TiO 45 – {Un}Apologetic – Hell

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The Main Idea

One of the objections to the Christian gospel is that the concept of hell is unjust and sadistic. That God would send people to a place of fire to consciously burn for all eternity just seems wrong. But what is hell like and how do people end up there?

Warm Up Questions: (Choose 1 or 2)

Q1: What do you imagine heaven to be like?

Q2: What do you imagine hell to be like?

Q3: Is hell a real place?

Dig a Little Deeper

There are a lot of variations on the argument about hell. Most of them revolve around one of these:

  • There is no heaven or hell and so the argument is nonsense but I object to the idea anyway.
  • Everyone is going to be saved (universalism) and go to heaven
  • Most everyone is going to be saved except for people who are really really bad (like Hitler).
  • Some people will go straight to heaven, some will go straight to hell, others will be punished for a while (purgatory) but will eventually go to heaven.
  • Some people will go to heaven, others will go to hell.

Read Hebrews 9:23-28

Q1: What does this passage indicate is the fate of humans when they die?

Q2: What has Jesus done for us?

To address some objections to the idea of hell, Todd pointed out some assumptions that people come with:

  • Sending people to hell is an unloving act on God’s part
  • It is not unloving to follow through on the natural or judicial punishment for an offence: we do not accuse a stone of being unloving if it falls on our toe when we drop it, nor is a speeding ticket a question of love or not love.
  • God has provided a way for people to go to heaven because he loves all of us, but forcing us to go to a heaven that we do not want to go to or do not believe in would mean taking away our free will to choose.
  • God is the sole agent responsible for people going to hell
  • Hell is a natural consequence of sin and like all punishment it takes many parties to have the consequence kick in:
  1. Someone must declare what is good and what is evil <– God does that
  2. Someone must determine what the punishment for evil acts is <– God does that
  3. Someone must decide to do what is evil <– people do that
  4. Someone must determine that an evil act has been done <– God does that

The consequence follows.

  • Declaring what is good and evil does not send people to hell nor does determining that the appropriate consequence of evil is hell. People must still transgress.
  • In a real way, the punishment is a cooperative effort on the part of God and people.
  • God created hell because he is angry or because he wanted a way to get even with us because we sinned against him.
  • God created hell because there had to be a just consequence for sin, not because he was interested in torturing people nor because he wanted to punish anyone.
  • Hell was originally created for fallen angels to go because they rebelled against God
  • Hell is primarily about being burned alive forever
  • While we have pictures in our minds about hell, most of those come from medieval art and not from the Bible.
  • We do not know a lot about hell from the Bible except that hell is the place where God is not present.

Discussion: Talk about the four points that Todd brought up and your thoughts on them.

Next Steps

Hell is a real place where people go if they sin and do not accept the sacrifice of Jesus which pays for that sin and reconciles them with God. But in the end, it is not the consequence of our sin that should be our main focus, either in our own lives nor in the lives of others. Instead, our focus needs to be the salvation, the relationship, that God holds out to us.

Read 2 Peter 3:1-13

Peter gives us a picture of the end of the world as we know it. But even in his view of the end of time he is still focussed on grace and on this current life.

Q3: What does Peter say is God’s longing for all people?

Q4: What does Peter say should be our goal in life, given that the physical world will one day be destroyed?

For some people, the threat of punishment is enough to make them desire the alternative. But, according to Scripture, the desire to be good and righteous is not enough. What is enough is a relationship with God through Jesus. While hell is a real place, we must admit that its exact nature is unknown to us. That is why our focus should be on the real grace and peace that God holds out to us right now in Jesus.

Q5: If someone wants to engage you in a discussion about hell, where could you move the subject of the conversation instead?

Pray together for the words to say to share the grace and love of God rather than to focus on the punishment for those who do not believe.

The Depth (for optional study)

In this section we are providing an in-depth look into the scriptures that the message came out of. There are two critical steps in good interpretation of the Bible. First, we try to understand what the author meant when he wrote the words and how that would have been applied by the original audience. Second, we then take the principles that the original author was trying to get across to his audience and we apply those principles to our own lives. You may want to read some of these passages yourself and/or have people in your group read them together.

Hebrews 9:23-28

            Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

2 Peter 3:1-13

            This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Resources

Here are links to the videos from this weekend:

Mcdowell:

Atheist Experiment:

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