At least, not in the sense of the following I took from a Christian posting on the Internet a few days ago:
“Hell is a “bottomless pit” (Rev. 20:1-2, KJV). “The new occupant is slow to learn. In growing panic, he kicks his feet and waves his arms. He stretches and he lunges. But he finds nothing. After more feverish tries, he pauses from exhaustion, suspended in black. Suddenly, with a scream he kicks, twists, and lunges until he is again too dizzy to move, too nauseous to think, and too exhausted to even continue.
“He tumbles onward, alone with his pain. Unable to touch a solid object or see a solitary thing, he begins to weep. His sobs choke through the darkness. Those sobs become weak, then lost in hell’s roar.” The agonies of eternal hell are described to appeal to the lost to accept Christ to be saved in His eternal kingdom.
The 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave similar appeals for the lost to repent and be saved. In his sermon, “The Resurrection of the Dead”, Spurgeon challenges those of his listeners that remain impenitent, “Now ye can scoff and jeer; there will be no scoffing or jeering then: you will be shrieking, howling, wailing for mercy; . . .
”O my hearers! the wrath to come! the wrath to come! the wrath to come. Who among you can dwell with devouring fire? Who among you can dwell with everlasting burnings? Can you, sir? can you? Can you abide the flame for ever? “Oh, no,” sayest thou, “what can I do to be saved?” Hear thou what Christ hath to say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” “Come, now let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
I am an admirer of Charles Spurgeon, have read many of his sermons but, as with the previous quote, I don’t share the views expressed on hell. If one goes back to the creation story and read in Genesis 2:7 of the creation of man it simply says that, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Or ‘Living Soul’). When we die the dust returns to the ground we came from and the spirit (breath) returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). It was not a ‘soul’ that God breathed into Adam, it was the breath of life, and when that breath of life is withdrawn, we die to await the Second Advent of Jesus and the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23; 51-557; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
The complaint of painting God, as ”The Eternal Torturer” is difficult to counter. Repent of your sins against me and accept me as your Saviour and Lord and your can count yourselves forgiven and included in my eternal kingdom. That is good biblical teaching on God’s grace towards us (Romans 5:6-11; 1 John 1:9). On the other hand, if you don’t repent “I’ll put you in an eternal burning hell from which there is no release!” If that were true I would find it difficult to respond to God as a God of love. I would be responding more in the fear of eternal burning hell. World leading Anglican theologian, the late Dr. John Stott, found that difficult to swallow. In his book, ‘Essentials,’ (now out of print), in dialogue with the Anglican liberal theologian, David Edwards, John Stott says to David Edwards on page 314, “You rightly say that I have never declared publicly whether I think hell, in addition to being real, terrible and eternal, will involve the experience of everlasting suffering. I am sorry that you use in reference to God the emotive expression, ‘the Eternal Torturer’, because it implies a sadistic infliction of pain, and all Christian people would emphatically reject that. But will the final destiny of the impenitent be eternal conscious torment, ‘for ever and ever’, or will it be total annihilation of their being? The former has to be described as traditional orthodoxy, . . . Do I hold it, however? Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.”
For Stott, the language the Bible uses about eternal death and destruction suggests just that. It would seem strange for the Bible to talk about human’s suffering destruction, but are then not really destroyed. “It cannot, I think, be replied that it is impossible to destroy human beings because they are immortal, for the immortality – and therefore indestructibility – of the soul is a Greek and not a biblical concept” (page 316). According to Scripture only God possesses immortality in himself (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16); he reveals and gives it to us through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).” But if we keep in mind the composition of man in Genesis 2:7 and that Jesus and Paul refer to death as ‘sleep’ (Daniel 12:1-4; John 11:11-15; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), then we will find the idea of a ‘soul’ living on after the body made redundant.
Stott adds that, ‘annihilation’ is not the same as ‘conditional immortality’. With ‘Annihilation’ everyone survives death but the impenitent will then be destroyed (I presume after they have faced the judgment John 5:28-29)? With ‘Conditional Immortality’ no one survives death except those to whom God gives life – they become immortal by grace and not by nature. In my reading I am not sure that everyone follows that distinction.
A second argument Stott raises against an eternal burning hell is that “the main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction, as all the world’s incinerators bear witness. Stott’s view of the fire is that it would consume forever and not torment forever. The fire will have done its work. Perhaps Malachi 4:1-4 is what is in mind.
On pages 317-19 Stott deals with four objections to the view he takes which includes his rejection of ‘universalism’ that ultimately all will be saved. Also that divine justice would be incompatible with eternal torment for all the impenitent, with no difference in punishment between the simple unbeliever and the most villainous of humanity’s offenders. Stott concludes, “that the eternal existence of the impenitent in hell would be hard to reconcile with the promises of God’s final victory over evil.”
A second concern about a soul going to either heaven or hell immediately at the death of the body means that judgment comes immediately at death. One’s ‘soul’ goes either to heaven or ‘hell’ at death. So loved ones speak of the deceased looking down on us. Rarely, if ever, is it said that the departed have gone to the other abode. On that count heaven is getting full and Hell is not having many takers!
But the Bible makes it clear that the Second Advent of Jesus and the resurrection precede the judgment. Daniel was told that the reward of spiritual fidelity or infidelity comes at the resurrection (Daniel 12:1-4). Jesus said the same (John 5:28-29). Hebrews 9:27-28 also makes it clear when it says, “Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face the judgment (not before!), so Christ was sacrificed to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
An eternal burning hell may be considered orthodox teaching, but it is not what I read in the Scripture. I do read there is to be a final judgment when all will see why they have lost out on the promise of eternity without any more scars to God’s new creation (Revelation 21:1-5), and it will be seen why those who are included in God’s kingdom deserve to be there. It is because they have accepted the gift of God’s grace ( Romans 5:6-11; 6:23). God hasn’t closed the offer down yet (John 3:16)!
More on this in the next post.