"Any View of Hell Needs To Pass the Moral Test."

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much in the same way as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire…. You hang by a slender thread, with flames of divine wrath flashing about it and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder…. Consider this, you that yet remain in an unregenerate state. That God will execute the fierceness of his anger, implies, that he will inflict wrath without any pity…you shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb…. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery…. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.” [Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”].

The traditional doctrine of hell “is one of the chief grounds on which Christianity is attacked as barbarous and the goodness of God impugned.” [C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain, “Hell”].

So here’s a question: “What would we think of a human being who satisfied his thirst for revenge so implacably and insatiably?” [Hans Kung, Eternal Life, 1984 (p. 136)]. “If this were true” (i.e., the traditional view) it would make Hitler “a third degree saint, and the concentration camps…a picnic ground.” [Nels Ferre, Christian Understanding of God (p. 540)].

“As the Church’s threat against all sinners and all its enemies, hell serves the holy purpose of cradle to grave intimidation.” [Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, “Hell].

“The idea that a fully conscious creature would undergo physical and mental torture through endless time is plainly sadistic and therefore incompatible with a God who loves humanity.” “In terms of justice, the traditional view of hell is simply unacceptable. It is a punishment in excess of anything that sinners deserve….Besides, no purpose is served by the unending torture of the wicked except vengeance.” [Clark H. Pinnock & Robert Brown, Unbounded Love, “Hell”].

“Is it not plain that sins committed in time and space cannot deserve limitless divine retribution? Hell is the ultimate big stick to threaten people with…this monstrous belief will cause many people to turn away from Christianity.” (p. 39) “What human crimes could possibly deserve everlasting conscious torture?” (p. 140) “Surely the idea of everlasting conscious torment raises the problem of evil to impossible heights.” (p. 150) Any doctrine of hell needs to pass the moral test….The traditional belief….is unbiblical, is fostered by a Hellenistic view of human nature, is detrimental to the character of God, is defended on essentially pragmatic grounds, and is being rejected by a growing number of biblically faithful, contemporary scholars.” (p. 165) [Clark Pinnock in Four Views of Hell, ed, Wm Crockett, Zondervan, 1992].

Is there anyone out there who still accepts the traditional view of Hell?

Is there any view of hell that has Biblical support and at the same time passes the moral test? Does annihilation? How about death by lethal injection? Limbo and/or Purgatory? What then do you say about all of the carnage of lives who are snuffed out of existence?

[Presuppositionalists, don't even start. If you cannot see that it's plausible that the traditional view of hell is unjust without having an ultimate moral standard, then you're just not thinking].


Dale Callahan said...

Its funny, you know what the Presuppositionalists are going to say so you try and shut them down immediately. You don't have an absolute, universal standard to judge God by so you don't have box to stand on [and yet you go on, and on].

Switching gears.

When you speak of the punishment of hell you seem to assume that hell is merely the punishment for the sins of this life.
But like on so many other points about the Bible...you are wrong.

Yes, eternal punishment awaits those who do not trust in Jesus Christ, this is true.

But Jesus said that unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. This isn't merely true for this life...it is true for all eternity.

The Bible teaches that fallen man's heart hates God and will not submit to God. He hates God so much that he refuses to submit to God's truth even though he clearly knows it [from creation]. He hates God so much that he doesn't want God in any of his thoughts.

Unless God sovereignly choses to regenerate a man's heart he will never use his will to trust in Christ because the gospel will seem foolish to him. He won't trust Christ because his sin and Satan blind him to the real glory of the Savior.

If he dies in his unregenerate state he will then stand before God. He will see the truth as it really is...as the Bible taught but...he will be standing in the same shoes as the prince that he followed his whole life...Satan.

The Bible calls Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who works in the childen of disobedience.

Satan knows the truth, the bible even says he and the demons believe in God and tremble...but his faith is not a saving faith, not a faith that brings him to submission to God, and therefore his damnation is just.

The unbeliever knows the truth and fights with all of his might against it. His damnation is just.

When he dies he will continue to rebel and will never love God [the greatest commandment]. When God punishes him [justly] for his sins, he will continue to curse God for being holy and just, and therefore God will continue to punish him for being wicked and unbelieving.
Unless you are born again you will continue in your mockery against God for all eternity. And God does justly punish treason against those who rebel against His clearly revealed authority.

As long as you continue to be a rebel, the God will continue to be the Just Judge. You sin, He punishes...forever and ever.

Charles D said...

So unless someone "trusts" Jesus (that is to say a particular concept about Jesus that developed after his death) and is "born again", he cannot see the "kingdom of God" - this is just religious mumbo-jumbo. All these concepts are subject to interpretation and Christians have interpreted them differently.

Not believing in God (or to be more precise, your concept of God) is not the same as hating God obviously, and if God has the choice to "regenerate a man's heart" not the man himself then that whole argument is moot.

In reality your whole argument here hangs on a specific interpretation of the bible and a specific set of ideas about God and Jesus that are inconsistent, arbitrary and ill-conceived. The problem with this sort of religion is that has exalted a particularly specious view of the bible and used it to develop a concept of God that is missing from the most authentic words of Jesus.

A punishing, vindictive, angry despot is not worthy of worship - maybe humiliating submission in abject fear, but not worship, not adoration, not love, not devotion. Your God has all the loving features of Saddam Hussein - ever think about that?

Anonymous said...

There are less orthodox forms of Christianity that do believe in universal salvation, which cropped up in early sects and was eventually rejected. If hell is correctional and temporary, then the issue shifts, but I doubt that would be very popular. Even early universalists worried that such a doctrine would mean that people would not care about following God in this life if they thought that they would be saved eventually.

The idea has waxed and waned in popularity. For example, several early presidents were universalists. I think the afterlife is unlikely, but I find this position more plausible than the traditional understanding of hell.

Anonymous said...

The idea that any act by any human being "deserves" an eternity of pain is a doctrine so monstrous and so manifestly unjust that I cannot see how any human being with a functioning conscience could believe it. For all that the Christians accuse us of being the immoral ones, their beliefs show that they are the ones with a seriously warped sense of what constitutes morality. Only a wicked sadist could have come up with such an evil idea as Hell.

If such a being as God exists, he cannot be harmed or diminished in any way by anything I could possibly do. It is, therefore, incoherent to speak of me - or anyone else - committing a crime against him, which means it is equally incoherent to speak of my deserving punishment from him on that account. On the other hand, if I have harmed any of my fellow human beings, I will gladly do whatever it is in my power to make that right. But no finite act can deserve an infinite punishment.

Sandalstraps said...

To the question

Is there anyone out there who still believes in a traditional hell?

I have to say, alas, that there is. In fact, the church which talked me out of professional ministry (I served as their pastor, and it cured me of the desire to ever pastor anywhere again) was motivated principally by a fear of a literal hell. To them this was the only real mechanism for the enforcement of morality.

The people I met there who lived in fear of hell seemed hell bent on making life hell for those who did not hold their view of hell.

They are not, I hope, the best examples of the transformative power of religious experience. For them, their religion simply gave them permission to act their worst. I suspect this was related to their morally impoverished view of God, and its connection to the traditional doctrine of hell.

Anyone interested in the experiences I'm alluding to can read this and this. I don't expect that anyone here will agree with my religious beliefs (any more than I expect the fundamentalists I used to try to serve to agree with me), but I these might bring some fullness to the discussion of the damnable concept of hell, and the behavior it inspires in many Christians.

Dale Callahan said...

Are you now the judge of what the "most authentic words of Jesus are"...LOL. Please enlighten us...what standard are you using to decide what the "most authentic words of Jesus are"? I'm sorry but that is really funny! The Bible says that the Church is the interpreter of God's word...and God used His church to recognize what the cannon of Scripture was.
If we applied your logic about biblical interpretation to language in general then all communication would cease. How do I really know what you are saying. I am intepreting it one way. Maybe the way I interpret certain words is different then you. Who is to say which way is right?

The truth that God is totally sovereign over His creation is the assurance His people have that the Bible we have today is what He wants us to have. I know...this takes faith. But not blind faith...because if you do not presuppose the truths within the Holy Scriptures then you cannot justify anything, including absolute moral standards [ by which you are judging God and Saddam Hussein by].
If you read the New Testament you will see that Jesus does talk about eternal hell!
You can try and slip out of this by saying that there have been Christians who have held to universal salvation...but this has never been the Churches stand or interpretation. You recognize this when you say "less orthodox forms of Christianity".
According to your reasoning [democracy lover] a man like Saddam Hussein should never be punished [in this life] for his wicked deeds. Because punishment of evil presupposes that the one inflicting the punishment is a vindictive, angry despot.
Let's open up the jails and let out the murderers and rapists because Mr. Democracy Lover believes that any judicial system that punishes those who do evil...is well evil themselves. Or are we reserving this gracious judgment for God only [it sure sounds like you hate the God of the Bible]?
If a man was a repeat offender child molester I am sure you would have no problem having the guy never being punished for his actions...right? Because that would make "the law"...lawless [eyes rolling]. Maybe you could even invite the guy over to baby-sit the kids.
Your reasoning is so stunned it is almost comical, If the stakes were not so high.
God is the standard of good and truth and righteousness. A person who receives life and blessings in this life from "this God" and clearly knows it...then spits in His face and fights against Him, breaking His commands, trying Him day after day...all the while still using the gifts and benefits that come from Him...then they die and the gifts stop. The gifts were to show the rebel that this God is merciful and will accept him if he repents and comes to Him through the "only" avenue [Jesus Christ]. But once he dies this offer is done, and all he faces is what he really wanted anyway. He didn't want to serve this "despot" anyway...But the thing that really irks him is that he no longer gets the gracious gifts...that's not fair!! I should be allowed to be a rebel and still get all the benefits of the Kingdom!!
Sorry buddy...the welfare check won't be coming in eternity.
If you want eternity without God...then God will grant you this desire. Drink up as much of the goodness and joyfulness that this life has to offer because I guarantee you that these fringe benefits will not be for "rebels" in eternity.

Bahnsen Burner said...

dale callahan wrote: "If you want eternity without God...then God will grant you this desire. Drink up as much of the goodness and joyfulness that this life has to offer because I guarantee you that these fringe benefits will not be for 'rebels' in eternity."

But... we'll be dead. So what's the big deal?


Edwardtbabinski said...

Since you advocate hell as eternal torture are you also open to believing--based on the Bible--that you may experience joy at the sight and thought of former loved ones being tortured eternally? Orthodox Calvinists and Catholics both defended such a belief for centuries. See Here)

As for myself, I encountered Calvinism and studied it back when I was still a born again Christian, having met a theologically conservative Calvinist, who shared with me Rushdooney’s, Van Til’s and Gordon Clark’s works, published by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. I even made two “pilgrimages” to Westminster Theological Seminary during this period, where I caught a fleeting glance of Cornelius Van Til, talked with a few students, and visited the bookstore. You might think that I would have trouble getting along with someone who believed with absolute certainty that miracles (like the gift of tongues) ended during the age of the apostles, and who handed out tracts that stated on the front in bold green print, Mourn! God Hates You! But Calvinism intrigued me.

I attended the brother’s church twice and spoke briefly with his minister. What a “solid” faith, I thought. God “made some vessels for eternal honor and made others for eternal dishonor” simply to bring glory to Himself and embody His attributes of eternal “compassion” and eternal “justice.” Conversion was up to God. He either bestowed upon people the “gift of saving faith,” or damned them. In a sense it was a relief, knowing that you were not responsible for anyone else’s salvation. You did not have to plead with anyone, or devise clever gimmicks to entice them toward the faith, like many Christian youth ministries utilize. The “absoluteness” of God’s will was emphasized. If someone did not agree, such was God’s will, let them be damned.

It was also a demanding faith for those already in it. They had to avoid unclean associations, i.e., anything that might intrude on the “purity” of their theology and behavior. From thence have arisen “Reconstructionist” Christians who would like to see ancient Hebrew laws writ into America’s Constitution.

I rejected Calvinism after realizing that, unlike the believers I had met, I could not relinquish the “non-elect” to God’s eternal "justice.” Heaven would not be heaven for me if that were true. Neither could I conceive of any reasonably good person maintaining an eternal concentration camp, let alone God Himself. And I could not accept the doctrine of “total [spiritual and mental] depravity,” nor the Calvinist rationalization that any and all righteous behavior manifested by the non-elect was merely “common grace,” without which the world would be a “living hell.”

John Calvin’s teachings appear in their most blunt form in his Institutes [Bk. II, chapt. xxiii, sect. 7]: “Whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God?... The decree is dreadful [horribile] indeed, I confess.”

I had to agree that worshipping a God who was pleased by such things was horrible!

Martin Luther, another advocate of “predestination,” wrote in On the Bondage of the Will: “This is the highest degree of faith, to believe him merciful when he saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable, so that he seems, according to Erasmus, 'to delight in the torments of the wretched and to be worthy of hatred rather than of love.' If, then, I could by any means comprehend how this God can be merciful and just who displays so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith.”

I agreed with Luther that worshipping a God who “seems to delight in the torture of the wretched” would take more faith than I had. I would sooner side with C. S. Lewis than with Calvin and Luther on such matters. C. S. Lewis argued against Calvin’s “horribile decree” and Luther’s “highest degree of faith," stating:

“[There are dangers in judging God by moral standards, but] believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshipping Him, is still greater danger... The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scripture is to prevail when they conflict." [Lewis was replying to the Biblical accounts of what he called “the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua” and the account of Peter striking Ananias and Sapphira dead, called ‘Divine’ decrees by those who believe Scripture is without error.-ED.]

Lewis continued: "I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible… To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say we are as fallen as all that. He constantly in Scripture appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’—‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on."

“Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.)... If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.” [Lewis in letters to John Beversluis]

Lewis even summed matters up in A Grief Observed by stating: “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So, there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So, this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’“

Even hard nosed J. P. Holding of Tektonics apologetics, who defends every act of suffering and slaughter directed or performed by God in the Bible, admits that he can no longer believe in hell as a place of eternal "torture." Following link to his article and arguments.

All of which brings me to a statement made by Voltaire in his Philosophical Dictionary:

“The silly fanatic repeats to me... that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the great Being, that His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh?! How, you mad demoniac, do you want me to judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions I have of them? Do you want me to walk otherwise than with my feet, and to speak otherwise than with my mouth?”

Charles D said...

I don't think this is the best place for it, but since I was attacked personally...

Dale, there are any number of scholars who have carefully studied the canonical and other gospels and made informed judgments about the likely authenticity of the passages about Jesus. You would do well to read a few of those works - you might learn something.

God had little to do with the development of the canon. It was developed by Roman Catholic bishops who were a great deal more interested in solidifying their own power and their approval by the Roman Emperor than with scholarship or God's will.

Your assertion that someone who does not "presuppose" your idea about the "truth" of the bible can have no moral standards is absolutely ridiculous. All one has to do is take a cursory glance at the history of western civilization to see the error of that position.

There is a difference between punishing someone convicted of crimes and punishing people because they fail to believe something. If you punish someone for an eternity because they simply failed to believe in some concept about a man who died 2000 years ago, then you are angry and despotic. If you lock up someone for the rest of their life because they have been proven guilty of multiple murders, then you are acting wisely and justly.

Sorry - your arguments just aren't sensible.

Nihlo said...

The concept of hell violates every notion of punishment that is actually employed by reasonable humans in western society today. Furthermore, the concept of hell as generally employed by Christians is contingent upon some notion of original sin, a concept that is ridiculously unjust both to Adam and Eve, who could not have understood the evil nature of what they did, and to their offspring, who did not commit the crime. Anyone that attempts to defend the hell and/or original sin doctrine is up the creek without a paddle philosophically.

nsfl said...

The truth that God is totally sovereign over His creation is the assurance His people have that the Bible we have today is what He wants us to have. I know...this takes faith. But not blind faith...because if you do not presuppose the truths within the Holy Scriptures then you cannot justify anything, including absolute moral standards [ by which you are judging God and Saddam Hussein by].

The best you can do with your presupposition is a "god of the philosophers", Dale, like Spinoza's god. You have a hell of a non sequitur on your hands by trying to say that the God of the Bible is necessary to explain anything absolute, versus a generic god which is logically indistinguishable from process theology and the god(s) of Whitehead/Spinoza/others.

You certainly make a leap to go from "God is necessary for X" to "ERGO, the God of the Bible is that God!"

Sorry, but you strike out big time.

How is it necessary to presuppose that "truths" are "contained" anywhere [Bible]? That they (and the laws of logic that enable us to describe them) are not a part of the fabric of physical reality - laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle - with their mathematical basis as presuppositionally non-contingent and axiomatic, which can be observed and described materially?

nsfl said...

So tell us what, exegetically, you have over on Luther, Calvin, etc., to demonstrate the "traditional hell" is Scripturally (rather than philosophically) absurd?

The dogmatically-presupposed "authority" of Scripture is, of course, not a problem for me, whether it describes "hell" or "unicorns", if it is illogical, I reject it. Simple.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The punishment of Hell is not vengeance or revenge. The "punishment" is the permanent condition that occurs as a result of our rejecting Jesus (or rejecting God). It is less accurate to compare it to torment and torture and more accurate that it is an eternal conscience person realizing the endless blessing lose because they rejected God (although this regret and remorse and resentment is so intense it is like torture).

I equate it more to a situation where an "innocent" child lies to their parent and is caught red-handed at it but refuses to admit it, ask for forgiveness, or perform any form of repentance (changing of their ways). They are stuck with the permanent consequences of lost trust (their parents will never really fully trust them ever again).

This consequence plays itself out throughout the child's entire life ("forever") and it comes in a broad range of forms that are stinging, frustrating, infuriating, and dare I say even painful experiences. This might range from a brief hesitation on the part of the parents when the child ask for money and gives a reason for it (that the parents are forced to either believe or doubt and, thus, the brief delay) or even a look or tone in the parents' voice and can go all the way to being denounced as an offspring, banished from any family gatherings, and written out of the parents' will.

The analogy carries over into our eternal life in that the "lie" is the denial of God (refusing to believe in Him, refusing to seek and do His will, the denial of His Son Jesus Christ). When our physical bodies die and we have denied God, we are stuck with eternal painful reminders of what we lost by entering into an eternal existence without God. Every moment we are bombarded with the knowledge of what we could have / should have been coupled with the fact that we are powerless to rectify the situation.

It is not so much that God is doing a duty of punishing you for you few nearly meaningless little sins throughout your life; it is that eternal life without God is so miserable and useless that it rises to a level of torment and torture. It is the unavoidable consequences of our selfishness and refusal to be with God in eternity coupled with God’s most amazing blessing / gift – eternal existence.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so very nicely put, Anonymous.
What you wrote is also the teaching of the Catholic Church, and it's internal logic makes so much sense.

The issue at hand is how can God be both Infinitely Merciful and Infinitely Just.

The answer, if you think about it, screams out at you, dear Atheist host. The only way a man would have to agree that he had been both mercifully and justly judged, at the end, is if the same standard by which he judged and treated his fellow humans, is the standard by which he himself will be judged. This is why Christ makes such a HUGE deal about forgiving everyone, EVERYONE, no matter how justified you think you are in hating them and wishing them ill.

Because at the end, when "your life flashes before your eyes", as the legend goes, you will face what you have done to your fellow man, in front of all the other souls, and be judged accordingly.
And since the code you're judged by will be obvious to you as of your own making, you will KNOW it is Just. You were warned. Both by Christ and even by secular natural law. You were warned.

You chose exile. And for a creature designed to be in eternal communion with his fellows, to be exiled forever, disconnected from the grace that gives eternal joy, "burns" with the fire of envy, of regret, of self-hatred for stupidity, of eternal rage and impotence. And yet, you chose it. Why is that unjust?

Even in Kindergarten, they put you in a different room if you "Doesn't play well with others." Every place has rules, made by the owner. You don't get to rewrite 'em, and damn everyone else. You get to live by yourself among the outcast, among those who hurt everyone around them to distract them even if only for a few moments from their own despair.
Makes sense to me.

72 years to listen, and let it sink in, and you gotta make a decision, bud. We all do.

Keep hitting Lewis, and Chesterton, and the rest of the Oxford movement. Forget Calvin and Luther, they had less than a passing acquaintance with Mercy and Justice, which led them to make their own Heaven and Hell on Earth, born of misunderstanding the nature of Ultimate Reality. They never understood that though through God's "eyes" we all live in an Eternal Now where Cause and Effect are simultaneous, in order to give men free will (a precondition to Love), he had to "create" Time and Space by limiting our conciousness to seeing our lives one "slice" at a time, that there might be a time before the Choice, The Choice, and a time after The Choice to love Him.

Thus to God, yes, He knows already who is saved and who chose Exile, but that does not take away that fact that we, in a very REAL way to us, are choosing Him or not, every day.

And the reason I took the time to write this, is because I can tell you have the kind of mind that can absorb that there is no contradiction in this, if presented cogently. And as your fellow man, I owe you what I've put together from what others have passed on to me.


Anonymous said...

Needless to say, not only must you forgive everyone who has harmed you, but you must make peace and restitution to those whom YOU have harmed. I forgot to mention that last part, the hardest part.