Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Questions about Hell

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Wednesday, December 4, 2013: Daniel 11:36-12:13

1 And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.   2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.  3  Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.  Daniel 12:2-3 (NKJV)

A few years ago, Rob Bell published a book Love Wins.  It caused no small stir in the Christian community. Mr. Bell was then the pastor of megachurch Mars Hill Bible Church in Granville, Michigan.

There are no new heresies; just re-packaging of old ones.  Mr. Bell re-ignited an old debate about hell. There are many things I could say about Rob Bell and his book, but this short blog is not a review of his work.  I will however mention one quote from the book with which I actually agree.

"What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like."

Mr. Bell moves toward the annihilationist or universalist position.  Annihilationists believe that hell exists but is not eternal.  The wicked along with the devil are destroyed and exist no more.  Universalists believe in ultimate reconciliation of all things.  Bell tips his hand in that direction with his title: Love Wins (but, true to form, he stops short of taking a firm position).    

Author Randy Alcorn comments, "I think the doctrine of hell may be the single biggest test of whether the Bible is our authority, or we and our culture are our own authority."

There are so many winds blowing in our day.  For those of us who seek to live in accord with Scripture, it seems the battles never end -- but rather are on the increase.  Hell is not a popular topic.  BUT IT IS IN THE SCRIPTURE!

Daniel prophesies that end of days shall be attended by "a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation" (Dan. 12:1).  But this shall also be a time of DELIVERANCE for all who know the Lord!  That's good news.

He speaks of RESURRECTION.  Here is the hard truth.  That resurrection will be fantastic for some but terrible for others.  There will be a resurrection of righteousness which will usher some into "everlasting life." However, there will be those who are resurrected to experience "shame and everlasting contempt."

To be very honest with you, I wish I could believe in annihilationism.  That would be preferable to eternal torment. But, as Randy Alcorn states, our faith is not a matter of my personal preferences or predispositions. It is a matter of "whether the Bible is my authority."  For a million reasons, I chose to believe the Bible.

That means that there is a place called Heaven and there is a place called Hell.  There is an event yet to come in which eternal judgment will be passed on every human being.  I believe in a God who IS LOVE (I John 4:8).  In His love for us He extends the freedom to enter into or refuse a love relationship with Him. None of us will have our eternal destiny settled on the basis of our OWN merit.  Rather the merit of Jesus is the only medicine that can solve the human dilemma.

That motivates me to love God, to love people, and to share Jesus.  In that sense, it is the only thing that matters.


  1. Hi Bob,

    You say you wish you could believe in annihilationism, but that for a million reasons you choose to believe in the Bible. I very much relate to that second statement. The Bible is inerrant and reliable and authoritative, and we must believe what it says, regardless of how we feel.

    But it was that commit to the authority of Scripture that forced me to change my view of hell and embrace annihilationism. You say you wish you could believe in it; do you mind, then, if I make a meager attempt at demonstrating it to you from the Scripture?

  2. Chris,
    I invite your comments. One of the reasons fro the blog is dialogue toward the truth. Thank you for being a part of this discussion. I look forward to hearing from you.

  3. Bob,

    You're very kind, and I commend the spirit with which you welcome dialogue. It's refreshing :)

    The doctrine of annihilationism (as it's been called in more recent decades) permeates Scripture from cover to cover--literally. I almost don't know where to begin, and I don't want to shotgun you with texts, so what I'll do is just start with one, the first that got me questioning the traditional view for the first time a couple of years ago. Ironically, it's one of the texts most frequently cited as support for the traditional view, and when I discovered that it is far stronger support for annihilationism, I was shocked. I went on to discover that with virtually no exception, every text typically cited in support of the traditional view actually works against it.

    Before I give you that text and demonstrate why I think it's far better support for annihilationism, I want to try and very succinctly clarify what the position is, because it's frequently misunderstood. In short it is this: Whereas the traditional view holds that the dead bodies of the lost will come back to life in the resurrection, and remain alive in eternal torment (reunited forever with their souls which had survived the first death), annihilationism holds that the resurrected bodies of the lost will die a second time, and whereas their souls had survived the first death (Matt. 10:28; James 2:26), their souls will die in the second death, along with their bodies. So the contrast isn't really between existing forever and ceasing to exist; it's between living forever and being deprived of life forever.

    Do you have any questions before I proceed?

  4. (In case it helps, here's an article I wrote in response to some who object to the way I framed the debate above, by claiming that in the traditional view the lost do not live forever in hell.

  5. Chris, thanks for your comment. I look forward to the discussion. I have not yet read your article but will do so. I notice that you use the term "conditional" rather than "annihilation." My above comment about a million reasons to chose to believe the Bible is not a million reasons to believe against annihilationism. My comment is hyperboly about the need to remain always faithful to Scripture.

    1. Bob, I totally understand. And if one is convinced (if only for the time being) that the Bible militates against annihilationism, then affirming that there are a million reasons to chose to believe the Bible (a correct statement, of course) is implicitly an affirmation that there are a million reasons to reject annihilationism. I'm not offended by that, and simply hope to demonstrate that the Bible does not militate against annihilationism, but clearly teaches it.

      I tend to use the term "conditionalism," which is short for "conditional immortality," because that's historically what the position has been called. The term "annihilationism" is a more recent label for the position. What's more, it tends to paint a picture in the minds of some, of God snapping his fingers causing the lost to instantaneously disappear into the proverbial ether. But that's not our view at all, any more than the electric chair instantaneously vaporizes a death row criminal.

      Hope that clarifies. Shall I proceed with the one text and its background which, as I explained earlier, I intend to open with?