Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hell, Part 3

Before you read this, make sure you've read Parts One and Two with all the comments that go with them.

WHAT IS HELL LIKE?

Let's start with the obvious. Hell will be bad. Whether it will be "worse than we could ever imagine," I don't know. I can imagine to a pretty horrific extent. But the separation from God and all things good and enjoyable will be worse than we could ever comprehend. As in, although we can imagine how terrible hell will be, we can't comprehend because we've never experienced separation from God, etc., etc..

I mention the generic obvious for this reason. A common unbeliever's reply to the doctrine of hell is, "There is no hell; I'm going through my hell here on this earth. This life is hell." This is what Ray Comfort says about that (in The Evidence Bible):
Skeptics who say this are trying to dismiss the reality of hell. They might like
to think that life as we know it couldn’t get any worse, but the sufferings in
this life will be heaven compared to the suffering in the next life—for those
who die in their sins. This life is the closest thing to hell that Christians
will ever know, and the closest thing to heaven that sinners will ever know.


This earth isn’t anywhere close to heaven or to hell. The way I see it is like this: when you’re in the middle of the United States, you’re neither close to the North Pole nor the South Pole. But if you fly to the South Pole to live until your death, your time in the U.S. is the closest you’ll ever get to the North Pole, and vice versa.
Hell is a strong word used for many earthly evils, like, "War is hell." In Darryl Worley's hit song, "Have You Forgotten?", he sings, "...when those towers fell, we had neighbors still inside, going through a living hell." One of the strongest curses known to man is, "You can go to hell for all I care." This is always taken seriously, but the person making this damnation doesn't even realize quite how strong those implications are.
Now I'm not going to try to downplay any of life's difficult consequences, especially ones I've never been through, like war and being inside a burning building. And, for those who think life is hell, they've probably lived a harder life so far than I have. But this statement shows an ignorance--as Ray Comfort said, "to the reality of hell,"--and it also shows a deep self-pity and a tendency to extremely exaggerate. Bottom line: hell will be worse than anything on this earth, as hard as that might be to comprehend. This is true, if for no other reason, than that it will be eternal, while every trial in this life generally passes, or at least wanes from time to time.
Now that I've established that hell will be "bad,"--not enjoyable, to say the very least, I might as well tackle this wisecrack remark that unbelievers often utilize: "I don't care if I'm going to hell, because all my friends will be there." This again shows the ignorance--and arrogance--to hell. It's as simple as the ole "If you're friends jumped off a cliff, would you too?" argument. Some would, I must admit, in this day of the power of peer pressure in which we live, along with the adrenaline-addict and "life has no purpose" phenomenon we are facing in society. However, this is the absolute dumbest thing a person could ever do. If a whole group of your friends decided to sit around and drink gasoline--followed with the snack of burning matches--it wouldn't be as stupid to follow the crowd in that situation than to follow your friends to hell and challenge the wrath of Almighty God.

However, like I've already said twice (using the term "ignorance"), this type of apathy towards hell usually roots in a misconception of hell. Some unsaved sinners might admit to you that there is a hell. But they don't realize that hell is not the “sinners’ heaven.” It is not a grotesque party. Judgment Day will not go like this: “Anyone who wants to party sinfully, go through that door—hell’s on the other side; but any pious Christians who enjoyed their persecuted and trial-filled life on earth--resisting temptation and the 'pleasures of sin for a season'(Hebrews 11:25), the sinless party is through this door—heaven.” No. Hell will not be a place where lewd acts are performed without reservation, conscious, embarrasment, or reproach. The Bible speaks of sinners enjoying “the passing pleasures of sin,”(Hebrews 11:25) not the pleasures of sin for eternity. Words such as damnation, cursing, wrath, punishment, torment, weeping, shame, contempt, tribulation, anguish, destruction, and gnashing of teeth show us that there will be no pleasure in hell.

So how long will this experience, which we've established won't be a party, last? Some Christians just don’t have the heart to say that “eternal punishment” will be “eternal.” But, the bottom line is—it will be. What the Bible says, I have to believe. Daniel 12:2 : "...everlasting contempt"; Matthew 25:46 : "...everlasting (or eternal) punishment..." ; Luke 3:17: "...fire unquenchable[it will never stop]..." ; 2 Thessalonians 1:9 : "Everlasting destruction..." ; Jude 7 : "Eternal fire..." ; Jude 13: "...the blackness of darkness forever..." ; Revelation 14:11 : "...for ever and ever." The list of references I'm certain goes on, but the point is made. Plus, if hell wasn't eternal punishment, Jesus wouldn’t have said numerous times to “pluck out your eye” or “cut off your hand” if those acts would keep you from going to hell. (Matthew 5:29,30; Matthew 18:9 ; Mark 9:45,47) Why go through life with impaired sight and one hand if you can just suffer for them a little while after death and then end up at the “party” later? That’s the absurdity behind purgatory. It's also how the theory of "annihilation-ism" can be discredited. You're eventually going to get relief, so why deny yourself your fleshly pleasure? These theories, of not-eternal punishment, insult the holiness and justice of our perfect God.

Now we see that hellish punishment will neither be temporary nor fun. So what will it be like? Well, it is important to note that neither heaven nor hell is a place where "spirits just float around." This is seen clearer on the topic of heaven than hell, for in heaven we will receive "glorified bodies" (Philippians 3:21), yes, our old bodies will be perfected in their resurrection.(1 Corinthians 15:42--note: this is just one reference to many of the "resurrection of the dead.") But, as I failed to realize before, those lost in their sins will also be resurrected! They won't be saved, no. The Bible says, "Those who did the good deeds [will receive] a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds [will receive] a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:29) It appears that Jesus is stating here that the unregenerate will be given bodies for the purpose of receiving punishment. John 5:29 is backed up by Acts 24:15, "That there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." These statements make sense, because the Bible seems to point to physical, conscious punishment: "Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9); "...destruction..." (2 Thessalonians 1:9); "Eternal fire..." (Jude 7); "Weeping and gnashing of teeth..." (Matthew 24:51); as well as spiritual punishments: "Shame and everlasting contempt..." (Daniel 12:2). But as I’ve stated in previous articles, I believe the wicked are suffering now, before they've received their bodies “for judgment.” So, the only thing I can say is: don’t underestimate God. I am sure He can inflict physical feeling pain on the soul. In fact, humans have difficulty separating the two sensations oftentimes (when you're in pain, you're in pain).

But how will this work? How will the unsaved be burned and scorched eternally? I picture (and yes, it’s gruesome) the unregenerate as similar to the Burning Bush, which “burned, but was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)

Also, eternal darkness will be there? How will there be fire and eternal darkness? First of all, it will be spiritual darkness—separation of God and His common grace (even if you are not a Christian on this earth, you are receiving “common grace” from God). But the Bible also says "the blackness of darkness forever." (Jude 13) That doesn't sound like spiritual darkness. Perhaps, the gift of sight will be removed. After all, Jesus said it would be better to enter heaven with one eye than hell with two. (Matthew 5:29) Those who are condemned cannot expect the blessings of the functions of the human body to remain--except for the sensors of pain.

After these things, the specifics of hell are almost indiscernible. Will there be degrees of hell? Well, the Bible tells us that there will be differing rewards in heaven. And “Judgment Day” would be rather boring and repetitive without degrees of hell. Of course, God sees all of our sins as “exceedingly sinful,” (Romans 7:13) but is Hitler going to get the same punishment as everyone else? What about the serial rapist? Child molester? Maybe God’s justice is different than what we think, but the Bible does say He will judge us on all of our secret thoughts, idle words, and deeds. With this supporting my intuiton, I have an inkling that “Judgment Day” will be more than “He’s a Christian, she’s not; she’s a Christian, he’s not.”

The most common objection (including mine) to the idea of “degrees of hell” is found in the transitive property of equality: “If someone suffers more in hell than someone else, than that means someone else suffers LESS.” This, however, isn’t even worth talking about. It’s like saying, “Two people are in a fiery furnace. One’s in the middle, where’s it 4000 degrees. The other is toward the edge, where it’s ‘only’ 3000 degrees.” Who cares? Would you want to be in that furnace? Would you take solace in the fact that you are not in the 4000 degree part? Even if you were able to think comparatively and logically in such a position, then you’d have to realize that you didn’t sin as much as you could have. If you can handle this amount of heat, why didn’t you have more fun on earth?

If you were to ask my imagination's opinion--conjugating off words like "torment" and "anguish"--I could think of some pretty horrid scenarios. But besides "fire" and "worm," we are not given any specifics really in Scripture, so I won't expound on any fancies either. One would be the idea of demons torturing humans, but what would happen when the demons were thrown into the Lake of Fire? I don't think that God, in the year 289,756 A.D., will say, "Today I think I will give Mrs. Smith the worst migraine she could ever imagine." I could be wrong, of course. I could be underestimating the wrath of God. But my guess is that a mechanism will already be in place--automatically carrying out just wrath and punishment.

14 comments:

Austin said...

I like your point that Judgment Day won't simply be, "He's a Christian, she's not. She's a Christian, he's not."

Actually, salvation is not by works, but JUDGMENT IS!

Regarding "degrees" of hell - all we know is that every time the Bible mentions judgment, it's always directly related to deeds. Not everyone has done the same deeds, so not everyone receives the same judgment. The only punishment common to all sinners is death (Romans 6:23), so any punishment after that will be different for everyone, and yes, the Bible supports this.

"and each person was judged according to what he had done."

"and I will give to everyone according to what he has done."

All sins result in death, but if there's any punishment beyond death (and we've acknowledged that the Bible says there is) then it does not have to be the same for all sinners. Jesus, the apostles, and the entire Old Testament ALWAYS say, when mentioning judgment, that it is dished out according to our deeds.

One extremely important point about hell is that NO ONE EVER goes there against their final will. All who truly want the life God offers can have it, but some will refuse. You want support that know one is forced into hell? Okay, here it is:

"To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life."

Austin said...

I actually said "know one". I'm losing it! I meant "no one". ...I've seen people accidentally write know as no, but I've never heard of anyone doing it the other way around!

Kingdom Advancer said...

Could you get me those Scripture verses? I know they're in the Bible, I just like to have the references.

As for degrees of hell: I spoke rather uncertainly about it in my article, but then, reading an article simply titled "Hell" by Mart De Haan (his website is www.rbc.org, although I was reading a hard-copy article), he reminded me of things Jesus said, like:
Matthew 10:15 "Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city." (Look up Matthew 10 to see exactly what Jesus is talking about.)
Matthew 11:22 "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you." (ditto)
Matthew 11:24 "Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you." (")
Luke 12:47-48 "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (I've actually always wondered whether that parable is referring to a saved person or unsaved.)
These are just some of the things Mart De Haan mentioned that Jesus said. Of course, as you pointed out, the Bible speaks plenty more about judgment. (I need to find that passage about "our secret thoughts and deeds." I mentioned it in the article but did not put the reference.)

I think I should point out that "First comes death, then the judgment." I agree with what you said, but no one will be saved after death--when they've seen God. Where would the faith be in that?
I also would like to point out something that I ponder: don't you think that the demons (and of course, Satan) will really be punished brutally, since they had seen God and heaven, and worked for God, and yet rebelled? Just a thought.

p.s. I'm going to try to write one more part about hell.

Austin said...

References: All those scriptures are from Rev. 20 - Rev. 22. Enter the words in the search engine at www.biblegateway.com and you'll find them. I think the version I used was NIV.

A while back we discussed whether sheol and hades are the same thing. You said no I think, but I said that hades was the greek surrogate for hebrew sheol. Well, I stumbled upon proof w/o even looking for it! I used Young's Literal Translation (it's useful to our purpose, because it leaves words like sheol and hades untranslated)

The proof is found in Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:55. Paul quotes Hosea, written in Hebrew. The verse contains the Hebrew word Sheol, and when Paul writes it down in Greek for the Corinthians, guess what word he uses as Greek for Sheol?! That's right, hades!

"...Where [is] thy plague, O death? Where thy destruction, O sheol? ..."
-Hosea 13:14

"where, O Death, thy sting? where, O Hades, thy victory?"
-1 Corinthians 15:55

Notice how when Paul translates the Hebrew verse into Greek, he uses hades for sheol.

under_the_mercy said...

Great post, but I dont know about the different levels of hell. In james 2:10 we have the verse that says if you are guilty of one sin, you are guilty of all, so unless Christ completely covers your sins wouldn't you would be just as guilty as someone like Hitler, for instance?

If you want a to read a quite interesting book on the idea that there are different levels in hell try Dante's "Inferno" (part of "The Divine Comedy"). The translation by Sayers is good.

Austin said...

check out http://www.kencollins.com/question-45.htm

It has some good info. on the Biblical teachings regarding where we go when we die, and where we go when we are resurrected. It's definitely worth taking a look at.

Note: I don't know anything about the guy who wrote the page at that URL, so don't assume that I agree with other things that you might find on that site - I might agree, I might not; I haven't looked.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Austin, I'm going to be honest with you: the whole Sheol/Hades thing is starting to make my head spin. I saw that passage before you mentioned it, but I was trying to decipher it. I was wondering, "Why would Paul use the term 'Hades' when the original author, of course, did not?"
Perhaps there's not much--or any--difference between Sheol and Hades. But I am sure that both Gehenna/hell and heaven/paradise are being experienced now. So this is what I propose: Hades/Sheol are terms for the grave, correct? So, perhaps those in heaven are also in "Sheol/Hades"--as in, they're dead. In the same way, perhaps those in Gehenna are also in "Sheol/Hades"--they're also dead.

My problem is that I just can't get over some New Testament passages that use Hades. Parable or not, why didn't Jesus say "Gehenna" in reference to the rich man rather than "Hades"? What does the Bible mean when it says the "gates of Hades" would not prevail against the church? What does it mean when Jesus says that Capernaum would not be raised to heaven, but "brought down to Hades?"

Nevertheless, though, if we can agree on some of the more basic issues, I can't profess to possess divine inspiration of the differences and similarities between Greek, Hebrew, and English words.

Under_the_mercy, as I kind of said before, the degrees of hell issue is basically a quagmire. Just by mentioning it, you end up implying that another damned sinner is "not quite as damned" as THAT guy over there standing in the corner. You know what I mean? You also imply, "Well, he'll be in agony, but he won't be in AS BAD OF agony as THAT person." You imply, "Nobody will be happy in hell, but this person will not be AS 'NOT-HAPPY' as that person."
The problem is, you enter a similar but opposite problem with rewards in heaven. "Boy, THAT saint is going to get a lot of rewards; he's going to be one happy guy in heaven. Yeah, that guy's a Christian, too, but he won't have AS MANY rewards." It kind of sounds like some people will be more happy in heave than others.

Here's my conclusion: although all Christians will have done good works, since "Faith without works is dead," and "You will know them by their fruit," we also know that some Christians do more than other Christians, and will receive rewards for that in heaven. In the same way, although we're all guilty of breaking all of the Commandments, some break them many times over. I think it's safe to say we've all broken all of the Commandments more than once, but for some, it's ridiculous. And compare the most prolific of sinners with the legalistic person who doesn't have a true relationship with God. (For instance, the Bible says that "God will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." Some take it in vain all the time, while others--who are not necessarily Christians--feel queazy about that matter, at least in the foul language sense of blaspheme) There does seem to be some differentiation there, and the Bible seems to make it clear that there is more to Judgment Day then simply cursing everyone not under the blood of Jesus equally.
So as not to end on that note, I want to reiterate something I've been saying: degrees of hell is not important. You know why? Because we should not focus on telling the unsaved that they should clean up their life so that they can get "a lesser hell." We need to tell them to repent of their sins and embrace the Savior so that they can avoid hell altogether.

under_the_mercy said...

I mostly agree, but I dont think you run into any problems with the heaven part.

If you think about it when we are in heaven all we will want to do is glorify and know God. The way we will be doing that is by casting our crowns before him. The crowns are our rewards for what we did on earth. If one does not follow God on earth, he will not have as many crowns to cast before God. If everyone was the "same" in heaven there would be no reason to follow God on earth except getting saved.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Good point, Under_the_Mercy, about casting our crowns. It's kind of like, the more we have in heaven, the more it won't matter. The more we have, the more we will surrender to God (kind of like it should be on this earth: "To whom much is given, much will be required.")
The gist of what I was saying is that, in our finite, fallen minds, naturally you'd think there'd be some jealousy in heaven. After all, why did the disciple Peter "get to be" Peter? It's almost like a stroke of luck that he was born at that time, raised in that area, and chosen by Jesus. Now he and the other disciples will be the rulers directly under Jesus on the new earth. (I'm saying this in jest, of course.)
But your point is well taken--jealousy and happiness will not be an issue, although it still gnaws at my mind that some will be more satisfied than others. That leads to what human reason would claim next: that there would be at least some guilt in heaven. I think that there will be...temporarily. When we see God--and faith is finally turned to 100 percent reality, will we all not say--especially in comparing ourselves to others--"why did I not do more for God?"

The lack of direction in discussing punishments in hell is much more evident than speaking of rewards in heaven. Because, logically, it seems that, if you receive a low degree of hell, then you've "beaten the system," so to speak. You can turn your back on God, and take pleasure in sin--as long as you're economical in your sins. For instance, Hitler is at least partially guilty for six million plus murders. Jesus says hate is equivalent to murder, but it would be difficult for the Average Joe (if he wasn't a racist) to HATE six million people, much less actually kill them. So, in this Average Joe's mind, he says, "I can hate a bunch of people, and I still won't end up in nearly as bad a place as Hitler--at least as far as murder is concerned. My hell will be more bearable." In another example, a popular basketball player claimed that he had slept with 20,000 women. Jesus said that lust is the equivalent to adultery. But, again, if Average Joe picks carefully, he could avoid even LUSTING after 20,000 women. He says, "I can lust all the time and not approach the number that this other guy committed physical adultery. My hell will be more bearable."

The thing is, I don't think anyone in hell or the Lake of Fire--from Satan down to the "best" person not going to heaven--will ever want to hear the word "bearable" uttered throughout eternity.

Austin said...

Eternal punishment isn't punishment for not being a Christian, it's punishment for the things you have done. The scriptures are extremely consistent on this matter - some punishment will be worse than others. I think it's possible that some people - maybe most - will end up completely destroyed; I haven't confirmed this idea yet, so don't start picking up stones!

We are told in Revelation that all who worship the beast and receive his mark will be thrown into the lake of fire where they will be tormented "to the ages of the ages." - that is, forever. We are not told that the other sinners who are thrown in will be there for as long - in fact, the lake of fire is described as the "second death" when those other sinners are mentioned. I don't know what that all means; I haven't figured it out.

Jesus and Paul compare our bodies to seeds that must die before growing into plants and producing a crop. Many people we know are completely ignorant of God's ways, but we don't generally think of them as worthy of eternal torment. What will happen to them? Perhaps though they are only seeds of evil now, they will become full grown crops of evil after the resurrection! That would make judgment seem more fair. One thing is for certain - only perfect evil is worthy of perfect punishment - eternal torture. Nothing good will be thrown into Hell - if the unsaved have any ounce of good in them or desire to be good, then one of two things must happen - they will end up overcoming the good in themselves absolutely and be thrown into hell, or they will be redeemed and enter the New Jerusalem. Any who wash and the river that flows through the city to the outside may enter, but those who do not wash do not enter because NOTHING IMPURE WILL EVER ENTER THAT CITY!!! I, for one, am looking forward to living in a city that nothing impure can ever enter.

Austin said...

Kingdom Advancer,

Paul doesn't use sheol because it doesn't exist in Greek. Their word is hades which means the same thing: the unseen world of dead souls.

If I'm translating a Spanish book into English, and the book is about a dog, I don't leave the word "perro" in, simply because that's what the original auther used. I change it to the English word for Spanish "perro," which is "dog". Perro is to dog as sheol is to hades.

You wanted to know why Jesus used hades for the rich man's destination instead of gehenna. For one thing, gehenna was a physical place that Jesus used for dramatic effect, or so I think.

More importantly though, he didn't use gehenna because both the rich man and Lazarus were in hades. Lazarus was in the comfort zone of hades, separated by a great chasm from the torment zone where the rich man was. The verse says:

"and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom,"
-Luke 16:23 (YLT)

It doesn't say that only the rich man is in hades. In fact, if he sees Lazarus, then they're probably in the same place, except that the great chasm separates the two sections of hades - the comfort zone and the torment zone.

Austin said...

3 comments in a row! Why stop now?

I did some research on the Greek concept of hades, which was later employed by Christians.

For one thing, in Greek mythology, all souls went to hades, not just good or bad.

Hades was believed by the Greeks to have several sections. One was the Elysian Fields (similar to Lazarus' comfort zone), and another was Tartarus (Peter describes it as the prison of the fallen angels. The unsaved my be there as well).

The Bible seems to suggest that maybe Jesus took many of the souls in hades to Paradise, which was in the heavens. So now only the unsaved remain in hades, but in any case, it wasn't that way from the beginning. And the righteous were never tormented there, though there may have been some brief judgment - there's debate about this among Jewish scholars, and there was debate about it in Jesus' time as well).

I'm working on studying the Hebrew ideas of the 7 heavens and the 7 hells. I'll let you know when I find something worth noting.

Kingdom Advancer said...

As I said, Austin, I have determined that Hades must be the base--the foundation of where people went (or go). It's their grave. It's their death. But clearly, the righteous and wicked don't have the same experience in this place--if it's an actual place at all.

What I meant about Paul using Hades is that, the New Testament isn't afraid to use Hebrew words. Rabbi is the only one off the top of my head, but "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani," Jesus' "why have You forsaken me" cry on the cross, is ARAMAIC. So, when the New Testament writers (and English translators) were working on the Bible, they clearly saw the appropriateness of leaving in some elements from other languages, especially Hebrew. And after all, Paul was a Jew, so, if He was quoting the Old Testament, you would think He would quote it in the original Hebrew (although there were both Greek and Hebrew versions at that point.)

As far as deserving eternal punishment, that is what I'll address in my next post. But here's something for you to think about:
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)
And:
"There is none who does good, no, not one." (Jesus said this in retort to the rich man who called him "good teacher.")

When I said "the best person not going to heaven," I said it jokingly. Some, however, who keep a lot of the Law (perhaps Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and Jews who don't accept the Messiah), will not be saved. They will be headed to hell just like the dirtiest of sinners. I think there's a verse in the Bible that says even their good deeds are an abomination to God, because they do it for the wrong reasons, with the wrong beliefs, and without a true relationship with God.

Austin said...

Paul was quoting the Septaugint, which was in Greek. He didn't change sheol to hades at all - he simply quoted the Septuagint, which had already rendered sheol as hades. I hope that clears it up.