Should you reject the Biblical view of Hell based on emotions?

I noticed this post up at Dr. Glenn Peoples’ blog.

In the post, he quotes a number of prominent Christian theologians who affirm a belief in Hell, such as Tertullian, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards and Isaac Watts. He chooses these people to quote because they seem to argue that the bliss of those who enter Heaven will be enhanced by seeing the suffering of those who are in Hell. I’m not going to cite the lurid passages he does, but I did want to cite his conclusion for you to comment on.

He writes:

But modern believers in eternal torment wouldn’t endorse this, would they? Would they actually endorse a theology of hell in which we sit and watch millions of people, including our lost children and friends, actually being tortured in fire – and would they agree that we will gain happiness and pleasure from the sight?

Glenn holds to the view of annihilationism, such that the damned are annihiliated after being punished.

Now let me just state right off that I have no knowledge of whether I am going to be happy seeing the damned in Hell, that’s not in the Bible, and I have no idea what Heaven will be like.

Now let me briefly provide one or two reasons why I believe in Hell, BASED ON MY EXPERIENCES with non-Christians.

  1. Jesus talks about Hell in the Bible as a real place
  2. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God
  3. No one desires God and no one wants to be bound by a love relationship with God
  4. Each person is responsible for accepting or rejecting God
  5. People who rebel against God hold to a worldview that is irrational and unsupported by evidence
  6. I have more sympathy for God than I do for people who reject him

My view of Hell is based on my preference for the plain meaning of the Bible over my emotional desires, and my experiences dealing directly with non-Christians during evangelism. I think that annihilationists are just not willing to sit down with non-Christians and ask them why they are not ready to become a Christian. When I do that, I find that non-Christians 1) reject the moral demands of Christianity, 2) justify that selfishness by believing in speculations that make Christianity seem false, and 3) refuse to test those speculations logically or empirically.

Let me give you just one example from my undergraduate tour in university. I met a Mormon friend whom I had known in high school who just returned from his missionary service. By that time, I had discovered apologetics in earnest, so I asked him a question: how do Mormons reconcile their belief in an eternal universe with the evidence for a creation out of nothing?

He replied “we don’t determine our beliefs based on science”.

And I said, “that’s fine. Let me know if you ever get curious about what science says about God, and we can certainly talk about it”.

I keep non-Christians as friends as long as I am able to be myself, and talk about what I believe occasionally. (Although I oppose pursuing amusement and pleasure for its own sake).

Once you have enough encounters like this with atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. you begin to realize that no one wants to talk about whether God exists and what he is really like. No one is looking for an answer to their speculations against Christianity, e.g. – “who made God?”. They just want to get their degrees, get good-paying jobs, and be left alone to pursue pleasure. Some do turn to non-Christian religions and fads of their own choosing, but those are embraced as a means to increased happiness.

My non-Christian male friends are happy to spend their entire lives climbing corporate ladders, chasing women, following sports, drinking, buying geeky junk, and playing video games, etc., rather than setting aside a measly 90 minutes to watch a debate on whether God exists. I actually did a survey of non-Christians a while back, and you can read about their worldviews. Notice how there is no search for truth there. Just a desire for autonomy from any authority that might block their hedonism. It’s really quite in-your-face!

Implicit in any rejection of God is the rejection of Christ’s sacrifice of his own life in place of the life of each sinner. You don’t just walk away from a sacrifice like that. I understand that people have questions about the fairness of the requirement to explicitly confess faith in Christ in order to be reconciled with God, or the problems of evil and suffering, or religious pluralism. But we have answers to those questions. The problem is that non-Christians are not sincere in their desire to find those answers.

What do you expect God to do with such people? This is GOD we are talking about here, people. Not Santa Claus! When I hear people talking about annihilationism, it really makes me wonder whether they read the Bible at all (e.g. – Romans 1), and then bothered themselves to actually test and see if the Bible is correct about its diagnosis of human nature as inherently sinful. In my opinion, what is happening here is that Christians who reject Hell prefer their own emotional desires for the plain meaning of the Bible.

Everyone has to choose whether they sympathize with God or with people who rebel against God. And don’t dismiss me as a meany. My non-Christians friends are the only ones who know whether I treat them well. They are the ones who will have to judge for themselves whether I show love for them by what I do, regardless of my view of Hell. I trust that anyone who knows me personally will accept my apologies to them for expressing my views so harshly, but I think the Bible is clear on this.

UPDATE: Glenn has written to me to assure me that he is not taking his position for any other reason than because he thinks the Bible teaches annihilationism. So, I thought I had better add that here so no one would think ill of him. He has other material on his blog where he makes the Biblical case that I had not looked at.

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16 thoughts on “Should you reject the Biblical view of Hell based on emotions?”

  1. An atheist friend of mine read this and seemed awfully offended by it but, for the life of me, I can’t understand why since, as an atheist, he doesn’t believe any of this so what effect does it have on him at all??

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  2. WK,

    You know as a fellow evangelical Christian that I agree with you 99.99% of what you say, but I have to respectfully disagree with you on the doctrine of eternal torment.

    One can make a very good and logical case from scripture that the wicked are ultimately annihilated when the heavens and the earth pass away, to prepare for the new heavens and the new earth.

    Allow me to illustrate with a few scriptures:

    First the Bible tells us that the wicked (including Lucifer) will ultimately burn up and turn to ashes:

    Ezekiel 28 (WEB)
    15 You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you.
    16 By the abundance of your traffic they filled the midst of you with violence, and you have sinned: therefore I have cast you as profane out of the mountain of God; and I have destroyed you, covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.
    17 Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness: I have cast you to the ground; I have laid you before kings, that they may see you.
    18 By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your traffic, you have profaned your sanctuaries; therefore have I brought forth a fire from the midst of you; it has devoured you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all those who see you.
    19 All those who know you among the peoples shall be astonished at you: you have become a terror, and you shall nevermore have any being.

    And the rest of the wicked…

    Malachi 4 (WEB)
    1 “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. 3 You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies.

    II Peter 2:4
    4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell,a putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.

    Then Jesus tells us that

    Matthew 10:28 (WEB)
    “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

    Also, the Bible teaches that eternal life is a gift from God, and the wages of sin is death:

    John 3:16
    For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    The scriptures also teach of a second death that is the ultimate fate of the wicked:

    Revelation 21:8
    But for the cowardly, unbelieving, sinners, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their part is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

    One day all the wicked will be judged in the Great White Throne Judgment and condemned to final annihilation. Only the righteous will inhabit the new Heavens and the new Earth.

    wgbutler777

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  3. Good summary, wgbutler777

    What we have in this blog post is an argument in defense of the traditional torment view of hell based on nebulous reasoning and appeals to anecdotal encounters with non-believers. That non-believers refuse to consider God is hardly a logical reason why he must torment them.

    This writer seems to assume that annihilation – death from which there is no return – does not constitute a punishment. The writer is accusing us of not reading the Bible and not realizing the sinful nature of humanity. We all do recognize this. I have never encountered a fellow annihilationist who does not. We simply differ on the nature of the punishment for sin.

    The title of the post also belies an attempt at “win-by-default”: the title claims that annihilationists “reject the Biblical view of hell based on emotions.” This would suggest that annihilationists deliberately reject what they know to be biblical. By making this assertion, the writer circumvents the actual biblical arguments that unbelievers will not exist forever.

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    1. Dave,

      Thanks for you input. I researched this topic quite extensively and believe that my position is the most Biblically defensible.

      At the end of the day the only evidence that the eternal torment advocates have to support their position are some verses in Revelation that use extremely symbolic language.

      There are at least as many verses in the Bible that plainly state the wicked are annihilated and reduced to ashes.

      Furthermore, the annihilationist position is the more logically consistent since the scriptures tells us over and over again that eternal life is a gift. This makes no sense if everyone is given eternal life and it is simply a matter of where the eternal life is spent (the new Universe vs the lake of fire).

      wgbutler777

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  4. Wintery Knight, I have a question for you:

    If a conservative evangelical Christian implies that a certain traditional teaching about hell (namely that people in heaven will delight in watching the torment of the lost) has a moral objection attached to it, do you believe that it is logical or fair to conclude that they reject the traditional view of hell on emotional grounds?

    Take me for example. On multiple occasions I have explained clear biblical grounds for saying that the traditional view of hell as eternal torment is contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible. I have a couple of articles on this, I did a podcast series on this, and I’ve had a piece published on this, and I expressed that view in all of those places. There, I outline the overwhelming biblical case for annihilationism, and I show that the traditional view is unbilical, and that all evangelicals should condemn and reject it because of their committment to the authority of Scripture. Now I have written a blog post – the one that you link to – where I present something that theologians who hold the traditional view have said about hell (namely that they expect to gain pleasure and happiness from wtching the sufferings of the lost). I presented it because I find it objectionable and contrary to biblical character – but I did not say so, I let readers decide what they thought of the claims of those theologians. I just wanted those who claimed to stand with the traditional theology of the Christian faith to realise what that theology actually contained.

    And yet, in spite of all of the above, it actually looks like you have used my post as an example of how a person might reject the teaching of Scripture because of emtotions. Say it aint so!

    As far as I am concerned, the clear teaching of Scripture so emphatically favours annihilationism over the traditional view that when someone tells me otherwise, I ask them in all sincerity: have you checked?

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  5. Unfair win what way? It is fair because it presented part of the traditional theology of hell and challenged people on whether or not they believe it.

    If you don’t believe it, then all you should say is that you reject part of the traditional teaching on hell. I think people don’t like doing that, because they find rhetorical strength in saying that they have tradition on their side. Robert Peterson is an example, who actually cited those theologians as people who held his view.

    But my question still remains: Is it fair to conclude that I have rejected the traditional teaching on hell on the basis of emotion?

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    1. On the basis of what I saw, yes. On the basis of these other writings and such, I would have to look at them. When I listen to religious pluralists, they have arguments, too. But what really animates them is something else entirely. The question is, does the Bible teach it, or are we allowing our feelings to dictate what the text says and then finding proof texts for what we believe? I haven’t seen these other things, so I can’t say. But I do know that people shift their beliefs all the time for non-rational reasons, e.g. John Hick and John Dominic Crossan. The arguments come after. Not saying that this is the case with you – I don’t know.

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  6. “The question is, does the Bible teach it, or are we allowing our feelings to dictate what the text says and then finding proof texts for what we believe?”

    My post, as I am sure everyone can see, has nothing to do with biblical theology. On the contrary, it is about traditional theology (something that I think is quite unbiblical on this issue). My challnge was not: “Can you really believe what the Bible says?” My challenge, instead, was: “Are you rpepared to agree with what these theologicans have said?”

    Those two challemges are not at all the same. I would never automatically equate the rejection of what these theologians taught with the rejection of what Scripture teaches. The fact is, theologians can err.

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    1. You get the last word. Not because I’m mean, but because I have to go write some posts!

      Let me just recommend that you read Romans 1 a second time, and think of my post. My experience says that what Romans 1 says is true, and so I have no problem with the plain meaning of the text, there and in other places. I suggest you try to replicate my experience by asking some non-Christians the questions like those in my interview, and see if these things are not so.

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  7. The biggest torment of all might be to be ushered into the glorious presence of God Almighty, to look into his beautiful, glorious, face, and to look deeply into his love-drenched eyes — and then, suddenly, to realize you had been deceived into hating him, and as a consequence of your choice, would be separated from him forever. It would drive a sane man instantly mad. There will be weeping. And gnashing of teeth. If we are not preaching hell – however we picture it – are we preaching the gospel?

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  8. wg: You should have continued quoting to Mal 1:4b ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’

    Or these verses: Ez 20:48; Mark 9:43; Is 9:18,19; 34:10 or Isaiah’s ending verse 66:24. Perhaps you’d accept our Lord’s own words Mark 9:43,48 and Matt 18:8; 25:46. Read Jude 13 and Rev 14:11. I’d disagree that Rev 20:10 is metaphor. Gen 12:28 and Is 34:10 should be considered a literal ‘type of hell’ declaring judgement. Or Rev 19:3 is a metaphor heralding ‘forever and ever’ damaging your argument. And Is 30:33 purports God’s breath igniting hell.

    Is 9:18 indicates that wickedness fuels our Holy, Eternal God’s judgement and anger. Ps 18:8 and Nahum 1:6 agrees.

    These verses use words like unquenchable fire, cannot be put out, eternal, always, never end, never shall be quenched, is not quenched, cursed forever, angry forever, shall not die, does not die, endless, never go(es) out, will not be quenched or extinguished, smoke will rise forever, not be quenched, day and night, The fire will keep burning night and day, It can’t be put out, Its smoke will go up (ascend) forever, will not stop burning, never put out, reserved forever, eternal darkness, forever doomed, darkness for eternity, without end, ages of ages, have no relief, no pause, no intermission, no rest, no peace, age after age, the ages of the ages, never stop rising, burns forever, eternal fire, everlasting fire, burns forever, eternal punishment, punished forever, everlasting torment, eternal doom.

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