THE WITNESS OF CHURCH HISTORY (2): THE MODERN PERIOD
M. J. Savage in his book Life Beyond Death in 1899, uttered words that would have been considered blasphemous if spoken by a professing Christian at any time prior to the eighteenth century:
Let me say again, as a matter of perfect honesty, that, if the doctrine of eternal punishment was clearly and unmistakably taught on every leaf of the Bible, and on every leaf of all the Bibles of all the world, I could not believe a word of it. I should appeal fro these misconceptions of even the seers and the great men to the infinite and eternal Good, who only is God, and who only on such terms could be worshipped.
Ultimately, the roots of the modern abandonment of the belief in the traditional doctrine of hell can be traced to intellectual movements in eighteenth-century England, France, and Germany. These diverse and complex movements had this in common--they exalted human reason. The term "Enlightenment," especially as used to describe the German movement, captures the essence of them all. Immanual Kant gave this classic definition in 1793:
Enlightenment is man's release form his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another Sapere aude! "Have courage to use your own reason!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.
William Whiston (1667-1752) was a mathematician and scientist, best known today as the translator of Josephus. Whiston succeeded Isaac Newton as professor of mathematics at Cambridge but in 1710 was expelled from the University for his rejection of the deity of Christ.
In 1740 Whiston wrote The Eternity of Hell Torments Considered, in which he explains away the threats of eternal punishment by claiming that the word traditionally translated "eternal" (aionios) means only age-long. He claims that the life of the righteous and the torments of the wicked (Matt. 25:46) are both age-long. Although the bliss of the godly will last longer than the suffering of the damned, it too is limited. He finds the "astonishing love of God" shown at Calvary to be "absolutely inconsistent with these common but barbarous and savage opinions...."
Whiston replaces this hated doctrine with the following (in the words of D.P. Walker):
At death all souls go to Hades, which is inside the earth, where until the resurrection and Last Judgment they have a chance of repentance and amendment. After judgment, the just go to their long, but not eternal life of bliss, and the still unrepentant wicked to a period of torment, the duration of which is graded in proportion to their sins, and at the end of which they are annihilated.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) is recognized as America's greatest philosopher-theologian, though on the question of hell he has frequently been ridiculed and caricatured by modern writers. He epitomized the union of consecrated head and heart.
Although Edwards cringed at the horror of hell, he was constrained to tell sinners the truth that "the bodies of wicked men as well as their souls will be punished forever." Here was hell's worst feature--its duration, a duration that "has no end."
Edwards attacked annihilationism as a nemesis of the faith. The Bible teaches eternal condemnation because it uses the same word for eternal life as it does for eternal punishment. This punishment, moreover, involves pain, and annihilation would be the end of pain.
He did not, however, imagine that he had fully understood hell. It was its eternity which made in unfathomable to him. From his most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," come these words:
When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all; you will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have done so, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is put a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable. For, "who knows the power of God's anger."
When asked why he was a "scare preacher," Edwards explained that he did not think he could frighten people into heaven but by God's grace he could be used of God to bring many to an awareness of their plight before God.
Edwards inhabited an intellectual world different from that of many other thinkers who lived during the Enlightenment. He refused to exalt reason above the Word of God; instead, he submitted his mind and heart to the authority of Scripture. Therefore, contrary to the spirit of his day, he defended the doctrine of hell.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) emerged from a pietistic background, later engaging in pastoral ministry and becoming part of the leading intellectual circle in Berlin. He is commonly regarded as the father of modern theology. He was the first major theologian of modern times to teach universalism.
In The Christian Faith (1821) Schleiermacher gave the fullest statement of his views, including a brief treatment of the consummation of the church. Unfortunately, a study of the last things lay outside his theological program, "for our Christian consciousness has absolutely nothing to say regarding a condition so entirely outside our ken."
Schleiermacher affirms the survival of personality following death, since "if we take the utterances of the Redeemer about His eternal personal survival as being imbued with His perfect truth, as His disciples undeniably did, then all we who are of human race can look forward to survival too."
We, however, know little about this survival since Christ's words concerning it are "either purely figurative, or otherwise so indefinite in tenor that nothing can be gathered from them" except "the essential thing... the persistent union of believers with the Redeemer."
Schleiermacher concludes that all will enjoy future life with God. He thus rejects the traditional view of the Last Judgment with its separation of good and evil. He calls judgment unacceptable to moderns and traceable only to a vengeful spirit--"an unpurified Christian temper"--against unbelievers.
The "essential meaning" of the Last Judgment is that the church triumphant will be completely separated from evil. The knowledge of believers that there are fellow humans suffering eternal torment would be too disturbing to exist among those in a state of bliss. The redeemed in heaven would not fail to feel sympathy for the damned in hell. This in turn would produce "bitter feelings" that would spoil their enjoyment of heaven.
Instead, he urged adoption of the view that "through the power of redemption there will one day be a universal restoration of all souls."
Schleiermacher represents a shift from God-centered to human-centered religion, for he locates his ultimate authority for faith not in Holy Scripture but within humanity. Therefore, he rejects the doctrine of hell because it does not appeal to modern notions of God and human sympathy. In its place he puts the doctrine of the restoration of all people.
Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-72), son of a Unitarian minister, joined the Anglican Church, was ordained, and after pastoral ministry became professor of theology at King's College, London.
In his Theological Essays (1853) he tried to steer a middle course between a dogmatic universalism and a rigorous orthodoxy. He sought to achieve this by emphasizing the qualitative rather than the quantitative nature of eternal life and death. Eternal death is only to be without God and His love.
Maurice's focus was not on the duration of eternal life or death. In fact, he defines these important terms thus: "Eternal life is the knowledge of God who is Love, and eternal death the loss of that knowledge."
The famous New Testament scholar F. J.A. Hort, agreed with Maurice "that eternity was independent of duration, that the power of repentance was not limited to this life; and that it was not revealed whether or not all with ultimately be saved."
In 1853 the council of King's College dismissed Maurice from his chair for his modification of the doctrine of hell.
F.W. Farrar and E.B. Pusey
Frederic W. Farrar (1831-1903) studied under F.D. Maurice at King's College. He gained renown as a writer by producing his acclaimed Life of Christ (1874) and the celebrated Life and Epistles of St. Paul (1879). For the last eight years of his life he was dean of Canterbury.
At the end of 1877 Farrar preached a series of messages on eternal punishment. Published under the title Eternal Hope, they attacked eternal conscious torment as unworthy of the love and fairness of God. He dismissed the doctrine of purgatory, spurned annihilationism, and was unable to embrace universalism wholeheartedly. "He preferred to maintain a reverent agnosticism, though he was prepared to affirm that the fate of man was not 'finally and irrevocably sealed at death.'" He is probably best labeled a hopeful universalist.
E.B. Pusey (1800-1882), after attending Oxford, studied biblical criticism in Germany during 1825-27. Pusey was disturbed by Farrar's Eternal Hope because it had unsettled the faith of many. In 1880 his rebuttal appeared as What Is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment?
He agreed with Farrar that there was "no ground for believing that the majority of mankind were lost, nor could it be known who had died out of grace."
Pusey, however, laid greater emphasis than Farrar on the time of death, being open to the possibility of many believing at the last moment, an argument Farrar called weak. Farrar confessed his hope that after death all "except the absolutely reprobate" will continue to make progress and improve.
William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894) served as professor of English literature at the University of Vermont. He is best known, however, as professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
In his Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1885), Shedd presents the biblical argument for eternal punishment, beginning with the words that denote hell. The words sheol in the Old Testament and hades in the New sometimes speak of the grave, and sometimes of the place of punishment for the wicked. The New Testament word gehenna, however, is used only to denote hell; Jesus used this word eleven of the twelve times it occurs (it also appears in James 3:6).
Shedd concludes that when applied to hell aionios means "endless" since it pertains to the future infinite age. The punishment of the wicked is not only endless, but it is also conscious. Here Shedd rejects annihilationism, contending that "the extinction of consciousness is not the nature of punishment. The essence of punishment is suffering, and suffering is consciousness." Consequently, "the extinction of consciousness is not regarded by sinful men as an evil, but a good."
Shedd's final chapter begins, "The chief objections to the doctrine of Endless Punishment are not Biblical, but speculative." he therefore concentrates on the rational argument. The most important issue concerns the nature of punishment. Punishment must not be confused with chastisement. Punishment satisfies justice; chastisement seeks to develop character. Punishment looks to sins committed in the past; chastisement to moral improvement in the future. The ultimate fate of the wicked involves punishment, not chastisement, for Scripture says, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19, KJV). And this punishment is eternal because "suffering that is penal can never come to an end. because guilt is the reason for its infliction, and guilt once incurred never ceases to be."
Shedd responds to a common late-nineteenth-century protest. "The objection, that a suffering not intended to reform, but to satisfy justice, is cruel and unworthy of God, is refuted by the question of St. Paul: 'Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? God forbid: for how then shall God judge the world? (Rom. 3:5,6)." Furthermore, to make such a protest betrays a defective understanding of sin and atonement. Moderns underestimate the enormity of sin: "Sin is an infinite evil; infinite not because committed by an infinite being, but against one." And the hideousness of sin is seen most clearly at the cross. "The incarnation and vicarious satisfaction for sin by one of the persons of the Godhead, demonstrates the infinity of the evil." It follows that "the doctrine of Christ's vicarious atonement, logically, stands or falls with that of endless punishment."
Shedd takes issue with Farrar's term "eternal hope," saying that hope is a characteristic of earth and time only and that there is no hope in hell because there is no repentance there.
Although hell is infinite in duration, it is finite in intensity. For this reason there will be a gradation of punishment in hell; degrees of punishment will be based on the resoluteness of wicked self-determination and the degree of light. Sinners must beware, therefore, lest they "treasure up wrath" against themselves for the Day of Judgment. (Rom. 2:5).
Although Shedd highlights God's wrath, he concludes by accenting God's kindness. Shedd reveals his heart for the lost by eloquently extolling God's mercy.
FALSE WITNESSES (1): UNIVERSALISM
John Hick: Justice Demands That God Win All to Himself
The Problem of Evil
Hick thinks the traditional Christian view of hell inhibits a resolution of the problem of evil. Misery that is eternal and infinite would constitute the largest part of the problem of evil. For sin to exist forever insults the perfect goodness of God.
Did Jesus Teach Eternal Punishment?
Hick holds that it cannot be safely affirmed that Jesus taught perpetual torture. Such an idea opposes Jesus' message of love. Hick asserts that in the hereafter there is suffering, though not eternal, for sins in this life. The suffering in the hereafter is redemptive.
The Divine Therapist Will Eventually Heal Everyone
In rejecting hell, Hick opts for universalism, the view that "God will eventually succeed in His purpose of winning all men to Himself in faith and love." Due to the reality of free will, however, it is logically possible that some may spurn God's offer of salvation. Nevertheless, we can be absolutely sure that "God will never cease to desire and actively work for the salvation of each created person."
"It seems morally (although still not logically) impossible that the infinite resourcefulness of infinite love working in unlimited time should be eternally frustrated, and the creature reject its own good, presented in an endless range of ways." Hell is "morally revolting" because it attributes "to God an unappeasable vindictiveness and insatiable cruelty."
Jesus Versus Paul
Hick's study of the New Testament reveals two sets of sayings: Jesus' warnings about hell, which are "rather rare" and simply those of a preacher trying to win individuals from sinfulness, and Paul's theological statements pointing to the final salvation of all. He concludes: "The two truths are formally compatible with one another because the one asserts that something will happen if a certain condition is fulfilled (namely, permanent non-repentance) while the other asserts that this same thing will not happen because that condition will not in fact be fulfilled."
Our "Inherent Gravitation" Toward God
In order to show the possibility for omnipotent divine love to save without violating human freedom, Hick appeals to the doctrine of creation. The fact that God created us in His image means that "god has so made us that the inherent gravitation of our being is towards him." Hick rejects the idea of a final decision at death "determining the individual's destiny." In its place he puts the opportunity for "further personal growth" and "development in response to further experiences" after death.
Religious Pluralism and Hick's Doctrine of Christ
From his premise that all faiths lead to God, he concludes that Christianity is one way of salvation among many. He says that there is inadequate historical foundation for the idea that Jesus claimed to be the only point of saving contact between God and man. And he bluntly states, "That Jesus was God the Son incarnate is not literally true."
Hick's Moral Criticism
Hick consistently employs a moral criterion as the test of theological truth. Eternal torment is morally incompatible with God's infinite love. Anything less than universalism is "morally impossible" even though not logically impossible.
Hick's moral criticism even functions as a principle of biblical interpretation. He interprets Jesus' sayings as speaking of postmortem redemptive punishment, rather than of eternal punishment. Why? Because "the divinely ordained moral order of the world would be extremely crude if all the judgment sayings were rightly held to involve eternal heaven and hell."
Hick's Views Unbiblical
It is not hard to show that many of Hick's doctrines cut against the grain of the Bible. His insistence that suffering after death is remedial rather than retributive squares neither with Jesus' warnings nor with the words of Paul. "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you....the Lord Jesus...will punish those who do not know God....They will be punished with everlasting destruction...." (2 Thess. 1:6-9).
Hick "underplays man's bias against God." The biblical testimony concerning sinful human beings is this:
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. 3:10-18).
The most serious of Hick's defections from orthodoxy is his rejection of Christ's incarnation. Because of the demands of his global theology, he can no longer accept this biblical teaching. Again, the idea that the majority of the human race is not saved because they have not come to God through Christ is morally unthinkable.
By his own admission, John Hick has abandoned the evangelical faith he once professed. In its place, he has "openly taken the path of syncretism as the way to theological truth." The result is a "global theology" in which he has "used the doctrine of universal salvation post mortem as a tool for the re-fashioning of the Christian (and with it every other) religion."
The Question of Authority
John Hick has rejected biblical Christianity and manufactured another religion. Hick's appeal to authorities other than the Christian Scriptures undergirds his adoption of the view that after death there will be a "series of lives...lived in other worlds." On what does Hick base this conclusion? On the Tibetan Book of the Dead and "western mediumistic communications" evaluated on the basis of "reasonable speculation."
We have seen that Hick does not claim biblical support for his view of purgatorial reincarnation leading to universal salvation. Instead, he relies upon the Tibetan Book of the Dead and on material produced by trance mediums.
Despite the lack of biblical support, the idea of postmortem evangelism is gaining in popularity, and not exclusively among universalists. For example, Clark Pinnock, a leading evangelical theologian, finds this logic compelling: God loves and his provided salvation for every human being. God, therefore, must give each the opportunity to believe the gospel. Pinnock himself admits the "scantiness" of "scriptural evidence" for his position.
Jesus underscores the fact that death seals one's fate, when he says to the Pharisees, "If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). Hebrews 9:27 agrees: Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." Pinnock is far from convincing in his attempt to interpret this facing of judgment in Hebrews 9:27 as an opportunity to receive God's grace.
Furthermore, Pinnock's view of conversion after death is burdened by special problems. Pinnock makes a logical mistake when he assumes that "if God loves sinners, he will provide an opportunity in the future for those who have responded positively to the light they have." Since Pinnock never proves this assumption, when he concludes that God does love sinners and will provide them a postmortem opportunity, he is guilty of assuming his conclusion.
Passages Commonly Appealed to by Universalists
These passages can be grouped into three topical categories: God's desire to save all, the work of Christ, and the consummation. We will examine the single most important passage from each of these three groups, judged by frequency of citation in universalist literature.
God's Desire to Save All: 1 Timothy 2:3-4
In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul does not teach that all will be saved in the end but that it is God's will for the gospel to reach everyone. Moreover, to press this verse into the service of universalism is to do injustice to the unity of 1 Timothy because "the wider context reveals a doctrine of final judgment quite irreconcilable with 'universalism:' compare 1 Timothy 1:6-11; 4:1-2; 5:24; 6:9-10." 1 Timothy 5:24 bears this out: "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them." The contention that 1 Timothy 2:4 and similar passages prove universalism is unwarranted.
The Work of Christ: Romans 5:18
It is true that the "one act of righteousness" refers to Jesus' death and resurrection. It is false, however, to claim that this verse supports universalism, as a comparison with the next verse reveals. Romans 5:19 reads, "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many well be made righteous" (emphasis added). The point is that we cannot press the two occurrences of the word "all" in verse 18 any more than we can the two occurrences of the word "many" in verse 19. If we press either "all" or "many," we make the apostle contradict himself. The contrasts between the one act (of Adam and Christ) and the effect on the world emphasize the great effect of Adam and Christ the great effects of Adam and Christ on the human race. To determine the extent of the effects of Adam's sin or Christ's righteousness we must look at the total context of this passage and Scripture.
When we do this, we note that Paul identifies those who will "reign in life" through Christ "as those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness" (v. 17). If we ask what Paul means by "all" in Romans 5:18 in the context of his letter to the Romans, we note that Paul has been saying all along (1:5; 1:16-17; 2:9-11; 3:21-4:25) that all men, Jew and Gentile alike, stand on a level before God.
Furthermore, to argue that Romans 5:18, or any other text in the epistle, demands that all be finally saved, is to disregard Paul's repeated statement to the contrary, for example, in 1:18-20, 32; 2:1-5, 8-9, 12, 27; and 3:5-8.
The Consummation: 1 Corinthians 15:22, 28
Again, the contexts, both near and far, show that these verses to not teach universalism.
The "all" of verse 22 is equivalent to "those who belong to him [Christ]" (v. 23). 1 Corinthians 1:18; 5:13; 6:9-10; and 11:32 speak of unbelievers "perishing," being judged by God, not inheriting the kingdom of God, and being "condemned."
It is plain that 1 Corinthians 15:28 (and Ephesians 1:10 and Philippians 2:9-11), in the context of other scriptures, do not teach that all will be saved.
FALSE WITNESSES (2): ANNIHILATIONISM
The most succinct summary of the case for annihilationism is made by John Stott in his tentative defense of the doctrine in Evangelical Essentials. I will use Stott's arguments as an outline and will add one argument that Stott mentions in passing that features prominently in the annihilationist literature.
The Argument Based on "the Vocabulary of Destruction"
Dr. Stott contends that we should understand the Bible literally when it speaks of the damned as "perishing," or suffering "destruction." (Matt. 7:13-14; 10:28; John 3:16; 10:28; 17:12; Romans 2:12; 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; Hebrews 10:39; James 4:12; 2 Peter 3:7,9).
These passages are not the only data we have to work with. In fact, even some of the passages Stott cites are difficult to reconcile with annihilationism. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is one example. Paul says the wicked "will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power." "Everlasting annihilation" in an unlikely meaning for the words "everlasting destruction."
Moreover, does it make sense for Paul to depict unbelievers' extinction as their being "shut out from the presence of the Lord"? Doesn't their being shut out from His presence imply their existence? Not according to Basil Atkinson in Life and Immortality: "All will agree that the presence of the Lord is everywhere. To be destroyed from the presence of the Lord can therefore only mean to be nowhere." On the contrary, as Scot McKnight argues: "Paul has in mind an irreversible verdict of eternal nonfellowship with God. A person exists but remains excluded from God's good presence."
The word "destruction" cannot be taken literally in Revelation 17:8,11. There "destruction" is prophesied for the "beast." Two chapters later the Beast and False Prophet are "thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur" (Rev. 19:20). They are still there "one thousand years" later (Rev. 20:7,10). Furthermore, John teaches that the Beast, the False Prophet, and Satan "will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). The Beast's "destruction," therefore, is not annihilation. It is eternal punishment.
Even if one could show that every passage that uses the language of destruction is compatible with annihilationism, that still would not prove that it is true. In addition, one would have to show that the other passages that speak of hell are consistent with the extinction of the wicked. And that cannot be done.
The Bible uses five main pictures to speak of hell: darkness and separation, fire, "weeping and gnashing of teeth," punishment, and death and destruction. Only the last fits annihilationism, and not even every passage in that category fits. And even annihilationist Harold Guillebaud admits that "destruction" and "death" could mean "a wretched and ruined existence."
The Argument Based on Hell-fire Imagery
Some hell-fire passages can be understood as teaching annihilationism (Matt. 3:10,12; 7:19; John 15:6; Hebrews 10:27; 12:29). These five texts could be interpreted as teaching annihilationism, but should they? We must answer no in view of the abundant scriptural testimony that hell-fire speaks of the pain of the wicked, not their consumption.
When Jesus explains the meaning of the weeds being cast into the furnace (Matt. 13:40-42), He does not speak of consumption. He warns of suffering. He describes the furnace as a place marked by "weeping and gnashing of teeth" in pain (v. 42). Hell-fire speaks of anguish, not extinction.
Compare Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 20:10. The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels denotes torment, not obliteration.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus uses fire imagery in the same way. Notice the words "torment" and "agony" (Luke 16:23-24, 25, 28).
The book of Revelation does the same when it says that the wicked "will drink of the wind of God's fury...poured full strength into the cup of his wrath." Does this imply the blotting out of the ungodly? Hardly, for John continues, "He will be tormented with burning sulphur" (Rev. 14:10.
Verse 11's reference to "smoke" rising forever and ever does not help the annihilationist cause, as they claim. Stott is wrong to claim that "it is not the torment itself but its 'smoke' (symbol of the completed burning) which will be 'for ever and ever.'" John says that "there is no rest day or night" for the wicked. When annihilationists assert that John means to say that the wicked have no relief "so long as their suffering lasts," they evade the plain meaning of the text by reading into the text something that it not there.
Next we consider the lake of fire of Revelation 19 and 20. Does the lake of fire mean unceasing torment for the Devil (20:7,10) but annihilation for lost human beings (20:14; 21:8)? Hardly.
The Argument Based on God's Justice
Dr. Stott's third argument concerns justice. The bible teaches that "God will judge people 'according to what they have done' (e.g. Rev. 20:12), which implies that the penalty inflicted will be commensurate with the evil done." But because eternal torment is seriously disproportionate to the sins committed in time, it clashes with the biblical revelation of divine justice.
We have dealt with this issue previously by noting that, measured by biblical standards, few of us take sin seriously. Consider the following passages in which severe or ultimate penalties were extracted for so-called "little sins":
Adam - death to the whole human race for eating forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-6).
Lot's wife - death penalty for a glance (Gen. 19:26).
Nadab and Abihu - death for irregularities in priestly service (Num. 3:4; cf. Lev. 10:1-2).
Achan - a whole family destroyed for one person's greed (Josh. 7:24-25).
Uzzah - death for keeping the Ark from falling.
Ananias and Sapphira - capital punishment for lying (Acts 5:1-10).
Is God overly severe? Not according to God's own assessment (Rom. 1:18; 2:5; 3:10,12,23; Luke 17:32; Lev. 10:3; Josh. 7:1, 20; 2 Sam. 6:7; Acts 5:3-4).
We have difficulty recognizing God's justice in His punishment of "little sins" because we adopt a human-centered perspective rather than a God-centered one. The Bible views sin as an attack on God's character and, therefore, warranting great punishment.
We must learn of divine justice from the Bible itself. It will not do to protest God's revealed judgments on the basis of what seems fair or unfair to us. Instead, we must adjust our thinking, including our view of God's justice, to God's revealed truth. Human standards will not do. Even by annihilationist standards, is extinction a punishment commensurate with God's love?
Aquinas was right. Sin is an attack on the infinitely holy god. He, therefore, justly sets the penalties for sin in this world and the next. He righteously condemns sinners for Adam's sin and for their own. And he plainly teaches that He punishes the wicked forever. We conclude that He is just in so doing.
Argument Based on the "Universalist Passages"
John Stott's fourth and final argument for annihilationism is based on supposed universalist passages. Stott cannot endorse universalism because the Bible teaches the reality of hell. Says he:
My point ... is that the eternal existence of the impenitent in hell would be hard to reconcile with the promises of God's final victory over evil, or with the apparently universalistic texts....[How can God] in any meaningful sense be called "everything to everybody" [1 Cor. 15:28] while an unspecified number of people still continue in rebellion against him and under his judgment.
We must study the whole Bible to understand future things. The crucial question is, What does God deem compatible with His being "all in all"? The Bible's final three chapters answer: God's ultimate victory does not involve the eradication of evil beings from His universe. God's being "all in all" means that He reigns over the just and unjust; it does not mean that only the former remain.
Argument on Conditional Immortality
Conditional immortality, sometimes used as another name for annihilationism, is the view that souls are not naturally immortal, but that immortality is a gift given by God only to the righteous, who, as a result, live forever. But the unrighteous, because they lack the gift of immortality, are annihilated and cease to exist. Clark Pinnock regards this issue as crucial, and claims that the doctrine of natural immortality is derived more from Plato than the Bible.
Traditionalists, however, do not hold that the souls of humans are inherently immortal, as did Plato. Rather acknowledging that God "alone is immortal," as Paul says (1 Tim. 6:16), they teach that the immortal God grants immortality to all human beings.
We need to define the concept of the immortality of the soul. In fact, to avoid confusion, we might do well to abandon the expression. Some use the words "the immortality of the soul" to refer to the survival of the immaterial part of human nature after death. Though that is a biblical idea, it is better called the survival of the human soul or spirit in the intermediate state. We confuse the intermediate and final states if we refer to the former by the expression "the immortality of the soul."
Most use "the immortality of the soul" to describe our final destiny. That too is misleading since our final state is not a disembodied spiritual life in heaven, but a holistic resurrected one on the new earth. All things considered, it is better to talk about the immortality of people, not of souls. This accords with the language of 1 Corinthians 15, which says of the resurrected righteous, "For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (v. 53).
Finally, and most importantly, I do not believe the traditional view of hell because I accept the immortality of human beings, but the other way around. I believe in the immortality of human beings because the Bible clearly teaches everlasting damnation for the wicked and everlasting life for the righteous.
Since annihilationism contradicts the teaching of the Bible, it must be rejected. Although some evangelical Christians hold this doctrine, I plead with them to renounce it. Because it dishonors God and His truth to believe error, professing Christians need to repent of the sine of accepting this false teaching.
Annihilationism is a most serious error because it leads unrepentant sinners to underestimate their fate. Would not the ungodly be more inclined to live selfishly their whole lives, without thought of God, if they expected after death to face ultimate extinction rather than eternal punishment? The unsaved would probably like annihilationism to be true, but it is not. Because we believers love the lost, we must tell them the truth: all who live ungodly lives face eternal conscious torment at the hands of the living God!
I fear that if annihilationism is widely accepted, missionary work will suffer. Annihilationists can argue that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible fate if measured against the bliss of the righteous. But when compared to suffering in hell forever, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist.
THE CASE FOR ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
Hell's Place in the Outworking of God's Plan
Hell Is the Final, Not the Intermediate, State
Christian theology distinguishes between the intermediate and final states for the righteous. The final state is believers' existence on the new earth after their resurrection from the dead. The intermediate state is their disembodied existence after death and before resurrection.
Jesus implies the intermediate existence in Luke 23:43 when, on the cross, He promises the dying thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus says the forgiven thief will join Him later that day in God's presence. Since their bodies were taken down and buried that same day, there must be an immaterial part of human nature that survives death.
Paul confirms Jesus' teaching when he contrasts being "at home in the body" and "away from the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6,8). He presupposes that human nature is composed of material and immaterial aspects. While believers are living in the body, they are not in Christ's presence in heaven. When believers depart the body, they go to be with the Lord in the intermediate state.
Although the Bible says more about the intermediate state of the righteous than that of the wicked, it implies the latter as well. We see this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We must not press all the details of the parable, as if it were a detailed description of the afterlife. It seems safe, however, to conclude that in Luke 16:19-31 Jesus teaches that after death and before the resurrection believes and unbelievers will experience blessing (v. 25) and woe (vv. 23-25,28), respectively.
Another passage that suggests the conscious suffering of the wicked in the intermediate state is 2 Peter 2:9: "The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment" (emphasis added).
Hell Follows Christ's Second Coming
Although the Bible whispers about the intermediate state of the wicked, it shouts about their final state. The condemnation of the wicked follows Christ's return: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory ... he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory" (Matt. 25:31). King Jesus will then separate the nations--some to eternal fire; some to the Father's kingdom. Paul agrees: "When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven .... He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." (2 Thess. 1:7-8).
Hell Follows the Resurrection of the Dead
Although we cannot construct a complete scenario of future events, we can locate more specifically the time of unbelievers' damnation. Jesus proclaims that it will follow the resurrection: "A time is coming when all who are in their graves will ... come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:28-29).
Hell Follows the Last Judgment
Still more precisely, hell follows the Last Judgment. After Jesus returns, He will judge all humanity by separating the people of the world. He will invite the "sheep" into His Father's kingdom but will evict the "goats" into hell-fire. John reinforces this truth when he beholds "the dead, great and small, standing before the throne" of God's judgment. At the Last Judgment those whose names are not found in the book of life (i.e., unbelievers) are "thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:11-15). Plainly, God pronounces sentence upon the wicked prior to casting them into hell.
God is Judge
The executor of the Last Judgment is God Himself. Sometimes Scripture presents God the "Father who judges each man's work" as Judge (1 Peter 1:17). At other times, God the Son plays that role: "Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22).
God Alone Rules over Hell
God not only pronounces sentence, but He also reigns over hell. Some have claimed that Satan rules in full fury there; others that Satan rules, under God, over hell.
On the contrary, hell is where God alone rules and where His complete fury is unleashed against Satan, his angels, and wicked human beings.
God's Lordship over hell is expressed by the idea of His throwing the devil and his angels in the eternal lake of fire (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10) and the idea of His throwing people into it as well (Luke 12:5). This idea is common in the New Testament. It indicates that the power of God over the wicked extends beyond the grave. God alone rules over hell.
God is Present in Hell
We need to reconsider the common notion that God is absent from hell. In one sense, He is absent from hell. This is why Paul says that unbelievers "will be shut out from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9). God is not present in hell in grace and blessing.
However, since God is everywhere present, He is present in hell. Although He is not there in grace and blessing, He is there in holiness and wrath (Rev. 14:10). The wicked will suffer eternally in Christ's holy presence!
Sobering Implications and Incredibly Good News
Because God alone is Lord of heaven and hell, only He has the right to make the rules for this life--and that is exactly what He has done. God has designed the world so that the decisions of this life have eternal significance. Hence, the Savior warns His hearers, "If you do not believer that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins" (John 8:24).
We misunderstand Jesus' mission, however, if we forget that He also says, "I did not come to judge the world, but to save it" (John 12:47). God openly publishes His priorities (John 3:16-18).
This is incredibly good news! Upon hearing it every sinner ought to come to Jesus, the Savior of the world. Jesus is a wonderful Savior. He is also a terrible Judge.
Darkness and Separation
Our Lord uses the image of darkness to speak of hell (e.g., Matt. 8:12; Matt. 22:13; Matt. 25:30). Unbelievers will be banished from God's kingdom. Instead of experiencing the joy and fellowship of the messianic feast, they "will be thrown outside into the darkness." This expulsion will involve terrible suffering, because outside "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
The apostles also speak of hell in terms of darkness and separation (2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 13; Rev. 21:3-4; Rev. 22:14-15).
The New Testament also uses fire imagery to depict hell (Matt. 18:8-9; 13:40-42, 49-50; Mark 9:48; Luke 16:23-24; Rev. 20:10). What does hell-fire signify? Anguish (Matt. 13:42), terrible pain (Matt. 13:49-50); unspeakable torment (Rev. 20:10); agony (Luke 16:25, 28).
Jude 7 warns of "those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." And John teaches the wicked "will be tormented with burning sulfur .... And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night" (Rev. 14:10-11).
We conclude that the biblical pictures of fire and burning signify the horrible suffering of the unrighteous in hell. Should we understand the fires of hell as literal flames? The answer is no. As Calvin saw long ago, God did not intend for us to do so. If we take literally the image of hell as fire, it clashes with other images of hell, for example, hell as darkness, or hell as the wicked being cut to pieces. Rather than giving us literal pictures of the fate of the wicked, God uses dreaded pictures from this world to present the terrible reality of hell in the next world. I stand with the majority of contemporary scholars in understanding the biblical imagery of hell metaphorically rather than literally.
Crying and Grinding of Teeth
Seven times we read of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Weeping speaks of sorrow; gnashing of teeth speaks of extreme suffering and remorse.
Jesus does not leave us to guess about the nature of hell. It will be a place of unspeakable suffering.
Is the terrible suffering of hell just or unjust? According to Scripture, the suffering of the wicked in hell is just; the enemies of God get what they deserve for rebelling against Him. At Jesus' voice the dead will rise. Those who have evidenced their faith by living for God will rise to eternal life. Unbelievers, however, will reap the fruits of their evil lives. They will re raised to condemnation. Jesus is a righteous Judge who will justly condemn the wicked for their iniquity.
Paul echoes Jesus' teaching when he writes to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 1:5-9). Because God is just, His judgment is right. It is right for Him to punish those who persecute His people, those who do not obey the gospel. In fact, it would be wrong if He did not punish sinners. He, therefore, will punish His enemies with endless exclusion from the joy of His presence.
Jude regards God's judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah as an earthly example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 7).
We appreciate advanced notice if disaster is going to strike us, so we can plan accordingly. We should be thankful to God that He repeatedly tells us the truth about hell. He is merciful to warn us ahead of time of the consequences of our sins so that we might repent and escape His wrath.
Death and Destruction
The Word of God also uses images of death and destruction to describe the final state of the wicked (Matt. 10:28; Rom. 2:12; Rev. 19:20; 20:14-15). We need not ultimately fear human beings, for the worst they can do is take our lives. Instead, we should fear God, who can bring us to eternal ruin--the endless ruin of all that is worthwhile in human existence.
We have examined the biblical pictures that depict the final destiny of the wicked. Taken together, these images shock our sensibilities. The present a fate involving utter ruin and loss, the eternal wrath of God, unspeakable sorrow and pain, terrible suffering, and rejection by God and exclusion from His blessed presence.
The worst aspect of hell is not its terrifying description (above) but its endless duration, of which both Jesus and the apostles speak. Although the word translated "eternal" (aionios) sometimes means "age-long," it should be rendered "eternal" when speaking of final destinies, because these destinies pertain "to the final age, an age that partakes of God's eternality."
The Bible's last two chapters verify that the duration of hell is endless. John records that the destiny of sinners is the "fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). The wicked will not cease to exist; they will exists in perpetual separation from God's eternal life ("death') in conscious torment ("fire").
Hell's Degrees of Punishment
When Christians thing about the endlessness of hell, one question frequently comes to mind. Does everyone suffer equally in hell, or are there degrees of punishment? The question is often asked concerning horrendous sinners: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Pol Pot?
The Bible provides at least a general answer. Scripture teaches that although hell is everlasting for all its inhabitants, some suffer worse than others. God's justice demands that there be degrees of punishment. We learn this from Jesus' words denouncing the Galilean cities in which He performed most of his miracles (Matt. 11:21-24).
Plainly the cities that witnessed Jesus' miracles and rejected His word will suffer greater punishment than pagan cities that did not experience such great revelation from God. This illustrates one principle of God's judgment: greater light brings with it greater responsibility. A corollary of this principle is that greater light rejected carries greater judgment.
Jesus also teaches degrees of punishment in His parable contrasting faithful and unfaithful servants in Luke 12:42-48 ("many blows," "few blows").
The apostle Paul likewise implies that some will endure a worse fate than others when he warns hypocrites that they "are storing up wrath against [themselves] for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed" (Rom. 2:5).
Although the Bible does not answer every question we might want to ask about degrees of punishment in hell, the main outlines are clear. Because God is just, He will punish the wicked exactly as they deserve; unbelievers will suffer gradations of punishment in hell. An important point to remember, however, is that hell will be terrible for each of its occupants. Nevertheless, it will be more terrible for some and most terrible for others.
The Devil, evil angels, and wicked humans will occupy hell (Matt. 8:29; 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 20:10).
Which people will populate hell? The Bible answers, "The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars" (Rev. 21:8; 22:15). Paul tells us another way of identifying the damned. They are "those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:8).
OTHER PIECES OF THE PUZZLE
Although the Bible contains many important themes, including those related to human salvation, its crowning them is God Himself. It is important, therefore, for us to understand the doctrine of hell in light of the doctrines of God, sin, punishment, Christ's saving work, and heaven.
The Doctrine of God
Studying God's qualities--His majesty, holiness, righteousness, and wrath--helps us to view hell from an important perspective, that of God Himself. God is majestic beyond all our imagining. He, therefore, deserves the eternal praise of every one of His creatures. Many human beings, however, refuse to bow before Him as Lord, and because God is holy and righteous, He must punish their rebellion. Revelation, therefore, declares the wrath of almighty God against unrepentant sinners.
Lest we think that somehow God is defeated by His enemies, Revelation assures us that, because God is infinitely majestic, His glory is the supreme good in the universe. God will manifest His glory in the eternal salvation of His people and in the eternal damnation of His foes.
The Doctrine of Sin
Although sin can be defined in various ways, in the most profound sense, sin is offense against God's holiness.
Joseph (Gen. 39:1-9), David (Psalm 51:1-4), and Paul (Rom. 8:7) teach us that sin must be defined with reference to God. Is this the way we view sin, especially our own? Do we hate it because it offends our holy God? Or do the words of Anselm ring true for most of us, "You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin"? If we catch a glimpse of the holiness of God, and consequently of the ugliness of sin in His sight, we will have less trouble with the Bible's teachings on hell.
The Doctrine of Punishment
We can distinguish at least three types of punishment: preventative, remedial, and retributive. Preventative punishment is penalty meted out to someone to deter others from transgressing. Remedial punishment is penalty inflicted to bring about improvement in the person punished. Retributive punishment is penalty given according to desert.
All three types of punishment are biblical (1 Tim. 5:20; Heb. 12:7, 10-11; Gen. 9:6).
Which of these three kinds of punishment results in hell? Specifically, when Jesus spoke of "eternal punishment" (Matt. 25:46), did he have in mind preventative, remedial, or retributive punishment, or a combination of these?
The preaching of hell certainly involves preventative punishment. Hell, however, does not involve remedial punishment. The idea of hell as a school from which the wicked eventually graduate is contrary to the Bible's teaching. Hell itself must be seen as retributive punishment. Jesus teaches this when He speaks of "those who have done evil" being resurrected "to be condemned" (John 5:29). Paul does the same in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9: God will "pay back" the wicked. Jude (v. 7) and John (Rev. 14:10-11) also see hell as recompense.
The Doctrine of Christ's Saving Work
Charles H. Spurgeon observed the connection between sin, hell, and the work of Christ:
When men talk of a little hell, it is because they think they have only a little sin, and they believe in a little Savior. But when you get a great sense of sin, you want a great Savior, and feel that if you do not have him, you will fall into a great destruction, and suffer a great punishment at the hands of the great God.
At the cross, Jesus suffered the retributive punishment of hell for sinners. He endured both the subtraction of the Father's love and the addition of God's wrath.
Jesus Suffered Separation from the Father
Viewed in the light of the Father's everlasting love for Him, Jesus' cry of abandonment in Matthew 27:46 is almost impossible to understand. The eternal relations between Father and Son were temporarily interrupted!
At the cross, we catch a glimpse of the enormity of our sins' offense to God. Here we learn about hell as Jesus, God's beloved Son, takes the retributive punishment that we deserved, even separation from God, to deliver us. Here we look deeply into the mystery of the love of a holy and righteous God for sinners.
Jesus Suffered the Wrath of God
Scripture also teaches that on Calvary's cross Jesus endured God's wrath. He suffered the positive infliction of torments in body and soul that the church fathers called the punishment of sense.
On the cross, the Son of God drank to the dregs the cup of God's wrath for sinners like you and me. He endured the pains of hell, positive infliction of torments in body and soul. And He did so willingly! (John 18:11).
A Choice with Eternal Consequences
What happens if someone refuses to Trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, if a person rejects His death and resurrection as the only way to God? The Bible answers that in such a case, he will drink the cup of God's wrath himself.
The Doctrine of Heaven
Doubting hell raises questions about the reality of heaven. Likewise, studying hell helps up understand heaven.
The City of God
In John's vision of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2), we see the consummation of the revelations of God's presence: God will forever be with His own. Here is the antithesis of separation as a picture of hell. Separation conveys rejection by God and exclusion from His joyous presence. The City of God descending from heaven to dwell on earth and the bride adorned for her husband communicate God's blessed presence with His people; He will be their eternal source of joy.
God's presence (Rev. 21:4) -- notice that God Himself will wipe away every tear -- will eternally comfort His people.
The redeemed therefore, will never again be saddened by loss, heartache or despair, and never again suffer at the hands of sinners. Because heaven is the opposite of hell, this joy contrasts vividly with the anguish of the wicked as conveyed by the images of hell as fire and as "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
The last two chapters of the Bible blaze with the light of the glory of God (Rev. 21:23; 22:5). Again John presents heaven as the antithesis of hell. Instead of despairing over banishment into eternal darkness, believers will bask in the warmth of eternal light.
The Family of God
God will welcome believers as His sons and daughters, and heirs! (Rev. 21:7). God's people will inherit the riches of the new heaven and new earth. By stark contrast, unbelievers will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur (v. 8). What alternatives! Having a place in the family of God or in the lake of fire!
John offers another theme of heaven -- eternal life. His message rings loudly and clearly: the redeemed will enjoy the life of God forever.
The picture of heaven must be viewed against the second death, the final and everlasting separation from the joyous presence of God.
What about Purgatory?
According to Catholic theology, purgatory is a place where the venial sins (those meriting temporal punishment) of the faithful are cleansed after death -- purifying the soul for heaven to come. Purgatory does not afford a second chance for salvation after the death of unbelievers. All who go to purgatory eventually to go heaven.
Most Catholic scholars now concede there is no positive basis for the doctrine of purgatory in the Bible, but they hold there is nothing clearly contrary to it.
The Reformers correctly viewed purgatory as an insult to Christ's saving work. On the basis of Scripture, they held that all believers "have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). The Reformers also noted how Scripture does not allow for a "third place" -- only heaven and hell.
If there is no purgatory, then what happens to the sins with which believers are still tainted when they die? The Bible says that when we enter Christ's presence, He will immediately and entirely purify us by His grace (1 Thess. 5:23-24).
What is the Fate of Those Who Have Never Heart?
The Church's Traditional Answer
According to Jesus and the apostles, the message of salvation is exclusive (John 4:22,42; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:14-15). It should not surprise us, based on these statements, that the traditional message of the Christian church has been exclusivism.
The twentieth century has witnessed two major challenges to exclusivism: pluralism and inclusivism. Both refuse to accept the idea that people who do not hear the gospel are condemned. Pluralism states that all religions are legitimate ways of worshipping God. Although evangelical Christians are not tempted by the religious vision of pluralism, some find inclusivism attractive.
Inclusivism holds that although Christianity is the true religion and Jesus the only way to salvation, more people are saved through Christ than the church traditionally has taught. Accordingly, God forgives followers of the world's religions on the basis of their response to the revelation they have. If those who have never heard the gospel respond in faith, God will save them on the basis of Christ's saving work.
Clark Pinnock is an evangelical theologian whose reflections on those who have never heard led him to inclusivism. He cites two reason: (1) "God's boundless generosity" and (2) the "faith principle" -- namely, that according to the Bible, people are saved by faith, not by the content of their theology. "Since God has not left anyone without witness, people are judged on the basis of the light they have received and how they have responded to that light. Faith in God is what saves, not possessing certain minimum information. One does not have to be conscious of the work of Christ done on one's behalf in order to benefit from that work."
Pinnock's scriptural citations for this belief are weak and misplaced. Furthermore, he sets up a false dichotomy between faith and knowledge. Of course, God requires faith, but that faith is based on God's revelation. This is not faith devoid of content.
The church's historic view is correct: People need to hear the Good News of Jesus to be saved. Paul's teaching that, because of human perversity, the general revelation of God in creation serves only to leave sinners "without excuse" (Rom. 1:20), makes me skeptical that people may be saved apart from a knowledge of the gospel. Inclusivism is a false hope.
What Happens to Babies Who Die?
I would not dogmatically teach that the infants of unsaved people are damned, but neither would I confidently assert that they are saved. I believe the Holy Scripture says enough for us to give hope to believers when their infants die but that it simply doesn't speak to the fate of the deceased babies of unbelievers. In cases like this I follow the counsel of John Calvin, who advised restraint.
Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know.... Let us, I say, permit the Christian man to open his mind and ears to every utterance of God directed to him, provided it be with such restraint that when the Lord closes his holy lips, he also shall at once close the way to inquiry. The best limit of sobriety for us will be not only to follow God's lead always in learning but, when he sets an end to teaching, to stop trying to be wise.
The Doctrine of Hell Applied to Sinners
We should not expect people to arrive at the truth concerning God, salvation, or hell apart from God's Word. The sinful mind naturally rejects God's truth. Indeed, as sinners we are unqualified to make accurate judgments concerning life after death. We are totally dependent on God to reveal eternal matters to us. And that is exactly what He has done in His Word. Specifically, it is Jesus Christ, the divine-human Redeemer, who is the author of the doctrine of hell.
The Doctrine of Hell Applied to Saints
The avoidance of the doctrine of hell by Bible-believing Christians is undeniable. Few sermons mention eternal destinies, and even fewer are devoted to the topics of heaven and hell, even though most Bible-centered churches affirm these doctrines as true.
How can we account for Christian's neglect of the doctrine of hell?
First, church leaders bear some responsibility. When pastors ignore a subject, it tends to slip away from the minds of their parishioners. On this point, many pastors have failed to preach the whole counsel of God. Seminary professors too deserve part of the blame for failing to train pastors on this subject.
Second, every believer is also responsible for avoiding the topic of hell. Why do we avoid it? Because we value our personal comfort more than the salvation of fellow human beings. Shame on us! Unwilling to suffer for Christ, we push the idea of hell to the back of our minds.
Good things will come from acknowledging to God that we have not taken hell seriously enough. First, God will be glorified by our repentance. Second, He may grant us the spiritual revival that so many have prayed about for so long. Third, more unsaved people will hear God's truth concerning their fate, and by God's grace, will turn to Christ for salvation. The question is whether we are burdened at the thought of people hurtling toward hell.
May God stir us to be faithful to Him and to our fellow human beings who need to know Him who died to redeem sinners from hell. To God alone be the glory!