Hell is not “For Ever and Ever”

A fairly standard belief among the Churches is that punishment in Hell goes on forever. This is wrong. It is wrong for reasons of translation, for deeper Biblical doctrine, and even for scientific reasons.

First, the words translated as “ever and ever” should actually say for “ages and ages”, which has a very different meaning. To be sure, both sound like a very long time, but any “age”, however long or short it may be, is something that happens within Time, not in Eternity. Simply, there is an end-point. For more on the relationship between Time and Eternity see Why you should Understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics. However, in simple terms, Time is a phenomenon that happens within Eternity; Eternity is not time going on and on and on, it is actually the absence of Time.

Second, Revelation refers to the “second death”. Why would John, the author of Revelation, call Hell the “second death”? A plain reading of Scripture, which is usually the best, tells us that a second death is what it is. Also, Jesus tells us to fear He who can kill both body and soul rather than those who can only kill the body. Clearly the soul can be killed.

Thirdly, there is an even stronger reason to believe Hell is temporary than either of the above. Any doctrine must accord with the whole of Scripture, not only with particular verses. And the whole weight of Scripture, as any true Christian understands, describes a God who is loving, patient, forgiving and just. Would such a god punish people without end for sins committed in a brief lifetime on Earth? The answer must be “No”, since it would be a massive breach of natural justice. Natural justice is something commonly understood because God gave us to understand it. To claim that God would breach it, never mind in such a colossal way, is blasphemy.

Those who like to question God’s justice might still say at this point that “ages and ages” is a long time, and therefore not justified. One would obviously like to know how long an age is in this respect, or even perhaps if it just feels like ages. We all know how slowly time goes during bad experiences. But the key point here is that the main purpose of Hell is not to punish, but to encourage people to choose the alternative. How long does Hell have to last to really get people’s attention, and deflect them from a life of sin? We can gauge the answer to that from the fact that Hell is widely understood to be eternal, and yet most people still ignore the risk. If the Bible said we had a week in Hell before total oblivion, there are many who would consider that a price more than worth paying to live life now just as they choose. For Hell to achieve its main purpose of turning people towards God’s Grace and Forgiveness, it must at least be perceived as very lengthy.

As with many things, we do not have a perfect understanding of how God works. We have a mere fraction of his intelligence, so such great understanding will always elude us. But it should be clear that Hell is for a time before complete oblivion. Beyond that, we are not called to understand, but to trust.

All of the above is written on the clear understanding that men have Free Will. If at this point one considers the Calvinist view of predestination, the utter blasphemy of Calvin becomes apparent immediately. In Calvin’s contorted universe, not only are men spending eternity in Hell after a life of sin, but they are suffering this when they have no choice but to sin because God made them to be evil! This is a staggering piece of doctrine for any “Christian” to adhere to. However, the churches have promoted it for centuries, and very many are deceived.

This article was taken down some time ago because a dear friend objected. His thought was that Hell must be eternal because without that massive potential punishment, nobody would consider turning to Christ. I think that point is probably already dealt with above. I would add three further points. One is that those who seek to obey Jesus are primarily, or entirely, motivated by love of the Lord rather than by fear of the Lord. The second is that Jesus Himself refers to people going to “destruction” in Hell. The third is that I cannot conceive of Heaven being the loving paradise Christians believe in, if it were full of people who were only there because they thought it a better option than Hell.

See also Free Will and Predestination: No Contradiction!