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!