Tag Archives: Doctrine of Hell

Bible study: why would a loving God make a terrible place like Hell?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

It’s time for us to take a look in the Bible and make some sense of it, again. Today’s question is really “what does God expect us to be doing with our lives?” but I wanted the title of this post to be more eye-catching for non-Christians.

Why do people go to Hell?

Let’s start with finding out what we are supposed to be doing, and then we’ll know why there is a place like Hell for people who don’t do that to be separated from God.

Everyone has a moral obligation to choose how to use their time wisely during their life time. People everywhere, in all times and places, have had the choice of whether to spend more time thinking about the “big questions” or more time having fun and being selfish. Thinking about the big questions logically leads a person to making discoveries about God’s existence and character. Once the people who think about the “big questions” discover the answers to those big questions, they are morally obligated to use their free will to love God using all their capabilities.

Bible verse break:

Deuteronomy 4:27-30:

27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you.

28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.

At a bare minimum, loving God also means obeying the moral law. But I think there is a lot more to loving God than just obeying rules. Each person is also obligated to engage in and support enterprises that help others to know God as he really is. If a person fails to use their free will to love God, then that person is sinning. Notice that on my view, being nice to your neighbor is relatively unimportant compared to being nice to God. Jesus’ first commandment is to love God, and that vertical dimension is much more important than horizontal dimension of loving your neighbor.

Bible verse break, again – this time Paul is explaining what he does to love God:

Philippians 1:3-19:

3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.

16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition,not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

So we are supposed to be telling people the gospel, which is the good news about who God is, and what he has done for us to bring us into a right relationship with him, despite our lack of curiosity about him, and our focus on ourselves instead of him. The pre-condition to loving God and sharing the gospel is knowing what his character is really like. Most people are born into a certain religion or learn it from their parents or their culture and they either adopt it without thinking or they reject it without thinking. They are not interested in investigating who God is using reason and evidence, including scientific and historical evidence.

On the Christian view, the best thing you can possibly do with your time is to investigate whether God is real, and what he is like. It’s wrong to say that investigating doesn’t matter or that all religions are the same. In fact, when you actually look into these things like you do any other area of knowledge, with logic and evidence, you do arrive at knowledge of who God is. And that’s because God has left clues of who he is in the natural world and in history – he expects us to be looking for him. He is as real as any other person you know, and his character is as defined as any other person you know.

Bible verse break:

Acts 17:26-27:

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

I think that the result of any honest investigation is going to be that the Christian religion is going to be found to be more true in its major claims than any other religion. I.e. – people who conduct an honest investigation are going to find that the Christian claims about the universe coming into being out of nothing, and of Jesus rising from the dead, etc. will be validated by the progress of science and historical inquiry.

But since people have a natural tendency to focus on making themselves happy, not many investigations occur. They know that if Christianity is true, they would have to engage in radical self-denial and self-sacrificial love. They know they would have to sober, be chaste, be different, and not be liked because of their exclusive view. And people don’t want to do that, so an honest investigation never even gets started.

Instead, what you find non-Christians doing is hoping in speculations to justify their flight from the demands of the God who is there. We want to be free to make ourselves happy, and that means that we have to keep the real God who is there and who is not silent at arms length. That’s what non-Christians do – they use their time on Earth to push God away so they can focus on themselves and their own happiness. In fact, even Christians do it, which is why we rely on Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. We could come near to God and work on the things that he would like us to work on without some way to get past our own rebellion. For those who grasp the sacrifice of Jesus as an atonement for our rebellion, cooperation with God becomes possible.

One of the problems that Christians have today is that we do not really understand what sin is. We think that sin is about hurting other people or making other people feel bad. But actually, the sinfulness of a person has little to do with that, and much more to do with how we respond to God. We have a moral obligation to know God and to include God in all of our decision making. Hell is the place that God has made for people who turn away from him. A person chooses Hell when she refuses to investigate whether God is there and who God is, so that she does not have to adjust her choices to respect God.

Bible study: why would a loving God make a terrible place like Hell?

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

It’s time for us to take a look in the Bible and make some sense of it, again. Today’s question is really “what does God expect us to be doing with our lives?” but I wanted the title of this post to be more eye-catching for non-Christians.

Why do people go to Hell?

Let’s start with finding out what we are supposed to be doing, and then we’ll know why there is a place like Hell for people who don’t do that to be separated from God.

Everyone has a moral obligation to choose how to use their time wisely during their life time. People everywhere, in all times and places, have had the choice of whether to spend more time thinking about the “big questions” or more time having fun and being selfish. Thinking about the big questions logically leads a person to making discoveries about God’s existence and character. Once the people who think about the “big questions” discover the answers to those big questions, they are morally obligated to use their free will to love God using all their capabilities.

Bible verse break:

Deuteronomy 4:27-30:

27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you.

28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.

At a bare minimum, loving God also means obeying the moral law. But I think there is a lot more to loving God than just obeying rules. Each person is also obligated to engage in and support enterprises that help others to know God as he really is. If a person fails to use their free will to love God, then that person is sinning. Notice that on my view, being nice to your neighbor is relatively unimportant compared to being nice to God. Jesus’ first commandment is to love God, and that vertical dimension is much more important than horizontal dimension of loving your neighbor.

Bible verse break, again – this time Paul is explaining what he does to love God:

Philippians 1:3-19:

3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.

16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition,not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

So we are supposed to be telling people the gospel, which is the good news about who God is, and what he has done for us to bring us into a right relationship with him, despite our lack of curiosity about him, and our focus on ourselves instead of him. The pre-condition to loving God and sharing the gospel is knowing what his character is really like. Most people are born into a certain religion or learn it from their parents or their culture and they either adopt it without thinking or they reject it without thinking. They are not interested in investigating who God is using reason and evidence, including scientific and historical evidence.

On the Christian view, the best thing you can possibly do with your time is to investigate whether God is real, and what he is like. It’s wrong to say that investigating doesn’t matter or that all religions are the same. In fact, when you actually look into these things like you do any other area of knowledge, with logic and evidence, you do arrive at knowledge of who God is. And that’s because God has left clues of who he is in the natural world and in history – he expects us to be looking for him. He is as real as any other person you know, and his character is as defined as any other person you know.

Bible verse break:

Acts 17:26-27:

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

I think that the result of any honest investigation is going to be that the Christian religion is going to be found to be more true in its major claims than any other religion. I.e. – people who conduct an honest investigation are going to find that the Christian claims about the universe coming into being out of nothing, and of Jesus rising from the dead, etc. will be validated by the progress of science and historical inquiry.

But since people have a natural tendency to focus on making themselves happy, not many investigations occur. They know that if Christianity is true, they would have to engage in radical self-denial and self-sacrificial love. They know they would have to sober, be chaste, be different, and not be liked because of their exclusive view. And people don’t want to do that, so an honest investigation never even gets started.

Instead, what you find non-Christians doing is hoping in speculations to justify their flight from the demands of the God who is there. We want to be free to make ourselves happy, and that means that we have to keep the real God who is there and who is not silent at arms length. That’s what non-Christians do – they use their time on Earth to push God away so they can focus on themselves and their own happiness. In fact, even Christians do it, which is why we rely on Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. We could come near to God and work on the things that he would like us to work on without some way to get past our own rebellion. For those who grasp the sacrifice of Jesus as an atonement for our rebellion, cooperation with God becomes possible.

One of the problems that Christians have today is that we do not really understand what sin is. We think that sin is about hurting other people or making other people feel bad. But actually, the sinfulness of a person has little to do with that, and much more to do with how we respond to God. We have a moral obligation to know God and to include God in all of our decision making. Hell is the place that God has made for people who turn away from him. A person chooses Hell when she refuses to investigate whether God is there and who God is, so that she does not have to adjust her choices to respect God.

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.

Related posts

How can Christians become more comfortable with the doctrine of Hell?

I’ve decided to do a series on Hell.

I wanted to say a few words about the following topics, one per day:

Now, I am no theologian, but I am going to take a crack at answering these questions from a layman’s point of view, and the more experienced people can correct me where I am mistaken. I am answering all these questions from an Wesleyan Protestant point of view. These are just my opinions, so please seek the advice of the Bible and more qualified theologians. And leave your corrections in the comments.

How can Christians become more comfortable with the doctrine of Hell?

In order to be confident in the doctrines that humans are sinful, and that rebellion against God is punishable by eternal separation from God in Hell, Christians need to know that the following propositions are objectively true.

  • A non-material intelligence created the universe
  • The New Testament is a generally reliable record of the life and teachings of Jesus
  • A good case can be made for the resurrection of Jesus
  • A standardized objective worldview can be derived from the teachings of Jesus

Last time, we took a look at the beliefs that make Christians less likely to accept and defend the doctrine of Hell.

I’ll summarize the beliefs as follows:

  • They don’t know if God exists or not in any objective sense
  • They don’t know if the Bible is reliable in any objective sense

But it’s pretty clear that in order for there to even be a Hell, God would have to exist, and the Bible would have to be making reliable statements about the moral law and human rebellion. So before Christians can even be confident in their belief in Hell, confident enough to tell otehr people about sin and Hell, they would have to know that the following propositions are true.

  • God exists
  • The Bible is reliable

Now, to prove that anything is true, you have to show two things about that thing.

  • The proposition is consistent according to the laws of logic
  • The proposition is verifiable, and indeed verified, against the external world

In order to test these claims, you would would study philosophy to understand the laws of logic and arguments. Then you would have to study the empirical evidence by learning about physics, chemistry, paleontology, New Testament criticism, history, archaeology, etc..

For example, to know whether it is true that God exists, you might construct a logically valid argument for his existence like the Kalam argument, and then study the Big Bang cosmology to assess whether the progress of science has shown that a supernatural agent created the universe.

There is no cheap way to know whether God exists. There was a time when a simple faith could have survived without all of this learning and lab experimenting. But now that time is over. And the church needs to get into the business of realizing that there are real threats undermining the intuitions that God exists and that the Bible is trustworthy, and take appropriate steps to defend those claims.

Unfortunately, Christians do not really learn much in church that is going to fix any of these core beliefs. In my experience, you could attend church for decades and never here a single examination of whether any propositions required by Christianity are true. There is no logic being taught in the church. There is no linking of Christian doctrine with anything verifiable in the external world.

Children are not stupid. They understand the difference between the way that things are approached in the schools (logically and empirically) and the way that things are approached in the feminized postmodern relativist universalist church (emotions and intuitions). They understand the difference between a physics experiment and a praise hymn. And they know when they are being sold a myth.

The basic problem here is that Christianity has been re-interpreted from being an objective religion based on knowable truth to being a subjective religion based on the felt needs of the subjects in the church pews. The solution to this problem is for the church to treat Christianity as a set of claims about an objective reality. Christianity must be place in the same category as physics and chemistry.

You cannot expect people to be bold in talking about things like sin and Hell when it is no fun to do so. If Christianity is not a knowledge tradition, then it is not worth being any sane person’s time and effort. If Christianity is a personal preference, then it is the same as any other personal preference – it must serve the needs of the person who adopts it.

No one eats spinach, unless they like the taste of spinach. If Christianity is not knowledge, but is just a personal preference, then Christianity is spinach. Some people will like it, and they’ll eat it. But most people won’t like it, and they won’t eat it. You are not going to get people to confidently speak about sin and Hell if those things are just personal preferences. And no one becomes an authentic Christian without understanding sin and Hell, because those are the required foundation for understanding the need for grace and forgiveness.

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Why are some Christians uncomfortable with the doctrine of Hell?

I’ve decided to do a series on Hell.

I wanted to say a few words about the following topics, one per day:

Now, I am no theologian, but I am going to take a crack at answering these questions from a layman’s point of view, and the more experienced people can correct me where I am mistaken. I am answering all these questions from an Wesleyan Protestant point of view. These are just my opinions, so please seek the advice of the Bible and more qualified theologians. And leave your corrections in the comments.

Why are some Christians uncomfortable with the doctrine of Hell?

Last time I explained that our number one job is to love God, and this means we have to know God first. But I also said that all of us fall short of this goal at least partly, because we all pursue selfish pleasure at least partly. Unfortunately, God requires us to be perfect in this, and the penalty for failure is death. Although God was very forgiving about this before sending Jesus to die in our place, he’s now very strict about it.

Anyone who accepts Jesus’ death as payment for not wanting to know God and to love him (sin) will avoid the punishment. Anyone who refuses Jesus’ sacrifice cannot spend eternity in the presence of God. The duration of Heaven or Hell is the same for all, but the degree of punishment depends on the specific sins you commit, with the worst sins being sins against God.

For anyone who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice, it becomes possible to have a relationship with God, which involves knowing him and following him. This is actually quite exciting although it is also very dangerous and painful. God wants people to know his character through the historical record of his Son stepping into history as the man Jesus. And then he wants people to follow Jesus’ teachings and example in their daily lives.

This is known as the gospel. But the problem is that many Christians don’t believe that refusing to know and love God is a sin worthy of death. They don’t really believe that the standard is perfect love for God. They don’t really believe that we sin by not loving God perfectly. They don’t believe that Jesus had to die in our place. They don’t believe that rejecting Christ’s sacrificial death is worthy of Hell.

In fact, they’ve decided that there is a new way to get to Heaven. The new way to go to Heaven is by pursuing happy feelings and being nice to people. You can just believe anything you want about God, and make all your decisions without knowing anything about God, and maximize your own happiness in this life. And since almost everybody does this, then almost everybody goes to Heaven, (except people who believe in sin and Hell).

Here are some of the reasons why some “Christians” invented this new way to avoid Hell:

  • They don’t believe that God exists objectively
  • They don’t believe that God has an objective personality or will for his creatures
  • They think that the purpose of religious belief and practice is to make themselves feel happy
  • They think that logic and evidence can’t be used to know about God’s existence or character
  • They don’t want to be rejected by other people for talking about sin or Hell
  • They think that God wants them to be silent about sin and Hell, so other people will be happy
  • They believe that the Bible doesn’t provide accurate information about what God is like
  • They think that purpose of reading the Bible is to affirm their own feelings and intuitions
  • They don’t want to do what the Bible plainly says because that makes them less happy
  • They think that God’s will for his creatures is that they be happy and nice to one another
  • They think that if other religions make people happy and nice, then they are paths to Heaven

Many of these people enjoy going to church and especially singing in the church.

But there is one they fear more than Superman fears Kryptonite. What could that be?

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