Why in the world would someone believe in hell? And what exactly does it mean to “believe” in hell? These are a couple of the questions we want to answer in this ten-part series of posts. We’ve looked at REASON #1 — I got saved out of a fear of hell. We’ve also thought about REASON #2 – Hell makes sense. We’ve also considered REASON #3 — How does the doctrine of hell relate to the doctrine of God?
Let’s look at REASON #4 this morning — How does the doctrine of eternal hell relate to the doctrine of man (anthropology)? Here the central argument is the nature of the human being. Do we have immortal souls? Is there existence after death or does one cease to exist at death? Might God put out of existence those who reject the gospel (annihilationism)?
Scripture teaches that physical death is to be defined as the separation of the body from the soul or spirit. Eternal death is the separation of the person from God forever. When we say the wicked person (we are all born wicked; “the wicked” refers to those who die without Christ) is separated from God forever, we need to remind ourselves of God’s omnipresence. Spatially no one can escape the presence of God. But in hell God is there, not as Savior, but as Judge. [The late Donald Bloesch taught that God’s omnipresence in hell offers eventual hope to the lost, but that contradicts Scripture].
So, spatial language (being cast out of God’s presence [“depart from me, I never knew you” – Mt. 7:23] and sinners not standing in the assembly of the righteous – Ps. 1:5) is used for the relational point of being cut off from life by God.
There is existence beyond the grave (as evidenced by Elijah and Moses’ talking with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration – Mt. 17) for both the righteous and the wicked (see Lk. 16’s story of the rich man and Lazarus). Granted, there are no specific references to man’s having an immortal soul, but the Bible is clear that, for the believer, “absent from the body = present with the Lord” (Phil. 1). For the unbeliever there is, upon death, a being cast into temporary hell (hades – Lk. 16) there to await final judgment and eternal hell (the lake of fire – Rev. 20).
The arguments for annihilationism (the cessation of existence) are lacking in Scripture, despite the best efforts of people like Edward Fudge and books like Rethinking Hell. In the gospel there is, indeed, a hell to shun and a heaven to gain!