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Author Topic: Defending The Doctrine Of Hell
Ablorba
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When I first read Charles William's novels, I was delighted. But now I am much less comfortable with their strongly occult emphasis. Even the Harry Potter novels have only a mildly demonic taste in comparison.

What reason might you have for advising his book to give insight on suicide?

Rommel committed suicide extorted by superiors with the threat of executing his staff and harming his family. Only GOD may judge him righteously. Me, I'll wait.

1 Cor 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

--Sacramento Pine

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Ablorba
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It could be argued hell is not eternal. The lake of fire, or the second death, is.
Rev. 20:. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Rev. 21:. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

I think this is a matter of terminology. A I understand it, those in hell will most likely end up in the lake of fire.

I am definitely willing to yield to better information as this is not completely clear to me.

--Sacramento Pine

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Carol Swenson
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 - Defending the Doctrine of Hell



The arguments against believing in hell seem very strong and simple. Yet each can be answered.

Objection 1:
Most obviously, hell seems clean contrary to the love of God. How could a God of total love make or even tolerate such a torture chamber? The stark contrast between the character of God taught and exemplified by Jesus—love, kindness, mercy and forgiveness—and the character of a God who presides over a creation that includes a hell is too obvious for argument. Only by not thinking these two ideas at the same time could anyone believe both of them.

Reply A: Of course hell is contrary to the God of love. That is its very essence. But its existence does not refute God's existence. For love wants the beloved to be free, like itself. Love created freedom, love appeals to freedom, love respects freedom. It is this freedom that chooses hell.

Reply B: True, God is perfect mercy and forgiveness. But let us be clear about what that means. Forgiveness appeals to freedom; it must be freely given and freely accepted, like any gift. If we do not repent and ask for God's forgiveness, we do not receive it—not because God holds it back, but because we hold ourselves back.

Reply C: God's love is also truthful. Love is not blind; love is accurate. God is love, and God is not blind but accurate. God's love is not a subjective feeling but is utterly realistic. In fact, it is reality itself. In a sense there is nothing else. The room you are sitting in is God's love in the form and limits of a room, and you are God's love in the form of a created image of Himself. Thus, all who refuse that love refuse reality, and there is no alternative to reality except "outer darkness".

Reply D: Hell does not refute God's love because the very fires of hell may be of God's love. The damned hate this love, and it tortures them, but it is unavoidable. God can't stop loving any more than the sun can stop shining or water can stop being wet.

Imagine a person who commits suicide seeking death, not life, and is horrified when he finds that, after he has died, his soul is immortal and can never die; he can never escape himself. God and himself are the only two realities he can never escape. If these are hated and become misery to him, rather than loved and become joy, then he is in eternal and inescapable misery.

This is not to say that all suicides are damned. Probably most suicides are not wholly sane or responsible. God will see and grant whatever deep desire lies in their hearts, hidden from us but not from Him. (For a convincing case for a saved suicide, see Charles Williams's novel Descent into Hell.)

Objection 2:
Hell seems contrary to justice as well as love. For the punishment does not seem to fit the crime here, either in quantity or quality. What is the relation or proportion between hell's unthinkable, infinite, eternal torments and earth's thinkable, finite, temporal sins? The same sort of relationship as fifty years of torture to a three-year-old's theft of a cookie. How can finite sin justly merit infinite punishment? How can temporal sin merit eternal punishment?

Reply: There are three charges here:
(a) temporal crimes do not merit eternal punishments, (b) finite crimes do not merit infinite punishments, and (c) mild crimes do not merit such intense punishments.

a. Eternity is not quantitative. It is not more time, or even endless time. It is another dimension than time, just as time is another dimension than space. Whatever we make of ourselves in time is destined to be "fleshed out" into the dimension of eternity. To use a crude image, if we make squares of ourselves in time, we are cubes eternally; temporally blueprinted triangles go to the sculptor to become eternal pyramids. The relation between earthly choices and eternal rewards or punishments is not like the relation between crimes and prison sentences, but like the relation between a foundation and a building. It is not external but internal. In a sense, heaven or hell is the same thing as earth; the same life, the same person, only with another dimension—somewhat as life after birth is the same life, the same person, but with more dimensions. Souls in time are like boats on a river, all destined for the ocean of eternity. It is a structural internal necessity, not an imposed external reward or punishment.

b. Hell's punishments are eternal, but not infinite. Only God is infinite. Souls, sin, and punishment are all finite. Just as one saint is more saintly, more great-hearted, more loving, and therefore more able to contain God's joy in heaven than another, and in this sense is naturally "higher" in heaven than another, so one sinner is "lower" in hell than another (i.e., more deep-set in despair and pride and hate). There are limits.

c. The intense images of physical torture are meant to suggest something beyond themselves: the privation of God, source of all joy and meaning. The unimaginable thing suggested by the imaginative images of fire is more awful, not less, than the literal misinterpretation of the images. Physical pain comes in degrees of intensity; the privation of God is total.

Hell's punishment fits sin's crime because sin is divorce from God. The punishment fits the crime because the punishment is the crime. Saying no to God means no God. The point is really very simple. Those who object to hell's overseverity do not see what sin really is. They probably look at sin externally, sociologically, legalistically, as "behaving badly". They fail to see the real horror of sin and the real greatness and goodness and joy of the God who is refused in every sin. We all fail to appreciate this. Who of us fully appreciates God's beauty? The corollary immediately follows: who of us fully appreciates sin's ugly horror?

Hell shocks our human minds. To believe in hell is to allow the divine mind to instruct and correct our human minds of their little illusions, to measure our thoughts by God's. To refuse to believe is to measure God's thoughts by ours.

Objection 3:
Not only does hell seem to contradict God's love and His justice, but also God's power. The God who created the whole universe out of nothing is omnipotent, all-powerful. If His power has no limit, why does He not destroy hell or arrange for no one to go there?

The argument can be put in the form of a dilemma. Does God will everyone to be saved or not? If not, He is not all-loving. If so, and not all are saved, then His will is thwarted and He is not all powerful.

If God is all-good and all-powerful, He must have created the best of all possible worlds, for to prefer a worse world to a better one is not to be all-good. But a world in which no one goes to hell, or a world in which there is no hell, is a better world than a world in which some go to hell. Therefore, if there is a hell, God deliberately created a bad world, and He is not all-good. Or else He tried to create a wholly good world, one without a hell, but failed. In this case, He is not all-powerful. If God is both all-good and all-powerful, there cannot be a hell.

A world without a hell seems to be a conceivable and possible world, even granted human free will. For all God would have to do is foresee whether the person about to be conceived was going to hell or to heaven; if to hell, God would arrange, whether by natural providence or supernatural miracle, for that person not to be conceived. Omnipotence could surely do that.


Reply: To reconcile God's omnipotence with hell, we must first be sure we have a true concept of omnipotence. Omnipotence is limited by nothing outside itself, but God's power does not extend to contradicting His own essential nature. God is consistent. The logical laws of consistency (identity and noncontradiction) are reflections of the very nature of God. God cannot do meaningless and self-contradictory things. One such intrinsically impossible, self-contradictory and meaningless thing would be to have a world with free creatures and no possibility of hell.

There are three ways one might think God could do this: destroy hell, annihilate the souls in hell, or arrange for no hell-bound persons to be conceived. To destroy hell means to destroy free choice by destroying one of its two options. If there is no hell, no separation from God, then all must choose God, and this is not a free choice. To annihilate the souls in hell would be to destroy something God created to be intrinsically and essentially immortal and indestructible—this is another self-contradiction. To arrange for only heaven-bound souls to be conceived would be in effect to destroy free choice again: to destroy free choice of evil before it happens rather than after.

The objection claims that a world with no hell is possible and asks why God did not create it. He did! God did not create separation from Himself. God did not create hell. We did. God created a perfect world, but in creating humans (and angels) with free will, He left it up to us whether this actual world—the one without hell—would continue to be, or whether another possible world—one with hell—would begin to be.

Of course this is not "the best of all possible worlds" or even a world as good as it might be. But that's not God's fault, it's ours. What the objection comes down to is resentment at God for creating free will at all.

What is the answer to the dilemma about God's will? Is it thwarted or not? It is. God clearly wills all to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9). But this is not a contradiction to His omnipotence; it is the greatest mark of His omnipotence, that He can create free children, not just robots or holograms.

It is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle; for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity. (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chap. 8, "Hell".)

If the objector replies that that is not what he means by omnipotence, we retort that that's what God means by omnipotence! The objector's model of omnipotence is a divine puppeteer, robot-maker, or tyrant rather than a divine Father.

Objection 4:
Hell also seems contrary to human freedom, for no one would freely choose hell over heaven if given a free and open choice. Thus, hell would have to be imposed upon us, since no one loves punishment, pain, or privation of joy, which is what hell is.

Hell would render religious and moral choice unfree, just as the threat of torture renders a forced confession unfree. "Repent, believe and be good, or you'll fry" means that your repentance, belief and goodness are forced, not free. Fry and free are opposites.


Reply: Distinguish, as Augustine does, the freedom of liberty from the freedom of choice (libertas vs. liberum arbitrium). Hell is contrary to liberty but not to free choice. Free choice is a means to the end of higher freedom, liberty from sin. Those who fail to attain heaven's liberty reached their eternal destination by the same means as those who attained that liberty: by their free will.

We do, and therefore can, freely choose hell over heaven. We do this in principle in every sin. We do not want or explicitly choose sin's "wages", sin's inevitable punishment—banishment from the paradise of God's presence—but we do choose the sin and hope to escape the punishment.

Does the fear of hell remove free choice? Does fry contradict free? No more than the fear of falling off a cliff removes the free choice to skate close to the edge or to avoid it. If the threat "repent or you'll fry" removed free will, then all would repent. But this is not so; the threat is issued, but some respond and some do not. So in fact the threat does not remove free choice.

Objection 5:
Even if hell is not contrary to human freedom, it seems contrary to human sanity. For only someone insane would freely choose hell over heaven. But insanity is a good excuse. We do not punish criminals if we find that they are insane. Is God less just or merciful than we? What an incredible insult it is to humanity to imply that all who do not believe and are saved are insane!

Reply: We do not know how anyone could freely prefer hell to heaven, misery to joy, but it happens. It happens in every sin. We are spiritually insane! That is what the doctrine of original sin implies.

We know this from our own experience. Think of all the times you turn to God in love and obedience, and find peace and joy. Then think of all the times you turn away from God in sin, and find no peace and no joy. We know by millions of repeated experiences and experiments, all yielding the same results: "the wages of sin is death," the death of joy, and yet we sin. We are insane. Only the insane prefer misery to joy.

If sin exists, hell can exist; for hell is only sin eternalized. Hell is not so much an external punishment added to sin, as it is sin come to full fruition. Similarly, heaven is not an external reward added to faith and love; it is that very state of soul made perfect.

Sin does not mean just disobeying a law. That is only its formula. Sin means separating yourself from God, knowing God's will and yet "no-ing" it instead of "yes-ing" it. That is also the essence of hell.

But if we are insane, isn't that an excuse? If it comes to me against my will, yes; but if I choose it no. In sinning, I choose to go insane. If someone else force-feeds me drugs, I am not responsible for the crimes I commit under their influence; but if I choose to take them, I am responsible. Sin is the ultimate drug.

Objection 6:
Hell seems contrary to the morality of Jesus. The famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell argued in "Why I Am Not a Christian" that any teacher who believed and taught hell could not be a truly moral teacher. He thought the God of Christianity to be a cosmic hypocrite, preaching forgiveness but practicing vengeance, preaching kindness but practicing cruelty, preaching love but practicing torture.

We can distinguish four elements of this criticism of hell as immoral: (a) vengeance, (b) cruelty, (c) mercilessness and (d) retributive punishment itself. Didn't the ethic of Jesus substitute nonjudgmental forgiveness for retributive punishment? How can the morality we are supposed to practice be higher than its divine Source?


Reply: What the critic means by "the morality of Jesus" is quite different from the actual morality of the real Jesus, the only Jesus we have any objective evidence for, that is, the Jesus of the New Testament. That Jesus taught both mercy and justice, love and judgment, heaven and hell.

To say that anyone who teaches and warns about hell is immoral is like saying that any mother who warns her children not to play with fire is immoral. It is just plain silly.

The cause of hell is not divine vengeance or cruelty or mercilessness. The cause of hell is our free choice to refuse God's forgiveness and kindness and mercy.

Jesus did not substitute mercy for justice. He told many parables about justice and judgment and punishment. We are told to "judge not"—not because God does not judge, but because He does. God alone can judge human hearts. We shouldn't try, because we can't. We can judge only deeds.

The critic seems to be confusing forgiving with condoning. Condoning sin means pretending it isn't sin, pretending that "there's nothing to forgive". There is. God is not ignorant or dishonest. Omniscience cannot hide its head in the sand like an ostrich; it must deal with sin, and deal justly. His mercy does not destroy His justice; both are elements of His goodness, and both are inescapable. But His mercy separates our sins from ourselves, and gives our sins their just punishment in Christ, not in us. He pays our debt. We go free. Still, the debt must be paid. Justice cannot be ignored.

Objection 7:
The effect of believing in hell is the opposite of what the God of the Bible wants from us. God wants faith, hope and love. But if we believe in hell, we naturally feel fear, despair and hatred.

Reply: Sometimes belief in hell has produced these terrible effects, but this is due to bad teaching. The doctrine has been abused. But "abusus non tollit usus": the abuse does not annul the proper use.

When the doctrine of hell is abused, that abuse serves the very purposes of hell (fear, despair and hatred) instead of the purposes of heaven (faith, hope, and love).

On the other hand, fear is sometimes good and necessary. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 1:7), though it is not the end. (Love is that.) George MacDonald said, "When there are wild beasts about, it is better to feel afraid than to feel secure." Fear is reasonable and useful even in little things; what is more reasonably feared than hell, if it exists? The critic is presupposing that it doesn't exist, not proving that it doesn't. A person can't say that the reason hell does not exist is that it is bad to fear it, and also that the reason it is bad to fear it is that it doesn't exist. That's begging the question and arguing in a circle.

Belief in hell does not produce despair and hatred; hell itself produces despair and hate. If you believe that there are two roads ahead, one of which leads home and one of which leads over a cliff, you do not despair—especially if the two roads are clearly marked by signs, as are the roads to heaven and hell. Only after the wrong choice is made and you have fallen over the cliff does despair take over. Dante had the sign over hell's gate read: "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here."

Belief in hell should not produce hatred of God, for God did not invent hell or sin. We did. He invented salvation.

Objection 8:
If hell exists, no loving soul in heaven can be happy for all eternity. Suppose your spouse or parent or child goes to hell and you go to heaven. Either you know your beloved is in hell or not. If not, your heavenly happiness is founded on ignorance. If so, this knowledge must disturb your heavenly happiness. If it doesn't, you are selfish, cold, and unloving. Thus, if hell exists, then heaven is either ignorant, unhappy or unloving. Heaven cannot be any of these things. Therefore hell cannot exist.

In addition to the answers given above, the most practical answer to the objection is this. If you cannot imagine how you can be happy in heaven if X goes to hell, then pray for X's salvation: "God, I know You want me to be happy with You forever, and it seems to me that I can't be happy without X; so You are going to have to save X for my sake." We think God would not refuse that prayer, for even if its theology may be a little out of place, its heart is not.

Objection 9:
If hell exists, it is vastly overpopulated. It may be tolerable and right for a few irredeemable monsters like Mao, and the Marquis de Sade, and TV executives, but not for masses of ordinary people such as we meet every day. But if there are no masses in hell, Jesus overdid its danger and spoke too much about it.

Most Christians in the past believed that the majority of humans who have ever lived end up in hell and only a minority in heaven. Jesus even said that the way to hell is "wide" and "many" find it, while the way to heaven is "narrow" and "few" find it (Matt. 7:13-14). But this would be a divine defeat: more points (souls) lost than won. It would have been better for God not to have created us at all if He foresaw that He would lose more than He won.

If He failed to foresee this, He is not all-wise. If He foresaw it but was compelled to create this hell-bound world, He is not all powerful. If He foresaw it and freely created it, He is not all-good. Thus, if there is a hell, God is either not all-wise or not all-powerful or not all-good.


Reply: How can we judge when hell is "overpopulated"? How can such a line be drawn? It is like the problem of evil: how much evil is too much to be compatible with an all-good God? The only two possible answers are (a) any evil, and any damned soul, even one, refutes God; or (b) no amount of evil and no amount of the damned refutes God. No reason can be given for drawing a line of refusal at some finite point between these two.

The popular past assumption that most go to hell is no more valid than the popular modern assumption that most go to heaven. We simply do not know. When His disciples asked Jesus whether the saved would be few or many, He answered: "Strive to enter" (Luke 13:24). The doctrine of hell is addressed to our will and practical living, not to our detached curiosity, not to the statistician in us. (See point 7 above.)

The objection assumes—falsely—that if more than fifty percent of humanity is damned, God was wrong to have created us. We do not claim to prove that even if most are damned, God is still right to create. Our point is simply that the question is unsolvable and immeasurable by any standards we know. It is the objector, not the defender, of the doctrine of hell, who appeals to this unprovable premise. Life is not a game played between God and the Devil in which the one who ends up with the most souls wins.

Objection 10:
An eternal hell seems to mean that God is not totally or finally victorious over evil. Heaven and hell seem coeternal forever. But this is Manichaean dualism, where good and evil exist as equal and opposite warring ultimates. In that case God is not omnipotent.

This contradicts both Scripture and reason. It contradicts Scripture because Scripture says God will, in the end, be totally victorious over evil, and will be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:12-28, 54-57). It contradicts reason because it is inherent in the nature of evil to be self-destructive, not to last forever.


Reply: This objection, like objection 8, wrongly assumes that hell implies an eternal coexistence of good (heaven) and evil (hell). But coexistence implies a common field of some kind of time and or place in which to coexist. But neither heaven nor hell are in time, in history. They are at the end of history. A parallel: another person's death can occur in my life's time, but my own death cannot. My own death ends my life's time. Whatever eternity is, it is not time, not even endless time.

Scripture is quite clear both that hell is eternal and that there is no eternal Manichaean dualism, no stalemate between good and evil, only God's final triumph. How both these doctrines can be true may not be clear from Scripture, but that they are both true is clear. This is given as our data, just as both divine predestination and human free will and responsibility are both given as data, but not how the two are to be reconciled. In both cases, our limited understanding of time and eternity prevents us from seeing the answer clearly.

Objection 11:
The God of the Bible is a God not only of knowledge and love and justice and power, but also a God of purpose. Everything in His creation serves a purpose. What purpose does hell serve? If it is eternal, it is not for reeducation and rehabilitation. What purpose could God have for sustaining in existence the souls of those in an eternal hell from which there is no hope of escape?

Reply: Hell does not serve a good purpose, because it is not good, but evil. Only good serves a purpose; evil attacks purpose.

Also, hell is not in time. But purposes are served in time. The purpose of pregnancy is birth; the purpose of courtship is marriage. Even merely apparent goods, which are not really good but evil, have purposes in time: for example, the purpose of suicide is death. But hell is not in time, hell does not have a purpose, and hell was not made by God at all.

God does not sustain in existence the souls of the damned by any supernaturally willed act. Rather, His sustaining of souls forever is built into the nature of souls. In the act of creating eternal souls in the first place, God sustains them forever. God is not in time; His sustaining does not come after His creating, for Him.

Objection 12:
Hell must be annihilation rather than eternal existence, because human nature could not hold up under eternal alienation from God. The law of diminishing returns would set in. A point is reached at which the creature in hell is no longer a person but (as we supposed above) "remains". How can "remains" be tortured or punished?


Reply: Hell is indeed annihilation—of goodness, hope, joy, even the unifying power of the personality, the I. We see the seeds of hell in the demon-possessed man in Luke 8:26-30. Jesus asked him his name and he replied, "Legion," for many demons had entered him. He had lost his unifying self, his I. Yet something remained there. He was not simply annihilated. C. S. Lewis points out that "in all our experience, the destruction of one thing means the emergence of other things. Burn a log and you get ashes and gases." What burns in hell are the soul's putrid, hate-filled remains.

Objection 13:
The simplest and strongest objection is instinctual. All these arguments are superfluous; our deepest heart finds hell intolerable and incredible. The doctrine can be accepted only by idiots, moral monsters, or professors who look at abstract arguments but do not hold the doctrine up steadily before their eyes and look candidly into it. It simply cannot be done.

Reply: Our instinctive denial of hell proves nothing, just as our instinctive denial of our own death proves nothing. If you went to the doctor feeling fine and were told you had six weeks to live, your natural reaction would be denial, but denial is not disproof.

Our instinctive denial of this doctrine comes partly from our confusing the doctrine with the imagery—fiery pitchforks gleefully inserted by demons in red tights into human posteriors. This is not even scriptural imagery, but bears all the marks of human invention. The doctrine does not. The same is true of heaven: the doctrine is not tied to the popular imagery of harps and haloes, or even to the scriptural imagery of jewelry and city gates. Imagery is not meant to be taken literally, but it is meant to be taken seriously. When we cannot find words, we point to analogies. We do not find truth with the imagination, the image-making faculty. We find truth with reason and faith. Both assure us that hell exists. Instinct is often a way of finding truth. But our instincts are not infallible.

Nor is our reasoning. We may well have made mistakes in our reasoning in this chapter, but God cannot lie. If we cannot trust God's Word, we can trust nothing. Christians do not believe in hell because they want to (what a horrible thought!) but because God has instructed them to believe it.


Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

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