Should We Believe in Hell, or is Annihilation more Christian?
Burning Questions answered by Rev Colin Le Noury
Q14. Should We Believe in Hell, or is Annihilation more Christian?
Back in the Middle Ages religious art was largely dominated at that time by pictures of heaven and hell. Those of heaven displayed cherubs and heavenly creatures inhabiting a place of golden bliss.
On the other hand, hell was usually portrayed with images of fire, demonic beings and, of course, the devil himself as a hideous horned creature with a long tail and a fork in his hand.
These artistic images coloured the minds of people for centuries and have influenced our conception of heaven and hell. But how correct are they?
In more modern times we have seen trends develop which suggest that the images mentioned above are outdated and old fashioned. In a modern world, having commenced a new century and millennium, we are urged to present a 'people friendly' gospel with a God of love who wouldn't send anyone to hell or any place remotely like that which our ancestors believed in.
Much emphasis has been placed on the love of God as opposed to His holiness or justice. This has resulted in the rejection of the traditional Christian belief in hell.
Ever since the proliferation of the cults, many of which began during the mid C19, the doctrine of annihilation has gained popularity replacing belief in a literal hell. Most of the major cults espouse annihilation, and sadly, in recent years it has been adopted by some evangelicals including some very eminent names.
So then, where lies the truth? Obviously belief has to be based on scripture and what it says on the subject. John R. Rice in his excellent booklet makes the remark, 'Jesus Christ was the greatest preacher on hell of all bible preachers - His message of warning against the terrible consequences of sin was the plainest and sharpest in all the bible.'
Let us consider some of Jesus' words:
'But whosoever shall say "Thou fool" shall be in danger of hell fire". (Math. 5 v 22).
'Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell'. (Math. 23 v 33).
'The Son of man shall send for His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity; and cast them into furnace of fire; there shall wailing and gnashing of teeth (Math. 13 v 40, 42).
These statements are by no means exhaustive. Many other similar statements came from the lips Jesus. He obviously believed in hell and eternal punishment. There is no hint of annihilation in Jesus' words.
Belief in hell is intrinsically linked to what we believe about origin sin, the deity of Christ, the atonement, the attributes of God and His eschatological plan. Many of the tenets of Christi theology stand or fall together which is why belief in hell, in my mind, is so very important. This precisely why the devil delights in deceiving people into believing substitute theories like annihilationism.
Hell is a literal place. Jesus parable of the rich man and Lazarus speaks of it in literal terms. In this parable, as in the rest of scripture, there is no hint of the doctrines of purgatory or limbo as espoused by the Roman Catholic church. There is just a sense of final destiny.
The great issue, of course, between traditional belief in hell and annihilationism, is whether there is any sense of ongoing consciousness in eternal punishment. Annihilationists would claim that their belief is tantamount to eternal punishment. Indeed it may well be, but it is the issue of consciousness which is in question.
Again we must be guided by scripture on this one. All the evidence suggest that eternal punishment will involve a sense of consciousness. This was certainly so in the aforementioned parable where the rich man is said to have uttered, 'I am tormented in this flame'.
The same truth is borne out in scriptures like:
'It is better to enter into life maimed than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is never quenched' (Mark 9 v 43, 44).
'And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever' (Rev. 20 v 10).
'And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name' (Rev. 14v 10, 11).
"Back in the Middle Ages religious art was largely dominated at that time by pictures of heaven and hell. Those of heaven displayed cherubs and heavenly creatures inhabiting a place of golden bliss.
On the other hand hell was usually portrayed with images of fire, demonic beings and, of course, the devil himself as a hideous horned creature with a long tail and a fork in his hand."
Furthermore, the Christian message, or gospel, constantly contrast eternal life with eternal punishment. Logic alone suggest that if we believe eternal life to I an ongoing conscious state, then by the same means interpretation we must conclusion that eternal punishment is also ongoing consciousness. This quite contrary to the annihilation theory.
Annihilation should be soundly rejected as unbiblical. It demeans the divine nature, it undervalues the atoning work of Christ and nullifies the unrepentant sin into thinking that dying with Christ may not be as previous imagined. The devil himself must rejoice at annihilation teaching.
Traditional hell fire preaching is not popular in this modern world but scripture warns us that for says that in the last days 'they shall not endure sound doctrine' and that 'they shall heap to themselves teachers; having itchy ears'. Annihilationism may be popular but it insidiously undermines biblical truth.
Many of the great revivals of days gone by were characterised by the clear, unambiguous preaching of divine judgement as one side of the gospel message. Could be that this is the missing note today's evangelism? It is necessary for us in these last days of this dispensation of grace blow the trumpet with a certain sound.
Colin Le Noury