This is Part 2 of “6 Questions on Hell” by Mark Driscoll. Read Part 1 here.
4. What are some of the major objections to the doctrine of hell?
A loving God would not send billions of people to a horrible hell.
In a very important sense, God doesn’t send anyone to hell. The only ones there are those who have rejected his revelation, choosing to suppress the truth he made plain to them. God made people in his image, after his likeness, with the power to say no and to reject the universal revelation of himself. Subsequently, sinners have no one to blame but themselves if they are damned.
To get to hell, someone must reject the God who shows them his goodness and out of love for all “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything,” reject the Spirit who “convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment,” and reject the crucified Son who said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Obviously, God has been exceedingly gracious to sinners.
People who reject Jesus in this life will not rejoice in him after this life. Hell is only for those who persistently reject the real God in favor of false gods. So in the end, people get to be with the god they love. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, either people will say to God, “Thy will be done,” or God will say to them, “Thy will be done.” Not only is God loving, but he is also just. Heaven and hell are the result of his love and justice.
A loving God would be more tolerant.
People who judge God need to really consider if they would be more pleased if God were tolerant of everyone, including rapists, pimps, pedophiles, and even those who have sinned against them most heinously. The idea is completely absurd and unjust. Not everyone in hell is a rapist, of course, but everyone there chose sin over God throughout his or her entire life.
A loving God protects his children from sin and evil by separating them. In this way, God is a father who is tolerant of all who obey him and are safe for his children. But he is intolerant of those who sin against him and do evil to his children. Subsequently, God is intolerant in a way that is like our own cultural intolerances of those who drink and drive, steal, rape, and murder; we, too, demonstrate our intolerance by separating such people from society. To call such actions on God’s part intolerant is shameful, because tolerance would denote both approval and support of evil.
Hell is mean.
To understand what love is, look at what Jesus did at the cross. He suffered and died for the ungodly, for sinners, for his enemies. Or, to say it another way, Jesus suffered and died for mean people. A God who will suffer and die for mean people is not mean. In fact, such a God alone is altogether loving; to be condemned by a God of perfect love shows how damnable our sin truly is.
Eternal torment in hell is an unjust punishment for people who sin for a few decades.
Some argue that the punishment of sinners is annihilation. This means that after someone dies apart from faith, they suffer for a fitting period of time and then simply cease to exist so that hell is not eternal in duration. In question is the nature and length of the punishment.
Annihilationism is simply not what the Bible teaches. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus teaches the same thing and speaks of those who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for life and that for punishment; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.
“Satan will not reign there. Hell is a place of punishment that God prepared for the Devil and his angels.”
The Bible tells us that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image” and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The word forever (Greek aion) means unending.
This is why the Bible speaks of hell as conscious, eternal punishment. One summary of the Bible’s teaching on the pain of hell says:
- Those in hell suffer intense and excruciating pain. This pain is likely both emotional/spiritual and physical (John 5:28-29).
- Hell is a fate worse than being drowned in the sea (Mark 9:42).
- It is worse than any earthly suffering—even being maimed (Matthew 5:29-30; Mark 9:43).
- The suffering never ends (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:48).
- The wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)
- Those in hell will be thrown into the fiery furnace and will experience unimaginable sorrow, regret, remorse, and pain. The fire produces the pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30)
- The intensity of the suffering seems to be according to the wickedness of the person’s behavior (Romans 2:5-8).
- Hell is utterly fearful and dreadful (Hebrews 10:27-31).
- This punishment is depicted as “coming misery,” “eating flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter.” (James 5:1-5)
- Those in hell will feel the full force of God’s fury and wrath (Revelations 14:10).
- They will be “tormented” with fire (14:10-11).
- This suffering is best understood as endless since the “smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.” (14:11)
- This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (14:11) and
- “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (20:10)
In summary, annihilationism is not biblical. For this reason, it was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople (AD 553) and the Fifth Lateran Council (1513).
Today, though, it is becoming popular to hope that sinners will eventually repent, and everyone will end up in heaven. This is universal reconciliation, the ancient view of Origen. However, there is not a shred of evidence for post-mortem repentance. The continual teaching of the Bible is that we die once and are then judged, without any second chance at salvation. As one clear example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
5. Do people who have never heard about Jesus go to hell?
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Peter preached, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The conclusion is simple: there is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus Christ. All other religious roads lead to false gods and a real hell.
But there are many ways to Jesus. While the norm is responding to the preached Word of God, there are biblical examples as well as life experiences where God gives special revelation of the Messiah to unsaved people in other forms, including direct speech, dreams, and visions. God called Abraham directly. He gave Pharaoh dreams. He spoke to the treacherous prophet Balaam in a vision so that he prophesied about the Messiah. He appeared to Cornelius in a vision, which resulted in him being saved.
“Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There are many such stories. The reality is that anyone who is searching and willing to respond to the goodness of God as Cornelius did will receive special revelation. God is perfectly able to bypass the “normal” channels to accomplish his purposes.
No one who comes to the Lord will be cast out. As Paul says:
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Therefore, while there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ, there is also no reason to overlook the creativity of God to get the gospel out. His creativity includes using us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth as pioneering missionaries to unreached people groups and generous givers to ministries that translate the Bible into new languages.
6. Am I going to hell?
The closing verses of the Bible say, “Come!” as an invitation for all who desire to receive God’s saving grace as a gift. Jesus died and rose and is exalted in heaven. If you repent of sin, change your mind about who or what is lord of your life, and believe, trusting that you can stake your life and eternity on the truth of what God says, then you will receive full forgiveness of all sin, new life in and by the Holy Spirit, membership in the church of Jesus Christ, a meaningful part in his rescue mission in the world, and citizenship in his kingdom. You will be with Jesus and his people now and forever.
I want this for you.
Have you confessed your sins to Jesus Christ, seeking forgiveness and salvation through his sinless life that is your righteousness, death that is your payment, and resurrection that is your salvation?