A few weeks ago, I taught on Jesus' story of the Rich man and Lazarus. In it, I raised some questions on the traditional understanding of hell that many Christians have gleaned over the years from passages like this one. For example:
- How do we reconcile the words eternal conscious torment with God's unconditional love? How do those six words go together?
- How is it 'just' for sins committed within a span of 70, 80, 90 years, no matter how egregious, should be punished for all eternity?
- How can a good God allow and sustain the suffering of those he loves forever?
- Doesn't Scripture say that eternal life is a 'gift' from God? So doesn't it stand to reason that those who ultimately choose to reject God would be denied that gift for eternity, and thereby 'perish'?
- If, as some Christians claim, punishment is eternal because our sins are an offense against an eternal God, how is that just? Aren't people punished based on the severity of the crime, not who the crime was committed against?
These are just some of the types of questions that I have been wrestling with of late when it comes to the subject of hell. And as I prepared to teach on this subject, I was surprised to find I was not alone in my wrestling. In fact, Christians for centuries have struggled to understand exactly what is being described here in the pages of Scripture.
One of the reasons for that is that the Bible actually says a lot of different things about the subject of hell. In fact, if you look up 'hell', 'eternal', 'everlasting', and 'wrath' in their original language, you will be surprised at what you find. For example, Scripture certainly teaches that the wicked are punished eternally. But does that mean that the punishment will go on 'forever and ever' or that the sentence is a lasting one? In the case of the later, hell is eternal in consequence, not of duration.
Scripture also uses metaphorical terms like 'unquenchable fire'. So is the 'fire' unquenchable in the sense that it will go on 'forever and ever' or is it unquenchable in the sense that it cannot be put out until it completely consumes those who have gone in to it?
Again, these are the kinds of questions I have been wrestling with over the last few months. . .the same questions I invited you to join me in. Because, as I said, FCC is not a church that's afraid of wrestling with big questions. We don't believe Faith means 'checking your brains at the door'? In fact, Jesus said one of the ways we love God is by using our minds to their full capacity (Lk. 10:27). So when it comes to this subject of hell and ones eternal destination, I encourage you to do your own homework and not just take my word for it.
Below, I've included a list of Scriptures that Christians over the centuries have cited in support and in opposition to 'eternal torment'. I provide this list as a guide for you to prayerful study on you're own time. The importance of this study I believe is twofold: 1) It is important that we seek to reconcile these, and other verses, to the God Jesus came to revel, the God of self-sacrificing love, and 2) Many of us have people in our lives who are far from God. And often, one of the greatest stumbling blocks for them that I hear most often is how a loving God can send people to hell for all eternity. We own it to them to think deeply on this subject so that we can best 'give an answer for the hope that lies within us'.
And, as always, my door is always open for further discussion on the subject.
- Hebrews 10: 26-27
- 2 Peter 3. 7
- Ecclesiastes 9:5
- Malachi 4: 1-3
- Matthew 10:26
- John 3: 16
- Romans 6:23
- Revelation 20: 14-15
- Psalm 52:5
- Psalm 78:66
- Isaiah 66: 24
- Jeremiah 23:40
- Matthew 8:12
- Matthew 18:8
- Revelation 14:11
- Revelation 20:10