Is Hell Eternal Torture?

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Is Hell Eternal Torture?

17 August 2016 Hits:16141

I was talking to a couple from Bayside Church recently and they were telling me about a conversation they’d had with another Christian.  I guess they were just checking with me if what they were being told – on a number of subjects – was accurate or not.  One of the topics that came up was hell.  This couple had never heard that there are differing views amongst Christians about hell, its existence and its duration.  They’d always thought that every Christian believes in hell as separation from God that leads to unending, conscious torment.  I explained to them that there are three main views on hell.  It’s these views that I will briefly explain in this blog.  Each view is distinct because of the way they view the purpose of the fire of hell: whether the fire is torturing (traditionalist), purifying (restorationist), or consuming (conditionalist).

The Traditionalist View is the only one most Christians today have been taught.  It was what I heard when I converted to Christianity in my late teens and early 20s and I didn’t question it.  It’s what I was taught in Bible College and it was the one I’ve held to and taught over my 30 years as a pastor – but with increasing difficulty.  You see the traditional view teaches that hell is unending, conscious, agonising punishment for those who reject God’s salvation through Jesus – or for those who never accept Him even if they’ve never heard of Him.  Some Christian teachers and pastors have used the doctrine of hell to motivate believers to spread the Gospel:  “If people die without Jesus they go to a lost eternity.”  “If you were to die tonight do you know if you would go to heaven or would you be lost in hell?”  With the traditional view, hell is punitive and there’s no possibility of redemption, ever (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:10, 14-15).

The Restorationist View also called Universalism (and includes the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory) sees hell as a place of divine cleansing and ultimate redemption.  Like a father disciplining his child, hell is seen as a place where God corrects the wayward sinner until they see the error of their ways, repents and asks for forgiveness.  At that time the person’s punishment ends and they are allowed into the eternal kingdom of God because of the salvation Jesus has achieved for all people (Titus 2:11; Romans 1:16).  In the end, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10).

The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory states, “As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.”  Contemporary theology around purgatory talks about it being a personal encounter with God in order to ready God’s people for full union with him because of the effects of any unresolved sin that they may carry.  Thus purgatory is an experience of “cleansing” through Christ. Modern theology dispels ideas of painful fire, but rather speaks of purgatory at a moment when we are brought before the intense light of God, which “burns” away our blockages to him.  Any “pain” would only be the pain of seeing our sin before the absolute goodness of God, which is now revealed to us in full light.

The Conditionalist View (also called annihilationism) is the view of hell as a conditional or temporary situation for those who die without accepting Jesus’ salvation.  This view is once again finding increasing support amongst those who find an inconsistency between the doctrines of everlasting punishment and of a God of love, grace and forgiveness.  John Stott, one of the Evangelical church’s most influential leaders of last century, leaned towards the conditionalist view towards the end of his life.  He wrote these words concerning eternal hell, “I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.”  To many people the traditional view of hell appears to be totally inconsistent with the character of God who asks us to forgive our enemies, be merciful and turn the other check – does God not practice what He preaches?

When speaking of the fate of unrepentant people, the Bible uses words such as death, ruin, perishing and destruction.  The symbolism of fire suggests being consumed rather than being endlessly tortured.  In this view, “eternal punishment” refers to the results of the judgment being everlasting rather than the person being endlessly punished.  The judgment on the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is used as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire (see Jude 7).  The cities were annihilated and the result of their punishment was eternal.

The traditional view can be traced back to the philosopher Plato who viewed the human soul as indestructible.  But the Bible does not teach the immortality of the human soul.  In fact, the Scriptures say, “God alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16) that’s why eternal life is a gift granted because of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:23) in which He “tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

I have written this blog to educate people to the fact that there is more than one view on the subject of hell.  I encourage you to study the Scriptures and, if you’re interested in knowing more, read widely on the various views before making your own mind up.  Whatever you believe never use it to generate fear in others, or as an excuse to live a sloppy life.  We don’t love God because we want to escape hell.  We love Him because He first loved us.

Suggested Reading

Four Views on Hell (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Zondervan)

The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (Edward William Fudge)

The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis)

 

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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36 replies on “Is Hell Eternal Torture?”

Tal Spinradsays:

Okay, as a Jew, we do not have a concept of hell, what strikes me is the acceptance of the concept that it is evil not to accept Jesus as saviour. Rob, how can this not “flavour” how Christians view non-Christians?

Rob Buckinghamsays:

That’s a great question Tal and you’re right. The Hebrew Scriptures have no doctrine or concept of hell. I also understand that we Christians can sound very arrogant because we believe salvation is only found in Jesus. But that is what most Christians believe.

Andrewsays:

Accepting Jesus is not a good deed it means accepting his sacrifice which is received by faith

Manuel Gallardosays:

What is the correct view on hell? I have loved ones who are atheists and some whose beliefs I don’t know about and it pains me to think they would suffer eternally or that I won’t see them in heaven.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Hi Manuel. Thank you for your question and I completely understand your desire to see your loved ones again. None of us can bear the thought that those we love would be suffering for eternity. I find great comfort in Abraham’s statement to God in Genesis 18:25, “You are the judge of all the earth, and you do what is right.”

Raysays:

Balanced article. Like!

Steve Bryarsays:

I tend to favour the view that hell is a place where God is totally absent. As Biblical writers used a lot of hyperbole to illustrate their point I personally believe that hellfire is more illustrative than real. Sadly reaction from fundamentalists and Universalists is equally horrific. Fundamentalists try to label everyone from Catholics to LGBTI people as heading straight to hell and don’t collect $200 when you bi pass go. Universalists have tended to label Yahweh as a monster God which has led to subtle antisemitism on their part. I believe in consequences for choices made but God does look on the heart and there will be many in the people groups fundamentalists don’t like who will be sharing eternity with God. Jesus came to die for all but we have a choice in either accepting or rejecting that gift.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Thanks for your comments Steve. I’ve heard the statement many times about hell being a place where God is absent but I’m trying to work out how an Omnipresent being can be absent from anywhere?? One of the proof texts used by traditionalists for the doctrine of hell is Rev. 14:10, “They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” So if Jesus (The Lamb) is God and is present how can hell be a place where God is absent?

Steve Bryarsays:

I agree Rob and are there good books on the subject in regard to the overall doctrine of hell? I really struggle with the Universalist view of no hell and or purgatory view of hell but I also struggle with the fundamentalist view of eternal firey torment and torture. Strangely both those people groups are quite awful in the way they defend their view. Would love some good books on the subject.

Steve Bryarsays:

Hi Rob, looked at your book lists and assume these give a good overview on the subject.

Tim Durrantsays:

“Those people groups are quite awful in the way they defend their view.”

What are these people teaching, exactly, Steve? Jesus makes it pretty clear in Luke 16:27–30 that we all have sufficient warning about the reality of hell.

Are those books providing a nice comfortable glossing over of hell or do they line up with what Jesus said?

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Although there is conjecture amongst Christians whether this is a parable or a real story that really happened, it seems evident from a number of details in the story that it is a parable – for example, if you were burning in torment it would take more than someone dipping their finger in water to cool your tongue. Also, how could the saints enjoy the comforts of heaven while enduring the cries of the wicked being tormented but across the divide?

The parables of Jesus are ALWAYS about identification – who or what in the story do you identify with? In this case do you identify with the Rich Man or Lazarus? The rich man refers to Father Abraham which identifies him as a Jew. God had called the Jews to be “a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6). But the Jews had not shared their spiritual wealth with the Gentiles at all. Instead, they considered them as “dogs” that would have to be satisfied with the spiritual crumbs falling from their masters’ tables.

Lazarus, the poor beggar, represents anyone in need. The rich man represents anyone who has the ability to meet the need but chooses not to. Jesus is addressing the Pharisees in this story (14) because they acted like the rich man. He was challenging them to behave differently but of course most of them never heeded the message.

Jesus was not trying to explain the physical realities of the afterlife in this parable. Instead, He was referring to the unfaithfulness of the Jews regarding their assigned responsibility. As stewards of the special message of truth, they utterly failed to share it with the Gentiles, who were eager to hear it. In fact, the entire chapter of Luke 16 is devoted to the subject of stewardship.

Jansays:

Regarding your comment re ‘hell’ being a place where God is absent, please refer to Psalm 16 v 10 and Psalm 139 v 8. The correct rendering here is ‘Sheol’ (Hebrew word for Hell). Unfortunately many translations have translated ‘grave” or ‘in the depths’ which are incorrect. Our Saviour will search out people even in Sheol until each one is finally restored. There is no place where God isn’t. Wicked people may spend eons in the Lake of Fire before they willingly submit to the love of the Saviour but ultimately all will be restored. He is the Good Shepherd who came to seek & to save. He will accomplish his purpose. Love never fails.

Dave Michaelsonsays:

Jan, where in Scripture does it say the “Saviour will search out people even in Sheol until each one is finally restored?”
I believe upon his death, Jesus did descend to Sheol (bosom of Abraham) to liberate the likes of Abraham, Moses, etc. who were waiting in Sheol.
However after God’s final judgement, I can find nowhere in Scripture supporting your claim of universalism (otherwise known as the “beautiful heresy”.).

Petersays:

Hi Jan, Sheol is not a Hebrew word for hell. The Jewish culture had no concept of hell. Sheol is the place when people died (both good and bad) went. Faithful Jacob was in Sheol. Job wanted to go there. Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah and the flood, people of Sodom & Gomorrah in fact no where in the OT does Father mention hell to anyone. Even after the most wicked of sins. We need to make sure that our ideas concerning Sheol and hades come from the Bible and not Greek mythology or Septuagint translators..

Geoff Rusesays:

Our view of hell should not be based on what we think a just God looks like as we are limited in our knowledge of all things.
Mark 9:43 says “hell, where the fire never goes out.”
Jesus never mentions an escape clause, a cleansing opportunity, or the possibility of annihilation.
Why not?
Jesus is the creator of the universe and clearly brought to mankind the love of the Godhead. Did he forget to mention the loving alternatives of purgatory or total destruction only leaving vague interpreted possibilities if we ignore the many direct and clear teachings of hell.
Is it possible that the traditional view is correct even when we don’t like or understand it fully, or do we put our personal views ahead of the literal words of the bible.
I agree that using fear to illustrate who God is fails to represent His amazing love for us, but giving false hope or an alternative to the saving work of Jesus, dying for all mankind could be the alternate deception.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Geoff, if you’re serious about your study of God’s Word on this subject I suggest you have a read of the five books I’ve listed. This subject is not as simple as quoting one statement by Jesus.

Dave Michaelsonsays:

How is it not that simple, Rob?
I’ve been reading through one of your recommended books above, and the author is convinced that hell doesn’t even exist.
Was Jesus wrong?

Alan Finchsays:

I certainly agree with Rob about the fact that this subject is not as simple as quoting one statement from JESUS. I have written a 24 page article going into great Scriptural detail, which started 4 years ago. Whenever I think that I have finally finished writing the article, the Lord continues to give me more to add to the article.

“WOW,” I was taught and believed that multitudes upon multitudes of humans will suffer “eternal torment” for 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and it goes on and on with no hope of it ever ending. I am certain that each one of us, deep inside of our very being, know that something just does not add up concerning this picture, but we just can’t quite figure out what is it that we are not understanding correctly.

The true biblical teaching is neither the traditional Christian view of hell, nor the view of annihilation. Our great God is neither a great torturer nor a great annihilator, but He is the great Saviour of the world.

The mystery of the finished work of Christ on the Cross will one day reveal the perfect plan of God for the entire human race, which does not include “eternal torment” or “eternal annihilation” for one single person!

Bellsays:

The Bible is simple in that it is written for simple people down through history to take it at face value. Jesus spoke a lot about hell being the place of eternal fire where the worm never dies.
It is very dangerous for you to be suggesting the Bible and the words of Christ Himself are not enough to teach us on this important subject.
And by the way , universalism is a heresy!

Nomadsays:

You are ignorant of what Jesus was saying regarding their worm shall not die. He was quoting Isaiah who was speaking of corpses

Nomadsays:

Thats actually untrue scripture doesn’t say hello fire never go out. You are reading a translation that fits your belief. The Greek says they are unquenchable meaning they can not be put out. Scripture also speaks of the gates of Jerusalem in unquenchable fire. Jeremiah 17:27

Marksays:

Great article! Though I don’t understand the difference between The Restorationist View and The Conditionalist View. Hell seems to be conditional or temporary situation until Jesus is used as a passport to get out (for both views). According to scripture, after Jesus second coming, Earth will become paradise and Satan destroyed. Will hell also be destroyed at this time?

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Hi Mark. The blog is just a summary of the three main views. There’s a suggested reading list at the end of the blog for those who want to understand more.

Marksays:

Thanks Pastor Rob. Though Ashi and myself recently bought a heap of books from Koorong (Blackburn) so our budget is a bit low at the moment. But I’m very much looking forward to your blogs on the book of revelations 🙂

Robert Hergotsays:

I can send you my book “The Dark Fire” if you want another view that hell is for the glory of God’s justice – not eternal torment or annihilation but a middle point where the reprobate are preserved dead in their shame and abhorrence for all eternity as a memorial of God’s perfect justice forever.

Jeff Hammondsays:

Hi Rob, the way you describe the Restorationist or Universalist view seems to paint the picture of God using horrific punishment to torture people into submission. Once they have submitted, then they will be forgiven and admitted to Heaven. Sounds very much like the Islamic concept held by the Ahmadiyya as well as some Sunni and Shi’a sects that hell is a temporary and purifying punishment where ultimately all get saved. It doesn’t paint a very good picture of a loving God. If that is true, then why risk our lives sharing the Gospel with Muslims, Communists and others? I understand the pain of John Stott’s position on the thought of an eternal torment in hell, but also know that it was that very position that caused me to throw myself down at the feet of Jesus and to cry out to Him for mercy and forgiveness to save such a wicked sinner like me. O what divine love I experienced when He pulled me out of the wretched quagmire of sin, imparted His love and grace and accepted me as His child. O what a wonderful Saviour! What amazing grace!

Greg Newmansays:

I grew up on the ‘traditionalist’ view. I found it hard to understand the concept that say a Adolf Hitler, Stalin and my ‘very nice’ bit ‘unsaved’ neighbours would all be punished equally and eternally in hell. Just giving a simplistic illustration. I think I’m now leaning towards the thoughts of Edward Fudge (‘The Fire That Consumes’) that yes … of course there is a hell (that can’t be denied). Yes, there is a punishment with eternal consequences for those that reject Jesus but the length and degree of that punishment would probably vary with the individual – but eventualy their soul will be annihilated or destroyed (perish). But as Christians we have the gift of eternal life and our spirit will live on forever. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The unbeliever will sadly “perish’ – that’s different to burn forever and ever.”

Johnsays:

Is it any wonder that there is so much confusion out there? If there is no certainty about what we believe as Christians, what certainty is there about anything? Are we to believe what we have been taught all our lives by, who we assume and trust are, men and women of God or do we change our views based on thoughts and opinions that perhaps sit more comfortably with the changing views of society? If God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, how can there be so many disparate and ever-changing views on His Word?
Is there hope for the dammed in Hell? Human compassion would certainly warrant such a hope. Are the eternal fires, weeping and gnashing of teeth spoken of by our Lord metaphoric? Are they real, but carry with them the hope of escape for repentant souls in Hell? Again – human compassion could only dare to hope. After all, it has happened before. Didn’t Jesus descend into Hell and ‘rescue’ souls once before? Will He do it again, or was that a one time reprieve granted to those who died before Christ?
Do I have trouble with a God who sends ‘good’ people to Hell? We are told that Hell is supposedly full of ‘good’ people. Yes, I have trouble with that – but that is from the tiny mind of a human, created by a loving God whose mind is infinitely superior. I cannot be so arrogant as to assume that I know God’s mind.
As a sinner saved by grace, my soul grieves for the lost – whatever their fate, for I know that but for the grace of God, I am deserving of a similar fate. Whether their fate includes a ‘punishment’ that is permanent or temporary, real or metaphorical, should we not rather concern ourselves with sharing God’s love and the grace brought about by Jesus’ sacrifice that others may be spared that fate than to ponder the nature of the fate itself? As for me, I like certainties. I don’t like changing goal posts. I will continue to believe what I believe because it is what I believe God’s Word says.
One day we will all know the truth. I’d rather err on the side of caution though than to second guess the Father’s mind.

Joh Archersays:

κόλασιν αἰώνιον = eternal punishment
ζωὴν αἰώνιον = eternal life
aion and aionos definitely can mean “age” or “period of time,” they also mean “eternal.” The word’s context helps us to determine its meaning. So if we assume that these words primarily mean “age” or “period of time,” what happens when we apply that definition to John 3:16 where aionos is used?
For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life for a period of time.
Not as encouraging, is it?

Dave Michaelsonsays:

Nice copy and paste Joh!
(from http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book).

Rob Bell sees hell as just a “pit stop” on the way to Heaven. He is a heretic and an example of what Paul warned us about:

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[ teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
–2 Timothy 4:2-4

Bellsays:

Yes I also was reminded of heretic Rob Bell when I read this blog article. Alarm bells ring when someone starts to deconstruct the Word of God, ie “did God really say?” See Genesis 3

John A. Mooresays:

Hi Rob, I heard you speaking on Vision radio this afternoon. I think we can agree that God while being a loving God, also is a just and holy God. This creates the problem that sin (as in a sin covered person) cannot exist in His presence no matter how much He loves them and wants them to enter Heaven.
If anyone (covered in sin) could enter Heaven then there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the Cross. But as sin is the problem, God showed His ultimate love for us, by allowing Jesus to die on the Cross, so that all who accept him as Saviour can be washed clean by His shed blood, follow Him and eventually enter Heaven
But because He has given us freewill, it is our choice whether we accept His gift or not. We then have to live with the consequences.
I have often read that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell, it is where they rebel against Him and choose to go.
As for saying we shouldn’t frighten people by mentioning Hell, by my experience it is the one thing that has initially caught people’s attention at the same time telling people how much Jesus’ sacrifice shows how much God loves them. At the moment I believe the Church has so watered down the Gospel, stressing God is an overwhelming God of love, so much so that the general population believes that everyone automatically goes to Heaven, which is a great travesty and the reason interest in Christianity is so far down.

I have written a booklet called “What Have You Chosen?” a .PDF copy can be read at http://www.whathaveyouchosen.com.au as well as in English, it is also available in Spanish and Farsi. You might like to have a look at it

Paulsays:

If Christians beleved that everyone who is not a Christian goes to eternal misery, then even with the most basic of decency, we would do nothing at all but evangelise in some form or another. We wouldn’t try to grow businesses, go on holidays, try to pay off houses, earn pensions, pursue careers, etc. in the name of love, the cost would be infinitely too extreme to do anything else.
So if I meet someone who believes in eternal misery and at the same time pursues any of the above things, the selfishness staggers me.
Just another point. How can anyone honestly love a cruel god?

Billsays:

Overall for a all knowing God to create life knowing a huge magnitude of his living creation would end up in Hell, eternel torture forever is rediculous. So what that means is those in heaven won’t be tourmented by knowing that’s what’s going on as they live in style and joy. It all seems no different then the way people think in this modern world. The elite above the poor and starving. It seems nothings going to change much. So what thats saying is the majority of Gods creation will be in hell suffering severe torture day and night forever, and God being all knowing knew this. It seems very obvious to me there is a major tranlation error.

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