If one doesn’t take the first 11 chapters from the book of Genesis to be literally real he or she is entitled to have doubts about the reality of other parts of the Bible also. One doesn’t need to become Gnostic in order to explain the profound inconsistencies between the O.T. and the N.T. Looking to the O.T. as a compilation of many exaggerations does the same thing. How can one be sure that the history of the Jewish people as it is depicted by the O.T. is real if the story about the creation of the world isn’t real? No-one can gain such assurance from the Bible and particularly when he or she tries to compare the image of God in the O.T. and in the N.T.
Many problems arise from this comparison. One of them is the problem of the existence of hell. How can a generous and loving God punish anyone with eternal hell for an action which took place on Earth? Every human being on Earth leaves under specific conditions and has to fight for his or her survival, hence punishing someone for his or her innate instincts of survival out of the context of life on Earth is absurd.
Any punishment that we get on Earth has to consider the human condition and also has to have a limit taking into consideration that human beings are mortal and live under a finite perspective.
All things which are done in the finite dimension of reality have to be judged in that dimension, and bad deeds have to be punished accordingly. Punishing a human person with eternal hell for mistakes made in a finite life on Earth is preposterous.
We are not eternal beings who live eternal lives, or at least many human beings don’t believe that we are. Building any doctrine on the premise of human immortality without any proof that we are immortal and accepting as rational the condemnation of human beings to an eternal punishment for their earthly mistakes, or even more for their unbelief in God, are very dangerous principles. Even if one doesn’t believe in immortality he or she will be punished with hell if eternal life really exists. Why should one be punished for something which doesn’t exist for him or her? This doesn’t make sense. One should be punished only for his or her mistakes which are connected with tangible realities or at least with his or her faith.
People make many mistakes sometimes with good intentions and they are mostly punished for them during their life on Earth. After suffering the consequences of their wrongdoings on Earth human beings would have to pay again a very high price for them, being punished for the second time for the same deeds with eternal hell. After a life of many problems and sometimes sufferance on Earth many sinners would be deemed unworthy for heaven and doomed to hell according to the classical theistic view on Christianity. This double jeopardy is unacceptable and if God can do what He wants, being stronger than humankind, this by itself doesn’t make things right.
Even a child born in another religion than the Christian one, or in an atheist family and who died before attaining full discernment and maturity of thinking, would be punished for eternity and that for only 14 or 15 years lived on Earth. In the narratives of the O.T. many innocent children have died following divine actions. If all stories from the O.T. are as accurate as the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, it wasn’t God killing those children but human imagination.
In any case, children from another religion than the Christian one or born into an atheist family would be considered by many Christian followers to be doomed to hell anyway if those children didn’t become adult Christians. It would be the fault of their parents for keeping them far from Christian baptism.
Only Jesus is considered to be the Way toward salvation and there isn’t another way for eternity. It isn’t only about the name Jesus but more importantly is about the content of His teachings. Jesus taught humankind a set of principles which must be practiced, not only professed theoretically.
What would be better for salvation, to be a Christian only by the name or to practice Jesus’ teachings without the name Christian attached to the person? Jesus’s teachings are universal and they become effective when someone becomes a loving and spiritual person with or without allegiance to a certain religious institution, religious doctrine, or dogma. This universality of Jesus’ teachings makes them valid for anyone who practices them.
There are many texts in the Bible which can bring us to the conclusion that hell isn’t a real place in which the sinners would spend their eternity. God said that He had set in front of the Jewish people the life and the death, and He advised them to choose life:
“19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30; 19-20 NRSV)
The text doesn’t contain the principles of eternal life or eternal death. In the N.T. a new alternative appears and that is eternal life in heaven and eternity lived in hell. In order for anyone to suffer eternally in hell he or she must receive an indestructible body after the resurrection able to suffer these torments. What kind of body would be one which is capable of suffering infinite torments without being destroyed? The sufferings in a body are signs that a certain body goes toward destruction and finally death. Suffering in an indestructible body which never will die is an absurdity because suffering wouldn’t be necessary any more for that body to announce its malfunction and the closeness of its destruction. Immortality of a body and suffering of the same body are two incompatible principles.
Because the Bible speaks about a bodily resurrection and not only a spiritual one, allegedly in hell there will be bodies and not only spirits.
Notwithstanding, there are confused ideas in the N.T. regarding the existence of hell. The mixture of principles is given also by a text from the book of Revelation:
“7 When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. 9 They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven* and consumed them. 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20; 7-10 NRSV)
The idea is that the devil is only culpable for the bad moral state of humankind and not human nature. This is a contradiction with many biblical texts in which human nature is the main thing responsible for the moral decay and the devil is only a tempter. In other words, if the devil was imprisoned for one thousand years and during this period of time there will be peace on Earth, the devil and not human nature is guilty for all the conflicts on the earth.
This is a striking contradiction with the opinion that after Adam and Eve’s Fall human nature suffered a grave loss of value from a moral point of view. If human nature had decayed after the Fall the absence of the devil for one thousand years wouldn’t ensure peace in the world.
According to the same text from the book of Revelation the soldiers will be destroyed by the fire coming down from heaven; they will not be tormented for ever and ever. The leaders, the devil, the beast and the false prophet will be nevertheless tormented day and night. At the same time, the lack of fire is considered to be the second death but in order to be tormented one must be alive.
“14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20; 14-15 NRSV)
Who then will be tormented forever in the lake of fire, the devil, the beast and the false prophet, or all human beings who are not written in the book of life? The lake of fire cannot be a place of torment if it is the place for the second death. Death and torment don’t go together.
“This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Is the lake of fire the second death or not and will people who aren’t in the book of life be tormented there forever? The Bible generates confusion over this point, as it does in other aspects. Adding to that, Apostle Paul said that:
“23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6; 23 NRSV)
This proposition is in accordance with the book of Genesis because Adam and Eve would have been punished with death following their Fall. Adam and Eve haven’t been threatened to be tormented forever for their disobedience but only with death, so the principle of eternal hell is in contradiction with God’s warning of the first human beings from the book of Genesis. Death and eternal hell are incongruent with one other and this fundamental inconsistency of the Bible has created many problems during the history of Christianity. The announcement of the eternal hell became a way of encouraging people to believe in religions not based on their free consciousness but under the threat of the eternal fire.
The existence of an eternal hell where the people will be tormented forever raises many moral questions. How can anyone be happy in heaven if at the same time he or she knows that some or all of her loved ones are burning in hell and are suffering forever? Can a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, or only a good friend be happy in heaven while his or her relative or friend is tormented in hell? All these people while living on Earth could have been convinced that humankind comes through evolution from other biological beings and Adam and Eve are only mythological personages. By rejecting the reality of the stories of creation from the book of Genesis many people can become atheists if they don’t have a personal experience with God. That can be a certificate for hell, if hell is real, because unbelief is considered to be a sin.
This kind of religion doesn’t respond to fundamental human concerns and it is in a way cynical because it presupposes a high level of indifference and egotism from the part of some people who would be happy in heaven whilst their relatives suffer torments in hell.
The persistence with which the religious institutions insist on the facticity of the stories of creation from the book of Genesis could have shaken the entire foundation of religious beliefs of some people. Those stories are contradictory and absurd.
The joy of the elect will be darkened forever by the torment in hell of their relatives and friends. Only the most egotistic people can be happy while other people suffer. The Christian values are profoundly inconsistent if happiness in heaven and sufferings in hell are seen to be coexistent.
The existence of an eternal hell will perpetuate the evil in the universe and it will influence negatively all living creatures. Hell would be the place for evil and evil would be eternal. Perpetuating evil forever means that God didn’t win the battle against it, and that will shadow His character eternally. An alleged unending revenge of God against the evildoers will extend the suffering in all existence forever and will generate exactly the opposite of what He wanted. Instead of an all-comprising world of generosity and peace the cosmos will be stained by a realm of suffering and evil.
Hell and paradise are the two sides of the same coin in the view of classical theism and the presumption is that a human being on Earth can truly realise the difference between them. The difference is very difficult to be learned because we don’t find it in our nature. Not too many things can be said about paradise and it cannot be equated with the Garden of Eden because there, humankind wouldn’t have been happy in lack of the knowledge of good and evil. In my opinion Jesus didn’t teach us that there is an eternal hell in the literal sense of the word and He understood by hell, the second death or the lake of fire in which the unbelievers will die definitively after the resurrection and judgement.
What kind of sin in this world can justify an eternal torment and most importantly the loss of hope? For a mortal, who did an evil deed there is a punishment and the hope of a new beginning if he or she wants to change her ways. In case of a condemnation to eternal hell understood as eternal torment it wouldn’t be the hope that after a while the punishment will end. This kind of lack of hope shadows the value of Christian religion or of other religions which profess eternal hell. Love and hell are two contradictory concepts which annihilate each other and the sum of them is zero. No human error made in this complicated life on Earth should attract such punishment.
Another problem comes from the opinion of many people who consider that Satan will torment the sinners in hell. Why would Satan do that? Why would he torment his “followers” in hell? It is nonsensical to think that Satan will torment his friends in hell only to fulfil God’s wish and to obey His commands because Satan is His enemy and doesn’t obey His commands. Probably God will not have any authority over the hell in the future if it is real, because if He had such authority He would be responsible for every evil which happens in that place. If God is considered by the classical theists as not being responsible for evil, why would He behave in a way to make Himself responsible for the sufferings of billions of human beings in the future? The classical theistic view on Christianity is profoundly incongruent at this chapter also.
On one side God is seen as not being responsible for the evil in the world but on the other side He is presented as the Person who created hell as a mechanism which will produce suffering for billions of human beings. All efforts through which the classical theist commentators try to exonerate God of any guilt for the evil in the world are erased by the theory of the eternal hell.
The question of the evil has at least two branches, one being the cause of the evil happening in the world and another one being the evil which allegedly will happen to many in the eternal hell. Suffering for eternity will overpass any possible sufferings which can happen on Earth and for the existence of the eternal hell, none other than God would be responsible.
If God doesn’t suffer to see evil because His eyes are very pure, how could He oversee what Satan will do in hell? If God cannot see evil He will not verify what Satan will do in hell.
“13 Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” (Habakkuk 1; 13 NRSV)
If God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil why did He send Saul to depopulate a territory and to kill even the animals?
This is a strange situation but also a contradiction of the Bible. Can genocide be justified when done for higher religious purposes? Is genocide always evil or can it sometimes be good if it is committed in God’s service? After all, in the O.T. there are many examples when God would have committed genocide in the name of higher principles. In my view genocide can never be used for religious purposes and is always evil. Regardless of which would be the moral ideals to attain, someone who uses genocide cannot be right. We have to choose between a just and generous God and a divinity that uses genocide to attain His purposes because they both are comprised by the pages of the same Bible.
Was there any justification for Stalin to use genocide? He allegedly followed high social ideals but the result was a disaster. The image of God from the O.T. is either false and was generated by the authors of the biblical texts for social and political reasons, or He in the O.T. wasn’t the same as the Father presented by Jesus. Such a God who committed genocide in the O.T. wouldn’t have any moral legitimacy to condemn a human being to eternal torment in hell for any kind of sin. If He did it in virtue of His power what is the basis to consider Him just? An All-powerful God has the means to attain His goals without committing genocide and this is the measure of His power.
God’s sovereignty comes from the situation in which He would have created humankind. If the stories of creation are mythology and not facts, God didn’t create humankind but it originated in the evolution of nature. If this is true and I think it is, God’s authority to destroy humankind through genocide, for example in case of the alleged Flood, can be questioned. Even if God had a contribution to the emergence of humankind on Earth He wasn’t disobeyed by Adam and Eve and therefore He doesn’t have any legitimacy to judge human nature. Human beings have a nature which is generated by the evolution of the natural world and it couldn’t have been otherwise. God can love human beings and try to improve their status but He doesn’t have any right to judge and condemn human nature and to destine people for hell, because He didn’t create Adam and Eve. If the stories of creation from the Bible are legends, God’s condemnation of human nature is illegitimate and so is the end of the world and the eternal hell.
The Bible is telling us that there will be an end of the world because many human beings are sinners. In their nature people cannot be other than sinners and saints are very rare.
Even the saints are sinners in their nature. Only people who are born again from God, small elite as Jesus said, can become saints, but this isn’t natural, it is supernatural. Their choice to live eternally cannot attract the end of the world. Faith is a supernatural gift therefore none can be blamed that he or she, being in his or her human nature, doesn’t have faith in God. Lack of faith is something natural and none can be condemned to hell for the way in which his or her nature determines his or her beliefs.
The end of the earth in the biblical view means the end of the entire cosmos. The Bible says it clearly that the heavens, meaning also the sky and the celestial bodies, would disappear together with our earth and that would be the ending point of our cosmos.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21; 1-2 NRSV)
According to the book of Revelation chapter 21, verse 1, on the new Earth will be no sea, meaning no planetary oceans. This is particularly strange if one considers an environment suitable for the human beings. The disappearance of the sea has a theological reason, meaning that God will win against His old enemy which in the book of Genesis is the chaos represented by the primeval sea.
“10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.* 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening* the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (2 Peter 3; 10-13 NRSV)
To bring the end of the world because human beings are what they naturally need to be is a very incongruent doctrine. If humankind is able to avoid an end of the world by generating an era of peace, why would God be unhappy with that and why would He destroy the earth? There isn’t any rational meaning in that.
On the other side, Satan will not feel obliged to follow God’s orders after His judgement and after His sentence to eternal hell, given to billions of human beings. There is nothing worse than hell which could happen to Satan if he disobeys God once more. The devil and not God will be the master of hell and he wouldn’t be interested to apply any sentence given by God. The devil will not have any desire to torment his followers, only to obey to God. How will God impose anything on Satan in hell, the devil’s territory, if He couldn’t dominate the devil on Earth? Satan will not have the interest to submit to God’s will and to torment billions of people in hell.
Jesus said that the elect will be in small number in heaven and consequently many will be destined to hell:
“11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14 For many are called, but few are chosen’.” (Mathew 22; 11-14 NRSV)
In a multitude of many billions of human beings what does it mean that many are called and few are chosen? How many are called and how few are chosen? We don’t know the number but few in relation with many are a minority. If many will be thrown into hell Satan will be the master of an enormous population and his interest would not be to torment that population in order to be in accord with God’s will, but to exploit that population in his interest. How big a place has hell to be in order to host billions of people and to ensure all necessary conditions for their torment? Probably, the size of planet Earth will be needed but our planet will be destroyed.
Another planet will be needed only for hell but according to 2 Peter 3, verses 10-13, a “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” will exist. The existence of hell in that new environment will prevent righteousness from being at home on the same new Earth. The City of God will be tiny in comparison with hell but it will need to occupy a planet alone if righteousness is to be there at home.
How about the hell? Where will it be placed? In order for the human beings to survive and to be eternally tormented they will need an atmosphere and suitable conditions for their existence. Will they not be suffocated by so much smoke or other noxious gases in hell? How much suffering can a human body endure? In order to be able to suffer eternally a human body must be first changed into an indestructible body. That means that God would have firstly to make all humankind immortal and only after that He will divide the human beings into two destinations for heaven and hell.
This hypothesis looks ridiculous. Why would God make all people immortal if some of them will already be dead and death is the price of sin? This is an absurd proposition and is found in the Bible. If the eternal hell is real God has taken the risk of transforming the dust of the earth into a source of eternal distress, and that cannot mean love by any standard. Many would say that God’s standards are different than humankind’s views about love but if there is a relationship based on love between He and human beings this love must be of such a kind that it could be understood by both parties. The existence of an eternal hell will annihilate any pretension that God is a loving Person and this will change completely the sense of Jesus’s teachings about God.
Only Satan can create a hell for humankind but not the loving God. In order to do that Satan has to be more than a fallen angel; he has to be a fallen god with huge creative powers if we take the classical theism view seriously. Satan would have the power to change the mortal human bodies into immortal bodies and to take with him into his kingdom billions of people. Satan’s kingdom would be a kingdom of darkness and not of light. Nevertheless, in the O.T. people were punished on Earth for their disobedience to God and they were also rewarded on Earth for their good behaviour with a long and prosperous life. The blessings of God weren’t linked to the heavens but to Earth:
“If you will only obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2 all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the LORD your God:” (Deuteronomy 28; 1-2 NRSV)
There is nothing in these verses about the eternal life in heaven or about the punishment with eternal hell. The main promise for the human beings who were obedient to God was a good life on Earth and for the Jewish nation to be “high above all the nations of the earth”. Domination of the entire world is something other than eternal salvation of the believer, and none should be surprised that the Jewish representatives who have known the Scriptures rejected Jesus’ interpretation of the old texts.
On the basis of the quoted text the Jewish people would have waited for a Saviour who could place their nation “high above all the nations of the earth”. Many Jews have expected that their Saviour would have liberated them from Romans and place them above all nations.
The point is that the doctrine of the eternal hell is based on a misinterpretation of some of the Jesus’s parabolic teachings. The eternal hell is very much cherished by the apologists of a literal interpretation of the Bible and the idea is that if Christians are not attracted by heaven at least they should be scared by hell.
The Torah focuses on how one should live his or her life rather than on getting a reward or being punished in the other world for the way that he or she lived on Earth:
“Although Judaism believes in heaven, the Torah speaks very little about it. The Torah focuses less on how we get to heaven and considerably more on how to live our lives. We perform the mitzvot because it is our privilege and our sacred obligation to do so. We perform them out of a sense of love and duty, not out of a desire to get something in return.”
If the Jewish people didn’t expect a reward in heaven they also didn’t have any motives to wait to be chastised in hell for their wrongdoings. Eternal hell is either a hidden doctrine in the O.T. or it isn’t a doctrine at all. If it is hidden that means that for some reason God didn’t want to present Himself as the Judge who sends people to eternal torment. This is a fundamental contradiction between the O.T. and the N.T. Is it not the same God? The Judeo-Christian tradition assumes that the O.T. and the N.T. speak about the same God. In the Jewish tradition besides the cleansing of sins in this life it was possible to be cleansed in the Sheol also, which was a temporary, not an eternal, place where the dead would have resided:
“Sins that were not cleansed prior to death are removed by a process described as Sheol or Gehinom. Contrary to the Greek and Christian view of eternal damnation in Hades or Hell, the “punishment” of Sheol, as described in the Jewish Scriptures, is temporary.”
Is the eternal hell tradition in Christianity a heritage from the Greeks rather than from the Jewish people? Probably it is. If we want to take seriously the principle of punishment in an eternal hell of billions of people, as opposed to the salvation of few in heaven, we should admit that such an idea has nothing to do with the incommensurable love of God. What danger could so many people represent for God after their death in order to be condemned by Him eternally? Such people will not “fight” with the All-powerful God anymore because they will be dead and they will remain dead if they are not resurrected by Him. On the basis of their free will they have chosen not to follow God’s principles. There isn’t any free will where someone is punished for his or her choice.
How could the existence of hell, an eternal place for torment, compensate the need for God’s justice? It is supposed that God will lead the redeemed in paradise through love and not through fear. The only justification for the existence of an eternal hell in the future world would be the need for fear instilled in the hearts of the only living beings that could still disobey God, meaning those living in Paradise. What other reason could be valid?
How could justice be served if a person of a religion other than Christian would be condemned to eternal hell only because he or she didn’t practice the Christian tradition? It is very possible that such a person has been an honest and charitable man or woman when living on Earth but he or she has observed other religious rituals than the Christian ones according to his or her upbringing.
There would be no justice in the punishment in hell but only a permanent deterrent for the saved in order to discourage them from rebelling once more against God. At the same time, such a God cannot be the All-mighty divinity who loves humankind unconditionally but only a divinity interested primarily in exerting His power. If God would have such a limited character we should know that, and the religious factors should preach it. In my opinion classical theistic interpretations of God’s existence and character are in many cases deeply flawed and an example is the doctrine of the eternal hell. In reality, I am convinced that God is generous and He isn’t a tormentor.
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