In my last post, I discussed the idea that Hell is not the fiery torment that traditional Christianity has taught. So what exactly is Hell? I propose in short, that Hell is the removal from existence by fire. It is extinction. It is the permenant ending of life. But does the Bible support this? I believe it does.
Lets go back to Genesis and the Garden. Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit. God has pronounced his judgment. He then banishes Adam and Eve, saying,
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24
Why was God worried about them having access to the tree of life? The answer is simple. God did not want them living in their sins for all eternity. Man was created with capacity to receive eternal life. He was intended to share this life in communion with the triune God. However when sin entered, God did not want to see his creation living for eternity in the misery and wreckage that sin causes. He already sees that with Satan and his Angels, he did not will that for man, his cherished creation.
I realize that the argument will be made against what I have suggested based on statements that Jesus made. In all fairness we must look at these scriptures.
The first being the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man found in Luke 16: 19-31:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30“ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
The question here is whether this can be taken literally or whether it is a story to emphasize a certain truth. I believe in letting the Bible interept the Bible. So here are several points that demonstrate this is a story rather than a literal depiction.
- People are in graves – John 5:28-29; Job 17:13
- Rewards are given at Christ’s second coming not immediately at death – Revelation 22:11-12
- Wicked things are not thrown into Hell until the end of the world – Matthew 13: 40-42
- Jesus gives the point of the story at the end – Luke 16:31
It is clear that this was a parable. A story meant to emphasize the fact that it doesn’t matter what a human is told without God’s intervention they won’t believe.
There is one more scripture that needs to be discussed:
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:12
Unquenchable fire does not mean eternal fire; rather that water cannot put it out. Jeremiah 17:27 says that Jerusalem would be destroyed by unquenchable fire. All that is refering to is a fire so hot that the only way it will cease is when there is nothing left to burn. Napalm used by the military during Vietnam war is like that. It does not refer to an eternal fire.
Everything in scripture seems to indicate that Hell is eternal removal from existence; not eternal torment.