Is Hell real? Does the Bible really teach eternal conscious torment for unbelievers? If nothing else, the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment has scared people into paying attention to the afterlife. Some nod in approval. But it also joins with the ‘problem of evil’ to create a powerful wall against the slightest consideration of the Good News of Jesus. Those who believe in a traditional view are understandably passionate about defending it so that others don’t suffer terrible consequences. But if that view is wrong, the character of God will have been misrepresented, terribly. Therefore, it seems to me that we need to be fairly confident in our view of Hell; the stakes are high.
So how do we rethink this? Is it enough to stick to what we’ve been taught because we don’t want to take any chances? Or, is it enough to reject a view because we don’t happen to like it? Can we really believe things based on what we are or are not comfortable with? I don’t think that’s a very wise way to live. We need to be humble enough to submit to a source more authoritative than our own feelings; We need to look at the Scriptures. Of course, some argue that they already have. Have they? Perhaps. But my purpose in writing this is to encourage that we take another look at what the Bible says… and with a willingness to be wrong no matter which side of the issue we’re presently on. And when we read, we need to be asking questions like:
Does ‘eternal death’ mean eternal life in a bad place? Does ‘everlasting punishment’ refer to the duration of the punishing or the result of the punishment?
Does ‘the fire that is never quenched’ refer to the fire. or to the souls supposedly in the fire?
Was Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man a lesson on the nature of afterlife, or did he use a common story from folklore to illustrate another point?
More generally: Are human souls inherently immortal, or should the Bible be taken literally when it says, ‘Only God is immortal’? (I Timothy 6:16) If they are not immortal, and ‘the gift of God is eternal life (Rom 6:23), then how can a damned soul be given immortality after all?
I could ask many more.
My point is that this doctrine ought not be taken for granted. For too long, Christians have simply repeated a traditional doctrine that has had the most support from the organized Church. If, upon honest study and reflection, a person sustains that view, then I applaud them. But I think the surprise-in-waiting for some is that the Bible might just be teaching something different than what they have so long assumed.