Why does some Christians & pastors deny the existence of hell?
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My opinion is that some Christians deny the existence of hell because they believe hell is here, on earth. The Bible talks of 3 existences; Heaven, Earth and Hell. Some believe there are two distinct "places" - heaven and earth. Jesus plainly stated that this was not "His place." John 18:36. If this is not "His place" then this must be what the Bible refers to as hell. Christians believe that we are born into sin and that this world is a sinful place. Is that also hell? I think that many believe the references to a burning, fiery existence of eternal torment (mostly in the Gospel of Matthew and repeated in Mark as well as mentions in Peter and James) is an allegory of not being in the grace and favor of God. If one is not in the grace and favor of God then there is no promise of eternal life with Him. The alternative is nothing; oblivion; or in scripture, a burning, fiery furnace or torment. They believe, I think, that all references of a painful, hot, burning eternal fate without God was a real and tangible allusion to get across the alternative to believing in a loving God. Who would want to spend eternity away from God? The alternative was not captivating or wanted and the image of hell was a compelling argument. Please understand that many Christians are not literal interpreters of scripture and contend that many stories are likened to parables told by Jesus; illustrations told to help others understand the nature and wisdom of God. How one interpret's God's Word is between you and God. I find that I can read a passage one day and understand it one way. The next day, the same passage might reveal an entirely different outlook; hence the term "Living Word of God." The pain, heartache and inhumanity we experience on this earth makes heaven, or a place of being in the presence of God, a wonderful goal to achieve. Knowing that we have a choice to guarantee our presence with Jesus is comforting and a reason to endure the place some call "hell on earth." John 14:6
I'm sure there are many reasons why certain Christians don't believe that there is a place called hell. Undoubtedly the main reason is the scriptures say that God is love and they reason that it would not be loving for God to punish anyone He loves by sending them to hell. They should study the scriptures where they will find that God can and does hate certain people. Psalm 5:5 "Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence, for you hate all who do evil." Psalm 11:5 "The LORD tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates." Proverbs 6:16-19 "There are six things the LORD hates—no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who sows discord in a family." Romans 9:13 "As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Quoted from Malachi 1:2-3) They forget that God is not only "Love" but he is also just. He cannot simply overlook injustice it must be paid for either by Christ's perfect sacrifice at Calvary or by the one performing the injustice in a place of punishment. Another reason is that there are four different names for hell in the NT. One of the names is Gehenna and it is used 12 times in the NT. For instance Matt 10:28 "And be not afraid of those who can kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to in Gehenna." They claim that this was a literal place in a valley south of Jerusalem where followers of the false god Moloch sacrificed their children by burning them and since it no longer exists, God cannot send anyone there! Another name for hell is found one time in the NT and that is in 2 Peter 2:4 and it is Tartarus. "For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into Tartarus in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment." Hades [Greek] or Sheol [Hebrew] is yet another name for hell in the NT. It is used 11 times in the NT and 64 times in the OT. For instance in Luke 16:23 "and in the Hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." So if you add up all the different names for hell together in the NT you get 88 times it is mentioned. Jesus mentioned heaven 70 times. What some liberal pastors do is say that "hell" is never mentioned in the bible at all, only Sheol, Tartarus, Gehenna and Hades therefore we need not fear. God is love.
I would say that the primary reason for denying the existence of Hell (even among Christians) is because of a view that an eternal state of punishment is not a fair or just consequence or judgment of sin committed during a finite lifetime. However, this view fails to appreciate both the degree of God's holiness, as well as the magnitude of even the "smallest" (from a human perspective) sin in God's sight. Since God is outside of time, each sin that each of us commits is eternally visible to Him, and must be atoned for. In addition, individual sinful acts (although each act by itself may seem to be relatively insignificant) are a reflection of a more basic and pervasive sinful nature that, left unaddressed, would be incompatible with eternal co-existence with a sinless God. This denial also overlooks the words of Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 (where, interestingly, the rich man does not question the fairness or justice of his punishment, but only asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers, so that they will not suffer a similar fate), as well as in Matthew 25:31-36, where the punishment of the unsaved is described as eternal. God is a God of both justice and love. Just as His justice demands such consequences, He also, in pure grace and mercy, provided a means of avoiding that judgment through the incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection of His own Son, so that all who placed their faith in Him could avoid that condemnation. But those who fail to avail themselves of that salvation must bear the results of that decision.
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