Biggest stumbling block for me - Hell

My faith is in the process of being reconstructed after a number of years of deconstruction. Science has actually really helped with this process. However, I would say that theology is now a stumbling block for me. Especially the concept of hell and eternal suffering. I really struggle with this concept and I wanted to see if maybe my conservative evangelical background is maybe giving me the wrong understanding of hell.

One of the things that bothers me is that most people (even in the US) either never hear the gospel or hear it clearly or are confused by materialism and led the wrong direction.

What are the thoughts on hell?

Thanks

Darrell in West Virginia

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I think many share your concern. Here is a link to a recent post that got a lot of input on the subject:

I think heaven and hell are perhaps over-emphasized when we look at the gospel. Our youth pastor preached this last Sunday (yep, the senior pastor was out of town, so he got the call…) and did a great job. He said something to the effect that the gospel according to Jesus is washing people’s feet, and if that displeases you, you are going to be pretty unhappy with heaven. Food for thought.

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Aye Darrell, it’s the conservative evangelical background, Biblicism of any degree.

I’m intrigued by how materialism confuses the clearly heard gospel, whatever that is.

Hell if I know … :wink:

OK, more seriously but still mostly off-topic: On those occasions where someone has told me I am “going to Hell”, it only indicates that person isn’t worth talking to any more. I don’t know what God is thinking, and neither does anyone else (Righteous Agnosticism :wink: ). Such threats can only be empty threats. Also a totally ineffective way of recruiting people, but I digress.

I admit the idea of Hell has an certain appeal to my sense of justice - bad people should get what’s coming to them, but there are difficulties with the implementation.

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You would have a lot of company if you decide to scrap the idea. I don’t think that would put you outside the spectrum of Christianity. But I cannot agree with the idea that hell and eternal conscious torment are not in the Bible. It is not only in the Bible but is particularly found in the teachings of Jesus.

As for me… I believe in hell because I see it in the world… but that has some pretty solid implications for the kind of hell I believe in.

  1. I do not believe in hell as something which God created or does to people, but only as something which people create and do to themselves. The former makes the gospel into something like the protection rackets of organized crime.
  2. I do not believe in heaven and hell as reward for our good deeds and punishment for our evil actions. I believe heaven and hell is entirely about how we deal with our sin… whether we repent and go through he painful process of removing them or we cling to our sins and thus allow them to destroy us. The rewards for our actions is another issue entirely which I don’t believe there is any escape from regardless of whether we are in heaven or hell.
  3. I find the vision of a fiery torture chamber somewhat lame – more cause for hilarity than fear. The hell I believe in is where we are consumed by our own sins, dragged into greater depravity and evil as our bad habits consume and destroy our freedom of will and everything of value within us.
  4. I believe that hell is our heart’s desire. If that sounds good to you, then I doubt you comprehend the depravity of the human heart. Heaven by contrast is God’s desire for us.
  5. Thus instead of bins where people are tossed, heaven and hell are a choice of two paths. Hell is the comfortable and easy path and it is heaven which is the painful and difficult one. I do not believe in purgatory because there are no people without sin. The place where we go through the painful process of removing the destructive habits of sin is the only heaven with human beings in it.

So what about ECT (eternal conscious torment)? That is what the teachings of Jesus imply and I see no reason to discount this. The choices we make are important choices not ones which have no ultimate impact on us, and which we can simply dodge later on. I think this is in the very nature of sin itself and the difference between good habits and bad habits. Good habits expand our awareness and choices while bad habits narrow our awareness and choices. The former open up an infinite universe of possibilities while latter only makes it more and more difficult to do anything else. Thus while I see no reason to discount the eternal torment Jesus described, I do think it is possible that our consciousness of this state/experience may be one which diminishes over time.

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Hi Darrell
You may find some interesting thoughts in the later post from @mitchellmckain. As to the consequences of how one views the concept of Hell, you might get some ideas from the movie, “Come Sunday”. It is on Netflick.
Al Leo

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If it was Albert’s Birthday last week, or his Birthday is coming in the next three weeks or so, then @aleo would be a Leo. :lion: :wink:

Hi Darrell,

I’m glad to hear that your faith in Christ is being reconstructed. What you are wrestling with regarding the existence/nature of hell is quite common, seemingly more so today than in the (recent) past. It’s quite a significant topic.

As with all theological issues, the fallen nature of humankind renders our sense of justice regarding hell less reliable than God’s Word. Thus, examining what the Bible says is my strong recommendation. Let me highlight a few of the many Scriptural passages which I think are relevant here.

In Romans 1:18-32 we see that everyone has some knowledge of God through observation of the natural world (particularly poignant for scientists!). Certainly some have heard clearer expressions of the Gospel than others, but no one can claim total ignorance before God (see verse 20 in this passage). So how do we know who can be held responsible for a certain level of understanding of the Gospel, and what level of punishment is deserved by those who reject the revelation God graciously provides?

I think the short answer is: as humans, we cannot know this fully. Thankfully, we are not the ones in the position to make that decision. God, by the very nature of being the Creator, bears exclusive rights to execute final judgment.

“Judgment” is a word with heavy, negative connotation nowadays, but in the hands of God, it need not be seen that way. Consider Deuteronomy 1:17, Psalm 7:11; 9:7-8, 75:1-10, Ecclesiastes 12:14, and Matthew 25:31-46. God, being perfect, holy, righteous, and omniscient, can be completely trusted to make accurate judgments. His decisions about who is responsible for what (or to what extent, or how much, etc.) will be thoroughly and completely righteous. He will not be biased, unfair, misinformed, moody, or be afflicted by any other malady or limitation that would cloud His judgment. The same cannot be said of any human, which is why implementation of judgment only ceases to be problematic when it is put in God’s hands. Justice will indeed be served. So while it is natural to ask some form of the questions “who deserves hell?” or “how bad should hell really be?” the answers are only partially revealed to us, with the specifics left up to God Himself. Because of His perfection, God’s people don’t need to worry about what they don’t know and can’t control. In fact, they can rejoice in His judgments (see for example Revelation 18:20).

Personally, I have found that absorbing those truths more deeply have made my own questions about the nature of hell less pressing. Whatever the answers, I can trust that God, who knows better than any one of us, will do the right and righteous thing with regard to each person’s opportunities in life and how they responded (or didn’t) to Him. A place of punishment for those who reject Christ is certainly taught in the Bible (Matthew 13, Revelation 20-21, several others), though complete details about what it is like are not revealed to us at the level of our curiosity. But as I mentioned, I think such issues gradually fade in importance when we remember that the holiness and righteousness of God oversees the whole process.

Let me also add that we would all be deserving of His wrath if not for Jesus’ substitution in our place (see Romans 3:10-26). So those who are saved and do not receive His wrath have no basis for boasting over anyone else (see Ephesians 2:8-10). God is the one who gets the glory for it. Praise God for His plan of salvation!

There are entire books devoted solely to the topic of hell from both believing and unbelieving perspectives, so a comparatively short reply here will certainly not answer all your questions, but I hope you consider this a start. I pray that your journey back to faith will cause you to continue to trust and love Him more each day.

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I highly suggest listening to Rethinking Hell the podcast. Their is currently 144 episodes and they range from 45 minutes to 3 hours long including debates. I drew the conclusions that he’ll was a place where the lost are destroyed prior to the podcast but after listening to it, talking with them , and reading books on the subject i became fully convinced that eternal conscience torment is not actually in scripture. I cover some of the reasons why on the other thread. Someday soon I want to make a thread focused on each main verse.

How we interpret the words of Jesus, it’s interpretation. Nothing wrong in trying to tell arguments that support your interpretation about the words of Jesus. I’m very interested to read the arguments written here and elsewhere as they help me to understand (I’m not sure how I should interpret these words). Yet, my/your interpretation may be wrong. IMO, we should be humble and admit it.

By the way, the idea of being annihilated after death is for me a relief rather than something to worry. No suffering, no regret, nothing.

The idea of suffering after death is scarier. Yet, the reason why I want to live with Jesus is not because of a fear of eternal punishment. ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111) and may guide to the right direction. Thinking changes when you learn to know Him better - less fear, more hope to be with Him because of who He is. It probably takes an eternity to know Him well but even the little we may learn here is inspiring.

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The problematic word seems to be ‘eternal’. We interpret it from our perspective, how we experience time now. Could it be that our experience of time is different after the judgements have passed – the end of time as we experience it now? I don’t know, that’s why I ask your opinions.

What kind of self image do we have to have created an inadequate self-righteous psychopath of a God in?

Hi Darrell,

My views on the hell have changed as well over the last decade. Like you, and many others here, the concept of eternal conscious torment has seemed increasingly out of step with the nature of God. The punishment just didn’t fit the crime. Eternal torment for temporal sin is just too inconsistent with a righteous and loving God. Yet modern evangelicalism seems fairly obsessed with the idea.

I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned the Greek idea of “the eternality of the soul” and the profound impact that had upon early developing Christian theology, and thus how much of the church understands it today. It’s not a Jewish, nor therefore truly an apostolic or Pauline concept.

For this reason my view has shifted to Annihilationism as the proper biblical interpretation regarding the state of the wicked.

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Thanks to everyone on the various replies and suggestions on books and videos…I will check these out…thanks to everyone !!

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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