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Rethinking Hell

 

One of the biggest reasons some people find Christianity objectionable is the idea that God would subject those who do not believe to eternal conscious torment. It just doesn’t sound just, fair, or right. This idea of eternal torment is so firmly embedded in Christian tradition, that it almost is never examined. This is in part because most English translations of the Bible use the word “eternal” to translate the Greek word “aion”.

Another reason for being reluctant to examine this doctrine is that fringe groups such as Jehovah's Witness are identified as holding a view that torment in hell is not infinitely eternal.

The trouble with translating “aion” is that like the English word “tall”, its specific meaning depends on how it is used. Homer used it to mean the span of a man’s life, it is also used to mean an “age”.

Another consideration is that punishment can be infinitely eternal even if the punishing isn’t. For example, Sodom is described in Jude 1:7 as suffering “eternal” (aion) fire. Sodom was destroyed by fire and even though the city and people are gone, the desolation remains to this day.

One might ask if the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23), why would it be given to those who are not saved? If one considers that there are two births (John 3:3) and two deaths (Rev 20:14), one might see that if one has the second birth, he does not have the second death (Rev 20:6). Also if one does not have the second birth (made alive in Christ), he is subject to the second death (Rev 21:8).

We also need to recognize what we do not know. For example we can ask if eternity is the end of time or time unending. This begins to illustrate our lack of understanding and helps us maintain humility. I cannot tell someone definitively that if they reject Christ they will suffer an infinitely eternal conscious torment. I can tell them that judgment will be according to works (Rev 20:13), that God is just (Ps 89:14), and that God is merciful (Ps 57:10).

We have inherited a traditional view of Hell that may not be entirely accurate. The Bereans were called more “noble” because they searched the scriptures to see if what they were being told was true. This can serve as an example for us to refrain from being smug, getting on a “high horse”, or bashing others.

I am grateful my sins are covered by the blood of Jesus and that I will not come into judgment for them. I weep for those who reject Jesus and will suffer judgment for their sins. While punishment and perishing are better than infinite eternal conscious torment, it is still as sad fate.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9

 

  

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