Does God scare people into loving him with the threat of Hell?

This is from The Sparx401 again.

Excerpt:

It’s probably one of the more prominent questions seekers and skeptics alike will ask: What kind of choice is that?! Love me or burn in Hell? This particular question is what we’ll be delving into today. In fact, I’ll be writing a slew of posts on questions pertaining to Hell and Salvation and such.

First, a “sketch”:

Tim bows on one knee and says to Karen, “I love you more than anyone could imagine! You’re so incredibly beautiful! And actually, Karen, I was wondering if you’d be my wife and marry me.”

Taken aback by this, but obviously touched by his feelings, Karen thoughtfully responds, “That’s so sweet of you Tim! Still, I’m going to have to think about it…”

“Oh sure, go right on ahead. I don’t want to force you, else that wouldn’t be a genuine choice,” replies Tim.

“However,” he exclaims, “If you don’t choose to marry me, I’ll send you down into my basement where my crazy cousin Micah will torture you forever”.

“What? That’s totally unfair! What kind of choice is that? Why would you send me down there for?” stammers Karen with shock.

“I’m not sending you down there Karen, you are sending yourself there if you choose not to marry me. It’s still your free choice, after all”.

Such a story is how a good number of skeptics view God’s “provision” of choice vis-à-vis Hell and Salvation. Yet, how accurate is this portrayal given the relevant biblical data and Christian doctrine? My contention? Very inaccurate.

Click here to find out how to respond to this objection.

10 thoughts on “Does God scare people into loving him with the threat of Hell?”

  1. I think the traditional concept of Hell is very misguided and inaccurate to what the Bible teaches.

    From my point of view there are two equally valid explanations for the ultimate punishment of the wicked:

    1) The wicked are permanently destroyed (body and soul) in a 2nd death after being resurrected to judgement at the end of the millenium.

    Malachi 4
    “For behold, *the day is coming, *burning like an oven, when *all the arrogant and *all evildoers *will be stubble. The day that is coming *shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. [2] But for you *who fear my name, *the sun *of righteousness shall rise *with healing in its wings. You shall go out *leaping like calves from the stall. [3] And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, *on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

    Mark 10
    [28] And *do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him *who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    2 Peter 3
    [10] But *the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then *the heavens will pass away with a roar, and *the heavenly bodies* will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.*
    [11] Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, *what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] *waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and *the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [13] But according to his promise we are waiting for *new heavens and a new earth *in which righteousness dwells.

    Revelation 20
    [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and *books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is *the book of life. And *the dead were judged by what was written in the books, *according to what they had done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, *Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, *according to what they had done. [14] Then *Death and Hades *were thrown into the lake of fire. This is *the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, *he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    2)

    But if it is indeed true that we have an immortal soul that continues to exist in some form after the body has been destroyed in the lake of fire, I would submit that the soul would be confined to this universe, which after the lake of fire would essentially be a dark void, as there would be no more stars to create light, and the eternal punishment would be never ending existence in a Universe bereft of light and God’s presence.

    In other words, God finally gives the atheists exactly what they want, a Universe that has nothing to do with and no interaction whasoever with God. But when you expel God from the Universe, you lose everything that comes with God, including light. When the atheists realize the ultimate consequence of their infernal desire, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Matthew 8
    [10] When Jesus heard this, *he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with *no one in Israel* have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, *many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] *while the sons of the kingdom *will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place *there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

    2 Peter 2
    [15] Forsaking the right way, *they have gone astray. They have followed *the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved *gain from wrongdoing, [16] but was rebuked for his own transgression; *a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
    [17] *These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. *For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.

    Jude
    But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. [11] Woe to them! For they walked in *the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain *to Balaam’s error and *perished in Korah’s rebellion. [12] These are blemishes* *on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, *looking after themselves; *waterless clouds, *swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, *uprooted; [13] *wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of *their own shame; *wandering stars, *for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

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  2. I have always argued that it is irrelevant if the warning sounds threatening. What is relevant is whether it is true. Speaking of the threat of hell, the example I use is this:

    “Motivation is not what is important. The motive for belief does not tell you about the truth of a belief. If lung cancer and death is a real consequence of smoking, then fear of death and cancer are correct fears, and abstaining from smoking is a proper response.

    If prison, crashing and injury and death to yourself and others are real consequences of driving drunk, then fear of prison, death and injury are correct fears, and refraining from driving drunk is a proper response.

    If hell is a real place, then fear of hell is a correct fear, and faith in a Savior is a proper response.”

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  3. Eternal separation from God is the most important thing to remember when studying the concept of hell. The unbeliever wants this the most and that is their reward for eternity.

    As far as eternal hellfire and other things, I’m not sure about. What I do know is that separation from God is the highest torture I can think of. As wgbutler777 said, “In other words, God finally gives the atheists exactly what they want, a Universe that has nothing to do with and no interaction whasoever with God. But when you expel God from the Universe, you lose everything that comes with God, including light. When the atheists realize the ultimate consequence of their infernal desire, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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  4. Just a suggestion. A more biblical and historical view of the atonement (read St. Athanasius, “On the Incarnation”) , an Incarnational view of the atonement, such as presented by Philosopher Robin Collins at http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Philosophical%20Theology/Atonement/Atone.htm will help in explaining hell to the non-believer. The “satisfaction theory” of the atonement created by Anselm and the “penal theory” created by the Reformers have caused great confusion in the area of soteriology and hell. See the link to the work of Dr. Robin Collins above for details.

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  5. The Annihilationist and the Universalist, when incorrectly exegeting verses, commits the equivocation fallacy when it comes to the Greek word aion(the endless age to come) in the phrases “eternal” life and “eternal” punishment. They say we all will inherit life forever, but no one will be punished forever.

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    1. Not true. It is possible to be punished forever without being tormented forever.

      One can be punished forever by being destroyed with no hope of ever coming back. That would still be eternal punishment.

      In fact, it contrasts rather nicely with eternal life. On the one hand the believer will inherit eternal life, and on the other hand, the non-believer is punished with eternal death. What clearer dichotomy could there be?

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  6. //What clearer dichotomy could there be?//

    Not a false one.

    At least we both can agree on the word “eternal”, unlike the Universalist.
    However, the way you use the word “punishment” is an odd connotation.

    The Greek word translated “punishment”, as in eternal “punishment” (Matt. 25:46), is kolasis, which means chastisement, punishment, torment –not annihilation.

    In Martyrdom of Polycarp, and Ignatius’ To the Romans, kolasis is used to describe the physical torture and suffering endured by the Christians, not annihilation. Check Moulton & Milligan, BAGD, and Thayer, for Greek vocabulary.

    Here is a similar parallelism:
    Dan 12:2
    “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
    The Hebrew word translated “contempt” is deraon, which means aversion, abhorrence, contempt –not annihilation.

    I reject your contrast, because the Bible clearly teaches that there are different degrees of punishment and rewards. It seems odd that God would punish the soul accordingly and then annihilate the soul afterward. It also seems odd that the soul awaits its resurrected body just to be annihilated. Again, it seems odd that Isaiah would say “their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched” if they are just going to be annihilated. Rev. 14:9-11 states, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever”; once again, it seems odd that this smoke –which is a clear affirmation of conscious eternal punishment- would represent the eternal punishment of annihilation.

    Weeping and gnashing is an indication of consciousness. Lazarus is certainly conscious when he begs Abraham to send him to his family to warn them about “this place of torment”. It makes more sense that souls are eternally conscious and receive, according to their deeds, degrees of reward or punishment–to which souls will be eternally aware of. This is the “clearer dichotomy”.

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    1. Reggie,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. This is a subject that I am intensely interested in and always enjoy discussing it with anyone who has strong views on the subject.

      Before I respond to your latest arguments, you should know that I am open to the concept of disembodied spirits of the wicked continuing to exist in some fashion after their resurrected bodies have been destroyed by fire at the destruction of the Universe (aka the lake of fire).

      These souls might then exist forever in the empty husk of this universe, which would be bereft of God, stars and light, the end result of all of their infernal desires, as they wander in darkness for all eternity in mental torment for the decisions that brought them there.

      Note that God is not an active torturer in this eschatological model, the wicked are in torment as they see the final culmination of their sinful desires and realize that it is too late to ever change the outcome of their existence.

      See

      2 Peter 3
      But *the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then *the heavens will pass away with a roar, and *the heavenly bodies* will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.*
      [11] Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, *what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] *waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and *the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [13] But according to his promise we are waiting for *new heavens and a new earth *in which righteousness dwells.

      2 Peter 2

      17These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. *For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.

      Jude
      [12] These are blemishes* *on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, *looking after themselves; *waterless clouds, *swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, *uprooted; [13] *wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of *their own shame; *wandering stars, *for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

      I think it is equally possible that the souls of the wicked are simply destroyed in the lake of fire along with their bodies. Jesus alluded to this in Matthew 10:

      [28] And *do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him *who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

      What I do not think is true is the idea of a divine torture chamber that God maintains for all eternity in order to inflict never ending agony on the wicked. This is not supported in scripture and is inconsistent with what we know of God and His character.

      Now on to your arguments:

      //
      The Greek word translated “punishment”, as in eternal “punishment” (Matt. 25:46), is kolasis, which means chastisement, punishment, torment –not annihilation.
      //

      See

      http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/immortality_resurrection/6.htm

      “…Note should also be taken of the word “punishment” used to translate the Greek word kolasis. A glance at Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek Testament shows that the word was used at that time with the meaning of “pruning” or “cutting down” of dead wood. If this is its meaning here, it reflects the frequent Old Testament phrase “shall be cut off from his people” (Gen 17:14; Ex 30:33, 38; Lev 7:20, 21, 25, 27; Num 9:13). This would mean that the “eternal punishment” of the wicked consists in their being permanently cut off from mankind….”

      And at any rate, I think you are straining at gnats to make kolasis equal eternal torture in hellfire. The wages of sin is DEATH (Romans 6:23), so if anything Christ would give the sinners their final wages of eternal death at the judgement in Matthew 25 and not an eternal life of torture. If Christ had wanted to state that the wicked would be tortured for eternity, there are other Greek words (like basanon) that He could have used that would have spelled this out beyond any question.

      //Dan 12:2
      “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
      The Hebrew word translated “contempt” is deraon, which means aversion, abhorrence, contempt –not annihilation.//

      Who has the contempt here? It is the righteous who hold the wicked in never ending contempt for their wickedness. This says nothing about active torture.

      In Isaiah 66 we read

      [24] “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For *their worm shall not die, *their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

      so here is a clear example of the contempt and abhorrence these DEAD BODIES of the wicked evoke in the righteous who see them.

      //I reject your contrast, because the Bible clearly teaches that there are different degrees of punishment and rewards. It seems odd that God would punish the soul accordingly and then annihilate the soul afterward.//

      Fair point. This is a problem for annihilationism where the wicked all receive essentially the same fate. All I can say that there is alot about the final judgement that we don’t understand.

      Jesus said it would be more tolerable in the day of Judgement for the people of Sodom than for the Pharisees of His day. How exactly it will be more tolerable is something that I don’t know. Will they be chastised less? Will the Pharisees be put on display for all humanity to see? It’s all speculation.

      //Again, it seems odd that Isaiah would say “their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched” if they are just going to be annihilated. Rev. 14:9-11 states, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever”; once again, it seems odd that this smoke –which is a clear affirmation of conscious eternal punishment- would represent the eternal punishment of annihilation.//

      Not necessarily. The Bible uses graphic imagery all the time to denote extreme consequences. For example, in Isaiah 34:9-10, we read:

      [9] *And the streams of Edom* shall be turned into pitch,
      and her soil into sulfur;
      her land shall become burning pitch.
      [10] Night and day *it shall not be quenched;
      *its smoke shall go up forever.
      *From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
      none shall pass through it forever and ever.

      Here we have a classic example of unquenchable fire, with smoke going up forever and ever, and yet Edom is not still burning with fire and sulpher somewhere in the Middle East.

      The book of Revelation makes much use of old testament imagery and language to describe the final judgement of the wicked. That’s why you have to read it in conjunction with other books that spell out the details in a less figurative way.

      //Weeping and gnashing is an indication of consciousness.//

      There are plenty of explanations for the weeping and gnashing of teeth verses. For example:

      1) The wicked may weep and gnash their teeth once they learn of their final judgement. They would have time to mourn their fate before being destroyed.

      2) This may simply be imagery depicting the final sorry state of the wicked. We read in Psalm 112:10

      [10] The wicked man sees it and is angry;
      he *gnashes his teeth and *melts away;
      *the desire of the wicked will perish!

      Here you have a clear verse matching teeth gnashing with annihilation! So you have to careful not to bring pre-conceived notions into scripture readings.

      //Lazarus is certainly conscious when he begs Abraham to send him to his family to warn them about “this place of torment”//

      You have to remember that the story of Lazarus and the rich man concern dead people in the intermediate state. This occurs before the two resurrections (of the just and of the unjust).

      It is quite possible that the soul of the rich man is in torment as he realizes that a fiery destruction awaits him at the great white throne judgement where he will be blotted out of existence.

      And we really have no idea about what its like to be a disembodied spirit. Perhaps the rich man is imagining the heat of the flames burning him, in much the same way that an amputee imagines that his missing arm is itching. When you think about it, it really makes no sense whatsoever that someone could be set on fire and still be able to maintain a lucid and coherent conversation with someone else at the far end of a great gulf.

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    2. If you actually study the Greek language, you will see aionios is actually used in places where it can’t mean eternal. For example, in Titus 1:2 aionios is translated as eternal, but Luke: 20:34 translates aionios as world. Also the verse that talks about different levels of punishment should if be a dead giveaway the doctrine of Hell is false.

      If all punishment is eternal, what is the point of different degrees of punishment, speaking of “point” what is the point of eternal torment. If God is love wouldn’t it hurt him to torment others? Does justice demand eternal torment. Consider this defenition of love delivered to is from God through Paul: “Love is patient, love Is kind, love does not boast, or demand it’s own way”. That doesn’t sound like a God who is prepared to room 99% humanity.

      How about in revelations that talks about death and Hell (Hades in the Greek) thrown into the lake of fire. Hades is the Greek word for Grave. Here’s another one, Paul doesn’t mention Hell once.

      If Hell is such a horrible place, then why didn’t he emphasize it. He talked about judgement, but didn’t breath a word of eternal punishment or Hell. I’ve got one more; The smoke of their torment rises up forever and ever. Who, aside from a little kid, phrases forever like that, let alone an all powerful deity.

      Jesus said that you must renew your mind and discern things spiritually. If you read it and come to the same conclusion as an atheist, you do not have God’s spirit. Now, I am fully prepared for you to come at me, cal me a heretic, say I am going to Hell etc. So, why don’t you truly prove me wrong, take a peek at Universalism, and pray to God on the matter.

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