Summary: Has hell closed down?
Has hell closed down ?
A gallop poll in 1995 found that only 24% of British people believe in hell as an objective reality whereas around 50% believe in heaven.
Is the whole notion of hell bad for Christianity- an embarrassing religious fossil from the middle ages or even as some have argued - an import into the Christian faith dating from when it became the official religion of the roman empire ? You can argue that the idea of tying rewards and punishments to a time beyond death is a good form of social control designed to intimidate stupid people into conformity.
Is it necessary for Christians to believe in a literal hell of damnation and conscious torture any more? It doesn’t sound like an appealing idea to get people coming to church and these days with Sunday football and shopping surely it must be more worshipper friendly just to focus on a god who heals our pain and demonstrates grace.
In a church, which wants to stress, the love of God and the grace of God can there still be any room for the concept of a state of unending spiritual torment?
Traditional biblical ideas of hell are under attack both from the outside culture which stresses individualism rather than authority and freedom rather than moral absolutes. Hell is also under attack from two directions by people working within the church.
There are those who believe in annihilation. In an official report issued in 1996 the Church of England seems to largely back this position and has redefined hell.. “Rather than a place of eternal suffering, hell is a state of nothingness.” Maybe the Anglican Church should redefine its 39 articles of religion in the prayer book to 38 because article 3 says
III. Of the going down of Christ into Hell.
As Christ died for us, and was buried; so also it is to be believed, that he went down into Hell.
(b) there are those who are called universalists and adopt the idea that ultimately everyone will be saved. Universalism was prevalent in many Baptist churches 200 years ago, ultimately it leads to a loss of zeal for evangelism and a loss of committmen among members. Id everyone is going to be saved then why bother with the church? There are more productive things to do with your time.
C.S. Lewis faced the dilemma of hell and concluded “There is no doctrine that I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture, and specially of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom, and has the support of reason.” Later he adds, “I said glibly a moment ago that I would pay ‘any price’ to remove this doctrine. I lied. I could not pay one fractional part of the price that God has already paid to remove the fact.” And here is the real problem: so much mercy, yet still there is Hell.
We need to be clear on one thing. The idea that God tortures people owes more to Dante’s Inferno than it does the Bible. Those ending up in hell go there because they have rejected God’s love. Any agony experienced comes as a direct result of the decision to move in the opposite direction to God because they hate God’s authority. They do not want his rulership over their lives. It is like a child not listening to its parent who tells them not to go near the stove when its hot, they don’t listen and get burned. God doesn’t want anyone to go there and has done what He can to keep people from going there but people are still free to exercise the choice not to listen.
Christians need to think carefully- do they base their faith and their practices on the clear teaching of scripture or on clutter acquired from their culture or the long traditions of the church?
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a puzzling story found only in Luke’s gospel. It is a story where Jesus talks about a literal place of torment and suffering. Let’s hear that story as we continue to explore the subject “Has hell closed down”
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, ’Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25"But Abraham replied, ’Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27"He answered, ’Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29"Abraham replied, ’They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30" ’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ’but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’