Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

A Sincere Question For My Friends Who Believe In Hell

 

Here on the blog and That God Show, we’ve talked quite a bit about the concept of hell and have gone in-depth as to why I believe hell is not a biblical teaching.

Yet, even using scripture as the foundation for a hell-free eschatological and theological viewpoint, many Christians are completely unwilling to reconsider their views on hell in light of what the Bible teaches. Why this is the case, I have no idea. One would think that folks would flock to the opportunity to let go of hell, but apparently the traditional doctrine on hell is a beloved doctrine of many Christians.

The traditional view on hell, as we all know, is something called Eternal Conscious Torment. This view holds that those who die without being justified in Christ will go to a literal place called hell where they will be tortured by fire day and night, forever. It’ll be, as the doctrine goes, a place where you live with the Devil and his angels, where the fire never stops burning you, and where there is no relief from the pain– ever. You don’t fall asleep, you don’t die, you don’t briefly lose consciousness from the pain. In this version of hell you will be tortured day and night for all of eternity– billions and billions of years on top of billions and billions of years, without end. (All while being forced to listen to Country music.)

My interaction with Christians who believe this has led me to a question. An important question. A question I ask in all sincerity as the first installment of my new series, Sincere Questions.

 If you believe in the traditional view of hell, I’d ask you to consider this question:

Which one of your children would you be willing to torture with fire?

If God is altogether wonderful, beautiful, and all-loving, it would follow that everything he does is wonderful, beautiful, and all-loving. Therefore, there must be something wonderful, beautiful, and all-loving about torturing people with fire and preventing them from having any escape from the pain of those flames.

If torture with fire is anything less than wonderful, loving and beautiful, God would be less than wonderful, loving or beautiful.

So, which one of your children would you be willing to torture with fire as a punishment for not loving you back or misbehaving?

Can you list for me which disobedient acts you would consider worthy of subjecting your child to this kind of torture? Are their certain acts that would prompt you to get out a blowtorchImage-1 and go to town on them? My teenager once told me she hated me and wished I wasn’t her dad, and I have to admit, setting her on fire didn’t cross my mind because I loved her in that moment anyway.

Is there anything your child could do that would cause you to turn them over to ISIS to be punished by burning? That’s an important modern connection, because given the traditional doctrine on hell, the only people I see mimicking this version of God, is ISIS.

Is there anything your child could do that would make you lock them in a dark room, turn up the heat until it burns their flesh, and then gleefully listen to their screams for the rest of their life?

I can’t imagine you would, because that’s both sick and evil. I’ve met a lot of crappy parents in my life, but I’ve never met anyone who would do that to their own child– anyone who would do so would rightly be considered either mentally insane or depraved in an especially disgusting way.

Or, what if God allowed you to sit on his throne and judge your own children– giving you the authority to determine their eternal fate. Do you have any wayward children you’d pick to be sent to hell? Or, would you show them a lavish grace and mercy that flowed from your love for them?

I think I know what you’d do.

So, if we were to assume for a moment that the traditional view of hell were true, that would lead us to another interesting set of questions:

Are you more loving than God? Because you love your children so much you’d never do that.

Are you more merciful than God? I’m assuming you find the image of your own child being eternally tortured by flames to be an unbearable image– one that would leave you crying and screaming for someone to show mercy.

This of course, begs the ultimate question: How could we be more loving and merciful than God?

I don’t think we could– but if hell is real, most of us certainly are more loving and merciful than God. And that right there is a good sign we need to rethink our ideas about hell– because I believe God’s ability to love will dwarf ours any day of the week.

And so this is my question for you, my hell believing friends: which one of your own children would you be willing to subject to torture by fire? If you are too loving and merciful to do that to your own children, why do you believe God is less loving than you are?

I ask in all sincerity that you ponder this, because if you really think it over, the traditional doctrine of hell should lead to some very, very troubling conclusions about God– conclusions that I believe must be strongly rejected.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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  • When your analogy falls apart…

    “But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” John 1:12

    “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:42-44

    “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:13-14

    “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Ephesians 2:2

    “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” Colossians 3:5-6

    “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” Hebrews 12:7-9

    • re: John — So according to this Gospel, your spiritual father changes depending on your actions? God isn’t your father until you repent and are redeemed, and then only until you sin again?

      re: Colossians — Sure, the wrath of any loving father cometh upon the children of disobedience. But the whole point is that the wrath of a loving father generally doesn’t (and can’t!) consist of throwing your disobedient children into a fire and passively observing while they burn.

      re: Hebrews — I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be willing to set my bastard children on fire either, even for a few minutes. I mean, seriously, I wouldn’t be willing to set a complete stranger’s bastard children on fire.

      Heck, I wouldn’t be willing to set my *worst enemy’s* bastard children on fire. Which brings me right back to John again — how can a loving, benevolent, sane entity throw *anyone* into a pit of eternal torture? Even a child of their Adversary?

  • I honestly am starting to think that there is a place of punishment after death, but that it is temporary. Rather being tormented for the sake of it, one is being corrected and disciplined. Then, after the punishment you are given a choice of whether you want to remain in your sins and vices, or if you want to repent of them. If you refuse, then you will be eternally tormented. I don’t “officially” hold this view though. Just speculation. I feel that the problem with the traditional view of hell and heaven is that it assumes that every single person who has died or will eventually die are 100% wicked or 100% righteous. That doesn’t seem to make sense. No one is 100% good or bad. At least I don’t think so. There has to be a choice or a hope for those who are kind of in the middle, right? If not in this life, then in the next. That only makes sense. Then there is suffering. How many people in this life have suffered or will suffer horrible anguish, heartaches, sorrows, physical pains, etc? And how many didn’t know or have Jesus Christ? And I’m not just talking about lands where Christianity doesn’t exist, I’m talking about even people here in the U.S. It simply is not enough to hear of Jesus Christ, one has to be preached to about Him, and shown what He wants and how He wants us to live. Will these unfortunate ones be cast into even more suffering, eternal suffering? I would think that God will have mercy on them. The traditional Christian view of the afterlife scares me. It’s like every time you leave the house, every face you look at you think to yourself, “Which one is in the elect, and which one is a reprobate?” And according to the traditional view, almost everyone yoi see is destined to everlasting torment. That makes so anxious and sad. Like, extremely anxious and sad 🙁 And some might ask: what would be the reason of Christianity if hell wasn’t eternal? Well, I guess the same reason you would teach your children to eat healthy. So that in the future they won’t suffer from heart disease or obesity. Likewise you would preach Jesus Christ to prevent them from suffering anything in the afterlife. So that, if they faithfully follow Him, they could go immediately to rest rather than any punishment. But again, this is all only speculation.

  • Belief in hell does not equal belief in eternal conscious torment. Hell is where those not attaining eternal life perish.

  • John 8:42-44 New International Version (NIV)
    42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

    NB:
    THE ABOVE IS JUST ONE OF THE MANY ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTION (S)!

    NOT EVERYONE of us walking this earth is a CHILD of God (there are prerequisites to being a child of God; just being a human ISN’T ONE); and you already know the implications that subscribes to.

    But, within your entire article, the most naive aspect is that, you are correlating God’s way of doing things to Man’s way of doing things: (I guess your genius doesn’t understand Isaiah 55:8-9)

    Very funny and ironical !!!

  • Why is it so easy for everyone to have faith through fear? Transcend above individual emotion and you will see god, and it is wonderful, but not what you traditionally imagined. See the interconnective love that shows us a world beyond ours. Hell is only real because we believe it so. True understanding will set you free. I am so sorry.

  • The only hell I believe in is this earth. The biblical teaching is such an abusive teaching and I don’t know how anyone can believe there deceased loved ones could possibly be suffering in hell right now whether they followed Jesus or not. I do believe in life after death and some sort of creator but in my beliefs sin is an illusion created by man to get people to go against homosexuality and your whole religion is a lie to mind control you. It wouldn’t make sense for a responsible and almighty creator to let most of their creations to go to waste and claim they chose to suffer whether they followed him or not. God cannot be called almighty if anyone was recieving eternal torment in their after life.

    • I know you wrote this about a year ago, but I will briefly respond.

      The bible does not teach hell. I know it’s been translated that way, but the words used do not mean what you think of as hell at all. “Hell” is an old Germanic word meaning an enclosed space, and the idea attached to it is not Jewish but most likely comes from Zoroastirianism. Bad bible translating took 4 words and rendered all of them hell. Here’s what they really mean:

      – Sheol (Hebrew): place or state of being dead, the grave
      – Hades (Greek): used by Greek-speaking Jews to translate Sheol
      – Gehenna (Greek): a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem where corpses of executed criminals were also thrown. Fires were lit to keep down disease. Jesus was crucified right next to this. Today it is a garden.
      – Tartarus (Greek): mentioned once as a temporary prison of non-human spirits, who were liberated at the time of Jesus’s death

      Sadly, the truth has been hidden by those who want to exercise power and use fear to do so. God never created or prepared torment for anyone. He is and will always be faithful to his whole creation, and bring all of it, from all time, to life, fullness, reconciliation with God and each other, and will heal all those who have been hurt and all those who have hurt others.

  • A different psychology of hell and salvation emerges from vastly different options in the Christian faith. I will try to classify these general options below with a minimum of academic jargon:

    1. The “Redeemed”-But-Never-Really-Certain Option:

    This is the psychology represented by many Wesleyan-Holiness/ Pentecostal groups who constantly remind their adherents that “you may be saved today, but you can lose God’s grace at anytime hereafter, and if you die during a fall from your faith, eternal hell and suffering await you.” According to this option, a believer can never know for certain if he is secure in his salvation, as he stands constantly on a precipice over eternal suffering. Of all the underlying Christian psychologies about salvation and hell, this one might be the most severe. It robs people in this life of a certain hope (beyond a vague “blessed assurance” and condemns them to a one-way trip into eternal condemnation.

    2. The Limited Second-Chance Option:

    In this scenario (represented primarily by Roman Catholic thought), a person who “falls from grace” and dies could end up in a limbo state (Purgatory) where impurities are burnt away and entrance into heaven is still possible, even after death. In this option, the highway to hell has exit ramps aided by prayers of the saints. But forget Purgatory if you committed mortal sins while living.This view of perdition allows some reversals in limbo, as opposed to the prior view (#1) that offers no comfort for backsliders who die.

    3. The Selective-Annihilation Option:

    On this model, the redeemed go to heaven, but those who were lost end up annihilated for eternity, never to awaken again. The lost who will not regain consciousness again. It is presumed in this option that eternal consciousness in heaven is preferable to eternal nonbeing (which IS actually the goal for final salvation in some forms of Buddhism!).

    4. The Narrow-Road Election Option:

    Folks campaigning for this idea proclaim Christ’s words “broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Mt. 7:13-14) as part of their anthem in support of the “doctrine” that a majority of people are preordained by God to be tormented in eternal hell even before they are born. The “righteous remnant” (a tiny group of elected believers in this fallen world) can be be assured of their eternal salvation. Why? Because God chose them for eternal bliss even before they were born. This is why the tiny remnant is eternally secure. Their salvation was determined by God before they existed. Ironically, in this Evangelical camp, a majority of believers often consider themselves part of this tiny group despite simultaneously viewing the majority of us as damned. Go figure!

    5. The Everyone-but-the-Worst-Make-it Alternative:

    On this account, hell or perdition is reserved for the worst of the worst (i.e. the Devil, his minions of fallen angels, the Antichrist, false prophet….maybe Judas and a few other notables). Some versions of this narrative hold out a version of purgation after death for those who are still redeemable, but the focus here is on the “a great multitude no man could number” seen in heaven by John the Revelator (Rev. 7:9). If this is literally a mass of humanity from all nations that nobody can number, perhaps God preordains most of humanity for salvation.

    6. The Everyone-is-(or-Might be)-Redeemed in the End:

    The third century, Alexandrian theologian Origin sketched a version of this option. Many conservative Christians despise this “heretical” thought because it is “unfair” and insults their sense of a heavenly meritocracy where rewards are “earned” by sinners “saved by grace.” So, evidently professing supporters of “unmerited favor” have trouble with a view that saves all beings and all of creation in spite of THEIR protests of what is fair. Besides, who really wants to believe God will have sympathy for Satan in the end?!

    7. The Myth-and-Metaphor Alternative:

    Those supporting this view refuse to argue about a literal, “spatially-located” hell or heaven, arguing that such Biblical words represent other ancient ideas or stories borrowed (stolen) to explain the afterlife in different mythologies (i.e. Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Roman, etc). Or, proponents of this view emphasize that myths and metaphors about heaven and hell represent perennial, existential realities that we still do not understand (altered states of consciousness, political structures,social arrangements, etc.).

    8. The “We-Know-Hell’s-Symbolic-but-the-Masses-Need-it” Option:

    Proponents of this option QUIETLY agree with the vocal supporters of #7, but once outside of educated sectors, they preach literal hell fire in their pulpits and popular works. WHY? Often, they rationalize this compartmentalization by suggesting that widespread belief in eternal torment gives people incentive to be moral. Does such religious pragmatism really make sense? They seem to think so.

    This is obviously not an exhaustive list. Other non-Christian alternatives frequently crop up in churches, such as reincarnation or the final sleep of all the dead regardless of a person’s faith commitment in life. Many of these general options compete in the Christian sphere for serious attention.

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