Alternatives To A Fiery Hell

Whether or not God wants to torture you is not the issue, that God will torture you is! If you do not please him in this life, if he does not deem you acceptable to him, then you are going to face the Alpha and Omega’s eternal retribution in the next life. Should you die in an unsaved condition, you are going to face the unchecked wrath of an infuriated, emulous God who will stop at nothing to make sure his enemies pay for their crimes against him. So says the Bible, particularly the New Testament of our ”loving Lord and Savior,” Jesus Christ.

Ten thousand centuries will come and go, and not one day in Hell will have ended. In the amount of time it takes a new universe to expand and collapse, not a single evening in the furnace of Hell will have gone by. In Hell, you’ll have nothing to do, and nothing to think about except your past and how you were nothing but a terrible disappointment to your creator. In addition to all the unceasing and unspeakable pain you’ll be feeling, you will have the added despair of knowing that the life you lived in the flesh was completely in vain. You will be fully awake to experience a nightmare above any nightmare you ever experienced while alive. And just when you think you can’t take anymore, an eternity of suffering awaits you still.

At least, that was the traditional view of hell. For totally understandable reasons, this view is losing out in popularity. You can attend some churches for 30 years and not hear a peep about Hell. People are ashamed of this merciless idea. They are ready for something new, for what modern apologists think is a better take on Hell. They are championing the acceptance of what they consider to be a more merciful form of Gehenna, one that is more easily seen as being in tune with a warn and loving Jesus with outstretched arms and a great big smile.

I am convinced that the doctrine of an eternal Hell has always been what makes more infidels out of men than any other bestial ideal of scripture. It makes the God of the Bible a villain like nothing a Hollywood producer ever brought to life on the big screen. Christian apologetics are asking you to just forget what every unrefined country Catholic, Baptist, or Pentecostal preacher ever told you about Hell. Just listen to these new oracles of the brotherhood! This is not really a new view as much as it is revitalized for the likes of the educated minds of today. Many defenders of the faith, like J.P. Holding for example, tell us that the fires of Hell are figurative, and so is the actual suffering experienced.

During my preaching years, I was a part of debates on the nature of Hell that were quite entertaining. Some of these spats came down to preachers affirming that hell contained “a spiritual form of fire that tortures sinners eternally,” or “some sort of spiritual pain in another dimension that Jesus described as physical burning.” Others went the traditional route, “Real fire await sinners in the next world.” So according to this view, I guess god established that spirits would retain some form of a nervous system that enables them to feel pain sensations even when they are disembodied?

Old and problematic as this belief was, it should be said that some preachers still fervently maintained that it was correct—sinners are literally barbequed each day! This is not an exaggeration! I once had a preacher woman from a holiness church in Alabama hand me a tape which she said detailed the recordings of a spirit journey into Hell to describe its horrors firsthand. She stated that at the end of each day in Hell, souls are “burnt to a crisp,” after which time they are again made whole, only to have the process start over and over again for all eternity! Very sadistic thinking, I must say!

If what modern apologists say is true, centuries of learned gospel preachers have been dead wrong in affirming the reality of such a place. These contemporary Christian thinkers tell us that the suffering experienced in hell is just suffering in the mind (in the spirit mind) of a deceased unbeliever. As he passed into eternity, his body died while his spirit (and therefore consciousness) lived on, but now his soul was separated from God into the “blackness of darkness” of the absence of the Almighty (Jude 1:13). This creates misery all by itself, and this likewise alleviates God from actually creating a Hell or inflicting pain personally. God just made sinners immortal as he has all human beings, and they chose to live in such a manner as to make God separate himself from them so that his righteousness would not be compromised.

This might sound a little nicer than the traditional view of a fiery Hell…at first. Upon further consideration, the position meets a quick and brutal end. Of all the dying and struggling theological positions out there, this one actually makes you feel sorry for modern Christians as they face the embarrassment of having a god who openly approves of torture by example. There’s really no way to water it down, though theists try like keeping afloat in quicksand.

For starters, this position denies some pretty plain scriptural language that seems to teach a literal place of torment (Luke 12:4-5). While good arguments can be made for a hell with figurative fire, it is undeniable that Luke 16:19-31 portrays the existence of a place of real suffering, the kind we were used to in our living bodies. If this is not the case, then the writer of Luke woefully misrepresented the facts—under inspiration of the Holy Spirit no less! But regardless of the presence of fire, we need not get bogged down in disputed details. The scriptures teach some form of suffering of the ungodly beyond the grave.

Regardless of the how, the God of the Bible still makes it clear that he wants disobedient souls that will never be redeemed to stay around for eternity and be miserable. Sure, it wasn’t his original will for them, but he doesn’t feel for us sinners enough to actually deliver us from all possible suffering. God decided that it was fine with him if we suffer for a lifetime of mistakes no matter how sincere those mistakes may have been in their making. We infidels are headed to a place of agony to grope in the darkness of damnation. Our unending groans for mercy will not cause him to have pity on us and deliver us from the merciless condition we will be in. It would just be too much for him to put the sinner out of his misery, to blot him out of existence when he dies!

God has declared that “there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15), and “them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). God may have wanted all to be saved, but since they “chose” not to be, he is pleased to see them suffer unimaginable pain. The fact that he can stand by and watch as some of his children endure endless centuries of anguish, anguish a man or woman could not possibly deserve from a single lifetime of bad deeds, is what makes him a hideous, indescribable presence. To call him an exceedingly cruel cosmic tyrant makes him sound much nicer than he is! It whitewashes him, in other words.

Getting an unbeliever to accept the concoction of hell is the hardest thing for a believer. The problem for the Christian is that they are always better, kinder, and more compassionate than the deity they serve. They would never dream of leaving even a small animal to die a prolonged death out in the street, much less suffer forever, and yet they are compelled to defend their God’s employment of this indefensibly merciless treatment of the unsaved. He knew when he created man and gave him an “immortal soul” that this would forever seal the fates of sinners to an eternity of unspeakable miseries. He went right on with our creation anyway.

The search for truth is not without its ironies, however. In this case, the irony catches the believer off guard; this new perception of hell is an even more fiendish one than the traditional fiery view they are trying to get the whole world to abandon. It is not difficult to think of how the nature of each person’s “hell” would be distinct and varying according to one’s spiritual vices.

Advocates of this "more compasionate" view tell us Hell's suffering would be in the mind, the result of being away from the light of God, presumably feelings of loneliness, shame, hopelessness, and perhaps other agonies. So we could surmize that one who lived a life of pride might suffer an eternity of humiliation, and a person who belittled his fellow man with verbal abuse and degradation would forever be ridiculed as he ridiculed others. I suppose the same would be true for those who lived lives committing rape and murder. They would mentally experience for eternity the hurt they caused others. This would be directly in line with the Bible's teaching that we reap what we sow according to what was done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10). Or would this be a fear-based mental Hell? While we’re considering alternatives to the fiery Bible Hell, we might as well get creative and go a step further. Why not a personal, Freddy Krueger-inspired Hell where we face our worst fears, and not just spiritual vices?

My earliest fears of hell did not consist of fire at all, but of being confined to a featureless bright white hallway that goes on forever in two directions. It is small and narrow, has no doors or windows, and has no places to sit or lay down. The punishment was to walk forever, enduring loneliness. It wasn’t until a certain sincere but misled family member I loved took me aside and told me, “Joe, there will definitely be some flames in hell, so you better not use the Lord’s name in vain!” that I began to be afraid of the fire notion. Someone else might have a fear of worms, or spiders, or being torn apart by a huge centipede, in which case they would mentally suffer such things in their minds. This type of hell would be incomparably worse for each individual than one standard hell for everyone. So if either of these derivations describing the “real” Hell are true, then Hell is not really a place, just a sort of mental/spiritual/psychological software that automatically downloads when we die to put together for us the worst torture possible in the afterlife!

Picture a man strapping you down to a chair and attaching a device to your head. It probes your brain to find out where your worst fear lies. When it finds your weakness, it exploits it, subjecting you to the most heightened level of misery conceivable. I fail to see how such an intellection would be any more merciful than Dante’s description of a hell with pits of fire and horned demons, punishing naked and tormented souls, buried in pits of dung and boiling blood! Regardless of the details of exactly how it is administered, suffering is suffering and torture is torture no matter what form it takes.

At the base of all this terror is the fact that none of this can be called justice by any stretch of the imagination. No one, not even the devil himself, could be worthy of truly eternal suffering. Eternal torture is worthless. It does not bring about correction or rehabilitation. It is no means to an end. It does not serve a practical use, like governments applying torture to terrorists to get them to divulge the location of weapon of mass destruction. It is nothing but a cruel and vindictive invention, like the cold, germy, sharp, steel instruments found in the basement of a psychopath.

Hell is a purely brutish payback perpetrated by a powerful barbarian who rules the skies with an easily bruised ego. The slightest thing pisses him off. He runs around with his giant war hammer, scaring the crap out of everyone, but amazingly, he wants to make friends! He is surprised when people run from him and see him as an evil ogre. He apparently doesn’t understand why intelligent, decent people want nothing to do with him. No one likes a bully! But now the bully pretends to be compassionate; he throws everyone for a loop by creating the greatest contradiction anyone ever saw; he sends his son to bring a supposed message of peace and mercy, but should you reject his son and his message, the barbarian father again pulls out that trusty war hammer and takes care of business the old fashioned way! Just like a true bully, you don’t have a choice in the matter! You have to befriend him…or you get the war hammer!

A two-bit numbskull might even realize that this logically destroys any real “choice” that God assures us we have. We are told that God only sends those to Hell who have chosen to go there, but this is just ridiculous. I could offer you the “choice” of a million dollars or cancer, but a halfwit would understand that such a choice would not be a very good one! I wonder why respectable, knowledgeable Christians don’t see this problem?

This reminds me of a certain Simpson’s episode where a cult worshipping “The Leader” comes into Springfield and indoctrinates the whole town into following him. When they put the people into their convent and people start to express the desire to leave, they say, “You are free to leave at any time.” But the moment they try to leave, the person is met with attack dogs and spike pits! The God of the Bible is every bit like these funny cartoon caricatures of some of his followers, offering unbeatable hope and bliss on the one hand, and misery and torture on the other.

The doctrine of Hell will never be compatible with a merciful deity. A nice, smiling preacher in a suit, writing smooth articles, trying to make the position sound refined and graceful won’t work. Taking literal fire out of the picture will not do it either. The smallest fiber of common sense tells us that we put a sick dog out of its misery. We don’t torture it because it bit us on the leg. Hell defies decency, civility, morality, compassion, and sound judgment. I am glad to see modern Christians becoming ashamed to profess belief in it.