My perspective on Hell? It’s about time….

Hell has been a hot topic (pun intended) in discussions lately.  Competing books, blog posts, inflammatory comments and heated accusations (alright, I’ll stop with the puns!) have been all over the place.

So far, I’ve given my opinion on other folks’ blogs, but I’ve held off here.  This is ironic, because Hell is one of the main topics that I intended to focus on when I started blogging.  In fact, if you read my very first post, Hell is the first topic I mention where I’d like to add to the discussion and help “reconcile viewpoints”.

So, why the delay in blogging on Hell? That’s simple – I fear rejection. And, since some of my opinions on Hell are pretty unusual compared to the norm, I’m expecting that I will probably get more negative responses than positives.

Why do I want to talk about Hell?  Let me start with a quote from John Cleese of Monty Python fame that I think illustrates the conundrum we have today:

“To be tortured 24 hours a day for the rest of eternity, that’s not very nice. To believe that’s going to happen to people you disapprove of, I think, shows a pretty low level of mental health.”  ~John Cleese

I’m not saying that I agree with Cleese’s estimation of the “mental health” of Christians, but his statement does illustrate the point: the traditional view of Hell makes no sense to a great many people in the world today, particularly when we concurrently claim that our God is a God of love.

I believe that we, the church, have a responsibility to find an explanation of Hell which makes sense to the world today.  It should be a viewpoint that is scripturally sound, both in regards to God’s judgment and His mercy, while it also makes sense to non-believers.  If we can’t come up with a reasonable explanation of Hell – a “reconciled viewpoint” – then we are leaving a major stumbling block in the way of people coming to faith.

With that backdrop, here’s a quick “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version” of what’s gone on recently (to provide context for the few readers who might be unaware):

  • A few months ago, pastor and author Rob Bell released “Love Wins”, a book that challenges traditional views on Hell.  Bell uses scripture to argue that Jesus’ sacrifice “once for all” really does mean ALL, and that eventually most people will submit to God’s love, possibly post-mortem.
  • All hell breaks loose (no, not literally).  The discussion has been heated, books have been written, and bloggers are debating Bell’s views.  The most recent book released is “Erasing Hell” by pastor and author Francis Chan, which I received in the mail the other day.  Chan (and his co-author/researcher, Preston Sprinkle) reviewed the scriptures regarding Hell and came up with… (drum roll please!)  You guessed it! The same conclusion that he had before, that Hell is a literal place of unending punishment.
  • However, Chan did acknowledge that some of what Jesus taught could be interpreted to mean that Hell was temporary in duration.  He examined whether “Hell is a Place of Annihilation or Never-Ending Torment” (the header on page 80), and although he said on page 87 that he leaned toward the torment being “everlasting”, he was “not ready to claim that with complete certainty”.  He even mentioned that he deleted several pages that he wrote about it because he didn’t want to “distract from the heart of Christ’s message”.   And to Francis, that message is that Jesus gave a stern warning – he wants us to know that Hell is a bad place and we don’t want to go there.

So, we’ve got a conundrum: the traditional view is that Hell is forever, but the world thinks that’s crazy.

Bell thinks that “Love Wins” and most people eventually give in to God’s will.

Chan acknowledges that human punishment in Hell might end in annihilation, but he still leans towards everlasting punishment.

{Sidebar:  Although it looks like I’m writing on Hell as a response to Bell’s book and the current discussion, that’s really not the case. I’ve actually been ruminating on and developing a “model” of how I think Hell works for the last 25 years.   When I finally felt compelled to start blogging/writing last fall, I had no idea who Rob Bell was or that Hell would become such a “hot topic” in 2011.}

So where do I stand?  I think that Hell is eternal for Satan and fallen angels, but unrepentant human souls experience “the second death” and at some point cease to experience suffering.

Basically, I think the church has historically misinterpreted the scripture on the 2nd death when they assumed that angelic and human “punishment” will be equivalent – that both will experience “eternal conscious torment”.   I think that per Rev. 20, angelic punishment will be “day and night forever and ever” while human punishment results in “death” of the soul.  (I’ll give more scriptural detail to back that up in a later post.)

Now, I’m not making light of the 2nd death or assuming that it will be easy – in fact, I’m pretty sure it will be the worst thing a person can go through. But, if Hell becomes the “death penalty” for the unrepentant soul – or as Paul puts it in Romans, “the wages of sin is death” — then God is in a position to show mercy to whom He wishes to show mercy as He administers that “death penalty”.

Why do I think it’s important to share my “viewpoint”?  Two reasons – to help restore unity among believers, and to help remove stumbling blocks for non-believers.   How many people – both believers and nonbelievers — reject the Bible as God’s word in whole or part because they can’t believe that a loving God would leave people in eternal torment? My theory – that the punishment is temporary - gives an alternate interpretation of scripture that allows us to take God’s Word literally, and still reconciles with the wordly assumption that eternal torment seems unjust.

Am I 100% sure that I’m right?  No, of course not.  We are imperfect people with misunderstandings and wrong thinking in some areas, just like we all still sin.  But, if we can come together and dialogue where we have differences of opinion rather than pointing fingers, we can build unity in the church.  And if we can build unity in the church, not only will we remove some of the intellectual stumbling blocks that keep nonbelievers from coming to faith, but “they will know we are Christians by our love” and maybe, just maybe, some nonbelievers will decide the church has something that they want.

Love.

Thank you for reading my rambling thoughts here. I really hope that the Church can dialogue and find a reasonable “model” for Hell, and I look forward to continuing the discussion.

What do you think about Hell? Is this a discussion worth having?  

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Next blog topic:

WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND TIME!  No wonder we can’t figure out eternity….

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