1 God, Love and Hell — Kirk Straughen
2 God, Love and Hell — Anon
God, Love and Hell
(Investigator 143, 2011
will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them
into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."
"Depart from me, you
cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angles...
And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into
eternal life." (Matt. 25:41-46.)
In my opinion, no one
with a humane conscious could support the idea of eternal damnation and
the suffering it entails. Yet, this pernicious doctrine has been
developed and taught by the Christian church since its inception and,
in certain denominations, is still an article of faith even to this
The purpose of this essay
is to examine the traditional concept of hell — a place of eternal
torment for the damned — to see if it is compatible with the idea of a
loving, just and merciful god (NOTE: All quotations are from the
Revised Standard Version.) Indeed, that such a problem exists can be
seen when we read 1 John 4:8 that assures us "God is love," and 1
Corinthians 13:4-7 which says:
patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant
or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or
resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures
If God exists and is
love, then it is inconceivable that this being would condemn people to
a state of eternal suffering. Indeed, there is little doubt this harsh
doctrine has instilled considerable, and in my opinion, unnecessary
fear in people. Furthermore, the idea serves no sensible purpose.
If some believers argue
it exists as a punishment for sin, then it is both unjust and barbaric
— it is out of proportion, offering as it does, unlimited punishment
for limited sins: Humane people, although imperfect, know if a
government enacted laws requiring criminals to be tortured
unremittingly, that this would be immoral – therefore, how much more so
a God who is morally perfect.
Another argument is that
hell acts as a deterrent to sin. However, if this is so, then it has
clearly failed — religious inspired atrocities and other moral failings
clearly show that the threat of hell has failed to make believers
better people. Indeed, it may have had the opposite effect — inspiring
some to imitate their god's viciousness.
Others may suggest that
hell is a kind of prison for incorrigible souls, but if so, then it is
an inhumane one. Indeed, there should be no need for hell — if God is
the epitome of wisdom, then it would have created conditions conducive
to the reformation of the damned, and I fail to see how eternal
suffering can achieve this end.
Finally, if hell merely
serves the purpose of revenge, then of what value is this? Damning
those who committed sins will not change the fact that sins have been
committed. Furthermore, hell rather than eliminating evil merely
perpetuates it. Indeed, I have often wondered how the elect will enjoy
heaven knowing that the damned are enduring eternal suffering.
How, then, can the idea
of hell be explained? Before addressing this question it is important
to remember that the Bible was not written by a single person, but by
many people who imbued its pages with their own ideas of God and
morality. For example:
enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray
for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the
other also." (Luke 6:27-29)
The extremely vicious
tone of Psalm 109, however, provides us with a stark contrast to these
prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another seize his
goods! May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow! May his
children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they
inhabit... Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity
his fatherless children." (Ps. 109:7-12)
To me it is clear that
the authors of scripture were only human.
They created an image of
God that was colored by their individual temperaments and prejudices —
humane authors conceived God as kind and merciful, while others painted
a picture of a harsh retribution driven deity.
In my opinion, the idea
of hell is most likely a product of the human mind that probably arose
out of powerlessness and oppression — in other words, a fantasy
motivated by the base desire for revenge that offers as a kind of
psychological compensation, the idea prosperous and untouchable enemies
in this life will be punished in the next.
GOD, LOVE and HELL
(Investigator 144, 2012
Eternal punishment — what
some call "hell" — reflects the value of the Earth; the value of God's
love and mercy; the value of human life, prosperity and peace; and the
suffering and standards humans have imposed on others.
A BASIS FOR JUDGMENT
Consider first the mercy
of God. The setting of Matthew 25:31-46 is the judgment after the
return of Jesus, when the current world has ended, and people are sent
either into "the kingdom" or into "the eternal fire prepared for the
devil and his angels":
Then the King
will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my
Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the
creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to
eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger
and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick
and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
The same discussion then
occurs with people on "his left" and concludes:
Then the righteous will
answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty
and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and
invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you
sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
The King will reply, 'I
tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these
brothers of mine, you did for me.' (25:34-40)
reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the
least of these, you did not do for me.'" (25:41-46)
Initially it seems there
are two groups here, designated "sheep" and "goats". But there are
three. The third is "these brothers of mine".
The brothers are the New
Testament Christians — "Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers…"
(Hebrews 2:10-17) Neither those on Jesus' "right" nor "left" are
informed Christians — that is why they ask, "When did we…?"
The Bible here teaches
salvation for the "righteous" who performed a kindness to a needy
"brother of Christ" — some bread, water, shelter, clothing, help in
sickness, or visit in prison! The listed helps are examples; the range
is more extensive.
Mercy so widely
available, so easily accepted, requires deliberate snubbing to avoid.
The Bible portrays God as ready to forgive because Jesus paid
everyone's penalty. What is necessary is acceptance. John writes: "God
so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who
believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John
3:16) Some people accept salvation by conversion and becoming
"brothers of Christ". Others accept in principle and are "excused"
because their conduct was such that God judges them "righteous".
Even evil done in
ignorance may be forgiven: "Father forgive them, for they know not what
they do." (Luke 23:34; Acts 17:30)
JUDGED AS THEY JUDGE
For in the
same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure
you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2)
For all of us must
appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive
recompense for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (II
For judgment will be
without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy. (James 2:13, 24;
…all were judged
according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:13; 22:12)
According…to their own
judgments I will judge them. (Ezekiel 7:27)
This concept of "judged
as they judge" recurs throughout the Bible — Deuteronomy 19:19; Psalm
7:3-5, 8; 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Isaiah 3:11; 33:1; Jeremiah 17:10;
Ezekiel 36:19; Hosea 12:2; John 5:28-29; Romans 2:6-8; II Corinthians
11:15; Colossians 3:25; James 4:17; I Peter 1:17; Jude 15.
In #104 I argued that the
reason why God (if He exists) allows humans to suffer is their
"knowledge of good and evil". (Genesis 3:5, 22) This "knowledge" is the
subjective feeling everyone has of being right and morally good no
matter what they do. Proverbs says: "All deeds are right in the sight
of the doer..." (Proverbs 21:2) Such attitude cannot not be refuted by
force but by God saying, "Prove it; show me" and then allowing time for
consequences to become self-evident. Meanwhile He would need to stay on
the sidelines so that people can act without being intimidated by his
If God is absent so
humans can prove their rightness, then humans become
responsible/obligated to do all the good that their independence
prevents God from doing. The fairest basis of judgment then becomes the
good or the suffering that people brought onto others.
Weight is also given to
"hypocrisy" — when people bring conditions upon others that they would
not tolerate on themselves: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,
and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are
unwilling to lift a finger to move them." (Matthew 23)
Words are judged also: "I
tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for
every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)
The Bible shows that God
deals with humans as individuals — loves them and hears them
individually. What would this imply for anyone whose actions, policies
or ethics ruined millions of lives?
Mr Straughen (#143)
comments on the "vicious tone" of Psalm 109 to argue that Bible writers
"created an image of God … colored by their individual … prejudices".
this it follows, says Straughen, that: "hell is most likely a product
of the human mind".
Psalm 109 is a cry for
justice by someone mistreated and awarded "evil for good". (109:2-3) He
condemns the wrongdoer because he: "did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death."
(109:10) The "vicious" part apparently is: "May his children be orphans
and his wife a widow. May his children wander about and beg; may they
be driven out of the ruins they inhabit…etc"
Ezekiel taught: "A child
shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for
the iniquity of a child…" (18:1-20) Job similarly stated: "You say,
'God stores up their [the wrongdoers'] iniquity for their children.'
Let it be paid back to them, so that they may know it. Let their own
eyes see their destruction… For what do they care for their household
after them…?" (21:19-21)
The "children" condemned
in Psalm 109 are not necessarily infants but old enough to have
supported or approved their father's evil. Justice back then was
scarce, often leaving victims a choice between vengeance or nothing.
The victim in Psalm 109, however, has forsworn revenge and leaves
retribution to God or to providence. This echoes the New Testament's
teaching: "Do not repay evil for evil."
The punishment of
"eternal fire" is for the following behaviors:
But as for
the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the
fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place
will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the
second death. (Revelation 21:8)
This fiery punishment is,
in Revelation 14:9-11, called "the wrath of God".
Several of the above
listed behaviors, in particular fornication and idolatry, are directly
mentioned in Colossians 3:5-6 and Ephesians 5:3-6 where we're told, "On
account of these the wrath of God is coming…"
The "wrath of God" also
refers to the period we might call the "end of the world" (described in
Revelation 6:12-17 and II Peter 3). This is a worldwide repetition of
the destruction that fell from the sky upon Sodom and Gomorrah. (II
So why are the behaviors
listed in Revelation 21:8 so evil that doers of them risk the "lake of
fire" if not forgiven? I here venture an opinion:
Humans have the power to
achieve anything — nothing will be impossible. (Genesis 11:6) Humans
therefore have the power to stop the end of the world. Indeed our
independence from God due to our "knowledge of good and evil" puts the
onus on us to do so. The above behaviors, however, are so costly,
destructive and distracting that humans will be too late in producing
the technology to save our planet.
Lies (including their
connection to crime), murder (including unjust wars), fornication (a
billion sick and 200 million dead in the 20th century), and idolatry
(ungodly religion) are behaviors that squander human wealth, time and
resources like nothing else. The cumulative cost leaves humans unable
to save themselves or their planet.
Judgment upon all who
reject God's mercy therefore reflects the value of planet Earth, God's
14 billion-year wait for it to become the great place for life that it
is, the suffering of billions of victims since humanity began, and what
we did to alleviate that suffering — "If you hold back from
rescuing…will he [God] not repay all according to their deeds?"
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE?
Some argue that "eternal
fire" symbolizes extinction akin to "nirvana". If correct then
unbelievers get what they look forward to, what they'd get if no God
existed, indeed what animals get.
implies consciousness. "Torment" is also emotional, it's not physical
torture. I suggest the Bible teaches that people die, this being the
"first death", and from this there will be a resurrection. Those who
are unsaved will die again — the "second death" — their bodies are
killed, annihilated, perhaps by literal fire. What follows would be a
body-less existence including separation from God and from everything
good that they misused and destroyed.
I have mentioned some
principles of judgment relevant to "eternal torment" and the provisions
for mercy — so broad they are hard to avoid.
I have not discussed the
scientific possibility of eternal life or body-less life — that's a
separate topic. I've merely examined the ethics i.e. whether the
judgment fits the crime.
What do we find
and what's the conclusion after more than 20 years of Bible debate?
It's all on this website: