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Christian living

Wrestling with the Reality of Hell

English: Souls being led out of Hell by Jesus

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I consider myself a pretty conservative guy when it comes to biblical doctrine. Fundamental. Baptist. Whatever. I march pretty much in step with the major creeds and confessions of faith. I believe in one God, one Savior, salvation by grace through faith alone. I believe Jesus is the son of God, wholly God and wholly man. I’m all about the Word of God being inerrant, infallible, living and eternal. No exceptions.

But recently I went through a doctrinal crisis of sorts. Every now and then I like to re-evaluate where I stand on things. I don’t want to be some doctrinal robot regurgitating the things I’ve been taught. I want to do my own study, challenge my own stances, my own beliefs, and see if they stand up under some scrutiny.

What happened rocked me a bit and, to be frank, disturbed me.

My issue? Hell. I suddenly could not accept the teaching that it was eternal. I knew what the Bible said about hell and I dove into the opposite position to see what those folks had to say. I wanted to prove to myself that hell was, indeed, not forever and ever.

I couldn’t accept that a God who loves mankind so much, more than any of us can even understand, enough to die a horrible, tortuous death, would allow one of those beloved creatures spend eternity in a place of such torment. I just couldn’t fathom it. It didn’t fit with the God I loved and served, the God I had experienced in my own life. Surely, he’d want to give those folks a second chance, want to make a way of salvation for them as well.

I studied both sides of the argument, voiced my struggle and evolving views to my dad (a pastor and my spiritual mentor in many ways), and argued to God over it. I wanted so badly for my traditional view to be wrong, misguided, misunderstood, anything.

But in the end I came to this conclusion:

Sometimes you have to separate what your heart feels from what your head knows.

My heart didn’t want this to be true (and, honestly, still doesn’t), but my head knew the Bible meant what it said. The verses and passages supporting a temporary hell or no hell just didn’t hold water for me in the end. Conclusions had to be forced and I wasn’t comfortable with that.

And then I had to accept the bottom line. God is just. We don’t always have to understand that justice but we need to accept it. God is right. His sense of rightness may not always please us but who are we to tell him he’s wrong?

I’ll continue to test myself and my positions. I’ll continue to dig and search and eventually find some semblance of understanding. I hope to pass that same inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge on to my children. I definitely don’t want to raise a bunch of robots. Even if they wind up disagreeing with me, at least they’ll be thinking and that’s a very good thing. Thinking people can be reasoned with, debated, persuaded.

Question: Is there a doctrine you’ve wrestled with? What was the outcome? Do you think it’s good to teach our children to wrestle with this stuff so they can stand on their own beliefs?

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About michaelkingbooks

I write stories of faith and family, love and loss, heartache and triumph. Here I blog about faith, relationships, and genuine living.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Wrestling with the Reality of Hell

  1. Yes, I think it is good to teach our children to study and ask questions about what parents teach them. When we speak with others about Christ we need to know what we are speaking about. I always ask questions growing up. When I reached a certain age of understanding my parents encouraged me to ask questions and speak to anyone who was a Christian and ask their opinion whether they went to our church or not. But they also taught me to study and ask God for guidance when I did these things. I have a lot of friends that consistently tell me God will not send them to Hell. They are good people and God loves us too much to do that to us. Well, I always have to go back to what I was told growing up. God does not send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell by not accepting God in our lives. We are given chance after chance before we die, and some people continue to ignore him. all we can do is pray for them. I was so glad to see you bring up the subject of hell in your book Scream. Most people will not even use that word in their books so as not to offend anyone. Thanks for not shying away from it. It is there and ignoring it will not make it go away.

    Posted by Terri Conrad | August 2, 2012, 8:12 am
    • Great comment, Terri. Thanks. You’re absolutely right that God does not send anyone to hell, we are already on course for that awful place and only Jesus can rescue us. I picture all of mankind as rushing down a river headed straight for a deadly drop-off and there is Jesus in the water, hanging on to a branch with one hand and reaching for us with the other hand saying, “Just take my hand and I’ll save you.” Some take it but sadly, most do not.

      Posted by michaelkingbooks | August 2, 2012, 1:33 pm
  2. Mike, I appreciate your honesty. Which gives me the courage to be honest – publicly!!!!

    Election. My faith crisis. What is the point of prayer? I have a family member whose salvation is in question. Why bother to pray for salvation – if only those God calls are saved? What do the election people (the church I’m attending) do with ll Peter 3:9, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance? I find, I’m not on the boat with the “election people”.

    Sovereignty of God. My second faith crisis, but it all happened at the same time. BIG crisis!!! Everything is already set in place. So again why pray? So I didn’t because of crisis 1 & 2 – to some degree, for awhile – because of the same family member who is in an apparent hopeless situation. Do we change God’s mind by praying? Begging? Pleading? Grovelling? I believe in the sovereignty of God. I find it’s one of those things difficult to understand – like eternity, the trinity, a God, and a lot of other stuff the Bible tells us and we believe by faith. God already knows the outcome of a situation – since the beginning of time. Instances of God changing his mind, he already knew the outcome!!!! This is SO hard to understand. I have come to a prayer conclusion – Prayer is to change ME :) – the simple answer. I don’t like that much!!!

    Posted by Doris Bange | August 2, 2012, 9:03 am
    • Doris, this is some good stuff to mull over. Especially that last thought: prayer is to change me! There’s so much about God and our faith that I don’t understand and suspect that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If I could understand everything about God he wouldn’t be much of a God. I’m constantly reminding myself to read the Bible as it is, not with any preconceived ideas or opinions, not with an prejudices or personal desires in the way. It says what it says and I either accept that or I don’t. Tough to do, though. I’ll be the first to admit that.

      Posted by michaelkingbooks | August 2, 2012, 1:37 pm
  3. Growing up as a Catholic and going to Sunday school we were taught there was Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Hell is a terrible thing for a young child to envision. Purgatory was for those people who thru prayers by the living, you hoped would be then allowed into Heaven. It was that in between place for the “not so bad” but not good enough to enter into Heaven yet.
    That too was a scary prospect, when if you got stuck there?
    Having not been a Catholic since I was 20, my feelings are and have changed.

    Posted by Pat Russell | August 2, 2012, 9:04 am
  4. Sorry, I got kicked out of my answer above. I can believe there is a Heaven, but do I believe there is a Hell, that scary place where you burn eternally and there is no hope and your suffering goes on forever, not so much. I certainly do not believe that only those believing in Jesus go to Heaven. I believe that God intends Heaven for all good people who do their best through out their lives, that harm nothing intentional, that follow the rules, and even if they make mistakes as most of us will, they can redeem themselves and continue on doing good works and making a differnce in some small way. If you kill someone and are evil, and do it with no thought or care, that is a one way trip out of Heaven, if you are mentally ill and commit a crime God knows that your intent was not there. He forgives this. The reason I cannot believe that God intends Heaven only for those who have Jesus in their lives is because there are a whole lot of very very good people out there who have another religion or not

    Posted by Pat Russell | August 2, 2012, 9:10 am
  5. or no religion but are good, honest people who would do anything for others. God would not abandon them. He just would not.

    Posted by Pat Russell | August 2, 2012, 9:12 am
    • Pat, thank you for your honesty, as always. I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I think it comes down to how you view the Bible. Is it just a book, written by man, and that’s all, or is it the Word of God. Because if we believe it’s the Word of God then we have to accept what it says. That’s a choice we all need to make . . . between ourself and God.

      I hear what you’re saying about good people going to heaven. The only recurring questions I have with that point of view is this: What is the standard of good (who makes the rules) and how good is good enough? In other words, where is the line between good enough for Heaven and “Sorry, you’re just shy of gettin’ in.”

      Posted by michaelkingbooks | August 2, 2012, 1:43 pm
  6. Wow! Mike, I really see God at work here. Terri touched on my thoughts. A person ends up in Hell by rejecting God. It’s not His will for any to perish. We can be assured that He will do everything He can to keep us out. If we end up there, it’s our choice.

    Posted by thepottersclayhsa | August 2, 2012, 9:34 am
  7. There have been a lot of doctrines I’ve wrestled with. But I believe it’s good to question. Whenever I’ve seriously searched, my faith has always been strengthened. There are still things I don’t understand, and I’m sure I never will this side of heaven, but God wouldn’t be God if we could understand everything about Him.
    To agree with Doris, election is something that I struggled with in the past as well. It’s a difficult thing to understand and grasp. I struggled believing that if I was ‘truly saved’, I wouldn’t make the big mistakes I do. And then I would be afraid that maybe I wasn’t one of the ‘elected’. I kept trying to earn the salvation He’d already given me. So I couldn’t understand the rest Jesus talked about.
    In the end it was that verse in 2 Peter, God does not wish that any should perish, that I finally found peace. If God doesn’t want me to perish but to come to repentance, and I’ve repented and been cleansed by Christ’s blood, then I have nothing to fear. It’s all about Him anyway and not about how well I measure up. And praise God for that!
    This is what I love so much about your blogs and your books, they always make me think and remind me of who – and Whose – I am. :)

    Posted by wmelinda | August 2, 2012, 3:37 pm
  8. For sure the the question of Free Will vs. Gods Sovereignty is one of the great mysteries of the Bible and something that I think can only be accepted by faith. A couple things that I am currently investigating and studying is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and I have always been taught a pre tribulation rapture. So anyway there are many views on many things in the Bible, but the foundational truth that Christ is the only path to Heaven is one thing that is not negotiable. Without that truth there in nothing else is even worth discussing,

    Posted by Ben Jacobs | August 2, 2012, 7:12 pm
  9. Hi Michael, thank you for posting your thoughts about rethinking hell. God asks us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Christians are often, rightly so, accused of neglecting our “mind”. You are a good example to us all.

    I challenge you to not stop your evaluation of the traditional doctrine of hell. It looks like you compared the traditional view to two equally non-Biblical views: “temporary hell” or “no hell”. Of course, the Bible teaches neither. I hold the Bible as the ultimate source of truth, and like a growing number of Christians, find that the traditional doctrine of endless conscious torment for the unredeemed is not Biblical.

    Holders of the traditional view must “force” a non-Biblical definition of words like “perish”, “die”, “blotted out”, “destroyed”, “return to dust” to mean “an eternal miserable life”. They must deny 1 Timothy 6:16 which says that only God possesses immortality, and substitute the Greek myth that all humans live forever somewhere. Someone said “you shall not surely die”, but it wasn’t God.

    I want to encourage you to read more details at http://endlesshellended.com, and request our free E-Book. You can also look at http://rethinkinghell.com, and most importantly, read anything by Edward William Fudge. If you listen to the Rethinking Hell podcast, you’ll hear Mr. Fudge discuss this in detail.

    Your heart and your head can agree on this issue. You can *love* God’s justice, as the Bible asks us to do. You just have to be willing to discern between tradition and what the Bible actually says.

    There was a reason for the reformation long ago — and we need a new reformation today. We should not think that our “fundamental” tradition is beyond reformation. We have been wrong before.

    Posted by dugsmith | August 4, 2012, 9:17 am
  10. Hi! I enjoyed your article on this subject. I actually believe that there is a “hell” but not a place where the wicked are to be “roasted” for eternity. The version of hell I believe in is actually much hotter!

    The Bible says: “”As Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them in a similar manner, having given themselves over to sexually immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Jude 7.

    But Sodom and Gomorrah are not still “burning.” The result of the fire was the complete destruction of the wicked city and its inhabitants.

    Malachi 4:1-3 says, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, ” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

    It says the wicked will be like ashes (in the same way that Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to ashes. So that’s what I believe. Hell is eternal death as apposed to eternal life with Christ. I could go on and on but I won’t bore you. ;)

    Posted by Melissa Ringstaff | August 19, 2012, 3:47 pm
  11. Up until a little over a year ago, I also thought the Bible clearly taught that the unsaved will rise to be judged and suffer eternally. I’m a conservative, Reformed Christian (and continue to be), and thought this was the conservative, proper reading of the relevant texts. Never did I question whether or not this was just; never did I have an emotional desire to read the text another way. To this day I still think God would be just to cause the unsaved to suffer forever, and the alternative I now hold to is no less emotionally painful for me to consider than the traditional view.

    What I discovered when I began rethinking hell was that with virtually no exception, every… single… one… of the traditional proof-texts in support of the traditional hell actually favor annihilation. This was what amazed me and convinced me most of annihilationism or conditional immortality.

    Posted by chrisdate | August 26, 2012, 11:09 pm

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