Monday, January 27, 2014
Is it fair that the Bible says people can get into heaven by simply believing in Jesus, when there might be some far better people around who might go to hell simply because they didn't believe in him?
This question derives from a misunderstanding. When Jesus said that anyone who believes in him will have eternal life, the implication of his word believe has been lost in many Bible translations; it actually had the connetation of not only believing, but also obeying. The jewish people would have understood that actions would automatically follow from true faith, and it wouldn't be true faith without them. (Though the true meaning of the word believe has been lost in many translations, the principle is spelled out in so many New Testament verses that it doesn't matter.)
From an article called The Law and the Christian from the Tektonics.org website:
"... And now we plagiarize our own work again to explain our meaning, The Semitic Totality Concept means that "a man's thoughts form one totality with their results in action so that 'thoughts' that result in no action are 'vain'." [Dahl, Resurrection of the Body, 60] To put it another way, man does not have a body; man is a body, and what we regard as constituent elements of spirit and body were looked upon by the Hebrews as a fundamental unity. Applied to the role of works following faith, this means that there can be no decision without corresponding action, for the total person will inevitably reflect a choice that is made. ...
Thus, what we would consider separate actions of conversion, confession, and obedience in the form of works would be considered by the Hebrews to be an act in totality. "Both the act and the meaning of the act mattered -- the two formed for the first Christians an indivisible unity." [Flemington, New Testament Doctrine of Baptism, 111] ..."
From an article called Why Didn't God Stop the Process Before it Started, if He Knew of the Massive Amounts of Suffering That Would Befall Many of His Creatures?? by Glenn Miller:
"... 1. The first 'long-term judgment' verse in the Bible:
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12.2)
This is the first verse in the bible that refers to post-death, post-resurrection, long-term effects of this life, for those who actively reject God’s goodness. Notice that the 'quality of life' is described as 'disgrace' and 'contempt'--hardly mind-numbing torture terms! If the hell-experience had been understood as the intense suffering commonly attributed to it, then this verse has focused on very minor aspects of that--to the point of being misleading perhaps.
2. The "weeping and gnashing of teeth" passages: ...
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 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. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (matt 13.40)
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 13.47) ...
But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (matt 24.48ff) ...
There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13.28ff)
The discomfort described here is weeping/sorrow, NOT screaming/pain--contrary to most of the popular images of hell used for this question.
Notice that a few of these passages have the 'darkness' and 'fire' images, but the effects are cast in terms of sorrow ('weeping') and anguish/regret/anger ('gnashing of teeth', cf. Acts 7.54, Ps 37.12). Notice especially that in the Lucan passage the weeping occurs "when they see" their own exclusion--it is due to the separation issue, not some torture or pain. ...
Hell is thought by many to be eternal. But an examination of the original Greek words apparently sheds a new light on it, and according to some, it turns out that hell is a process of punishment meant to refine and correct faults, to bring people to feel sorrow for their past behaviour so they sincerely seek forgiveness and wish to change their ways, at which point, they can be allowed into heaven.
From an article called Is It All GREEK to You? by brad edwards:
"... While on the topic of "FIRE," let's consider another strong passage from Revelation.
REV 14:10"...he will be tormented with burning SULFUR in the PRESENCE of the holy angels and the Lamb"
In this verse we see the word "SULFUR" used for "tormenting" (punishing) those who follow the Beast. Also note that this is done in the PRESENCE of Jesus and not in some subterranean fire pit away from God. It is this PRESENSE of our holy God that causes their pain to be sure. So what is SULFUR? Well, in some Bibles it is translated "brimstone," but the Greek word here is "THEION" which can also be translated DIVINE as in something from God. Places that lightning touched were called "theia" and left a sulfurous smell. Also sulfur was used in purification ceremonies in that day by some outside of Judea. The real key here is that THEION is derived from THEOS which is GOD! Yes, THEOS is God in Greek and the word THEION comes directly from this Source.
Consider this passage from Acts:
Act 17:29 "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the DIVINE Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man."
The word translated here DIVINE is THEION which has been translated sulfur in other passages like in Revelation. The lake of Fire has a direct connection to the Divine because it comes from God. Not only is this a Divine Fire, but it is one that PURIFIES whatever it comes in contact with. Are we to suppose that our God and Father has no purpose in this Fire that torments those He created in His image and likeness? All that God does has purpose, we simply can't comprehend it yet. ...
The next word to look at is "AION" and its derivatives- "AIONION" and "AIONIOS." That ugly doctrine of "eternal" hell greatly depends on this word meaning forever. ...
There are many passages I could cite showing that AION or OLAM doesn't mean forever, but concerning an AGE or AGE-LASTING. The many derivatives of AION are relating to an age or of the ages. Aionios is rendered "age-lasting" in better translations. The corrective punishment God uses is only for as long as it takes to bring godly sorrow and repentance. Many literal translations of the Bible have corrected this mistake as to bring back loving harmony to God's word as you will read later in this study. To reiterate, aion means an age- a limited period of time and NOT eternal, forever nor forever and ever. ...
The word for punishment here is "KOLASIS." The meaning is to punish, but for CORRECTIVE purposes and not out of vengeance. God is correcting those nations on His left with "aionion kolasis" which is translated this way in these Bibles:
"And these shall go away into age-abiding CORRECTION" -Rotherham's Emphasized Bible ..."
From an article called Honor and Pain - A Refocus on the Atonement and Eternal Punishment from the Tektonics.org website:
"... The 'logic' of hell in the bible is surprisingly simple: You receive back the treatment/effects you gave other agents (including God and yourself) with some kind of multiplier effect. [The bible is full of images of this reciprocity concept: reaping what you sow, being paid back, suffering loss as you had despoiled others, unkindness for unkindness shown, apathy for apathy rendered, 'eye for an eye', proportional judgement, etc] This is suited as well to what we have said of honor debts and shame as a response. You dishonor God; you receive dishonor in return. Appropriately your required response is to acknowledge your own need -- in effect, giving up your "honor" -- by admitting that you need God's help to pay the debt. . ."
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Does the Bible truly teach that those who do not inherit eternal life will be subject to never-ending conscious torment? Of course, the predominant traditional view in "mainstream" Christianity is yes. But we are not to blindly follow traditions of men, no matter how popular they may be. We are to follow the Scriptures only. Upon a substantive examination of the Scriptures, there is no basis for the traditional doctrine. What the Bible truly teaches is that the righteous inherit eternal life, while the wicked are totally and permanently destroyed.
1. The penalty of sin is death, not eternal torment. The opposite of eternal life is permanent death/destruction, not "eternal life in concious torment".
2. A punishment of eternal concious torment is against the nature of the Creator. The false doctrine of never-ending torment for the damned makes the Heavenly Father out to be merciless, unjust, and a monstrous sadist.
3. A punishment of eternal conscious torment is too harsh for the crime. It is not proportionate to the offense. A limited and relatively "small" number of sins in our short/temporary lives does not justify unimaginably horrific unending torment.
4. The Messiah did not teach a doctrine of eternal concious torment. He taught that the wicked would be destroyed. And the "soul" is not immortal. Rather, it can be destroyed (see Matthew 10:28 below).
Matthew 7:13-14: Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Matthew 10:28: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Luke 13:3: I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
5. "Everlasting destruction" means permanent destruction, not that the "destroying goes on forever." For example, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by the "vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 1:7 ).
6. The Book of Revelation is a vision given to the Apostle John. As such, the imagery is mostly symbolic, and not to be taken literally. Therefore, the language about the "lake of fire" in which the wicked are destroyed is not necessarily literal.
7. The English word "hell" in the Bible is translated 10 times in the New Testament from the Greek word "Gehenna" (a ravine where trash was burned outside of Jerusalem), 60 times in the Old Testament from the Hebrew word "Sheol" (which means grave or pit), and a few times in the New Testament from the Greek word "Hades" (the equivalent of the Hebrew "Sheol" meaning the grave or intermediary resting place between physical death and the resurrection).
8. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is a PARABLE, meaning it is not to be taken literally.
9. The language in Revelation of "where their worm does not die", "the fire is not quenched", and "the smoke of their torment goes up forever" harkens back to language in the Old Testament. For example, Malachi 4:1 states that the "Day of the Lord" will "burn like a furnace", and the wicked "will be as ashes". Isaiah 66:22-24 speaks of the rotting corpses of the enemies of the Creator as having "worms that die not" (referring to maggots), and "fire that cannot be quenched" (meaning that no man can stop the consuming fire and punishment of "God"). It doesn't mean that the corpses of the wicked who are destroyed are still "consiously alive with worms tormenting them and fire continually burning." Isaiah 34:9-10 speaks of the destruction of Edom with sulfer/brimstone, with "smoke rising forever", which "will not be quenched day nor night". This doesn't mean that the the destruction of Edom (the land occupied by the descendants of Esau to the immediate southeast of Judea) is literally still ongoing.
10. Revelation 20:10 refers to the devil, the Beast, and the false prophet as being "tormented day and night for ever and ever", not all human beings who are damned. And the Book of Revelation is a vision given to the Apostle John, which is largely symbolic and not to be taken literally. Also, the word "ever" in "for ever" in English is translated from the Greek word "aion", which can mean "age", or a period of time of limited duration.
11. The Creator cannot tolerate evil in his presence (at least not forever). Therefore, why would he give eternal life to the wicked...ie, allowing them to be alive for eternity being tormented? It makes sense (just based upon this line of reasoning) that the Creator would want to totally annihilate the presence of evil.
12. In 2 Peter 3:7, it states regarding the "Day of the Lord" that "By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." The word "destruction" here in 2 Peter 3:7 in English is translated from Strong's Greek word #684, "apōleia", which means "utter destruction".
This is a labor of love and not done because I relish being marked for promoting some so- called heresy. Our present traditional view of hell, borrowed from Catholicism, Platonism and paganism, is no more biblical than the doctrine of limbo.
Scriptures must be twisted to say the opposite of what they actually teach in order to keep promoting the idea that God is a loving Creator who will keep souls alive forever just to torment and torture them, souls he knew would not accept him when he created them. This is not the God of the Bible I see.
Why does Jesus' reference to those in danger of the fire of hell not mention that it will be "eternal" tormenting (Matthew 5:22)? And why do we make words such as "destroy" mean different things, unless it is to support a preconceived doctrine (Matthew 10:28)?
If Satan is not to be feared because he can only destroy our bodies, then why are we told to fear HIM who can "destroy" both soul and body in hell, especially if we won't be "destroyed?"
(Matthew 10:28)? Why do we assume the word "destroy" in this verse means the exact opposite of its normal meaning? Why do we assume "destroy" here means to live on and on eternally and yet not be destroyed?
Why does not the translation of words meaning grave (Sheol & Hades) and garbage pit (Gehenna) into the same word "hell" not signify the deliberate tampering of Scriptures by translators? What if they had done that with other completely separate words with different meanings and translated them into the same word?
For example, what if our Bible translators took the Greek words for "marriage, wine, spirit, and house" and translated them into the single noun sandal? Why would translators take a Greek noun (Gehenna) referring to a specific place and translate it into another noun, the same noun used for the grave and death and Tartarus (Tartaroo)? Is anyone as baffled by this as I am?
Why can we not see that the fire of Gehenna (hell) that was unquenchable and where the worm (maggot) thrived describes the valley of Hinnom that Jesus alluded to when he said being lost would be like being tossed into that consuming garbage dump outside Jerusalem’s walls (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48)?
Why cannot believers understand that "unquenchable" fire meant fire that would not go out until that which is consuming or "destroying" is gone?
Why do so many of us perpetuate the notion that Gehenna is a symbol of "torture" rather than a place of punishment and destruction? How can we escape the idea that maggots consume the dead?
How can serious Bible students make the Greek word for "maggot" mean some part of human beings that lives on and on eternally?
Why does the traditional teaching on hell refute the clear teaching of Peter that everything we know will be "burned up" and "destroyed" (2 Peter 3:10-12)? Why does Malachi refer to the evil ones as "stubble to be burned up" with nothing left if evil ones are to somehow be tortured unendingly by a loving God (Malachi 4:1)?
If Paul clearly teaches that those who do not know God will suffer "everlasting destruction," why do traditionalists teach that it won't actually be destruction but will be never-ending, eternal "destroying" (2 Thessalonians 1:9)?
Why can't intelligent people differentiate between "destruction" and "eternal life in a state of perpetual torture and destruction"? How is it possible for thinking and studious minds to refute the very teaching of the apostle Peter who writes of the "destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7)?
Isn't it clear that even in his parabolic teachings Christ presents what represents the "evil unbelievers" (the chaff & tares) being burned up by unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12; 13:40)? Is it not clear that fire is never used by God to depict continual torment and torture of so- called eternal souls?
Why won't thinking minds admit that the "eternal fire" that burned up Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7) is not now burning but only burned until that which it was destroying was ultimately consumed? Isn't this one of many examples where the word "eternal" does not mean "never ending"?
And why on earth does the writer of Hebrews describe God as a "consuming fire" rather than a "torturing/tormenting fire" (Hebrews 12:29)?
Why cannot clear thinking minds see that the story of the rich man and Lazarus cannot successfully be appealed to as grounds to teach eternal torment, for it is a parable with people still living on earth that need to be taught the gospel (Luke 16:19ff)? Hell isn’t even mentioned in this parable.
Does not Paul teach that the "destiny" of the enemies of the cross is "destruction" (Philippians 3:19)? Why do some force "destruction" into "eternal life" in a state of torture?
Have some of us been brainwashed so thoroughly that we miss these evident and clear truths? Is it possible to be taught something so long by those we trust that we accept it without personal study to see if it is true?
Does not Peter clearly teach that undiscerning blasphemers will be destroyed just like the beasts that perish (2 Peter 2:12)? Why does the traditional position on hell (Gehenna), a word referring to an open and continually burning city garbage dump, continue to mislead and diametrically change the meaning of clear passages that teach God will ultimately consume his enemies?
Is it not because Satan, from the beginning in the garden of Eden, told Eve that she would "not surely die" and we have been perpetuating this doctrine of the devil ever since?
Why are we so afraid to accept Scripture's clear teaching that eternal life is conditional (1 Corinthians 15:54) and "immortality" is not a given but rather a gift? Why are we eager to keep spewing the very false doctrine that goes against the very nature of God as one who is just and will do right?
If God is going to torture the very ones he created in his image and loved so dearly that he allowed his only begotten son to die in their places and knew beforehand would not accept his grace, surely the Bible would teach such, would it not?
Is there one single Scripture that teaches humans are "immortal souls" unconditionally, souls that will live on forever and forever either in the blissfulness of heaven or the torturing torment of a Gehenna fire that will never go out and will not consume what is put into it?
Isn't it strange that God would refer to the lake of fire as the "second death"? Why did he not know to call it the "eternal burning of those created in his image"? Isn't it because such false teaching cannot be found in all of Holy Writ?
In summation, isn't it strange indeed that most believers have taken a "real place" (Gehenna) referred to by Jesus himself as a metaphor of destruction and have changed in into another made up/fabricated "real place" (hell) where souls (spirits, living beings, whatever) will be tortured unendingly by a loving heavenly Father?
If Gehenna is a metaphor of "hell" as it is traditionally taught, isn't it a poor one, for Gehenna (the Jerusalem city dump of Jesus' era) was a real place of destruction and consummation with no torment and no torture involved, while "hell" is a made up place of torment and torture with no destruction at all?
Is this twisted thinking the height of misguided thinking? By the way, the garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom is no longer burning and consuming its refuse, is it?
Is Satan pleased with all of this? Surely it isn't wrong to ask; is it? Hell, You Say? The traditional concept of hell originated in the minds of pagan philosophers and has been assimilated into the church at large, along with purgatory, prayers to saints, and other like doctrines, via Roman Catholicism. The vestiges of Catholicism still exist within much of Protestantism and can be seen in the perpetuation of this false teaching as well as in our liturgies and many other practices. The false teaching that hell is a place where eternal souls are tormented and tortured forever and ever, unendingly, by a just God, was opposed by Protestant reformers such as Luther and Tyndale as well as Restoration leaders, such as Moses Lard.
Hell and other pagan teachings were introduced into our Bibles by scholars mistranslating four words some 57 times in the King James Version: Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus.
The mere "translation" of four different words into one single word alone should cause red flags to go up in discerning minds. No wonder we have such outlandish misconceptions regarding the state of the wicked and unbelieving dead after judgment.
Lest someone suppose I have a hidden agenda or wish to change the unchangeable, allow me to say here and now that I am a believer in heaven as well as hell.
I just don't believe what has been falsely taught regarding hell all these centuries since the New Testament was penned. I am not saying those who have taught this and those who have believed it did so with evil intent. I can’t possibly know that. I know as I believed this misguided view of hell much of my life.
I certainly didn’t entertain the thought with malice or evil intent. I simply trusted those who taught me and believed they must surely have known more about it than I did.
Jesus warned against holding to the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). We are not compelled to believe what men say the Bible says regarding hell (Gehenna) or any other biblical subject, but only what the Bible actually teaches. Some of the catch phrases that we often hear when dealing with this matter are surprisingly unbiblical. The terms "eternal hell" and "endless punishment" and "immortal soul" cannot be found in Scripture. These are constructs of human minds. Jesus spoke of "eternal punishment" but he never hinted of continual eternal torture of souls that live on and on in some state of anguish and torment.
There is a great deal of difference between "punishing" someone and "torturing" someone. If we punished a child for disobedience we might spank him or take away some privileges or even ground him for days or weeks.
Under the Old Law, children were stoned for disobeying their parents. They were never tortured, however. If we held fire to a child's hands that was caught stealing and kept the fire there until blisters were present, someone might suggest that we had stepped out of the realm of punishing into the realm of torture.
We would immediately be arrested for child endangerment. Yet we have believed and perpetuate the notion that our God will do far worse with us-keep us alive just to burn and torture us unendingly with no remedial purpose in mind.
There are four words in our Bible translated into a single English word, "hell." These are:
Tartarus (found only in 2 Peter 2:4 in reference to the abode of "the angels that sinned"). Most scholars realize that the Hebrew "Sheol" and the Greek "Hades" refer to the grave or the abode of the dead. It is the word "Gehenna" that has us ensnared in a cloud of misunderstanding.
Gehenna was the place outside Jerusalem that was the city dump. It was located in the valley of [the sons of] Hinnom and was continually burning up the trash, garbage, and even corpses of criminals and animals. It was a place of filth and consumption.
The flames and smoke were continually belching up their destruction of the refuse tossed into it. Along with the flames, at the outer edges, were maggots that were ever gnawing at the carcasses, thus the expression from Mark 9:48 "the worm that does not die." Someone along the way, someone with a vivid imagination, decided that the Greek word for worm somehow meant the soul of a human being. A maggot became a soul.
Jesus, in describing the future of those who were disobedient and wicked, chose to use the most horrifying of descriptions to paint a picture of the awfulness of it. When heaven is described in Scripture, or the Holy City, words are used that convey preciousness to us: gold, pearl, living water.
When speaking of the ugliness of being cast out from God's presence forever, the most frightening words to human ears and eyes are used to describe it: outer darkness, lake of fire and brimstone, bottomless pit, burning chaff, et al. What scares us the most? Being burnt alive; being alone in total darkness, falling. So our Lord chose words to convey the horror of being lost and cut off from God. I am grateful for this word imagery, for it helps scare the “hell” out of me. I want to avoid hell at all costs.
When Satan began his lying to us in the Garden, he began with a promise that flew in the face of what God had spoken. God said that if our original parents ate of the forbidden tree they would "surely die." Satan came along and altered the word of God by inserting a single word of his own. "You will NOT surely die."
And in our traditional view of hell we have been parroting Satan's lie once again. We tell people the exact opposite of what God has said. God calls the state of the ungodly the "second death." But we presume to edit God and tell people they will not really die, but that they will live on in constant agony and torture.
Jesus clearly taught us to "not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can DESTROY BOTH SOUL AND BODY IN HELL" (Matthew 10:28). Jesus uses the word "destroy." We correct him, as well as God and the Holy Spirit, and substitute the words "live on and on and on." Whom shall students of God's word believe?
God's word even makes a distinction between the soul and the body and hints that we need to fear the God who can "destroy" both. He didn't say to "fear him who can torment and torture the soul and/or body." He didn't say to "fear him who can inflict pain to the soul and/or body unendingly without mercy."
Jesus teaches that God will destroy both soul and body in hell, but we mimic Satan and say, "Oh, no!" We have been teaching that God will keep us alive forever unconditionally and heat up the flames and darken the darkness and keep the pit open so that we will be tormented and tortured forever. There is not one Scripture that teaches such! Find it. It is a doctrine that found its origin in Paganism,
Phariseeism, and Catholicism and adopted by most of Protestantism, but not one taught by our Savior.
No, this teaching that I am presenting goes back to the Bible itself. Then how have we been duped all these years? Glad you asked. We have taken as literal, figurative expressions. And we have made figurative language into literal expressions. The fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was said to be "eternal," but it is no longer burning. The result of the fire was eternal, not the burning itself. The fire of Gehenna, from which Jesus made his point of destruction, is no longer burning in Jerusalem, in spite of the fact that it was called everlasting (aion). The "results" are forever, not the consumption itself.
"Eternal" and "everlasting" do not always mean "never ending." For example, it was spoken of the Passover (Exodus 12:24), the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 29:9), Caleb's inheritance (Joshua 14:9), Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 8:12, 13), and Gehazi's leprosy (2 Kings 5:27), to name just a few, but these are all completed. Why do we understand the accommodation of words in some contexts but ignore them in others? The punishment of the wicked will be directly commensurate with their level of disobedience and administered without partiality by a just and merciful God, of this we may be sure.
In Matthew 25:46, Jesus has the goats cast away in to "eternal punishment" not "eternal punishing." Big difference! Solomon wrote, "Will he not repay such person according to what he has done" (Proverbs 24:12b).
Peter wrote, "It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them" (2 Peter 2:21). God is the one who will punish the wicked and evildoer. He doesn't need our help.
Satan tells us to tell others they "will not surely die." But consider what God has to say about those who are disobedient. "The way of the wicked shall PERISH" (Psalm 1:6). "God's fire will CONSUME the wicked" (Psalm 21:9). David said of those who lacked understanding that they are "like the beasts that PERISH" (Psalm 49:20). David calls death the "land of OBLIVION" (Psalm 88:12). "God will DESTROY them for their wickedness" (Psalm 94:23). Solomon wrote, "When the storm has SWEPT AWAY, the wicked are GONE" (Proverbs 10:25) and "…the lamp of the wicked is SNUFFED OUT" (Proverbs 13:9; 24:20).
God is never pictured in Scripture as an eternal tormentor. He is not a God who "tortures" those he loves. That is not good news. But he has promised to punish and "destroy" those who are not in his grace. "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Hebrews 10:26,27).
This familiar verse reminds us again to look more closely at what we think we understand. There are nuggets of truth hidden from us because of our preconceptions. This verse has been used to beat up people with concerning attendance at assemblies. We have practically ignored the details of what God will do with those who turn from him. God is not a torturer of his own creation, but rather "our God is a CONSUMING fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
Satan and the church perpetuate the idea that we will live on and on and on in spite of the truth that Christians "put on" immortality at the resurrection. Our immortality isn't like God's; it's conditional. Only God is immortal in the true sense of that word (1st Timothy 1:17; 6:16). Human are mortals. We haven't always been as God has. We are created beings. We will not always be, unless God so wills it.
Consider the wise man's words: "I also thought, 'As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.
Everything is meaningless. All go to the SAME PLACE; all come from the dust, and to DUST ALL RETURN. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth" (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21). Shall we edit Solomon while we are at it? Satan told our ancestors they would not surely die. We continue to tell the ungodly that they will live on in some bizarre eternal state of excruciatingly painful dying process and that God will thusly torture them without end.
Scripture teaches us "this will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish (not torture) those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction (not everlasting destroying) and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Satan, the Catholic church, and many of us continue to teach, "There will be no actual destruction. There will be no second death. There will only be never-ending horrendous torture and torment by our loving Father in heaven." Absurd! John the baptizer taught that Jesus would "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). Who is represented by the chaff? The wicked are, of course. Peter makes it extremely clear, unless we are wearing prejudicial glasses and have closed minds, that "by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7).
It is not God's will that we perish. He desires to save us. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Even the golden text of the Bible reminds us of our possible perishing if we do not obey the gospel of Christ. Jesus said, "…should not perish" (John 3:16). How much plainer can it be than in the words of Peter again when he writes that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be" (2 Peter 3:10 12).
Hard-line traditionalists point out that eternal life for the godly will last forever. So, too, the consummation and destruction of the ungodly will last forever. But nowhere is it taught in Scripture that "destruction will not be destruction" but rather "continual destroying and torture and agony and pain without end." The Greek word "aionios" which is translated "eternal" refers to the end result of a process rather than the destroying process or agent itself. It means the unsaved perish, yes perish, and the result is forever. Jude 7 has Sodom destroyed by "eternal fire" yet we realize there is no fire at the site of Sodom presently. The "destruction" of the twin cities was eternal, not the "destroying." They are not now being destroyed, are they?
Isaiah wrote: "And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever…" (Isaiah 34:9). In this text the prophet is discussing the DESTRUCTION of Edom. Edom is now DESTROYED. No smoke ascends at that particular locale today. Why? We know why, because the "result" of the smoke going up is forever, not the smoke and burning itself.
Jeremiah speaks of Judah's coming destruction. "Then shall I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched" (Jeremiah 17:27). If one visits Jerusalem today, they do not find a fire that is still burning (unless we spiritualize this text to suggest the continual conflict between those Semitic cousins who are still throwing rocks at each other after all these centuries). Unquenchable fire simply means fire that will not be put out until that which it is destroying is utterly consumed.
Does God teach in his word that evil people will be punished? Yes. Does the Bible tell us of those who have lived ungodly lives being held accountable for their disobedience and willful sin? Of course there is; Scripture even hints of degrees of reward and punishment. We trust that God will punish in exact correctness and fairness those who are not among the redeemed.
Will not the God of all heaven and earth do right by his creation? He will reward those who are found in his marvelous grace just as his holy and divine will decides. And I realize that these truths will mess up a lot of sermon outlines. So be it. I threw my old erroneous sermons on hell in the fire. They were consumed. Good riddance.
Can any caring person think of a scenario where it would be okay to hold a blowtorch to the eyes of another person (say a Saddam Hussien, Adolf Hitler, Richard Speck, Jeffrey Dahmer, Nero, Stalin, Osama Bin Laden) for as long as strength allowed?
Bin Laden was mercifully killed rather than tortured. We shudder at the thought of torture. Certainly this would be looked upon as a heinous and barbaric act. Yet we paint a picture of God who will do far worse than that to billions and billions of individuals and never stop doing it.
When we sit across the table from some poor soul who has just been taught of Jesus' redeeming love and now knows how to receive God's forgiveness, is it good news to tell him, when he asks, and he often does, where his beloved grandmother will be, or his child, or his wife who has passed on? “It doesn't sound like the God I have been describing to you, does it?
But, believe me, it is part of the good news of Christ. Your grandmother and everyone in your family who has not done what I've told you to do will burn forever and ever in a fire that will never cease." Readers, this is simply incredible.
It is a satanic distortion of clear truth and an unnecessary stumbling block put in the paths of the very ones we attempt to convert. How cunning the devil still is. And we are his pawns when we teach such ungodliness. Someone suggests that we can’t back off scaring people with hell fire or they will not obey the gospel. Hmmm. Is the world rushing to obey the gospel of Christ with the traditional view still ensconced? Hardly.
It's difficult to accept new truth, especially when we have presumed to pretty well know it all the first time we figured things out for ourselves or borrowed our belief systems from our instructors. It is even harder to admit that we have been wrong about matters we must admit we have not thoroughly studied and worked out for ourselves. This truth did not come easily to me. I swallowed unquestionably what was taught to me by those whom I thought loved me. They did love me. They only taught what they had been taught. We presume often, don't we, that we are above being fooled. But are we?
What shall we do with this newfound knowledge? Shall we hide with is in a closet like I did for years? Shall we fear repercussions from those in seats of authority? Yes. For a while some of us will do this. But eventually we shall have to deal with the reality that our Holy Father in heaven is not some maniacal torturer of his own precious creation. What good news this is!