Is Hell really for "Eternity?"
"Put your hands in the air!" the soldier shouted. "Men on this side of the room and women on the other side." Horrified, the people stumbled across the rubble to their assigned positions. The look in their eyes showed they knew what was going to happen next. Walking over to the group of men, the soldiers began pointing to different men. Sobs rang out from amongst the women. After the old men and young boys were separated from the other men, they were told to sit down. The remaining men were led out the back door of the bombed out building. The sobs of women and children were drowned out by the sounds of gunfire.
While the smell of gunpowder still lingered in the air, the soldiers walked back into the room with smirks on their faces. Slowly they walk toward the group of women, eyeing the young girls. Grabbing one of the girls by her hair, a soldier pulls her to a back room. One by one, the soldiers have their way with her.
Killing the men who are of military age and raping the young girls was standard practice for many of the Serbian soldiers. The brutality that took place during the Baltic War equals the atrocities that were common during WWII. Those who survived the mass killing have to live with scars that will last a lifetime.
When I think about these soldiers, I have no problem visualizing them rotting in Hell for eternity. It is, however, more difficult for me to visualize some other "nice" people burning in Hell forever. It is hard to visualize someone’s sweet, old grandmother (who happens to be an unbeliever) having to be in Hell for eternity.
Is the punishment of Hell eternal? Will a person sent to Hell have to stay there for eternity, or will God, after a period of time, show special mercy and end the punishment? If God does end their punishment, will He do it by terminating their existence or will He allow them to go to Heaven? If God is going to end their punishment by terminating their existence, wouldn’t it be even better if He simply terminated their existence without even sending them to Hell (as the Jehovah Witnesses believe)?
If you were to survey the fundamental churches, you would probably find that most, if not all of them believe the punishment of Hell is for eternity. Yet, if you were to talk privately to many of the members in these congregations, they would secretly express their doubts. They would tell you they have a hard time understanding how God could keep the "sweet old grandma" in Hell for eternity. They have no problem with people like Hitler being kept in Hell for eternity, but they can’t see why a "good" person should be kept in eternal punishment.
Although the idea of a reduced term in Hell seems similar to the doctrine of purgatory, these Christians are quick to point out it isn’t. In purgatory, a person "works off" his sentence by being punished. These Christians don’t believe this. They believe a person’s sentence is reduced because of God’s mercy. Incidentally, several hundred years ago, someone calculated (don’t ask me how) that a person would be in purgatory for exactly 1,902,202 years and 270 days to pay for their sinful life (source: film called Martin Luther).
What does the Bible say about this issue? It obviously doesn’t matter what we think God is going to do, it only matters what God is actually going to do. Remember, God’s judgment of us will not be based on how we compare to other people, rather, it will be based on how we compare to His standard.
A six-foot tall man is much taller than a four-foot tall man. The difference is quite obvious. Yet, when you compare these two men next to a 60’ foot light post, the men look quite similar in height. Likewise, when you compare a "good" person next to Hitler, we can see a major difference. However, when you compare them against God’s high standard, the difference between Hitler and the "good" person shrinks tremendously.
As discussed in other chapters, we must take our doctrines from the Bible. If the Bible is clear on a subject, we are bound to follow its teaching. So, the question is, does the Bible clearly teach the punishment of Hell will be forever? Hell, of course, was created for the fallen angels. The Bible does say these demons will be punished in Hell for eternity. The following verses talk about Hell being forever:
The Christians who believe in limited punishment point to the fact that Hell was not created for the fallen human race, but rather for the fallen angels. They say it is the angels who will be punished for eternity, not the humans. Therefore, the verses talking about the eternal fires only mean the fires will be burning forever for the demons.
Although I would love to believe Hell is only a temporary punishment for humans, I cannot find any verses that indicate it. I do not like the idea of a person being punished for eternity, especially the "sweet old grandmother." As much as I dislike the concept of eternal punishment, I have to abide by what the Bible teaches. The question is, therefore, what does the Bible say about punishment for the fallen human race. Following are verses that deal with the punishment for humans:
The Bible does teach the punishment in Hell will last forever. I don’t understand it nor do I like it. I am, however, obligated to accept it. I have two choices: I can either spend my time thinking about how unfair God is for doing this, or I can spend my time and energy trying to find ways to keep people from going to Hell in the first place.
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