What does the Bible say about hell?
Hell, God’s Sovereignty, Suffering & My Depravity
The doctrine of hell is one that was overemphasized in my faith upbringing. It’s one I subsequently tried to disprove and deny using the Bible. In this attempt, I ended up coming to terms with the truth of the biblical doctrine of hell, and in recent years it has helped me incredibly in my personal faith. You can read more about that here.
In a recent article I wrote for the Covenant Eyes blog, I mentioned how hell has helped me in my marriage and sexual purity, to which an anonymous commenter (rudely) did not take kindly to! You can read his comment to me in the comments of the Covenant Eyes article. My reply to him was filled with enough content that I’m going to copy and paste it here as a new blog article about hell and some related topics:
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Hi there, I appreciate your passion for this. For a good chunk of my time as a pastor and as a serious Bible reader, I wanted to prove that hell wasn’t real.
People like Rob Bell and others were making it hip and cool for hell not to be real and honestly the idea of my non-Christian friends and the scores of non-believers around the world not going to hell was very relieving for me. And more than this, I did question the character of a God who would “send people to hell”, versus one who didn’t send anyone to God. But I wanted to know what the Bible said about this. Knowing what I wanted the Bible to say about it, I tried hard to read the text as non-bias as I could. This blog post of mine is a reflection of some of the things I discovered and how it helped shape my faith, I do hope it’s helpful to you as well: http://www.atacrossroads.net/2-unexpected-ways-believing-in-hell-reinvigorated-my-faith/
Outside of that, I’ll try to respond individually to points you made in your comment, as I do appreciate your honesty and willingness to bring up these important points.
These things you are struggling through or have struggled through are significant and important. You do start with some assumptions though, such as: “I determine what God should be like”, and “I know how a holy God should interact with sinful humanity.”
One thing I can tell you is
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, it’s your fault I’m going to hell,” just like a serial killer wouldn’t say it’s the judge’s fault that he gets the death sentence or a life sentence for his sentencing. I would try to not get hung up on the doctrine of original sin or God’s sovereignty, but instead just try to see things as they are. We ARE sinners, we CAN’T save ourselves. However we got here is sort of irrelevant (for this part of the conversation), what is very relevant is that God didn’t give up on us, but offers to save us. We can dwell on the bad news part of it, but why would we do that when the good news part of it is the best news in the universe?
I think with this whole conversation, and I know this is hard to swallow, is to realize that what you think or what I think doesn’t really matter — what I mean is — what we think does not actually change who God is or how things are…So if God really is holy and we really are sinful and deserving hell and God really does offer his mercy to us, we should humble ourselves, repent, and receive his mercy, and be very thankful for it.
Sure Rob Bell (or you or whomever) might be right and we might all go to heaven. That’d be great. I hope that happens.
But I have no ground to stand on to believe that. What God told me in the Bible is that that is not the case. So what if the Bible actually is right and a whole bunch of people are going to hell if they don’t seek forgiveness from Jesus? Why would it be unloving to communicate this truth with people? If Rob Bell and the universalists are wrong, and I put my hope in their opinions, then I and many others I neglected are in serious trouble.
Now I don’t think this should be the motivation for people to accept Christ, I think the motivation is to have a relationship with God. Why would a person want to be in heaven where they will be with God forever if they don’t want to be with him now? The gospel is not fire insurance, that is for sure. If you notice the wording in my blog post, I was not using hell to scare anyone or threaten anyone, I was saying I know I, Noah Filipiak, deserve hell and that realizing this is incredibly freeing because this is what allows me to savor the riches of God’s mercy. That’s very different than the fire and brimstone you are accusing me of. If you want to tell me I don’t deserve hell, it’s not personal but I won’t really care / give what you say about my standing before God much weight, because the Bible tells me I deserve hell, so I’m living by that.
But “hell” really isn’t the focus or the transformational piece; God’s wrath and judgement and simultaneously, our guilt, is. You say you believe in mercy and most certainly in Christ, but how can you appreciate mercy or how can it have any transforming effect on you if you don’t also believe in God’s wrath and justice? If we’ve never done anything wrong and don’t deserve any punishment from a holy God, why would his choice to offer us mercy instead have any affect on us? If a guilty convicted serial killer just got the death sentence, and then the judge showed him mercy and told him he could go home instead, his life would be incredibly altered from this; imagine the flood of relief, wonder, and appreciation. But if a convicted serial killer knew he never faced any sentencing and the judge told him he could go he’d just think “what’s the big deal, of course I just get to go.” There is a huge difference here.
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, namely: why would Jesus have came and died if everyone was going to be saved anyway?” Seems like an awful lot of pain and inconvenience to go through for nothing. But more than this, with universalism, God would no longer be just. Using a human court analogy, would you want judges in America who are okay with rape, serial killing, child molestation, and sex trafficking? When these criminals stand guilty before these judges, the judges just say “hey no big deal fella, let’s go get a burger together.” No this would be an awful, unsafe and incredibly frightening society to live in. We want just judges. But the point is not about what we want, it’s what God is. And God is holy. And he is just. We have to remember we are created in God’s image, he is not created in ours. He creates us, we don’t create him. So a holy God is going to be wrathful against sin. Do you really want a God who isn’t wrathful against child molestation or rape? That God certainly wouldn’t be holy.
As far as Jesus’ fulfilling everything a person needs, I’ll refer you to what I wrote to Xavier in a previous comment and I hope it’s helpful to you as well:
“I think a relevant point to bring out is that throughout Scripture we find many people who had hardly any “earthly needs” supplied to them by God, yet their “ultimate need” was still met in God’s love, acceptance, validation and approval of them. People like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah and Paul come to mind. Jesus is also a great example of this. These people went through tons of earthly suffering that God did not alleviate, yet they were still secure in God’s love for them, they did not doubt God’s goodness or sovereignty, and they did not allow their lack of earthly needs to push them to fulfill these needs sinfully on their own.”
In fact as I go through life and suffer myself, and meet those who suffer, and help those who suffer, I think this is one of the most powerful things about Jesus. It is also one of the strongest points in the New Testament letters, letters written to Christians who were being oppressed, killed and tortured for their faith. That Jesus trumps all these things. While part of bringing his Kingdom to this earth (Matthew 6:10) is to help alleviate this earthly suffering as we are able to, Jesus himself tells us we will have suffering in this world that won’t go away, but we should take heart because a day is coming when there will be no more suffering, that the “order of things” in this world is temporary and passing away: John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” & Revelation 21:4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I definitely agree we as Christians should help feed that starving person, and trust me, many many many of us are doing just that. But Jesus is still all that starving person needs. That food won’t be Jesus for them. What is better: to live with an empty belly but with Jesus and to die of starvation with Jesus or to live with a full belly but no Jesus and to die with a full belly without Jesus? The answer to that is pretty clear, in fact Jesus makes this exact point in Luke 16:19-31. It’s not a dichotomy though: “the gospel” is not simply believing in Jesus so we don’t go to hell. That’s an impartial gospel falsely taught by many, which I sense you have had a lot of damaging exposure to.
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, but it also brings us into Jesus’ Kingdom, a kingdom where Jesus is our King and Lord and we are to love the poor and love our neighbor and obey all that Jesus commands as we learn to trust him deeper and deeper. There’s no need to swing to one end of the pendulum or the other when Jesus and the entire Bible thoroughly teach both the doctrine of salvation through Jesus’ mercy as well as the Kingdom commands to care for the poor. It’s a both/and not an either/or.
I hope this is helpful to you. I’ll be honest, the tone of your comment felt very combative. I’m not sure that you were asking your questions because you wanted to further discuss them or because you wanted a space to make accusations. In either case, I hope that my reply is helpful to you and that you allow the Scriptures to marinate in you and allow you to see a bigger and fuller picture of God. If you feel you can converse in a constructive and inquisitive rather than an accusational way, I’d love to continue this conversation with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and any follow-up questions you have.