Posted by: minnow | March 2, 2008

Personal Statement on Hell

How did I ever get to a place where I even thought about asking the question about whether or not the traditional view of Hell as a never ending place of torment was accurate?  I wish I could say it was because I was so disturbed by what I read in the Bible I just had to start looking things up in the original Greek.  But, the truth is if it were not for a personal friend of mine I would probably still believe in the fire and brimstone images I once did. 

I do not have proof beyond question for my belief any more than those who hold a belief in such a place have. However, as I read scripture looking through my new paradigm I have less conflict and fewer questions than I had before. Passages that once confused me now seem clear. My ability to see as well as believe in a loving Father and to trust that I not only cannot earn His love (which had always been pretty apparent to me), but that I do not even need to try to earn it, is less troublesome. Finally, the haunting concerns I had as to where young children who die, or the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, or aborted babies, or the “unreached” went once they died now have an answer I can comprehend and hang on to.

When my friend first shared his views with me my spirit gasped as if getting a breath of air after having been underwater way too long. A gift had been given to me that I didn’t deserve, a gift that I could chose not to open but that could never be exchanged for something else. It was mine. I had not really understood salvation that way before. In fact I had spent far too much time doubting my salvation because I could not point to a specific time or day I had “given my life to Christ” despite a testimony of tongues. At some level, I am sure I wanted to believe what I heard my friend saying. His words addressed the doubts that had haunted me so in some ways his point of view made my life easier (an accusation often spouted by his critic). Since my friend first shared his position on hell, however, I have studied the scripture for myself. Most of what I have written originated from my own study and not that of my friend.

If a person is searching for an excuse to not believe in God or to not live a kingdom life that person could possibly use my opinion–that there is no literal, eternal hell–as a reason to keep on sinning. In fact Romans 6:1-2a is pretty much trying to head that reaction off at the pass, “What shall we say then? Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” Yet, I am equally certain just as many people choose to use their inability to reconcile a loving God with an ever-lasting place of torment as an excuse to ignore Christianity altogether. The sad thing about closed minds are just that–they are closed.

Today I can agree to disagree with those who do not share my point of view for I believe my time is better spent focused in a different direction. My new position has given me an interesting task. Despite my critics’ inability to understand, saying hell is not a never-ending place of torture is not the same as saying our behavior has no consequences. Likewise, believing grace alone saves us does not discount the roll of faith in reuniting us with the Father. For me, holding the position I do regarding hell shifts my attention off the future–when I die–and brings it to the now. My job as a witness for Jesus, now, is not about scaring people into heaven by threatening them with a future hell; it is more about replacing the hell we already experience on earth with a little bit of heaven. The Kingdom of God is at hand only as far as I am willing to live like a resident of the kingdom and a child of the King.

 

 

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Responses

  1. Preaching hell is not “scaring people out of heaven” any more than warning my kids to not run out into the street is scaring them into my yard.

    I warn my kids, because I know of the dangers that they do not see. My love for them breeds stern warnings to them.

    In the same way, Christ and His apostles loved those around them by warning them of the wrath to come. To miss that truth is to slice out many passages in the gospels and epistles (even if you know Greek).

    In short, “good news” presupposes “bad news,” and the “bad news” is that we will be condemned by God unless we repent.

    The good news is that God’s arms are open wide for those who repent, and so He remains loving, yet holy and just.

  2. And by the way. Hell disturbs me greatly, but I cannot get away from that doctrine without distorting the Scripture.

    God is infinite and incomprehensible. I fear you are trying to make Him understandable.

  3. I believe by manipulating scripture to create a hell doctrine from passages that clearly do not support such a doctrine we are attempting to make God understandable. Furthermore, we are putting God into a box and limiting Him to our human attributes, AKA our concept of justice must be God’s concept of justice.
    Over and over in the Old Testament we see examples of God offering a plan for redemption. Over and over man fails to meet even a minimal request. So God sent His Son and His Son accomplished what man even in tandem with God could not; Jesus went the distance. He, fully God and fully man, accomplished all.
    Are there consequences to sin?–yes. We live with those consequences everyday. We will also face judgment (pruning). But the mercy of God triumphs. God’s arms are open wide long before we repent. His open arms are what allow us to repent.
    I could go on but we should probably just agree to disagree.

  4. I’m trying to understand you here. We really don’t disagree on much, esp. regarding the work of Christ. We just disagree on whom this work applies to.

    Yet, while you claim that we live with the consequences of our sin each day, the fact is, many do not.

    This was Asaph’s quandry in Psalm 73–that the unrighteous lived in sin without consequence, while the righteous suffered. To him, this was a grave injustice–God seemed unjust, until he realized that their destiny was destruction. This is what brought him comfort–not that people would go to hell, but that God would show himself to be just by punishing the wicked and vindicating the righteous (which we now define as hell).

    Paul speaks the same way in Romans 2:5: “you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of judgment.” Paul goes on to say that the righteous will have eternal life, but the wicked will be given wrath and fury.
    (whether hell is the issue or not, God’s wrath upon the unredeemed is still on the table)

    So, your claim that the King’s Kids have the advantage, in that we experience less consequences than unbelievers is a generalization that is proven experientially and biblically incorrect.

    Thus, the question continues: Why should I follow Christ if my life on earth will be harder (as Jesus and Paul both claimed), while if I follow my own devices, my life might work out just fine, and I will enjoy the same eternity as people who have been persecuted on earth? (Mark Cuban, Hugh Hefner, et. al.).

    I think that any accusation of manipulating the text would be your burden, rather than orthodox Christianity’s, especially since you have taken 1 Cor. 3 and the judgment seat completely out of its context and have applied it to everyone, rather than believers only.

    Again, I would love to have a dialogue on this, via email, considering together the context of 1 Cor. 3 and its application.

    You may not accept, but I would at least encourage you to study some respectable theologians’ on this issue, who believe differently than you.

    We can agree to disagree, but no, you cannot call yourself a believer in the gospel, if the gospel you profess does not take into account the wrath of God upon unbelievers, who will be excluded from the Heavenly City (Rev. 22:15).

    Your gospel is really no gospel at all. It’s a call for people to deny themselves and follow Christ for no better reason than to say, “I lived a good life.”

    Heck, any good Buddhist can say that!

  5. Call me overly cautious but I don’t give out my e-mail. So if you continue to want to pursue this it will need to be here.
    As for studying some respectable theologians what makes you think I haven’t. I choose not to value the counsel of Men over that of the Counselor. I do not take anything in hook line and sinker but to the best of my ability try to keep 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”
    Now to address your points:
    Asaph settled his own quandary by choosing to believe God would punish the wicked. His affirmation of God’s character is not as a God who takes revenge. His affirmation of God is that God’s heart is toward Israel. He focuses on God’s faithfulness to him, the hand that will hold him, comfort him, and counsel him. He may claim God will be vengeful but God does not confirm that assumption. In the Romans passage God is talking about the judgment that comes according to our works 2:6, 9b, “God will give to each person according to what he has done…first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.” I am not denying a time of pruning (punishment). I am saying specifically that the concept of hell as an everlasting place where those who do not believe in Jesus before they die will be tortured is not found in scripture.
    I have not intended to say that Christians experience fewer consequences for their sin or less difficulty in life. But, the fact that we have a comforter and counselor helps to alleviate the suffering. As I read your comment I wondered if you have ever experienced the joy of the Lord as your strength, or His peace that passes understanding when life is turbulent. These are very real experiences for me. An empty bottle and multiple partners are poor substitutes. Have you ever been lost? The fresh green clover tastes sweet while the sun in warm on your back but when the sky clouds over and it gets dark the warmth of the flock and the soothing tone of your master’s voice is pretty comforting. “Why should I follow Christ?” My reasons are not for love of money or reward, here or in heaven. I am not looking for a Sugar Daddy (unlike many evangelical Christians I might add). I love because He first loved me, not so that He will. I follow because I can trust His lead.
    As for I Corinthians 3. I understand your reading of it but I believe you are misinterpreting the passage. Verse 11, “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Christ Jesus”, is key to how I understand this passage and why I believe it applies to all men not just believers. The foundation is Christ and what Christ accomplished on the cross. The gift was given to all men while all were yet sinners. There can be no other foundation; such is impossible. What we now chooses to do with that foundation–build with straw or with costly stones–determines our reward.
    Out of everything you said, these statements:
    “No, you cannot call yourself a believer in the gospel, if the gospel you profess does not take into account the wrath of God upon unbelievers…Your gospel is really no gospel at all. It’s a call for people to deny themselves and follow Christ for no better reason than to say, “I lived a good life.” Heck, any good Buddhist can say that!”
    disturb me the most. They reveal how very far apart we truly are for you call into question my “salvation” simply because my doctrine does not line up with yours. The last I looked it was God alone who was able to judge the contents of the heart.
    You still have not addressed the questions I asked earlier. I would very much like a response to those before we continue.

  6. phew….. well I read all the posts on hell. I’m actually not ‘convinced’ to either side as usual because I need to read more scripture on it.

    But for some reason – how long ‘hell’ will be doesn’t really make a difference to me at this point. Whether it’s eternal or a ‘short’ pruning judgement time separated from God (who says what is short in God’s time? who says God has time outside of our earth time?) doesn’t really matter.

    Point is – one will be separated from God…if one doesn’t know Jesus — they can’t get to the Father. Nobody can get to the Father without accepting Jesus and His grace. You agree with that right?

    “*IF* you confess with your mouth….. THEN u will be saved” Romans 10:9

    and what do you believe Jesus is saying in Matthew 25:46? and John 3:36?? …. I’m not convinced with your interpretation of those.

    thanks for the thoughts! 🙂 so challenging!

    have a great Sunday! 🙂

  7. do u have anything to say in response to this one too minnow? 🙂

  8. Actually I wrote a response but for some reason it did not publish, sorry.
    Regarding Matthew 25:46: In the original Greek “eternal” or aion can also mean for an age or for a period of time and “punishment” or kalasis can also mean pruning. The text could be read to support a time of correction rather than an everlasting time of torment.
    Regarding our need to confess–my problem was what do we do with all the babies born and unborn who die before they have a chance to confess or those who are mute, or those who never heard the gospel so didn’t have a chance to accept it or reject it? How could a loving God condemn those people to everlasting torment? I’ve heard the argument regarding the age of accountability but frankly I cannot find any scripture to back up that claim. Where as I have found much scripture to back up the claim that All will be saved. Romans 5:18 is one example. “Consequesently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for ALL men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification for ALL men.
    Can I explain John 3:36? Only with John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son to condemn the world but to save the world through Him” in combination with Christ’s words “It is finished” on the cross before anyone confessed anything. Jesus says in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Now either that verse supports the Calvinist point of view that God predestine some to believe and the rest are just out of luck, created to be tortured forever. Or, it indicates that our salvation really has nothing to do with anything we do, including the words we use to proclaim Christ, and God alone has accomplished our salvation. Which point of view would paint a picture of a loving Father? A God who is for us not against us? A God/Father who would send His only Son to a sin-filled world He loves?
    The bottom line for me is I do not have all the answers. I have decided that our traditional concept of hell as an everlasting place of torment for those who have not confessed Christ before they die must be wrong because most of the scripture used to depict such a place does not actually support the doctrine. In addition, more of my questions are answered through scripture when I do not have that point of view than when I do. And, parts of scripture that use to confuse me are now more understandable. Finally, and most importantly to me, the character of God as a loving Father is not contradicted or confused when I reject the traditional hell doctrine but it is contradicted and confused when I accept such an idea.

  9. thanks Minnow. can you tell me what resources you use to figure out the original text? I would love something like that. This is all so confusing minnow.

    So where do you think this all leads then? Do you think that ALL people of ALL time will be reconciled with God even those who reject Jesus? So are you one who believes that all religions lead to God?

    Or do you believe that accepting Jesus does matter, but just not as much as some might think because you believe people be given a last chance to accept or reject Jesus?

    Or you believe salvation has nothing to do with our own action / decision at all? There is nothing needed on out part at all? No faith in Him? No confession of Him? what do we do with those verses then?

    Do you know the original text with John 3:16….
    I can’t figure out what else “perish” could mean other than opposite of “but have eternal life”. That verse when I’m reading it totally implies to me that the oppsite of eternal life will happen if we don’t believe in Jesus…… opposite being eternal death/separation.

    From what I understood — we were all under God’s wrath and separation from Him, until we accepted His son. then He becomes our Father.

    I don’t know about pre-Jesus how that all worked…. but I don’t worry about that since now we all live post-Jesus time on earth.

    you chose to quote John 3:17 — but what about verse 18? that 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.

    condemned to what they deserve – a life of separation from Him.

    Now why do some believe and choose Him and some don’t…. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m any better than anybody because I chose Him… but I also don’t believe I’m “chosen” / predestined chosen one to choose Him.

    as far as babies or others that don’t have the capabilities to confess…… since there is no scripture backign up either way…. and babies don’t have the capability to choose Jesus or not – I’m sure God will work that out somehow.

    but that is so so different than adults who are capable yet definitely intentionally reject Jesus.

    I think solely to avoid contradictions / confusion is not always a great reason for choosing one theology/doctrine/viewpoint over another thoguh right? Because then we are just trying to think through things with our own logic…. which isn’t posible.

    but I guess that’s how I often decide if I agree with a doctrine or viewpoint or whatever…. and I can’t agree with any viewpoint that contradicts

    John 3:16
    John 3:18
    I John 5:11 – 13
    John 8:24
    Acts 4:12
    John 14:6

    I believe that God DID come to save the world — but it’s up to us to accept that or not. He won’t force us to love Him – and people who don’t care to be with Him, don’t have to be.

    God IS a just God – and without Jesus – He would justly, separate us from Him forever in hell. That is our judgement without Jesus, because God IS just. God would never punish an innocent person. but none are innocent.

    then I find myself thinking I should worry a lot less about what exactly happens to those that don’t choose Him…… and worry a lot more about spreading the gospel that He spoke – that nobody could get to the Father except through Him and His other life ministries / verses. That eternal life was available to all — but not required. Those who don’t choose Him thorugh His son, don’t have to live with Him worshipping forever. So in the end, everybody gets what they want.

    but I guess the reason so few seem to be concerned with speaking the gospel that one needs to accept Jesus or they are condemned…is because so few believe it. there’s no reason to preach to the world about Jesus being the way to eternal life.. if believing in Him or not doesn’t have any eternal significance. If there’s no eternal significance ultimately, then why worry about others accepting Jesus, sicne God will reconcile all to Him anyway. let them beleive whatever they want.

    which I totally don’t agree with and which sort of sends red flashing warning signals in my brain.

    this is hard stuff here Minnow. I’m not sure if I’m reading into everything you wrote properly or not……. but it seems to me that you are saying that all religions DO lead to God in the end?

    Help me figure out what you’re saying.

    Thanks for this conversation!

  10. No. I am not saying all roads (religions) lead to God. I am also not saying that we will face no consequences for our actions or inactions, or for our motives. I am saying we, until we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior including right now, are currently experiencing hell (AKA life without knowing His presence).
    Can you imagine anything that your son could do that would justify his experiencing torment for the rest of his life? How about beyond his earthly life? What if he said I deny you as my mother, my creator? Would you want him punished, forever? Or, would you do what might be necessary to help him understand how much you love him?
    Personally I believe many of the verses you quoted and we typically apply to judgement day after we die are actually speaking for the here and now. Jesus and later the disciples are trying to convey to those listening what the difference is between following Jesus and say following a political agenda or the religious leaders of their day.
    I totally agree with Acts 4:12. In fact, I would say Jesus and Jesus alone has saved me. Over and over God tried to make a convenant with His people and they kept breaking it. Finally, He sent His Son to do what we could/would not.
    Randi–I do not want to talk you into believing something or talk you out of believing something else. My questions have lead me to believe that while God does promise to prune us He also promises to save us because He loves us. He has repeatedly shown us that we are not God, that we cannot choose correctly (well) without His help, that knowledge does not make us like God, God in us makes us like God.
    I’m tired and need to get to bed. I’ll think more on this and if I have anything Spirit led to add I’ll write again. At least know that I believe Jesus is who He said He is and I am nothing without Him. I hope my witness to the world is not so much about hell as about the fact that their Father, their creator, loves them.

  11. Thanks so much for clarifying more Minnow. It makes a lot more sense what you’re saying.

    I know you must be tired and I appreciate you taking the time to pour into me.

    I definitely do take everything you say to heart and respect your views & thoughts a lot. But don’t worry because I “wrestle” (kathy loves that word) with these things a lot with more than one different “voice” speaking into me — which I then TRY my best to take back to the Lord and see what it means to me at this point in my relationship and journey with Him. I know that you are way above my head in theology / wisdom / knowledge — but I figure – I have to start somewhere ya know?! 🙂

    Thanks for the conversation!!!!

  12. P.S. I like when you said, “I am saying we, until we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior including right now, are currently experiencing hell (AKA life without knowing His presence)”

    I agree.

    I just don’t know what happens to those who never accept Jesus. I don’t know what He will do with those who don’t accept Him. and I don’t know what He will do with those not given the opportunity on earth to hear about Him. He must have something “set up” for after our time on earth…. but I don’t think about that a lot – there’s so much to do here and now in spreadin His gospel as He desires and commanded us right?

    thanx minnow 🙂

  13. […] to know my full views on hell you can check out the archives (here, here, here, here, here, and here), I will try not to repeat myself in this post but I do have a few thoughts that include the idea […]

  14. […] have tried to explain my process of emerging from the cult like Christianity I experienced in other posts so I won’t rehash that now.  […]


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