"I feel that the time has come when I must declare my mind honestly. I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine which has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a terrible blot on her presentation of the gospel. I should indeed be happy if, before I die, I could help in sweeping it away. Most of all I should rejoice to see a number of theologians ... joining ... in researching this great topic with all its ramifications." - John Wenham
WHAT IF we are wrong?
So, our traditional doctrine of hell may be in error. *yawn*
What's the big deal? The good guys win, the bad guys lose. Why worry about the details? No one can really know for sure what will happen. We've been going with our popular doctrine of eternal conscious torment for centuries and all the smart guys endorse it, so what's the problem?
Besides, I don't want to talk about it. That subject makes me uncomfortable. I already have a view about that. It's not the main thing. Everyone knows that the "smoke of their torment rises forever and ever" so get over it. What do you mean, we should look at the whole rest of the Bible? I've read the Bible and it seems clear that the rich man was tormented in the flame and that is just what happens to the lost.
Or is it?
I am not going to tear down the hell tradition here; I've been posting studies and arguments with that goal in mind elsewhere. If you read them, you may start to see my concern.
I am not saying that I have the answer. I have not formulated my own doctrine. What I am saying is that there is SO MUCH material that should cause us to pause, ponder and doubt our traditional view that I just have to say something about it!
For me, it is this gargantuan elephant in the room with chartreuse and hot pink stripes wrapped in Christmas lights, the flashing kind. Is it just me or do we need to talk about this?
Consider for a moment (just humor me) that the Christian Church is wrong about this hell doctrine. [Remember, the Protestant Reformation was based on the principle that the church was wrong about the most central doctrine of Christianity - the atonement and justification - for a thousand years. So unfortunately, the church can go astray.] And here we are teaching these ideas - the glaring one being eternal conscious torment - to unbelievers and children and the world!
Our Father in Heaven, who describes Himself as "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth" (Deut. 4:31, 2 Chr. 30:9, Neh. 9:17, 31, Ps. 78:38, 103:8, 111:4, 112:4, 116:5, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2) may not be pleased with His people as they proclaim Him as the Torturer of the universe. If it is NOT true, imagine the damage we (His own children) are causing His character and the Gospel.
Yes, there is a flip-side to eternal life. There is a Book of life and if your name is not found there, then you will face Judgment. Condemnation results in punishment, separation from God and death. Yes, the Lord is loving and compassionate, but as Traditionalists never fail to point out, He is also just. So there are very real and very severe consequences for those the Bible calls "the wicked".
The question is: When the Bible speaks of eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:9) or eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46), does it refer to never-ending torture or a final death/destruction that will never be reversed (lasts forever)?
I am convinced that if we presented the evidence in a court of law, that there would be serious reasonable doubt as to the conclusion of hell being eternal conscious torment. The fact is, as we consider the whole counsel of the Word of God, the weight of evidence falls heavily to the side of final punishment as it mirrors our harshest earthly punishment: corporal punishment (death).
We must stop and consider this!
If there is even a doubt, we ought to stop in our tracks in holy fear and hold our tongue. Speak only where the Bible speaks.
For example, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the well-known verse "for the wages of sin is death" accompanied by an add-on which is usually something like, "which is separation from God in hell". Excuse me?! That is NOT what the verse says. Never in Scripture is the word death accompanied by a disclaimer that states it actually means 'kept alive forever to be tormented in fire'. Why would God use the illustration of death to represent the opposite: being kept alive for the purpose of experiencing punishment without end? (See my post "There's water and there is The Living Water") Father forgive us if we have believed and taught a lie.
Can you tell I get a bit worked up by this? I know, I know, it makes people uncomfortable.
PLEASE, be uncomfortable. Be shocked. Be horrified that we could be a part of slandering God and speaking untruth in His name. Be concerned. Give some thought and then take some action. If it is all too disturbing or boring or time-consuming, then just stay quiet about hell. When people ask about final punishment you can give them two Bible verses: John 3:16 and Romans 6:23. You either have eternal life in Jesus or you will perish/die. Period.
My God, what if we are wrong.
Please leave a comment. I value any feedback - critical, supportive, or interrogative (questions)!