“What do you believe is the nature and purpose of hell?”

The traditional teaching of an eternal hell is not heard much from the pulpit in evangelicalism today. Nor will unbelievers hear their Christian friends bring it up. If they point blank are asked they will usually get very uncomfortable trying to explain it or they may evade the question altogether. But you do find it tucked away at the end of church doctrinal statements on their websites and sometimes addressed within certain books that are more theological in nature.

The traditional teaching on hell is that if in this life you do not “accept Jesus as your Savior” before you die you will end up in an irreversible state of separation from God called hell. The logic follows that because you are born in sin and have continued to sin you deserve to be eternally separated from God. But you are given a choice in this life to come to God and be saved by believing that Jesus died for you on the cross. Because there are different degrees of sin/sinners most theologians would say there are differing levels in hell depending on the offenses committed on earth.

But it is never explained how it's possible to have degrees of punishment when all hell's victims share the same fate of the loss of God's presence, light, life, love and goodness. We must ask how it is possible to have degrees of "utter darkness" and the absence of ALL love, life and goodness? And how are the damned separated from God forever who is the very Source of every sustaining breath of mankind? Does His sustaining grace continue with mankind throughout eternity holding him together for the sole purpose of torturing him forever? In order for man to exist throughout eternity in hell he would have to be upheld all the while by God Himself, negating the claim that Hell is eternal separation from God.

We believe that the Bible teaches, "the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life (literally, His life) through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom 3:23) God tells us that our sin has brought about the constant process of death to ourselves and to our world. There is a dis-integration taking place in all of life: spiritually, psychologically, socially, environmentally, and globally. Death is the greatest enemy of mankind

The first man Adam, as our representative, began our journey down the path of disobedience leading to death over all mankind. The Story of God reveals how Jesus, the Second Adam, came to undo the doing of Adam as mankind's representative. Through Jesus we are saved from the state in which we find ourselves at present...we are dead in sin, we are dying right now and our bodies will someday die physically. Whether you believe the stories of the Bible happened or not you can start by recognizing that they are happening right now. Death is all around us in its many forms while we are keenly aware that this is not the way it's supposed to be.

The Good News is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Jesus did not come to save you from a location (a never-ending torture chamber) but from a condition: dead in sin and enslaved to ourselves and others and our man-made "gods" (what the Bible calls "non-gods"). This is the reality we need to see in order to be reconciled to God. We must each admit our need and our thirst for the "life that is truly life".

So what is the nature of Hell? First of all the word hell in the OT and many places in the NT is simply the hidden place of the dead (Hades or Sheol). But in the New Testament there is a place Jesus speaks of called Gehenna that many scholars believe was an allusion to a garbage dump where the criminals were dumped and burned. This would have given the Pharisees a graphic metaphor to challenge their prideful dance with self-righteousness.

But mostly the Bible speaks of a judgment, a "day" where all will be reckoned with. Phrases like a “refiner's fire… a consuming fire…an age of fire", are all used to denote judgment and the process of destroying all that remains unrepented of and out of alignment with God Himself. The “carnal mind” or all that is opposed to God and false within man will be destroyed.

We believe that the nature of hell or that place of judgment where the unrepentant wicked are reckoned with is not AWAY FROM the presence of God but rather FROM the presence of God. 2 Thess. 1:9 has finally almost been translated correctly, through the footnotes, to say,

"They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might," ESV

2 Thessalonians 1:9 Or "destruction that comes from"

Punishment in tandem with a separation from the presence of God is illogical as well as unthinkable. First the Scriptures say that everyone is sustained by the word of His power so it is impossible to even exist without His presence. Second, punishment that comes from the presence of the Lord is scary but not without hope. Would a child want to have his father face him with his righteous anger or leave him alone forever never to speak to him again? These meanings are entirely different yet the translators casually add the footnote as if it's a close second choice for translation when in fact it is the difference between night and day!

We will close for now but we will be expounding more on this subject in the future. It is a very confusing topic since there are different judgments mentioned in the Bible at differing times so it is easy to pile them all together and try to present one picture. This is an area we are still studying and exploring!