Friday, June 28, 2013

Read Along: 12—Is Hell a Divine Torture Chamber?

Today we continue with Chapter Twelve in the Read Along with Apologetics 315 project. This is a chapter-by-chapter study through the book Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. (Hear an interview about the book here.) Below you will find an audio intro for Chapter Twelve, a brief summary of the chapter, a PDF workbook with questions for the chapter, and some notable quotes. You’re also encouraged to share your comments and feedback for each chapter in the comment section below. Feel free to interact!  Index page here.

[Audio Intro] – Jonathan Morrow introduces this chapter.
[Chapter 12 Study Questions] (with kindle locations) – PDF study guide.
[Podcast Feed RSS | Podcast in iTunes] – Click to subscribe to the audio.

Summary
Chapter Twelve: Is Hell a Divine Torture Chamber?
(pages 158-171]

Chapter 12 explores the issue of hell. Jesus taught about hell more than anyone else in scripture. But is it really a literal torture chamber of some kind? The authors argue that Jesus was informing and deterring his hearers about the reality of hell, though it is not necessary a literal place of fire and darkness. Drawing from input from C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, and J.I. Packer, the authors make the case that hell is the logical outworking of man’s free will to be separated from God; a place of total separation. It is not a place of God torturing people. They also address the question of children in hell, and why God doesn’t just forgive everyone.

Apologist Frank Turek contributes and essay arguing that, although hell is unappealing, it is necessary and loving. He also gives three reasons why hell is forever. If there was no hell, there would be no reason for Christ to rescue us.

Notable quotes:

It would be tempting, then, to think that hell may not be that bad after all since actual fire isn’t there, but that would be a mistake because the reality is far worse than the symbol. (p. 162)

Since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, only before his face will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential…. To lose his presence totally, that would be hell-the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy. (Tim Keller, quoted on p. 163)

Who in their right mind would knowingly choose hell? The sobering reality is that people are asking for hell every day-though they call it distance from God. They want to be left alone and to live life on their own terms. And in this cry for autonomy, we hear the echoes of Eden reverberating all around us(p. 164)

But does God actively inflict pain on those in hell for eternity? No place in the Bible indicates that he does. In fact, the image of God as a divine torturer is utterly inconsistent with the clear teaching of Scripture. (p. 165)

Discuss

  1. What is the picture you think most people have in their minds when hell is mentioned?
  2. How would you describe the biblical teaching about hell?
  3. How do you respond to the claim that “God is torturing people forever in hell”?
Recommended Reading
Next Week: Chapter 13—Is God a Genocidal Bully?

11 Comments

  1. Fools and Rejects June 28, 2013

    We argue that Hell was the place to hold believers who died before the cross. While paradise kept those who died in faith.

    Here is a simplified breakdown.

    After the resurrection Of the Lord, all those who were held captive in paradise and who died in faith were resurrected. That was the first resurrection.

    Meanwhile, those held in hell are still kept there.

    After the cross–that is the death/payment of Jesus, everyone goes to sleep to await either the new heavens or the lake of fire.

    Notice that both Hell and death will be cast into the lake.

    Hell is not the thing to worry about now. Its the Red Hot lake of Fire that burneth with fire and brimstone — that we're worried about.

  2. Steve June 30, 2013

    << the authors make the case that hell is the logical outworking of man's free will to be separated from God >>

    What is "free will"? Why would anyone freely will to experience forever the consequences of being "separated from God" in hell?

    << although hell is unappealing, it is necessary and loving >>

    WHY is it "necessary," and HOW is it "loving" to consign someone to everlasting torment?

    << If there was no hell, there would be no reason for Christ to rescue us. >>

    Then why create something so awful that we need Christ to "rescue" us from it? Isn't this a little like saying that if we had the power to prevent people from committing rape or child molestation, we shouldn't do it because if we did, there would be "no reason" to impose sentences for rape or child molestation?

    << Who in their right mind would knowingly choose hell? The sobering reality is that people are asking for hell every day-though they call it distance from God. >>

    The operative word is "knowingly." What person in his "RIGHT mind" would "KNOWINGLY" choose a fate "far worse" than burning in fire forever and ever and ever? How can any thoughtful person deny that only someone who didn't fully know what he was doing or did fully know but was insanely and inculpably masochistic would choose such a horrendous fate?

    Christians say that apologetics is not about apologizing for Christian teachings, since there are none for which any apologies are necessary. But how can any reasonable person think that the doctrine of an everlastingly torturous hell doesn't demand unceasing apology for its pathologically gratuitous sadism?

  3. The Janitor July 2, 2013

    The doctrine of hell is one of those doctrines that Christian apologists have often tried to define in ways that seem defensible to them instead of simply letting exegesis determine the paramaters of the doctrine and then defending that. For instance, this is how Christian apologists come up with the idea that God doesn't send anybody to Hell, people send themselves there. A ridiculous slogan that has little merit and creates more confusion, leaving them open to attacks like the ones Steve raises above.

    First develop a robust Christian theology. *Then* study apologetics–ie., develop a robust defense. Saves you some trouble.

  4. Ex N1hilo July 2, 2013

    Wise words, The Janitor.

  5. Anonymous July 2, 2013

    Free will is not really very complicated is it? It's a choice you get to make. "Why would anyone freely will to experience forever the consequences of being "separated from God" in hell?" It's because they don't really think it will happen. Again, not really very difficult a concept. Why does a person rob banks when they know they can be caught and incarcerated? Why does a person do drugs or abuse alcohol, or smoke cigarettes knowing full well the consequences? We do it because we want to, and we don't really think there will be consequences for doing so. Free will. Choice. Consequences. Not a really difficult subject. "WHY is hell necessary and HOW is it loving to consign someone to everlasting torment?" First of all, see above. Free will. Choice. Consequence. Second, if you read the article above, it declines the idea of "everlasting torment" being torture, etc. It describes hell as being consequence. You don't want God in your life, you don't want to answer to Him. Fine. But He is the Creator, and He makes the rules, and He sent His only Son to die a terrible death to save you. You reject that so you can remain your own king. Consequences. You want a world in which you are free to do as you please and God just has to sit by and give you cake and cookies–because otherwise it's not nice. You can have such a world–you just have to make it. God made this one, and if you read the story of why Christ came, and what God did in that sacrificial act, it is not too great a thing to impose a consequence on rejecting it.

  6. rtdavide July 2, 2013

    Given that God is described as a consuming fire, and referencing a story such as shadrach, meshach and abednego… how much might there be to understanding the afterlife as something like this:
    God's presence is going to be there. those that are redeemed are able to stand in it because they've been purified, whereas those that have chosen to reject salvation are unable to stand it and feel the effects of God's presence as a lake of fire.
    so basically, fire, in the form of God's presence, is simply the norm and you are either redeemed and able to withstand, or you are not and therefore unable to withstand it.

    does that seem reasonable?

  7. The Janitor July 3, 2013

    rtdavide,

    I don't like the analogy. In your analogy, God's "fire" is the same towards unbeliever and believer. It's just that one can handle it and one can't. But according to Scripture, God's love is toward the believer and his wrath is toward the unbeliever. Also, unbeliever and believer are separated in Scripture. Scripture pictures hell and heaven as places, not simply relational states or comfort states. The Bible says that God is a consuming fire in a specific context. Why take it out of that context? Scripture never describes the saints as being in a fire in the afterlife.

    I don't get the point of trying to create new analogies or ways of understanding the afterlife. Especially if those analogies just add inaccuracy, the way yours seems to in the ways I mentioned. Scripture gives us enough pictures of what the afterlife is like. That's sufficient. No need to try and create our own.

  8. Steve July 4, 2013

    << Free will is not really very complicated is it? >>

    That must be why it has always been and continues to be one of the most discussed and controversial issues in all of philosophy.

    << It's because they don't really think it will happen. >>

    Why do you suppose somebody doesn't think it's going to happen to them? Could it be because they don't have GOOD REASON to think it will?

    << Free will. Choice. Consequences. Not a really difficult subject. >>

    A free ACT is doing what one wills without being prevented by external circumstances from doing it. But what is a free CHOICE or WILL?

    << "WHY is hell necessary and HOW is it loving to consign someone to everlasting torment?" First of all, see above. Free will. Choice. Consequence. >>

    So, by that reasoning, wouldn't it be not only necessary but loving to boil people to death in oil for shoplifting since they chose to shoplift after having been informed of the "consequence"?

    << if you read the article above, it declines the idea of "everlasting torment" being torture, etc. >>

    I didn't read the entire article, but the quote from it that says hell is "far worse" than its fiery "symbol" along with God having needlessly made this horror the arbitrary "consequence" of disobedience implies that He is a terrible torturer.

    << You don't want God in your life, you don't want to answer to Him. Fine. >>

    It's not that I don't "want" him. I just don't believe that He exists. Do you "want" Allah in YOUR life? If you're Christian, I assume that you don't. And it's not because you're rejecting Allah. It's that you don't believe He exists.

    << He is the Creator, and He makes the rules, and He sent His only Son to die a terrible death to save you >>

    His so-called "death" sounds like a cakewalk compared to a posthumous experience "far worse" than that of burning in fire forever and ever, don't you think? As for Him being the Creator who makes the rules, that doesn't mean that He would be right to make draconian rules or that we have reason enough to even believe that He exists in order to follow His rules.

    << You want a world in which you are free to do as you please and God just has to sit by and give you cake and cookies–because otherwise it's not nice. >>

    No, I believe that a true God of goodness would not conceal Himself so thoroughly from of us that most of the world's population doesn't even believe that He exists and yet demand that we nevertheless love and obey Him upon pain of everlasting, excruciating torment if we don't.

  9. The Janitor July 4, 2013

    Steve,

    While I am a Christian and believe in Hell and that God is just to send people to Hell, I appreciate your push-back on the free will issue. In my opinion way too many apologist rely on it as a sort of deus ex machina. It will do them good to have someone kick that crutch out from under their feet.

    While I am a Christian and believe in Hell and that God is just to send people to Hell, I appreciate your push-back on the free will issue. In my opinion way too many apologist rely on it as a sort of deus ex machina. It will do them good to have someone kick that crutch out from under their feet.

    But I thought it would be unfair of me to cheer you on (so to speak) as you take my fellow Christians to task without getting my own hands dirty here. So I've sketched out how I would respond (or start to respond) to your objections here: http://tinyurl.com/o26yahk

  10. rtdavide July 5, 2013

    Janitor,
    Valid concerns. I’m not sure my idea is correct either, I’m trying to process it as well, but let me see if I can answer some of your stated objections.

    “I don't like the analogy. In your analogy, God's "fire" is the same towards unbeliever and believer. It's just that one can handle it and one can't.”

    I wasn’t trying to use the Lord’s ‘fire’ as an analogy of his attitude towards one group or another. It seems to be the way the bible portrays something about his nature.
    Exodus 19:18 has the Lord descending on Mount Sinai in fire. Also Ex 24:17
    Exodus 33- the Lord says no one can see him and live.
    Deuteronomy 4:24 Isaiah, and Hebrews 12 call God a consuming fire
    Isaiah 33 asks who can dwell with the consuming fire? And then explains the righteous will see the beauty of the king.
    Ezekiel 1:27 describes the Father in heaven as appearing like glowing metal full of fire… with a brilliant light surrounding him.
    Daniel 7 describes a vision of heaven with a river of fire coming out from before the Lord, and his throne flaming with fire.
    Numerous passages call the Lord a refining fire- Mal. 3, Zech 13
    2 Thessalonians 1 says the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven in blazing fire
    Revelation 15:2 describes heaven with a sea of glass glowing with fire
    Revelation 15:8 describes the heavenly temple being filled with smoke from the Lord’s glory
    Revelation 1:14 and 19:12 describes the Lord’s eyes as a blazing fire
    Revelation 21 describes the new Jerusalem as not needing a sun because the Lord’s glory will provide light

    There is enough scripture to conclude that God’s presence is fire, light, and something we as mortals are unable to withstand. Given that God’s nature isn’t going to change when we get to heaven, but our bodies will, it seems a reasonable conclusion that his presence will affect believer and unbeliever in radically different ways. I really wasn’t trying to ‘create new analogies that add inaccuracy’, indeed I arrived at it by simply considering the abundant references in the scriptures and putting things together.

    “But according to Scripture, God's love is toward the believer and his wrath is toward the unbeliever.”

    No disagreement there.

    “Also, unbeliever and believer are separated in Scripture. Scripture pictures hell and heaven as places, not simply relational states or comfort states.”

    Granted as well. But my original statement didn’t require that unbelievers and believers be intermingled in the afterlife. Only that they will both experience God’s presence as it is. Given that our souls are created for eternity, and God’s presence will simply be the norm for life after death, each group will experience that differently.

    I also think this eliminates the idea that God has created some special torture chamber of fire. In this understanding, unbelievers are confronted with God’s inescapable presence in radically different way than the believer. But I do find it interesting that the believer would likewise be subjected to the same nature of God, but having been redeemed and refined, they are able to withstand his Glory. Again, granting that his wrath is on unbelievers and his love is towards believers.

    “Scripture never describes the saints as being in a fire in the afterlife.”

    That’s not entirely true: 1 Corinthians 3 says each person’s work will be tested with fire. I had typically thought of this before as my work being separated from me, it gets blasted and then I go off and lay down someplace cool. But then the actual passage says “if it is burned up, he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames”… so maybe it’s not as I had imagined, but something of the Lord’s presence refining off those impurities.

  11. Anonymous July 9, 2013

    Good comments, and good verses. Your overall interpretation seems like a reasonable one, but it would help me if you would cite some scripture to support your comment about souls being made for eternity, and not themselves being burned up as well.

    Thank you and thanks to everyone posting. Good discussion.