“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begot­ten Son, that whoso­ever believeth in him should not per­ish, but have ever­last­ing life.” John 3:16

"The Water Torture.— Facsimile of a Woodcut in J. Damhoudère's Praxis Rerum Criminalium: in 4to, Antwerp, 1556." - Used to illustrate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_cure

The Water Tor­ture.— Fac­sim­ile of a Wood­cut in J. Damhoudère’s Praxis Rerum Crim­i­nal­ium: in 4to, Antwerp, 1556.”

Pour­ing water over the cov­ered face of an immo­bi­lized per­son is a bru­tal thing to do. The cap­tive expe­ri­ences severe pain and an over­whelm­ing sen­sa­tion of drown­ing. Some vic­tims have even been known to break their bones as they strug­gle against the restraints.

But water­board­ing is noth­ing com­pared with what Amer­i­can the­olo­gian Jonathan Edwards described God doing in his famous 1741 ser­mon, “Sin­ners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This tor­ture con­tin­ues end­lessly into eter­nity from the moment of death.

Amer­i­can evan­ge­list Charles Spur­geon preached that, “In hell there is no hope. They have not even the hope of dying; ­the hope of being anni­hi­lated. They are for­ever, ­for­ever, ­for­ever lost! On every chain in hell, there is writ­ten ‘for­ever’.  In the fires there, blaze out the words, ‘for­ever’.  Above their heads, they read, ‘for­ever’. Their eyes are galled and their hearts are pained with the thought that it is ‘for­ever’.  Oh, if I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it can­not be­ it is ‘for­ever’ they are cast into the outer darkness.”

From the per­spec­tive of Edwards and Spur­geon, the depths of hell are inversely pro­por­tion­ate to the heights of Heaven, as an all-powerful God gives eter­nal life to both the saved and the damned. While tears and sor­row will van­ish from Heaven, the saved live with endur­ing knowl­edge and are even expected to rejoice that some­where else con­cur­rently liv­ing souls of the damned rang­ing from evil dic­ta­tors to their unsaved neigh­bors day after day expe­ri­enc­ing con­tin­u­ous rip­ping pain through­out eter­nity. An unre­pen­tant child who died 1,000 years ago is being tor­tured that much longer than a recent mass murderer.

But is this really some­thing that God would do?  Does this belief influ­ence how many Chris­tians relate to the rest of the world?

In a 2008 USA Today poll, 57% of South­ern evan­gel­i­cal respon­dents, and 48% of the gen­eral pub­lic, said that they believed tor­ture can be jus­ti­fied to obtain infor­ma­tion from sus­pected terrorists.

Why would be Chris­tians be more will­ing to jus­tify tor­ture than the gen­eral pub­lic? It might go back to the doc­trine of eter­nal tor­ment in hell.  Many believe that God will engage in tor­ture day and night for eter­nity, so it would fol­low that Amer­i­cans fight­ing for a right­eous cause are jus­ti­fied in engag­ing in tor­ture for short amounts of time to meet their objectives.

Vintage engraving from 1807 showing people being tortured during the Spanish Inquisition.

Vin­tage engrav­ing from 1807 show­ing peo­ple being tor­tured dur­ing the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion. — iStock​Photo​.com

In the after­math of the ter­ror­ist attacks, on Sep­tem­ber 13, 2001, Ann Coul­ter, in an infa­mous col­umn wrote, “We should invade their coun­tries, kill their lead­ers and con­vert them to Chris­tian­ity. We weren’t punc­til­ious about locat­ing and pun­ish­ing only Hitler and his top offi­cers. We carpet-bombed Ger­man cities; we killed civil­ians. That’s war. And this is war.”

In Catholic the­ol­ogy, tor­ture isn’t only reserved for the eter­nally lost. The church teaches that even the saved will suf­fer in pur­ga­tory for their sins until their debt of tem­po­rary pun­ish­ment for venial sin has been paid through their own suffering.

But does suf­fer­ing in hell appeal to the blood lust of an angry God, or do many Chris­tians sim­ply have the wrong pic­ture of God? Where did this idea come from?

The doc­trine of hell, as is com­monly believed, has its ori­gin in Plato and its appli­ca­tion in the writ­ings of Augus­tine who believed that God must pun­ish, not only save, oth­er­wise no human life, lived well or badly, made any ulti­mate dif­fer­ence. (See James V. Schall, “Regard­ing the Inat­ten­tive­ness to Hell in Polit­i­cal Philosophy,“DivusThomas, (Pia­cenza), (#3–4, 1989), 273–79.)

Augus­tine believed that ulti­mately sal­va­tion from hell was the ulti­mate goal since one’s des­ti­na­tion and one’s exis­tence were the only things that were eter­nal. He divided soci­ety between the peo­ple who were saved in the “City of God” and the damned “Earthly City.”  Since the two “cities” were inter­min­gled on earth, The City of God must be for­ti­fied against the hell­ish Earthly City by an all-powerful total­i­tar­ian church that could police and pro­tect the flock.

Because human­ity set on a down­ward course through orig­i­nal sin, Augus­tine cre­ated the frame­work for an inter­min­gling of church and state which would be nec­es­sary to ensure the sur­vival of pub­lic moral virtues that would save as much of soci­ety as possible.

Invok­ing the doc­trine of eter­nal hell, Augus­tine made an argu­ment along the lines that if two men lived in a house which peo­ple knew ‘with absolute cer­tainty’ was about to fall down on them and kill them.  If the men were warned of the impend­ing dan­ger and they refused, what should we do? Should we res­cue them now, and rea­son with them later, or leave them to die? Accord­ing to Augus­tine, we should res­cue them now, for “I think that if we abstained from doing it, we should well deserve the charge of cru­elty.”  (See Augus­tine, “A Trea­tise Con­cern­ing the Cor­rec­tion of the Donatists; or Epis­tle CLXXXV).

Execution by burning at the stake

Reli­gious pun­ish­ment: Burn­ing at the Stake

Accord­ingly, Augus­tine believed that it was the duty of the reli­gious com­mu­nity to con­duct inves­ti­ga­tions to locate heresy in Hell on Earth — Burn­ing at the stake­order to pre­vent the mes­sages of heretics from cor­rupt­ing the right­eous. As a lead­ing bishop, Augus­tine per­son­ally assisted in the inter­ro­ga­tion, or inqui­si­tion of pagans, unortho­dox Chris­tians, and oth­ers he viewed as hold­ing unac­cept­able beliefs. Ulti­mately, the church took con­trol over defin­ing what was “true” doc­trine and any­body who dis­agreed or preached con­trary to these “truths” could be jus­ti­fi­ably tor­tured or even killed in order to keep soci­ety free of harm­ful heresy and to ful­fill the greater purpose.

So Chris­tians act­ing with pre­sum­ably good inten­tions resorted to tech­niques rang­ing from star­va­tion to heap­ing burn­ing coals on parts of the bod­ies of heretics. Then they started invent­ing ways to cause pain more effi­ciently while avoid­ing death in order to obtain con­fes­sions. Medieval tor­tur­ers would tie the hands of the accused to pul­leys on the ceil­ing and attach weights to the feet and ankles.  They invented meth­ods of stretch­ing the joints of sub­jects to the point where bones were pulled from their sock­ets. They pulled at skin with pin­cers and thumb­screws and invented water­board­ing, a tech­nique first prac­ticed by the Inqui­si­tion against Men­non­ite Chris­tians in 1554.

Augustine’s beliefs in eter­nal hell, just war, and tor­ture con­tinue to have a tremen­dous influ­ence on the mod­ern world.

Augus­tine would con­sider this vein of thought pure heresy, but if Jesus Christ would really pro­vide for eter­nal life both heaven and hell, maybe Christo­pher Hitchens was on to some­thing when he titled his book, “God is Not Great.” If, as I type this, God is burn­ing peo­ple at unquench­able stakes, then why would He care about the tem­po­ral suf­fer­ing of a child who lost his pet dog or a father suf­fer­ing the rav­ages of can­cer? Even His suf­fer­ing and death on the cross lasted less than a day – how could a week, a year, a cen­tury, or eter­nity pos­si­bly be jus­ti­fied? How can a God like this pos­si­bly be “love”?

What a per­son believes about hell has a lot to do with what they think about God and how they believe peo­ple should be treated. As we enter times of social stress and ambi­gu­ity, when fun­da­men­tal val­ues are at stake, peo­ple of faith who doubt the power of God to change lives and believe that they are needed to fight the spir­i­tual bat­tle often engage a per­se­cu­tory impulse, jus­ti­fied by a con­cept that what­ever tor­ture they mete out will be noth­ing to the fires of hell. In fact, for over a thou­sand years, Chris­tians were reli­gious persecutors.

(For a more detailed his­tory, pic­tures of tor­ture devices and illus­tra­tions of tor­ture for reli­gious dis­senters, visit MedievalWarfare.info.  Warn­ing — the con­tent is very disturbing.)

I’m not a the­olo­gian so this may not be com­plete but here is a basic overview of what the Bible says about heaven and hell.

  1. God cre­ated a per­fect world that was orig­i­nally designed to last for­ever. God did not cre­ate a hell. It was not through a process of trial and error with death intro­duced before per­fec­tion. “God saw that it was good.”
  2. Satan was a high rank­ing cre­ated being who felt that he should be hon­ored just like God was hon­ored, and Satan accused God of being unfair and unjust – Satan argued that God’s love was not uncon­di­tional and unlim­ited and that if God’s rule was ever chal­lenged, God would become a tyrant and arbi­trar­ily destroy those who chal­lenged Him. (If this sounds a lot like cur­rent pop­u­lar teach­ings on hell, that’s because it is the same.)
  3. God allowed Him­self to go on Trial before the uni­verse of cre­ated beings. Was Satan right about God being an unjust tyrant? God’s argu­ment was that He was both lov­ing and just. The entire uni­verse of cre­ated beings is the jury.
  4. In order to make his case, Satan was given an oppor­tu­nity to tempt Adam and Eve in the Gar­den of Eden. God told Adam and Eve they could eat the fruit of any other trees, but not to eat the fruit of the tree of the “knowl­edge of good and evil”, because it would lead to their death. When they ate the for­bid­den fruit, Cre­ation became mor­tal. Satan tempted them and said that if they ate the fruit they would not die, but that their eyes would be opened and they would know both good and evil. (Gen­e­sis 3)
  5. When they ate the fruit, plants and ani­mals began to die, and it wasn’t long until peo­ple began to die as a con­se­quence of the sin that had been intro­duced to the world through this action. God did not lose his love for human­ity but He also knew that the penalty for their trans­gres­sion was eter­nal death. (Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin are death.”)
  6. Rather than destroy His cre­ated peo­ple like Satan said God would do, God found a way to pay the penalty for sin while allow­ing those who chose to live to avoid eter­nal death. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price for sin once and for all, and there was enough grace to extend to every per­son on earth. It is not lim­ited. The saved will not have to sup­ple­ment their sal­va­tion in pur­ga­tory. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the right­eous for the unright­eous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:8 (NIV).
  7. Jesus was placed in a bor­rowed tomb and was uncon­scious from His death on Fri­day until His res­ur­rec­tion on Sun­day. Jesus did not descend into hell (he did descend to death) on Fri­day and did not ascend to heaven until after He was res­ur­rected. In fact, He told Mary not to touch Him because He had “not yet ascended” to Heaven. (John 20:17)
  8. Jesus will return as He promised. The liv­ing who have been saved by accept­ing this sac­ri­fice on their will ascend to heaven and the right­eous dead will be res­ur­rected at that time. (1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 4:13)
  9. Dur­ing the 1,000 years after the Sec­ond Com­ing, the books will be opened and the saved will be able to exam­ine all of God’s actions through­out his­tory and to see whether the accu­sa­tions that Satan brought for­ward were true or false. They will also deter­mine whether God was just in his deci­sions involv­ing those who were not saved.  (1 Corinthi­ans 6:2,3 Rev­e­la­tion 15:3, 20:1–4.
  10. After that, there will be another res­ur­rec­tion of those who were not saved for the sen­tenc­ing and final dis­po­si­tion. (John 5:29, Rev­e­la­tion 20:5,7) The actions of God will be explained to every­body who has ever lived in his­tory. Satan will try to rally the unsaved to mount a phys­i­cal attack on the King­dom of God. (Rev­e­la­tion 20:8, 9). God’s “Great White Throne” will become vis­i­ble to all inside and out­side of the Holy City and God will pro­nounce judg­ment. (Rev­e­la­tion 20:12; Luke 13:28) At this point, every­body will bow before God and con­fess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philip­pi­ans 2:10; Isa­iah 44:22,23)Those who have been saved through the death of Christ will live and those who were not saved will be destroyed with final­ity along with the earth which has suf­fered the rav­ages of sin. “Fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured” all the unsaved. (Rev­e­la­tion 20:9, 15; see also 2 Peter 3:7) “The heav­ens will pass away with a great noise, and the ele­ments will melt with fer­vent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).  “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the sec­ond death. 15 Any­one whose name was not found writ­ten in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev­e­la­tion 21:11).
  11. The destruc­tive results of the fire will be eter­nal, but the fire itself will go out.  (Malachi 4:1–3)
  12. God will show his Cre­ative power and recre­ate the earth again, just as He did at the begin­ning but this time those who are saved will be able to watch it hap­pen.  In this new earth, there will be no more hell. The saved will be able to fully enjoy Heaven with­out know­ing that some­where else God is tor­tur­ing those who are not there with them. God’s char­ac­ter will vin­di­cated as a God of love and a God of justice.Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, com­ing down out of heaven from God, pre­pared as a bride beau­ti­fully dressed for her hus­band. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne say­ing, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the peo­ple, and he will dwell with them. They will be his peo­ple, and God him­self will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourn­ing or cry­ing or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am mak­ing every­thing new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trust­wor­thy and true.”  (Rev. 21:1–5).
  13. The per­fec­tion of Eden will be restored and the only rem­nants of sin and death will be the mem­o­ries of those who lived through it. The curse of sin will have been destroyed.  “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crys­tal, flow­ing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the mid­dle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bear­ing twelve crops of fruit, yield­ing its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the heal­ing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his ser­vants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their fore­heads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for­ever and ever.”  (Rev­e­la­tion 22:1–5)

Chris­tians need not live as if they are vic­tims of Stock­holm syn­drome, with irra­tional love for a cap­tor who actively tor­tures His cre­ation. Instead, the Bible paints a pic­ture of a God who does not tor­ture. The freely avail­able gift is eter­nal life, the wages of sin are eter­nal death.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, nei­ther sor­row, nor cry­ing, nei­ther shall there be any more pain: for the for­mer things are passed away.” Rev­e­la­tion 21:4.

 

Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heav­ens;
and thy faith­ful­ness rea­cheth unto the clouds.

Thy right­eous­ness is like the great moun­tains;
thy judg­ments are a great deep:
O Lord, thou pre­ser­vest man and beast.

How excel­lent is thy lov­ingkind­ness, O God!
There­fore the chil­dren of men put their trust
under the shadow of thy wings.

(Psalm 36:5–7)

 

###

 

For more infor­ma­tion about the doc­trine of hell, visit:

 

Hell Truth (Amaz­ing Facts) — http://​www​.hell​truth​.com/

Brian P. Phillips — “Annhi­la­tion or Ever­last­ing Tor­ment?” Min­istry Mag­a­zine (1996) http://​www​.min​istry​magazine​.org/​a​r​c​h​i​v​e​/​1​9​9​6​/​A​u​g​u​s​t​/​a​n​n​i​h​i​l​a​t​i​o​n​-​o​r​-​e​n​d​l​e​s​s​-​t​o​r​m​ent

Film: Hell and Mr. Fudge — http://​hel​landm​r​fudge​.org/