Understanding the truth of the hellfire teaching is difficult. On one hand, we have powerful Christian tradition that has for over 1500 years emphatically taught that all who do not come to Jesus will suffer eternal torment and torture for their sins. Hard teaching - strong stand. On the other hand, we have those (including ourselves) who stand against this tradition with all of the force we can muster. We don’t challenge it because it is not convenient. We don’t refute it because we can’t emotionally accept it. We speak out because we believe that it has no legitimate place within Christian teachings. We believe it to be wholly false. Today’s part 3 of this series will feature our hopefully clear responses to those who uphold the Hellfire doctrine and have presented their scriptural challenges to our view.
"The end result of God’s judgment upon those who do not accept Jesus is eternal fire and torment." Such is the serious warning of many Christians of many centuries before us and of our day as well. Their studied claim is that Jesus was specific,and his words are the words of the Gospel and are therefore not subject to question. While we agree with the unquestionable nature of the words of Jesus, we DO question our Christian friend’s interpretation on this very serious matter. Our questions that we respectfully place are these: What if Jesus’ teachings about God’s judgment did NOT point to a burning hell at all? What if that doctrine was borrowed from ancient heathen teaching (as we discussed in Part 1 of this series) and illegitimately planted into what became known as the Gospel – centuries AFTER Jesus spoke? What if careful scriptural reasoning coupled with post New Testament history could PROVE this?
The image of "hellfire" has stirred dark imaginations and scared people for centuries. What if it could be proven that what many churches have taught for centuries is one of the greatest misrepresentations of God that the world has ever seen?
Mercy or justice? We want people we think are "bad" to be punished and people we think are "good" to receive mercy (and normally that includes ourselves!). Too often our judgments are based on emotions. Is God both merciful and just, even though everyone around us suffers and dies?
For most of us it’s simple. God is good, Satan is evil. They fight and God wins. God destroys Satan and all evil with him. It is simple and reassuring until we think a little more deeply about it. Where did evil actually come from? If God created all things then He must have created evil – why would he do that? If God wins the battle between good and evil and then destroys evil, would He be destroying one of His creations? If God truly is stronger than evil then we need to ask if God is even paying attention because one look around our world and it is obvious that evil is handily winning. So, are God and evil really a compatible pair – opposites that need each other to exist? Could God ever truly destroy evil or is the ultimate destiny of our world and our universe to be subject to both?
In today's digital world, there are "internet trolls" that can insult, hurt and make fun of us anonymously. And the real world is hard enough! Is the teaching of Jesus to "turn the other cheek" still as relevant and powerful as it was centuries ago?
Are there consequences to the way we live from God's standpoint? Take the example of King David in the Old Testament. He had some whopper sins and yet he was described as a "man after God's own heart" and God loved and blessed him. How does that work with us today?
Prayer probably won’t change the lives of most people because they do not understand the basic fundamentals of prayer. But humans are tuned to opening their minds to some kind of external power or tranquility and this opening of the mind provides a sense of security and peace as they feel heard, accepted and cared for. What should you pray for? Does it really make a difference in the outcome of any circumstance?
What has happened to us? We live in an age where ego and emotion are more important than virtue and values. An age where personal preference outweighs personal worth and “I want it now” trumps integrity. We live in an age where absolutes aren’t (unless we decide they fit into our personal plan) and standards are only something to customize and remodel to our personal satisfaction. Ours is an age where the ancient principles of sin and objective morality are being relegated to the trash heap of history. So, what are we supposed to do? Should we go along with the flow of thoughts and emotions that are reshaping our social structure? Should we abandon what is considered to be the old and worn out moral thinking of the past and embrace the new and vibrant personally-based principles of the present?