Skip to comments.The Hell of It. A Short Teaching on Hell
Posted on 07/30/2012 1:25:50 PM PDT by NYer
I have written here before on the reality of Hell, as revealed in Scripture. And though many dismiss Hell as either non-existent or a very remote possibility, no Biblical figure spoke more of Hell than Jesus, who also taught that “many” go there. It is a sober and straight-forward teaching of Scripture that there is a Hell and that many mysteriously choose to live apart from God and the values of God’s Kingdom.
Yet, while fully asserting all this, I do wonder why the teaching on Hell is so unambiguously “hellish” and why the focus of the Lord’s teaching is almost entirely on physical torments. There is very little subtlety in what the Lord teaches. Hell is described as a fiery furnace (e.g. Matt 13:42), an outer darkness (e.g. Mt 8:12), where there is wailing and grinding of teeth (e.g. Mt 13:42), where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched (e.g. Mark 9:48; Matt 25:41, inter al).
Let me be clear, the Lord is the Master teacher, and for reasons of his own he seems to have decided that speaking of Hell in more subtle terms was unnecessary. Yet we live in times when even many believers, consider the teaching on Hell as set forth in the scriptures to be cartoonishly excessive and hardly worthy of a God who is Love.
Thus many of us, pastors and teachers, who seek to reestablish the teaching on hell as both reasonable and necessary (in light of human freedom and our capacity to choose for or against God and his Kingdom values), also look for other ways to teach on Hell. We use these methods out of no disrespect for Scripture and our Master teacher Jesus. But these are “dainty” times and even many believers are easily offended and lack the spiritual strength and courage necessary to hear Jesus’ undiluted words and accept their straight-forward admonition. Both believers and unbelievers, just get stuck on the images and miss the teaching.
To my mind, no modern metaphor for Hell is better than the “Golf story” told by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is remarkable for its subtle yet clear teaching that the heart of Hell is ultimately to be lacking in the “one thing necessary.” It is from his book, Three to Get Married. Sheen repeats the following joke in his Book:
There is not a golfer in America who has not heard the story, which is theologically sound, about the golfer who went to hell and asked to play golf. The Devil showed him a 36-hole course with a beautiful clubhouse, long fairways, perfectly placed hazards, rolling hills, and velvety greens. Next the Devil gave him a set of clubs so well balanced that the golfer felt he had been swinging them all his life. Out to the first tee they stepped, ready for a game. The golfer said: What a course! Give me the ball. The Devil answered: Sorry….we have no golf balls. Thats the hell of it! (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition, Loc. 851-57).
Wow! Ouch! That IS the hell of it! To have all that, and lack the one thing necessary! Nothing else really works, or matters much, without the one thing necessary. In the joke, everything is in place and wonderfully set forth on the golf course, except the one thing necessary, the ball! The golf course becomes a golf curse.
In my last parish I lived in a rectory with a long hall. I used to putt a golf ball up and down the hall. I had an executive putt-putt set with obstacles, and golf goals with automatic returns, etc. But in the end, all I really needed was a ball to have fun. I didn’t even need a club, I could use a long umbrella if I had to, or even just kick the ball. My cat would also love to chase the ball up the hall and pounce. But all the other gizmos and gadgets I had meant nothing without the ball, they were useless. Without the ball even the cat wouldn’t show up.
The heart of Heaven is to be with God. Scripture says, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)
The heart of Hell is to lack God, to lack the one thing necessary. God is the sine qua non, the absolute requirement for every other joy or pleasure to make any sense or be operative. The heart of Hell is to have rejected God permanently, and to discover that the absolute and final rejection of Him is to experience the withdrawal of every other pleasure. Only in God will my soul be at rest! (Ps 62:5)
In fact, like the golf course in Hell, those pleasures look at the denizens of Hell and mock them, make the suffering more intense. Because, though the pleasures are near at hand, they may as well be ten thousand miles away. They are useless and their nearness only intensifies the pain and the frustration. This is possibly worse than any hell-fire and may well explain the wailing and grinding of teeth by the hell-bound described in Scripture.
In life, don’t miss the one thing necessary, which is not a thing at all, but is God himself. The Father, in the prodigal son parable came out and begged his second son to enter the feast and celebrate with him. The Heavenly Father does the same now….What is your answer?
There is an old FR thread on this as well:
It links to this site:
There is also a good discussion of the parable of Lazerus and the rich man at the latter link.
Is that Romney?
Hell as a golf course without balls is about the dumbest analogy i can imagine.
—Hell as a golf course without balls is about the dumbest analogy i can imagine.—
There was a great “hell” in a Twilight Zone episode. A ne’re do well died and went to “heaven”. It was amazing. He had everything he wanted. The “dames” were falling all over him and he gambled all he wanted and never lost. But one day he approached his guide and said, and I paraphrase, “this is great and all, but couldn’t I lose every now and then. This is really depressing to always get everything I want. I thought heaven would be better than this.”
To which his guide said, “Heaven? Why did you think this was heaven?!” Followed by an evil laugh. The end. :)
Here is a great analogy about the problem of hell as “eternal suffering” from my link above:
Suppose for a moment that a wonderful manMr. Right, if you willoffers a marriage proposal to the woman he loves. “Marry me,” he says, “and I will give you a life like you’ve never dreamed of before. You will be loved with the greatest commitment and passion that any woman has ever known. I will give you the finest house with all of the wonderful things you’ve ever wanted, and you will be happy for the rest of your days!”
Now suppose the woman is very flattered by the proposal, but is uncertain about whether or not she is ready for such a commitment. Asking for a few more days to think it over, Mr. Right answers, “You are welcome to take more time, but it’s only fair that I warn you what will happen if you decline my generous offer. Your only option, other than spending paradise with me, is to be thrown into my underground dungeon, have your eyes gouged from their sockets, and be subjected to unimaginable pain every hour, on the hour, for the rest of your long, miserable life.”
What do you suppose would be going through the young woman’s mind at a time like this? I imagine that would change the way she feels about the man considerably. She might have previously accepted Mr. Right’s proposal because of her love for him, but is there much chance of that now? Surely not. If she takes him seriously, she’ll undoubtedly marry him, but not as much for love as out of genuine terror at the alternative.
Is this God’s way of doing things? Does God want His people to turn to Him out of fear that they will be tortured otherwise? Where is the love in that? If everyone really believed in this doctrine, wouldn’t that properly tarnish their concept of the Savior? I would imagine some might even have a hard time calling Him “Savior” at all. How merciful can it be to create a never-ending torture pit for everyone and then save only a few from it?
God does not threaten, nor does God consign a soul to Hell. The rebellious soul itself insists on going there. As C.S. Lewis said in The Great Divorce, "All who are in hell, choose it."
Another quote from that marvelous little book, which may be his best. Sarah Smith comes down to the entrance to Heaven to meet her husband and try to persuade him to give up his narcissism in order to 'enter into joy'. He is a whinging little passive-aggressive worm who guilted her into misery. He refuses to give up his self-pity and vanishes from the entrance to Heaven - Sarah Smith rises and moves away, apparently unaffected by his damnation. The narrator objects:
And yet and yet said I to my Teacher, even now I am not quite sure. Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?
Would ye rather he still had the power of tormenting her? He did it many a day and many a year in their earthly life.
Well, no. I suppose I dont want that.
I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on Earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.
Ye see it does not.
I feel in a way that it ought to.
That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.
The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.
I dont know what I want, Sir.
Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it; or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject in themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say yell accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or yell make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe . . . . Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those that insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the worlds garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.
—Let’s change your account just a little bit, and you’ll see why. Instead of threatening her with horrible punishment, Mr. Right rescues her from Mr. Wrong, who wishes to see her confined in a dungeon and subjected to horrible tortures for the rest of her days. Problem is, Mr. Wrong looks very attractive before he’s got his hooks in you, and Mr. Right has to humble himself to persuade the young lady of this fact — which she doesn’t really want to believe because Mr. Wrong is so dashing, and so handsome, and so tempting . . . .—
To me, the analogy still fits - choose me or else. Satan did not create hell. God did.
And I tend to agree with the Lewis quote. As I spar with non-Christians I’m seeing a pattern - they are actually choosing to ignore God and his message of salvation.And they are doing it consciously. Many of them have an attitude of “even if what you say is true, I’m not interested. It is then that I leave them with Ecclesiastes. They shall eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor - and then they die like animals. The only exception is that they will be resurrected and go to death and destruction for they are not written in the book of life. And death and destruction are pretty final words. Eternally final. Something that dies and is destroyed by God does not come back.
BTW, “The Great Divorce” is one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I love the guys refusing to stay in heaven because they have to get back to church. I drastically simplify, but you know what I’m talking about. ;-)
Hell as a golf course without balls is about the dumbest analogy i can imagine.
Have to agree with you that this is just dumb. Annoying situation but not painful, I would think.
And Sheen was a brilliant man. Perhaps the rest of the section in his book tied it all together with something else.
I think the story of Sarah Smith in the book was a good one. I think it also touches on something that many have a really hard time with: How those that enter heaven will “feel” about those loved ones that didn’t make it.
I believe Lewis touches on something that definitely falls into the “now we see as through a glass dimly, but then face to face” sort of things. For all I know, assuming the annihilation thing is what happens, we may be able to fully grasp to the core of our being that what those that didn’t make it could have had doesn’t matter since, no longer existing, they are completely and utterly irrelevant. Forgotten as if they never existed.
I think of that when I think of God saying he chooses to forget things. At least I hope he does. ;-)
It’s called “A Nice Place to Visit.” Scared the crap out of me when I saw it as a kid.
The thought of Hell as described by Jesus is too terrible to comprehend. I rest in his grace. I’ve done some awful sinning and know I deserve whatever he gives me.
I remember really getting clarity about my feelings about the whole thing when I was in a prison ministry band and I first heard the phrase “turn or burn”. Really brought a clarity to the problem I had with the “fear of hell” preaching I always heard. It seemed so “wrong” to get people to go to church out of raw fear, completely absent of the concept of God’s love.
The annihilation message not only fits with the character of a loving God, but also better fits the description of the eternity experience of non-Christians as described in the bible.
We see through a glass darkly. I don't understand, but I throw myself on the mercy of God.
"My Jesus - I trust in You."
It’s been a decade since I read The Great Divorce. I’ve been thinking, the last month or two, that it was time for a reread. Your clearer recollection of the details has confirmed it.
“What is your answer?”
It’s, ‘Nope to Pope’ since he seems unfamiliar with the Biblical “hell”, yes, the same “hell” that both David and Jesus were in.
I really wish (hope) you are right. It is hard to imagine suffering continuing for all eternity or that God in his mercy wouldn’t put the wicked out of their misery.
Is this Gods way of doing things? Does God want His people to turn to Him out of fear that they will be tortured otherwise? Where is the love in that? If everyone really believed in this doctrine, wouldnt that properly tarnish their concept of the Savior? I would imagine some might even have a hard time calling Him Savior at all. How merciful can it be to create a never-ending torture pit for everyone and then save only a few from it?
On the other hand i would think it hard to take any one very serous when they start trying to describe Heaven or hell either one.
Archbishop Chaput addresses the reality of Satan
Letter from Beyond
Catholic Word of the Day: GEHENNA (Hinnom, 10-17-11
To hell with Hell?
Hell Has to Be
The eternity of hell
Hell Is Not Empty and Pedophile Priests Will Go There" (Why Preaching on Hell is Salutary)
The Eternity of Hell
The Four Last Things: Hell
Catholic Caucus: HELL EXISTS AND WE MIGHT GO THERE!
John Calvins Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell
Natural Calamities Divine Threats & Four Gates of Hell The four Principal Gates of Hell : I Hatred
Pope speaks with priests from his diocese about Heaven and Hell
Whatever Became of Hell? (HAS THE UNQUENCHABLE FIRE BEEN QUENCHED )
One Man's Visit to Hell
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 11: Hell
A Question Of Hell (One Minister Questions Its Existence)
Pope says hell and damnation are real and eternal
The fires of Hell are real and eternal, Pope warns
The Early Church Fathers on Hell - Catholic/Orthodox Caucus
IS THE NEW MASS SOFT ON HELL?
Heaven and hell seem to be forgotten
Which circle of Hell do You belong in?
"To Hell with Hell!": The Spiritual Dumbing Down of the Generations
Reflecting on Hell: Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent
The Reality of Satan and the Victory of Jesus and Mary (an Exorcist speaks out)
Beware the Serpents Promises
Americans Describe Their Views About Life After Death(Only One 1/2 of 1% Think They Are Hell-Bound)
Sister Faustina's Vision of Hell
—I really wish (hope) you are right.—
Thing is, as a Christian this is almost irrelevant. But it is relevant because, as a Christian, when I was being taught the
“eternal suffering” message and believed it, it was tainting my perception of God.
And when I actually studied the subject and looked at all the scripture discussing the fate of those that never know Jesus, I noticed that, to believe in the “eternal suffering” model, I had to give “special Christian meaning” to simple words like “death” and “destruction”. IOW, I had to redefine words to mean things that they don’t mean.
Also, the whole concept of eternity messes up the whole formula. I coined a phrase about 8 years ago: Time is a current in an ocean called eternity. IOW, one could argue that yesterday will exist for all eternity, as will today. They have actually already happened if you are outside of time and in eternity. You can see the beginning and end of the current.
But even this is only a theory based on what the bible says of time and eternity and the character of God.
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
—if people do not like the way hell is described i guess they might just go there and see how they would describe it.—
Thing is, for me it was not that I didn’t like it. Rather, it didn’t fit with my understanding of the personality of God. And this is the most important part: When I actually studied it, I found that the “consciously suffering for days without end” paradigm is not what is taught in the bible. Yes, it speaks of gnashing of teeth, and it says that where the lost go will be for all eternity, but there are a lot of ways to interpret that when we are talking about a place outside our physical creation we currently occupy. And “time” is part of that.
I’ll use a very short section of a sci-fi book I read once as an example. A character in a space ship that was being chased by another space ship had the ability to envelop a thing in a field that “froze” the object in space and time. Then, at any future time, even after thousands of years, the application of a “key” would undo the effect. The people who had been encased in this field would think that not one second had passed. It was as if time had completely stopped for them, and then started again.
So he used it on the ship chasing them, and since they were in deep space, one could assume they would be in that position until the end of time, though they would not be aware of the passage of time.
So, I think of hell as a place apart from God and since nothing can exist outside the presence of God, they cease to function, and they will be in that position for all eternity. They are not coming back.
The bible is actually pretty clear about it when it says they go to “death and destruction”. If we read that anywhere besides the bible and did not have a pet theory to protect, we would interpret that to mean, well, what it clearly means. But when the bible says it, and we’ve been preconditioned with centuries of teaching on “eternal suffering”, we try to twist the words to mean something they don’t.
This is a big deal to me because when discussing Christianity with non-Christians, this “eternal suffering” thing is a HUGE roadblock. Rather than “scaring them” to repent, it causes them to throw the whole thing out as myth. And the reason is simple: It contradicts the whole “loving God” message, as demonstrated in the analogy of the man asking the woman to marry him. They simply can’t get past it.
If it was a legitimate stumbling block put there by God, I would have a different opinion. But I think it was put there by well meaning (perhaps) men many hundreds of years ago as a way to get more people to accept Christ. And it probably worked to get people to go to church and give money, but it contradicts the scripture and the personality of God. Sure, they will not come into eternal life, but the opposite of eternal life is eternal death according to the bible. And death is “eternal” not as an ongoing activity but, rather, something that stays the same for eternity: You die and you STAY DEAD.
The only scripture that seems to contradict this is the fate of the humans in the end that accept the mark of the beast. Key word: Seems.
—if people do not like the way hell is described i guess they might just go there and see how they would describe it.—
BTW, the book I mentioned is Red Lightning, by John Varley. It is the sequel to Red Thunder. If you like science fiction, I highly recommend those books. But I digress...
Says who? Who are you to judge God's character?
God gives reprobates exactly what they want -- His absence. How is that not "loving"?
but also better fits the description of the eternity experience of non-Christians as described in the bible.
The Bible makes no general claim about "the eternity experience of non-Christians". But as for the reprobate souls, Jesus says they go to a place "where the fire is not quenched, and the worm dieth not". Doesn't sound like annihilation to me.
—Says who? Who are you to judge God’s character?—
I’m not judging God’s character. I’m interpreting His character as described in His word as well as my personal relationship with Him.
—God gives reprobates exactly what they want — His absence. How is that not “loving”?—
I’m not saying it isn’t. It’s called “following through”, which a loving “person” that doesn’t lie will do.
—The Bible makes no general claim about “the eternity experience of non-Christians”.—
It’s rife with them. It says Christians go to “eternal life” and the rest go to “death and destruction”. See the difference? One is “life” and eternally so. The other is “death” and “destruction”. One lives and continues to live and the other dies and is destroyed. Sound’s like annihilation to me.
—But as for the reprobate souls, Jesus says they go to a place “where the fire is not quenched, and the worm dieth not”. Doesn’t sound like annihilation to me.—
Yes. And that is a great way of saying they are NOT coming back. And if you will notice, the FIRE is what is not quenched and the WORM is what does not die. I send my steers to be slaughtered at a slaughter house. Just because it has been there for a long time and probably will continue to be, the steers I send there are slaughtered only once. They “die” and are “destroyed”, but the slaughterhouse continues on.
IOW, I interpret that scripture to mean their death is final. There will be no second or third chance.
Also, in interpreting scripture, context is important. the scripture you are quoting occurs three times in the same chapter of Mark. What proceeds each occurence is the “cut off your hand” and “gouge out your eye” scriptures. If I were an honest man and took that scripture to mean exactly what it is saying, I would be blind and have no hands or feet.
Yes He did.
God created Hell for Satan to punish his sin. We all know that Satan's sin was (is) pride. What people seem to miss, though, is that is exactly our sin as well. Everything else that we call sin are but symptoms of that one--pride. Since our sin is no less than Satan's himself, why should we suffer anything less than Satan?
—Since our sin is no less than Satan’s himself, why should we suffer anything less than Satan?—
The blood of Christ.
Also, Satan is not human. The only place in the bible that discusses this is Revelation 14. And notice that only those who worship the beast and take his mark are sharing eternity with Satan. Keep in mind, also, that this is in Revelation, and all that that implies.
Read this for a more verbose explanation: http://www.jeremyandchristine.com/articles/eternal.php
Go to the heading REVELATION 14:11
Yes, the blood of Christ keeps us with Him. However, there is only one punishment for sin (and rejection of Him), because there is only one sin.
God did not create Hell for us--He created it for Satan. Since sinners choose to be with Satan, rather than Christ, they get to be with him for all eternity.
I think we agree there is a “Hell”. I think the discussion is regarding what it will “feel like”. And what does it really mean?
Given those two items, I have to believe that Hell is a place of eternal torment.
As I also believe that our souls are eternal, there will be no death--as defined as "ceasing to exist." The death described is being eternally separated from God in a place of torment--Hell.
As mentioned above, Matthew 13:42 tells of "wailing and gnashing of teeth" which indicates torment to me.
—As I also believe that our souls are eternal, there will be no death...—
I also used to believe that. But I started noticing the verses that say “eternal life vs death and destruction” and I realized I was really twisting the meaning of English words to hold that view.
And we are talking about something that we can’t really “know” until after death of our physical body and the resurrection. And some will go to the second “death”.
I can’t find any scripture that supports that the “soul” is eternal, Christian or not, though that was what I was being taught the first years after becoming a Christian.
Therein is a problem (Not saying you are incorrect yet)--what does the original Greek/Hebrew say, and how are those words translated into English?
English can be a very limited language. Rely on the meanings from the original. Even if you have to write a paragraph where they used one word.
"Eternal life" doesn't indicate anything?
—Therein is a problem (Not saying you are incorrect yet)—what does the original Greek/Hebrew say, and how are those words translated into English?—
Glad you asked that. :-)
When dealing with “challenging” scripture, I go here: http://www.blueletterbible.org/index.cfm
When you search on a book and chapter(you can search chapters, then scroll down to the verse you are looking for), you will notice six cubes to the left of each verse. The “C” cube is a concordance and Greek/Hebrew lexicon (depending on which testament you are in).
There you find out things like the fact that the King James translation of John 14:2 REALLY stretches the meaning of the original Greek to use the word “mansions”.
Enjoy. It’s helped me a LOT over the years.
LOL!! I use that site quite extensively myself.
My bad. I should not have said “Christian or not”. It was a brain fart. Forgive me. :-)
I meant to say it is the promise of Christ for Christians, but only Christians. For those who refuse His free gift it is described as death and destruction, usually juxtaposed against eternal life given to Christians.
Heh, heh. So you already know about it. ;-)
i am sticking to the sulphur pits of fire and flame. the oldies are still the best.
Thing is, for me it was not that I didnt like it. Rather, it didnt fit with my understanding of the personality of God. And this is the most important part: When I actually studied it, I found that the consciously suffering for days without end paradigm is not what is taught in the bible.
I also have an other idea but there are too many if,s
If i understood what ever lasting life is it would maybe help me to understand what the unsaved are going to face,
I can think of two ways that we might have eternal life and if i am wrong on them, which is a very good possibility then i would probably be wrong on the other also.
I should have read your comment a little better and thinks for the clarification.