When I was a young Christian and I would struggle with the idea of hell, some Christians would argue that the Bible’s teaching on hell should serve as a spur to make me want to go out and evangelize the world. This argument was always discouraging to me. “You don’t understand at all.” I would think to myself, “The idea of a good and loving being burning multitudes of people in eternal fire is a ‘case-closed’ level non sequitir that causes me to doubt the existence of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t make me want to evangelize, it makes me want to jump out a window.”
As I have posted elsewhere, I have answered these questions by proposing that hell is really the consequence of deciding that you do not wish to accept the correction, love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. God does not torment human beings in eternal fire, their decisions separate them from God and living without God is so bad that it might as well be eternal fire.
Because I believe that there are two types of people who reject Christ during this lifetime, I believe that there are two ultimate destinations that are two different hells. These two destinations are “outside the city” and the Lake of Fire. The two types of people are those who “wail” when they see Jesus Christ in His glory and those who “gnash their teeth” when they see Jesus Christ in His glory. Those who “wail” reproach themselves for the foolishness of their decision, but they are forever cutoff from the blessings of being a member of the Body of Christ and they live outside the city. Those who “gnash their teeth” are those who would reject Jesus Christ even knowing full well what they are choosing and they are cast into the Lake of Fire.
As I have reflected on this issue, I have realized that my speculation could be entirely inaccurate in terms of the source of the torment. I have argued that the torment for someone in hell comes from other people in hell. This does not seem as obvious to me now as it did yesterday and to explain why, I am going to mimic the conversation that C.S. Lewis painted between himself and his teacher George MacDonald in The Great Divorce.
Jack: “Well, Rob I have some bad news for you. Your idea that the fires of hell represents the torment that a sinner receives at the hand of other sinners in hell was wrong and you wrote that which is false and that will cost you.”
Rob: “That is terrible Jack! I was sure that God wouldn’t have anything to do with tormenting sinners forever. How was I wrong about that?”
Jack: “Well your version of hell is far too horrible. If sinners are doing the torment, there is no love to restrain evil in hell. Only a torment from God minimizes the painful consequences of the actions of those who have rejected God.”
Rob: “I don’t understand how that works.”
Jack: “In human history, you can see that people with very great differences who would otherwise fight and kill one another will unite against a common enemy. Because this unity is the closest thing that they can know to the love that God intended for them, God torments them so they will eternally unite in a fight against Him. In this way, the horrifically painful consequences of their choices are minimized.”
The two principles that are in conflict here are the principle of free will where God will not make anyone do what he has not freely chosen to do and the principle whereby God purposes to minimize the pain and suffering of every being that He has created. Previously I could not believe that God would ever have an active role in the torment of a sinner, but what I realized this evening is that it is in principle possible that God could torment a sinner to minimize the consequences of that sinner’s rejection of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
When this post was originally written, I believed that “every sinner” gets a final chance to choose the lesser hell of being outside the city or the greater hell of the Lake of Fire. As I have studied the Book of Revelation, however, I have realized that I have made a grave error and written that which contradicts the Bible.
The primary issue for me has always been one of knowledge. In my view, a person cannot be thrown into the Lake of Fire without having made the conscious decision that they have rejected God’s love and forgiveness forever. In my view, therefore, every sinner who has died in ignorance gets a last chance to avoid the Lake of Fire. The problem is that not every sinner dies in ignorance. The Bible is clear that every person who takes the Mark of the Beast is knowingly rejecting God’s love and forgiveness forever.
“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-12)