Hell, Part 2 Matthew 25:31-46


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Matthew 25:31-46

It has been two weeks since my last sermon on Christian Doubts, but, as you may remember, I asked Dr. Collins to preach last Lord’s Day evening on a subject apropos our new series of sermons. His sermon on “Human Uniqueness” was, I thought, particularly helpful in addressing one of the most critical challenges to our faith from the direction of so-called “science.” Is it possible, after all, that the account of the origin and the nature of human life that we find in the Bible is simply a myth or a legend? Lots of brainy people think so nowadays. He reminded us that, as a matter of simple fact, it is far easier to call the evolutionary tale of human origins a myth than the biblical account because the former does not explain what we actually experience every day, while the latter does, down to the details!

But we had begun with another question: what about hell? This is one of the most unpopular of biblical doctrines and so, understandably, one of the Bible’s teachings that can cause Christians to doubt the authority of the Bible and the accuracy of the Bible’s account of the nature and destiny of human life. What we do not want to believe we find the most difficult to believe. Who can doubt that fact? So we are not surprised, even as we may be dismayed, to hear people say – even people who once professed the Christian faith – “I cannot believe in a God who would send people to hell!” We began last time by saying that before we allow the reality of hell to shake our faith, we should at least be sure we understand what the Bible actually says about hell, something, I suspect, few doubters of the doctrine have ever taken the time to do. The Biblical teaching about hell has always been more caricatured than understood!

Who can deny that whether or not there is a hell must be the most important question a human being could conceivably seek to answer. Surely if there is a possibility – such a possibility as has been accepted as fact by immense numbers of the wisest and best human beings who have ever lived – I say, if there is a possibility of my being punished in the world to come, a possibility that I will remain a conscious person but unhappy and bereft of what makes human life satisfying and fulfilling, all the time conscious of my lack of peace and joy, surely that fact must transform the meaning and purpose of my life at this moment! If there is a hell, surely avoiding it and helping others to avoid it should be the principal business of my life.

The reality of judgment and the Last Judgment are unquestionably the presupposition of virtually every part of the Bible’s message. Remove this foundation and the structure crumbles; reason proves this – a message about salvation loses its point entirely if there is nothing to be saved from – but so does history. No robust Christian faith, no joyful embrace of the gospel has survived the loss of the biblical doctrine of judgment. How wonderful can salvation be, or the Savior, if we are not sure what we were saved from or, even, that we needed to be saved? If we lose divine judgment we lose all. It must be so.

And, of course, the Bible speaks of divine judgment so often that were we to deny this teaching, it is impossible to imagine that the authority of the Bible wouldn’t crumble as a result. If we can’t trust the Bible to teach us the truth about the destiny of mankind, if what it teaches us about the future is not to be believed, then what on earth is it good for?

But what is this divine judgment? What does the Bible actually say about hell? What is the divine judgment which Jesus Christ came into the world to deliver us from? As I mentioned last time, in recent years there has been a resurgence among prominent evangelicals, especially evangelical Anglicans – John Stott, John Wenham, Michael Green, and others – of the doctrine of annihilationism or, as it is also called, “conditional immortality.”

So we need to deal with this development. To be frank, annihilationism is far and away the easiest way to solve the problem of hell, to resolve any doubts we may have about the Bible’s teaching, and so it is a very tempting alternative. I tell you frankly that I have felt the pull of this teaching and have wondered, with a certain mental longing, if it might be true after all. When John Wenham writes:

“I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine which has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a terrible blot on her presentation of the gospel. I should indeed be happy if, before I die, I could help in sweeping it away”

Surely you feel, as I do, a certain sympathy with his sentiments. When John Stott writes:

“Emotionally, I find the concept intolerable”

you and I know where he is coming from. We’ve all, have we not, in speaking about the Christian faith, in wondering what to say, had to confess to a certain embarrassment about this teaching of the Word of God? Can we not agree that it would be a relief in some ways to discover that they were right that the Bible does not teach that eternal punishment awaits those who are not saved? But it is precisely that wish, that wanting to believe that hell, as taught in Christian theology for two-thousand years, not exist that makes it doubly important for us to be sure that we are not succumbing to our desires rather than faithfully accounting for the teaching of the Word of God. It was Jesus himself who taught us most emphatically about divine judgment so it would be a dishonor to him to dismiss his teaching, unless – and it is a very big “unless” – he never meant what we thought he meant.

So, let’s consider the arguments offered by Wenham and others for conditional immortality, the teaching that once an unbelieving sinner has been punished, his life, his conscious existence is simply extinguished. His person comes to an end. By the way, probably the most important book advocating annihilationism in recent years, and a book Wenham himself said was the best thing going, is The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge, a member of the Church of Christ, a practicing attorney and lay preacher, who studied at our own Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He didn’t complete a degree there, but he is a Covenant Seminary alumnus.

I list these arguments in no particular order, simply what seemed to me to be a helpful way to proceed. But before I proceed, let me say just this. While a case can certainly be made for annihilationism or conditional immortality, it must bear the burden of being required to contradict the Christian dogma, the theological reasoning, and the biblical exegesis of two-thousand years. Even conditionalists admit this. What they are proposing that we believe is that the church has misread its Bible at a fundamental point from the very beginning, that the careful biblical study and reflection that has undergirded the Church’s conviction of the reality of eternal punishment was all wrong, and that this should have been obvious to Christians, to biblical scholars, and to theologians all along. That it is theoretically possible that such a serious error should have been perpetuated through so many years by so many devout Christians and brilliant scholars no one can deny. The Bible must be our sole standard. But to claim that such an error on such a critical doctrine about such a critical teaching of the Bible was made is another thing altogether. The burden of proof rests very heavily, as it should, on those who are in effect saying that the Church was badly mistaken from the beginning and that the Bible’s teaching is, in fact, very different from what devout, Bible-reading Christians have always thought it to be. Our doctrine has always been that the teaching of the Bible, especially on its major themes, is perspicuous. That is, it doesn’t take an expert in biblical languages or theological reasoning or someone who has read the whole library of Christian theology over these last 2000 years to understand what the Bible is saying. Ordinary people can get the main points easily enough. But what is being claimed by the conditionalists – those who say you live forever only if you are saved – is that ordinary Christians almost to the man or woman missed the Bible’s point for two-thousand years. Possible? To be sure. Likely? Not so much. As Charles Hodge aptly summarized my point:

“Any man…assumes a fearful responsibility who sets himself in opposition to the faith of the church universal.” [Syst. Theol., iii, 871]

The implausibility of the annihilationist critique of historic Christian doctrine is, in my view, made the more certain by the fact that most liberal biblical scholarship as well as the mass of unbelieving readers of the Bible have likewise read the Bible as teaching eternal punishment. The fact that they don’t believe the Bible’s teaching frees them, at least, from the suspicion that they are trying to make the Bible teach something they prefer to believe. That they think the Bible actually teaches the church’s historic doctrine is some further proof that an honest reading of the Bible favors eternal punishment, not annihilationism. Now to their arguments.

  • The first argument – there are three primarily – and a very important one to the conditionalists, is that the church was beguiled by the Greek idea that the soul was inherently immortal. This is why the church fathers misread their Bibles and thought that hell must be eternal. They assumed that the soul itself is immortal and must exist forever. Therefore, its punishment must, in the nature of the case, be eternal.

The conditionalists know, of course, that they have a steep hill to climb, proving that the Christian Church got the Bible wrong, galactically wrong, from the very beginning. But it is less difficult to believe if the Church’s reading of the Bible was twisted by the embrace of a false principle, if, in other words, the Church’s doctrine of hell was a house built on the wrong foundation. As Wenham puts it:

“The traditional view gains most of its plausibility from a belief that our Lord’s teaching about Gehenna has to be wedded to a belief in the immorality of the soul. A fierce fire will destroy any living creature, unless that creature happens to be immortal. If man is made immortal, all our exegesis must change?” [Facing Hell, 241]

And Clark Pinnock, once the colleague of Francis Schaeffer, speaks similarly.

“This is clearly an important issue in our discussion because belief in the natural immortality of the soul which is so widely held by Christians, although stemming more from Plato than the Bible, really drives the traditional doctrine of hell more than exegesis does.” [Cited in R. Peterson, Hell on Trial, 177]

I have three things to say about this argument. First, I find it patronizing. The great minds who devoted themselves to the patient exposition of Holy Scripture through the years were neither unaware of the philosophical currents of their time nor captive to them. The church fathers constructed a worldview utterly different from that of the Greco-Roman world. They flatly contradicted in point after point the assumptions of the intellectual culture of their time. We all have to be careful about allowing our thinking to be shaped by the unbelieving world around us. But it is, in my view, a remarkable claim that two-thousand years of biblical scholarship – as devout, as brilliant, as many-sided, as reflective and creative as it was – was all along utterly unaware that it was embracing a direct contradiction of the Bible’s plain meaning because it had embraced a philosophical principle nowhere taught in the Word of God. Surely it is possible that John Wenham and John Stott saw what the church fathers, what the reformers, and what modern evangelical biblical scholarship couldn’t see because they were blinded by a philosophical principle that is foreign to the Bible, but possible and likely are hardly the same thing! This is all the more the case since the prevailing philosophies of life, including theories of immortality, have changed many times through the ages.

Second, I don’t think they have come anywhere near demonstrating that it was, in fact, a theory of the immortality of the soul that controlled the Church’s interpretation of the Bible rather than the words of Holy Scripture themselves. Fact is, theologians who repudiated Plato root and branch, still believed in eternal punishment. Theologians who never read Plato argued for eternal punishment entirely from the Bible. A great many faithful ministers throughout the ages constructed for their congregations a biblical account of eternal punishment without ever mentioning the immortality of the soul. I can speak for myself. I’ve read a great deal about this subject through the years; I’ve thought a great deal about it, as any Christian minister must. I have never thought that the idea of the natural immortality of the soul had much to do with the issue or with my own conclusions. I was, in fact, surprised to discover that this was supposed to be the real reason for my conclusions about the teaching of the Bible rather than the words of the Bible themselves!

I don’t think a careful reading of Christian theology, from the early fathers to our own day, suggests at all that an alien philosophy has in fact corrupted exegesis. These men taught eternal punishment because it was what they found taught in the Bible. Indeed, I would go further to say that although only some admit this in their writings, were they to have found a way to read the Bible on hell differently – to find that it taught only temporary punishment, to find that the unbelieving were extinguished – they would have leapt at the chance! And brilliant men that they were, this was too obvious a way out for them to have missed it. In fact, their doctrine of immortality was not Platonic, but scriptural. They taught, to a man, that only God is essentially immortal, as Paul explicitly says in 1 Tim. 6:16, and that human beings must be granted immortality by God. They certainly didn’t have immortality at the beginning; they all have a beginning in time. Their eternality is a gift from God. Therefore, it would have been easy enough for them to have argued that human souls pass out of existence because God refuses to grant them immortality, that is, if they thought that in fact was what God had said he will do.

Third, this is a sword that cuts both ways. The conditionalists accuse the so-called traditionalists of being unduly influenced by the intellectual culture of their world. But surely it is a fair question whether the conditionalists are not themselves so influenced, removing from the Christian message that part of it that most offends the sensibilities of modern Western culture. Is it an accident that a resurgence of conditionalist thinking has occurred in the modern Western world – beginning in the 19th century – where the worship of man rather than of God is the fundamental principal of our intellectual life and where the very idea of divine judgment is repugnant to accepted standards of justice. Perhaps it is not Plato that Rob Bell is listening to but John Lennon. How often in life is the wish the father of the thought, and how powerfully does a culture determine precisely what it is we wish for! But many terrible things, unwelcome things, even repulsive things exist, and wishing that they did not is simply to spit into the wind.

In our time feelings are the arbiter of truth. But as the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck wrote more than a century ago, having described both the changeableness and the hypocrisy of so much human sentiment, “Human feeling is no foundation for anything important…and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice.” [RD, iv, 708]

  • The second argument, and clearly the most important, is that the language of judgment in the Bible describes extinction, not continuing conscious suffering.

This is a fair argument, of course. The words the Bible repeatedly uses to describe hell, words such as death, ruin, corruption, perishing, and destruction, especially destruction, might well be regarded to teach that the unsaved human being is simply extinguished, to exist no more in any sense. He or she is simply destroyed.

“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law…” [Rom. 2:12]

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…?” [Rom. 9:22]

There are, as you know, a number of such statements like these in the New Testament and they form the central premise of the argument for the annihilation of the wicked or conditional immortality as opposed to eternal punishment. A similar argument is raised by references in the Bible to the fire of hell. The conditionalists argue that, as we all know, the main effect of fire is to destroy. As John Stott put it:

“The main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction, as all the world’s incinerators bear witness.” [Edwards and Stott, Evangelical Essentials, 316]

I have two responses to this argument drawn from the Bible’s language of destruction, which is the principal argument for conditional immortality. First, while I’m happy to admit that if such language were the only language the Bible uses to describe hell we’d all be conditionalists, that language is hardly the whole of the Bible’s description. In fact the Bible famously talks about punishment in the world to come in many different ways and a number of those ways describe what is impossible to understand in any other way than as the conscious experience of punishment.

Think of such depictions of hell as “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” of “outer darkness,” of “separation from the presence of God,” of “the fire that does not go out and the worm that does not die,” of “their being no rest day or night for the wicked,” and of “eternal punishment.” I could go on. This too is what the Bible means by hell and the fate of the unsaved in the world to come. It is far harder to dispense with these descriptions, or to claim that they too describe the complete annihilation of existence.

That problem is made considerably worse by still another fact about the biblical language of judgment. The very terms that might seem most to lend themselves to the support of annihilationism or conditional immortality themselves are used in contexts that undermine that support. I’ll give you three examples but there are a number more.

  1. You remember that the judgment promised Adam, should he transgress the Lord’s commandment not to touch the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, was precisely that he should die. “In the day you eat of the fruit of that tree you shall surely die!” But, of course, Adam didn’t cease to exist when he ate of the tree. He died, to be sure, but the word “death,” at the very headwaters of biblical revelation is shown to describe not annihilation, as we might have thought, but rather a particular condition of existence. In his great work on hell, the Dutch theologian and preacher, Klaas Schilder, made this point.

To live signifies in the Scripture not pure existence and death is never itself simply annihilation (or destruction). To be dead in the Bible is something wholly different from not existing. To be dead is to suffer internal separation, then personal disintegration, namely the opposite of true wholeness of human life. It is from this meaning of death that comes the terrible emphasis of the phrase “the second death,” in Revelation. [Wat is de Hel? 36; cf. Bavinck, RD, iv, 710]

Or as the great Bavinck put it:

“Scripture clearly and irrefutably teaches human immortality. When conditionalism views the destruction, that is the punishment of sin as an annihilation of the human subsistence, it is confusing the ethical with the physical. …just as God does not annihilate human beings in the first death, so neither does he annihilate them in the second. For in Scripture the latter, too, is described as punishment, weeping and gnashing of teeth, anguish and distress, never-ending fire, the undying worm, and so on, expressions that all assume the existence of the lost.” [710]

  1. A second example of the use of the Bible’s vocabulary of destruction is perhaps even more illuminating. In Revelation 17:8, 11 the destruction of the beast is prophesied. That is the word that is used: “destruction.” But a few chapters later, in Rev. 19:20, we read that the beast and the false prophet are “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur where they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (20:10).” (Remember, the unsaved are said later in chapter 20 to be cast into the same lake of fire!) Whatever else we are to take away from the use of the language of destruction in Revelation, it seems clear enough that in the Bible “destruction” cannot be taken to mean “annihilation,” however much that may be our sense of the meaning of the English word.
  1. Or consider one last example. In the Lord’s parable of the weeds in Matthew chapter 13 (or as it used to be called “The Wheat and the Tares”) we read that at the judgment the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. That’s what fire does, it consumes and destroys until there is nothing left. The annihilationists point to that statement as proof of their position: the weeds are burned up; obviously they cease to exist. But, as a matter of fact, the Lord himself immediately went on to say in explanation:

“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of the kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 13:40-42]

But that sounds a lot less like extinction and a lot more like conscious punishment.

My point is that the biblical usage of such terms as death, destruction, perish, and the like simply does not support the conclusion that they mean annihilation. That is my first response to the argument from the biblical language used to describe the punishment of the wicked. It requires some legerdemain to conclude that the terms that mean destruction are the ones that really matter, that, in context, annihilation is what they must mean, and that the other terms that seem rather explicitly to describe conscious suffering, in fact, mean something else. In my view, one reason evangelical scholarship has largely resisted the temptation of conditionalism is precisely because they are hard put to agree with John Wenham that separation from God or weeping and gnashing of teeth are simply different ways to describe extinction.

Much closer to the biblical conception is the account of hell we are given by Gregory the Great.

“…a deathless death, an endless end, a ceaseless cessation, since death lives, the end always begins, and cessation knows not how to cease.” [Cited in Henri Blocher, “Everlasting Punishment and the Problem of Evil,” Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, 288]

My second response to the annihilationist argument from the language of destruction and fire is this. For the evangelical annihilationist this very argument poses a terrific problem. The problem is created by the fact that he too believes – as he must – that actual conscious punishment is visited upon unbelieving sinners. That is, for Stott and Wenham and the others, the sinner is punished first consciously and only then by extinction. [Facing Hell, 255] So, for example, when the Scripture says that all men will be judged according to their works or when it says that some will be beaten with many stripes and some with a few, annihilationists also recognize that there will be differing measures of punishment. Hitler’s punishment will be worse than that of some run of the mill unbeliever who never planned and put into motion the murder of millions of human beings! But, of course, extinction is the same for everyone. Hence divine judgment comes and must come in two parts: active, conscious suffering in the first place and only then extinction. In the words of Edward Fudge, the future of the unbelieving is “penal suffering culminating in total extinction.” [364] Accordingly, annihilationists must introduce into their interpretation of the divine judgment texts a chronology that is entirely absent from the texts themselves. If Scripture taught that there would first be wailing and gnashing of teeth and then destruction, well, we’d all be annihilationists.

Very often, if not usually, in the Bible the punishment of the wicked is described simply as destruction, or death, or punishment, or some form of description of suffering; not as two separate things, but as one thing. What is more those terms typically are taken, as the context suggests they should be taken, as the definition of the eternal punishment visited upon unbelievers. If you want to know what happens to the unbelieving, the Bible says that they die, or that they perish, or that they are destroyed, or that they are consumed in the fire, or that they suffer torment, or that they wail and gnash their teeth, and all of this forever. All of those descriptions have attached to them such words as “everlasting,” “eternal,” and “forever.” So what the annihilationists require us to believe is that those terms describe two very different types of punishment, physical suffering in the first place, extinction in the second. That is more than a stretch for at least two reasons.

The first is that the Bible never says this. If that were the Bible’s doctrine, surely we would have reason to expect that this would be said somewhere! Surely somewhere we would find it taught that the wicked are punished in two ways, first by conscious suffering suited to the measure of their evil and then by extinction. But the Bible never says anything like this. It does not describe divine judgment as two different things or as two stages of the same thing or as one thing followed by another very different thing. It talks about destruction and about conscious punishment but, in every respect, it speaks of those things as the same thing. I regard this, in itself, as a fatal objection to conditionalism or annihilationism, at least for conditionalism of the evangelical kind, conditionalism that takes the Bible seriously.

But, more than that, this two-stage judgment wholly undermines the annihilationists’ best argument. If “destruction” means punishment followed by extinction, then the word itself no longer can be said simply to mean extinction and can no longer be offered as the primary proof of the annihilationist position. If destruction obviously means extinction, as the annihilationists claim, and if in the Bible what it actually describes is conscious punishment followed by extinction, the Bible’s terminology of hell does not, in fact, simply and obviously suggest extinction or annihilation and the whole argument collapses. The best argument for annihilation is that this is what the word “destruction” means. But, it turns out, that isn’t what even the annihilationist thinks it means, unless their position is that all the other terms mean the first thing and destruction means the second. But they do not usually argue this for the obvious reason that Holy Scripture does not distinguish them in that way; ever!

  • The third argument for the annihilationist position is that eternal punishment is inconsistent with the character of God.

This argument is made in a variety of ways. It is claimed that eternal punishment is inconsistent with God’s justice, the sins of men committed in time are disproportionate to a punishment that lasts forever. But, of course, who are we to say what is proportionate punishment for sins committed against God himself, all the more when the Bible is so careful to say that men and women will be punished in strict justice, some beaten with many stripes and some with few, each getting exactly – no more, no less – than what he or she deserves.

Or the argument takes the form of asserting that the existence of hell would represent a defeat for God and would impugn his power. But, that assumes that God has no other interest than the salvation of sinners, which Paul seems directly to contradict in Romans 9. Men who refused to submit to God, refused to avail themselves of his offer of salvation, and who are punished accordingly is in no way proof that God failed somehow to accomplish what he intended to accomplish. Indeed, who must not admit that the punishment of evil is itself a precious good? It certainly is in our life today! All men understand this, no matter what they may say when standing on their feet in a debate about justice or goodness. You may remember that in 1945 Norway, which had abolished the death penalty years before, restored the death penalty in order that Quisling be properly punished for what he had done! Justice is precisely the balancing of the scales and divine justice supremely so. Who are we to pass judgment on God’s eternal plan? This argument is not a very good one and I’m happy to say that the evangelical annihilationists make little or nothing of it.

Those are the principal arguments for annihilationism or conditional immortality. I find them unpersuasive individually and in the aggregate. There are some other problems with the conditionalist or annihilationist position that I will just mention briefly.

  1. Part and parcel of the view, in the case of some of its ablest defenders such as Edward Fudge, is a reluctance to confess or even a willingness to deny that man is a body and a soul. They hold that man is so much a psycho-physical unity that it is inappropriate to think of him as body and soul, a position I find impossible to square with the plain-speaking of the Bible. Jesus himself told us not to fear the one who could kill the body but not the soul, but to fear the one who having killed the body could cast the soul into hell. Their denial of the immortality of the soul inclines them to think of man as a unity, impossible to divide.
  1. This understanding of the nature of man, which they suppose to be the OT conception which was later corrupted by Greek thought, leads most annihilationists to deny or at least be skeptical of the existence of the intermediate state, the conscious existence of the soul in heaven or hell after death but before the resurrection. If man is one thing, then when he dies he is dead and no part of him is conscious, which is to say, no part of him is alive. Again, however congenial to annihilationism, this seems to me to be contrary to a rather large number of statements in the Bible, which is why it is the universal hope of Christians that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, to be in Paradise, to be alive in heaven. [cf. Kendall Harmon, “The Case Against Conditionalism,” Universalism and the Problem of Hell, 202; Wenham, 261]
  1. Furthermore, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that annihilation, if not good news for the unbelieving, is, at least, better news. They have less to fear from the judgment of God. Though annihilationists work hard to deny this, I don’t find their denials convincing. Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher, spoke for many, I think, when he said:

“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is none the less true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

The great comfort in annihilation, of course, is that no one will be there to know he or she has been annihilated. John Wenham and Edward Fudge will say that unbelievers will be punished before they are annihilated, but the entire burden of their argument rests on annihilation, not punishment, and I doubt very much Russell or the modern atheist would worry at the fate the evangelical annihilationists imagine them to face. If they really believed them to be right, I suspect they would welcome the relief annihilation provides and fear much less a punishment that was temporary. Roman Catholics, for example, more often joke about Purgatory than fear its temporary punishments. Wenham, serious Christian and lover of Christ that he is, argued that the loss of Christ and salvation was itself a terrible loss and a heavy punishment. And surely he is right. But, then, the unbeliever won’t exist to know he suffered that loss.

Enough on annihilationism. But we have made an important point. We can’t solve the problem created by the existence of hell in this way, attractive as that alternative might seem to us to be from time to time. We can’t resolve our doubts about the Christian faith caused by the existence of hell by wishing it away. The biblical teaching is too explicit, too emphatic, too repetitive and too multi-faceted to find our solution in a different interpretation of the Bible than the believing church has followed through the ages.

But, remember, we still have not considered what the Bible actually says about hell, about its punishments, about its nature as a place and a condition of human existence. We’ll take that up next time, Lord willing. There is much to say and isn’t nearly often enough said!