Whatever Happened to Hell?

A recent report about religion in America found that while most Americans believed in heaven, a lesser amount believed in hell. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 74 per cent of Americans believed in heaven, but only around 60 per cent believed in hell.

Of course this should not be surprising. Most people think they are going to heaven. Most people do not think they are going to hell. Most people think they are good enough and should be going to heaven. Most people do not think they are bad enough to be going to hell.

This is simply a reflection of the spirit of the times. A nation that has rejected its Judeo-Christian roots is now left with a spiritual smorgasbord of beliefs, and a relativistic view of truth and morality. The report, called the “US Religious Landscape Survey” also found that 79 per cent of Americans believe that miracles occur. It also said that of those who pray on a regular basis, 31 per cent claim God answers their prayers at least once a month, and around 20 per cent of Americans said they receive direct answers to prayer requests at least once a week.

Commenting on the heaven and hell figures, one of the Pew researchers said, “Once upon a time, belief in heaven and hell were very closely related and in many people’s views were two sides of the same coin. That does not seem to be the case anymore. Many more people believe in heaven than believe in hell.” He surmised that Americans today viewed God as “someone who is merciful, generous and forgiving” rather than as “a judge who punishes people”.

Of course. Who wouldn’t? If we reject the self-disclosure of God as found in Jesus and the Bible, then we will always go for the easy option. And the idea of a God as an easy-going chap, a sort of celestial Jeeves who is always there to do our bidding is a lot more appealing than a God who is in fact God, and will hold us to account for what we believe and the way we live our lives.

But once again it all comes down to the question of authority. This is not the place to make the case for the truthfulness of the Christian worldview. But if the Christian truth claims are in fact what we are holding onto, then of course we need to take the whole package, not just those bits and pieces which appeal to us.

It is – or should be – well known that Jesus spoke more about hell and everlasting punishment than anyone else in the whole Bible. He of course also spoke a lot about grace, mercy and forgiveness. While some Americans apparently have a problem holding the two together simultaneously, the Bible does not. Indeed, God throughout Scripture is portrayed as a loving and gracious God, as well as a holy and righteous judge.

Unfortunately too much fuzzy thinking has been allowed to go unchallenged concerning the biblical view of God. One common ploy is to argue that there are two Gods: the harsh, judgmental God of the Old Testament, and the loving, kind Jesus of the New.

But this just does not work. In truth, the holy and just judge of all things found in the Old Testament is also the merciful, longsuffering God. The OT passages describing the holiness, wrath and sternness of God are easily found. Here are just a few:

-“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” (Deut. 31:17)
-“God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” (Psalm 7:11)
-“So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezek 22:31)

But so too are those OT passages which depict God as a gracious, compassionate lover. Consider just a few:
-“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:13)
-“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.” (Psalm 103:17)
-“The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” (Psalm 145:8)
-“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23-24)

One of the classic passages in this regard is Hosea 11:1-9. It is worth quoting in full:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”

Things are the same in the New Testament. Jesus demonstrates grace, love, forgiveness and mercy throughout his earthly ministry. Examples of this are really not needed here – his life and work should be well enough known.

But consider also Jesus the judge, Jesus who displays the same wrath against sin as Yahweh in the Old Testament did. He is not always the meek and mild Jesus. “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” (Mark 3:5) “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said.” (Mark 8:33)

The cleaning of the temple is a classic case of his divine anger. “And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables.” (John 2:15)

Of course the book of Revelation is all about the Lamb of God who becomes the judge of the universe, his fury poured out on those who reject him. Consider just one description of Jesus in this book: “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” (Rev. 19:15)

And the warnings of Jesus about hell and future punishment are as numerous as they are sobering. Here are a few of the many passages where Jesus speaks to this:
-“But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 8:12)
-“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mat 25:41)
-“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 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.” (Luke 12:4-5)
-“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)

And as John Piper reminds us, these warnings about hell are not to be seen as some abstract, natural consequences for rejecting God. Jesus “calls hell ‘punishment’ (Matt 25:46). It is not a mere self-imposed natural consequence (like cigarette smoking leading to lung cancer); it is the penalty of God’s wrath (like a judge sentencing a criminal to hard labor). The images Jesus uses of how people come to be in hell do not suggest natural consequences but the exercise of just wrath.”

Now those who think hell is unloving or unjust need to bear a few things in mind. Sin is the most monstrous thing there is, because God is the most wonderful, holy and pure thing there is. Punishment of sin is something a just and holy God must insist upon. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has taken our place, and suffered the punishment we deserved, so that we might be able to receive the free gift of salvation.

But if we reject that free gift, and reject the giver of that free gift, we close off all other options, and are choosing hell for ourselves. We are saying as Milton said in Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

The only people who find themselves in hell are those who ultimately choose to be there. God has made every provision for us to escape hell. So if we end up there, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves. As CS Lewis wisely put it, “There are two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell, chose it.”

Given the utter urgency of our eternal destiny, we desperately need to get back to the H word. We need again to preach hell, as part of the whole council of God. We help no one by ignoring or downplaying this most important doctrine.

[1781 words]

32 Replies to “Whatever Happened to Hell?”

  1. Nicely done, Bill. The C.S. Lewis quote, and the corresponding passage is extremely compelling. It shows the truth of the matter; that people reject God. God doesn’t reject them. God does love us, and he leaves us to choose where we ultimately want to spend eternity. That is, in a sense, incredible grace. His creation is incredibly free.

    As you would be aware, Carson has an interesting chapter in ‘The Gagging of God’ on this very topic. I recommend everyone seek it out if you haven’t already.

    Also, if we, as Carson puts it, ‘banish the Lake of Fire’, then the magnitude of what Christ has achieved on the cross is undermined and diminished, to the point where it leaves it pointless. This could be why people are not seeing a need for Christ; they seem to think there is nothing to be saved from.

    Simon Kennedy, VIC

  2. And, I can’t help but say that heaven won’t be a place of having your own harem of virgins.

    Since God is holy, of course, there will be no adultery, and there is “no marriage and giving in marriage,”(Matthew 22:30) Now maybe a mansion of my favourite cross stitch. already framed on the wall, I could look forward to. No? Much too selfish…

    Rebecca Field

  3. Hi Bill, I wonder how many out there have heard people say Hell no! when they do not believe in Hell.
    Stan Fishley

  4. Where is help to come from? To whom do parents, and those who look after the young, old and vulnerable look for help? We might look to the raising up of a great, political leader to come and get us out of this mess, someone whose integrity, honesty and trustworthiness are beyond question; but herein lies our problem. Unless he (or she) is corrupt and evil like us, he (or she) will inevitably come to hate all that we do and think, but if he (or she) is not a pure and absolutely just authority then we are also lost. The world is in such a worsening state that only a ruler whose standards of moral integrity are humanly impossible will be able to save us from self – destruction. As C.S. Lewis said, “He, the source of all our justice and goodness, would not only be the only comfort, he would also be the supreme terror; the person we must need and the person we most want to hide from. He would be our only possible ally, and we would make ourselves his enemy.”

    But worst of all is that even if we wanted to change our ways, we have neither the power within us or will to change.

    Let us imagine that somewhere, there was an unbelievably rich, joy -filled and beautiful country – one that no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor mind has conceived, beyond anything we could imagine. Imagine that its ruler exercised power, authority and justice beyond anything seen anywhere in the world but that due to a historical association he had a special relationship with the people of our country. Imagine that in spite of hating everything about the way we thought and acted, he cared deeply for us. He knew that we had come under the powerful and evil influence of a tyrant who exerted enormous control over our minds and wills.
    Imagine that He decided to send his only son, like a secret agent, so as to show what life could really be like. Imagine that this son left his father, the riches and privileges to which he was entitled and lived amongst us, the life of a vagrant, spending his entire life, walking, teaching, healing, raising the dead and sharing with the rejects and scum of our society – but always having to dodge the tyrant’s agents who, learning of his existence, were out to kill him.
    Imagine that his life in every way, in wisdom, words spoken, and miraculous deeds revealed his unique purity and goodness whilst at the same time exposing all our rottenness. Imagine that we wanted him, for our own selfish reasons to lead a revolt against the tyrant so that we, the people could be in power, but imagine that realising that he was not going to be used in this way, we rejected and handed him over to the authorities and, on trumped up charges, had him publicly humiliated, scourged and crucified on a cross, the most cruel execution known to mankind. What reaction do you think his father would have?

    But the incredible truth is that this is no fairy tale but real history. Added to our other sins, we did put to death the most perfect human being who has ever lived. Bearing in mind what we did to the Japanese at Hiroshima and the Germans at Dresden in order to stop a World War, what do we think his father would do to such as us? We were already condemned, even before He came to help us, but with the enormity of this further crime, we are beyond all help. We deserve a hell that is as real as Belsen but infinitely worse, whatever shape of form that may be; but the most amazing thing is that as a result of his death on the cross we will never have to face that hell.

    http://www.anglicantv.org/blog/index.cfm/2006/12/4/Archbishop-Greg-Venables-speaks-to-Diocese-of-San-Joaquin ( slide bar to precisely 06. 40)

    David Skinner, UK

  5. Bill,

    What timing! I just did a short post on forgiveness yesterday over at my blog that includes a scene from the TV series ‘ER’, where a man who is dying of cancer makes some rather frank remarks in the face of postmodern gobbledygook.

    . . . all I’m hearing is some new age “God is love” one-size-fits-all crap.

    . . . I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real Hell.

    . . . I need answers, and all your questions and your uncertainty are only making things worse.

    . . . I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness, because I am running out of time!

    I recommend people watch the clip. It’s quite moving.

    Duane Proud

  6. I suspect (but cannot prove) that God’s anger will be directed mostly towards those who misrepresent Him to others. That’s what was most wrong about the scenario in the temple and why Jesus had to drive them out — instead of demonstrating God’s heart of love and grace, they had set it up to “rob” people of their offerings (e.g. “No, your offering is no good, you need one of our Pharisee-approved doves if you want God’s forgiveness”). Something like that anyway I expect. Ditto for those who cause little ones to stumble (millstone around the neck would be better).

    Hell is a really problematic bit of theology for me. I do struggle with the idea of a vengeful God. But perhaps Hell, when all is boiled down, is really just a place where God isn’t (in some respect). If people want to be separated from God, don’t want to be with Him, then that’s where He puts them.

    After all … he’s not a tame Lion …

    Steve Frost, Melbourne

  7. Thanks Steve

    Yes, in one sense, hell is simply the absence of God. If God is the source of all that is good, pure, loving, kind, light and beautiful, and people reject God, then they are left with an absence of all those things. So yes, hell will be the opposite of all God is, thus a pretty dark, ugly and miserable place. In other words, if heaven is all about entering the presence of God, hell is all about being excluded from the presence of God.

    But as Piper and many others point out, hell is not some mere abstract mechanism, like the law of karma (BTW, see my debate with a Swami here on karma: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1998/08/31/affirming-responsibility-in-an-age-of-irresponsibility/ ). The wrath of God is clearly personal, not abstract, and is an expression of his holy and pure nature. See Rev. 14:10-11 as just one of many passages here.

    And hell is also a fully just outcome for those who reject God and commit the greatest sin, idolatry. The nature and gravity of sin must be set against the One sinned against: an eternal, holy and infinite God. Hell is the just consequence for those who defy the true and living God, and seek to take his place. And we must always bear in mind that God is a relentless lover pursuing us, wooing us, and pleading with us to turn from self and sin, to avoid the final Day of Judgment.

    And such judgment is not personal vindictiveness on God’s part, but the complement to his love and holiness. His judgment is both loving and redemptive. He has done all he can for us to avoid final judgment, but we decide where our eternal destiny will be.

    So yes, there is no question that the biblical doctrine of hell seems difficult, certainly to our finite and fallen minds. It is a doctrine, as has been said, that we should preach/teach only with tears in our eyes. But it is one that we must preach and teach.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Thank you Jonathan Safarti for this post – not exactly a tupp’ny ‘ap’ny read but one which shows that we must never raise respected teachers like John Stott above the authority of the Bible. I am reminded of the words of an ex -pastor of mine and biblical expositor, Jim Graham, who used to say that if he ever thought we were exchanging the Bible for his preaching he would pack it in.

    I also believe that the airbrushing of a living death, let alone living sacrifice, from the Bible, gets rid of the concept of sin and the need for retribution. This is having enormous practical consequences in schools where educational psychologists have all but erased from the consciences of children any sense of morality, guilt and the need for holy fear. Smacking of children is almost universally a crime.

    Since we no longer burn witches and heretics means that, in the minds of many, such sins no longer exist. In the same way, because we no longer hang murderers or administer corporal punishment to rebellious and defiant children means that murderers and recalcitrant children no longer exist. In the minds of those who consider themselves more civilised, enlightened, sophisticated and more in tune with the evolutionary humanist values of the 21st century, this must be so. For them murder and delinquent behaviour are seen to be merely functions of deprivation, bad housing, education and lack of access to drug therapy, a slump in the American housing market, or a rise in the price of oil. With social and chemical engineering and evolutionary progress, they believe that they will be able to create a progressive society that runs as smoothly and efficiently as a Clockwork Orange. Yet all the time society descends further into barbarism, with crimes being committed now by children that were unheard of even by adults.

    Fear is a God-given instinct. It is essential to self preservation; it saves one from plunging over a cliff, swimming in crocodile-infested waters and even from driving too fast wherever speed cameras have been installed. Yet we deliberately deprive our children from developing a healthy fear of danger and facing up to the potentially painful consequences of their own foolish behaviour. The rising crime rate amongst teenagers and juniors can no longer be attributed to harsh discipline, because this generation has never experienced them. What is cruel and harsh is to allow children to develop such ungovernable characters that the only way of dealing with them, instead of taking early action before they got anywhere near the edge, is to lock them up in prison. Proverbs 23:13-14 and 13:24, plus the classic Hebrews 12:4-12.

    The definition of hell as mere separation from God is exactly the same as threatening naughty children with being excluded from a school trip. For some, this is no big deal. When I was a child it wasn’t the treat of which one was being deprived but the receiving of something sharp and painful, punishment, done in love, that focused the attention. This is echoed in Deuteronomy and the way God dealt with Israel: If you do this, this will happen and conversely if you do that, that will happen. There is no mere absence of reward but positive punishment.

    Canadian Michael D. O’Brien says ‘How long will it take for our people to understand that when humanist sentiments replace moral absolutes, it is not long before very idealistic people begin to invade human families in the name of the family, and destroy human lives in the name of humanity? This is the idealist’s greatest temptation, the temptation by which nations and cultures so often fall. The wielder of power is deluded into thinking he can remould reality into a less unkind condition. If he succeeds in convincing his people of the delusion and posits for them an enemy of the collective good, then unspeakable evils can be released in society. Those who share a mass-delusion rarely recognise it as such, and can pursue the most heinous acts in a spirit of self-righteousness.’

    Those who demand that we accept Christ’s forgiveness by being made to jump in an attitude of super spiritual and reverential love as opposed to accepting it out of a lower, raw sense of self preservation are forgetting that God put that sense of self-preservation there in the first place. He longs that none of us would be lost and does not mind how we come to accept Christ’s sacrificial death. This is not to say that a love, recognition and appreciation for what he has done will not be demanded, but this takes more than a life -time. Please, someone put me right if I am wrong.

    David Skinner, UK

  9. Bill I found one of the verses you quoted particularly interesting, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mat 25:41)

    Indeed I believe I remember reading/listening about this recently. That verse makes an important point. The devil and his angels have sinned such that they are now corrupted to be incapable of repentance and are beyond God’s forgiveness. But God did not create the eternal fire of hell with the intention of sending us there. Indeed the Bible says that God desires that none should perish. But God is holy and those who are not forgiven, as much as it grieves him, he must punish.

    This is a key reason for the urgency of the call to preach the gospel. God would prefer to be merciful than to punish with his wrath, a principle demonstrated throughout the Bible.

    Bill I don’t believe it’s scriptural to say that we may “avoid the final Day of Judgment.” I believe God will judge everyone, he will condemn some and spare others.

    I agree with your comment “we must always bear in mind that God is a relentless lover pursuing us, wooing us, and pleading with us to turn from self and sin”

    It is important to not get too overwhelmed by what we must not do. If we focus on what we are to do, a vision, then will avoid a lot of what we are not to do.

    The Bible tells us that we are to pursue peace with all men and holiness without which none of us will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)

    I am listening to a CD series on this verse by Derek Prince called “What is Holiness?” at the moment and would recommend it.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  10. Bill, your quoting of Psalm 7:11 above reminded me of a saying of Leonard Ravenhill’s: Don’t tell people that God loves them until you first tell them that He is ‘angry with the wicked every day’.

    Society has lost the fear of God and of Hell because it was first lost in the church.

    Ewan McDonald.

  11. “Sin is the most monstrous thing there is, because God is the most wonderful, holy and pure thing there is.”

    Well said Bill

    Robert Phillips

  12. It is always hard to explain what Hell is about.
    The absence of God is the essence of Hell but it still doesn’t explain why there is so much suffering and punishment associated with Hell.
    When I was in my 20’s a Priest I know gave me a very real and clear understanding of the nature of Hell and it is the only way I can appreciate the seriousness of the concept of Hell.

    Going to Hell is our choice and can only come about through the exercise of our free will.
    If we reject God in our life and maintain this at the point of death then at the instant of our death we come before God in the full knowledge that we have freely chosen to reject him. We see him in all of His Glory and Majesty and we, as full spirits capable of understanding the true nature of God, know with absolute clarity what we have rejected.
    Hell is the eternal state of pain and suffering which flows from knowing the Glory of God and knowing that through our free choice we rejected God and we separated ourselves from Him.
    A Hell of fire and brimstone would be bearable but a Hell created by ourselves through our free choice and through knowing what we have rejected is truly terrible.

    God clearly doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell but if we choose Hell then God as a righteous God and as an all loving God is properly full of anger towards those who have rejected Him and his Son and His Spirit.

    I don’t know where or how the above fits into the theological debate about Hell but it has always appealed to me to be a simple yet sound way of understanding the truth about the reality of Hell.

    John Ryan

  13. Hi Bill,

    I have often wondered if there is a Heaven and/or Hell would a persons soul have an “awareness” of being there? If so, in what form would this take?

    Ben Green

  14. Thanks Ben

    According to the biblical version of events, yes there will be complete conscious awareness of who we are and where we are in both destinations.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  15. Hi All

    When scripture presents the doctrine of Hell it is often in stark opposition to Heaven, both are eternal in extent as we are created eternal, both are also conscious. In both locations we will have a fully informed conscience.

    In heaven we will praise and glorify God for what he has done for us being fully aware we DO NOT deserve to be there after realizing the full extent of our sin and deprivation. However, those in Hell will recognize their clear rejection of God, their depravity of Sin and their many lost opportunities to repent from their sin of unbelief.

    But just as Heaven and Hell are presented as completely opposite in scripture, yet maintaining their conscious externality to the lost and saved, in like manner will be the joy of Heaven in contrast to the torment of Hell.

    In heaven there will be no pain, in Hell there will be no end of it, in Heaven there will be no grief, in Hell grief is ever present, in Heaven will we have bodies glorified, in Hell their worm dieth not, in Heaven is eternal joy, in Hell eternal suffering, etc.

    Brethren, please bring the Gospel to all, for God’s sake, let there be non that have not heard the truth of God and his desire to save that which is lost. evangelize your children, do not trust another to do it, evangelize your friends, bring them recognition of their sin, preach the Law, for the Law brings the knowledge of sin, preach Christ Crucified, for without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin.


    Edi Giudetti

  16. Hi Bill,

    I am not sure how consciousness can exist outside the physical. I have never seen an example of this.

    Ben Green

  17. Thanks Ben

    Assuming you are referring to the afterlife in your query, the biblical material is somewhat scant. There will be a general resurrection of the dead, with eternal, conscious existence for both believers and nonbelievers. But there seems to be an intermediate period between our physical death and the resurrection. Our souls continue in conscious awareness and identity.

    Just as Christ came back from the dead with a new physical body (similar, yet different to his first physical body), so too believers will have new glorified bodies, to live in forever. Not all of this is clearly and fully delineated in Scripture, but that is the general thrust.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Assuming that wasn’t all Ben was referring to – and for the sake of argument – it seems to me that consciousness, like logic, has no physical properties.

    So when Ben says, “I am not sure how consciousness can exist outside the physical”, I am wondering how one would even demonstrate the physical properties of consciousness. Evidence of consciousness may manifest itself in physical ways, but consciousness itself isn’t physical. Am I missing something?

    Duane Proud

  19. Thanks Duane

    Ben’s original question had to do with consciousness in the afterlife. But yes, more can be said about all this. In philosophy we speak of the mind/body problem. What is the connection between nonmaterial thoughts and the material brain? How do the two connect or interact?

    Of course an atheist and/or philosophical naturalist accepts only materialism, so cannot readily account for consciousness or any other nonmaterial thing, be it love, truth, justice, beauty, and so on.

    But the theist has no problem here. Indeed, the Judeo-Christian view of God is that he is a non-physical being. God is spirit, but has consciousness and personality. We have mind, will and emotions, and we are made in God’s image. So God has volitional, emotional and mental aspects to his nature.

    And humans are both material and nonmaterial beings. We have bodies, and we have souls. The soul continues on after the death of the body, but will be reunited with a new resurrection body in the future, according to Biblical teaching.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  20. Rebecca said “And, I can’t help but say that heaven won’t be a place of having your own harem of virgins.”

    Rebecca, there will be no more gender at that stage. No more men or women just, well I am not sure, “demi-gods” is the closest, albeit wrong metaphor I can think of. Angelic is also inadequate. Certainly more than we are now. More than human. Christ-like is probably the best term.

    I find it interesting that the allusion to virgins you mention is only found in modern Korans. I have read that many ancient Korans had the equivalent of 99 sultanas as a reward! No idea how factual that is.

    Duane, any idea where we can see the clip you mentioned? I am not an ER fan or watcher. Even an episode/season number or name would do.

    Duane said “So when Ben says, “I am not sure how consciousness can exist outside the physical”, I am wondering how one would even demonstrate the physical properties of consciousness. Evidence of consciousness may manifest itself in physical ways, but consciousness itself isn’t physical. Am I missing something?”

    Duane, this is a wrong view of Christian (and Jewish) Theology of life after death. I blame the Greeks for this. The idea that the spirit and body are somehow separate and almost independent (one is base the other noble) is a pagan Greeco-Roman view of the spirit that has infected western thinking for centuries. The Hebrew view, and the one I believe gels the best with what the Bible teaches, is that God always intended for both to exist at the same time. You can’t have a soul without a body and a body without a soul. Thus the resurrection is a physical state. We will have physical bodies and live on a physical (though highly altered) Earth. I personally think God’s a genius for using this method as opposed to the pagan one for various reasons I won’t get into.

    This raises some interesting and exciting questions which the Bible is silent on. I don’t believe there is a “waiting period” after death. I can’t explain the mechanics but I believe that when someone closes their eyes in death they open them in resurrection. God is timeless and not bound by time or physics so I can imagine it working this way. That hell is a physical as well as a spiritual place – the unsaved will be physically tormented not just some kind of abstract mental or spiritual state. And both Satan and Death will face utter oblivion – no hell for them just non-existence. Conversely, how do angels work? They seem to be both spiritual and physical beings (it takes them time to move from place to place for example, they seem to “physically” watch over the elect etc).

    Ultimately we just have to trust God in these things. Hopefully he has proven to you personally that he is worthy of trust and thus these unanswered questions we can trust to his justice and grace. Another mistake I see a lot in both atheistic and Christian circles is the unstated assumption that God is somehow beholden to something called justice. You can see it in questions like “Hell seems unfair” and so on. There is no such thing as justice as some kind of cosmic law. Whatever God does is just. He is the only standard He and we can be measured by. Therefore questions of hell being unjust are irrelevant beyond some interesting discussion.

    But it is clearly important to people so I do not intend to belittle it. Each of us are on different points in the road when it comes to our relationship with God.

    Michael Mifsud

  21. Thanks Michael,

    I posted the clip here.

    Regarding your other comment, all I am claiming here is that consciousness has no physical properties. Where does that contradict a Christian framework?

    Duane Proud

  22. Hi Duane,
    I misinterpreted what you said (or I attributed something someone else said to you. I was thinking of Ben but saying Duane). Apologies.

    You’re right, it has no physical properties. It defies materialism.

    Michael Mifsud

  23. Bill, you wrote above: ‘hell is simply the absence of God. If God is the source of all that is good, pure, loving, kind, light and beautiful, and people reject God, then they are left with an absence of all those things. So yes, hell will be the opposite of all God is, thus a pretty dark, ugly and miserable place’.

    I was wondering: What do you think of the idea of hell as portrayed in Dante’s Inferno? A place where demons inflict excruciating tortures on the damned. Where the different intensities and methods of torture are divised to reflect the particular sins of the victims.

    I accept that rejection of love, good, purity, kindness, unselfisness etc must ultimately lead to suffering. But I have long had problems with the concept of God as creating and upholding a system that in any way involves torture. How could any Christian be happy in heaven knowing that other people, in many cases their loved ones, were in the most terrible torment? Wouldn’t we have Christians choosing to go to hell so they could give comfort to the suffering ones?

    Another question: If one rejects God eternally, then one must suffer the consequences eternally – hell. But if, after suffering for a period of time, one repents, the experience of hell must end, – perhaps gradually. There must be a way out of hell.

    If God is omnipresent, separation from God is impossible. Psalm 139:8 states:’If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.’ This idea is echoed in Romans 8:35 to 39 ‘…nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

    If real separation from God is impossible, the only separation must be illusory. As we yield to the truth of the ever-present reality of God, love, good, and strive to live accordingly, the experience of hell must fall away. This is my understanding of grace.

    I believe that everyone must ultimately come to God, and suffering is often the way in which we are forced to do so. The longer we resist, the longer we suffer. If we don’t repent and turn to God in this life, we will have to do it in next life or the one after that. It is the concept of sin that is eternally damned to hell, not persons.

    Mark Harvey

  24. Thanks Mark

    The short answer to your concerns is this: we either believe what Jesus and the Bible have to say about these matters, or we don’t. A Biblical Christian does not tell God what is right and wrong. I do not know where you are coming from as to your religious position, but Jesus and Scripture are absolutely clear that there is a hell, that people will be going there, and that it will involve suffering and torment of some kind.

    A Biblical Christian is one who follows and obeys Jesus. Jesus spoke more about the reality of hell than anyone else in the Bible. And Jesus is the most loving, kind, merciful, gracious and forgiving person around. So we cannot be more loving or more gracious than Jesus. Yet he affirmed the reality of hell. So for us to pretend to be more loving than Jesus, in our rejection of hell, just does not cut it.

    Those who have a problem with hell tend to have a very weak view of sin. Those who have a weak view of sin tend to have a very weak view of the holiness, righteousness and majesty of God. We trivialise hell because we trivialise sin because we trivialise the nature and character of God.

    As to the biblical doctrine of the presence of God, or his omnipresence, we must allow Scripture to speak here in all its fullness and richness. There are different senses of God’s presence described in the Bible. He is present with his believing followers in a way that he is not with unbelievers. See passages such as: Psalm 34:18 and Is. 57:15. He is close to his own but afar from those who are not.

    Those who do not love God are said to be outside of God’s presence, and hell is described as being outside of the presence of God. See for example: Gen 4:16; Lev 22:3 ; Psalm 5:5 ; Psalm 101:7; Prov 15:29; Jer 23:39 ; 2 Thess 1:9, etc.

    Thus distinctions must be made in terms of God’s moral presence, his ontological presence, and so on.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  25. Thanks Bill for the reply.

    Let me quote from Gandhi: “I decline to be bound by any interpretation [of Scripture], however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense.” (Collected Works, 21, p 246).

    How could God expect us to do otherwise?

    Mark Harvey

  26. Thanks Mark

    Let me quote from God’s word: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20) If it comes down to choosing between the authority of God, or the authority of Gandhi, I know which I will line up with.

    The problem with Gandhi’s position is that he does not take seriously the biblical truth that both human reason and our moral sense are fallen due to sin. Both our mind and heart are contaminated by sin, thus we do see things as God wants us to see them. Part of that fallen reasoning and morality is to say that I am OK, I am not a sinner, there is no hell, and Jesus died in vain.

    And it is not just that we are fallen, finite and lacking in true perspective. There is also spiritual deception going on as well. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).

    We either let God be God, and take his word about these matters, or we pretend that we are God, and tell the creator of the universe what is true and false, right and wrong. That is really the choice we all must make.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  27. I wasn’t thinking of Gandhi being an authority, any more than you implied C.S. Lewis is an authority when you quoted from him in your article above. The quote from Gandhi encapsulated my position neatly. I was thinking of reason and moral sense as having authority.

    The word ‘interpretation’ in the quote is important too. There are many ways to interpret scripture. ‘The devil can quote Scripture for his own ends’, as the saying goes. How are we to know which interpretations of Scripture to accept and which to reject? How are we to avoid being deceived? Application of reason and moral sense must be part of the answer. They need to be combined with prayer and humility. We need to be, at the same time, prepared to let go of personal opinions and to take an unflinching stand for Principle. This can be difficult and we don’t always get it right.

    I know that the concept of ‘authority’ is important to you. I have read your article on it. But think where would we be today if Martin Luther and other protestant reformers had chosen submission to authority over reason and moral sense? The very word ‘Protestant’ denotes a protest against authority.

    Mark Harvey

  28. Thanks Mark

    I have no problem with much of what you have to say. Yes we must be humble and prayerful as we interpret Scripture. Yes, none of us have the whole truth. Yes, Scripture can be subject to differing interpretations at times and at places. And yes, we are to use reason and moral sense in our study of Scripture and our relationship with God.

    Reason and moral sense do play a role, but so too does the Holy Spirit in guiding us into truth, as the NT speaks about so often. No one will be infallible in their understanding of Scripture, but we must trust that God is able to guide the humble reader by his Spirit.

    And as I said before, both reason and the moral sense are fallen because of sin, and so cannot be totally relied upon in and of themselves. Both are quite limited due to our finitude and fallenness, so they must be used carefully and tentatively, and must be squared with Scripture. (Although written more with non-believers in mind, my latest article on this website deals with these issues a bit: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/07/20/the-man-delusion-with-apologies-to-the-matrix/ )

    We must, in other words, avoid two unbiblical extremes: one, that we can know nothing with certainly about God and his word, and are just left with relativity, uncertainty and doubt; or two, that we can have perfect understanding of all things biblical. Because God has revealed himself in his word, and given us his Spirit to help guide us in understanding it, we can know true truths about God, although not exhaustive truth, to use Schaeffer’s expression.

    But recall that this thread began when you appeared to question the biblical doctrine of Hell. According to your “reason and moral sense” you find it unpalatable. Thus in effect you are telling God that he is either wrong or morally inferior to you on this issue. In other words, you seem to be judging God and his word, instead of letting God and his word judge you.

    While we all may have questions about the doctrine of eternal punishment, no one reading the Bible in a plain and straightforward fashion can deny that this is the clear teaching of Scripture. And Jesus more than anyone else continually spoke about this truth. So if we are unhappy with what Jesus and the Bible say about this topic, then we seem to be elevating ourselves above God both in terms of wisdom and knowledge, as well as moral ability and discernment. That is a somewhat precarious position to be in I would think.

    That is why I mentioned that sometimes we think we can be more compassionate, more loving, or more wise than God on some of these issues. That is not a good place to be in.

    Finally, as to authority, you seem to misunderstand my position. When I argue for the importance of authority, I of course refer overwhelmingly to the authority of Scripture, not the authority of any one church or denomination, or Christian leader. Luther and the Reformers were above all seeking to be true to the authority of Scripture. They did not want to break with Rome, but when the teachings of the Catholic Church appeared to conflict with Scripture, then the Reformers insisted upon going with Scripture.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  29. HI Bill,

    Thanks for this article. It is wonderful to see that some people still are speaking the whole truth.

    The closer I have grown to God the more I love His holiness and justice, whereas I used to be scared of His judgement and couldn’t understand how it fit in with a loving God. Something Ray Comfort said in his “Hell’s best-kept secret” teaching (which I recommend) is that because God IS good He has to punish the wicked. Like a judge at court would pronounce punishment on someone who has broken the law. He would have to do this in order to be just. And we know that God cannot deny His nature, which is just and good.

    Thanks again,
    Belinda Horne

  30. It seems to me that not only has many people’s belief in hell evaporated, but many of those who still have some understanding of the concept accept a much watered down version? I was on a building site recently witnessing to a chap and after a while he said to me “Hell will be ok cos all me mates will be there!” a comment which gave me a wonderful opportunity to witness with him further. He began to see that his concept of hell was not the same as it is described in the Bible and that in fact hell may not be all beer and skittles as he had thought for many years. In truth the Bible describes hell as a place more wicked and tourtureous than any human imagination can fully conceive and we as comitted Christians have a God given duty to give non-believers and weak believers all the information they need to make an informed decision regarding their time in eternity. Make no mistake, eternity in hell is a very long time!
    Mark Tatnell

  31. Mark Harvey said;
    “Wouldn’t we have Christians choosing to go to hell so they could give comfort to the suffering ones?”
    Yep – that is a great sentiment, and the time and place to act on this is now while we are on earth. We can help to rescue people from hell by introducing them to Jesus. I suspect a person already in hell would get little comfort from a visit by a citizen of heaven. But they would most definitely be thinking “why didn’t someone tell me”.
    That someone is us.

    Thanks for this article Bill. Not that I can read it without feeling I need to ACT like I believe hell is a real risk for most people I pass by each day. I have been studying hell for a while now, with very similar outcome to yours – the Bible is clear, so that’s how it is. While I may be uncomfortable with hell, perhaps this is caused by not my negligence in rescuing people with appropriate urgency.
    I like Bonke’s motto “plundering hell to populate heaven”

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