Are God’s critics right about His love stopping at the Gates of Hell? Is God’s Grace finite, and only His vengeance infinite? Is God’s eternal punishment infinitely disproportionate to human sin?
Are a few statements before church friends the total cost of “accepting Jesus”, while the cost of never making those statements is infinite, eternal, and irreversible? If we decline to serve God beyond those minimum requirements for a ticket to Heaven, are God’s tools for getting more out of us limited to deciding to which of two places we go?
It isn’t just God’s critics who need better answers. Christians need better answers. Existing answers seem so Biblically inconsistent even to many Christians that about 20% fewer, than those who believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God and that Heaven exists, can accept that Hell exists.
Maybe it isn’t just that infinite things are too high for human minds. Maybe it isn’t rebellion against God’s judgments, but faithfulness to them but confusion about how they all fit together. Maybe it’s partly that existing answers insufficiently address the seven groups of verses discussed below.
These verses don’t support Universalism, the theory that everyone eventually gets out of Hell, leaving it empty. Nor Annihilationism, the idea that everyone in Hell is burned up and dies – ceases to exist. (Those views struggle too hard with Revelation 14:11 and 20:10.) Nor the traditional Protestant view that no one in Hell ever gets out but is infinitely tortured forever. Nor the Catholic view of a two-part Hell; one of which eventually empties while the other stays full. (Those views are challenged by several verses cited below.)
Neither are these verses as easy on complacent “I’ve got my ticket to Heaven” Christians as existing theories.
Before we dig into them, here is a quick overview: Isaiah’s “crimson worm” alluded to in Mark 9:44, 46, 48 indicates the Blood of Jesus washes over even hearts in Hell. Matthew 18:34-35 makes a debtor’s prison a metaphor for Hell, whose incarceration lasts only until a debt is “paid”. (Even when the debt is huge, it is finite and measurable.) And yet Hell will never be empty. Revelation 14:11 and 20:10. But if God is willing to impute “full payment” to everyone in Hell, what will keep some there forever? Can any heart become so hard that even after “payment” in Hell, he will still hate God and create fresh offenses against Heaven? Do our hearts need more watching than we thought?
Universalists can’t imagine such dogged resistance to God. But we see unimaginably dogged resistance to God all around us, and up very close: even in our own friends and families. And closer: in ourselves! If such hatred of God Who Is Love is possible even for a moment, and God allows such horrible choices to exist even for a moment, what will happen between now and eternity to make it impossible prevent such hatred continuing forever?
Here’s the first of the seven groups of verses. I will roll them out a little at a time, because as an example of the question I just raised, too many of God’s Words all together make people run. John 5:43
(1) the only purpose ever given in the Bible for God’s “fire” is correction, or purification. The Greek word for “fire” is even spelled “pur”. No verse says it is for God’s benefit that God punishes humans.
This is inconsistent with the assumption that the only purpose of Hell fire is to punish, torture, and forever separate souls from God.
Hebrews 12:5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; …10 …for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness….29 For our God is a consuming fire.”
Malachi 3:2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: (speaking of Jesus coming to refine the Pharisees, explicitly not with physical fire, Luke 9:54-56, compare 12:49)
Job 35:6 If you sin, what will that do to harm him? If you add transgression to transgression what will it do to him? 7 If you are righteous, what will you add to him? What can God receive from your efforts? 8 Your wickedness affects only yourself; and your righteousness, only human beings. (ISV)
Isaiah 48:17 …I am the Lord God, who punishes [Hebrew: lamad – to goad; to redirect with a sharp stick as one redirects cattle.] you for your own good…. (The Book translation.) [Other translations translate “lamad” as “teach”, but the context is God’s “furnace of affliction”, v. 10, and eventual return from captivity, v. 20. “For your own good”: from yaal, to ascend; to be made useful, or to be benefitted. ]
Those fearful that any watering down of the terrors of Hell will scare fewer sinners into Heaven will be thrilled with this picture because it will frighten sinners even more than Albert Finney’s notorious “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. (However, I have read testimonies of martyrs for decades and I can’t remember a single testimony where what sustained saints during torture was terror of Hell. It was Jesus’ Love that sustained them.) As a free bonus, this picture will even sober Christians who assume they need not concern themselves with God’s “wrath” so long as they meet the minimum requirements for their Ticket to Heaven.
Sinners will be moved by this picture for three reasons.
First, because it presents Hell as absolutely just, rational, reasonable, fair, and obviously so, quite unlike traditional Hell theologies. Punishment is easier to bear when we think it unjust. Punishment is a stronger disincentive, when we know we would deserve it.
Second, because a completely fair and rational picture of Hell seems more likely to be true, than one that makes no sense or seems wildly inconsistent with other Scriptures.
Third, because this picture shows how the little everyday choices to take a break from God, or from truth, or from love, even for mere moments or minutes, are seeds of the big eternal choice to turn away from Heaven forever, with all its “mushy love” and its rules about getting along with each other and not hurting each other. This picture nurtures a horror of not only the Big Choice but all the “little” choices which grow big if horror fails to cut them down.
Christians are similarly warned by this picture to draw closer to God for shelter even from those “little” choices to take momentary breaks from good, which may still seem to fall within God’s “minimum requirements”. Jesus warns that “everyone will be salted with fire”, Mark 9:49, and this kind of “salt” is what we should keep within us always, v. 50. God has more options in dealing with us, now and forever, than just sending us to one of two places. If you plan a partnership with God below your capacity, you can expect God to correct you infinitely more effectively and creatively than your parents did, guided by infinitely more love. That’s the theme of Hebrews 12, which concludes “For our God is a consuming fire.”
Now for the second group of verses:
(2) The Greek word for “brimstone” (theion, G2303) means “divinity” as well as “sulfur”, rendering the “lake of fire and brimstone”, Revelation 14:10, 20:10, 21:8, as, literally, “lake of divine fire” or “lake of divinity and purification”. The very name of Hell describes a grand loving purpose, which is inconsistent with the common view that Hell fire is unmitigated punishment, devoid of Love, hope, and the presence of God.
[“Divinity” and “sulphur” are listed as alternate definitions of G2303, theion, by Wicktionary, Translatum, Arndt-Gingrich Greek lexicon, and IGEL, Intermediate Greek English Lexicon. Thayer and ESL, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, combine “sulphur” and “God” in their definition: “brimstone: [sulphur] divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease.”]
Hot Questions asked by many believers, besides God’s critics.
Does Hell’s front gate really say “Abandon all hope – you who enter here” as Dante’s Inferno imagines? Right under “…the Primal Love…made me….”? How could God, who created Love and who “is love”, (1 John 4:7-8) create Eternal Hell which will never be empty? (Revelation 20:10, 14:11)
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: [literally “ages of ages”]…
Revelation 20:10 And the devil…the beast and the false prophet…shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Does “the God of all grace”, 1 Peter 5:10, forever close Grace’s door to any soul, much less the majority of souls?
1 Peter 5:10 But the God of all grace, …
Matthew 7:13 …broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 …and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Let’s shift now from our questions about existing theologies to our third group of verses about the nature of Hell:
(3) “Fire” is the experience of saints and sinners together. The only Bible indication of any difference between the nature, or character, or substance, of our “fire” and Hell fire is that in Hell, it is not “quenched”, Mark 9. This passage is inconsistent with the assumption that what distinguishes Hell from Heaven is fire. It is inconsistent with the assumption that Hell fire does not actually benefit Hell’s occupants, since we know that the correction of ourselves, described in these verses, is for our benefit.
Mark 9:49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
Hebrews 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
Now for more questions raised by Hell traditions.
Hebrews 6:4-6 and Matthew 18:23-34 says the door to Grace can close; but forever? What about verse 34 which describes Grace first given, then taken back but only until the debt is “paid” in full, clearly saying the debt is finite and can be paid in full, at which time incarceration ends? Grace means not having to “pay” a debt; can it also mean counting a debt as “paid” the way a parent counts a punishment as served: not according to the extent of the damage, but according to the capacity of the child to repay?
Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
How can anyone’s sin shut forever the door to Grace which is greater than all our sins – Grace which actually grows exponentially in proportion to any increase of sin, Romans 5:20?
Romans 5:20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
Here are the remaining groups of verses.
(4) When God’s purpose for punishment is specified, it is always rehabilitation and restoration. This is inconsistent with the assumption that no one in Hell has any hope of ever being restored to fellowship with God.
Proverbs 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. 14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (See also Deuteronomy 28, Proverbs 19:18, 13:24, 22:15, 29:15, 17, Hebrews 12.)
(5) God used a Greek word for “torment” which literally means “touchstone”: a piece of slate upon which Gold was rubbed to test its purity. The color of the resulting streak was compared with the color left by pure gold. All men are “rubbed” on the same kinds of trials, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and the color we leave on them is compared with the color left by Jesus. See Luke 16:23, 28, Matthew 18:34, Revelation 14:10-11, and 20:10. This is inconsistent with the assumption that Hell is an experience completely unlike what any believer will ever have to endure. To the contrary, it is another way of describing the judgment of the following paragraph that people experience, in Hell, what they have done to others.
(6) God gave no higher proportion, for how much greater Hell’s torments will be than any sinner’s torments of others on earth, than “double”. This is inconsistent with the assumption that Hell’s punishments are infinitely disproportionate to the offenses of its occupants, never ending for ever and ever.
Isaiah 40:1-2 “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (See also Rev 18:6-8, Isa 40:2, 61:7, Jer 16:18, 17:18, Zec 9:12. Or “according to their works”, Pr 24:12, Mt 16:27, 2Ti 4:14,. Also Gal 6:7, Job 4:8, Pro 1:31, Hos 8:7, 10:12, Rom 2:6-10, 2 Cor 9:6, Luke 6:38, and 16:25)
(7) The particular kind of “worm”, singular, in Hell, Mark 9:43-50, (not “maggots”, plural) is a perfect metaphor for Jesus’ Shed Blood on the Cross. The Greek word for “maggots”, skolex, doesn’t specify the kind of maggot, but skolex is the same word used to describe the maggot, also singular, that works on all the slain enemies of God in the last verse of Isaiah where the Hebrew word specifies the “crimson worm”. The Defender’s Bible explains the significance, in its comment on Psalm 22:6:
“On the cross the Lord Jesus called himself a scarlet worm. [Ps 22:6] The same word refers to the worm from which the Israelites of that day obtained their red dyes, and is usually translated ‘crimson’ or ‘scarlet’. The female of this species, when laying her eggs, affixes her body to a wood surface on which she will die after the young are born. The wood, her body, and the young, are reddened with the death of the life-giving mother. In a similar image, the Lord Jesus made peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:20-22)”
Job identifies “the son of man”, a name by which Jesus often identified Himself, as a Crimson Worm. Job 25:6 How much less man, that is a worm (Heb: hmr rim-maw’ ordinary maggot)? and the son of man, which is a worm (Heb: telwt to-lah’- ath crimson worm)?
“Their (plural) worm (singular) dieth not”, says the King James version in Mark 9:44, 46, and 48. The identical Greek words are in the Septuagint translation of the last verse in Isaiah. The KJV faithfully reports the puzzling fact that “their” is plural, referring to the people of Hell, but “worm” [Greek: maggot] is singular, indicating there is only one single “worm” for everybody. Other versions faithful to the Greek: NIV, WEB, KJV, Webster, WNT, YLT, LEB, TLV, LITV, MKJV, Murdock, RV, JUB, ESV, Geneva, ABP, ASV, BBE, Bishops, Darby, DRB, EMTV.
Versions which “solve” the “problem” by translating “worms”, plural: GW, ISV, GNB, CEV, ERV.
Versions which “solve” it by leaving out the plural “their”: Book, New English, NAB.
Even without Jesus’ “crimson worm” metaphor, here is a verse which explicitly says the occupants of Hell will be in the presence of Jesus, which refutes the assumption that Hell is eternal separation from God:
Revelation 14:10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
This verse, and the “crimson worm” verses, are inconsistent with the assumption that Grace never crosses Hell’s threshold. (Click here for more categories of verses.)
The picture that emerges
Human reasoning and philosophy is no basis for documenting the details of what happens after we die. Human science has no tools for measuring the afterlife. A 6,000 word interview with a philosophy professor about Hell that lacks even one Scripture citation is not just unhelpful. It’s boring. Because it’s pure speculation. Philosophizing about Hell without Scripture is as crazy as a jury sitting through a murder trial where there is no evidence.
Fortunately we have an articulate witness, about Hell. We don’t have to guess what the facts are. We don’t even have to guess what Hell’s rationale is, or how it interacts with other Biblical principles. All we have to do is assemble the puzzle pieces, and not give up communicating with each other about where the pieces fit until there are no holes left.
(Of course, patient communication with each other is not natural to Christians much more than to other humans – in fact Christians are known to present their intractability as evidence of their holiness – which is another job for God’s “consuming fire” to get us ready for Heaven.)
Scripture is a true witness. Men have thrown every conceivable challenge at it, and it has not been scratched. Its verses are our puzzle pieces.
The picture into which all these puzzle pieces fit is of Hell mirroring back upon each soul all the evil he has done and wants to do to others, up to but not more than “double”.
God doesn’t want our worship for His benefit! Humans can’t benefit God, or hurt Him. Job 35:1-7. The consequence of ignoring Him that God says He cares about, is our cruelty to each other.
The Bible has several warnings that God’s Grace is proportional to how we treat others. Sin’s “debt” must be paid in full, in Hell, if –
(1) we do not forgive others, as God forgave us. Matthew 18:21-35, 6:15.
(2) we retreat from the challenges and demands of life, which shows unreadiness for the exponentially increasing responsibilities of Heaven. Luke 19:12-27. We resist the pressure on us to grow – to double our abilities. Matthew 25:14-30.
(3) we ignore suffering that we could have lessened had we simply doubled our abilities as Jesus commands. Luke 16:25, Matthew 25:41-46. The specific help expected of us in these verses that is most relevant today is to welcome immigrants, v. 43. It is understandable to limit immigrants who just want to come kill us. But we vote for quotas that allow very few to legally come and work hard for us. We would rather believe the Seven Undocumented Economists who say more immigration will hurt us economically, than God who says (Luke 6:38) as real economists say – that the economic opportunity we enjoy will be in proportion to the economic opportunity we allow others.
(4) we mistreat messengers of greater truth, good, love, blessings, etc. than we already accept, Malachi 3:1-3.
(5) we don’t “weep for the sins of our land”, Ezekiel 9.
(6) we won’t “shine our light” outside our “bushel” but only among friends who reward us for it, Matthew 5:13-16, John 3:19-21, Ezekiel 3:18-20. Our churches even tell us not to shine our light outside the church where it is darkest – that is, on those abominations which government promotes. Like killing our own babies, and voting for education that teaches sodomy to our children. Our churches redefine “Darkness” as “politics”, so instead of shining the light of what God says about Darkness on the Darkness, they block members from even strategizing, on church property, how to oppose the Darkness where it is darkest, with the Light of Scripture.
Abortion is the clearest example, simply because it takes no intellectual sophistication, political experience, or scholarly debate to know the babies of humans are humans/persons, which makes killing them “murder”, which no Rule of Law can tolerate as any kind of legal “choice”.
Yet many churches will not even allow that to be said on church premises, and hardly any church will allow open discussion of the “life from conception” verses along with action verses like Proverbs 24:10-12, much less allow church-facilitated communication and strategizing to put a stop to this abomination.
Ezekiel 3:18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
(7) The Mark of the Beast is the only sin in the Bible of which God says every person who takes it, after beheading is the alternative, will go to Hell. How much greater judgment must God have for Christians who, under no pressure at all to do so, vote to fast-track the Mark of the Beast technology and its imposition by force on everybody? That is, for a national E-Verify mandate?
We humans resist becoming very much more fruitful. We are comfortable not growing too fast. We doubt God’s promises, and leave mountains unmoved.
Humans have chosen tyranny, 1 Samuel 8; slavery, Numbers 14:4; war, 2 Chronicles 35:22; and hatred even of love itself, Psalm 109:4-5.
We killed God’s only begotten Son when we could. We silence His Sons today.
If indeed Hell opens as “debts” are “paid”, Mat 18:34, how many will still refuse Heaven? Fear the smallest seeds of hardness in your own heart, 1 Cor 9:27, more than Hell. Hell is for your good. Your choice to make it necessary is the darkest evil.
We all resist becoming any more fruitful. We are nervous around “too much” truth, evidence, education, wisdom, light, good, God, joy, or even love. We turn back to the dark delights which these drops of Paradise threaten. We leave mountains unmoved because we doubt God’s promises.
Explain how it is possible to prefer such woe for even one moment, here on Earth, before you reject Biblical evidence (Revelation 16:9, 11, 21) of the danger of hardening your heart so much that you will push Hell’s “Potential Purification” away forever!
In other words, God has higher standards for us than any of us are naturally inclined to reach. “Fire” is an apt metaphor for the process by which God works on all of us to raise us as high as we will allow, that we may create with Him, not just believing good doctrines but doing “impossibly” good things. This “fire” is friendly, if we will keep it in ourselves always. Mark 9:50. But when we resist it, God stops “quenching” it.
Hell is not the worst thing that can happen to you. A hard heart content to not grow can experience Hell while surrounded by Heaven. Fear the Darkness in your own heart more than what God provides to heal it.
For more information, see “http://www.saltshaker.us/hell-fire”.Tags: annihilationism Bible Catholic grace Hell protestant universalist