Friday, March 07, 2008

Burn in Hell...forever?

Hell has been a hot (no pun intended) topic in my recent conversations...specifically the doctrine of eternal torment. It's been good discussion and one that I have visited often coming from a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing. The SDA believe and teach the idea of eternal punishment and destruction vs eternal torture. A distinction that for many people is one that sounds heretical. I am not convinced either way completely...I do wrestle with the fact that eternal torture seems to be under supported in the whole counsel of the Word. It seems to contradict common sense logic about justice and is a doctrine that often repels people away from God instead of drawing them towards Him.

In my conversation the person said: "Eternal Torment was never taught in the old testament, The apostles never talked about it and the few scriptures where Jesus implies it come with no clarity; I think if a doctrine of this magnitude and horrific consequence were true, God would make it abundantly clear to all, and it would be a continuing theme throughout the Bible. On the other hand, eternal destruction is clearly taught and mentioned by all. The only exception is in Revelation where it appears to say Hell will be no more."

Good challenge...worthy of some good biblical study...I thought.

But then my youngest son, Micah came home distraught and angry Wednesday night from kids church. His first words to me were: "I'm pissed off, why would God kill Lots wife, just for looking back!" He was really upset. He told me that he wasn't going to believe in a God that kills people, that destroys huge cities. His little heart was broken and he was angry too. Every answer he recounted from the teachers of his class...he refuted and cast off with a disdain and frustration that they were not good enough answers according to him...which wasn't really the issue, our kids church is awesome and they were simply presenting a bible story; but Micah can grab a part of any talk and magnify it in his little mind. I tried to reason with him and explain the issues of choice, free will and all the other doctrinal anesthesia we use to try to soften a issue that we really can't explain either. I tried to use the concept of a parent telling a kid to stay out of the street for fear of getting hit or a command to come out of a burning building and if they didn't obey is the parent at fault? He responded: "Well Mom would come in an drag me out of the burning building!" I sat there stunned at his apologetic prowess that was really coming from a revelation of a side of God that frightened him and shook his understanding of a loving God.
We ended after talking some more with prayer. I told him I was proud that he cared about those people, cities and that we should love people. He calmed and I prayed with him about the issue. Needless to say, the hell, judgment and punishment doctrines are critical to understand because how we present our Father...can make some people stumble and even Jesus warned about the danger of making little ones stumble. It's a tough concept to wrestle with, one that trite answer dont really soothe the wounded heart.

I still am wrestling with the talk....the look and sound in Micah's face and voice was haunting.


Anonymous said...

That's when I try to understand God by looking at what Jesus did. Yesterday the sermon was about how Jesus dealt with Simon's thinking about the woman who was crying at Jesus' feet. It makes one quite proud of God. Defend God with Jesus. I think that's what He did. -matt

Mel said...

I've always believed in a hell of eternal torment because that's what I've been taught from the beginning. I hadn't thought of it that much, except to be grateful that I was escaping it, and to pray for as many people as possible to escape it also. But recently I've been reading some of the great reformists (Edwards, Spurgeon, etc.) and I see other aspects now.

Our infinitely glorious God offers us and paid an unfathomable price to draw us into an eternal relationship with Himself and invites us to spend all of eternity enjoying and delighting in Him. When people reject the infinitely glorious in favor of the finitely fallible, the price is an eternity of exactly what they chose... godlessness.

To our finite human minds it might not make much sense. That's when I remember that God is love and He sees the BIG picture and I trust Him, no matter what. Even if He were to send me to hell, I would trust Him. Because if we can't trust Him, there's no such thing as trust.

Mel said...

Okay, so I've been thinking about this some more...

We all come to times in our walk when we doubt and question. I'm impressed that Micah is asking questions like this and thinking deeply enough to be angry with God at his young age.

Untested, unchallenged devotion probably can't be considered devotion at all. A dog that is obedient inside the fence is not the same as a dog that is obedient whether or not there's a fence.

When God captures Micah's affection and devotion again, that devotion will be stronger than it has ever been before because of this time of testing.

Mel said...

Just wondering... Where are everyone else's thoughts, ideas and questions about this topic? :)

Unknown said...

Too touchy for people I guess.

Anonymous said...

Well the worst part of hell is eternal separation from God, not being burned for ever and ever, so that's what people should be concerned about.

But I guess its hard for people to understand what God's presence feels like to the extent that us Christians do. But people try to tell me that this place is hell, that earth is hell. They don't know that whether they are Christian or not, God is still in this earth. There is still good in it.

Imagine having all of God's presence - all that is good - stripped away. That is hell.

Michael McMullen said...

In the Gospels, Jesus describes hell. When the rich man died and looked across the divide between him and Abraham (I think?) all he wanted was some water and for his brothers to be told not to make his same mistake. He got neither, and forever had to look at Heaven without ever being there. Creepy. Tormenting even, wouldn't you say? To see Heaven with your own eyes just a stone's throw away and knowing you'll never be there?

"God can't condone evil, forgiving the willfully unrepentant. Lost souls have their wish - to live wholly in the Self, and to make the best of what they find there. And what they find there is hell. Should God increase our chances to repent? I believe that if a million opportunities were likely to do good, they would be given. But finality has to come some time. Our Lord uses three symbols to describe hell - everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46), destruction (Matthew 10:28), and privation, exclusion, banishment (Matthew 22:13). The image of fire illustrates both torment and destruction (not annihilation - the destruction of one thing issues in the emergence of something else, in both worlds). It may be feasible that hell is hell not from its own point of view, but from that of heaven. ...In the long run, objectors to the doctrine of hell must answer this question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins, and at all costs to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty, and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so - in the life and death of his Son." - C.S. Lewis.

Kayloni Bonner said...

I'm totally lost. I don't get why you are talking to Micah about choice and free will when it comes to hell knowing your Cavanistic veiws on 'the chosen' and the salvation they inevitably get. Also I do not understand the big diff between eternal torment and eternal destruction. That just sounds weird to me. They both sound pretty bad so why is it important. My ex-step dad told me that the worst pain he has ever felt in his life was depression. So is the question we are asking whether or not we fry for a trillion plus years vs. just exist forever without ANY love or goodness? It seems like one side is phyically focused and the other emotionally focused. According to what my ex-step day said It is hard to say what is worse. Is the premise here that we should steer towards the emotional side so that God doesn't seem so mean to the lost?

Unknown said...

I am sorry that you are totally lost...that must be your Armenian views on salvation coming through. ;)

As for my "Calvinist" views...I am not sure you have ever heard them fully expounded or had a chance to listen to my "views" completely since, I have not preached them fully until recently in my series through Romans. Your question reveals that you never did understand where I was on these issues. They are issues that require study, a full hearing and time to wrestle through the texts. Which I did for the last 16 weeks in Romans.

Why am I talking to Micah...Kayloni, as can not see the "why" in that? Is that a sincere question to me or a loaded one. It feels like a loaded one. That was a very personal that I think wasn't hard to understand "emotionally" as a parent.

As for the Hell/torment/punishment issue:
First of all, I think if we are going to tell people that God is going to "fry" them as you put it, for all eternity...on and on and on and on...forever and forever, with no consideration of how long they actually sinned. We probably had better have a full grasp on the biblical teaching of such a doctrine. Or at least be familiar with the different Christian positions on the subject.

How we present our Father, His character, His purposes and His heart, is important, in my view. from a evangelistic/missional sense this is a real issue for many people who are considering the truth of the Bible.

A human example would be like:
We are telling people to imprison their children, beat them continually with rods and inflict them with a pit of venomous vipers for...not cleaning their room.
That would seem like the punishment doesn't fit the crime. Many times that is how this doctrine appears to honest inquiring people. Having biblical answers to such a position would seem at least....responsible.

Anonymous said...

Good morning

I just stumbled on to your blog and felt a need to leave a comment. As far as the idea of "hell" goes........Just like your son I totally agree with him. It doesnt sound right because it isnt right. Anyone in my book who tries to equate an all-loving God and one who would eternally damn you is just plain wrong. There is much evidence out there that points to many mis-translations in regards to the words everlasting and eternity. Not suprising though. I live in a community that has 2 official languages. You should see what happens when we try to translate a joke from one to the other. That in itself is comical. Until we humans are able to wrap our brains around the fact that regardless of how "sinful" we are, GOD loves us. I think the wanting of an eternal damnation for "just" punishment is more for humans distorted view of Justice than it is of GODS view.

Mel said...

Thanks everyone for jumping in on this discussion. I so appreciate hearing everyone's thoughts and ideas. :)

I've been asking God to open my eyes to see more of His truth and His heart regarding hell.

First of all, there either is a hell of everlasting torment or there isn't one. I believe there is one. If the enemy can convince us that there isn't one, or if he can get us to doubt it, then he has gone a long way towards lessening our passion to see the lost reached for the Kingdom. He also succeeds in lessening our perception of the infinite glory of our God. An everlasting hell is the only fitting justice for rejecting everlasting glory. And an everlasting hell points to the glory of God even more fully because God's grace and mercy in the cross shine even more brilliantly when faced with truth of what that grace and mercy actually freely rescues us from.

We don't think the way God thinks, but if we aren't agreeing with or comfortable with some portion of His revealed truth, it's our thinking that needs to be adjusted, not His.

Anonymous said...

I too, was brought up for thirty five years believing that hell was a place where unbelievers would go and suffer for eternity. In fact, I was so convinced of it that I completely overlooked scriptures throughout the Bible that plainly tell us that after judgment we die. There is also much evidence that before that death, we will suffer for the sins we committed.
I think the rich man and Lazarus is an example of that. But please note, the parable never implies or suggests that he will suffer for eternity. We tend to read into it because it is such a pervasive teaching. I disagree that "eternal punishment", translates to eternal punishing. Eternal punishment means a punishment that is eternal and will not be revoked. Jesus was to be resurected and he and all the apostles were preaching a message of eternal life. So not as to be misunderstood, he gave no hope of that if you rejected him, you would have a pardon after death. I think the clearest scripture on that is Phil.1:28 and then even clearer is Phil.3:19 "There destiny is destruction,"
This theme is preached all through the Bible, whereas the doctrine of eternal suffering is not once mentioned in the Old Testament, and never clearly spelled out in the New Testament. I admitt when reading in Matthew 25:41 where Jesus warns that they will be cast into "eternal fire", with a frame of reference of eternal torment, we read into the verse, but nowhere does Jesus equate this to eternal suffering, and I strongly believe if there were a place so horrific, he would have given clear, lengthy, warning to all. But nowhere in the entire Bible is this doctrine spoken of. And as you do your search, be cautious not to read into the verse. The themes which are of great consequence are taught plainly and reiterated throughut the whole Bible. Eg. Care for the orphans and widows, charity, love, eternal life, repentance etc. If God were planning to torture the majority of mankind, whether mentaly or physically, it would be a clear teaching.
I have listed a few of the many scriptures that teach clearly that that "The soul that sins shall die".

2 Thess 1:9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction.

2 Thess 2:3 The man of lawlessness will be doomed to destruction.

2 Thess 2:8 The Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.

2 Thess 2:10 They perish because they refused to be saved.

2 Peter 2:12 They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angles when they sinned but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment

John 3:16 ..whosoever believes in him shall not PERISH...
I believe The devil does not gloat over thrashing, groaning, souls throughout eternity, Christ is Lord, not the devil; Christ brings victory, not the devil.
Other plain issues are the teaching of justice throughout the old and new testaments, they are clear and proportionate to the crime, I believe God will live to the same standard he teaches us to do.
The thought also occured to me, and I tread her very reverantly, Christ died for our sins, and his punishment was suffering and death. But he did not suffer eternally, but when the suffering for mankind was finished he died.
I'll close by saying this is a very large subject and one that is impossible to cover in this forum, but I only hope to add enough information to suggest that reasonable people can easily disagree on this subject, but as for me, the proponderance of evidence, and I think reason as well, shows God not to be the inflicter of endless torture, but God's justice will be precise, although without mercy, but a full and just balance and no one will find fault.
And finding fault is a huge issue with unbelievers, the only issue where reason concludes, justice is perverted. Study it out and it may surprise you to find a different conclusion, I did.
I have a couple of posts on my blog "Flying Embers", that shed more light.

Anonymous said...

First off, whether North Americans want to believe this or not. The Bible was not written in English. First it was written in Hebrew or aramaic, and then Greek. There is no direct translation for the english word "Hell" in the old testament. The word they take it from is Sheol, which directly translated means "grave" or "pit". Now if you want to get into all the other words that get mistranslated we could be here for a while. All I can say is "All loving" and "An Eternity in Hell" simply dont even belong in the same hemisphere. Whether I know GODS brain or not. He wrote on my Heart what it is I need to know about him. And Hell sure aint it. My heart goes out to the poor people who need Hell to make them more loving. The Kid who started this off "KNEW" what his heart told him. BOGUS.

Mel said...

I no longer believe in a hell of eternal conscious torment. Just so you know. And it was this post that started it all.