In a debate of mine from this past summer my opponent brought up the problem of hell. His objection was, “There is no moral justification for sending anybody to suffer eternally in hell.” Before defending the doctrine of an eternal hell I need to make clear how far this objection actually goes. This isn’t an objection to the existence of God nor is it an objection to Christianity. This is an objection to hermeneutical principles and, possibly, in a worst case scenario, an objection to inerrancy. Should it be the case that the objection succeeds then we ought to modify our hermeneutical grid by which we understand special revelation concerning the final destination and consequences for the reprobate damned. Should the best hermeneutic affirm the doctrine of eternal hell then the objection brings inerrancy into question. However, I don’t think the objection succeeds at all and below was my response defending the doctrine of an eternal hell:
The following is a guest post by Shaun M. Smith. Shaun is a Masters level student of philosophy and a Graduate Assistant serving as an online philosophy instructor for Liberty University. I do not agree with Shaun’s position and this is not an endorsement of his views.
There is no doubt to me, or perhaps to any Protestant Christian, the term “purgatory” is followed with such nail biting disgust. Seemingly so, almost every Protestant dismisses the doctrine without even coming close to understanding the essential nature and properties of the doctrine of purgatory. Due to the Catholic Church’s overly corrupted use of such a doctrine, most in western theology have grown bitter towards the doctrine of purgatory, as Martin Luther once did (perhaps, rightly so!).
I’m in your philosophy class. I have been trying to process what we talked about in class today and I am stuck on something you said. You mentioned briefly that you do not believe there is a Heaven and Hell yet and that we all go to Paradise until God makes the new heaven and new earth. So under your view point do non-Christians go to paradise until they are judged? Where are you basing this off in the Bible? What exactly is Hell then and where are Satan and his demons now? What about those who have already died who are not Christians? I have never heard this concept before and I’d love to hear your expanded version.
The whole idea of paradise is very interesting. I grew up thinking when we die we go to heaven then the Lord creates a new heaven and new earth where we actually live forever. But paradise..as kind of a waiting place is interesting. The point I am stuck on is when you said that believer and unbeliever go to paradise.My first thought was in Numbers 16 when Korah rebelled. How the Lord opened up the Earth and it says they fell into Sheol. They were taken down to Sheol with their family (realm of the dead as NIV says it). In your view is that a place where demons and Satan reside and not unbelievers and that was just a special case?
Also, when Jesus was on the cross, why did he only turn to the one criminal and say that you will join me in paradise if both non-believer and believer go there? It would make sense for him to say that to the one criminal only if he was going to paradise and the other one wasn’t.
But then what exactly is paradise if both non-believer and believer are there? Wouldn’t it confuse non-believers because then they think that they are actually in heaven and that they won’t be going to hell? The passages I have found that mention paradise are very vague especially Paul’s little side note about 3rd heaven). Revelation 20:11-15 also talks about “and Hades gave up the dead that were in them….” The context of this passage talks about the judgment of the dead but how do you see this passage in light of your view on their being no Hell currently?
Thanks,read more »
Here’s an excerpt from Travis Loller at the Huffington Post.
How can a loving God send people, even bad people, to a place of eternal torment? A new documentary struggles with questions of punishment and redemption and how culture affects and shapes Christian beliefs about God and the Bible.
Coming in the wake of controversy over Rob Bell’s 2011 hell-questioning book “Love Wins,” which put hell on the cover of Time magazine, and treading some of the same ground, filmmaker Kevin Miller believes the debate about the nature of hell is not academic.
In an interview after a Nashville screening of “Hellbound?” Miller said he believes our ideas about hell have a real-world effect on the way we live our lives and the way we relate to others.
Perhaps popular theologian Brian McLaren best expresses that thought in the movie when he says, “If I believe that a small percentage of human beings were created to enjoy bliss eternally and another group of beings were created to experience eternal conscious torment, then I look at human beings differently than if I say, `Every human being was made in the image of God. Every human being is beloved by God. God is at work to save every human being.'”read more »
As the days continue to pass since new of Bin Laden’s death my interaction with other Christians have been quite mixed. Some are more saddened that he has gone to hell and some are more joyous that he is dead. I’m careful about how I make that distinction. My continuous reflection has got me thinking, “Why am I not more appreciative of justice?”
This is how I work it out and how I believe God views mercy and justice. Antecedently, God willed and genuinely desired Bin Laden to repent and to respond to the revelation he has been given. However, consequently, because of Bin Laden’s rejection of God and infatuation with evil, God has willed that Bin Laden atone for his own sins and for there to be justice. This justice is his death and punishment in the afterlife. Why am I not taking joy in God’s justice? I believe my apprehension of justice is far removed from how God loves justice since it is ontologically based in him.
Yes, antecedently we should not joyful that Bin Laden is taking on his own punishment. However, in turn and consequently, God is receiving his glory from Bin Laden’s sins being atoned for. For the Christian, hell is a good thing, hell is the means by which God renders justice to those who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ on the cross. The important thing is to make the antecedent-consequent distinction in how we respond.
Questions about hell have permeated cultural discussions recently, primarily at the rise of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. I’m not going to look at Scriptural evidences or passages for hell; rather, I’m going to take concepts and allow them to develop on their own (I would argue that this is consistent with Scripture). For more on the Scriptural case for hell I would recommend Four Views on Hell. I’ll be working with an idea argued by William Lane Craig (here, here, and here).
Let’s start with God being a maximally perfect being, that which nothing greater can be conceived. He is perfect in every way and his perfections do not and cannot contradict. Humans freely do morally wrong actions. This would include not doing what we ought to do and doing what we ought not to do. These sins are wrongs against an ontologically perfect being. If God is just and justice is a moral principle to attain (such that being fair is a virtue), then God must compensate for the wrong. There must be atonement. There are consequences for every action, good and bad. Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished (what these rewards and punishments are don’t necessarily have to be defined, it’s just that there are consequences). Let’s modestly assume that sins require finite punishments. I will deny Thomas Aquinas’ position that one finite sin requires an infinite punishment because it was done against an infinite God. I’ll take a more modest approach (I’m not necessarily saying that Thomas is wrong either).
Based on experience, I believe there is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime. In the afterlife, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just. Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the afterlife since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ. He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement). Because this person continues to sin he will always receive respective punishment for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration with last without end as well. Punishment without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins. Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.
I don’t believe this contradicts God’s love for this person either. I’m assuming that God genuinely desired this person to be atoned for by Christ but this person freely rejected the propitiatory substitutional atonement. By rejecting that loving offer, the only alternative, by the necessity of justice, is to atone for his own sins. Yes, love wins and Christ’s atonement is that love, but let’s not forget that justice win’s as well since God’s attributes are equally perfect.