Apologetics Evangelism Justice Theology

A.S.K 18 – Hell

This weeks A.S.K question…

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BIBLE READING: Isaiah 30:8-18

TEXT: Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!(Isaiah 30:18)

The teaching about Hell is so hard. It’s hard to take in, hard to grasp, hard to preach and hard to ignore. Th is is not a teaching that comes primarily from the Old Testament, or from Paul, Peter or John. The person who teaches most about Hell, is the loving, gentle and compassionate Jesus. The only reason I believe in Hell is because Jesus does – and I follow Jesus. CS Lewis summarises the position really well – ““There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, especially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom, and it has the support of reason.” (The Problem of Pain)

But as with all things we need to be really careful that we neither take away nor add to the Bible. There are different views that Christians have about Hell. Some think that there is no hell. Others that whilst it exists no one but the devil goes there. They believe that either everyone is saved or that those who don’t go to heaven – cease to exist. Others believe that people go to hell, but that whilst hell is eternal, the punishment is not. The traditional view in the Christian church is that hell is eternal and that the punishment is eternal.

So what does Jesus say? It is very difficult to claim to be a follower of the Jesus of the Bible and then turn round and say that either hell doesn’t exist, or that no one goes there. Jesus says “ They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42). He also tells us: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41). You cannot claim to follow Jesus and his teachings if you believe that Hell does not exist or that no one goes there. You can argue that the language is metaphorical if you wish – but it is still a horrible metaphor for something horrible.

Jesus teaches that Hell is a place of punishment and a place of outer darkness. But is the punishment eternal? It is in that its consequences are eternal. But some Christians argue that the Bible does not teach that man has an immortal soul and that at some point God will end the punishment. Others believe that human beings continue to sin in Hell, and hate God so that punishment is ongoing.  I have often agonized about this. And I’m not sure I have easy answers.

I think I want to go as far as the Bible goes and no further. Hell exists. Some people do go there. God is just and any punishment he gives will be absolutely just. All the evil in the universe will be confined to Hell. That makes it a place that none of us should want to go to. One of the most sickening things I have ever seen is tens of thousands of people jumping up and down and singing along to ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’. They also sing that ‘Hell ain’t a bad place to be”. Of course it’s meant both as a joke and as bravado – but it ain’t funny and it ain’t brave. Hell is the most dreadful place to be, and none of us should rejoice at being on the Highway there.

But let’s come back to our text. It tells us that God is a God of justice (so you don’t need to worry about unjust punishment in Hell) and that he is a God of compassion who longs to be gracious to us. At the end of the day – those who go to Hell are those who deserve to be there and who have chosen to be there. As CS Lewis argues in The Great Divorce “ “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

CONSIDER: There is really one thing for you to consider here. Which road are you on? Have you accepted Jesus’ great offer of salvation and eternal life, or are you on the Highway to Hell? Do you choose to live eternally with God or without him? Come to me…says Jesus. Will you?


God, That’s Not Fair – Understanding Eternal Punishment and the Christian’s Urgent Mission – Dick Dowsett

Crucial Questions about Hell – Ajith Fernando

PRAYER: O Lord, this is a hard teaching. Who can bear it? We do not know the depth and horror of our sin, so we cannot grasp the necessity and justice of Hell. But we know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, as well as being a God of justice. So we simply pray – deliver us from evil. Deliver us from Hell and enable us to be with You forever. Amen.

How Do You Achieve Forgiveness? – A.S.K 17

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  1. Hi Robbo,
    Thanks for this short article, which has some helpful material.
    It seems to me, though, that you didn’t actually address the question you raised, namely the seeming disproportion between the length of this sinful life (~80y) and the length of the punishment for sin (everlasting). Is hell really for ever? What about conditional immortality? What about Tom Wright’s view that in hell human nature is eventually destroyed — a form of annihilation? Maybe more on the infinite holiness of God could help.

  2. Hi David… does Jesus really talk about Hell? My understanding is that he uses the word Gehenna and Hades, which has now been interpreted as Hell. This is an interpretation. The issue is what does Gehenna or Hades mean. I think the understanding of Gehenna and Hades are very much up for debate.

    1. Yes – I think he does. Hell is the translation of those words…he talks about a place of punishment, blackness and eternal fire…sounds like Hell!

      1. Judgement for sure, that is without doubt, but I dont think its quite as clear as that. NT Wright argues that every reference Jesus makes to Gehenna is focused on the AD 70 destruction and judgment. Evidently the Greek for eternal can be translated ‘of this age’. (I am not Greek scholar, so dependent on others for that info).
        I am not denying the clarity of Jesus (and all the NT writers) calls on the judgment of God. But the clarity around Gehenna meaning Hell is increasingly being brought into question.
        Its also intriguing that not one sermon in the entire books of Acts makes mention of Hell (in fact there is not one mention of Hell in Acts whatsoever). Why is it the the inspired scripture that outlines the spread, sermons and message of the gospel does not mention Hell once… its worth pondering.

      2. I think NT is wrong in saying that it only refers to the destruction of Jerusalem..Hell has always been brought into question – no one likes it.

        How many sermons in the book of Acts mention heaven? I think Acts 17 does mention judgement…….we take the Bible as a whole…

  3. Thank you David for this, sombre reading as it is. I often think of hell. It’s not a place anyone would want to find themselves in. I hold the biblical perspective on it, in as much as it is real and it is forever. I sometimes would ask the Lord to reveal to me if I am a false convert, its that serious. Who on earth would want to hear those dreadful words ‘away from Me I never knew you’? Heb 10.31. Thanks again for your concerns for the unsaved.

  4. Wright may be wrong…;) though his reading of Gehenna is not because he dismisses Hell. He actually believes in a form of Hell (check out his Podcast on Hell with your old friend Justin Briely https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/ask-nt-wright-anything/id1441656192?i=1000444756779).
    What is quite clear is that Hell is an interpretation of Gehenna and that interpretation is increasingly being called into question.

    Thanks for your point about Heaven for Acts, good pick up. A quick word search shows that heaven or eternal life is only mentioned twice. Two more than Hell but I found that helpful and will need to go back and re-read Acts with that in mind.
    I think you’ll also find that you will struggle to find clear reference to Hell in any of Johns Gospel or his Pastoral letters and none of Pauls letters (with the exception of something in 2 Thess, but again there are ambiguities in the Greek with the word eternal also meaning ‘age to come’ ), James uses Gehenna. 1&2 Peter or Hebrews don’t refer to Eternal Conscious Torment. They all have clear references to judgement and some to fire but not Eternal Conscious Torment.
    So it ends up being much more slim pickings based on the whole of scripture!

    Hell is still worth questioning… maybe we dont like it because Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) does not fit with the revealed character of God in the Bible? It does not fit with the revealed picture of forgiveness or mercy or justice. OT Justice is an eye for an eye… and then Jesus trumps that one with turn the other cheek. ECT justice is eternity in torment for 70 years of sin… thats soooo far in excess of eye for an eye…
    ECT has God allowing (even making if you strictly adhere to Augustine or Calvin) more than 95% of his precious creation tormented eternally… that does not fit the Biblical picture of a God revealed in the Bible. Christ saving only 5% or less of his creation is no victory. The Devil is by far the winner in those stakes.
    Your point above echoing CS Lewis about people choosing to be in Hell is simply Arminian. Is God in full control? If he is, then Hell is part of his design. You cant actually play it both ways. True reformed theology has God consciously creating beings he knows will go into ECT.

    Thats just scratching the surface of the problems with Hell Biblically. You then have to throw in the host of verses that indicate all will be saved. So we end up playing tennis with Bible verses. You might say that Romans 11 or 1 Cor 15 need to be interpreted in the light of Matt 25 or Rev 21-22 and I might say visa-versa!
    Hell makes no sense of my 22 year old former Foster Child whose brain was fried in utero by his drug addled sexually abused mother and now they both live awful, crazy God empty lives. According to reformed theology, if they died today, they both go to ECT…Hell on earth followed by Hell forever…
    Hell makes no sense of the brutal murdering 10 year old Child Soldier who was forced to witness his mother and father slaughtered in front of him when he was 5 and who has now just died in battle today. Where does he stand if he died without faith in Christ?
    Hell sounds great for Hitler and Stalin, but given almost all of their victims are joining them there… the concept of Hell and Justice are pretty hollow.
    We say God is just and we cannot understand his Justice… but scripture reveals the Justice of God, we get an image of the justice of God in the very pages of scripture. ECT makes a mockery of the justice of God revealed in the Bible.
    Anyway I am rambling. Happy to leave it there.
    I love your work David and you have much better things to do than pursue this conversation.
    I am on a journey working out what to do with Hell and I dont think that ECT is the answer that the whole view of scripture provides us.

    1. Thanks – all that is appreciated….I think the basic answers to the dilemmas you point out are in the actual article. My parameters are that God is just, the Bible is true and Jesus believed in Hell….

  5. I once spent a spare evening checking all of the references to hell and its associated words and concluded that Jesus spoke of destruction rather than anything else, and if something is destroyed it no longer exists. It doesn’t seem to mean hell is not eternal, but rather that it destroys for ever those who are consigned to it. Only the devil and his angels are described as suffering eternal torment. So I guess that made me an annihilationist.

    However, I then read a book by John Blanchard, ‘Whatever happened to hell?’ where he examines the various arguments; and he concludes the opposite, essentially by using the logic that says our sin has contaminated eternity eternally, so therefore the punishment has to be eternal, so I have to admit I’m on the fence again. But then again, does that mean that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross in order to cancel out our sin means He continues to suffer His Father’s wrath eternally? Blanchard’s logic just doesn’t seem to ring true.

  6. For the different Christian views on hell there is a useful book: “Four Views on Hell” (with two different editions) where the different Christian views on hell are dispassionately and fairly looked at, with all views believing that “hell” is real and biblical.

    Jessica rated it: really liked
    “This second edition of Four Views on Hell is part of the Zondervan Counterpoints series. As with the other books of the series, we find a presentation of the current views on just what hell is. This updated edition features all new contributors. Each contributor presents his view of the doctrine of hell in an essay. They are:

    – Eternal Conscious Torment by Denny Burk
    – Terminal Punishment by John Stackhouse
    – Universalism by Robin Parry
    – Purgatory by Jerry Walls

    After each essay, the other three contributors present a short response.

    An introduction by Preston Sprinkle gives a summary on the existence and nature of hell, then briefly introduces each contributor and the view he will be presenting. He reminds us that while these gentlemen are presenting varying views on the nature of hell, none of them disagree that hell does, in fact, exist.

    In the conclusion, Sprinkle once again takes the reins and offers his own response to each of the fours views. He points out the strengths and weaknesses of each argument using scripture and comparing each essay.

    Ultimately, any conclusion is left up to the reader. Sprinkle, while he admits he has his own leanings, never expressly states which view it is, and treats each view fairly.

    Personally, I went in with a specific view. I have to admit that my view has been challenged by one view in particular. I hope to do more research on my own to follow through to a conclusion and, hopefully, a biblical view of hell.

    This book is meant to challenge you. It is meant to open a discussion among Christians with opposing views so that, at the very least, we can stop vilifying each other. Most importantly, it is meant to challenge the views we hold onto so strongly. Is what we believe really biblical? Or are we just holding on to the beliefs we have been taught?

    It is the reader’s responsibility to decide.”

      1. Hi David, yes I listened to that ages ago when it first came out as you flagged it in one of your Podcasts.
        I thought Robin was fine, but it was less that 30mins and there were 3 of you interviewed. Hardly enough time for any of you to say anything substantial!
        Have you watched/ listened to the talks? Tony Golby-Smiths testimony on his journey to Cosmic Redemption is marvellous.
        I realise you may not have time to listen to all this, but they provide a much fuller explanation of the biblical and theological basis of universal restoration than was covered on ABC.
        After listening to this program, I actually wanted to recommend Justin Brierly host you and Robin together on Unbelievable to do a longer and more detailed debate on this very topic! Would you be interested?

      2. Hey David, I sent Justin and email. Happy to forward it to you as well if you are happy to provide your email address.

        I did suggest that if he wanted fireworks… maybe he could invite David Bentley Hart instead of Robin… though you’d have to be OK with that.
        Hart released his manifesto to Christian Universalism last year

        Robin comes across as a gentleman… Bentley Hart…. not. Hart is also not an evangelical, so his foundation is not the same.

        However with your feistiness and Bentley Harts’ pugnaciousness… it would be quite a show.

        You may have read it, but as an example of Bentley Hart taking an infernalist on… check this out.
        He can be pretty nasty… https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2019/10/02/gnosticism-and-universalism-a-review-of-the-devils-redemption/

        Anyway, love to hear the debate. I have been increasingly convinced that the Biblical case for ultimate restoration has as much, if not more biblical and theological support than Eternal Conscious Torment. Would love to see this worked through on Unbelievable.

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