Hell, Pt. 4

On the Nature of Hell

So, what is hell like for the unsaved?

We have already touched on the question briefly (see, “Gehenna, in Part 2 of this series), but in this and subsequent posts, I’ll go into a great more detail.

The existence and nature of Hell relate directly to the need, nature and character of penalty.

Penalty is “that pain or loss which is directly inflicted by the Lawgiver in vindication of His justice, which has been outraged by the violation of the law” (H.C. Thiessen, 1949). Unlike chastisement (which proceeds from love, and is intended to reform), the penalty of sin (death) is punishment, which proceeds from the just wrath of God. The purpose of punishment is not as a deterrent or reforming act, but as a solemn affirmation of the principle(s) that has been violated.

Scripture sums up the character of penalty in a single word: death. Death is threefold:

Physical death is the separation of the soul, from the body.

Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.

Eternal death is the culmination of spiritual death. It is the eternal separation of the soul from God, together with the accompanying remorse and outward punishment (Thiessen).

Sinner and saved alike will receive new bodies at the Resurrection. These bodies will be indestructible, immortal, and have attributes that will make them suitable to experience things in their absolute, perfected state. For the unsaved, this means a body capable of experiencing perfect, unimaginable torment.

Bill Wiese claims to have had a vision of Hell. Without arguing for or against his claims, I am providing some of his descriptions to illustrate the potential nature of Hell.

In his book, “Hell,” Wiese states:

– Hell is not (as some claim) merely “separation from God;” instead, it is a literal, physical location in which the damned are tortured forever.

– Those in Hell are overcome by weakness. Strength is a blessing from God; those in Hell, being separated from God, will barely have the power to writhe in their agonies.

– There is no breath, despite the desire to breathe.

– Wiese speaks of a sulfurous odor so foul that to experience it would kill a mortal man.

– Mercy is an attribute of God, and is nonexistent in Hell. If there are demons loose in Hell, they will, despite their own torment, lash out at God by attacking the only thing available—those created in His image. (It is safe, I think, to believe that this will be the case until at least the Final Judgment, when Satan and his demons are cast into the Lake of Fire.)

– In Hell, “the wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest” (Isaiah 57:20). There is no sleep or rest in Hell—no respite of any kind.

– There will be no water, not a single drop, in Hell. Nor will there be food or any other thing that is pleasant to the senses.

– The damned will be naked in Hell, both in the physical sense, and as regards their shame; while God is not present in Hell in any capacity, He does oversee Hell and its occupants, and nothing is hidden from Him.

– Hell is filled with the unceasing, piercing screams of those in torment.

– There is no sense of purpose in Hell; everything is over and lost.

– Wiese claims that the statement, “… and their worm does not die,” is a literal description of Hell; the damned are covered with maggots that feed on the constantly regenerated flesh of indestructible bodies.

– The only thoughts of God will be the blasphemies of the damned.

– Senses and comprehension will be raised to a much higher level in the the perfected resurrection body; in Hell the result will be increased suffering.

– The awareness of spiritual death will be as if one were “always dying, yet never dead.”

– Mentally, the damned will experience the moment before complete mental and emotional collapse, eternally. To go insane would be a form of release—there is no release in Hell, and the moment of absolute horror that presages insanity will last for eternity.

– The damned are consumed with incomprehensible fear.

– There is no hope or comfort in Hell—only the sure and complete knowledge that the suffering will never end, never abate and never rest.

Wiese gives good scriptural support for each of these experiences, as well as a more thorough description than is provided here. Wiese says that any human description of the place pales in comparison to the experience of it. The levels of horror, fear, revulsion, hopelessness, anger, hatred and pain are indescribable in every respect.

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Hell, Pt. 3

Having covered the more familiar terms used to name Hell, let’s turn now to the purpose of the place.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary states that the word, “hell,” is used twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of which are in the synoptic gospels and all of which record the word being uttered by the Lord, Himself. In general, when Christ teaches about Hell He is illustrating that God should be feared with the fear that prevents one from doing evil [as in Luke 12:5; “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (NIV)”]. To do evil in the sight of the Lord, and to deny or reject Christ, leads to condemnation and eternal suffering in hell, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk. 9:48, NIV).

Purpose of Hell: Hell is a place of punishment, where the damned are consigned to eternal torment and suffering, completely removed from the presence of God. It is important that we understand that mankind is consigned to hell as the result of his own decisions; we are given one life in which to accept God (through Christ), or to reject Him. God wants that no one should be consigned to Hell, but that all should be saved; however, in deference to the free will with which He has endowed each of us, He allows us to decide for ourselves where we will go when the present body dies. Since He created us to be free, and, as a perfect Being, he cannot contradict Himself by forcing our salvation (being perfect Love, God can persuade, but not coerce us to love Him), human dignity demands the existence of Hell. As stated by C.S. Lewis,

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’”

God, being perfectly holy and pure, cannot even look upon sin. He is also perfectly just; since it is a fact that not all evil is punished in this life, it is necessary that there be a place of punishment in the afterlife. It is also true that without a hell, there could be no victory over evil. If one assumes a Heaven as the ultimate destination of the righteous, then there must be a hell for the unrighteous; without an ultimate separation, good could not triumph over evil, and God would not be in ultimate control (which would deny His omnipotence).

God is perfect in every respect; mankind is hopelessly enslaved to sin, rebelliousness and idolatry. Because God is eternal, the only just punishment for a depraved, unrepentant mankind (“…for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” Rom. 3:23) is eternal punishment. It was because of our inherent depravity that God sent Christ to die on the cross, as propitiation for our sins.

To deny the existence of hell is to delude oneself into a state of wishful thinking. Sigmund Freud defined an illusion as a belief that is derived “from human wishes.” He said,

“We call a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and [when] in doing so we disregard its relations to reality.” Speaking of religion, Freud said that it would be great if there were a Creator who was in all ways benevolent and saved all from damnation, but that it is striking that due to the nature of hell, “all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.”

Some interesting numbers:

A 2009 Gallup poll indicated that 69% of Americans believe in Hell.

In the same poll, 81% believe in the existence of Heaven.

Some other polling numbers:

69% of Americans believe that they will go to Heaven, while in the same poll only 3% believed they would go to hell. 70% believe that “good” people will go to Heaven, regardless of faith; surprisingly (and a bit disturbingly) 57% of evangelicals believe that people of any religion will go to Heaven!

31% of Americans believe that Hell is a place where people are tormented, while 37% believe that Hell is not a place, but only represents separation from God.

And finally (I love this one!) 44% of Americans believe that “good” atheists will go to Heaven?!

See you Thursday; we’ll be talking about the nature of Hell.

Aich Eee Double Hockey-sticks (Part 2)

Views on the existence and nature of Hell

 According to Dictionary.com, Hell is

 

 

1.the place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus.

2. any place or state of torment or misery

3. something that causes torment or misery

4. the powers of evil.

5. the abode of the dead; Sheol or Hades.

Definitions 2 and 3 relate to slang usages of the word, so we will stick to the other three definitions. Even within this definition, there can be a great deal of confusion, largely related to the various names given. So to begin with, I’ll try to illuminate those.

Sheol: this is the Hebrew word referring to the “abode of the dead.” It is very similar in meaning to the Greek word, “Hades,” which is often used in its place in New Testament writings. Sheol is not Hell; it is, instead, the intermediate “holding area” for the dead between temporal death, and resurrection. Prior to the first Advent of Christ, Sheol was populated by the souls of both the righteous, and the unrighteous. Those who were righteous are housed in “Abraham’s Bosom,” a place of rest and comfort, while the unrighteous wait in a place of intense heat and misery. An impassable gulf separates the two areas of Sheol.

There is some discussion as to whether the souls of the saved and the righteous dead are currently in Sheol. New Testament writings—particularly some passages in the epistles of Paul, and in Revelation, seem to indicate that all of these souls ascended to Heaven in their disembodied state, awaiting the First Resurrection.

“Sheol” is often used in a figurative sense, as well, referring to the grave, great sin (Isaiah 28:15) and for greed (Habakkuk 2:5).

Jesus confirmed the existence of Sheol in the story of the Lazarus and the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). Some scholars insist that this story is purely allegorical, but it is the only one of Jesus’s parables that uses real names, indicating that He is referring to actual people and events.

Hades: Originally the name used for the realm of the dead used by the Greeks, “Hades” was appropriated by the New Testament writers to describe both Sheol and Hell, probably because of the similarities between the two realms and the fact that the Hellenistic audience of the apostles would have been more familiar with the term, than with the Hebrew word for the same realm. Distinction should be made of the context, however, since “Hades” may be used to describe either place (Sheol or Hell) depending on the Bible translation being used.

Gehenna: location southwest of Jerusalem where children were burned as sacrifices to the god Molech. It later became a garbage dump where trash was burned continuously. Because of these associations with evil, torture and uncleanness, Gehenna became synonymous with Hell, as a place of eternal punishment where “their fires are not quenched, and their worm never dies.” (Imagine a cesspool full of maggots, that flows down into a pit of constant flame and the smell of burning animal and human waste, and garbage. This would be representative of the “real-life” Gehenna.) Some (non-biblical) authors have used the term as a synonym for “purgatory.” Annihilationists believe that Gehenna is the place where the souls of the unsaved go in order to be destroyed (annihilationism will be discussed later, in the section dealing with philosophies of the nature of Hell and damnation).

Tartarus: in Greek mythology, this was the realm of Hades in which the evil dead suffered eternal punishment. It was the lowest level of Hades, below the realms of the “normal” dead. In Christian writings, it is used to identify the place where the rebellious angels are held until the final Judgment; in the Biblical pseudepigrapha it is generally understood to be the place where the 200 Watchers (fallen angels) are imprisoned. Some biblical scholars contend that Tartarus is the prison for rebellious angels, while Gehenna is the prison of human souls. Tartarus appears only once in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:4; some translations use “hell” in place of “Tartarus”).

Outer darkness, pit of fire, everlasting fire, abyss, eternal darkness, lake of fire: other references to Hell. The “lake of fire,” specifically, is where the Beast and the False Prophet will be imprisoned at the end of the Tribulation period; Satan will be cast into the lake of fire at the end of the Millennial Reign of Christ, along with all those whose names are not found in the Book of Life.

Aich Eee double hockeysticks (part 1)

Hello again, brothers and sisters!

Today, I wanted to write a little about Hell. There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to address this particular subject:

a)    It doesn’t get much attention in sermons.

b)    It can be a confusing subject, with many conflicting views expressed– even among evangelicals.

c)    Jesus talked about Hell more often than Heaven, which should give some indication as to its importance in His teachings.

d)    A great many people have romanticized the notion of Hell, and popular culture, art and philosophy have tended to downplay, rather than illuminate, the horrors of the place.

Now before I get too far along, I want to be clear that the reason I believe that the subject of hell doesn’t get much attention in sermons—at least in our church (and Pastor Reggie actually talks about it more often than most preachers I’ve heard in the last twenty years) —isn’t because anyone is “afraid” to preach or teach on it, as is the case in many churches. It is just a very, very complicated subject to approach in the context of a one-hour church service, or even in a Sunday school lesson plan. It’s also not the easiest of lessons to create an outline for; as stated before, it is a complicated subject that tends to engender a large amount of disagreement.

Bearing that in mind, there are a few guidelines that I’d like to lay out for this discussion. Of course, I am encouraging more thorough conversation about the subject, but these guidelines will tell you where I come from as I present the material—and I believe that this position is both theologically and philosophically sound.

First, Hell is a real, literal place of eternal suffering for people who have rejected Christ Jesus.

Second, Hell is a place of punishment, not a place where people are sent simply because God doesn’t want them around. (I will explain this point in some detail, especially as it pertains to popular culture.)

Third, Hell is the final destination of the unsaved, to which they will be consigned at the time of the Second Resurrection.

Fourth, the devil does not rule in Hell.

Fifth, there is no escape from Hell. All people live, die once and are then judged (in other words, there is no Purgatory or similar state into which the soul passes after temporal death).

I will not address the subject of Limbo, or specifically whether or not unsaved children go to Hell (as some denominations and other religions would have us believe), except to say that I believe it to be sound doctrine that children who have not reached the age of moral discernment are taken to Heaven at death; there is no sound theological or scriptural teaching that contradicts this idea. (It also exceeds the scope of the present conversation, although we may well address it later, if an interest in this topic is expressed).

 

So, I’ll start with some of the various views of Hell (this will be, by no means, an exhaustive list, but I believe it will cover the most prevalent ideas), after which I will attempt to narrow down the concepts until we have reached what should be a pretty good idea of its reality; we will discuss the specific teachings of Jesus on the subject of Hell; and finally, we will talk about the ways in which popular, secular culture has perverted the idea of Hell in ways that tend to romanticize, and even glorify, Hell in order to entice people into a state of fatuousness.

Thursday, I’ll begin by discussing the various names for Hell and its environs. See you there! (Thursday, I mean. Not the other place. I’m not going there, thank God.)

When the devil goes to Hahvahd…

I’m hanging out at the bookstore, perusing the Religion section, and I come across a book that purports to point out “glaring contradictions” in the Bible. I opened the book to a random page, and find that apparently, King David did not kill Goliath.

Huh?

I read further. According to this author, the Bible says in 2 Samuel 21:19, that “Elhanan… killed Goliath the Hittite.” But 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of how David killed Goliath! I thought to myself, “Quack.” Chuckling to myself, I meandered to the front of the store, managing to exit with my debit card lightened by a mere fifty dollars (a personal record).

Once I got home, I read the passage that Dr. Quack had cited, and… uh-oh. That can’t be right. Can’t be.

I went to the original Hebrew:

“struck Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite Goliath the Gittite and the wood of his spear like the beam weaver’s.” (Hebrew doesn’t read anything like English, as you may have guessed.)

Okay, so this was a puzzlement. But I know that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself; this needed more attention. Why would the Bible say that David killed Goliath, and then later relate that Elhanan was the one who slew the giant?

1 Chronicles 20:5 (and Strong’s Concordance) provided a clue.

And there was a war with the Phillistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of who’s spear was like a weaver’s beam.

Well, that clears things up. A little. I then looked at the authorship of both books. 1 Chronicles is believed to have been written by Ezra, in about 450-430 B.C. (David’s reign ended with his death in 971 B.C.). 1 and 2 Samuel are believed to be compilations of books written by Samuel, “Nathan the prophet,” and “Gad the seer.” Stylistic and grammatical evidence suggests that a single compiler used works by all three in assembling the Books of Samuel. It is surmised that 1 Samuel was written/compiled sometime between 931 and 722 B.C.

This didn’t clear things up, but it shed some light on a possible explanation. I did some more research, and I concluded the discrepancy was, at worst, a scribal error committed when copying the manuscript. (This conclusion is supported by Geisler and Howe, “Big Book of Bible Difficulties,” pp. 176,7). The 1 Chronicles record of the event clearly states that Elhanan slew Goliath’s brother. 1 Samuel is more contemporary to the event but may well have been passed down through oral tradition, or else was copied many times over. Also, it’s a compilation, not written by a single hand. The (probable) solution lies in the fact that Ezra would have had multiple sources of documentation that were not available to the editor of Samuel; in addition, rather than being a compilation of books written by several authors, 1  Chronicles is a single, contiguous work by a single author.

Remembering that the Bible is a literary work, a historical record and a message to mankind that is God-breathed but not dictated, I have no problem in seeing a minor textual error in this light. However, I’m a Christian. Imagine how this would have looked to a skeptic. In the book, it stated that this was one of the many “proofs” that the Bible is myth. Of course, this “scholar” didn’t bother to mention the record in 1 Chronicles; nor did he mention anything about the authorship. By writing in a manner that made it appear that his research is beyond scrutiny, and supported by the alphabet soup after his name, this guy was undermining a central character of not only the Old Testament, but of the Gospels, as well.

Well-educated quacks looking for book deals. The only means we have to defend ourselves is to know the Bible. By know it, I don’t mean that we should be able to quote Scripture. We need to know as much as possible; the historical context, the cultural context, the social context.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. ~II Peter 2:1-3