Does the Bible talk about eternal torture?
I sometimes ask my friends a question that I refuse to answer for them:
Who is going to hell?
The first answers are usually, “The people who don’t believe in God,” or some variation of that.
Someone says, “Well, what does it mean to believe? The Bible says even demons believe.”
Another answers, “I think it means to put your trust in Jesus.”
Always, another friend asks, “What does that mean?”
This is where our conversation starts to split. Some say, “It means to believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again.” Easy enough, you’d think.
Others say, “You have to believe that and live your life a certain way,” which usually leads to, “How do we know how to live our life the right way?” and the good little Christian women start talking about rap music and R-rated movies. (Kendrick Lamar and Fifty Shades of Gray will send you straight to hell.)
The room grows quiet. Then, someone squeaks out, “But what about the people around the world who practice other religions? That’s a whole lot of people going to Hell!”
This causes a bit of silence. There’s another divide.
Eventually, someone speaks up. “God reveals Himself to them in other ways,” they say. “It’s not for humans to know why a good God chooses for a humongous majority of His own creation to burn for eons and eons in eternal Hell,” another replies. (They don’t usually word it like that; I did it for emphasis.)
Inevitably, some brave friend of mine will finally pipe up and admit that maybe there is no Hell, or if there is one, souls don’t burn there forever, or it’s possibly not full of the people we’ve been told it will be full of.
It is no surprise that we dwell among Christians, especially in certain denominations, who believe that at the end of time, many people will be sent to Hell.
However, very few people realize that an eternal Hell was not a concept of the Jews, nor of the early Church!
Even so, to play devil’s advocate, let’s look at a few verses where Jesus spoke on Hell:
[Matthew 18] 7 “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. 8 So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.Jesus on “hell”
In some form or another these verses appear in a couple of the Gospels, so as you can see, Jesus didn’t speak much on a literal Hell. In fact, unless we’re suddenly going to start taking literally the words of a man who almost never spoke that way, he never talked about a literal hell.
The “eternal” used in these verses comes from the Greek word aión, which means, a space of time, an age, or a cycle.
Does a space or a cycle sound eternal?
No, which is why the Catholic Church believes in a place called Purgatory.
What is Purgatory? According to MW, it means a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.
Purgatory is foundational to the Catholic belief-system, and since they are the “original” Church, we have to at least acknowledge that to them it truly exists, even if we don’t agree.
Now let’s take our study to arguably the most frightening book of the Bible, one many preachers refuse to touch with a ten foot pole, the Book of Revelation:
[Revelation 21] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”John in Revelations
First off, we could all fall under the category of sinners listed in verse 8, right? I mean, in some way, we have all been cowardly, unbelieving, corrupt, murderous, immoral, relied on things other than Christ (like pharmaceuticals–that was considered a form of witchcraft), worshiped idols or lied.
If this verse was taken literally and Jesus hadn’t conquered death by showing us we would rise again, we’d all be heading towards a fiery furnace.
But note that John calls this a death.
Not burning for eternity. Not eternal conscious torment.
I am super-humble in my belief that I have not a single clue what happens when we die. I don’t know how I possibly could; I haven’t died yet.
I’m also super-clear in my belief that we should never “add” to the Bible what isn’t there.
The fact is that eternal torture isn’t mentioned at all in the Bible.
Eternal punishment, eternal destruction, eternal death, maybe, but never eternal torture.
Read the following passage from “The Case for Annihilationism,” by Greg Boyd. (His website reknew.org, is an amazing resource for understanding the Bible in a new light!)
Now, Scripture certainly teaches that the wicked are punished eternally, but not that the wicked endure eternal punishment. The wicked suffer “eternal punishment”(Mt 25:46), “eternal judgment” (Heb 6:2) and “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9) the same way the elect experience “eternal redemption” (Heb 5:9, 9:12). The elect do not undergo an eternal process of redemption. Their redemption is “eternal” in the sense that once the elect are redeemed, it is forever. So too, the damned do not undergo an eternal process of punishment or destruction. But once they are punished and destroyed, it is forever. Hell is eternal in consequence, not duration. The wicked are “destroyed forever” (Ps 92:7), but they are not forever being destroyed.“The Case for Annihilationism” Greg Boyd (bold mine)
I don’t know if God annihilates His creation or not. I tend to lean towards universal redemption and the idea that God will redeem what He created. You know, the whole “do something new.” Nevertheless, this is but one example of the reality that we can never be “certain” of anything the Bible says.
A lot of what we believe comes from one important question we hold a personal answer to:
Who does God love?
Let’s look at a verse I didn’t include yesterday:
[Romans 9] 25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,
“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”“Paul” quoting Hosea in Romans
(If you haven’t read Hosea before, I highly encourage it. It’s right up there with Ruth and Boaz as a romance for the ages. Author Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love is based on the story of Hosea and his prostitute wife, Gomer, and it is so good! So good.)
“Those who were not my people…” We can safely assume God means anyone who wasn’t part of the nation of Israel.
But just to be sure, let’s check out a few verses about who God loves and sent Jesus to “save:”
Luke 3:6 And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.
John 7:2 For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him.
1 Corinthians 15:21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
1 Timothy 2:3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
1 John 2:2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
1 Timothy 4:10 This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.
Sorta gives you a new perspective on those “sheep,” doesn’t it?
For years I struggled with the belief that I wasn’t “chosen.” Not by my parents (they would have treated me better and stayed together if they had really wanted me), not by my peers (I never felt like I measured up), not by my husband (he only married me because I got pregnant) and definitely not by God.
I so seriously need you to understand how incredibly awful the feeling of being unwanted, unloved and rejected really is.
It is a feeling so many people painfully endure, and often, it is because the Church that is supposed to be a beacon of Grace and light is instead a harbinger of hate and judgment.
Every single atrocity leveled on humanity has been borne from refusing to accept or purposely rejecting another group.
When a person or group is not accepted, they are often mistreated, and bitterness festers and spreads.
Rejection was deeply embedded into my body and soul. My mind could not fathom a life in which someone actually chose me.
Again, I’m not a psychologist, but the weird thing I’ve noticed about people who don’t feel loved is that some become desperate, others overachieve or are accommodating, and still others grow super negative and judgmental.
The saying, “a really good judge of others’ actions and a really good lawyer of your own,” could have certainly applied to me because I was absolutely rigid in my beliefs about the way people should behave, Christians should believe, parents should act, husbands should love, etc.
But my own behavior, beliefs, actions, and ability to love wasn’t my fault at all, I thought. I blamed everyone else for my problems, and my bitterness pushed people away, as opposed to drawing them in.
It wasn’t until I began to study the history of my faith that I saw the Holy Scriptures in a new light. I realized I was indeed loved by an Almighty Creator who did, in fact, choose me because He chooses to show mercy to all.
I understood that I was not only semi-in control of my own life, but that I also had the power within me, given by the Holy Spirit through Christ, to do all things God purposed me to do.
It’s only when we know God’s love for ourselves that we can show God’s love to others, and then grow God’s love on the Earth.
Love has to come in that order because that’s the way it was set up to exist. God is the very act of Love. Any love we have comes from Him, our Higher Power.
And we know love by the good fruit it produces, no matter whether that good fruit is labeled “Christianity” or not.
That last sentence I typed right there? It makes people super-duper uncomfortable. (I had to add a duper to the super for emphasis!) People get real hung up on that whole, “I am the way the truth and the life,” thing that Jesus said. (John 14:6)
Since we’re looking at verses in a whole new light this month, let me leave you today with something new to chew on.
[Isaiah 45] 23 …I have sworn by my own name;
I have spoken the truth,
and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to me…
[Romans 14] 11 For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’”
[Philippians 2] 10 …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth…
[Romans 10] 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”Romans
Either God is right, or He is wrong.
Either every knee will bend, or it will not.
Either every person who calls on God will be saved or not.
And if every person who calls on the name of the Lord is saved, then every person who acknowledges God is saved. Period.
See you soon,