In checking a lot of blogs and in reading a lot of material outside my “normal” sphere, one thing I’m noticing is that there seems to be a significant number of people who question the existence of a literal hell. Even some higher-profile ministers (like a Tulsa local, Carlton Pearson) are now challenging hell’s existence. And with
many thousands nearly a dozen people reading this blog now regularly, I felt it was my moral obligation to weigh in on the subject and give some food for thought.
I approach the Scriptures pretty practically, so I don’t intend to go into deep theological debate here. But regardless of how people are interpreting the Bible on this point, it seems the underlying argument goes something like this:
“I simply can’t believe that a loving God would create such a horrible place as hell, or send people there for their sins or for not accepting Him. Why would He do such a thing?”
The problem is, so many of us start with a premise or base belief like this, and then look for ways to back our premise with Scripture. That’s a backwards way of doing things. The Scripture itself needs to be our plumb line, and then we need to try to adjust our belief patterns from there.
That said, I’ve been thinking about a single verse of Scripture, one of many that makes reference to hell:
“Then He [the Son of Man] will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, ito the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…” (Matt. 25:41, NASB)
The actual discussion of “the sheep and the goats” is for another time, but for now just think about this verse. Jesus is telling a group of humans to depart to eternal fire, but He also mentions that this eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels.
Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question here. Maybe instead of wondering why a loving God would send people to hell…maybe we should be asking why hell exists in the first place. This verse speaks a couple of things to me:
- There is an eternal fire, and people will go there.
- Contrary to the red suit/pitchfork mentality, the devil and his demons will not be the tormentors in hell; they will be the tormented. They will be suffering right along with every human who is there.
I want to submit to you that perhaps hell does not exist specifically so God can punish people. I want you to consider that hell was never meant for humans. Humans go there, but they were not meant to. And perhaps this can resolve the question why a loving God and a fiery hell can exist in the same universe.
Although angels and demons are mentioned in Scripture, the Bible really is more about God’s story of redemption for mankind than it is about the story of angels and demons. I do not know why fallen angels apparently cannot be redeemed; it’s one of the mysteries of God. I do believe from Scripture that angelic beings weren’t created to be children and lovers of God, like man was; they were created as servants, and not really designed to exercise free will. And perhaps fallen angels cannot be forgiven because they cannot repent. That’s speculation. But it is clear that God’s redemption through Christ is to redeem man–not angels.
So if hell is really intended for Satan and his angels–and not for the punishment of mankind–why do humans go there?
There is a principle I see in Scripture that when you ally yourself with someone or something, you inherit their judgment. I submit that by the time Satan appeared as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, he was already doomed to eternal fire. When the man and woman sinned, they committed treason and aligned themselves (and their seed) with God’s enemy, and so traded their destiny with God to share in Satan’s destiny, which was eternal damnation. And when this happened–from that moment–God set a plan in motion to redeem mankind from this very bad decision, to rescue us all from a destiny we were never supposed to have, and to restore us to the destiny we were supposed to have with Him all along. That plan culminates with Jesus, who paid the penalty and ransomed us.
So from this perspective, God isn’t “sending” people to hell. Our sin has already set that path in motion for us. Even as the Righteous Judge–like any other judge, when God renders a verdict, He is simply ruling on what is already true. But what God has done is make a way to rescue us, restore us, and redeem us, so that through Christ we don’t have to share in Satan’s damnation. It seems to me that God is more in the business of rescuing people from hell than He is in the business of sending people there. And from where I’m sitting…that’s exactly what a loving God would do.
Permanent link to this post
(844 words, 2 images, estimated 3:23 mins reading time)