Updated: Feb 10, 2020
As you probably already know, I am a Christian. I am also a leader in a church and because of this I take the teachings of Jesus, and the bible, even more seriously. I do not want to lie to people and I do not want to mis-teach scripture. I do believe there is good news to be found in the Christian faith and good reasons to believe it is true. Those reasons are for another conversation.
I teach others from the bible, because of this, I need to wrestle with the toughest aspects of it. I have spent many hours over the last few years digging into what the bible actually says about hell. I knew that I didn't want people to go there but I wasn't comfortable with my understanding of it, and I found some aspects of the traditional view of hell (fiery ongoing torment) inconsistent with the idea of a loving God. I often ignored the discomfort by believing God's ways are bigger and better than mine so who was I to question it.
When I say the word hell you might have many horrific images in mind, as I did when I first started reading into the topic. It is a topic many Christians don't like, it naturally doesn't seem right that a loving God can send so many people into an endless fiery torment. Many seem to think the devil and his minions will also be there tormenting people which I just can't find anywhere in the bible.
So I've studied it and I needed a place to put all that I've studied and this is what I've got - a youtube channel and a website and I hope that many find it useful. If you are interested to read further, I'll summarise as quickly as I can what I've found and why I will continue to talk about it online.
If it looks too long to read here is a really quick summary: Without Jesus, we are all dead. Genesis says it like this, 'you are dust and to dust you will return'. A short summary video of a simple explanation on hell is here.
You may know the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. God gives mankind all of creation to enjoy except one tree, not that they will never enjoy it but they must rely on him for what the tree would give them - the knowledge of good and bad. Adam and Eve take the knowledge on their own terms, basically deciding that they can be their own gods and in so doing they cut themselves off from the one thing that would give them life forever (you can read this in Genesis 1-3). This story is a picture of the world. We are, all of us, under the sentence of death. This is one perspective of what is called sin.
Over the entirety of the bible, there is a consistent theme that this was never God's intention for humanity but he also allows us to have the will to rebel against him. The theme continues that as people rebel, they die, and as they seek God, they will have hope that even if they die, they have hope to live again.
Throughout the Old Testament (the first two-thirds of the bible) there is not one picture of eternal torment or demons with pitchforks. What we do see is the continued cycle of humanity deciding for themselves what is good and bad and failing to live in harmony with God. The result? A lot of mess and death. Humanity needs a saviour.
This summarises Jesus' mission. He came to die so that we might live with God.
Jesus proved he had the power over death by dying on a cross and rising three days later. I know this bit sounds a bit crazy but I read a decent amount and think there is good historical evidence to get to a point of recognising the resurrection as historical fact. Feel free to talk to me about that too if you'd like.
What Jesus did say about people who choose to reject God was that there would be an eternal punishment. Instantly people assume because of the word eternal, this means ongoing. The bible uses eternal several times from several authors and every time it means something happens in a moment with an ongoing consequence. So there is a punishment for rejecting God, but what is it?
If you reject the giver of life, you die. Jesus continually used pictures of things that would burn up or be no more. He gave no images of an ongoing fire where demons and devils would torment you. The only thing that comes close is that he mentions an eternal fire and whenever 'eternal fire' is used it references a thing or a place that was totally destroyed.
I know that doesn't sound pleasant that anything should be destroyed but that is the state of the world we are in. We are already under the curse of death and without a saviour, 100% of us will die. Jesus is offering an alternative. Through believing in him we need not take the result of meeting God having rejected him throughout our lives. Jesus through his death and resurrection has taken the curse for us.
Why is it exclusively Jesus? Because he is the only person that has defeated death to prove that the words he taught were true - he said 'I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me'.
We then get to the end of the bible and there are some fairly heavy passages to deal with. They are very symbolic and a lot of language sounds pretty intense. Revelation uses a lot of imagery from the Old Testament and as I've already said, there is no picture of eternal torment in the Old Testament. There is no image of eternal torment in the New Testament either except for two verses that on the face of it, seem to prove me wrong. Having spent the last four years engaging in discussion with various people who know Greek and Hebrew, I have come to the view that even these verses actually symbolically represent the ultimate destruction of everything evil and death itself.
What this means then is that Christianity offers the hope of a life after death and instead of going away into the clouds we have hope for a new creation. The old world with all of its death, corruption, sin and pain will be made new and we have a hope for a time when heaven joins with earth and there is no pain, mourning or death. We will have new bodies that do not decay and we will enjoy the world as it was meant to be back in Genesis 1-3. What is even better is there is no realm called hell where anyone who rejects God will be smoking forever in agony. Those who say no to God, will cut themselves off from life forever and that is it. God is love, but he will not force you to love him and you will not have to be in his presence forever if you do not wish to be.
Why will I keep writing about this? I know many Christians and those who used to call themselves Christian who are scared of hell or left the church because they could not understand how a God of love would torment anyone forever. I agree with them that this idea of God is one that is hard to reconcile but one I don't think the bible presents.
I think Jesus offering us life is amazing news and I want to share that with everyone. I think it is great news that He is judge and those who commit atrocities and evil will be judged by a God who does right. I think it is even better news now I know that he won't torment anyone who turns him away.
Why do I think so many Christians and the church have been so wrong on this topic for so long? Well, that will have to be an essay/video for another day.
If you want to know more and know me personally, I am very much up for chatting over a coffee or would love for you to visit the church I go to - get in touch. If you want scriptural backing for any of the above, I recommend you start with this video or here for a longer essay.
If you are online, I hope this blog and my youtube channel helps and I hope I can answer any questions you might have. If you want to wrestle with scripture with me because you disagree, get in touch, even more so if you're up for discussing it on a youtube live stream.