The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Why affirm belief in Hell?

I think it depends on the circumstances. I usually affirm a belief in Hell, because a denial is perceived as a denial of judgment and punishment against sin. Usually I try to turn the discussion to what the Bible actually says about “hell.”


Interesting question, Sherman. :smiley:

I suppose it depends on who I’m discussing it with. I certainly don’t believe in the traditional ETC “Hell” but as a purgatorial universalist, post-mortem “spiritual education” can serve the role of a finite “Hell” when discussing beliefs with a conservative Christian–it makes it easier for them to relate as they don’t have to totally drop the concept of Hell. I believe this is why George MacDonald acknowledges the reality of “Hell” and uses the Biblical images of refining fire, sulfur etc. Discussing this with an atheist, I would use different terminology and just talk about “spiritual education” and suffering the consequences of bad choices etc to rid us of our selfishnish and evil tendencies, I suppose. (Haven’t really discussed it with atheists that I remember, to be honest. This is a bit hypothetical for me. :wink: )

I affirm it because it’s a likely reading of the Bible. I use the word hell to mean Lake Of Fire. Hell is a echo of the infinite worth of the glory of God. Those in hell stay evil forever and are therefore punished forever.

In the “Authorized Version”, there are three words translated as “hell”

ἁδης (hadās) or “hades”. This word means “the place of the dead” and usually means “grave”, but the Greeks, and later Hebrews thought of it as a place where all “souls” go after death. Jesus used this common belief in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Actually “hell” is a good translation of this, since the original meaning of the English word “hell” was “a hidden place”. Older English texts spoke of lovers seeking a hell. Some people when losing a book, ask, “Where in the hell is my book?” which means “Where in the hidden place is my book?” Today people speak of “hilling potatoes”, but originally it was “helling potatoes”, that is hiding them by heaping ground around the plant so that the potatoes themselves wouldn’t be exposed to sunlight and turn green with chlorophyl. Clearly this is not the “hell” where the lost go, for everyone goes there.

ταρταροω (tartaroō) or “tartarus”. In the NT, this word is found only in 2 Peter 2:4 . According the author, the sinning angels were sent there and kept until the judgment. This also, is not the hell where the lost go.

γεενα (ge-ena) or “gehenna”. Jesus strongly warned his listeners about gehenna:

“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the judgment of gehenna?” (Mt 23:33)

In my opinion, only gehenna corresponds to the modern concept of hell, in that in the resurrection of the unrighteous, those whose names are not in the Lamb’s book of life, will be sent there to be corrected. I say “there”, but I’m not sure whether gehenna is a place or a condition. I tend toward the latter. If “the lake of fire” is gehenna, then that indicates the purifying “fires” of God’s judgment will be applied there.

Some point out that gehenna is a garbage dump south of Jerusalem, and suggest that Jesus was warning people against having their bodies dumped in that dump rather than having a decent burial. Personally, I think that idea is quite a stretch.

What is your experience of God? How does His Spirit affect you? When you read the scriptures who is this Jesus that you meet? An old mentor of mine used to speak of a scripture reading competition where many entered and where the required reading was Ps 23. Some complained when the prize went to a rather rough uneducated guy who actually stumbled as he read. The judges later explained that in their view the winner seemed to actually know the Shepherd of whom he was reading. What does this little tale have to do with the point of this thread? Just this, that when Jesus warned of Hell and judgment he was generally speaking to Jewish believers who were steeped in law. Hence " unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not even see the Kingdom of Heaven" he says. Was his objective to shock them out of their faith in “the law” and into learning to trust in the God of their father David? it seems to me we can fear the judgment of God, and perhaps we should in one sense, but personally I look forward to embracing it in the beloved who will save me utterly from this body of sin. Chris

I always affirm a belief in hell – first because I do believe in it, and second because if I don’t bring that up, people think that I think that Idi Amin will be sitting around in “heaven” feasting on roast baby. Which is ridiculous.

The thing is, ALL of us believe that the bondage to evil that causes people to DO evil to one another MUST be gotten rid of in some way. We just differ on the means, and what that will look like. For me, Jesus set us free, but until we fully enter into that freedom, we still continue to do evil – to obey our old master, sin. Paul said that if he continued to do what he hated (evil) then it was no longer he who did it, but sin that dwelt in him, and that only through Christ could he become free. But what about people who LIKE doing evil, who don’t WANT to be set free from it? God will not rip that thing they love out of their being, but He may burn it out by allowing His presence to be experienced by His rebellious, hateful children in the natural way it WOULD be experienced by those who (as Jason says) choose, because they WANT to so choose, to fondle their sins. They must pay (as GMac says) the uttermost farthing – which is to say, they must tender the forgiveness of their brethren that is owed, the repentance and sorrow for sin that is owed, etc. Otherwise they do stay in prison with the tormenters. (their guilt? their hate? their own filthiness?) At last resort, if they still refuse to let go that nasty pet they’ve been stroking, they must even suffer the outer darkness. God will remove Himself from them to the extent that He can do so without causing their existence to cease. As Tom Talbot points out so well, no sane person of free will (and the child must be sane and informed to have freedom) could possibly choose ultimate horror over ultimate delight throughout the unending ages.

This, along with the things many of us experience in this life, IS the meaning of hell to me. I make it a point to explain to people (if I’m given that much of a hearing) that we will all experience “fire” to the extent we need it. I no longer think (and I always thought it strange) that we are somehow “sealed in righteousness” at death. Where do we find this in the scriptures? IMO the only way to be sealed in righteousness is to be of the same opinion as God – to HATE sin so much that it is impossible we should ever be willing or coerced to engage in it.

I suppose I’m tired of trying to make UR palatable for believers and prefer to attack Infernalism, the doctrine of Hell (ECT), head-on. Frankly, Hell (ECT) is neither scriptural, logical, nor does it line up with the character of God. Frankly, imo it is a doctrine of demons. This tradition nullifies the power of the word of God, devalues people, and distorts the character of God! It is evil through and through, filling people with fear. It terribly hinders evangelism; I mean, who likes to be the bearer of Bad News. It creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality. etc. etc. etc.

If there was a Hell (ECT) it seems to me that Moses, Jesus, and/or Paul would have at least named it at least once, but they don’t! And sadly, English translations by in large have not completely corrected this error in translation. Sheol and Hades should be translated as “grave, realm of the dead”. And Gehenna should be translated “Hinnom Valley”.

The more I interact with people on this issue, the more I believe it is best to go ahead and fess-up, be straight-forward that I no longer believe in Hell, instead of trying to redifine Hell as something less than ECT. But then for me, the reason I came to believe in UR was because in studying scripture, I found Hell to not be supported there. It not being named even once in scripture as a warning was/is a big thing to me.

Yes, people make many wrong assumptions concerning UR. It is an extremely different systematic theology from either Arminianism or Calvinism, for both of them are equally founded upon belief in Hell, and minimize Judgment teaching that judgment is about separating saved and unsaved. I’ve actually come to have a much greater respect/fear of judgment because of realizing that judgment is based not on what we believe but on how we actually live, what we do with talents/blessings/authority, the life that we’ve been given.

For example, the parable/story/fable of the rich man and Lazarus scares the hell out of me! I’ve been so blessed and do not help the poor nearly as much as I could. And the parable of the talents scares me too; well, it actually saddens me terribly. I identify much more with the wicked lazy servant than with the diligent ones. Woe is me! No Joke!

By misinterpreting these passages to be about separating the saved and unsaved, they completely loose their power to call anyone to repentance. The saved say “I’m good to go; they don’t apply to me because I’m saved.” And the unsaved don’t care what they say. It’s strange, but infernalism has actually removed the fear of judgment from the only people who care about judgment - believers. But we should be the ones who most benefit from the passages on judgment.

UR is such a vastly different perspective from Calvinism and Arminianism that it takes a complete rethinking of scripture. And I don’t think that this is helped by muddying the water redefining Hell. I think it is much more helpful to be forthright, let people know I don’t believe in Hell and why, and then work through all the various assumptions/questions that arise concerning UR.

And Gehenna should be translated “Hinnom Valley”.

I think in Robin Parry’s book he used Mark 9 which uses the word “gehenna” and quoted “and so everyone will be salted with fire” as an allusion to UR.

Unfortunately THAT is exactly what the machinations of “religion” did all those years ago and it stuck. But you are right… the terms in use should have been left as “grave/Hinnom” both of which in Jesus’ day would have been understood in terms of the history that subsequently and prophetically played out.

I agree. However, I also think that people always act in accordance with their belief system, and, what we believe can be known by how we actually live. So, I can see how, in a sense, judgment can be based (for lack of a better word) on what we believe.

I think Sonia is right on when she says that

More likely than not, insolent Christians will force us to read the verses and expect some conviction based on the ‘plain’ words of the Bible on Hell. Many people who believe in hell will not really listen to us but scrutinize us for possible personal reasons for our “heresy”. To be honest, I don’t think there is a real Biblical, quick response to send exegetical opponents fleeing away in embarrassment. I would just use the term “Hell” and get on with it. Most Christians don’t really care about terminology. If someone obsesses about hell and is on a witch hunt against “Love Wins” supporters, I would probably question their intentions. To me, “hell” has become a political term to knock people out of the church and a bylaw of “Orthodox Christianity”.

Although, it would be hilarious to go all Jonathan Edwards over other people and scare the living daylights out of them with “fire and brimstone and eternal worms” :smiling_imp: and then immediately explain the symbolism and how God’s judgement is one of reconciliation. Tee hee hee. :laughing: Sorry. Ignore my dark humor. :blush:

Anyways, like davo said, religion has sold us out into a church that has lost its first love. Religion drives many away from a relationship with Jesus. It is sad that the most secretly controversial word out there is “Hell.” There should be more dialogue about it in churches but I wouldn’t expect that to happen anytime soon until the Holy Spirit is poured out on all of the world in the “early rain.”

I don’t know where I stand in terms of UR, but I was sitting here pondering the topic, and it seems to me, that if I were to discuss “Hell” with someone else, I would affirm it. In my experience, both the holding on and letting go of sin, brings some degree of “conscious torment.” Whether it is the external suffering, death, and misery that sin against another human being brings, or, the internal torment that guilt, shame, filth, etc that comes with being in bondage to sin brings: hell exists and is a present reality, not just a future phenomenon.

I think many people miss this: that such agony and torment is not merely something we are trying to avoid in the future, but, something humanity is experiencing now, and needs to be rescued from, now. I suppose the real question is whether God would leave some of humanity in this state for all of eternity, or if He will succeed in rescuing us all from it.

Good points, CH – as always. :slight_smile:


I completely share your response and agree that the traditional evangelical use of ‘hell’ has meant that judgment is not taken as seriously as universalists can be inclined to take it. You’re right that in addition to communicating that believers have received an exemption from judgment and the serious consequences of their choices, and thus can ignore judgment, it also means that non-Christians who may worry about painful realities facing them just ignore talking with us about God’s judgment because we who specialize in talk of it promote such an offensively narrow and unjust conception of it.

A corollary is that we live amid world views that in effect recognize Paul’s reap and sow principle, and Jesus’ exhortation that what we cast on the waters is apt to come back to us, because they sense there is some sobering law of cause and effect at work in the choices we make. But we are not apt to have the privilege of comparing notes concerning judgment and Jesus’ approach to what matters and what the solution is, because our version is so self-servingly parochial and abhorrent.

I can certainly see the rhetorical value in simply denying belief in “hell,” given that “hell” has long signified an everlasting condition of punishment. And then, once the shock wears off, one can explain precisely how one understands judgment and eternal salvation.

On the other hand, given that “hell” is a staple in Christian vocabulary, one might instead wish to keep it but also redefine it along purgatorial lines. Eastern Orthodox like myself find this a very easy move to make, given the long-standing distinction in Eastern eschatology between Hades (intermediate state) and gehenna (final state). But Protestants may find it difficult to incorporate the purgatorial conception into their eschatology. First of all, some Protestants teach some version of “soul sleep”: there is no conscious intermediate stage–there is simply awakening to the final judgment. Secondly, most Protestants find it difficult to explain the “jump” to perfect sanctification after death. Are we think of this as an instantaneous magical event that occurs apart from human cooperation? See Jerry Walls, “Purgatory for Everyone.”

Sergius Bulgakov, who taught an understanding of universal salvation similar to that of St Gregory of Nyssa, referred to gehenna as “universal purgatory.” This works for me.

I have one totally minor disagreement with Sherman: I do not think of universalism as a radically systematic theology. The move from Arminianism, with its free-will understanding of damnation, to universalism is an easy one to make: all God needs to do is to delay the final judgment until everyone gets on board with his program. The move from Calvinism is even easier: instead of Christ efficaciously dying for some (limited atonement), he efficaciously dies for everyone (universal atonement).

The move from Calvinism is even easier: instead of Christ efficaciously dying for some (limited atonement), he efficaciously dies for everyone (universal atonement).

Right and in Calvinism the overriding and central doctrine is that God’s will is all important and irresistible. Yet God’s will is that everyone s/b saved and come into a knowledge of the truth.

Fr Aidan
Thank you for those references. I was particularly interested in the Jerry Walls article and could not access it at your site but found it here: … r-everyone

I find the following to be an extremely interesting thought and one which would make much sense of our present lives. It is a very challenging concept:

Thank you

Oops. Sorry about the bad link. If folks are unable to access the First Things site, then you should be able to get to the Jerry Walls’s article here: … -walls.pdf

I just wouldn’t bother with the word ‘hell’ to be honest. I know there is the argument that it might help to use it, due to its presence in Christian vocabulary but I think because it’s used far, far more to describe a place of eternal conscious torment, it’s very hard to rid it of that particular connotation. And when you are arguing that the Bible never actually uses the word ‘hell’, I think your point is weakened should you yourself then use it