Hell


Story of ChristianityMuch of the Bible is written in narrative form.  It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless.  There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture.  So how does one put it all together?  What is the essence of the Biblical story?  What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation?  Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line.  Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is.  I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told: (more…)

Empty prisons2Nobody likes the idea of hell – even believers – but many unbelievers simply loathe the concept.  They think punishing sinners in hell is not befitting of a supposedly loving God, and appeal to the doctrine as evidence against the truth of Christianity.  Is hell truly a stain on God’s character?  I don’t think so, and when the skeptic examines his own beliefs about justice a bit more carefully, I think he’ll come to agree that hell is not the egregious concept he claims it is.  Here’s a tactical way to get your skeptical friend to see this point.

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One of the distinguishing marks of the new atheists is that they not only think religion is false, but that it is dangerous and immoral too.  Even God himself is not above their judgment.  They regularly chide the God of the Bible as being a moral monster!  They accuse Him of being pro-genocide, anti-women, pro-rape, pro-slavery, etc.  Rather than the paradigm of moral goodness, God is an evil despot that is to be shunned.  You know it’s a bad day when even God is evil!

Is what they say true?  Is God – particularly as He is portrayed in the OT – morally evil?  Many Christians are sympathetic to this charge because they themselves struggle to understand God’s actions and commands, particularly as revealed in the OT.  Thankfully there have been some well-written responses to the problem of “theistic evil” written in recent years to dispel this negative portrait of God.  

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I often hear Christians of every stripe say they wish hell did not exist, or that no people would end up there.  I understand what they mean.  Hell is a gruesome prospect.  The idea of people suffering for eternity is a grim one.  It’s hard to be excited about a doctrine like this, particularly when all of us have family and loved ones that we have good reason to believe will end up in hell.  On a purely emotional level, there is a sense in which all of us can say we wish there was no hell or that no one would go there. 

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“Scripturally speaking, the problem is not that good people do not go to heaven; the problem is there are no good people.” — Trevin Wax, “Inclusivism and Its Effects” in Credo magazine, Issue 2, January 2012, 10.

Would you still serve God if there was no hell in which to be punished for your evil?  Would you still serve God if there was no heaven in which to be rewarded for your good?  Would your behavior change at all?

I would venture to say that most church-going Christians serve God, not out of a desire to be in relationship with God, but out of a desire to avoid hell.  If there was no hell, they would not serve God, or at least would not continue to live the way they do morally speaking.  While desiring to avoid hell is natural and a good motivator for initially deciding to serve God, it is a very poor motivator for continuing to serve God.

I don’t necessarily want you to respond in the comments section with your answers, but I do think this is something worth thinking about in the way of self-evaluation.

Update on 6/21: A new study appearing in the Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE, has evaluated crime rates involving 143,197 people in 67 countries over a span of 26 years and found that crime rates are lower in nations that believe in the possibility of some sort of divine punishment after death, and higher in nations that do not (or that only believe in divine rewards after death).

I was directed by Justin Taylor to a post by Trevin Wax discussing common urban legends propagated by preachers.  I went to the list expecting to have a good laugh.  And I was not disappointed.  Wax spoke of the “the eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem” legend, the “rope-around-the-high-priest’s-ankle” legend, and the “scribes took baths before writing the divine name” legend.  Oh how I chuckled!

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