Hell and the Character of God

A few years ago, the United States played a major role in bringing democracy to a small Middle Eastern country owned by a very wealthy oil sheikh named Aamir Karim. Instead of a dictatorship, the country was to be ruled by a prime minister elected by the people. Quite a few candidates ran for office, including the son of the wealthy oil sheikh  To boost his son’s success, Karim promised to pay, out of his own treasury, the taxes for anyone who voted for his son. He went on campaigns telling the citizens how much he and his son cared for their well-being, and had their best interests in mind. He cited prior examples of his good-will and generosity to the people. But he also warned that the consequences of not voting for his son would be severe.

Election Day came, and Karim’s son was voted in as prime minister. As promised, the oil sheik paid the taxes for anyone who voted for his son, even those who owed outstanding back taxes. But every citizen who didn’t vote for his son, he had arrested and tortured. Anytime the person neared death, he was injected with a drug that revived him, and the torture would begin again.

When the United States caught wind of this, an ambassador questioned Aamir Karim about his failure to uphold a democracy in his country. Karim responded, “This country is a democracy. I am not a dictator; the people had the freedom to choose. They choose torture.”

Sound familiar?

Imagine for a moment that you were a loyal supporter of Aamir Karim who had appointed you as an ambassador to get as many people as you can to become citizens of his county. As you try to convince others, you are upfront and honest about his character: Vote for his son, and receive amnesty for your taxes. Don’t vote for his son, and be endlessly tortured.

How many people do you think you’ll successfully convince that Aamir Karim is a loving, compassionate ruler? How many people do you think will want to become his citizens?

As Christians, we are called to always be ready to give answers to defend our faith. Today, it is the very character of God that has come under attack by the “new” atheists.

At the first ever atheist gathering, The Reason Rally, an apologist asked several atheists this question: If to your satisfaction, you were presented with solid evidence that God exists, would you worship Him?

Over and over again the responses were unanimous: “No, not if by God you mean the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.”

Why do so many unbelievers hate the God *that* we know to be loving, merciful, and just? What has given them such a skewed representation of His character?

How would you defend the fictitious character of Aamir Karim?

What follows is my defense for the character of God. Please note that the Greek words Hades and Gehenna are both translated hell in English, but Hades is the temporary destination of the wicked who await judgment, and Gehenna (aka the Lake of Fire and Second Death) is the eternal destination of the wicked.

In John 3:16, 17 and 11:26, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life…And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Obviously, Jesus didn’t mean the death of the body since Christians die.

From the Bible, we know that the Jews, Paul, and the apostle John did NOT believe the soul was inherently immortal.

RICH MAN: A rich man came to Jesus and asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 / Matt 19:16/Luke 18:18)

JOHN: Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life…(1 John 3:15)

PAUL: Seek for glory and honour and immortality. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life. (Rom 2:7 and 1 Timothy 6:12)

The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us the idea of the soul being immortal came from the Greek pagans.

The notion that “the souls are immortal, and continue forever” is “an unavoidable bait for such as have once had a taste for their [Greek] philosophy.” (War of the Jews 2, 8, 11)

In John 3:16, we read that those who are not given eternal life will perish. According to Strong’s Concordance, the definition of perish is to destroy, put an end to, kill.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul says those who disobey God “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”

According to Strong’s Concordance, the definition of destruction is: ruin, destroy, death.

As for the word eternal, the English definition is: without beginning or end; lasting forever; always existing.

But the Greek definition of the word eternal is age-lasting. Many Ancient Greek scrolls contain numerous examples of Roman emperors being described as aionios, the Greek word translated “eternal” in English. What is meant is that they held their office for life. Not that emperor was immortal, or that his reign never ended. [1]

According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the wicked will suffer “unending dread and shame without end, and of disgrace of destruction by fire of the region of darkness. And all their time from age to age are in most sorrowful chagrin and bitterest misfortune, in calamities of darkeness till they are destroyed with none of them surviving or escaping” (1QS 4.11-14).

So while a person suffers dread and shame and torment that is unending (does not stop) until they are destroyed, it does not mean they suffer for an eternity of unending torture.

The Bible confirms this Greek definition of the English word eternal in Jude 1:7: Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Obviously, the fire that struck Sodom and Gomorrah had both a beginning and an end.

In Revelation 14:11, John says, “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”

Notice that it is the smoke that ascends forever and ever, not the torment. And while the phrase “they have no rest, day or night” obviously means that there is no break in the suffering of the person while they are alive, this verse in no way implies that their souls are suddenly immortal, and that the fire will not eventually destroy them.

In Revelation 20:10, the Bible describes the fate of Satan: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.

The word “are” is not in the Greek (which is why the KJV italicizes it). The NIV translates it as “where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.” Nothing in this verse implies that the beast and the false prophet are still alive.

And while this verse may imply that the fire will not kill Satan, for whom the Lake of Fire was created in the first place, this verse in no way implies it doesn’t eventually destroy people. (And it very well may destroy Satan as well, as the Manual of Discipline noted earlier states that one can suffer  “without end…till they are destroyed).

As for weeping and gnashing of teeth, consider Luke 13:28:

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you [yourselves] thrust out.

No doubt there will be many people who will weep and gnash their teeth when they hear God condemn them to the Lake of Fire where their immortal soul will be annihilated…permanently and for eternity, with no chance of ever coming back into existence.

So this is my defense of the character of God. How does a loving God torture people for eternity? He doesn’t.  He never claimed to. I believe that the idea of eternal torment is a man-made doctrine that infiltrated Christianity through ignorance of the Greek language, the adoption of the pagan belief that the soul is immortal, and the desire of some to control through fear and threat. And now it is so widely believed, that many “see” eternal torment where it is not.

John 3:16 does NOT say “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not have eternal life in a horrible place, but have eternal life in a wonderful place.”

In conclusion, ask yourself if it can really be justified to insert conscious, never-ending torture into Jesus’ words from 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 Gehenna.”

———-

1. Immortality or Resurection? Samuele Bacchiocchi, PH.D, Chapter VI Hell: Eternal Torment or Annihilation?  Http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/immortality_resurrection/6.htm

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About JC Lamont

Historian and Greek scholar JC Lamont is the author of Prophecy of the Heir, a literary apologetics novel that covers the Old Testament through the use of allegory and fantasy. She is currently working on the sequel, Covenant of Blood, which covers the life of Christ.

  • Linda Mullin

    :You make a very good argument, JC. While I agree that this view is more in line with my own idea of a loving God, I know that He is also just, and I wouldn’t want to take a chance on eternal punishment. I do trust that God will do what is right; I believe that He is loving and good.