Hell. Horrifying, agonizing – hopeless. The mere mention of it creates unease. Even Christians who believe that their faith in Christ will exempt them from hell have close friends and family whom they fear will end up there, or have already ended up there. The Secular world is certainly familiar with it; due to the fact that some Christians incessantly barrage them with claims that they will suffer there for all eternity. In fact, this single aspect, more than any other reason, is what so greatly deters the world from Christianity. What Christian has not heard the argument, “How can a good God damn so many people to endless torment?” The implication being, “Why would I follow a God like that?”
Because of the horrific connotations of hell in the public’s eye, most Christians avoid the subject like the plague. The topic is too offensive and if it is ever broached the conversation is so awkward its almost unbearable. We feel ashamed to vocally affirm our belief in it around those who do not agree with the Bible. Not only that, but even when we are discussing the topic in Church or small Bible studies it is only as a fear based motivator to get people to evangelize. And yet even then it never ceases to leave people feeling sick inside.
So why does hell evoke such uneasy feelings in us? And why are we so eager to change the subject when it comes up? We instinctively and swiftly turn a blind eye to it within our own heart. It is too heavy, too hard to bear. We treat it as if we wished that it were not even a possibility. How could the Gospel, which means Good News, have such a dark and horrifying aspect to it? This, in turn, causes us to accept foolish logic – doctrines of men – in vain attempts to somehow make it somewhat agreeable. It is almost as if something within our conscience cannot accept it. Which I find interesting because most of us are aware that man has some form of a moral conscience within him; that when he does something bad he can feel it is wrong. How then do we not recognize this same moral conscience screaming at us that something is terribly wrong with the concept of an endless hell!?!
Albert Barnes in his famous commentary on the Bible; says it best:
“That any should suffer forever, lingering on in hopeless despair, and rolling amidst infinite torments without the possibility of alleviation and without end; that since God can save men and will save a part, he has not proposed to save all-these are real, not imaginary, difficulties. … My whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray to disclose to me why sin came into the world; why the earth is strewn with the dying and the dead; and why man must suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these subjects, that has given a moment’s ease to my tortured mind. … I confess, when I look on a world of sinners and sufferers-upon death-beds and grave-yards-upon the world of woe filled with hosts to suffer for ever: when I see my friends, my family, my people, my fellow citizens when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger-and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them, and yet He does not do so, I am stuck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark to my soul, and I cannot disguise it.”
This is why we avoid thinking about hell. For if we were honest with ourselves and truly contemplated the gravity of endless hell, then we would find ourselves in the same state of anxiety as Albert Barnes. In fact, it was this very issue that ultimately led me to discover what the Bible really teaches about hell and the ultimate restoration of all men to God.
It was during my time in Bible College that I began to discover grave difficulties with hell. We were taught that the great mass of humanity was going to perish in unending torment and that we ought to go to the ends of the earth to try to save any we could. We were guilted into believing that if we failed to evangelize someone that their blood would be on our hands for all eternity! Can you imagine! Not only will those in hell suffer unending torment, but also those of us in heaven who failed even once to share the gospel with a stranger that might have been saved would have to endure the endless guilt of knowing that person was suffering in unimaginable agony b/c of us. I was soo horrified that I could barely function! I avoided going anywhere public, for fear of all the people I would have to approach. I couldn’t even go for a walk b/c if I saw any sign of life, I would feel the unbearable burden that I had to share the gospel with them or I would forever bear the guilt of their fate.
So I began to study “hell” in the Bible, in the hope that I would find some sort of relief. But this only made things worse, for it began to dawn on me that most (if not all) of the classic references to hell concerned God’s followers, not the lost! (This will become much clearer as this series on hell progresses.)
At this point my heart was so weighed down with the horror of an endless hell that I began to beg God to give me relief on the subject. I just could not imagine one single person suffering without end, even if it was only a drop of water dripping on their forehead – the fact that it would be endless was so dark and hopeless that my heart felt like it was about to collapse from the crushing weight of it. I also couldn’t reconcile how – if I, being evil, could feel such compassion for the lost, then how could God bear it, the very Father of all people, who is infinitely more loving than me? (Matthew 7:11; Eph. 4:6; Acts 17:28) And bear it for all eternity?
Thank God there is hope! Thank God that “mercy triumphs over judgment;” for “though His wrath is but a moment, His mercy endures forever!” (James 2:13; Psalm 30:5) Thank God that when Christ was born the angel that appeared to the shepherds said, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for ALL people.” (Luke 2:10) Thank God that whatever hell is, it is assuredly NOT endless .
Having seen in the previous series (what I feel is) incontrovertible proof that Scripture does not refer to an endless judgment; this series will focus primarily upon the misunderstanding of certain passages in Scripture that we presume to refer to hell.
We are building from the ground up, therefore, if hell is not endless – we can approach the topic with a more open mind and more easily discover its nature and purpose.
The series will be structured as follows:
Anomalies in the Bible concerning Hell:
We will look at how the idea of a punishment in the after life is nowhere found in the Old Testament.
We will see that the Old Testament idea of Sheol is a place where all souls go when they die, whether good or bad. It is a waiting place, a kind of sleep state for the soul until the resurrection.
We will also look at its usage in Scripture to show that it cannot be related to the modern concept of a fiery and agonizing place of torment.
We will see that Hades is the Greek equivalent of Sheol; a waiting place for the dead, and that the Septuagint uses Hades to translate Sheol and therefore must be understood as being synonymous with Sheol. We will see how Christ has the keys to Hades and Hades will be invaded by the Church. We will also see how Hades will eventually give up all the dead that are held there and that it will itself be cast into the lake of fire along with death to be destroyed.
We will also look at its use in Scripture (it only occurs 10 times, in 6 different contexts).
We will look at the Greek Mythology surrounding Tartarus; how it is a place of darkness where rebellious and disobedient gods are kept imprisoned. The word Tartarus is only mentioned 1 time in the Bible and in that single instance is used to convey the place where fallen angels are confined until the day of judgment; which fits perfectly with its sense in Greek Mythology.
We will look at the word Gehenna; noting especially that it is an entirely Jewish concept, one locally known and taught only to those familiar to Jerusalem. We will see how it came to be understood through the progress of history and the Old Testament. That it signified a certain consequence of destruction and disgrace in this life for disobedience to God’s will, and that it further had a significance of national consequences for rejecting the Word of God.
We will then look at the use of Gehenna in Scripture; spending the necessary time to examine the context each time that it is referenced (it only occurs in 6 different contexts).
The Outer Darkness:
We will also examine the verses that reference “the outer darkness” which involves “the weeping and gnashing of teeth” as well as “the furnace of fire.” We will see how in every single reference it is a warning of judgment upon the followers of God, not upon the unsaved secular world.
These studies will be concise; not exhaustive. There will be much more that we could look at concerning each theme, but for the sake of time and attention I have kept them as brief as possible while still being comprehensive.
Finally, as I said in the last series, I believe that truth is a whole and therefore the majority of evidence will always testify of the truth. If hell is not endless and God is going to save all men then what the Bible teaches concerning Hell will reflect this. I hope that you will take the time to read this series and discover what the Bible actually teaches concerning what we have mistakenly considered hell.
May God bless you as you read,