Get Ready for Death and Life

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
Get Ready for Death and Life

See the big picture so you can get ready for death and life.

In “Get Ready for Death and Life,” Kent and Nathan compare popular notions about hell and judgment with what the Bible really says. Spoiler: They’re not the same.

“Get Ready for Death and Life” – Episode Notes:

Now let’s discuss “What the hell?” What version of hell best accounts for the data? Is eternal conscious torment simply what the Bible teaches? Or are there other interpretations that offer a sufficient, or better, account for the biblical data? And what about the data of our moral sensibility, or philosophical views of the eternal soul, or of justice? Do these also count as data that needs to be accounted for?

What version of hell best accounts for the data?

A word about words

Our word “hell” along with the concept is of pagan origin: also Hell, Old English hel, helle, “nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions, place of torment for the wicked after death,” from Proto-Germanic *haljō “the underworld” (source also of Old Frisian helle, Old Saxon hellia, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja “hell”). Literally “concealed place” (compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”), from PIE root *kel- (1) “to cover, conceal, save.”

Old Norse Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija “one who covers up or hides something”)was the name of Loki’s daughter who ruled over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl “mist”) It might have reinforced the English word “as a transfer of a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary” [Barnhart].

“Hell” represents four(ish) words in the original languages of the Bible. Note that there are 13 occurrences of the word in NIV compared with 54 in KJV.

“Sheol” is literally “the grave” but could also refer to the place of imprisoned spirits. It’s translated “death” or “hades” in the Greek Old Testament.

“Tartarus” and “Hades” in Greek refer to the place of disembodied spirits that was somewhat synonymous with the pagan notion. This was thought of in Jewish and Christian thought as a soul jail for those awaiting final judgment.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

(Luke 16:22-23 NIV)

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.

(2 Peter 2:4-9)

The last word is the one most associated with a place of eternal judgment – “Gehenna.” Jesus spoke of it in vivid terms that evoked modern notions of a place of eternal torment.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where“ ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

(Mark 9:43-48 NIV)

The Valley of Hinnom was infamous as a place of defilement and violence.

“This is what the LORD says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests 2 and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you, 3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 4 For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. 5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. 6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. “ ‘In this place I will ruin[fn] the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals.

(Jer. 19:1-7 NIV)

See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the LORD. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

(Isaiah 66:15-16; 22-24 NIV)

Some have said that Jesus updated the prophetic image into a metaphysical one, but there doesn’t seem to be any basis for that: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

(Matthew 5:29-30 NIV)

Since it’s a place for the incineration of bodies, the mention of eternal fire and worms doesn’t suggest eternal suffering but is metaphorical for final, inescapable judgment. Hell is the place of final eradication of the wicked. Far from being a place for souls to live and suffer eternally, it seems to be a soul incinerator:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

(Matt. 10:28)

It is not only an incinerator for the souls of the wicked but for all that is outside the will of God:

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

(Rev. 20:13-15 NIV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(John 3:16 NIV)

The counterargument:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

(Daniel 12:2-3 NIV)

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

(Matt. 25:41-46 NIV)

They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

(Rev. 20:9-10 NIV)

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

(Rev. 14:9-13 NIV)

The counter-counter argument. In Daniel 12 it is the contempt that is everlasting while the shame isn’t modified. In Matt. 25, we must confront the connection between the failure to show mercy and eternal suffering. It seems that Jesus was commenting and expanding on Daniel.

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

(Matt. 13:40-43)

Note the contrast between “life” and “punishment.” What might that punishment be? Notice that fire “devoured” the human armies besieging the camp of God’s people in Rev. 20:9. Rev. 14 obviously describes divine judgment as in Luke 19 and other passages. The mention of the “smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever,” seems to be apocalyptic language as was used in Isaiah 34:

For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.      

(Isaiah 34:8-10 NIV) 

Unlike with the doctrine of final judgment, the notion of eternal suffering as just punishment dissonates with the rest of the scripture.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

(Deut. 21:18-23 NIV) 

‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.’ ”

(Lev. 24:17-22 NIV)

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

(Romans 3:25-26 NIV)

And what about the data of our moral sensibility, or philosophical views of the eternal soul, or of justice?

The moral argument against hell is insurmountable. It seems well within the rights of a creator to uncreate as he so chooses. It doesn’t seem “right” for an omniscient creator to give rise to multitudes of sentient beings knowing full well that most of them will spend an infinitesimal time on earth and then eternity in unimaginable torment. Attempts at justification make things worse or at least no better. He’s God, get over it? That’s true but it sure does seem like a high hurdle/low bar for people to cross to know this God of love.

People will choose hell over God’s presence?

The philosophical view on the eternal soul doesn’t seem to hold up. That the soul is eternal comes from Plato’s specious dualism.It’s unsupportable/unfalsifiableIt seems likely that anything that can come into being can cease to exist.The Bible seems to teach conditional immortality from first to last.

And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

(Gen. 3:22 NIV)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

(Rev. 22:1-2 NIV)

And in the middle:

“So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays everyone for what they have done; he brings on them what their conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.  Who appointed him over the earth? Who put him in charge of the whole world?  If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust.

(Job. 34:10-15 NIV)

All of this means that if people are conscious in hell, God is keeping them alive so they can suffer.

Some ramifications

If there’s no “hell” why bother preaching the gospel? Because the gospel is good news! There is no mention of hell in the book of Acts nor really anything more than a passing warning about “judgment.” Because if we love people we’ll want them to have eternal life.Because God wants people in his kingdom/family.

Because other people need to glorify God.

What if I disagree? That’s fine. It’s not really a core issue.

I would advise you to stop and consider: If you’re wrong you are perpetuating a monstrous caricature of God.

That monstrous depiction is making people choose between the good news of Christ and a legitimate moral sensibility.