Hell is one of those doctrines which most people don’t want to think about. In our age of seeker-sensitive services we focus on the positives and so preachers tend to avoid topics like Hell.
It’s unpleasant to think about what might happen to our unsaved relatives, so we try to put the eternal torment of souls out of our minds.
Of all the doctrines which have been comprehensively debated and looked at in the context of the Bible, the fate of those who die without Christ has been ignored. We have just taken at face value the Medieval imagery of the fired of hell tormenting people eternally.
The Biblical references to Gehenna can be interpreted differently, and increasingly evangelical Bible scholars are suggesting that the traditional picture bears very little resemblance to what Jesus and Paul actually taught. They say that the “everlasting fire” does not necessarily mean that people are continually tormented by fire for ever, but rather the language is about total irreversible destruction- what John calls the “second death.”
There is no denial of judgement implied here nor of people receiving due punishment for their unrepented sin.
At the heart of the traditional view is the idea of the immortality of the soul, that is the classical Greek idea that once created humans live for ever, and not even God can kill them. Those who refuse to embrace the love of God have to be parked somewhere for eternity and pay for their ongoing rebellion against God.
Opposed to this view, the New Testament seems to teach that only God by nature is immortal and humans receive eternal life by the grace of God. Immortality is therefore conditional on God’s grace. The overwhelming imagery when talking about punishment in the New Testament is death not torment.
“Rethinking Hell” is a collection of essays by scholars of impeccable evangelical pedigree. They argue their respective points of view from the teaching of Scripture, and the totality covers the topic from every conceivable angle.
The book has prompted me to look more seriously at what the Bible( rather than tradition) teaches about the judgement of God and the end of times.