihilationism) and Acts 10:42 (which speaks nothing of what judgment is or looks like but rather of who the judge is). It becomes clear really soon that the author is imposing his own personal views onto the texts and from there in it only got worse as it moves completely away from scripture and into the land of assumptions. One example is when the writer reasons that because God is infinite any sin against him accrues an infinite debt so one personal call from your company phone is worthy of eternal torture.
While Jesus looks pretty awesome in the article the Father comes off looking just the opposite. In fact, in Tim’s theology Father and Son couldn't be any more different from one another. The Father demands eternal torture while Jesus freely offers forgiveness. Tim says that God’s holiness demands that He remain separate from sin and those who commit sin must be kept out of his presence. Note that He also stated that it is God who tortures the wicked in hell? I don’t know how he gets around this reasoning and I also don’t know what he thinks about God being omnipresent but more importantly, what does it say about the holiness of Jesus? The friend of sinners who hung out with all of the wrong kinds of people looks a lot like the Father who sought out Adam and Eve in the garden after they fell to me but bears little resemblance to the Father depicted in Challies article.
There are other confusing statements made in the post as well, when Tim says that “sin demands eternal punishment” he really means that “God demands eternal punishment”. The Father is the punisher while Christ is the redeemer calling for eternal love and joy. In his view God the Father and the Son share none of the same attributes but rather make up a yin yang kind of a godhead . If it was discovered that a man had chained up some of his children in his home basement and had tortured them there for several years it would horrify people and be worldwide news. If that same man claimed that he had done it because he was good and holy we would be even more disgusted and say that he does not know God. Yet so many people preach a God who is like this (but far more extreme in method and duration) than our hypothetical psychopath and yet we call it good?
A Christianity without hell
The second article that I read dared to imagine Christianity without hell. ‘Imagine’ is the key word here as there is so much scripture that speaks of punishment and judgment in the afterlife which one could point to. I can appreciate the author’s comments that the gospel of Christ has been damaged by “those in positions of power within the institutions of Christianity (who have) have methodically, relentlessly, and with great art used the doctrine of hell to exploit the innate fear of death that is harbored by one and all.” Christianity, as the author states, has made a lot of people rich by praying on people’s fear of hell but to throw the baby out with the bathwater carries severe consequences which should be considered.
It is wishful thinking to assume that love will eventually persuade all of creation to fall in line. Lucifer knew God in a way that we cannot imagine but pride corrupted him so who is to say that the stubborn hearts of men will act or any differently than his did?
The biggest red flag for me in Taboola’s post though was the statement, “A Christianity without hell would be largely unevangelical, since there would be nothing to save anyone from”. This reasoning is not concerned with sanctification and does not recognize that man is spiritually dead, corrupt, perishing and in need of saving from other things. It concerns itself with escaping punishment but not with repentance, that is to say, a turning away from ungodly things and seeking after righteousness. It does not acknowledge that eternal life is only found in Jesus who alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15-16) and it does not realize that the restoration of all things does not equate to the survival of every living being.
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him. - John 3:36
And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:11-12
The truth is that the doctrine of hell has been distorted and abused but it should not take away from the fact that the bible does speak of a lake of fire and anyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life will go there, this is the second death (Revelations 20:14-15). They do not go there to be tortured for eternity because the goal of judgment is to do away with evil that Christ may be all in all and that creation can be “very good” once again.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no such power. – Revelation 20:6.