Recently I was contacted by a university student writing a paper for a Philosophy 102 course. The topic is the interconnectedness of time and suffering (fascinating!). Finding that I created a course called The Beginning and End of Suffering, she asked for my perspective. I’m sharing these ideas here as a series. I welcome your feedback and questions.
Earlier in this series, I explained how hell can’t be eternal suffering, because that would require eternal living, and eternal life is given only to the saved, not the lost.
Eternal life is a result of being connected to the Creator by virtue of a person’s final decision about God (whether to trust Him or not). Eternal death is the result of being disconnected from the Creator by virtue of a person’s final decision about God. It makes sense, as the Creator is the only source of life.
What is hell like?
Being disconnected from the Creator is truly awful. When a person lives in separation from God, it’s not a pleasant experience in various ways; sometimes we use the word “hell” to describe a bad experience or condition. That person, though, still has an opportunity to choose to repent (turn around) and reconnect with God during his lifetime. The worst time will be at the “end” — after the Thousand Years — when the people who died in a state of rebellion against God will be resurrected and join together with the devil and his angels to attempt to attack the holy city as it descends from heaven. During that second, brief lifetime, it will be utter “hell” for them. Their condition of separation from God will be absolute, because their decision to separate from God will be absolute; they reach the point of no return. We got a glimpse of what this will be like when Jesus was dying:
“At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ … Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook; rocks split apart.” (Matthew 27:45-51)
Darkness in the middle of the day. The earth shook violently. A dying man, with barely any strength left, cried out in utter anguish as He experienced absolute separation from the Creator. There is nothing worse. That is true suffering, and it will be especially awful when it is experienced on a mass scale at the “end”. God, out of mercy, will end their anguish quickly by sending fire to consume them. They won’t be roasted for eternity; they will be consumed quickly.
Why does God make that choice?
God could let them suffer forever by allowing them to live somehow, but He is kind. If they were to remain alive, they would suffer. In death, they will experience nothingness. The only other option is to let them live forever in connection with the Creator, but God will not force anyone to love Him and will respect their decision not to connect with Him. That leaves only the options of death and eternal suffering. Death is the lesser of the two evils, so that is what God will allow.
What about people who never learn about God or the choices He gives us? I don’t know for sure how He will work it all out, but I know this: God is not a jerk. Whatever He does, it will be fair and right and loving. This is what the Thousand Years are for — to look at all the evidence on both sides and judge the Judge and His judgments. God knows that, if He can’t prove Himself to be loving and righteous, He leaves Himself open to rebellion by His creation, and we never get out of this boat. When the redeemed and the angels and all creation in the universe see how God deals with the saved and the lost, they will declare Him absolutely loving and righteous, leaving no room for debate anymore. Every knee will bow.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.
And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him,
anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16)
I encourage you to read part five of this series, in which I discuss why there is suffering, why God allows suffering, and when suffering will end. Subscribe to this blog to receive notifications of new posts.
Note: Let me know if you want the Bible texts associated with these concepts (most of them are introduced in the earlier posts in this series). To understand what the Bible teaches about any topic, we must look at all of the passages on that topic. Every puzzle piece must be in place to see the whole picture. To learn more, please ask me by commenting below or contacting me privately, and/or do your own study with the help of BibleGateway or a Bible concordance such as Blue Letter Bible.