On Hell

One topic which is rarely discussed today – even by Christians – is that of hell. Yet it is a topic which should often be on our lips for the simple reason that the Christ we claim to follow spoke more about this reality than any other biblical writer.

But if hell is seldom considered today, or preached about, it does come up every once in a while, especially by those who want to do away with it altogether, or at least present major objections to it. That seems to be the case, for example, with Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.

Since the book will not be released for a few more days yet, I perhaps cannot speak directly to it. But what I can speak directly to is what the Bible says about this topic. While people like Bell may find the teaching about hell to be problematic, I find no such reservations in Scripture.

Indeed, there is far too much biblical material here to appeal to, so let me just focus on what Jesus himself said about this issue. Of interest, Scot McKnight, who aligns himself with the emerging church movement, and is a keen defender of Bell, admitted back in 1999 that “What Christians have believed about hell has been constructed almost entirely out of what Jesus teaches in the Gospels.”

But even in the Gospels there are far too many passages to consider, so let me narrow things down even further, and just concentrate on Matthew’s Gospel. As mentioned, Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the New Testament. So if we wish to be biblical, as well as Christlike, we need to agree with our Lord about this matter. Consider then just a sample of what he taught on this subject as found in Matthew.

Let’s begin with Matt. 3:11-12 wherein John the Baptist speaks about the coming of Jesus and his role in divine judgment. John says this about the one who will come after him: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Craig Keener notes the realistic imagery employed by John, and then goes on to comment, “John does not simply echo the Jewish consensus of the day, because opinions divided on the character of hell. He specifically affirmed the harshest image of his day: divine judgment involved eternal torment.”

And as Craig Blomberg reminds us, the “adjective ‘unquenchable’ (literally fireproof [Greek asbestos]) implies that fuel will always remain to keep the fire burning and speaks against the doctrine of annihilationism (the idea that unbelievers simply cease conscious existence upon death).”

Consider also the Sermon on the Mount. Many believers enjoy this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, although they tend to go quiet on discussions of hell. But this is mentioned at least three times quite clearly and indirectly several other times in the Sermon. In Matt. 5:22 for example Jesus discusses those who “will be in danger of the fire of hell”.

The word Gehenna stands behind the NIV’s word ‘hell’ and is used as a metaphor for it. The term refers to the Hinnom Valley outside of Jerusalem where garbage was apparently burned day and night in the times of Jesus, “making it a perfect metaphor for eternal fiery judgment” as Grant Osborne puts it.

Matt 7:23 presents these momentous words of Jesus concerning the lost: “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Being cast out of God’s presence is one of the many biblical images for hell. In the next chapter Jesus speaks also of “utter darkness” (8:12).

Also in Matt. 8:11-12 we read about the fate of the unredeemed as involving “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which “vividly portrays the unspeakable anguish of separation from God,” as David Turner puts it. He continues, “This frightening imagery marks one of the most sobering moments of Matthew’s story of Jesus.”

In Matt. 13:42 Jesus again uses the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. As Leon Morris reminds us, “This expression occurs 6 times in Matthew, once in Luke, and nowhere else in the New Testament. It leaves no doubt about the unhappiness of the final state of the wicked.”

And in Matt. 25:41,46 we read about the twin fates of humanity: heaven and hell. At the final judgment Christ himself will separate people into one of two destinies: eternal bliss or eternal wrath. Jesus says quite clearly that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”.

It is interesting how very often Jesus pairs eternity in heaven with eternity in hell. If the annihilationists are right, then it seems we should not keep finding such constant pairings. Indeed, to be consistent, if the annihilationists want to deny eternal suffering of the wicked, then they should deny the eternal joy of the righteous.

Long ago Augustine wrote about this: “The phrases ‘eternal life’ and ‘eternal punishment’ are parallel and it would be absurd to use them in one and the same sentence to mean: ‘Eternal life will be infinite, while eternal punishment will have an end’.”

Or as Turner much more recently put is, “This passage speaks clearly on the most awesome matter, humanity’s eternal destiny. The juxtaposition of eternal life and eternal punishment in Matt. 25:46 renders the notion of the annihilation of the lost, sometimes called conditional immortality, as theological wishful thinking.”

And Robert Peterson is right to say, “even if Matthew 25:41 and 46 were the only verses to describe the fate of the wicked, the Bible would clearly teach eternal condemnation, and we would be obligated to believe it and teach it on the authority of the Son of God.”

Other texts in Matthew could be discussed. This then is only the briefest summary of some of the data which Matthew makes use of, which in turn is only a small sample of the larger Gospel testimony, and just a tiny part the overall biblical witness. Anyone who simply reads through the Gospel accounts will see how time and time again Jesus broaches this subject.

Kenneth Kantzer says by way of summary, “Those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as lord cannot escape the clear, unambiguous language with which he warns of the awful truth of eternal punishment.” His teachings make it clear that not everyone will be saved (thus refuting universalism) and those who reject him will suffer endless punishment (thus rejecting annihilationism).

Carl F.H. Henry concurs, “Jesus’ teaching makes it patently obvious that no correct view of final judgment can be elaborated that empties hell of its terrors and depicts God’s last judgment as benevolent toward the impenitent and ungodly.”

Seeking God’s heart

To make the biblical case for hell is of course no light thing, and it only can be done with a heavy heart and with tears. As J.I Packer has said, “To announce the reality of hell is a testing and gruelling task. The compassion and fellow-feeling that should mark all Christian communicators require us to do it, not with gloating and contempt, but with tears, if not in our eyes, then in our hearts.”

And we must recall that God does not send people to hell; they send themselves there. As C.S. Lewis famously said, “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, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’. All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find; to those who knock it is opened.”

Or as Dallas Willard put it, “The ultimately lost person is the person who cannot want God. Who cannot want God to be God. Multitudes of such people pass by every day, and pass into eternity. The reason they do not find God is that they do not want him or, at least, do not want him to be God. Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.”

The simple truth is this: even a cursory reading of the Gospels will review that Jesus spoke much more about hell than about heaven; and much more about the wrath of God than the love of God. If that was the emphasis Jesus placed on these key themes, then perhaps that should be our emphasis as well.

Spurgeon once remarked about those who say, “I could not rest comfortably if I believed the orthodox doctrine about the ruin of men.” He replied this way, “Most true. But what right have we to rest comfortably?” Absolutely. The doctrine of hell should make us squirm, weep and grieve.

But it is a doctrine everywhere affirmed in Scripture, and no more so than by Jesus himself. Yes it is a terrible doctrine, but one which we must proclaim if we really love the lost. It seems it is those who don’t really care about the lost who want to deny or whitewash the clear teachings of Jesus here.

May God break our hearts with what breaks his heart.

[1545 words]

49 Replies to “On Hell”

  1. Bill, it’s awesome to see you have the Spirit and revelation to write about this topic. I’m right in the middle of a book, Driven by Eternity by John Bevere and although I’m sure of my salvation at this stage, nothing has burned the fear of God into me like this book. And, as he states in the book, the fear of the Lord is clean (or cleansing). When you really understand that the Lord God can and does order unbelievers or disobedient ones to be bound hand and foot and cast into eternal torment…And that it is possible to have your name ‘blotted from the Book of Life’, that’s when you really begin to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’. Hell is basically the bottom line and with the permissive parenting being forced upon today’s parents, it makes you wonder how any child raised in this way will be able to comprehend the gravity of eternal torment and separation from God.
    Dee Graf

  2. @Dee.. I finished John Bevere’s book late last year. I’ve already given away 2 copies. It’s a sobering book and well written.

    We do well to ponder hell!

    Paul Evans

  3. Bill

    Are you a fan of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy? My copy just arrived today. Haven’t traversed it yet.

    Damien Spillane

  4. Bill,
    To which view of hell do you hold?
    The Literal View of Hell, The Metaphorical View, The Purgatorial View, The Conditional View or have an opinion of your own? Here.
    I have heard many different teachings on hell, suffice to say that I will do what it takes not to end up there.

    I know that it is not scripture, but the book of Enoch has some very vivid descriptions of a place that I would rather not be, which could be referred to a hell.

    Still this topic which could consume a life time of study.

    Jeffrey Carl

  5. Thanks Damien

    It is an important volume, as is so much of his writing, but I must admit to not having read every word of the book.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Thanks Jeffrey

    The article should have made it clear that I don’t hold to the 3rd and 4th positions. But the first two in fact go together. There is a real hell, but it is so horrific that often the best we can do is describe it in metaphorical language. All the figurative language speaks of some very real and very awful realities. Jesus and the biblical writers use some pretty amazing figures of speech to describe an awful reality. It must be a very horrendous reality indeed to be described in such a way. Thus if there are no actual flames, then what that image does is describe a horrific reality, however it plays itself out.

    So all the figurative language does not in the least take away from the actual reality of hell. In the same way, plenty of figurative language is used to describe the reality of heaven.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Thanks Bill,
    Here is Spurgeon’s take on hell;
    I believe there will be more in Heaven than in hell. If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre-eminence,” and I cannot conceive how He could have the pre-eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in Paradise. Moreover, I have never read that there is to be in hell a great multitude, which no man could number. I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them! Then there are already in Heaven unnumbered myriads of the spirits of just men made perfect—the redeemed of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues up till now; and there are better times coming, when the religion of Christ shall be universal;…. from his Defence of Calvinism

    I find it hard to reconcile with his view on that there will be more in heaven than in hell. Did not Jesus say, that “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
    I do however agree with the children going to heaven, based on my understanding of the age of accountability.

    Jeffrey Carl

  8. Thanks Jeffrey

    You just want me to write another article! There is some debate on this question about numbers, but it really would require more than a short comment here to properly discuss, so stay tuned.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Thanks Bill,
    Just to add a bit of spice the the debate, I have read that upwards of 9 billion people perished in the flood. At that was even with conservative mathematics.

    I look forward to the article.

    Jeffrey Carl

  10. Jeffrey,

    I’m not an expert on John Calvin, but I would hazard a guess that he put the dead infants of believers in heaven and the dead infants of unbelievers in hell. That would fit with his systematic theology.

    The Bible doesn’t give us a clear verse on this topic, so we have to rely on systematic theology.

    Jereth Kok

  11. Thanks Jereth

    I am not a Calvin scholar either, but I don’t believe he anywhere taught that babies who die are necessarily eternally lost. And Spurgeon of course distanced himself from the hyper-Calvinists of his day.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. I resonate with your article on “Hell” Bill, and agree with you in what you said elsewhere about the tragedy in Japan perhaps being seen in light of God warning us to flee from wrath to come! There are places on earth which are like Hell now… There are people who choose to live Hell!

    This recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, added to all the other recent disasters of such high scale all over the world, all so close together, to me also speaks of God’s chastisement on us all. Let’s face it – What have we become? For those who don’t believe in God it’s just coincidence – the calamity after calamity. But those of us who do believe in God – we *know* God is exercising his Justice on a world that’s lost the plot and no longer believes in nor worships Him! It seems so obvious…

    Paula Mari Pike

  13. Thanks David

    Yes sadly, as good as Stott usually is, he caused quite a stir when he came out somewhat in support of annihilationism back in 1988. But he seems not to have made too much of that issue since then.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Hi Bill/Jeffrey,

    I admit I’ve got no idea what Calvin himself thought about this, but I suggest that his systematic theology leads to that view.

    1. Calvinism puts all men under Adam and sin from the moment of birth; we all begin life in a state of damnation. If God did not elect some to salvation, we would all end up in hell.

    2. Calvinism teaches that the children of Christians are born into the covenant of grace, and accordingly the infants of Christian parents may be baptised. (baptism being the NT equivalent of circumcision in the OT)

    Going from these 2 points, you can arrive at the conclusion that infants of unbelievers are not saved, while the infants of believers are saved.

    As I said, the Bible doesn’t have a clear verse, so we’ve all got to derive our answer inferentially from our theology.
    It is worth noting that an “age of accountability” is not clearly taught in the Bible anywhere; it tends to be a feature of baptist theology that is lacking in paedobaptist traditions.

    Jereth Kok

  15. Thanks Jereth

    Actually it was Luther who put more stock in infant baptism. But most conservative evangelicals are happy to delight in God’s grace when it comes to deceased infants and wisely leave it at that.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. “I do however agree with the children going to heaven, based on my understanding of the age of accountability”

    I notice this from a comment above – This has to be the least discussed subject in churches but from my experience over many years in churches it is beleived by most christians that that age of accountablitiy is true…If so then the only thing to do – better than any revival ever is to kill all children before they reach say about 11!! Of course i’m not being serious but this just goes to show how inconsistent most churches are about hell etc..

    Bill, you might say that ‘hell’ is rarely discussed in churches but i’m sure it’s always there in the back of peoples’ minds….like the elephant in the room
    for me however – it has always been there like an indescribable monster – I always believed in it for many years – having a series of horrific dreams as a 12 yr old that affected me for ages and i can still remember today – many years later – it was as if i went there – if i wanted to i could write a book and talk about it as real like that Bill Wiesse.

    Years later it even sent me to a hospital for a while – as I took it very seriously – carrying the burden of knowing that family members may be there!…. If it is a literal never ending fire pit etc…

    BUT – I don’t believe most people who say they believe in hell really do – If so then it should drive them completely mad – either by the fear of it – or by the sense of how much one should be doing to stop others going there – you shouldn’t sleep much or do any work or eat much either – you should be constantly shouting in the streets and grabbing people desperately to warn them …
    BUT you don’t! – nor can you ….Oh yes, you say u belive in it but you DON’T!…..

    Jeremy Woods

  17. Seems to me that if we are all going to Heaven, Jesus didn’t need to come to Earth and die on the Cross. After all, isn’t salvation of the soul of Man the main reason for the Bible to exist? We wouldn’t even need to know about God – He could just be a nice surprise after we died! But without its teachings the world would be in an even greater mess than it is, and what a privilege to know God through the assistance of the Word and to co-operate with Him!
    Jeannie Crooks

  18. Thanks Jeremy

    I have both cut you short and cut you down to size, for several reasons. Your comment was too long, but more importantly, I must of course draw some limits here. Just as I will not allow a cultist to come to this site pushing a heretical doctrine, so I do not intend to allow those who reject the clear teaching of Scripture on this issue to use my site as a platform to push their agendas. And I certainly won’t let them offer links to their heterodoxy. There are plenty of other sites which can be easily accessed if people want to immerse themselves in such heterodox teaching. But this site will not be used for that purpose.

    Within reason, I am happy to debate these issues, but the bulk of my argumentation will be found in my articles, as complex debates are not easily dealt with in short comments. And some people have clearly already made up their minds on these issues, and nothing I say – or more importantly, no amount of Scriptural data – will likely sway them.

    And just a quick reply to your objection to the doctrine of hell, based on believers grieving – perhaps forever – about those in hell. There is no biblical data stating that we will grieve in heaven for those in hell. Are we somehow more loving and more merciful than God? As Norman Geisler puts it, “No unselfish person should feel guilty for enjoying his lunch simply because there are starving people in the world. This would be particularly true if he had offered to share his goods with the others, but they had refused to eat.”

    As I said in my article, those who find themselves in hell have chosen to be there. They would in fact hate to be in heaven, so God lets them have their own way. If you believe this makes God unjust or unkind, then you are simply saying that you in fact are God, not him, and that you know better on these matters. That is a very worrying place to be in to be honest, as I have told others here. In fact, we should rejoice that God is always just, and he always does things which are wise, loving and righteous.

    And I for one am warning people constantly about their fate. Whether people listen or not is not ultimately up to me, but up to them. Jesus and the disciples also preached the coming judgment of God freely, regularly, and boldly. They were called to proclaim the message. It is up to us what we do with it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Yes quite right Jeannie

    If universalism is true, then we all can just sit around and play cards or something – no need to preach the gospel since everyone will be saved anyway. Really does make a mockery of the entire New Testament, doesn’t it?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  20. That is a disturbing statement Bill. We can love God not because we fear the alternative but because He is instrinsically beautiful Himself…No threat of being punished should be a motivation.

    That card of ‘why bother being good’ is always the first thing people say regarding universal salvation… .this lays bare the evangelical family secret – that most ‘love’ God not just for who He is but because they are afraid of a tyrannical god.
    The gospel is Good news – to be preached to all men – not a ‘good possibility’ if one has the right willingness….believers are the firstfruits.

    Jesus said in John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” – not just the willing …

    and Every Knee will bow and confess Jesus is Lord to the glory of God – i can’t see this being 90% of the human race with guns to their head being forced to do so – it can only be through love…

    jeremy woods

  21. Thanks Jeremy

    As I said, some people have their minds already made up, and you are evidently one of them, so I won’t keep dragging this debate on with you. Again the short reply to you is this: you are in effect calling God a liar, Jesus a liar, the prophets liars and the disciples liars, since all of them spoke clearly about both present and future judgment, and were even happy to use such truths to act as motivating factors. Indeed, the fear of God is also everywhere proclaimed in Scripture. But some believers seem to think they are more loving and more compassionate than even Jesus. With all due respect, this is the height of arrogance and idolatry, and the best thing a person in that position can do is repent, and acknowledge that God is God, and that they are not.

    I have already penned numerous articles outlining the biblical case for the holiness of God, the wrath of God and the justice of God. There is no love of God without his corresponding holiness and hatred of sin. There is no contradiction whatsoever between a beautiful, loving god and a holy and pure God who always hates evil. You wrongly demand an either/or when the Bible clearly tells us to embrace a both/and.

    And I would not want anything to do with a God who winks at evil, smiles at sin, and cares nothing about justice. Again, those who reject God’s view about the punishment of sin know little about either sin or God. They somehow think God is wrong on these matters and they are right.

    Of course John 12:32 has nothing to do with everyone being saved. That contradicts everything which Jesus said, even in the rest of this chapter, let alone the rest of the Gospel. Sorry, but it is the mark of every cult and every heretic to rip a text out of context and ignore the entirety of biblical revelation.

    And of course every knee will bow, since God alone is God. But we read throughout Scripture how the unrepentant will bow. Try reading the book of Revelation one day for starters.

    If you are going to push the heresy of universalism, again, feel free to do it elsewhere, but not here. The entire Bible from cover to cover speaks of two different destinies for all of mankind, and the only way one can push universalism is to declare the Word of God to be a false witness and full of lies, and that we mere humans need to rewrite it to reflect our superior knowledge and morality. Again, that is an extremely dangerous place to be in. You can push that all you like, but not here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  22. Thanks Bill.
    I find it surprising that if one is to examine the teaching of our Lord on this topic one does not look primarily at the “parable” of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. This is a prime passage on the subject, and one should look at those prime passages. Now one might immediately object that this is a parable, full of Jewish imagery, and one should not build doctrines on parables. However, it is wrongly called a parable in this instance. It is told to give solemn truths about hell.
    Yes there are trappings of imagery: “Abraham’s bosom”; the sight of the rich man in hell as seen from heaven; the two-way conversation between heaven and hell, and the like. That said, however, there are solid truths being taught here, inter alia:
    1. The torments and sufferings of hell and their eternity (v.24)
    2. the finality of the eternal state (“a great gulf fixed”, v.26)
    3. the only way to avoid this terrible place is to heed to the teaching of Scripture (vv.29, 31)
    Now on the last point, this is precisely where Neil and others go astray: they will philosophise, theologise, raise logical and theological objections etc., but never really get down to the teaching of Scripture. In fact, the only time that they will refer to Scripture is in an attempt to explain it away, e.g. that Matt.25:46 does not really teach the eternal nature of the punishment. This sort of thing is not an appeal to Scripture, but appealing to human reason, and trying by various expedients to marry Scripture to the conclusions of reason. Anything in Scripture which does not fit is then rejected.
    As to the teaching of the church fathers, the only one I know of who clearly taught universalism was Origen in the mid C3rd, but even in the ancient church he was regarded as a heretic. In the C4th Rufinus in particular took to his many strange teachings and showed their heterodox nature. Origen was of the view that where Scripture was silent, the field was wide open for speculation, a mood not dead by any means, as can be seen from some of the contributions on this blog.
    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  23. Thanks Murray

    Yes the Lukan pericope is certainly a key text in this debate, although as I mentioned in my article, due to the overwhelming amount of biblical data to draw upon, I limited my remarks to the Gospel of Matthew only. But future articles may draw upon that text and others.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  24. Hi Bill,

    One aspect of ‘hell’ that is rarely preached is the difference between ‘the grave’ or Gehenna and ‘the second death’ or ‘Lake of Sulphur and Fire’ as found in Revelation.

    The former representing a sort of remand centre where unbelievers are held until the day of Judgement (their day in court), following which (having their crimes proven beyond all reasonable doubt) they are sentenced to death.

    Similarly, the biblical understanding of ‘death’ more as ‘separation’ needs to be discussed. Our general concept of ‘death’ implies some sort of ending or non-existence. However, the biblical concept implies a separation, firstly of our physical body from our spiritual being, and secondly of ourselves from God. In this sense, ‘the second death’ as described in Revelation is a permanent ‘separation’ from God – never ‘non-existence’.

    Therefore, the temporary ‘hell’ and the permanent ‘lake’ are both places reserved for those who are ‘dead’ / ‘separated’ from the presence of God. Who then can blame God for what horrors exist in that realm?

    Steve Bergen

  25. Hi Bill,
    Hope you’re well. I always draw hope from the fact that God draws good from evil. No matter how close it may seem to the devil conquering the world, the outcome has been decided already. SATAN CANNOT CONQUER GOD. With regard to heaven and hell, it makes me happy to think that even though so many innocent babies are being slaughtered through abortion and that this atrocity is opening the gates of hell on this earth, those beautiful, innocent little souls are spared from Hell. I love to think of them being cradled in Jesus arms and him softly kissing their little cheeks. Satan can revel in the evil he has encouraged the mother and abortionist to participate in. In the end though, God takes a little soul from his treacherous grasp.
    Catherine Dodd

  26. In preparing for beginning our study in Joel last night, I underlined, “in order that all shall ‘know that I am the Lord Your God.'” It struck me at the time that this is the answer to everyone who doesn’t like the OT.
    God purposely started with the Old Testament in order to show that He is the only one qualified to say what’s what. He had to show back then that He would trumph over His enemies of darkness and selfishness and control, so that they and us would know that that’s how it’s going to be in the end. Who He is is the same yesterday, today and forever, even though He may do things in a different manner at times (times of grace.)
    His ways are the lovely ways and He hates all the unlovely ways. He’s calling all of us out of our unlovely, selfish ways because He wants us to be free. Freedom is not living how we choose. Freedom is following His ways of freedom.

    Rebecca Field

  27. Atheists and skeptics, (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens included) make a great issue of hell and the severity of God judgments. Asserting He is nasty and evil, and equating Him with a “midnight assassin”. (The phrase used by former Australian Skeptics President, Mark Plummer, in a public debate we (AEAS) facilitated.)

    I remind the atheists that the Ten Commandments and the Biblical laws set down by God relate primarily to two things. Firstly, Gods sovereignty. And, secondly, human well-being.

    Most of God’s laws are about preventing human suffering, evil and the horrendous atrocities humans inflict upon fellow human beings. And I remind them that God’s severe judgments only came when the injustice, wickedness, and atrocities committed by humans against fellow humans was beyond remedy. So what the atheist is really asserting is that all these gross atrocities should be allowed to freely continue, unhindered and without accountability. Thus, to Call God evil for preventing evil is irrational and absurd. To assert that God should not act against such gross atrocities makes the atheists themselves totally evil and unloving, rather than God, who always acts to diminish human suffering, and restrain man’s inhumanity to man.

    Along with this comes atheist’s opposition to God imposing His sovereignty, without compromise. At which point I remind them what has occurred throughout history under Satanic and human sovereignty. Endless wars; universal suffering, savage brutality; horrendous crimes; and the unspeakable atrocities committed by “sovereign” authorities, rulers and dictators. And the millions who have suffered and died under Stalin, Hitler, Mo, Pol Pot, and countless others. And compare this with God’s holiness and justice, and His relentless efforts to eradicate evil, and put an end to human suffering, and the horrors and abuse inflicted on others.

    Then comes the issue of hell, and eternal punishment. Why all this, they ask? Why no just let the dead remain that way? Why bring then back to life to face judgment and hell.

    I remind them it’s about “accountability”. For if death were the end, no one would be accountable for the evil, suffering, and atrocities they had inflicted on others. Stalin, Hitler and the abortionist would never be accountable for the millions they had murdered. All humanity would likewise escape accountability and judgment. And God’s perfect holiness and righteousness would be both the means and measure of accountability. Making Hell an inescapable consequence for even the smallest sin.

    My own thoughts on hell are that it is ultimately an “eternal” reminder, and deterrent, that demonstrates the horrendous self-inflicted consequences of sin, and what rebellion against God’s sovereignty produces. It stands as an eternal stark reminder (and message) to all of God’s dominions and dimensions as to what any sovereignty less than God’s perfect loving benevolent sovereignty leads to.

    It shows why a perfectly righteous and holy God must judge sin by His standard, and not ours. And cannot allow any residue of sin or rebellion to exist in His presence or dominion. It was this reality that made the cross an inescapable event. It was where God’s perfect love came together with His perfect holiness and righteousness, for our redemption. And Jesus knew that this cup could not pass from Him. The was no other way humanity could be redeemed.

    Nor was there ever a greater expression of love. For God used the worst we could possibly do the Christ, spitting, abusing, whipping, crucifying, killing, and rejection as the “very means” by which He would redeem us. He used the worst we could do to Him, to do the best He possibly could for us. And that is why God is worthy of our love and praise. Any why God’s sovereignty is so important. This is why Paul says, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation.”

    While the first humans were made in the likeness of God, redeemed humanity would, like God, now also have the knowledge of good and evil, and be fully indwelt by God, via the Holy Spirit. And the factors that caused humans to sin, namely the world, the flesh and the Devil, would no longer be around.

    Thus, redeemed humanity would be be a far more noble creature than the first man, Adam. Not only made in the image of God, but now indwelt by God. Freely and fully committed to worshiping and serving God.

    John Heininger

  28. Hi Bill – Its Trish here. My husband Paul & I were in your apologetics class back in 2000 at HBC. I appreciate your site – thank you for your incredible work. I read most of your articles daily and find it a vital aid in our ministry, as the questions come in in the day to day running of ministry.

    Thank you for staying TRUE to the Scriptures. It encourages us to keep giving our congregation the TRUTH and as a result we see the privilege of a group of believers who are prepared to pay the price for holiness and intimacy with their LORD and Saviour. Thanks and God bless

    Trish Botha

  29. Dear Bill, Further to Murray Adamthwaite’s helpful and faithful contribution above, can I point readers to the Westminster Confession of Faith which neatly summarises the position of people after death:

    Chapter X
    Of Effectual Calling

    I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,[1] by His Word and Spirit,[2] out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ;[3] enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God,[4] taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh;[5] renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good,[6] and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ:[7] yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.[8]

    II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man,[9] who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit,[10] he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.[11]

    III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit,[12] who works when, and where, and how He pleases:[13] so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.[14]

    IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word,[15] and may have some common operations of the Spirit,[16] yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved:[17] much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess.[18] And to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.[19]

    Notwithstanding the use of the ‘p’ word, it’s a great help to many of us in our preaching and pastoral ministry, especially as we follow through the proof texts.

    Bob Thomas

  30. Bill would I be right in saying all the church fathers like Augustine fought long and hard against Greek Philosophy and its still raising its ugly head.
    Daniel Kempton

  31. I just want to say thank you. It is so inspiring, refreshing, challenging and encouraging to know that whether I am reading one of your articles or one of your responses in a thread it is always Biblical and well argued. Thank you also for being in the “front lines” in the defence of the Faith.
    Lee Avery

  32. Thanks Daniel

    Actually, not quite. It is in fact much more complex than that. Some Fathers, such as Tertullian, wanted nothing to do with Greek philosophy, but many others were quite willing to accept certain truths and/or insights from it. And Augustine was happy to appropriate Greek categories of thought as he sought to explain Christian doctrine.

    But the entire issue is rather complex and nuanced, and many questions arise – two especially:
    -Just how much influence did Greek philosophy have on early Christian thinking?
    -Was this influence on the whole helpful, harmful, or neutral?

    Both questions would require at least an entire article to properly answer.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  33. I have to say that I, and many people too numerous to count, both known to me personally and through various other professional and philosophical means, would be appalled at having to share “heaven” with most of the people who are allowed to comment on this website.

    It is inconceivable to us that any person could believe any of the ideas expressed here.

    Diana Mcinnes

  34. I agree, Bill – with infants who die we must leave it to the mercy and justice of God as David did in 2 Sam 12:23 (which is probably the clearest indication in the Bible that the dead infants of believers at least will be saved).

    Interesting how the WCF (thanks, Bob) speaks about elect infants; it still leaves the question open as to who those elect infants are!

    A note to Steve Bergan, who wrote:

    One aspect of ‘hell’ that is rarely preached is the difference between ‘the grave’ or Gehenna and ‘the second death’ or ‘Lake of Sulphur and Fire’ as found in Revelation.

    The former representing a sort of remand centre where unbelievers are held until the day of Judgement (their day in court), following which (having their crimes proven beyond all reasonable doubt) they are sentenced to death

    I just need to make a correction: in the New Testament “gehenna” is actually equivalent to the lake of fire (eternal hell). “Hades” is the temporary holding place of the dead. Interestingly the parable in Luke 16 takes place in Hades.

    Jereth Kok

  35. Thanks Diana

    And that is the wonderful privilege we all have, because God created us with free will. We can either agree with him and enjoy him forever, or we can tell him to get lost and remove ourselves from his presence forever. Where you spend eternity is entirely up to you. You can either enjoy the presence of a holy and pure God and his saints forever, or you can endure being with other like-minded opponents of God, forever waving your clenched fist in his face – and at each other. I know which place I would rather be in, and which group of people i would rather be with.

    And if you hate the ideas expressed here, you are simply telling the God of the universe that he is wrong, he is ugly, and he is not as moral and nice as you are. Once again, we have the atheist proclaiming to be the centre of the universe: “I am more loving and compassionate than God, and I know much better how to run things”. That is a most arrogant and idolatrous stance indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  36. Hi Bill – for someone who says I should go back to the Word – you do quote a lot of men! A literal forever hell of weeping & gnashing of teeth and an unquenchable fire is disproved by the Scriptures you just quoted. An unquenchable fire (obviously seen & felt) and outer darkness (obviously seen & felt) which is it? Could it be a metaphor & allegory – I think so. Also not mentioned is the word eternal – it is an age of age in the Greek and all the great concordances cannot get around the word. It means a time period – period. When Jesus says get away from Me, I never knew you – COULD be,go and do your time, get your sin nature destroyed? Again I think so. I admire C.S. Lewis – but he is unscriptural when he says that man sends himself to hell – wilfully – not according to scripture. The ruler of this world, satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers – they have no idea, they are as Jesus said to the disciples – deaf & blind – they cannot see, until the Holy Spirit reveals Himself. If people, Hitler & Mao knew the love of God, they would never have done what they did. People are slaves to sin – they do not wilfully go to hell. Finally – Willard’s quote; “The ultimately lost person is the person who cannot want God. Who cannot want God to be God. Multitudes of such people pass by every day, and pass into eternity. The reason they do not find God is that they do not want him or, at least, do not want him to be God. Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.” How, pray tell, can anyone know what they WANT, when they have not experienced it? We were slaves to darkness & satan, blinded, deafened, no real spirtual choice – a slave to wrong choices, a bias to evil and hell – only hellfire could destroy that nature and make it ready for Heaven!
    Neil Innes

  37. Thanks Neil

    But respectfully your “arguments” are becoming increasingly silly and threadbare. Spare us the crack about books. Recall that it was you who first took us down this path by citing a book as the reason for your rejection of Scripture. And I have offered plenty of passages in all the articles I have written on this. You might as well demand of me that I provide some passages in the Bible which show that God exists.

    The truth is, anyone coming to the biblical text without heterodox blinders on can see with absolute clarity that from Genesis to Revelation we are told that there are two distinct eternal destinies for mankind. It takes deliberate self-deception to ignore, overlook, or reject these many hundreds, if not thousands, of passages. But as I am now writing an article on the false doctrine of universalism, I will save my responses for that. It will hopefully be finished before I head off on another interstate trip.

    And respectfully, your conceptual confusion of both Calvinism and the biblical texts is too sloppy and errant to be fully dealt with here. Suffice it to say that even if the Calvinist line is the correct one, no self-respecting Calvinist denies the plain teaching of Scripture that we are responsible and accountable for our actions. But leave Calvin and other theologians out of this if you please – simply look at the massive amount of biblical data which so plainly and decisively refutes your position.

    And I have already replied to Jeffery above about Scriptures’ use of metaphorical language to describe the realities of hell. As I mentioned there, I guess you now deny the reality of heaven, since so much figurative language is used of that as well.

    Sorry, but it looks like you are going to the same atheist websites for your rather lame objections that all my atheist buddies do when they come here attacking these biblical doctrines.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  38. Says Neil, “A literal forever hell of weeping & gnashing of teeth and an unquenchable fire is disproved by the Scriptures you just quoted. An unquenchable fire (obviously seen & felt) and outer darkness (obviously seen & felt) which is it?”

    Actually from the point of an outside observer it can be both. A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. And in cosmic terms light is emitted by hot bodies. The theory of general relativity predicts that a very compact gravitational mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is an undetectable surface called an event horizon that marks the point of no return. It is called “black” because it “absorbs all the light” that hits the horizon, reflecting nothing. And that why they call it a “black hole”. Even in terms of “naturalistic” observations one can have an extremely hot body that emits no light. And neither Neil nor I would ever wish to be sucked into the outer darkness of a black hole where gravity would tear us apart.

    John Heininger

  39. Neil said

    Also not mentioned is the word eternal – it is an age of age in the Greek and all the great concordances cannot get around the word. It means a time period – period.

    So when the Bible promises “eternal” life to believers in Jesus, it is really promising them temporary life?

    And when Paul in Romans 16:26 calls God the “eternal God”, he’s really saying the “temporary God”?

    Jereth Kok

  40. As a Catholic Christian, my understanding of hell is that it is an eternal state of being in which the damned exist because they have utterly rejected God. They have lived in such a way that they have neither the desire nor capacity to accept His merciful forgiveness. No matter how often or in how many ways He has pursued them, they have wilfully rejected Him.
    How many or few these are can be known only to God, but to imagine that little babies who die in infancy or early childhood have been created by our all-knowing and loving God , only to be eternally damned, seems utterly absurd to me.
    Anna Cook

  41. Anna, I agree with you. I have asked many Pastors what is the age cut-off point where children are responsible for their own decision about accepting the salvation offered by Jesus. Only one would give me an answer – and that was: “I do not know.” It appears from many of the comments on this blog that there is no definitive answer. My thought is that is may be the age when Jews are considered to be adults, 12 years of age. Is anyone able to give a Bible-based answer to this question?
    God bless,
    Paul de la Garde, Sydney

  42. I agree wholeheartedly with you Anna Cook! But there is always mercy if a soul repents…

    According to Saint Faustina’s visions, Jesus Christ promised that all who recite this chaplet at the hour of death or in the presence of the dying will receive great mercy. She wrote that Jesus said:

    “….When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying not as the just judge but as the Merciful Savior.”

    Jesus also promised that anything can be obtained with this prayer if it is compatible with His will. Saint Faustina recounts in her diary that, in her vision, she saw an angel sent to a city to destroy it. Saint Faustina began to pray for God’s mercy on the city and felt the strong presence of the Trinity. After she prayed the internally-instructed prayers, the angel was powerless to harm the city. In subsequent revelations, Saint Faustina learned that the prayers she spoke were to be taught to all the people of the world.[5]


    The Divine Mercy Devotion has been approved and encouraged by the Catholic Church and is faithfully practiced in many parts of the world. It is to do with the second coming of Christ…

    Paula Mari Pike

  43. Rev 19:1-2
    “After this i heard what sounded like the roar of a great multiltude in heaven shouting, “Hallelujah, Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments…”

    This text always strikes me. Seems to me, that the multitude of believers rejoice and praise God for his eschatological and eternal judgment.

    Too often we look at Hell from the human side, considering the people who are lost and sent there. Why not devote more time to looking at it from God’s side. He has been mocked, his glory diminished and his son rejected. I feel that if we as Christians began focusing more on the glory of God, and how much of it is stolen and replaced by sinful people, we may begin to understand such texts and realise that we as redeemed believers will rejoice when God lays down his judgment, for it will be at that time when justice is truly delivered and the beauty of Christ’s redemption fully understood and appreciated by us.

    Let’s be more God centred, not man centred.

    Mark Topping

  44. Exactly right Mark

    These are the sorts of passages which are either not read or are outright rejected by the theological revisionists and cultists. Again, they seem to think they are more just and righteous than God in denying what he has said so clearly about our two eternal destinies.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  45. My opinion on hell and infants harks back more than 30 years when at a teenage youth group, a girl asked a visiting minister about those who are intellectually impaired and those who die in infancy.

    To summarise a long reply, he said “God knows the heart.”

    I have stayed with that opinion ever since. I have had fellow Christians castigate me for saying that not all those who die in infancy go to heaven.

    I ask them, “if Hitler had died in infancy, where would he be now.” Incredulously, to me at least, they say he’d be in heaven.

    I believe that under those circumstances, Hitler would be exactly where he is today.

    God knows the heart … simple …

    Graeme Cumming

  46. Hi, Neil,
    The basis of our salvation is not “works” or how little sins we had committed but belief. The scripture clearly states that we will be judged by whether we believe in Jesus. John 3:16-18
    16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. NIV
    SK Leong

  47. Hell is real. If we glimpse what horror man does on this earth, and keep in mind that is in a *with* God’s grace being showered upon all to various degrees, then it isn’t much of a stretch to realise that an existence without any presence or peace of God whatsoever will leave us totally wretched, unable to escape our regrets and memories, and unable to leave. The horrors people have perpetuated on earth will be a constant reminder of the inescapable reality of their depravity and wickedness.

    Hopefully, those of us who call ourselves Christian care more for reaching those who are currently destined for hell than on arguing about other things that aren’t really relevant.

    “May God break our hearts with what breaks his heart.”

    Yes & amen

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