Many Christians believe God will punish those who don’t measure up, and their punishment will be torment in a burning hell–forever. I strongly disagree; the Bible doesn’t teach such a thing and it is contrary to the character of the Father that Jesus describes.
Then What is Hell For?
If the Father does not punish us, then what is hell all about? The short answer is simple–there is no hell. If we imagine hell as a place where God sends those who don’t measure up and tortures them for eternity with fire, brimstone, and darkness, such a place does not exist.
Why would a loving Father do that? Some have a ready response to my question:
God takes ‘sin’ seriously and, because God’s righteousness is perfect, he must punish ‘sin’.
Since God’s righteousness is infinite, the punishment for sinning against God must also be infinite.
This is not so. In fact, the concept of hell is perhaps the most distorted and damaging superstition associated with Christian belief. It creates fear, confusion, and an alienating view of the Father.
When believers lose faith in God, one of the reasons most often mentioned is that they cannot imagine a god who would send people to eternal hell—and they are correct! When atheists, agnostics, and others reject ‘Christianity’, the concept of hell is among the most significant factors.
Why Should We Be Good if not to Avoid Hell?
Some Christians protest that without the threat of hell there is no incentive to behave well. But as we discussed before, when we begin to realize that the Father loves us, and understand the principle of loving ourselves, then we can properly love others as we love ourselves.
This provides all the motivation we need for good behavior. When a person tries to be good only to avoid hell, they usually begin observing some list of specific legalistic rules. This is a very poor way to follow Jesus.
Principles of love, not rules, guide our behavior, and the Father does not punish us when we fail to measure up. This is true even if we fail miserably in our behavior. Any ‘punishment’ we receive is simply the natural consequence of our behavior.
Why Do So Many People Believe in Hell?
This idea of hell is so terrible that surely no one would just make it up. And if they did, surely millions of people could not believe it so easily as they do. Even most of those who believe in hell are not happy about it.
So where does the idea of hell come from? The Bible is a major source. There are passages that, taken together, suggest to some an eternal burning place of punishment, but even those who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God need not subscribe to this concept of hell because the idea comes from a variety of unrelated biblical references that do not teach such a thing.
Passages from the Old Testament contain the word Sheol, which is simply a word for death or the grave. The New Testament uses the word Hades, which means the same thing. The King James Version translates these words as hell. Jesus uses imagery from Gehenna, which is also translated as hell in the King James Version of the Bible. And, of course, there is the lake of fire from the book of Revelation.
By placing these unrelated passages together, some find a picture of eternal punishment that is supported neither individually nor collectively by the passages themselves.
In the next several posts, we will look at these passages more completely and also discover what Jesus says about hell.