Is Hell Forever?

Posted: February 2, 2020 in Christian Living
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I realize that this may offend some, but I must speak God’s truth rather than continue to promote traditions and myths.

 I am continually amazed at how Christians who claim that God, who loves everyone, believe that this same God will condemn the unrighteous to an eternity of torment in a burning hell.

And why these same Christians become so upset when you show them in Scripture that God will only condemn the unrighteous to the “Second Death”—Never to exist again. Is it any wonder that unbelievers resist and reject anything that these Christians tell them about their “loving God”? 

So if a forever burning hell does not exist, just where did this belief come from?

To understand the source of the idea that people are tortured in an ever-burning hell, we have to go outside the Scriptures. That should send up a red flag for anyone who regards the Bible as his or her only truth and source of belief.

“People are deterred from evil courses when, either through descriptions or through typical representations of objects unseen, they learn of divine punishments, terrors, and threats….There is need of religious fear also, and this cannot be aroused without myths and marvels.” —First-century Greek philosopher, Strabo  

Plato (ca. 428–347 B.C.E.) became a key figure in the development of this idea. His name appears frequently in the writings of Augustine, who noted that the Greek scholar had “perfected philosophy” and that he “is justly preferred to all the other philosophers of the Gentiles.” (City of God 8.4) 

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which describes Augustine as a “Christian Neoplatonist,” remarks: “One of the decisive developments in the western philosophical tradition was the eventually widespread merging of the Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions. Augustine is one of the main figures through and by whom this merging was accomplished.” 

One of the key tenets of Neoplatonic thought adopted by Augustine was that humans possess natural immortality of the soul. This was a critical step in his developing the idea that unbelievers could be made to endure eternal torment in hell.

What does the Bible teach?

Pagan cultures and philosophies have contributed greatly to modern concepts of hell. But what does the Bible itself say on the subject? In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word often translated as “hell” is Sheol, though it actually means “the grave.” The Greek word, “Hades” means the same thing as the Hebrew word, Sheol—The grave.

In the New Testament, we find that the the word most often used for hell by Christians is Gehenna, referring to the Gehenna Valley, or the Valley of Hinnom. Just outside the walls of Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day it was where the local population dumped and burned trash.  

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the Gehenna Valley “acquired a bad reputation because sacrifices were offered in it to Moloch in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh. (kings of Judah) The Valley of Hinnom came to be equated with the hell of the last judgment in apocalyptic literature.” In extra-biblical Jewish writings from the second century B.C.  the name Gehinnom thus came to be used for the eschatological fire of hell. In the first century A.D. the term was further extended to cover the place where the ungodly were punished, but this was not so in the teachings of Jesus or the Early Church. 

According to Jeremiah 7, the Israelite inhabitants of the region had erected idols in the temple of God, and in the adjacent valley they had set up altars to these false gods. They had even burned their children on these altars to appease their pagan gods. 

In Jeremiah 19:4–7, the prophet offers this message from God: “‘Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built high places to Baal to burn their sons in fire as burnt offerings to Baal, . . . therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Jehovah, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.” 

This is how Gehenna was known in Jeremiah’s day. In the New Testament, the word Gehenna is generally used in references to the final destruction of evildoers. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”(Gehenna) (Matthew 10:28) 

In other words, people can kill you, but they can kill only the body. Don’t fear them; fear the One who can put an end to you forever. 

Many Christians today might ask, But what about Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:41? “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’”? And what about Mark 9:47-48? “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” 

In both cases the eternal fire is used in order to prevent them from wreaking any more havoc on the rest of God’s creation. But the “eternal fire” of hell has been misunderstood by the majority of people for many centuries. Note that “everlasting fire” (Matt 25:41) and “eternal fire” (Jude 7) are from the same original words. It is not the fire itself but its effects that are everlasting as in Jude 7: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” 

Of course, Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning yet they “are set forth for an example” of the results of a sinful course.

And the “worm does not die” in Mark 9:47-48 is referring to maggots. Maggots do not die. They later turn into flies and make more maggots. And the Lake of Fire will not be quenched, but it will eventually burn itself out—Just as a campfire or a charcoal grill will eventually burn itself out. 

The apostle Peter writes: ”And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly;” (2 Pet 2:6) 

The wicked will be burned completely, not burning forever in an eternal fire. “And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Mal 4:3) It is the destruction, not the process that is forever.

The Bible is very clear about what happens to the unrighteous after the resurrection:

“When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever!” (Psalms 92:7)

“Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.” (Psalms 104:35)

“A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.” (Psalm 37:10)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) *Perish, not tormented forever in a burning hell. 

“But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” (Psalms 37:20)

And Psalm 59:12-13 says, “By the sins of their mouths and the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride, in the curses and lies they utter. Consume them in wrath; consume them till they are no more, so it may be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob. Selah” 

There are many more Scripture verses that reveal the truth about God’s loving judgments. And the Bible is always clear when you allow it to explain itself.

So what is wrong with believing in and teaching that there is a forever burning hell reserved for the unsaved if some are saved and come to serve God because of it? Because God has not called us to frighten sinners into repentance. And if a person is only following God out of fear, their faith and love for God is not real. They are only using God as a fire escape. And what trauma this will cause them when a loved one dies without Jesus, and they believe that God condemned them to an eternity in a forever burning hell? How then, can you profess to be a follower of Jesus and “love your neighbor as yourself” and yet refuse to speak the truth? 

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