WRIGHT WAY: A concept on fire
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Mar 16, 2011 | 4098 views | 0 0 comments | 107 107 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Evangelical pastor Rob Bell is putting the concept of a burning hell on trial and creating a fiery debate in several faith-based communities by saying a loving God would never sentence sinners to eternal suffering.

According to abcnews.com, Bell has been named one of the Top 10 most influential evangelicals by churchreport.com and is repeatedly asking the question, “Will billions and billions burn forever in hell?”

What do you believe? I believe everyone has a right to their own opinion and is entitled to their own beliefs. I am also of the opinion that most God-fearing people, regardless of their religious persuasion, want to pursue the facts no matter where the trail leads. Take what is happening to the concept of a burning hell.

Although the idea of endless, agonizing torture in a sea of blazing fire and brimstone is still popular among many religious people, the interpretation of a literal burning hellfire has been cooling off for decades.

For example, in the April 1980 “U.S. Catholic” magazine, United Methodist minister Robert Short said, “There are in fact so many strong biblical, doctrinal and logical arguments against the existence of a literal hell that this question naturally arises: Why do the churches teach it?

“Only if the teaching of hell were true would the churches be justified in retaining it. And a growing number of theologians — both Catholic and Protestant — are now saying it is not true.”

Pope John Paul II warned followers at the Wednesday General Audience on July 28, 1999, that care should be taken to interpret correctly the images of hell in sacred Scripture, adding, “Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”

A report by the doctrine commission of the Church of England in 1995 said, “Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.”

This idea of “total non-being” or eternal destruction rather than eternal torment is not new. Some Christians quote Jesus’ comment in his Sermon on the Mount at Matthew 7:13-14 as proof of only two eternal destinies:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Others refer to the Apostle Paul’s statement at 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 about the time “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in a flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.”

But doesn’t the Bible refer to a place called hell? What kind of place is it? Collier’s Encyclopedia states, “Hell ... First it stands for the Hebrew Sheol of the Old Testament and the Greek Hades of the Septuagint and New Testament. Since Sheol in the Old Testament times referred simply to the abode of the dead and suggested no moral distinctions, the word ‘hell,’ as understood today is not a happy translation.”

The Encyclopedia Americana says, “Much confusion and misunderstanding has been caused through the early translators of the Bible persistently rendering the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades and Gehenna by the word hell. The simple transliteration of these words by the translators of the revised editions of the Bible has not sufficed to appreciably clear up this confusion and misconception.”

What confusion and misconception? Well, if hell is really the grave of all mankind, how could it also be a place of fiery torment? When I read Revelation 20:13-14, I could see why there has been some confusion:

“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” — King James Version.

Here hell is foretold to give up those dead in it. Then hell itself is cast into this lake of fire. Most people thought hell was the lake of fire, but clearly it is not. The New Living Translation and the Common English Bible of these same two verses calls hell “the grave.”

“A Dictionary of Christian Theology,” edited by Alan Richardson, said “It is noteworthy that in the New Testament we do not find hellfire to be a part of primitive preaching. There are some indications in the New Testament that the ultimate fate of those who refuse God’s offer of salvation may be annihilation rather than eternal punishment.”

Are these scholars and theologians correct? Would a God of love torture billions of people throughout eternity? Would you? Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. But something tells me this will remain one very hot topic.

*For a copy of The Little White Book of Light featuring more than 100 Wright Way columns, visit barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com and amazon.com.