Hell Under Fire

By Tom Gilson Published on May 27, 2018

Some time ago (it’s been said), a man brought forward his strong argument against the Bible, declaring, “I am seventy years of age, and have never seen such a place as hell, after all that has been said about it.” His little grandson, of about seven years of age, who was all the while listening, asked him, “Granddaddy, have you ever been dead yet?”

Hell has never been a popular topic, at least not in my lifetime. Dante’s Divine Comedy wouldn’t have sold well if he’d written it in our generation. The topic of hell is coming under special fire these days, though, with the Pope’s reported statement a few weeks ago implying it doesn’t exist. Whether he actually said that is uncertain, but the report brought the issue to the fore once again.

Skeptics will deny hell’s reality, naturally. Richard Dawkins took it one step further, calling it “child abuse” to tell children there’s such a thing as hell. Dawkins, a scientist, should know better than to reveal his scientific ignorance as he did there. The best science on the matter tells us kids come out much better when raised in religious homes.

Facebook Live Next Tuesday!

I’ll be interacting on this topic live by video next week on The Stream’s Facebook page — Tuesday, May 29, at 8 pm Eastern time, in the 6th edition of “Contentious Questions (Because some questions are just that way).”

Bring your questions, your comments, and your friends. Share this around social media. I’ll look forward to being with you there then.

Christian Critiques

Of course atheist critiques of Christian doctrines are much like a stay-at-home’s opinion on Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s perfectly safe to ignore what they say about it. It’s not so safe to ignore criticisms from within our ranks. That criticism certainly exists.

And why not? Who wants there to be a hell? Who wouldn’t rather find a way out of believing in it? The best Christian critiques I know of say that the saved live eternally with God in heaven, but the lives of the unsaved simply end at the time of their physical death (or maybe shortly thereafter). No soul is immortal unless saved in Christ, so this view is often called “conditional immortality.” A variant called “annihilationism” says the souls of the unsaved are annihilated. “The smoke of their torment goes up forever,” says the Bible. It’s the smoke that lasts forever, they say, not the torment.

I wish I could believe that. Hell seems wrong to me, as I know it does to many others. But I’ve learned that when I think the Bible needs correcting, further reflection always shows me I’m the one who needs it instead.

Biblical Insights

That further reflection for me has come by way of insights from Timothy Keller, C. S. Lewis, Louis Markos, and of course the Scriptures.

The Bible tells us God is a good God. We like to think of “good” as being “nice,” “kind,” “wouldn’t hurt a flea.” We forget that goodness includes treating evil as it deserves. Would I rather Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mao Zedong and Stalin get off lightly for their atrocities?

We who long for justice know it doesn’t always happen on earth. Therefore if there’s justice in the universe at all, it must come after death. Read the Psalms and Revelation, and you’ll find that is part of the hope of the saints. And it’s not from vindictiveness, but from the need for justice to be done.

Still, though, isn’t it awful for God to send anyone to hell? C. S. Lewis’s oft-quoted answer is that He doesn’t. “In the end,” he says, “there are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’” Hell is the natural outcome of a life spent choosing not to associate with God.

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Identities Established

Timothy Keller, in The Reason for God, extends this reasoning. We spend a lifetime becoming who we will be, he says. We develop our identities, either as lovers and worshipers of God or as living independently of Him. God refuses to strip that from us. He lets us carry our identities into our futures after death. And it makes no sense for one who has made himself a God-independent identity to spend eternity with God in heaven. God lets them continue independent of Him.

Which means they go on independently of all of Him, including His provident love, His beauty, His care, His goodness. Hell isn’t literally fire. It’s probably more like another metaphor Jesus used, “the outer darkness, where men weep and gnash their teeth.” This is the effect of divorcing one’s identity from the goodness of God.

I think that makes sense. It may seem unjust to some, for its unequal treatment, but “equal treatment” doesn’t equal justice — not even in America, where we give the doctrine of equality near-biblical authority. Different deeds and different lives deserve different outcomes.

We spend a lifetime becoming who we will be.

The Justice and Love of God

And yet, and yet … we all deserve but one outcome. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says Romans 3:23. Justice for all means we all get an equal outcome, which is eternal separation from God. But God offers mercy — mercy you can receive right now. Jesus died for us so that we need not die our own eternally-lasting deaths. He offers us forgiveness from sin. We can receive it simply by telling Him we know we need that forgiveness, and we trust Him to provide it through His grace. It is heaven, not hell, where God’s justice is most challenged; except He met that challenge through Christ’s death on the cross.

I’m still not comfortable with the idea of hell. I don’t think I ought to be. It ought to motivate me to do all I can to rescue people from it, by showing and telling them the truth of God’s forgiveness in Christ — and their chance to build their identity now as lovers and worshipers of the great and loving God who created them.


“It’s been said” — Source: P.L. Tan’s Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.

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  • swordfish

    “Hell isn’t literally fire. It’s probably more like another metaphor Jesus used…”

    Are you sure children can understand metaphors?

    • NellieIrene

      We learn about metaphors as children. So….yes….children can understand metaphors.

      • swordfish

        So the same children who believe in a literal Father Christmas understand Hell is a metaphor? I can tell you for a fact this isn’t necessarily true. In any case, many adults interpret Hell as a literally real place.

        • NellieIrene

          Hell itself is not the metaphor. It IS a literal place. Punishment for non-believers in a literal fire for all eternity would be the metaphor. There are many areas in the bible where a metaphor is used about someone’s pain being as the pangs of a woman in labor to describe the intensity of the pain. Just as fire is the metaphor indicating the intensity of the pain that will be felt at being separated from God for eternity. This is a concept that is easily understood by children.

          • swordfish

            “Punishment for non-believers in a literal fire for all eternity would be the metaphor.”

            How do you know?

          • NellieIrene

            Are you asking how do I know that hell isn’t the metaphor? It is because the bible is unequivocal that there exists a place where evil doers and unbelievers will eternally abide, separated from a Holy God.
            Matthew 8:12 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 are descriptions of it.

          • swordfish

            The Bible is uneqivocal that hell is a place of fire.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            How much time do you spend reading new atheist interpretations of the bible verses the bible and good commentaries on it?

          • swordfish

            By “good commentaries”, do you mean ones which minimise the bad-sounding bits of the Bible and maximise the good-sounding bits?

          • LifeIsDesigned

            I mean good commentaries done by people who have a high integrity for truth and for translating a text accurately. These people actually do exist. New atheist websites is not one of these sources.

            FF Bruce is one such person to lookup.

          • swordfish

            Your idea of a good source is FF Bruce, who according to Wikipedia was the son of a preacher, and a very faithful believer himself. I quote:

            “He viewed the New Testament writings as historically reliable and the truth claims of Christianity as hinging on their being so.”

            Sorry, but you can’t start by assuming the Bible is historically accurate and work from there. My assumption *after* looking into this, is that the Bible is frequently historically inaccurate.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Oh my, you regard Wikipedia as an accurate source? Thats your choice. but FF Bruce has done some of the best scholarly work there is. To discount him based on an obscure quote from Wikipedia shows that you have no interest in finding truth.

          • swordfish

            Are you saying FF Bruce wasn’t the son of a preacher, and wasn’t a faithful believer? Are you saying that he didn’t view the New Testament as being historically reliable?

          • NellieIrene

            Actually it describes hell as being a place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It also describes it as a place of fire. This is a pivotal reason why so many believe fire is a metaphor. Did you also know there are degrees of punishment in hell? If fire is not a metaphor, then the likelihood of all of the unsaved being thrust in it is highly unlikely.

          • swordfish

            “Actually it describes hell as being a place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It also describes it as a place of fire.”

            There are numerous fundamentally contradictory accounts, suggesting that hell is an invention.

            “Did you also know there are degrees of punishment in hell?”

            Yes, you can burn for an infinite time, or half of an infinite time…

          • NellieIrene

            There is nothing contradictory in the description of hell as outer darkness and/or as fire.

          • swordfish

            Here’s the thing: ‘outer darkness’ and ‘fire’ sound different to me. But all this is irrelevant anyway as there isn’t an atom of evidence for the existence of such a place.

          • NellieIrene

            There is evidence in the Bible. Yes….yes… I know you reject the bible. But saying something doesn’t exist because there isn’t “an atom of evidence for” its existence is a faith all it’s own. Since in your world no one has died and come back to tell you what happens.

        • GLT

          I think you’re simply misunderstanding what Tom meant. He sees fire as a metaphor but hell as a reality. Hope that helps. 🙂

          • swordfish

            This is what is known as a ‘distinction without a difference’. The point of this article is to defend against the charge that teaching the reality of hell to children constitutes a form of child abuse. Quibbling about whether the fire in hell is really fire doesn’t help this case.

          • GLT

            “This is what is known as a ‘distinction without a difference’.”

            Perhaps to you but fortunately not everyone need agree with your opinion. Sorry.

    • I’m not even sure why you’d ask that. I was talking about children earlier, in another context, and there the point was that religious upbringing, including teachings on eternal punishment, led to good outcomes in children’s lives.

      So why ask this here?

      Sometimes skeptics overlook everything except the one point they can nitpick. They miss the forest for the one little exposed root they kick on the pathway. I hope that’s not what you were doing here.

      • swordfish

        “I’m not even sure why you’d ask that. I was talking about children earlier, in another context, and there the point was that religious upbringing, including teachings on eternal punishment, led to good outcomes in children’s lives. So why ask this here?”

        Because it’s important. Just because you have compartmentalised children into a different context doesn’t mean I have to. You can’t just dismiss Hell as a metaphor when many Christians take it literally. As for your claim that a religious upbringing leads to good outcomes in children’s lives, that is highly debatable. According to you:

        “The best science on the matter tells us kids come out much better when raised in religious homes.”

        This links to one of your own articles where the only ‘science’ quoted is 3 telephone polls done by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which covered only 5 years. I don’t accept this is sufficient to establish your claim, especially as many other studies indicate that countries with the highest levels of religious belief tend to be those with the lowest indicators of wellbeing.

        • LifeIsDesigned

          If you think this study done by Dr. Christian Smith of The University of Notre Dame does not meet scientific standards then I suggest you contact him with your concerns. Here is his email: chris.smith@nd.edu

          • swordfish

            (Life isn’t designed, by the way, and if it is, why have I currently got tonsilitis?)

            I didn’t say the studies weren’t scientific, I said they weren’t convincing. There are far larger studies which reach the opposite conclusion.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Actually, you wrote this:

            “This links to one of your own articles where the only ‘science’ quoted is 3 telephone polls done by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which covered only 5 years”

            This is questioning the “scientific” approach that they used. And this is a misrepresentation of the study. The study had four waves to it and covered age ranges 12 to 28 years of age. So your 5 year criticism ignores the design of the study. Also the use of the term “poll” that you used misrepresents what they did. It was not “poll” but well-designed surveys. A big difference. In addition to these four waves of investigation they also conducted hundreds of personal in-depth interviews of the participants. They designed the study so that they could do longitudinal survey tracing to “understanding the causal effects of religion and other factors in social life.”

            This is a well-designed study and it deserves the respect that these seven professors of sociology bring to the table scientifically. All of these professors hold PhD’s in fields necessary to establish expertise in this kind of a study. You cannot rationally dismiss the findings of this study if you take the scientific approach seriously.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            (Life isn’t designed, by the way, and if it is, why have I currently got tonsilitis?)

            Bad design arguments… you must spend time on new atheist websites. I suggest upgrading your critical thinking skills.

  • Trilemma

    If God is good, if God is love, if God is just, then there can be no eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell.

    If there’s eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell, then God is an evil, sadistic monster.

    It’s that simple.

    And the smoke of their torment goes up until the Ages of the Ages; – Revelation 14:11 – WNT

    Their torment does not last forever but ceases at the start of the ages of the ages.

    Hell seems wrong to me, as I know it does to many others.

    This is God trying to convict you to change your belief about hell.

    Would I rather Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mao Zedong and Stalin get off lightly for their atrocities?

    They will not get off lightly. Their torment in the lake of fire will last as long as takes to accomplish it’s work and then cease, starting the Ages of the Ages.

    In the end, there are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” – C. S. Lewis

    This ignores the fact that there have been billions and billions of people who never knew about saying, “Thy will be done,” to God. They never heard of YHWY or Jesus or the Bible or the gospel. They were never given a choice. Yet, according to Lewis, God says to them, “Thy will be done,” and sends them the hell.

    • Here’s a life principle for you to follow, Trilemma. Whenever you think you can demolish a belief that’s been scrutinized, studied, examined, attacked, defended, systematized, explained and defended for centuries, by a simple one-liner such as you have deployed, and declare it “just that simple,” you can be absolutely certain it isn’t.

      • Trilemma

        The belief in universal reconciliation has been around just as long as the belief in hell. I don’t think I can demolish a belief like the belief in hell with a simple one-liner. I don’t think I can do it with a book. But, a one-liner fits better in a comment section.

        You said, “Hell seems wrong to me.” What is it about hell that seems wrong to you?

        • It feels wrong. Too painful to contemplate. I don’t have God’s view on it.

          • Kevin Quillen

            truth resonates within you. Something that is wrong makes you uncomfortable. Think about this. I have researched this for years and have come to the conclusion that hell as taught today is very wrong and harms Christianity. You cannot scare anyone into loving God. You can cause fear, you can create an image, but you cannot cause love. Jesus told us to love our enemies. Would He tell us to do something He doesn’t do? Unbelievers are punished in the afterlife until they repent. Then they are reunited with the Father. Punishment MUST have purpose or else it is just torture. God is NOT sadistic! He is LOVE, and love does no harm. Why does Heb 12:2 mention that Christ got JOY from dying on the cross? Would He get joy from a very small percentage of people being saved from God’s wrath? NO, the joy comes from knowing that He saved ALL!

          • Kathy

            Kevin, I have asked you this previously…why are you a Christian if all people, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof, will eventually be reconciled? Perhaps, deep down, you realize there is permanent separation from God if you reject Jesus Christ. You do not want to take that chance, just in case.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Kathy; ALL WERE RECONCILED to God by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Col 1:20-22 Those who accept and understand what Jesus did, get to have relationship with the Father in this life. Those who do not , though still reconciled by the blood of Jesus, will face punishment in the next life, for as Rom 1 says, they are without excuse. After the punishment serves it’s purpose, that is, brings them to repentance, they will be reunited with the Father in Heaven. Even an atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or whatever, will be brought to the Father by JESUS! It is through Jesus that ALL come. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. 1 Cor 12:3 says that one cannot say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus has JOY from His death on the cross. Heb 12:2. John 12:32 say Jesus will draw ALL to Himself. The Greek for draw here is really “DRAG!” We cannot limit God to working only in this life. There is Biblical evidence for His saving after death. 1 Pet 3: 18-20. God really is that loving.

          • Kathy

            I certainly understand your desire that no one should experience separation from God, but you are ignoring SO much of Scripture, Kevin. First, the most well-known verse of John 3:16 “…whoever BELIEVES in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Yes, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” because no one can continue to deny Him when He is standing right in front of them. They will have no choice but to acknowledge Him.

            When someone is fully aware of the Gospel and continues to reject and outright rebel against Christ, as many atheists even posting on this site do, they are making a choice for separation from God. They want nothing to do with Him. Why would God force them to live eternally with Him, not to mention with those of us who love and desire to be with God? I don’t get why you would personally want haters of our Lord to be in His presence, much less yours.

          • Kevin Quillen

            haters of the Lord will not remain so. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus got JOY from dying on the cross. How could this be? Would He have joy over a tiny fraction of humanity being saved by His death? It is an insult to my Father to believe that Adam’s sin was greater than Christ’s sacrifice! Jesus gets joy from His death because He knows that His death reconciled ALL to the Father. If He does not reach you in this life He will in the next. Col 1:18-22

          • LifeIsDesigned


            1 Pet 3: 18-20 does not say that all of the “imprisoned spirits” responded. It does not even imply it. You have to read that into the passage to get that out of it. But what this passage does do is it does call into question the doctrine that there is no ability to respond after death.

            One area that can be looked at, but needs to be taken with high caution, is that of near-death experiences. In the book “Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future that Awaits You” John Burke has several accounts where the person knew there was a point of no return in being in hell. They responded before that point and Jesus saved them. So you have two sides here. Your point that death is not the end is supported but your point that all are saved is not.

            Now, again, that is to be taken with high caution for its not scripture. But it is another data point. And in this kind of a discussion we have few data points.

            Here is the point I see the bible making. Make your decision now. Today is the day of salvation for you do not know about tomorrow. The bible emphasizes making the decision before you die. Do not rely on the idea you still have time after death. The bible never says you do. So your certainty is not warranted scripturally.

          • Kathy

            Kevin, I just reread your post and realized something. You say “unbelievers will be punished in the afterlife until they repent” and that “you cannot scare anyone into loving God.” Wouldn’t God be scaring them and forcing them to love Him with that punishment? They are being coerced into wanting to be with Him, from what I see.

          • Kevin Quillen

            they are not coerced. No more than when your father punished you until you came to realize your error and said you were sorry. God is a loving Father and will take into account your circumstances. Prov 24:12. Kathy; I do not pretend to know what form punishment will take, but I trust my Father to be fair and just. It may be simply a look, or a hug, or a mention of His love for you, or a beating. The fire aspect talked about is simply purification. Gold is refined by fire. God refines us by fire. Not literal fire. Mark 9:49 says “everyone shall be salted with fire”. Please spend a little time on tentmaker(dot)org. It is a wonderful site with tons of info. Also, Hopebeyondhell(dot)com. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. Man cannot say this on his own. 1 Cor 12:3

          • Kathy

            You seem to be bringing God down to our level. His thoughts and ways are higher than ours. We can never fully comprehend Him…He would not be God if we could. Just because something in the Bible seems off or wrong to you does not make it so. You are choosing a few verses, but ignoring the overall picture. We must look at it all in the whole context of Scripture.

            Perhaps you could look at it this way….what if all will NOT be reconciled to God eventually, and you are telling everyone they will be reconciled no matter what? Isn’t it safer to share the gospel with them as often as possible and leave it to God to open their eyes and heart to Him. You certainly do not want to be in the position of deceiving people with a harmful lie. I realize it would not be your intention to lie, but what if you are? I highly recommend LifeIsDesigned’s last paragraph in his/her post below.

          • Kevin Quillen

            There is no more to say. If you are a sincere seeker, and I believe you are, then please check out the sites I have recommended. Tentmaker, and HopebeyondHell. Also Auburn University has a ton of info about historical Christian Universalism.

          • Kathy

            Thanks Kevin, but the only seeking I do is to know the God I love better through His Word in Scripture and any biblical literature that helps me to more fully understand the whole context of it. To choose just a few, sometimes obscure words and verses, and disregarding how it relates to the rest of the Bible is inviting misinformation and confusion.

            Other than that, you are right, no more need for discussion. I urge you, though, to please refrain from telling others that the entire human race will be saved eventually. Even if that may be true (I don’t believe it is), what if it isn’t? it would be in your best interest and others to just share Jesus with them and allow God to take over from there. How do you know for SURE that you are not deceiving them? Much better to be cautious by not spreading that possible deception. That would not be loving at all, and I know that loving others is your intention, Kevin.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Thank you for the kind words. If I am guilty of anything it is presenting my Father as more loving than commonly believed. I think my view is more attractive to lost souls than the image of Father that tortures lost souls forever. God bless you Kathy, maybe we will see each other in Heaven and have a laugh or two.

          • Kathy

            You will still be presenting our Father as loving if you just share the the wonderful news of the gospel as presented in God’s Word. Sure you know the parable of the sower. It is not up to us what type of soil our message falls on, we can only plant the seed…. God does the “watering.” It sure IS disturbing to see others rejecting that “seed”, but we should not skew the full message just to make it more palatable for them. Because you think that view is more attractive doesn’t make it true. You may actually be doing people a grave disservice… you do not want to be guilty of that, Kevin. I am concerned for you as well.

            Think of the thieves on the cross beside Jesus. One continually rebelled against Him and never turned to trust in Him. The other one’s heart was softened and he surrendered to Jesus before he died. That one was told “Today, you will be with me in paradise”, The other thief was told nothing of the sort. It appeared he wanted nothing to do with Him, so Jesus was allowing him the separation that he desired.

          • Kathy

            Need to correct what I wrote concerning “any biblical literature”. I stick with orthodox Biblical Christian material and avoid anything that obviously distorts or adds man-made doctrine to Scripture.

          • Chris in NC

            Hell is a place of separation from God. That cannot happen here on Earth. Believe or not, God’s spirit is still ever present and here for us – if we want it.
            Jesus said that, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
            2 Corinthians 5″8 says that to be absent from the body will put you present with the Lord. But if you have not made Jesus Lord who is it that you are present with? That’s one I don’t want to know.

            One last point. If there is no Hell Jesus surely wasted a lot of his time talking about it.

      • Kevin Quillen

        Tom; would you have told Luther that belief was set because it stood for centuries? Why are there several Bibles that do not have hell in them at all? John 12:32 makes it very clear that Jesus will get everyone. The word “draw” actually means “drag”. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. 1 Cor 12:3, NO MAN CAN SAY THAT JESUS IS LORD BUT BY THE HOLY GHOST. 1 Cor 15:22, in Adam ALL sinned, in Jesus ALL are made alive. The concept of eternal punishment in hell is a man made construct, devised to control people and empower the church. It does not take much research to find this if one wishes too, A good place to start is Tentmaker(dot)org. Or, HopebeyondHell(dot)com If you are so sure of your beliefs then it certainly would not harm you to take a look.

        • Kevin, if Luther had tried to accomplish what he did through a simple one-liner I’d have answered him the same.

          The reason there are Bibles without hell in them is unknown to me.

          I have taken a look at the various views on hell, and you’re right, it didn’t harm me.

          • Kevin Quillen

            The body of work on this view is quite large. Hardly a “one liner”.
            Supporting scripture is many. Hardly a “one liner”. The Bibles without hell use literal translation, gehenna is not hell, it was a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. This is what Jesus referred to mistranslated as Hell. Another problem is the thought of the “end of time”. No such thing, it is “the time of the end”. The end of what? The old covenant age. Tom; it is really not hard to find historical documents proving that Hell was made up to control people. I would send you references but you seem set in tradition and unwilling to see anything other than your ingrained view. If you are really open to seeing the other side then the tentmaker site has all you need. I do not want to waste my time sending you documents. But if you wish me too I will.

      • GLT

        I always find it amusing that modern critics of Christianity and the Bible actually believe they have come up with some original objection which was not raised and addressed thousands of times in the past 20 centuries.

        • Trilemma

          I readily admit the objections to damnationism have been around for 2000 years. Damnationism became the official doctrine through politics and decrees and not by its theological merits.

    • Trilemma, you’ve got to understand that God has revealed this doctrine clearly. He has also revealed his love, grace, truth, and justice, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone else in Scripture, so you can’t jettison hell without rejecting Jesus Himself.

      Be assured that there is no logical contradiction in the doctrine of hell. All persons deserve hell. Some escape it, but those who face that judgment face it justly.

      There some things left only partially revealed in Scripture, including some of what you’ve commented on here. You and I can’t understand how every piece of it works out together, I’ll grant you that. So there some things we do not know clearly, and some things that we do. Why base your decisions, then, on what you do not know clearly? That makes no sense.

      • Trilemma

        Jesus talked about Gehenna more than anyone else in the Bible. I take Jesus to be talking literally about the valley near Jerusalem. You don’t take the literal sense of the word but give it a figurative sense to mean Hell. The Greek phrase, “eis toùs aiônas tôn aiṓnōn,” is used a number of times in the Bible. I take it at its literal sense, “unto the ages of the ages,” to be a time period sometime in the future. You take it in a figurative sense to mean forever and ever. This is basically how the argument has gone for 2000 years. What should be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively.

        What helped resolve the issue for me was this trilemma.

        1. God is able to save everyone but doesn’t want to.
        2. God wants to save everyone but is not able to.
        3. God wants to save everyone and is able to save everyone.

        Calvinists pick number one. Most Christians pick number two. Universalists pick number 3.

        • Is this the the trilemma from which you’ve taken your name here? It’s lacking, for it implies that if God is unable to do something that means there’s something lacking in Him. But we know God cannot lie and He cannot contradict Himself.

          If God has chosen for good reason to give humans free will, then universalism is self-contradictory, which makes it impossible for God.

          This is not a lack of power on His part. It isn’t any lack at all.

          Granted there are difficulties here with respect to predestination and effectual calling. J. I. Packer has rightly analyzed the antinomies involved in this question. Scripture and reason both make it clear that humans have free will. We also know that God is sovereign. We have real trouble reconciling the two facts; but if we throw either of them out, we have other real problems instead.

          There is no easy answer. But human free will is real, and it does make it impossible for God to save everyone. To be saved is (on one way of looking at it) to want God above all else. If God forced that desire on humans, that desire would hardly be freely chosen, would it?

          • Kevin Quillen

            Free will up to a point. You have free will to have relationship with the Father in this life. Your free will does not trump God’s will. God wills ALL to be saved and ALL ultimately will be. What is most often missed is that salvation means saved from the result of sin. What is the result of sin? Spiritual death, and separation from God. Jesus reconciled ALL to the Father by His death on the cross. It is by His faith that we are saved, not ours! That is why Jesus got JOY from His death, Heb 12:2. He knew His sacrifice saved ALL! Would He have Joy from saving a tiny part of humanity?

          • LifeIsDesigned

            So no matter that a person chooses to not love God, God will eventually force all to love Him by your logic. Then love ceases to be love.

          • Kevin Quillen

            where did I say God will use force?

          • LifeIsDesigned

            “Free will up to a point”

            So the person who refuses to love God, God will eventually make that person love Him by your logic. He has no other choice if ALL are saved.

            Love MUST be free otherwise it is not love. So the logic of “free up to a point” fails because it denies this.

          • Kevin Quillen

            your reading comprehension is not very good. Read the post again. Free will is about choosing God in this life. That is the POINT. You, however cannot make the ultimate choice. Jesus made that one for you!

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Your reasoning skills are lacking. Yes, your position that one does not really have free will undermines the idea of love.

          • Trilemma

            A person does not need to love God in order to be reconciled to God. God will not force anyone to love Him but He will reconcile everyone to Himself whether they choose to love Him or not.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Demonstrate for me from the scriptures that God will save someone who refuses to love Him. Now what is not acceptable is take verses like Jn 3:16 in exclusion to verses that talk about love. In order to be intellectually honest you must interact with verses that talk about love. I should not have to point this out. The fact I do should show something to you.

          • Trilemma

            The thief on the cross was saved without professing love for Jesus and there’s no reason to believe he loved Jesus.

            Please provide a verse that clearly says a person must love Jesus to be saved or reconciled.

          • Trilemma

            My moniker comes from the Münchhausen trilemma.

            I agree that human free will is real but I don’t see how that makes it impossible for God to save everyone. Saving everyone is not about overriding human free will. It’s about changing choices. Some change their choices in this life. Others require discipline in the lake of fire. Parents discipline their children to teach them to make good choices. Their children still have free will but they need to learn how to use it responsibly. A person locked up in jail has as much free will as anyone else but what that person doesn’t have is freedom of choice. The purpose of being in jail is to teach that person to make good choices so as to be welcome in society when they get out of jail. That is the purpose of the lake of fire, to prepare a person to be welcome in the kingdom of God when they get out of the lake of fire.

            What is your basis for saying that to be saved is to want God above all else? Can’t someone be saved without that desire? I thought salvation was based on faith and not on desires or feelings toward God.

        • LifeIsDesigned

          In addition to Tom’s answer, I think it prudent to mention two things:

          First is that the Bible makes in clear the love is essential in a relationship with God.

          And second is that love is not love without choice. Love must be freely given to be love.

          It’s clear that those who go to heaven love God. This means that there must be a choice. It must be freely given. Which means that if someone chooses to not love them God cannot make them.

          • Trilemma

            Loving God is not necessary for salvation. John 3:16 says whoever believes in the Son will be saved. It does not say whoever loves the Son will be saved.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Really, Trilemma? Your really going to push that argument? Come on now you know better than that.

          • Trilemma

            Am I wrong? Can you quote a Bible verse?

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Why don’t you show me the relevant verses and explain why they do not apply.

            These games you play, Trilemma, don’t change anything. They do not change the truths you refuse to acknowledge. I, or Tom Gilson, may never get you to change your mind but one day we all face judgement. I will face it, Tom will face it and you will too. Think about that time. All of these games you play with words will be front and center. As will my words I use.

          • Trilemma

            Romans 10:9 – NIV: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

            No mention of love being essential for salvation.

          • LifeIsDesigned

            Word games.

        • WilliamF

          I don’t believe any of the prongs of your trilemma are true because you have the basic paradigm wrong. It isn’t about what God is able to do or what he wants to do at all. God offers salvation to everyone. It’s offered through grace with nothing for anyone to do to receive it but to accept it.

          We’re the ones who are responsible to do that because were the ones responsible for our sinfulness and separation from God. Some choose to accept God’s grace. Some don’t. God loves us enough to allow us the free will to make that choice. That choice has consequences.

          And BTW, I’m a Calvinist and #1 isn’t what we believe.

          • Trilemma

            If you don’t believe any of the prongs of my trilemma are true then:

            1. You believe that God doesn’t want to save everyone. That God does not desire all to be saved. That God doesn’t care that most of humanity is consigned to hell.
            2. You believe God does not have the power or authority or ability to save everyone. That God is not smart enough to figure out a way to save everyone even if He wanted to.

            You said, “God offers salvation to everyone.” Sounds like you believe God wants to save everyone. You said we’re responsible for accepting God’s offer of grace. That means you believe God is not able to save those who do not accept His offer of grace. That means you chose option number 2.

            Why do you consider yourself a Calvinist when you clearly don’t believe in total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace?

    • Patmos

      Why do you continually try to read things into God’s word? Did it ever occur to you that you’re not above God? It’s like you think you have some special angle, some new revelation, that people can’t see.

      You say if God is just, well yes, if God is just then people will get what is coming to them including the possibilty of eternal damnation. This is backed by all of scripture, and your misinterpretation or mistranslation of an obscure single verse does not change that.

      It begs the question: What is wrong with you?

    • GLT

      “If God is good, if God is love, God is just, then there can be no eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell.”

      The key phrase here is, ‘if God is just.’ The truth is, being just carries with it certain responsibilities and carrying out justice carries certain consequences. The question is, if God is just can he allow those who break the law and reject the forgiveness provided through Christ’s sacrifice, to go free of punishment and still be seen as just? If it is only going to be ‘olly, olly oxen free’ and everyone gets a free pass, why would Christ need to pay a price for our redemption? The answer is obvious, to fulfill the requirements of justice. It then logically follows those who deserve justice must do what justice requires them to do, either accept the forgiveness as offered; including whatever actions that offer demands; or pay the consequences. Any other scenario results in no justice and no just God.

      “Yet, according to Lewis, God says to them, “Thy will be done,” and sends them the hell.”

      I don’t believe that is What Lewis said or implied. The phrase, ‘thy will be done’ clearly implies a choice, based on knowledge, has been made. If one never had the chance to hear the Gospel or learn of Christ’s forgiveness one could obviously could not knowingly reject it. I know of nowhere in the Bible that it says those who have never had the chance to hear the Gospel or to learn of Christ’s sacrifice are routinely condemned to hell.

      • Trilemma

        I never said it’s only going to be ‘olly, olly oxen free’ and everyone gets a free pass. I said, “They will not get off lightly. Their torment in the lake of fire will last as long as takes to accomplish it’s work.” I’m saying there are consequences and there’s no free pass.

        So, what is the fate of those who never hear the gospel and never get a chance to accept Jesus?

        • GLT

          “I said, “They will not get off lightly.”

          I was commenting on your statement pertaining to a just God. I’m sorry if I misunderstood your intent.

          “So, what is the fate of those who never hear the gospel and never get a chance to accept Jesus?'”

          Surely you understand that is for God to decide, not us.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Do you believe that eternal torture for 70 or 80 years of living life apart from God is just? Forever for 80 years of error? If God operates this way then He really is a monster, not a father. Think about it, you are impugning His character.

          • GLT

            It’s not a case of what I or you believe or do not believe, it is a case of what God has deemed to be just. If you wish to question the judgement of God you need to talk to someone in a higher pay grade than I. However, I would urge caution if you wish to sit in judgement of God.

  • tz1

    The problem is that sin is spiritual cancer, and we have it from conception – original sin, concupicance, etc.

    And the cure for all its simplicity is like Chemotherapy. And giving up carcinogens. But smokers still smoke. Others prefer using random herbal remedies.

    Yes we can receive it simply but not easily. The scene from Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” where one of the damned ghosts who was unctious with a lizard on his shoulder had to have the lizard killed (but that was ressurected as a magnificent steed), and suffered greatly – the angel killing the lizard said “I said it woudn’t kill you, not that you would feel no pain”).

    As to Hell, yes, there will be a final white throne judgment, but some will not ask for Divine Mercy (See Catholic St. Faustina). They will quote the devil, “Non Serviam!, better to reign (in a small part of) Hell than to serve in Heaven”.

    • Kevin Quillen

      I would not use C S Lewis as a source for anything. He said that Matt 24:34 was the saddest verse in the Bible because Jesus was wrong. Look it up. Because of his preconceived conclusion, he called Jesus either a liar or a lunatic, in effect.

      • tz1

        Matt 24 predicted the Roman destructon of Jerusalem and Israel, and 70 AD was within the timeframe so I don’t know what your point is. There are two things in Matt 24 – the destruction of the Temple, Israel, etc. and the 2nd coming.
        Taken literally, because Jesus didn’t return “coming in the clouds” before the generation passed away, if he meant the 2nd coming, then Jesus – or Matthew – was wrong, or Matthew shouldn’t be in the Canon.

        You have not proposed an alternate resolution of the obvious problem.

        • Kevin Quillen

          Jesus did return in 70 AD. Why do you think Caiaphas tore his robe and cried “blasphemy? Matt 26:64. He understood what Jesus meant by coming on the clouds with power. Search out the Old Testament references to the term “coming in or on the clouds” Read the historical accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Learn about the signs in the sky and the voices and the armies in the sky. All this confirms Jesus did come back just when and how He said He would. Matt 24 is all about the same subject, the end of the old covenant, and the end of the relationship between God and the Jews. For you to believe otherwise means that Jesus changed subjects in the middle of a conversation without mentioning it. You tell me where the subject changes?

  • Patmos

    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be satisfied. Even before the law was handed down through Moses, Abraham was deemed to be righteous, and Noah found grace in the eyes of God. Humans were created with a conscience and a free will, and some choose to ignore their conscience and make up their own ideas about life (see Trilemma below), and some were so far gone that God saw fit to send the rain.

    Peter even goes so far as describing some as being made to be destroyed. God’s ways are past finding out. His kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again, then sold all he had and bought that field. I too have stumbled on that treasure, and rejoice in the Lord always. I do not waste time trying impose my own thoughts onto the kingdom (again, see Trilemma below), for who hath known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor? It is him that we honor, if you so believe. Humble youself, and you will be exalted.

    • Kevin Quillen

      Patmos; Would a loving God create people to be destroyed, or blind the Jews so they could not see, and then send them to hell for their unbelief? No! But knowing that they would be restored later, He might use them as an example for our benefit. Which makes more sense? Which is more like a loving Father?

      • Chris in NC

        You seem to forget — the Jews have the Law, if they want it. And if they can keep it.

        • Kevin Quillen

          read Rom 9:6 The Jews are not Israel. And Acts 3:23

  • Grasshopper

    “Hell has never been a popular topic…”

    “But the cowardly, … shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” -rev. 21:8

  • LifeIsDesgined

    I believe one of the misconceptions about hell is that eternal is associated with infinity. These are two different concepts. Mathew 18:8 uses the word aiōnios for eternal. It means “without end, never to cease, everlasting”. Now lets look at “without end” in light of time. Time is a finite thing. Time is also a physical thing. Its one of the dimensions of this existence we find ourselves in. Time is not infinite in the past for it is was then “now” would be at infinity. It clear that “now” is not at infinity. Therefore, time is finite in the past.

    If time works the same was in heavenhell as it does now then no matter how long you have been in heaven or hell it will be a finite amount of time. The use of the word aiōnios really means two things:

    1. For heaven there is no death – life continues on. For hell there is no life – death continues on.
    2. You cannot change addresses.

    Now you may object that God is unfair in not letting someone change their address. But this objection ignores that fact that we humans already pass this judgment on each other. When we assign someone to life imprisonment we are passing judgment on them that they are not allowed to engage in “life”. This really means that they are not allowed to engage in relationships like the rest of us… and we are all good with making this a permanent assignment. The same if true of the death penalty. We are passing judgment that this person can no longer engage in relationships like the rest of us.

    If we can pass this judgment then who are we to judge God when He passes the same judgment? Like Tom indicated hell is really a separation from God. You will never be in relationship with Him.

    But lets look at this from another angle. The LGTB movement is about making homosexuality normal. Now I’m not trying to debate homosexuality here. Rather, I want to point out that this movement is all about accepting homosexuality as normal and if you do not agree then you are to keep that to yourself. Or, If your going to engage in the culture then you do so in accordance to what they say is acceptable. If you choose not to acknowledge homosexuality as normal then, according to this movement, you must keep that to yourself in the public square.

    Ok, if that is acceptable for us humans to do then why is it not acceptable for God? If you choose NOT to have a relationship with God then why can’t God exclude you from heaven? It does not matter why you choose not to be in relationship with Him. Whether its because you do not believe He exists or if you think that the Christian God is a monster or for some other reason, the bottom line is you are choosing not to be in relationship with Him. Then you are choosing not to go to heaven.

    • Trilemma

      You misspelled “Designed” in your moniker.

      We lock evil people up for life. We euthanize evil people. But God’s ways are higher than our ways.

      The Lake of Fire is in Heaven so it has the same address.

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