In this series:
There Is No Hell (part 1)
There is no hell.
Period. The bible never once mentions it. It's simply not there. Instead, we have clear indications of what DOES exist, and it's not at all like hell.
Now, by "hell", I mean the idea of eternal conscious torment for the wicked.
The bible teaches that the final state of the wicked is complete destruction. There may be punishment of the wicked before their final destruction, but destruction is always the end result.
I'm going to show that the bible simply doesn't mention the prevailing doctrine of hell.
But first, let me address a few things.
Hell is important, and no one believes in it
Here's the thing: nobody actually believes in hell. Well, almost nobody. If Christians in general believed in hell, the possibility of eternal conscious torture for all their friends and family (and themselves) would haunt them constantly. They wouldn't sleep - they would devote every moment to evangelizing.
When I was growing up, I really DID believe in hell. And it haunted me. It tortured my thoughts.
People who have not had this experience simply don't really believe the doctrine they are proclaiming. They're living in denial of their own beliefs.
Some people would argue that even if there isn't a hell, we shouldn't rock the boat. These people tend to think that the teaching of hell is useful, even if it's not necessarily true. Let me ask:
Do you believe that the truth about God is important?
Do you believe that it's okay to obscure the Glory of God?
The truth is, the doctrine of hell is one of the primary sources of disillusionment with Christianity. Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell both mentioned it in rejecting Christianity. One person has said, "the doctrine of hell has created more atheists than anything else in the history of the world". Millions of people have recoiled in horror from believing in a God who would torture humans in ways we humans have never even imagined torturing each other.
The issue is not what God has the "right" to do. God has the right to send everyone to a torture chamber, and spend all eternity torturing us and laughing in glee.
But God has revealed that he is not like that. His revelation of himself was designed to constrain him in certain ways. For example:
God cannot lie. He has the right to lie, but he doesn't.
God is good. He has the right to be evil, but he says that he isn't.
God is love. He has the right to hate, but he has revealed that THAT is not him.
I understood this when I was young. People would say things like, "we can't limit God with our ideas". But the problem is that God has chosen to limit himself. God has chosen to reveal himself to us, and his revelation is that he is LOVE.
If God reveals that he is love, and defines in detail what love means, then we have to expect God to act consistently with that revelation. And if he doesn't act in that way, that calls into question the whole idea of God at all.
That's exactly where millions of people stand. The God they have heard about is inconsistent and unloving.
The doctrine of hell is important, because it tells us what kind of God we have. The doctrine of hell is important. And it's wrong.
The Idea of Justice
Unfortunately, when trying to disprove a pervasive concept, we have to spend our time arguing against interpretations of certain passages of scripture. This gives the impression that we are fighting an interpretive uphill battle. The truth is, the "proof-texts" for hell are so few and out-of-context that without 2,000 years of mixed-up teaching behind us, no one would come up with the idea of hell on their own.
So, to even the balance here, let's list a couple of cursory arguments against hell on the basis of justice.
The basis of justice
The biblical idea of justice is "an eye for an eye". In that passage, God forbid anyone from inflicting punishment disproportionately greater than the crime. Some countries cut off the hands of thieves. The bible excluded this punishment. Similarly, the biblical idea of "an eye for an eye" excludes the idea of an eternity of infinite conscious torment.
The penalty for sin
The bible teaches us that The penalty for sin is DEATH, not eternal conscious torment.
Jesus paid the price
The penalty for sin is expressly stated to be "death". And Jesus is expressly stated to have paid the penalty for ALL the sin of ALL humans. So what does the penalty for all the sins of all the humans of all time look like? According to the bible, it looks like Jesus spending 3 days in the grave. Not in hell. Not in eternal conscious torment.
If the penalty for sin was eternal conscious torment, then Jesus DID NOT pay the penalty for our sins, and our savior didn't save us from anything.
Hell is futile
The bible reveals that God wants good for all people, even the wicked. God does not take pleasure in the downfall of the wicked. God wants all to repent. But there is no way that God can wish the good of wicked people, and simultaneously torture them forever.
After 1000 years of ultimate torture, any principle of justice will have been fulfilled. Any further torture could only be for one's own perverse enjoyment. But God is not like that. He would love everyone in hell, and want good for them.
Hell can serve absolutely no righteous purpose, because there is no end and no possibility for salvation, even when these people repent from their evil actions.
The biblical ideas of justice, the nature of God, the penalty for sin, and Jesus' ability to save, all require us to reject the idea of hell. To believe in hell is to believe that God's revelation of justice and of himself is meaningless. And we're not even dealing with the biblical concept of mercy.
There is No Hell: