Growing up in church I knew the Christian message back to front. It was my reality, my Truth, my reason for living.
It went like this:
God created me in my mother’s womb, and loved me so much that he wanted me to have eternal life with Him in Heaven. Tragically, all of humanity had fallen and was deeply sinful and bad, and God hated sin so much He couldn’t stand to look at me. In His amazing love He sent His only Son to take my punishment by dying on a cross, so that I wouldn’t have to be punished and could spend eternity in paradise. I was saved by grace – there was nothing I could do to earn my salvation, it was a gift from an awesome God who loved me. All I had to do was believe this Good News and accept the free gift of salvation.
This was the way it had to be – God was perfectly good, and nothing evil could enter His presence. Therefore I in my fallen nature needed to be washed clean, forgiven of my sins, and covered by the atoning blood of Jesus. It all made perfect logical sense, and it really was a beautiful story – one of love, hope and sacrifice. I was so humbled and grateful that God had chosen to save me; I was secure in the knowledge that I was going to Heaven, and my mission in life was to see others saved in the same way.
We didn’t talk about Hell much, it wasn’t a nice thing to think about. But it was definitely a real threat and a future reality for anyone who wasn’t a Christian. I understood Hell to be a place without God, where there was no hope, no love, no light, nothing good at all. Some described it as a literal lake of fire, I thought that was a bit farfetched. But I had no doubt that it was a place of suffering and torment, that would last forever, and that was the ultimate eternal destiny for all of humanity – or at least that’s what we all deserved.
That was the Bad News that came before the Good News.
As much as we dressed it up with nice words, friendly smiles and good music, the message of our Christian faith was ultimately based on fear. Unless we got it right, we had good reason to be very, very afraid.
I was completely convinced. It was only when I encountered some Christians who challenged this understanding of the Gospel that it all started to unravel. When encouraged to step outside of my Christian bubble and dig deeper into my beliefs, I began to see my faith from other angles and some troubling and unsettling thoughts started to emerge.
The way to escape Hell was to believe that Jesus, a man from Nazareth who lived 2000 years ago, was the Son of God, and died to save us from being punished for our sins. Logically speaking, therefore, anyone who died without believing this message would be tortured beyond their worst nightmares for all of eternity. If people had heard the message and chose to reject it, well, then that’s clearly what they deserved for failing to believe the Truth. But what about those who had never heard of Jesus? What about babies who died before they were old enough to understand? What about my mentally handicapped brother? What about people who grew up in cultures where Christianity was not the main religion, or was not known about at all?
As I understand it, this is why traditionally children were baptised as infants – it was a way for the poor, concerned parents to appease God in the hope that He would let their beloved children into Heaven if they died in infancy. Christian missionaries have travelled all over the world preaching the Gospel in the hope of converting people to Christianity and saving souls from Hell. Some truly remarkable people have sacrificed their whole lives to this mission, out of genuine love and compassion for those who were destined for Hell. It is not them I started to have a problem with, it was the God who was responsible for it all in the first place.
If God was Creator of all things, all-knowing and all-powerful, then He knew full well when He created people that they would fall short of His standards. God was just and fair, so needed to punish sin – fair enough. But how just and fair was it that some people like me were born into evangelical Christian families where becoming “saved” was easy, while others never even heard Jesus’ name? Does God prefer white Western people? (Not too long ago the answer to this would have been a resounding “yes”, despite the fact that Jesus was of Middle-Eastern origin). And how just and fair was it that Christians could spend their entire lives abusing people with their greed and selfishness and still go to Heaven, whilst a Hindu man named Ghandi who spent his life working for peace, freedom and justice for oppressed people was right now being tortured in Hell?
If this God was good, I wondered, what was the definition of good exactly?
The Bible says that we are made in God’s image, and that we are like children and God is like our Father. It is therefore reasonable to imagine that the way we love our children is comparable to the way God loves us; and as God is God and we are sinful humans, we would expect God to display the perfect example of parental love. If we heard of a parent who threatened to horrifically torture their child forever if they failed to solve a riddle or recite a poem they might never actually hear, we would lock that parent up and despise them as pure evil. Yet that was effectively the picture of God painted by Christianity as I understood it. God’s love was not free and available for all, it came with very, very specific terms and conditions.
It is at this point in the deconstruction process that many good, sincere and thoughtful people have given up on Christianity altogether. If that is the Christian God, then they want nothing to do with Him. And I was in wholehearted agreement – I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that God.
I now believe with my whole heart that the message of Christianity that I was taught is not what Jesus meant.
I think we got it really, really wrong.
Jesus talked about an afterlife, and he warned clearly that there would be serious consequences for our actions. But He didn’t say that only a select group of Chosen Ones would avoid punishment. His message was about love for all, salvation for all, hope for all.
I think the bit about having to “believe” in Jesus, as children “believe” in the Tooth Fairy, and having to say the “Sinner’s Prayer” in order to gain your ticket to Heaven is a man-made idea based on a serious misinterpretation.
I think the idea of innocent people being tortured for all eternity was man’s invention, not God’s.
No time here for a detailed analysis of Biblical references to Hell. But here are a couple of examples of interesting things I didn’t used to know:
Gehenna (Greek word often translated as ‘Hell’) was a valley outside Jerusalem used as a dump, where bodies and rubbish were burnt. Not a place where unbelievers suffer eternal conscious torment after they die.
Sheol and Hades (Greek words usually understood to mean ‘Hell’) are best translated as ‘the grave’. Also not a place where unbelievers suffer eternal conscious torment after they die.
I think that in focusing on Hell-avoidance strategies, we have missed the point.
I think the message of Jesus, spoken through his words and his actions, was that God loves the whole world and wants to restore it, heal it, renew it, fill it with His presence and His love.
Jesus called this idea the Kingdom of God, and he said it was “at hand” – not for believers after they die, but available for all, here, now. It was a new way of being human; a revolutionary, counter-cultural, radically inclusive new way of living. Jesus spent his life making friends with the outcasts of society, healing the sick, feeding the poor and demonstrating radical ways of fighting political, economic and social injustice. He was killed for being a political revolutionary. The second line of the prayer he taught his followers was “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. What sense does all this make if Jesus’ mission was to give us a ticket out of Hell? In that case, this life doesn’t matter much anyway once we’re “saved” so why bother with all the other stuff?
I think we constructed the belief system of ‘original sin’ and Hell-avoidance by taking particular verses out of context and failing to see the bigger picture, the overarching story. Jesus brought a revolutionary message of love, freedom, radical inclusion and hope. He was most fiercely opposed not to unbelievers, but to the religious leaders of the time who used fear to control people, enforcing petty laws and creating hierarchies based on “purity” (which Jesus routinely turned upside-down).
How tragically ironic that in His name we created a religion based on fear and control, which allows for people to be dehumanised and the planet to be destroyed as long as people believe the right doctrines about the afterlife. Instead of fighting injustice as Jesus did we have contributed to it. Instead of radically loving and including people, we have judged and excluded them.
All this because we wanted to see things as black and white, Heaven or Hell, in or out, Christian or non-Christian, saved or damned.
I don’t think the Good News is that we can escape Hell by believing in Jesus. I think it’s much, much better than that.
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35 thoughts on “Rethinking Christianity: Hell (How My Faith Evolved From A Story Of Fear To A Story Of Hope)”
I’ve been meaning to comment on your blog for ages! I think it was actually you that introduced me to Brian McLaren for which I’m forever grateful. In particular, I remember discussing the Kingdom with you, and that has always resonated with me now as a place on Earth. Your posts on mental health have also resonated because I had anxiety and depression at uni aswell (let’s hope it’s not a Leeds thing!) and I really believe that some of that came from the strong xtian conservatism at uni that spoke in binaries and created a faith system based on a set of purity rules whilst (often) ignoring the radical reformative and restorative nature of xtianity that brings freedom and life. Matt 6:33.
My Grandma always said it was like I was forcing a square peg into a round hole, and I think that sums it up quite nicely! Anyway thank you for your blog and keep going with it. I’ll share it with my church too. 😊
That’s so great to hear 🙂 Hope all is well with you! xx
…apart from the depression and anxiety bit, not so great!
I completely agree that the focus should be on living a life for Jesus in the here and now. The awesome, privileged, wonderful blessing that is is more than reason enough to shout about the gospel. At some point in history however things got unbalanced and truth got a bit twisted (one of Satan’s favourite tricks) and somehow the church went through a period of the focus being ‘hellfire and damnation’ the after effects of which are still around and probably contributed to your initial viewpoint. I also think that people seeing Christianity as just about ‘sorting the tick box for after you die’ is one of the myths that means people feel it is irrelevant to them. However I don’t think you can just do away with uncomfortable truths if they are in scripture (2 Tim 3:16). Scripture is our foundation, God’s truth and handbook for us. Interpretation is tricky (I am no theologian either) but it is not meant to be hidden from us for the Spirit reveals (1 Cor 2:9-11)
My take would be to approach it from a different angle entirely: What do we know of God’s character for certain displayed throughout the Bible? That He is good, loving, just, faithful, constant, holy… you cannot emphasise one above another he is all in perfection and if they seem in tension to us we just haven’t understood God – and neither should we expect to do so on a human reasoning level! But we have the mind of Christ through the Spirit and also have to acknowledge that the wisdom of God is different to that of the world (1 Cor 2). If we trust in God’s love and his justice then surely we can trust Him to have figured out an appropriate way to deal with those who have not heard the gospel or are not capable of a considered response? He knows our hearts better than we do. Spreading the Good News should not be then seen as a putting people in a worse position as if they had never heard, but as giving them the opportunity to live life to the full now (John 10:10).
Jesus was clear that he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6, Mark 16:16, John 10:9) and illustrated this in parables too. Continue on into the rest of the New Testament and the writers many times emphasised that Jesus and only Jesus is the way by which we can be saved the Acts 4:12, Acts 16:30-31, Rom 5:8-10… (I am not going to list half the NT here!) That doesn’t really leave open the option of other routes. It is also clear that Jesus died once for all sins (Heb 9&10) so that the only thing that bars someone from eternal life is the rejection of Jesus – How nice or not a person has been is completely irrelevant – there is no sliding scale we have all fallen short. (That is tough to take in our personal merit culture, but that’s what the Word says.) Jesus chose to die, it is a gift, as with any gift you have to actively receive it to benefit from it.
Also that the Bible is very sketchy on detail about life after death – and what is described is focuses on the glory of the new kingdom not on those who rejected – compared to the rich detail on living for God in the here and now I take as an indication that it is not something we should get hung up on. I find it a hard subject – none of my family are believers and I love them dearly – but God gave us free will, I respect that they have the choice to reject Him and accept the consequences. I just have to take every opportunity (with the help of the spirit) to open their eyes to what this means. Whatever the alternative is (I prefer the annihilation option for the reasons just mentioned and it is a very long time since I did a detailed study so memory is hazy) fear is a poor motivator. The driver is the joy of life in fellowship now that continues on to a perfect worship and fellowship for eternity.
(copied this here from the Fb discussion for you.)
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Hi the Bible doesn’t actually teach that all God’s attributes are equal. God is love in the essence of His being. It does’t say anywhere that God is ‘just’ or ‘holy’ as who He is. Justice and holiness a functions of His love and flow out of Him being love. Our idea of justice is retribution and punishment, His is restoration and healing.
Also in regards your family yes we can only come to the Father through Christ, but the overwhelming weight of scripture is that all will willingly and joyfully do so in the end! No verse in scripture says the salvation process cannot continue after physical death! Death is of absolutely no consequence to God…
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I would also say that it’s important to pay close attention to what Jesus did and didn’t say in John 14:6. His words were:
Many Christians seem to be inserting a couple of words in there that don’t belong. They read Jesus’ words as if he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through believing in me.”
But that’s not what he said.
Coming to the Father through Jesus and coming to the Father through believing in Jesus are two different things. My belief is that Jesus has the power to bring people of all faiths to the Father, because Jesus is Lord and God of all the world, not just of Christians. It doesn’t matter whether a person intellectually believes in Jesus. Rather, it matters whether a person lives according to the way Jesus taught us to live: putting love for God and love for our neighbor first.
And this isn’t just my theory. In Romans 2 Paul tells us that Jesus brings Jews, Greeks (pagan polytheists) and Gentiles to everlasting life if they do good deeds and live according to their conscience:
So yes, no one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ. And that means that no matter what religion a person belongs to, it will be Jesus Christ who will judge his or her secret thoughts, and his or her actions, and will raise to eternal life those who have lived good lives of love for God and the neighbor according to their conscience, as Jesus taught us to do. This is also Christ’s own message in Matthew 25:31–48.
Yes!! This!! Yes!! I really love your thought process, how you work thru all this. Very well voiced. I started having these questions/doubts over 10 years ago. It’s a scary, freeing, lonely, beautiful road.
I also enjoyed reading and learning from the same authors you mentioned. I also really enjoy Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey, Rachel Held Evans, Shane Claiborne and Richard Rohr.
I look forward to reading more and more 😊 Thanks so much for sharing your journey and all that God is teaching you.
“I think the idea of innocent people being tortured for all eternity was man’s invention, not God’s.”
I think the idea of “innocent people” is rather firmly refuted in the book of Romans.
Romans points out that all fall short of the glory of God ( living in a false identity in Adam) but the very next very it says the Christ has already redeemed all of humanity through the cross. In fact Paul says there is no difference between believers and non believers in the matter of receiving righteousness through the faith of Christ. Yes Paul did say there were consequences to sin, but they were always in this life. Paul never once said that sin caused you to be punished for ever in hell. In fact Paul never mentions hell in any of his recorded preaching or pastoral letters even once!
A gospel including ECT would be a false gospel according to Paul!
This is brilliant as always. So many of us in this time are coming round to the same conclusions, many of us quite independently. I have put a link to this article on my ‘Hell Resource Page’ on my blog here: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/resources/my-hell-resource-page/
Well said, Emma 🙂
Food for thought:
If the traditional church teaching about hell is true and the vast majority of the human race really are going to spend all of eternity being tormented by fire, then why did not Paul, who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament, who was THE apostle to the Gentiles who told the Ephesians elders that he did not hold back declaring the “whole counsel of God” — why did he not one single time EVER mention hell or eternal conscious torment of those who fail to accept Christ in their lifetime?
And why is there not a single mention of hell or eternal punishment in any of the 19 sermons and sermon fragments in the Book of Acts which gives us an actual first hand eye-witness account of what the original apostles of Jesus actually said while they were proclaiming the good news of the Gospel in Jerusalem, Samaria Judea and throughout the rest of the known world that time? If it really is true that God is actually planning to perpetually roast billions of people in a torture chamber called hell don’t you think it would have been at least reasonable for at least one mention of that fact in the preaching of the original Apostles in proclaiming the gospel to the world?
If the destiny of the great majority of humanity is to spend eternity in an everlasting torture chamber unless they accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” before they die don’t you think it would have been fair of God to have actually made that so absolutely clear that there could be no doubt about it? Shouldn’t that have been the very obviously primary focus of the early church’s preaching as recorded in the book of Acts and of the Apostle Paul’s writing in all of his letters to the churches and the church leaders?
And don’t you think that somewhere in the Old Testament there would have been at least one mention of the impending punishment of the majority of the human race in the everlasting torment and flames of hell if that were in fact the destiny of all those who fail to accept Christ in this life? Do you think that maybe God just simply forgot to tell Adam and Eve what the actual consequences would be of eating that forbidden fruit if eternal torment in hell really was their destiny?
Is it possible that the omission of any mention of Hell or eternal torment might be evidence of the fact that it never was true and that the religious powers have perpetrated an incredible hoax and deception upon the masses of people in order to control and manipulate them through the fear of something that has its roots, not in true apostolic Christianity, but rather in Egyptian and Greek pagan mythology that was transferred into the church during its dark days of mixture and pollution with the secular and pagan Roman Empire which eventually became the Church of Rome that plunged the world into centuries of “The Dark Ages”?
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I agree that the focus of the Bible is on living a good life in this life, and on building God’s kingdom here on earth, and not so much on the afterlife. My belief is that our life here on earth is like our gestation period in the womb. That is when we do our initial development into the person we will be once we are born. Whatever sort of person we become here on earth, we will carry that character with us into the spiritual world, and that will set our course there.
It’s not that God sends us to hell if we’re sinners. Rather, it’s that if we prefer a life of selfishness, greed, violence, bigotry, and so on, we have already created a hell within and around ourselves through our lifetime and our choices here on earth, and we carry that hell with us into the spiritual world.
Also, if we read the Bible literally, we will have all sorts of faulty ideas about hell, such as that sinners spend eternity roasting on spits over literal fires.
But hell, if indeed it exists, is a spiritual place, not a physical one. So it will have spiritual fire, not physical fire. And spiritual fire in a good sense is the fire of love, but in a bad sense it is the fire of hatred and anger toward all who do not serve us and agree with us and give us power and wealth. “Hellfire” is not literal fire. Rather, it is the mutual anger and hatred of those who have chosen to live from motives of greed, personal pleasure, the piling up of possessions, and a desire for power over others out of ego and pride.
My belief is that despite the literal appearances as stated (metaphorically) in the Bible, God sends no one to hell. Rather, people who have chosen to enjoy evil over good through their lifetime here on earth send themselves to hell because that is where they prefer to live. I’ve written this view up in a post on my blog, which I invite you to read for a view of hell that is very different from the traditional view of hell as a place of punishment in fire and brimstone:
Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
Hi Lee It’s all very well describing ‘hell’ as a Spiritual place that we create for ourselves by choices/attitudes we have on earth that carry on after death. However this paints a very bleak picture. Do you give any room for people to escape this ‘hell’ A lot of people make wrong choices and live the wrong way because of the evil done to them. Do they send themselves to this ‘hell’ to! When we look at the language around the ‘lake of fire’ it is language of restoration and healing. The word translated as ‘fire’ is ‘pur’ from which we get ‘pure’ and ‘purify’ the word ‘brimstone’ is sulphur a cleansing and healing agent. The word ‘torment’ is ‘touchstone’ the ancient method for testing the purity of metals. Translators are now realising that the word ‘punishment’ (as in eternal punishment) would be more accurately translated ‘correction’
I see both heaven and ‘hell’ (the lake of fire) as the same thing, the love of God. How you experience it depends on your state when entering it. If you do in believing it is ‘heaven’ if you go in with the attitutde/beliefs you describe above it will seem like ‘hell’ painful. However when expose to the love of God I don’t believe anyone will be able to resist it and after the things stopping folks believing are burned away so to speak it immediately becomes heaven!
In the context of Rev I also believe the ‘lake of fire’ functions between the ears of living believers and the Church is a ‘lake of fire’ to living non believers!
Thanks for your thoughts and questions. In response:
No one goes to hell due to external circumstances. Those who have had evil done to them do not go to hell because of that evil, and those who have had a rough life due to the environment in which they were born and raised do not go to hell because of those circumstances. For more on this, please see this article:
Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
In the afterlife, as you say, all of these evil circumstances are figuratively “burned away.” What’s left is only what the person him- or herself has come at heart due to freely made choices within those circumstances. And the default destination is always heaven, not hell.
I do agree with you that hellfire, too, is the love of God in its origin. But it is the love of God twisted into something it is not in itself: hatred and anger rather than love and compassion. When God’s love reaches an evil person, the evil person turns it into its opposite, just as when the sun’s life-giving light hits a corpse, the corpse turns it into putrefaction and decay.
Also, hell is not primarily a place of punishment. Yes, there are punishments in hell, but not for anything anyone there did here on earth. Only for what they continue to do. And those punishments are not meted out by God, but by the evil itself, and by the surrounding evil spirits. Evil is self-punishing. The primary purposes of hell are:
1. To provide a place where people who enjoy evil rather than good can indulge in their chosen pleasures at least to some extent.
2. To segregate the evil from the good so that the evil do not wreak their havoc on the innocent.
3. To provide spiritual balance for people on earth so that we on earth can be in a state of freedom to choose between good and evil.
And yes, people in hell can leave if they want to. They are even allowed to go to heaven if they want to.
But once they get there, they cannot breathe, because the atmosphere of mutual love in heaven is intensely painful to them. So they throw themselves back into their own hell where they can breathe easily, and where the atmosphere of selfishness and greed matches the character of their own spirit. So although people in hell could leave, they do not want to leave, because hell is where they feel at home. Everyone in hell is there by his or her own choice.
This is covered in more detail in the article on hell that I linked in my earlier comment to Emma.
Thanks for your reply. I can’t honestly believe that’s how it’s going to be. When exposed to the love of God, without it being filtered through us and without the body in the way do you honestly think that anyone is going to want to resist that and return to ‘hell’ because they like it better! I honestly can’t see that ever happening. I think even the most hardened sin-soaked soul is going to willingly a joyfully receive and embrace the love of God! However long it takes God is going to continue to ‘search’ until every single lost sheep is brought back into the fold!
I do honestly think that there are some people who simply don’t want God’s love, and never will. There are people on this earth who had every advantage, were loved and brought up in a good and moral environment, but who as adults choose to pursue evil and destructive desires and pleasures—and persist in them to the end of their lives.
That’s a matter of our use of the free will that God gave us. Some of us use it to go in a direction God doesn’t want us to go. And if God eventually “wins” over our free will every time, and we all eventually go to heaven, then our free will is not real, but an illusion. What is temporary is unreal compared to what is eternal.
The rejection of God’s love by those who do not want it is depicted prophetically and metaphorically in this passage from the book of Revelation:
When people who have chosen to focus on their own wealth and power encounter the love of God, it feels like a destructive wrath to them, because if they were to allow it into their lives it would destroy in them what they love the most: their own greed and desire for power. That’s why they flee and hide from it when they encounter it.
I write more about this in the article:
What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?
Obviously I don’t know you Lee and what experiences you have had but I cannot think that anyone who has experienced the love of God could say anyone could resist it forever, it’s just too good! Also God himself has put a craving within all of humanity that can only be satisfied with His love.
I don’t think that God’s will to save all overcoming man’s will to resist and rebel makes a nonsense of our free will, because it’s persuasion through love not coercion. Also the word translated ‘will’ in the verse about God’s will to save all is a very weak translation. The original Greek word means ‘a predetermined outcome that cannot fail’
Predestination to heaven that we ultimately have no ability to resist is still predestination, and it still destroys our free will and makes us not really human.
If that’s how things are, then our lives here on earth, with all of their pain and sorrow, as well as pleasure and joy, are mere charades with no meaning.
Why would God even put us through all this darkness and struggle here on earth if the end result is the same in every case? What’s the point?
It would mean that we’re just actors on a stage, performing our roles in a play whose end is already written. None of it would really be us or ours. And God would be playing around with us, poking us with sticks and lighting matches under us for some unknown purpose.
No, for our free will to be real, and for us to be human, and not mere extensions of God, we must be able to make choices that last forever. And that means we must be able to choose evil as well as good.
Otherwise none of this has any meaning.
In fact, the lack of an eternal hell is precisely my objection to religions and philosophies that include reincarnation, in which everyone eventually ends out in nirvana, or re-merging with God. In those systems, the universe is just going through the motions toward an end that was predetermined from the beginning. None of it ultimately has any meaning. On that, please see my article:
The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation
I don’t believe there is any scriptural support for the opportunity for salvation ending at physical death. No where in the Bible does it say that the salvation process finishes at physical death. I also think the whole ‘God doesn’t send anyone to hell, we send ourselves there’ is a massive cop out for those who can’t bear the thought of a loving God sending people to hell (they are right because that hell doesn’t exist) You are saying that God in effect continues to create life, knowing that millions of them are going to ‘chose hell’ that isn’t a loving God, that is a crazy psychopath!
This assumes that hell is the place of literal fire, brimstone, and eternal torture that biblical literalists think it is.
But that’s not what hell is like at all. The Bible is speaking metaphorically about spiritual fire and brimstone, which is the anger, hatred, and fallacy in which people live when they are focused on their own wealth, power, and pleasure to the exclusion of the wellbeing of everyone else.
In reality, hell is a lot more ordinary than that for most of its residents. They live their lives, they pursue their sick pleasures, and they take their lumps, just as people who are focused on their own wealth, power, and pleasure do here on earth. The main difference is that they can’t get away with it as they often do here on earth, and it always comes back to bite them in the butt. However, they gain so much pleasure from pursuing these things that they go back for more anyway.
It may look sad and disgusting to those looking in from the outside, but for the evil spirits themselves it is intensely pleasurable, even though they know they will have to suffer pain for it as well. It’s really not any different from hardened criminals here on earth who know very well that sooner or later they’ll likely get caught and go to prison, but they continue to commit their favorite crimes anyway because they enjoy it. And when they get out of prison, they go right back to their old life of crime. See my article:
How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?
The Bible does speak of eternal life and eternal punishment. For example:
I’ve read your comments elsewhere on this site saying you don’t think that’s what the Greek words mean. However, even though the Greek words do have concrete root meanings that don’t necessarily mean “eternal,” but rather “an age,” and so on, over time they came to be used to mean more spiritual and abstract things. And the meaning of “eternal” is a perfectly valid meaning of those words, depending upon the context.
The general principle in the Bible is that we live a single life here on earth, and our eternal life is based on what we do here. This is stated succinctly in the epistle to the Hebrews:
It’s not that there is no more opportunity for growth and development in the spiritual world. It’s that in the spiritual world we continue in the direction that we started here on earth. If we have chosen to move toward love, God, and goodness, then we continue to grow in that direction to eternity. But if we have chosen selfishness, greed, and spitefulness, then we will continue to push in that direction to eternity—though God does restrain us from going farther downhill than we did here on earth. That is part of the mercy of God on those who have chosen hell.
Lee, having the ability to resist and the desire to resist are 2 completely different things. I didn’t say people won’t have the ability to resist the love of God (the lake of fire) However I firmly believe that no one would want to in then. Why would you want to resist such love? Everyone was created to receive this love! The whole point of the ‘lake of fire’ is to purify the false beliefs that have stopped people from being able to receive it (the second deat, death of the lies and false beliefs)
You can usually tell by context whether ‘eternal’ refers to for ever or the ages. In the case of Mt 25:46 the whole of Mt 21-23 was Jesus teaching about the ‘end of the age’ and the tragedy that would mark it AD 70. Therefore it is beyond doubt that the ‘eternal punishment’ of Mt 25:46 is talking about a punishment coming to mark the changing of the ages ie AD 70.
27 And inasmuch as it is [y]appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgement,
This verse has been used (or should I say misused) by evangelicals as a ‘scare tactic’ in gospel preaching. They say this verse says that means that you have to ‘make a decision for Christ’ this side of physical death because after death you don’t get a chance because you die then judgement!
However the context of this verse in Hebrews 9 is an explanation of how the new covenant far surpasses the old. The immediate context the verses before are the death of Christ this verse is also talking about something that happened through the death of Christ!
Here is the verse that I think explains what Heb 9:17 is talking about..
2 Cor 5:14
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
Think about it, the Hebrews verse says that we only die ONCE, the verse above says that when Christ died, we (all humanity died. Now the death of Christ predates our physical death, so if we count our death when Christ died and our physical death, that would be TWO deaths. Yet the verse in Hebrews clearly says we only die once!
My conclusion is that in the Hebrews verse the ‘once to die’ is referring to when we died together with Christ (the context reinforces this!) I don’t think our physical death has any significance to God, the real us is our Spirit and that is immortal, we either get this body upgraded to be immortal or get a new one, either way this verse is not about our physical death!
What about the scary bit the ‘judgement?’ Well in the same way as we died with Christ, we were also raised together with Him. When we were raised with Him, we were raised without the sin of Adam within us, that stayed in the grave! So the ‘judgement’ we have been declared to be as holy, as righteous as pure and as loved by the Father as Christ himself. (Now to God we were always this, we needed to be woken up to this reality!) So the ‘judgement’ Hebrews 9:27 is very, very good news! This is a ‘good news’ verse not a ‘bad news’ one!
It is certainly possible to interpret these passages differently, to support universalism (that all people are saved. However, I think it goes contrary to the general message of the Bible to do so.
But more pragmatically, to support that position, you would have to answer two questions:
1. Why do people choose evil over good?
it’s all well and good to argue that people wouldn’t choose evil over good, and hatred over love. But in fact, we see that many people do just that. If God’s love is so compelling, why do we know from experience that many people who could choose it do not? Why are there evil people in this world, who are driven primarily by a desire for wealth, power, dominance, revenge, and so on?
2. If all would choose God’s love if they truly experienced it, then why doesn’t God give us all that experience now? Why does God even allow us to wallow around in evil and corruption?
It would be cruel of God to allow us to live in evil and darkness even for a moment if it were possible for God simply to show us the true reality of God’s love, and that would convince us. The fact that God doesn’t simply save all of us immediately, but allows evil to continue, suggests that things are not as simple as you say, and that indeed, some people do choose evil over good, and would choose evil over good even if they were shown the true nature of God’s love.
Another question you’d have to answer is why evil ever got started in the first place. What possible purpose could it have if in the end, God’s love is so superior that everyone will choose it over evil? Why not just skip over all this evil, and go straight to the happy ending?