Thinking About Hell

I preached on hell yesterday.  I had to finish a 4 part series from the book of Malachi and since Malachi 4:1-3 clearly is speaking of the destruction of those who choose not to become worshipers of Jesus the topic was unavoidable.  Had I detoured around those rather graphic texts which speak of the final punishment of the “arrogant” and “evildoers” it would have been an obvious deflection because the chapter is only six verses long.  Yet as I delved into the study, and the message began to take form there was a greater sense of peace and conviction about what I would be preaching. For my non Seventh-day Adventist friends out there our doctrinal position on the destruction of the lost is firmly planted in what theologians call the annihilationism view of hell.  Unlike traditional evangelicalism which takes an eternal conscious torment view of hell we Adventists believe that in the end God will thoroughly and completely annihilate lost people with fire.  For the most part (as with other doctrines like the Sabbath, death, prophecy) we Adventists are pretty much alone on this one aside from a few notable and respected evangelicals like John Stott who tentatively conceded some ground to this view and even defended annihilationism according to an October 2000 article in Christianity Today see http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/october23/1.30.html.

For me annihilationism is consistent with the character of a God who says in Ezekiel 33:11 “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” The notion of a God who would allow for the eternal conscious torment of lost people sounds more like a masochistic God bent on sticking it to those who crossed him.  But just because annihilationism is perhaps a bit more palatable for me doesn’t mean I get to ignore the Bible texts that suggest that indeed the wicked will be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” Rev. 20:10. But I’m satisfied with what I believe the Bible teaches there as well. My understanding is that when it comes to “for ever and ever” or “everlasting/eternal” those are relative terms in the Bible. In other words with regard to “everlasting/eternal” when those terms are used to refer to God there’s no question that these attributes are true of God who alone is immortal and eternal.  However when it comes to humanity or other earthly, created, perishable things these words can only mean until the person or object is consumed, or burned up.  For example Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “the vengeance of eternal fire” but those cities are not burning today.  There’s no question that the results or the impact of the fire is eternal, there is no Sodom and Gomorrah today (though Las Vegas could be considered a modern equivalent).  So the same seems to be true for lost people, Revelation 20:9 says that fire came down and “devoured” the unsaved. The unsaved are consumed and destroyed by an “unquenchable” fire and it isn’t that they suffer an eternal conscious punishing but rather the result of the punishment is everlasting, and eternal.

Connected to the doctrine of hell is the idea of conditionalism or conditional immortality, the teaching (which I hold to) that humanity is not born immortal (not subject to death) but rather the only immortal being is God and thus God alone can grant immortality (I Tim. 6:16) which is what he will bestow upon his followers at his return (I Cor. 15:51-54). This again is where, Adventists and traditional evangelicalism part ways.  The notion that we are all immortal (like God) doesn’t seem consistent with the pronouncement that God made to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17) remember that it was the serpent that said that, “you will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). It would seem then that conditionalism is more accurate with what scripture says about the nature of man that indeed we are subject to death and that immortality then is a gift given only to those who come to faith in Jesus. For the lost then to spend eternity in a conscious state (even if it is in torment) would suggest that they too receive eternal life which is difficult to reconcile considering the fact that scripture clearly points to eternal life being reserved only for the saints.

In preparing my message though I thought about how both views are really a turn-off for the unbelieving world. Our culture doesn’t like the idea of a God who punishes, judges, or destroys anyone. Our culture believes that God’s love is big enough to find a way for all people to be saved and experience heaven. My guess is that many long-time evangelicals and Adventists have succumbed to the popular notion of Universalism simply because hell is so politically incorrect to talk about (or believe). Clearly God does want to save everyone (2 Peter 3:9) but He won’t because His love does not allow Him to force a relationship on anyone.  Again I’m satisfied with a God who allows those who do not want to live eternally worshiping, serving, and loving him to choose eternal death instead of eternal life.

I’m certain it wasn’t the best sermon on hell but it was what God called me to share. It made me think carefully about hell and what the Bible is saying about lost people. More than anything it compels me to think even more about the gospel and the real need to preach it, and preach it well so that people won’t go to hell.

Advertisements

About pastor bernie

Collegiate/Young Adult pastor Forest Lake Church, near Orlando, FL

2 responses to “Thinking About Hell”

  1. Kelley Lorencin says :

    Bernie,

    Thanks for some great thoughts on hell. You are right…it’s not the most politcally correct of topics these days!

    I wanted to throw out another Bible verse for you to consider as you think about this topic — Isaiah 33:14-15. Isaiah asks who can dwell in the everlasting burnings? And then, instead of saying this is the wrong question to ask, he actually answers the question: those who are righteous and upright.

    God is a consuming fire, right? Could it be that the wicked and righteous in Malachi 4 are in the same fire? Could it be that the righteous live in the fire for eternity? Perhaps the wicked who face destruction don’t do so because God *chooses* to ultimately destroy them, but because they are not equipped to live in the fire…

    Just some thoughts. I remember you well from Net ’98 and am glad to see your musings here on Facebook!

    Blessings,
    Kelley

  2. Rick Lannoye says :

    You’ve made a number of very good points to show that the God of Jesus would never torture anyone for a minute, much less billions for eternity.

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, I’d like to add just one more point from my book to further show that Jesus could not have believed in Hell, as a place of fiery torture.

    In Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    Bear in mind that the historical Protestant doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures applies only to the original autographs, not the copies. But sadly, the interpolations that made their way into those copies have provided a convenient excuse for a lot of people to get around following Jesus’ real message.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: