7 fallacies about hell
Mon, 11/05/2015 - 15:45
Like a lot of people who promote the doctrine of hell as a place of eternal suffering, J.D. Greear insists, in a recent post on the Gospel Coalition site, that he would happily erase the belief from Christian teaching if he could, but he can’t because it’s in the Bible, so we have to live with it. Moreover, in his view, we can’t fully understand God and his world unless we come to terms with the doctrine. To that end he sets out “seven truths” that he thinks should frame our discussion of the topic.
The problem is that the fact of hell is merely taken for granted—we are asked to take C.S. Lewis’ word for it. You would have thought that a set of seven framing truths would have a demonstrable biblical or theological relationship to the doctrine that supposedly sits in the middle of them. But they don’t. They are arbitrary and incoherent; they don’t appear to frame anything in particular; and where scripture does come into the picture, it is speaking about something other than hell as popularly understood.
1. Hell is what hell is because God is who God is
We need a doctrine of hell, Greear argues, in order to appreciate the holiness of God. “Hell should make our mouths stand agape at the righteous and just holiness of God. It should make us tremble before his majesty and grandeur.” The obvious response to that claim is “Does it?” Does it really make us marvel at the righteousness and holiness of God? Honestly? Wouldn’t most people gape in horror? Wouldn’t most people draw quite the opposite conclusion—that a God who subjects people to endless torment must be a callous and contemptible cosmopath? How can we possibly expect people to be impressed by a doctrine of cruel and disproportionate metaphysical punishment?
Greear offers no biblical support for the argument. He cites God’s words to Moses that “man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20), but ironically he infers that even “the slightest sin in his presence leads to immediate annihilation”. So a truth that is meant to frame a belief in hell appears actually turns out to be a strong argument for annihilationism.
It is one thing to say that a person who has suffered rape or child abuse “needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil”. It is quite another to suppose that the victim needs to know that her abuser will suffer eternally in a hell that is “not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be”. The justice of God in the end is satisfied by death, not by endless torment.
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