Ur Video: Erwin McManus on Hell
Why would a loving God create hell?

We've heard from N.T. Wright, John Piper, and Tim Keller about the doctrine of hell. What do you make of McManus' understanding of hell and God's character? He seems to echo the perspective of C.S. Lewis who wrote that "The doors of hell are locked from the inside." That's certainly more palatable in our anti-damnation culture, but do you think it's right?

Displaying 1–10 of 32 comments

Sara

February 26, 2010  1:31pm

The xtian hokey-pokey is about more than just believing in some narcissistic, masochistic sky god who gets his giggles off torturing eternal nobodies who go around living "bad" lives according to those who deem them to be so (after all, don't we like to make up the rules?) and decide to condemn themselves to this place of fire and brimstone. Pardon my sarcasm, but this is what I get everytime I hear this message. "G-d loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life... unless you decide to exercise free will, which he gave you, and mess it up by doing your own thing. Then he'll throw a fit and toss you into the lake of fire which he made for bad angels. But he doesn't want to, so choose him and live like he wants you to live because he has a fragile ego." Sounds like something some human concocted after The Church was dissolved long about the third century. Sheol was talked about in the Old Testament. Paradise wasn't even mentioned until the New Testament, along with a separation between Sheol and Abram's Bosom. The whole definition of the afterlife evolved between the times of David and Jesus, up until now. Jesus didn't find it necessary to talk about what it was like after he was resurrected. He talked more about what to do while we were here than how to get that card punched to get into heaven. I'm content to let G-d be G-d and decide who gets in. He's the ultimate judge of my faith and others'.

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Daffy Duck

February 25, 2010  10:14pm

Thirty something evangelical Christian with large struggles with hell, here. I can't wade into the conversation because I'm just starting to really study it myself. Looking forward to checking out the podcasts. But here's the thing. It is very, very difficult for me to reconcile the idea that spending 70+ years (if your fortunate) on this earth not following God equals and ETERNITY of unspeakable torment with justice. You can say humanity chooses that by not choosing God and that God is holy and so that's just the way it has to be. But answer me this, who came up with the system in the first place? If God's hands are tied by this, then what's the point?

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Karen

February 25, 2010  12:03pm

Thank you, Matt. Well said. Rueben, like you I don't believe God is trying to hide the way of salvation from people–quite the reverse. He is not being sneaky, but we are warned throughout the Scriptures (and by the Holy Spirit speaking to our conscience) about the wiles and tremendous malice of the evil one and of the folly of our prideful inclination to depend on our own limited perceptions and abilities, through which we enter "hell" even in this life. Orthodox teaching on this issue sees this life as interpenetrated by both heaven (eternal life) and hell (death). In its teaching about hell, it is most concerned with providing us with discernment about the *present dynamic* at work within our own spiritual lives and the struggle of working out our present salvation by continually seeking to lay hold of God's grace in Christ and, with His help, resisting evil. Satan masquerades as an angel of light. If we cooperate with evil by our own pride and love of comfort and pleasure over goodness and truth, we will bear rotten fruit and if we persist on this path it will eventually bring forth death in our lives. This, too, is the mercy of God. We ought to approach the fact that God has given us true freedom of the will in light of the existence of evil with all that implies with great fear and trembling and humility. If we do, no matter how many times we stumble and need God's help to rise, God will not let us down. For those trapped in total ignorance of Christ and the Scriptures through no fault of their own, oppressed and blinded by satan, if there is even the tiniest inclination toward Him, I fully trust God will still be merciful and abundantly able to save. I, too, cannot fathom how someone could willingly cooperate with evil and continue to resist receiving God's mercy in full light of its reality, but Scripture clearly teaches that because of man's creation in God's image with the freedom of will and moral responsibility this implies, this is a true possibility and God will not force Himself on anyone. God is more than able to cause us to triumph over satan's deceptions and traps in our life, but if we are determined to keep resisting what light we have been given and taking his evil bait, what more can a loving God do than He has already done? Whether one thinks of final judgment for the one who has rejected God's grace (whether explicitly or implicitly by their life choices and persistent inclinations) as a moment of terrible regret and revelation followed by extinction or just the reality of an immortal soul entering the Presence of God without having properly prepared for that and being tormented by all they have done and become in the now clear light of the awesome purity of God's mercy and what could have been, in either case this is truly awful to contemplate! Eastern Orthodoxy teaches the latter of these two scenarios, but doesn't view the origin of the torment as God's anger and rejection (as many Western theologies suppose), but rather, ironically, the very reality of His continuing to love and extend His offer of life and mercy to the ones who have come to the place where they loathe themselves so much they cannot bring themselves to embrace it. Our social workers, courts, law enforcement workers, and medical professionals sadly encounter this self-destructive dynamic at work in people all the time! Either way, Scripture says that it is the fear of *death* (not of judgment) that produces sin in people's lives. If we believe Christ's words, we need to make every effort to lay hold of the grace of God in such a way that our lives and experience reflect the reality of His victory over sin and death. Most people don't need to be persuaded that there is a hell–though they may not call it by that name, they already live in it (though not in its fullness). Rather, they need to see evidence that God is good, that His mercy endures forever and that His offer of life, salvation and forgiveness in Christ, like all His gift

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Matt

February 25, 2010  8:54am

In response to those who are asking for more scripture - It's not because we don't know it or haven't read it, but because this isn't a forum for writing biblical commentaries and we aren't interested in prooftexting. resources on scripture: http://www.heraldmag.org/literature/doc_16.htm http://www.harvestherald.com/pdf/eternal_torment_not_scriptural.pdf I also recommend George Hunsiner's essay "Hellfire and Damnation" from his book "Diruptive Grace"

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Prospector

February 24, 2010  11:49pm

Some much talk and so little Scripture...

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Reuben

February 24, 2010  8:38pm

Interesting. To suggest that anyone willingly chooses to go to hell is insulting, not to mention incorrect. If one doesn't realize they are making this choice, then it is not a choice, is it? So hell is like a trap. You don't realize you're choosing to go there until it's too late. And at that point, an all-powerful all-loving God is powerless to save you, because the doors are locked from the inside. Easy for you to say if you're not going there, don't you think? Look around, people. Hell is already here right now. Let`s focus on what we can do about that and leave this pointless doctrine of eternal hell behind. Unless of course you think God intended to use it as a scare tactic or a sneaky trap.

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Karen

February 24, 2010  2:01pm

Matt, thanks so much for your thoughtful reflection. Very relevant. I became Orthodox largely because of the erroneous understanding of God's "justice" and of the origin and nature of the torment and remorse of the unjust that is experienced at the Last Judgment which results from the Reformers' doctrine of Penal Substitution and understanding of hell. The deeper I reflected on the nature of the grace and love of God expressed in Christ, the less I found this interpretation of the nature of God and of the Atonement satisfying–in fact, I finally woke up and realized that if indeed this is what "God" is like (needing to punish an innocent victim to demonstrate His righteous wrath and uphold His own "honor"), I would never be able to trust or love Him. In other words, I found I was caught in a pretty ferocious "double bind" if I wanted to be saved to be like Christ. From an Orthodox perspective in some important respects the Reformers and Radical Reformers did not succeed in correcting many underlying philosophical assumptions and interpretations of Scripture from Roman Catholic error. The understanding within Orthodoxy is radically different, and though it bears a surface resemblance to some aspects of Roman Catholicism, in reality there is greater underlying philosophical agreement between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism than there is between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Here I can't emphasize enough that when it comes to proper interpretation of either Scripture or of a particular Christian group's teachings/practices, CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING! Sheerahkhan, sorry for inadvertently lumping you in a category of Christendom you don't claim for yourself. Your comments about God's holiness nonetheless seem to show a similar influence and origin to views espoused by most modern evangelicals. Paul C., if I have given the impression that Orthodox teaching regarding the nature of Hades and Gehenna is in any way the same as that of Medieval Roman Catholicism, I have done a huge disservice to my own faith! To correct that impression, I beg you to go to the podcasts on this issue (the first in a series of four is linked above in one of my earlier comments) by Dr. Clark Carlton to get a clearer view of what the Orthodox understanding of hell is, and is not! It will only take about 40 minutes of your time if you listen to all four. I think you will find it validates much of what you have concluded from your study of Scripture on this issue far more than it challenges it. The Fathers of the Church taught that fear of hell/death (as ultimate destiny) could in no way save someone. Rather we know from Scripture that the origin of sin's power in the human heart is the fear of death (and in the immediate context and also in light of the practical reality of human experience as well as Scripture's overall teaching about the nature of sin and death, it is difficult to distinguish or separate the ideas of death as punishment and death as extinction). Also, I think of 1 John 4 where the Apostle talks about the inverse relationship of fear of punishment to perfection in love (perfection in love, being the consummation of the Christian's working out in their own personal life through faith the salvation wrought for all humankind in Christ). I think it would be faithful to patristic thought to say that fear of hell (as eternal destiny, regardless if this means extinction or ongoing spiritual regret and torment following final judgment), in the proportion that this serves as motivation for one's religious behavior, is rather proof that one has not yet begun to actually work out their salvation in Christ! They saw that for some kinds of people, fear of hell could serve in a limited way to get them into the Church and within hearing of the gospel where over time grace might then begin to have its work in them, but it is only faith in the gospel–in the full revelation of God's love in Christ and of His triumph over sin and death–that has the power

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still

February 24, 2010  12:00pm

"The deeper question is, why does it matter?" - Elizabeth It was a typical bittersweet reunion of best of friends after many years of not hearing from each other. Bitter because hers was a marriage-on-the-rocks. Sweet because I felt I was a god-sent-white-knight-in-a-shining-armor-with-a-mission to save her. I did my part the best I could in "shepherding" her - from God-loves-you lights to why-man-suffer heavies. God is good. Her marriage was saved. Her family remained intact. Her career prospered. And her future looked bright. Until...one day, I was caught napping when she asked me this startling question: "Does hell exist?" After a couple of years of shepherding her, for the first time, I was frightened out of my wits. I didn't know why. But, all at once, I had qualms; the question hounded me to feel I would lose her. If she was harboring suspicions about the existence of hell, I mulled over with fear and trembling, then, her raising a doubt about the existence of God would not be far behind. Again, I did my part the best I could in bringing her to light with passages in the Bible to hold at bay "the enemy the devil who prowled around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." To the bitter end, I toiled in vain. She had an affair; followed later by a divorce.

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Matt

February 24, 2010  10:13am

Scripture, Tradition, God & Hell. Let me first say that I'm basically with Paul C and Phil here. I've definitely lost track of the thread. I want to add some comments that I did not read above... I think my last point might be my best. Jesus teaches much like a Hebrew prophet. The prophets frequently make statements about God's judgement of his people that speak of their complete and final annihiliation, but chapters later we read about their coming redemption, which shows the previous prophecies to be hyperbolic. Canonically, is it possible that Paul's references to the reconciliation of "all things" in Christ are the true and final words of redemption that show previous revelation to have been true, but also hyperbolic and not final? I'm going to stop short of writing a commentary on Revelation here. Jesus predicts that those who don't follow him (or, his teaching) will meet Gehenna (the stank, burning, unclean refuse heap outside Jerusalem). In 70 A.D. one might say that Jerusalem and Gehenna become indistinquishable. Is this the fulfillment of Jesus' warnings about Gehenna? Tradition: Interesting that the Apostles and Nicene Creeds talk about judgement rather than hell, but we tend to equate judgement with condemnation and condemnation with hell and hell is... I guess that depends. The traditionalist position formulated by Augustine on hell was "eternal conscious torment" The observation of this state of being would add to the joys of heaven for the redeemed, serving as an eternal reminder of what they had been saved from. Of course, Augustine consigned unbaptized infants and "Christians" who had not completed the 5th century membership process to hell too. In terms of tradition then, such innovations as an "age of accountability" and the possible optionality (word?) of baptism would be perceived by Augustine as "liberal" erosions of the holy God's consistent plan of salvation. Slippery slope? We have to recognize that Augustine's position, Lewis' position and our own positions contain much selectivity regarding scripture and the "reason" of our own social and historical contexts. Trying to consider and honor all the relevant scriptures and relevant principles of interpretation is mind-boggling and we generally end up allowing the scriptures that favor our view to be the lenses for interpreting the others. As a general idea, this is fine, but in practice it may reveal as much personal or communal self-interest as it does God's truth. For instance: Phil. 2 - "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" So then God says, "Thanks for those kind words, now most of you are off to hell for eternity. Ta ta!" ? OR, does Romans 10 stand in perpetuity? Romans 10:9 - "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." On the character of God. 1. We like to say that God's holiness demands justice and that God's justice requires him to punish evil. In this schema, salvation through Jesus' death and resurrection is God's sneaky way of not having to do what his holiness requires him to do. Let's admit it, salvation is not REALLY justice, the way any of us conceive of justice! Is it a trick? Is it love>mercy>salvation TRIUMPHING (word?) over holiness>justice>hell? Yeah, I have some problems with penal substitution. I also favor N.T. Wright's conception of God's justice, which can stand more firmly with God's mercy and grace. 2. The HOLINESS>justice>eternal punishment conception of God seems to pit God (the Father) against us, while Jesus is for us. This places a major rift in the Trinity. I tend to think God is FOR US in his Triune fullness, including his holiness. 3. Is it really "just" for God to torture any human for eternity? We like to think of God as a loving father. Would any of us call a father "loving" who would torture a child for even one hour UNLESS that "torture"

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Elizabeth

February 23, 2010  3:29pm

I have a strong feeling that the majority of "our people" in our churches do not believe in the traditional hell. The deeper question is, why does it matter?

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