Singing About Hell

Most hymns/praise songs written in the last 100 years are happy. Most are life-centered, all about “I” and “Me.” They are glorified humanistic rhymes.

There is much discussion on hell these days. More and more “evangelicals” are distancing themselves from the doctrine of hell. It seems too mean, vindictive and non-lovey to be true.

Hey, we’re busy being happy; how dare God ruin our happy with talk of burning sinners.

Ignoring hell is our attempt to pretend it isn’t there. Hell doesn’t get much air time in our worship. The fact is that our teaching on God is so inept we don’t know what to do with hell.

Working hell into worship is like bringing winning baseball to Wrigley Field–it just doesn’t seem to fit.

Yet hell used to be mentioned more frequently. They even wrote songs that mentioned hell and sang them in worship. Isaac Watts, who wrote hundreds of hymns including “O God our Help in Ages Past” and “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” wrote hell into many hymns.

Here are a few sample verses from various Wattsian hymns:

What bliss will fill the ransomed souls,
When they in glory dwell,
To see the sinner as he rolls,
In quenchless flames of hell.

May I with those for ever dwell
Who here were my delight!
While sinners, banished down to hell,
No more offend my sight.

But vengeance and damnation lies
On rebels who refuse the grace;
Who God’s eternal Son despise,
The hottest hell shall be their place.

There endless crowds of sinners lie,
And darkness makes their chains;
Tortured with keen despair they cry,
Yet wait for fiercer pains.
Not all their anguish and their blood
For their old guilt atones,
Nor the compassion of a God
Shall hearken to their groans.

I’ll stop there! Not bad, eh? Would enjoy hearing a modern praise song mention hell. I think it would be a very positive thing for our modern sin-tolerant churches. Hell is an easy word to make rhymes with too, there’s really no excuse.

26 thoughts on “Singing About Hell”

  1. I think the best way to understand eternal damnation is to view it as the progressive degree of punishment. For killing a dog as opposed to killing a human, for killing a dog someone may receive a few years in prison, for killing a human they would receive a life sentence.
    What should be the sentence for defaming the eternal glory of God? For those who reject God’s glorious eternal salvation they should receive an eternal punishment. It’s a just sentence, not one that God desires, or will hand out without great sorrow.

    “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”- 2 Peter 3: 9

  2. I greatly respect Isaac Watts as a man who raised hymnody and psalmody to new heights…but some of the ideas as expressed in these parts you’ve quoted do not strike me as being quite in harmony with the character of God.

    Burning is perhaps one of the most cruel ways of punishing a man. What then would be gained by God choosing the utmost cruel method of punishment and administering it for ever? Is it to frighten His subjects into submission? That would certainly be one result, but God’s kingdom is not one of fear. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

    Roger Williams, the founder of religious liberty in America, was drawn to his ideas (which were considered heretical by most of the Puritans of his day) because he witnessed a man being burned at the stake in London when he was a boy. It left a deep impression on him, and he knew that this method of compelling the conscience was foreign to the character of God as expressed in the life of Jesus Christ.

    Now the Bible does speak about the burning up of sin and sinners, so it will happen. But we need to be careful how we assign God’s actions in this work, lest we confuse the Lord with Satan, or righteousness with sin. The wages of sin is death. Does God pay them, or does sin? If God pays the wages of death, then where is the proof that sin leads to death? Wouldn’t it rather prove that God uses His mighty power to crush down everything that disagrees with Him? And if that is our view of God, then how is it different from all the evil potentates and tyrants of the world?

    There is a problem in our world today with people assuming that they can sin and “get away with it”…and as you noted, it is common even in the professed churches of Christ. But to assume that the remedy is to emphasize how God will roast people forever and ever in hellfire, and that the saints in heaven will rejoice and sing over their torments, is a mistake.

    Sinners need to see that their ways lead to death, and it is the natural result and consequence of their own choices. On the other side, they need to see that God’s ways lead to life, and it is the natural result and consequence of that way of life. And they need to see that the Saviour bore the consequences of their sins on Himself, and that is why they have not suffered the full result of their own choices. This will inspire love and devotion.

    The battle between sin and righteousness is not over who has more power…there is no question that God has more power. It is a battle over the ways and character of God, versus Satan’s modified system. These must battle out on a level playing field…that is the way Jesus came, as a man to battle with what every man has to battle with.

  3. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    Matthew 8:12
    Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
    Matthew 22:13
    And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
    Matthew 25:30
    For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;
    2 Peter 2:4
    These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
    2 Peter 2:17
    And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;
    Jude 1:6
    raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
    Jude 1:13

    The most common misunderstanding of hell is that is the heat from the flames that will torment people. But it is rather the complete lack of any light, an utter darkness for an eternity that will be the deepest torment. Because God is the true source of all light, and hell is a place where His glorious presence will never shine. Creating flames that emit no light is not a problem for God.

  4. Most of the hymns I quoted are adaptations from the Psalms. They read to me like David’s sentiments and I guess I don’t have a problem with them as understood that way. But can see how they could be sung in the wrong way and so forth. I do think warning people about burning in hell is a fine way to get a person to consider what manner of life they live.

  5. Paul,
    The “common understanding” of hell is a mixture of Bible verses and heathen mythology. Take your statement: “hell is a place where His glorious presence will never shine.” The Bible says just the opposite. The wicked “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” Rev. 14:10

    Jeff,
    First a technical point: NONE of the verses you quoted are adaptations from the Psalms! The first one is often quoted, but nobody seems to know the source of it…the second is from a hymn on Rev. 21, the third from a hymn on John 3:16, and the last a meditation on “the death of a sinner.”

    I think that dwelling upon the end result of sin, is certainly one means of turning people away from it, since sin is very deceitful and makes us think instead that we are heading to “pleasures evermore”. But it is “the goodness of God” that leads to repentance, not fear of punishment.

    The broken law demands the death of the sinner, and will exact it. People must see that the punishment is a consequence of their sin, and not the work of a more powerful Being oppressing them. This is what makes the saints rejoice when God’s judgments are poured out: because the way of sin is finally made manifest as the way of death, and brings itself to a final end. God plays a part in this, but not in the way men often think.

  6. Frank,
    In reading Rev.14:10, God and the angels will witness these who have worshiped the beast drink the wrath of God and His judgement, and it will be witness by them. I don’t believe that verse is telling us that God’s glorious presence will shine in hell.

  7. Paul,
    The traditional idea of hell is that it is a burning place where wicked souls are tormented forever and ever without end. This does not square with many Bible verses, and the ending events in Revelation do not fit that idea either.

    The verse in Rev. 14 is referring to the “lake of fire”, which is also referred to in chapter 20 as the final disposing of sin and sinners which takes place after the millenium and final judgement. It is the same one…compare these chapters. In that lake of fire, “death and hell” will be cast (presumably “hell” in this instance means the grave).

    Peter refers to this event (in 2 Pet 3) as the burning up or dissolving of the earth, followed by a new earth (which is also the sequence in the next chapter of Revelation, chapter 21).

    How strange it would be to build a new earth on top of a pile of constantly burning rubble. It’s just not God’s way of doing things. He removes the old, and then creates the new. That is the way of salvation in the heart, and it is the way the earth itself will be saved from corruption.

  8. Frank,
    Jesus speaks of an eternal punishment for unbelievers, and Paul tells us that this place is punishment of eternal destruction, is away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. There are far more scriptures in God’s word that back up hell being an eternal punishment than the one verse in Rev. 20, which could be interpreted as Hades being destroyed which represents death.

    Matthew 25:46
    And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    2 Thessalonians 1:9
    They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

  9. The Bible makes it clear that hell is separation from God. Personally I don’t want to be separated from God, ever. As far as burning or burning up or gnashing, I don’t want any of that in any way shape or form. We are eternal, and there are two places to spend eternity.

  10. Paul, I agree with you that hell (assuming this to be the “lake of fire”) is an “eternal” punishment. That is the word used in our Bibles. However, I advise you to be careful in how you interpret such words. “Eternal,” “everlasting,” and “forever” do not always indicate a time period equalling “as long as God shall exist.”

    Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the vengeance of “eternal fire” (Jude 7). They are not burning still today. The Passover was to be kept “forever” (Ex. 12:24) but it ended at the cross. Aaron and his sons were to offer incense “for ever.” (1 Chron. 23:13), and to have an “everlasting priesthood.” Ex. 40:15. But this priesthood, with its offerings of incense, ended at the cross. (See Heb. 7:11-14.) A servant who desired to stay with his master, was to serve him “for ever.” (See Ex. 21:1-6.) How could a servant serve a master to endless time? Will there be masters and servants in the world to come? Jonah, describing his watery experience, said, “The earth with her bars was about me for ever.” Jonah 2:6. Yet this “for ever” was only “three days and three nights” long. Jonah 1:17. Because Gehazi practiced deceit, Elisha declared, “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever.” 2 Kings 5:27. Should we conclude, therefore, that Gehazi’s family would never end, and that thus leprosy would be perpetuated for all time to come?

    We must use the Bible and not the dictionary as our interpreter. Now then, does the eternal punishment of the wicked go on and on, as long as God exists, or is it a more limited “forever” that just goes on until there is nothing left?

    Naturally, if you hold to the doctrine of a natural “immortal soul”, then you are left with a burning as long as God exists. I don’t believe such a doctrine, because it robs Christ of His glory. Christ came to give life to man, because sin had brought death.

    “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 6:24. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:36. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5:11. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10.

    Only in Christ does a man partake of “eternal life” again, and it can only finally be called “immortal” when the resurrection takes place: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:53-55).

    So in this light, the doctrine of final punishment is well explained by the burning up of the old earth…it is a fire, as the Bible says the final punishment of the wicked will be, and it is “eternal” but only in the sense that it burns until everything is consumed…there will be no quenching of its flames…just as the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah were.

  11. Frank,
    Lets look at Matthew 25:46
    And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    The author uses the same word for the explanation of the type of life and punishment that will be received. Matthew doesn’t make a distinction between the two, could we assume then, using your logic that eternal life doesn’t mean everlasting life?

    Yes we should use the bible to interpret itself, and here is a perfect example to do that, eternal is used to describe, the means of punishment and life that will be one’s judgement. As always Frank I enjoy interacting with you, I guess we just have different interpretations of eternal punishment.

  12. Paul
    The King James puts it this way. Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. The words are different from yours. Everlasting and Eternal, but the Greek is the same word for both”aionios”. So Yes, A hard verse to get around and may be a “perfect example”.

  13. Paul (and Chip),

    The word “aionos” is also used in Jude (the verse I quoted) referring to the eternal fire that burned up Sodom and Gomorrah. One simple reason why there is no distinction between the “eternal” punishment and “eternal” reward in heaven is because both are final and irrevocable. In that sense they are eternal, and cannot ever be changed. The eternal life in heaven is forever, as long as God exists, because it is not touched by sin or separation from the Source of all life. The eternal punishment is forever, but only as long as the elements exist, because it is touched by sin and separation from God, and therefore simply cannot endure apart from Him.

    Bear in mind that the Old Testament also spoke of the coming of the Messiah, but did not distinguish between his first coming and his second coming. Jewish scholars at that time would have scoffed at you for dividing the scriptures in such a way…but they were wrong!

    There are a few other reasons why I would reject the doctrine of an immortal soul, besides the fact that it takes away from Christ’s glory as the giver of eternal life. The first would be that it wars against the law of God. The law said the sinner would die. Death is the opposite of life…it is the absence or cessation of life. The serpent claimed that “you will not die”, and this doctrine of immortal souls supports the lie.

    The second reason is that it really mars the character of God. That was the second thrust of the serpent in Eden, who implied that God was restricting them from being like Him…thereby attacking God’s character. This idea that God tortures the wicked forever and ever without end goes beyond the deeds of even the worst human tyrants. We may justify it by saying, “He’s God, He can do what He wants, who am I to question Him?” but that does nothing to clear God from the charges that Satan has formulated against Him. Jesus presented another view of God and we, as Christians, have failed to consistently apply that new understanding, and hence, atheism has thrived.

    The third reason to reject the immortal soul idea is that it is the ground of almost every Catholic heresy that came into the church in the great “falling away”. Purgatory, prayers to saints, masses for the dead, worship of Mary, worshipping images, deifying the Pope, etc. They all depend on this doctrine, and flow from it.

    Another reason to reject it is that it leads to spiritualism. After all, if the dead saints are immortal and flying around in heaven, couldn’t they communicate with us? Wouldn’t that be an easy way to settle our doctrinal differences? This opens the door for mass deceptions, which will surely be practised before Christ returns.

    Those are some of the reasons…it’s not just a small difference of opinion in the interpretation of one word.

    I also enjoy our open exchanges, but would have even more joy if we agreed! (Ps. 133)

  14. ‘So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them” – Gen. 1: 20

    “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen.2 :7

    Man was created in the image of God, who is immortal, God breathed the breath of God’s Own Life into the man, giving Adam, God’s very Life. This immortal life didn’t stop existing with Adam, but is the seed of every life since. Every soul comes from God who is immortal, thus every soul is immortal.

    If sin will not be eternally punished why does God’s word say it would be better for a man to have never been born than to face the wrath of God for his sins? If the punishment is not eternal why the strong warning from God? If their punishment will end one day, why does God tells us that being born has such an eternal consequence?

    Frank says “The eternal punishment is forever, but only as long as the elements exist,” this statement contradicts itself, if the punishment has an end, then it’s not eternal is it.

    If a man takes the life of another man his just punishment would be the forfeit of his own life. What would be a just punishment for sinning against the infinite Glory of God, it would be an infinite punishment of eternal consequence, the punishment fits the crime, and it would be completely just.

    God punishing sin for an eternity doesn’t make Him worst than the evil men that have exsited in this world, their judgements were flawed, God’s judgements are just and right, and we should never think our understanding is above God’s.

  15. Paul,
    >Every soul comes from God who is immortal,
    >thus every soul is immortal.
    You are reasoning by analogy here, and it can be dangerous unless backed up by other evidence. For example, I can do the same:

    1. Man was made in God’s image
    2. God is to be worshipped
    —therefore: man is to be worshipped

    You see, it doesn’t work. If you want to prove that “being made in God’s image” includes natural independant immortality, then you need more verses. But you will search in vain for them. Immortality, at least in the KJV, only ever refers to God alone, or else to the resurrection life.

    I wonder really how you can believe in being “born again” if you already have an immortal soul? What part is changed at conversion then, from death to life? Certainly not the soul, for it is already immortal…? Then what? And how can you be crucified with Christ, since you can’t offer up your immortal soul to be put to death?

    >If sin will not be eternally punished why does God’s
    >word say it would be better for a man to have never
    >been born than to face the wrath of God for his sins?

    Jesus suffered the punishment that will fall on the sinner who does not repent. Jesus is not burning forever in hell. Nevertheless, Gethsemane and the cross were the most terrible things any mortal ever went through…I mean not the physical suffering but the mental torture and spiritual blackness that He endured. This is what the sinner will suffer…a sense of guilt and separation from God that is unmixed with mercy. Men do not have this sense of guilt now…although we see part of the effect in people like Ananias and Sapphira, who fell dead because of it. It was this fear and guilt that caused the money-changers to flee from the temple when Jesus stood as Judge before them, and what causes the kings of the earth to run into the caves and ask for the mountains to fall on them when Jesus appears again.

    >Frank says “The eternal punishment is forever, but
    >only as long as the elements exist,” this statement
    >contradicts itself, if the punishment has an end, then
    >it’s not eternal is it.

    Perhaps my phrasing was not the best, but you are arguing with the Bible on this point. It is the Bible that uses the term “forever” and “eternal” to apply to things that did not last as long as you think these words mean. Sodom and Gomorrah are not burning today. Is the Bible wrong then? No. Is Aaron still a priest? No. Yet the Bible said he would be so “forever”. Argue that one with God…or give up an interpretation that will not go along with the Word.

    >the punishment fits the crime, and it would be completely just.
    You made me think here…and I do agree with you that the sin of man against God’s law required more than the life of the man to satisfy. But my conclusion is this: the suffering of the wicked is not a payment for their crimes. It cannot be. For a full payment would require restoring the damage. You quote the Old Testament law that if a man took another’s life, then his life should be taken. Let me ask you this, assuming you have children: if a man kills your child, is it a full satisfaction that he dies also? Does that give you your child back? No! No father would ever be fully satisfied with that…he wants his child back…that’s the only thing that will make full reparation.

    Therefore, the only thing that ever fully satisfies the law is the death and resurrection of Christ, because He has power to restore what sin has taken away. And those who refuse that death and resurrection are only left with one thing: the wrath of a broken law, the consequences of sin, which is death. They have chosen eternal death (a death from which there is no resurrection), and God allows them to finally have it.

    >we should never think our understanding is above God’s.
    I don’t question God: His ways are righteous. But I DO question human interpretations that make Him appear as unrighteous and tyrannical. We are on this earth to justify God before unbelieving men. If, in our own wisdom and false representations of His actions, we cause men to flee from Him instead, then how long, brother Paul, do you suppose we will burn at the end for that sin?

  16. Frank, the new birth is something which happens entirely within the spirit; it has no relation to soul or body. The spirit of a man is dead in it’s sin, and yet it still “lives”, it’s dead in the sense that it is separated from God. Our spirit is born-again into a new life, which now has control over our mind, will, and emotions (soul). The man who is walking around in his sin is dead even though he “lives”. So even though a sinner is separated from God, his spirit is eternal, we will be either eternally risen with Christ, or eternally judged in our sins. Soul and spirit are often spoke of as being the same, as I miss-spoke, our spirit is what actually comes from God. The soul is something that the spirit and the body are merged into. Man is three parts; spirit, soul, and body.

    Frank says “Jesus suffered the punishment that will fall on the sinner who does not repent.”

    I would argue that Christ being infinite, suffered an infinite punishment for sin, even though He was only in the grave for three days. Christ being God in the flesh, died an infinite death, paying the eternal cost for sin, and He did this for His elect. Yes, unrepentant sinners will suffer the same sentence, an infinite sentence of eternal consequence.

  17. Paul,
    I was going to leave this conversation, but on second thought a few words should be put here in defence of another view of man’s nature. It is true that God breathed into man and man became a living soul. Man obtained his life from God. This, however, does not imply independence. The tree of life was put in the garden…why a tree of life? To maintain life. This very fact shows that man was not immortal in the sense of having independent life. He could live eternally, yes…but only by partaking of the tree of life.

    This tree was restricted after the fall, and finally removed before the flood. It will be restored in the new earth. Had God allowed sinful man access to that tree, it would have proved an antidote to death, and thus perpetuated a sinful life, without end. This is still what scientists hope to discover today: the antidote to death…they cannot explain why human nature decays and dies. But we know that it is the influence of sin upon human nature.

    Men and angels are all created beings, but not independent. Christ, being one with God, has a life that can live independently…it is truly an immortal life, that needs no tree of life to sustain it…but he has bound himself to a created body and willingly made Himself dependent in order to reach us.

    The term “soul” as used in the Bible does not of itself indicate immortality. It simply means life: and sometimes refers to the inner man, or the physical strength, or the person in general. Even animals are called souls. If you had not been taught the immortal soul doctrine from others, it is highly unlikely you would have derived it from a simple reading of the Bible, for the term never occurs.

    As well, fallen humanity is never, ever, referred to in such terms. Instead, words such as mortality, death, decay, weakness, corruption, and so on are used to describe fallen humans.

    A better picture of man’s nature is revealed in the sanctuary building. It was comprised of three parts: courtyard, holy place, and most holy place. This was a picture of man’s nature, because God gave them a sanctuary so that He could dwell “among” them, or “in them” as it says in the New Testament. Also, Christ “dwelt” (or “tabernacled”) among us (John 1:14) when he took humanity, thus showing the parallel between the temple and the body.

    The most holy place is where the presence of God dwelt, and therefore this must represent the spiritual nature of man. The holy place was the place of communion with God, but not as near as the most holy. It must represent the mental faculties of man, especially those qualities that distinguish him from animals: the ability to reason, learn, and grow in the knowledge of God. And finally the courtyard must represent the outer nature, or flesh. There are other reasons to prove this, but I will keep it brief.

    These same three natures are found in the famous chapter of Romans 7, where the mind tries to rule the flesh, but fails because of the presence of another power: the power of sin ruling in the spiritual nature. Once the spiritual nature is healed, through a literal death (removal), and planting of new life, the mind has the ability to rule again, because it is supported by the righteousness of God in the soul temple.

    This is a simple, yet practial view of man: spirit, mind, and body. There is no need for any other “immortal” nature. What sin has touched is never called “immortal”.

    Mal. 4:1-3 indicates a final end of sin and sinners: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch…And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.”

    There is no contradiction between this verse and the others that talk of “eternal punishment” provided we use the Bible definition of “eternal”.

  18. Frank,
    There is only One uncreated Spirit I agree, that is God, for He is the only truly immortal being. Man is a created spirit, who’s life comes from God, we are not “immortal” is the sense that we have no beginning, but we are eternally created spirits. The tree of life purpose was to continue the physical life of the man, not his spirit.

    What this discussion boils down to is we have a different interpretation of what Jesus meant when he spoke in Matthew’s gospel 25:46
    “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    Your understanding is “eternal” doesn’t mean eternal here in this verse, your understanding of this “eternal”, that Jesus speaks of, has an end. I have been taught to read scripture by seeing how the words being used relate to the other times they are used in the book of the bible I’m reading.
    When Jesus speaks of eternal, He always meant everlasting, but then again you have a different understanding of everlasting, so it becomes a fruitless conversation, because we have different understandings of “eternal”.

  19. Paul,

    I’m going to give one more response to this topic, and then leave it. I will break it into three parts, since it is long.

    Part 1 – The Interpretation of “Eternal”

    Jesus does mean “eternal” and “everlasting”. But not in the sense you have been taught to apply it. Consider the burning of Sodom. Has it ever risen from the ashes? No. Will it ever rise in the future? No. That is eternal. The problem you have is that you are applying the “eternal” to the amount of time the fire burns, whereas I’m applying it to the unchangeableness of the consequences…which is also how the Bible applies it in other cases.

    Some people have a similar problem with the Christian idea of a trinity. They say, “the Bible says there is one God, but you say there are three”. The problem here is that the “one” does not refer to a single person, but to unity. Christ and the Father are one…not that they are the same person, for they are distinct persons…Christ has bound himself to a human body, not the Father…Christ died on the cross, not the Father. But they are one in purpose, thought, and action; possessing the same attributes and divinity.

    Now take that definition of eternal, as being a “sentence which can never be changed”, and apply it to the righteous. They go into “everlasting” life. Will they ever cease to live? No. They “put on immortality” at the resurrection, and it is theirs forever…not because they possess some kind of independent substance that can’t die, but because they have learned never to separate themselves from God again. They no longer will go into sin, having learned the foolishness of that, and therefore, will live forever; without sin, there can be no death.

    But the wicked, on the other hand, who suffer “everlasting” punishment, cannot live forever, for sin brings death. Death and life are opposites. Their sentence, however, is nonetheless “eternal”. There will be no change, no resurrection, no “second chance” after the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the “second death”, from which there is no resurrection. There was a resurrection from the first death, even for the wicked. But there will be none from the second. The earth will be burned up, and a new one take it’s place. Revelation says, “the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” That is an end of it’s physical existence, but it’s doom is “eternal” in that it will never come back again.

    You have difficulty accepting this, but that is the way the Bible uses the term. I’ve given many examples. The difficulty you have in accepting this, shows the power of “tradition”. Once men have adopted a certain interpretation, and promoted it for years and years, it becomes a “tradition”, and it is very difficult for people to break out of that interpretation…even if a better interpretation is offered.

  20. Part 2 – Tradition

    The other reason why the common interpretation of hellfire is popular is that it appeals to the corrupt human desire for revenge. Deep down in man’s heart, he desires those who have hurt him to suffer. And not just an “eye for an eye” but “many eyes for an eye.” If “they slapped me once, I want them to be slapped many times!” (Just to make sure they don’t do it again!). This, however, has nothing to do with the righteousness of God. Love “seeks not her own,” and “thinks no evil.” Because Christ would not treat the Romans this way, the Jews would not own Him as the messiah they were looking for.

    But tradition also makes void the Word of God. And this human tradition of how the wicked are to suffer makes void the word of God on two counts: it destroys His character and destroys His law.

    First of all, it destroys His character by making Him into a being who loves to torture His creation when they do not please Him. Perhaps you will try to explain it in a way that sounds less harsh, but in the end, that is what it amounts to. And for what end? Because, you say, the punishment must meet the crime. Or to quote the scripture:

    Matt. 18:34,35 – “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

    We’ve already talked about the futility of the sufferings of a wicked person to “pay back” the damage he has done. You can torture him for millions of years, and it will not pay back anything. Then isn’t this a big flaw in God’s system of justice? It is, if you interpret it the traditional way. But if you follow a better interpretation it is not.

    The better way is to see that the Law of God, which is simply the principles by which the powers around us work, demands the death of those who put themselves in opposition to their powers. Let us suppose a man throws himself at the sun. God cannot turn down the power of the sun to save the man, for that would cause the solar system to die, so the man must die instead. The good powers, that were meant for blessing, become death to the man because he turns them against himself. He commits suicide, in effect.

  21. Part 3 – God’s Justice

    The reason why the scripture calls the punishment of the wicked “God’s justice” is because up until that point, God was shielding the wicked from the full consequences of their actions. By the death of Christ on man’s behalf, Christ stood between the powers of the law, and the sinner. So, it seemed for a while like sin did not bring death. This time was needed so sinners could turn to God again, but many will abuse it and sin even more because the penalty does not come right away.

    But when God’s protection is fully withdrawn from the sinner, then the powers around and in him destroy him. Thus it is finally proved that sin and unbelief bring death. On the other side, in the reward of the righteous it is seen that faith and obedience bring life. These are the two points in the battle, which need to be finally and fully established before the earth can be made new again.

    This is also the same way in which Babylon the Great falls…the very powers that supported her, turn against her and destroy her (Rev. 17:16). In Babylon, by the way, “is found the blood of all that were slain upon the earth.” (Rev. 18:24). Christ’s kingdom is therefore responsible for the death of none. I simply throw that out for your consideration but will not elaborate on it now.

    But anyway, to conclude, the final extermination of the wicked, by the consequences of their choices, and by the turning of the powers of nature against themselves, establishes both the character and the law of God:

    1. It shows God’s character to be perfectly righteous…He does not destroy those who choose another way, nor does he harbor evil thoughts against them for despising His love, but leaves them to reap what they have sown. It is the highest freedom, which can only be found under a truly righteous government.

    2. It shows the unchangeableness of God’s law. It was established for our security and benefit, and violation of it brings destruction and ruin on the person.

    This view in no way excuses sin or makes God’s rulership “weak.” Instead, it gives us the only real motives for serving God and leaving sin behind: admiration and love of His perfect ways. The warnings against sin are still as real, but it is not a fear that God will rise up and torture me forever that encourages me to leave sin. Rather, it is an intelligent recognition that sin, while it may seem appealing for a time, inevitably leads to ruin and death. And therefore, no question of fear regarding God’s character and love to me can mar my service and devotion to Him.

    This is how a truly righteous kingdom is established: truth and love, and the presentation of them.

    The traditional teaching of hell can never establish these points…and therefore it is not part of that “everlasting gospel” which is to be preached to all the world before the end can come.

  22. Frank,
    God’s word tells us that those who choose to serve themselves, instead of bend their knee to Christ will wander forever in a reserved darkness. If they are destroyed as you claim, how can they wander forever?

    “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Jude 1: 12-13

    “These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.” 2 Peter 2:17

  23. Paul
    Okay, since you asked me a question, I will post once more to this topic.
    As I read the scriptures you quoted, it says that they already are “wandering stars”. ie. “They are…wandering stars”, “These are…mists driven by a storm.”

    It refers especially to people who joined the church but were not really converted (or maybe lost their faith?) “certain men crept in unawares”. I think these are also refered to in Hebrews 6 as those “whose end is to be burned.”

    The “blackness of darkness” is, to my mind, a perfect description of utter annihilation. It is like a sleep that one never wakes from. It is “forever” in that sense, that they will never come back.

    With regard to your verse in Matthew 25, there are other verses you did not mention where a similar parallel is made, between everlasting life and death, as for example, John 3 “God gave His son that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Here the contrast is between “perish” and “everlasting life”. “Perish” carries the idea of termination, end, finish. So it is not always put in the language of “eternity”.

    This matter though, is not settled simply by appealing to this or that verse of scripture. Both views (and probably many others) can be sustained from Scripture, and men will argue their interpretations until the end. I’m sure the Pharisees argued from the Old Testament that Jesus was not the Messiah, and proved it by many verses. But it was in vain.

    You must consider more than simply statements of Scripture. You must also consider what kind of view this gives of God….does it exalt His character and justice? Does it shed light on the Bible, or does it make it more difficult to understand? Does it free you from sin, or does it excuse sin? These, and other such questions must also be considered when evaluating a teaching.

    Your view of God will definitely affect your character building, for “by beholding” we are “changed”. Therefore, approach the subject very carefully.

    This topic is not simply about the end of the wicked, it deals with God’s character and law…these are foundational issues in the battle between sin and righteousness. There are many other Bible stories that would need to be considered, such as the flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt, etc. Also, history would need to be considered…for the papacy, who really promoted the hell doctrine, also dealt with heretics in a way that was consistent with their view of God. I don’t trust the view of God promoted by the “mystery of iniquity”, and neither should you.

  24. Frank,
    Since you bring up the justice issue and how it would be out of God’s character to punish someone’s rejection of Him for an eternity, would it not also be unjust for Him not to give people their choice to live for an eternity apart from Him? I believe we all are created eternal spiritual beings, that is a gift God has given each of us. Would it be just of God to take back a free gift from someone who chooses not to serve Him? If I give my son a birthday “gift” and he doesn’t thank me for it, and even goes so far as to say he hates me, would it be just or loving to take it back? Just because I didn’t get the response that would be right on his behalf, doesn’t mean I would be right in taking back the gift. God is more than just in giving people their desire to live for an eternity without Him, the unloving thing would be as you claim to take back their gift of being created for an eternity.

  25. Paul,
    God does not take back the natural gifts which he gave to Adam. The human race still has the ability to reproduce, pollute, kill, and do what they wish with the planet and people on it. But the point you seem not to grasp is that sin is a destroyer; sin takes away life; “the wages of sin is death.” “ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:15

    If you give your son a birthday gift, and contrary to your warning, he takes it to school where the bullies steal it from him, then he loses the gift. You warned him that others would take it from him. His refusal to listen to your warning allows the gift to be stolen from him.

    You are putting forth the idea that this gift of life can never be lost or corrupted. Then what was the fall? Why the warning about death? Did the fall not affect the whole man? “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.” Isa. 1:5,6 And why the declarations that only in Christ is eternal life found?

    Regarding God’s justice, I would not say that God “takes away” the gift of life. I would say that He allows sin to take what has been joined to it. Sin is law-breaking…breaking the law turns the powers of nature against us (I mean both inwardly and outwardly when I refer to “nature”). Right now God is not allowing this to completely happen…He is shielding the sinner from many of the consequences of his sins. But the time will come when that will no longer be possible. That is at the final judgement.

    We learned from atomic theory that there is an incredible amount of energy locked up in each atom. What happens to all the atoms of our body if God can no longer hold them together? I would think it would look a lot like the lake of fire described in Revelation. Whether that is the actual natural mechanism by which this phenomenon takes place, I don’t know…but I know it will be the broken law that causes the destruction, because “the wages of sin is death.”

    The problem with either seeing God as administering eternal torment, or with him destroying the sinner in a few days or weeks, is that both views put God in the place where sin actually is. The result is that we end up fearing God for the wrong reasons, and having very deep-seated reservations about His character of love. It was precisely this that caused the rebellion in the first place: misrepresentations about God. Then how will rebellion ever cease if we continue to hold these misrepresentations?

    It is sin that we need to fear as the destroyer. We fear God in an entirely different way: we fear to be separated from Him because apart from Him we are subject to the terrible, delusive, deceiving power of sin.

    Many people think that God’s final act of punishing sinners (whether it be for eternity or for a shorter time) will be what seals the security of the universe. The idea is that nobody will dare to sin after that because they see what God finally does to those who disobey Him. This is a terrible view of our Father. These kinds of methods have been tried by human rulers over and over again…they try to put down all rebellion by a big display of blood and slaughter. But it only works for a while…eventually their kingdoms are overthrown because you cannot win the heart-allegiance of your subjects by such methods. God’s kingdom is not like that of human tyrants…it is built on entirely different principles.

    When the final judgement of the wicked takes place, we know that “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Is. 45:23, Rev. 5:13, Rom 14:11, Phil. 2:10). If we think that God will compel them to confess by force, or powerful display, then we have a wrong idea. Such confessions are worth very little. They are like the confessions of the “heretics”…the Jesuits would torture a person until they confessed their heresy…but often the people confessed whatever the priests wanted to hear, just to escape from the torture! This is the “mystery of iniquity” and her idea of how God acts.

    But what is it that makes them confess that God is right? Because they see that He did everything to save them, and in spite of it, they threw away their privilege to life. They see that they have brought their own destruction. This kind of testimony will be very valuable to prevent sin from ever arising again “he will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time.” Nahum 1:9.

    This is the justice of God: to pay the full price through His Son, so that He can restore all things to those who accept the offer, and then to those who refuse that offer, to give those people what they have chosen, which is final, irrevocable, eternal, death.

  26. Frank,
    I certainly grasp the fact that the wages of sin is death, what you seem not to grasp is that the eternal punishment that Jesus speaks of, is indeed eternal, as in everlasting. Jesus uses the same word in Matt.25:46 “eternal” and you imply a different meaning to it, when it is used exactly the same way to describe the punishment or Life that will be administered by God.
    “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    So now I am done with this exchange.

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