Be warned: this is a very dark essay, mitigated only by the fact that I am describing what I consider to be wholly incorrect doctrines.
Today I’m going to look at the terrifying and indeed relentless ‘logic’ of the Evangelical doctrine of Hell, and the fate of everyone who ever lived*. But first I need to make some points clear.
Firstly, please remember that I am writing this from the point of view of Evangelical doctrine, as I used to believe it, 20 years ago, and which is still believed by most Christians of that persuasion today. I do know what I am talking about, because I was schooled in this horrific doctrine.
Secondly, I now reject the doctrine utterly, as completely false. Humans do not suffer endless torment in this Hell place once they die. I consider it to be a man-made invention, inspired by mediaeval interpretations of Scripture towards a public even more ignorant than they are now (ignorant in its proper sense of ‘not knowing’), mediaeval literature such as Dante’s Inferno, Islamic theology from the Koran, Greek mythology and many Pagan ideas as well as Babylonian mythology too. If the Christian Scriptures are interpreted through such ‘filters’, then it is no wonder that such a terrible concoction, as the Hell doctrine actually is, exists. That, and its promotion from the desire of crooked people from time immemorial who desire control over others. But that doesn’t mean it’s true; far from it.
Most gentle Christians, if asked about this doctrine, will usually say that they do believe in Hell, but that they have not really thought about it all that much. They are just believing – loosely – what they have been taught.
In this article, therefore, I am writing almost entirely about the ‘nasty’ churches and harsh Christians who espouse doctrines that damage the idea of a God of Love; I am not talking about the majority of decent churches who simply live their Christian lives for Jesus, doing good in a quiet way (1Thess 4:11)
To digress for a minute, I would bring up the subject of ‘cherry-picking’. That is, selecting Scripture verses or other evidence that supports your own point of view, while ignoring or otherwise disregarding other evidence that contradicts that point of view. This is nothing new, of course, and many Bible characters, including Jesus, did it regularly. This is actually because of the style of debate that Rabbinic scholars used, and unless one is familiar with that, it can be quite bewildering and confusing.
There are those in the Church who, for whatever reasons, like to major on the ‘bad news’. I am working on an essay on this idea at the moment, and I will publish it in due course. And so, I have noticed recently that the bad-news mongers only cherry-pick the bad verses, while at the same time accusing people like Universalists (those who believe everyone will be ‘saved’), for example, of only cherry-picking the ‘good’ verses.
It seems to me that these kinds of Christians, who, incredibly, consider themselves ‘joyful’; the bad-news mongers who nevertheless believe they are purveying a ‘loving God’ and ‘good news’, would rather assume that everything about their god is bad. He sends people to Hell. He punishes people for their sins. He’s wrathful. He likes people dashing babies against rocks because it says so in the Psalms (Ps 137:9, in fact, if you’ve never realised that Scripture exists). It seems that for a religion that purports to be joyful, it’s actually not. They have a facade of ‘good’, and many if not most churches do indeed do a lot of good in the world, but actually their ‘good news’ underlying everything is actually very, very bad news indeed. In fact it is actually the worst news there could possibly be. The most horrible nightmare you ever had does not compare with this stuff.
Let’s take a look.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 that ‘narrow is the way, and few are those that find it’. I know from personal experience that most Evangelicals infer from this that those who do not find that ‘way’ are toast in eternal punishment, because the verse also says that the ‘broad’ way leads to destruction. This is always interpreted by Evangelical Christians as meaning that this ‘destruction’ is in the eternal, everlasting torment of Hell. There is, however, actually no direct link between this passage and the classic ‘Hell’ passages, for example Luke 16:19-31; the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This conceptual link between the ‘broad road’ and its ‘destruction’, and that this ‘destruction’ happens in Hell, is actually an assumption made by humans when trying to support the doctrine of Hell.
Maybe you don’t believe this is standard Evangelical doctrine? May I suggest you take a look at the interpretation of the ‘Narrow Way’ passage’s entry on GotQuestions.org, a website explaining standard Evangelical doctrine. It even says there that ‘We are not to be concerned with the number who will or will not enter’ – how callous is that? Grr…. Also take a look at the gross assumptions layered over the Rich Man and Lazarus story – another ‘classic’ Hell passage as mentioned above – in the ‘explanation’ of that parable on GotQuestions. It says there that, “Jesus teaches here that heaven and hell are both real, literal places”, and actually the whole, horrific doctrine is laid out there as true, non-debatable and horrible in its harshness, although I must allow that at least they have come clean and said what they actually believe, honestly, in black-and-white.
Let’s summarise, then, by saying that the Evangelical belief is that a) Hell consists of real, conscious, everlasting torment after death for all those who do not believe in Jesus; and alongside that, b) Very few people will find the way (Jesus) Who rescues them from that unimaginable fate. Let’s also add c) In order to ‘find’ Jesus, people must adhere to the Evangelical methods of doing so – saying the ‘sinner’s prayer’, for example, being baptised, obedience to leadership, tithing, belief in Scripture as inspired, inerrant, infallible and to be taken literally. That’ll do for now.
But let’s go back to Matthew 7:13-14. Let’s look at it again:
From this verse – few are those that find it – it follows that actually few people will be ‘saved’ – they will ‘find’ the narrow way that leads to life – and the corollary to this is that most will therefore go to Hell. My very conservative estimate would be that, if that doctrine is true as stated, about 99.9% of people will end up there, according to Evangelical doctrine and given the number of people ‘reached by the Gospel’, by the time they die, with the ‘correct’ Gospel message**.
I would therefore pose this question: What kind of parent would bring a child into the world, knowing that there is a better than even chance that that child will eventually burn forever in Hell? Who would dream of bringing a child into that sort of situation? Why would you want to do such a thing? It would be sheer folly of the highest order and an abdication of responsible parenthood even before they become parents. It would be absolutely stupid to have children if you know that they will more than likely, statistically speaking, be amongst those who will burn forever. Who would want to do that? In order to try to justify the concept of children going to Hell, in many cases even before they are even conscious, they make up totally unbiblical ideas like the ‘age of responsibility’ and claptrap like that. This is an utterly man-made construct; it’s not Biblical at all, and furthermore, Jesus TOLD us that few will be those who find the way. Therefore, age of responsibility notwithstanding, most of your children will go to Hell according to those Evangelical doctrines.
Some would say Oh well, God is just, He’ll work something out. He’ll do the Right Thing. But if god is constrained by the rules that the Evangelicals say he is, there is no escape there either. There are no exceptions at all: children; the mentally ill; aborted fetuses. No. Evangelical doctrine holds that god is constrained by his ‘justice’; his rules of punishing sin, being unable to bear anything that is not holy, and his rules of justice which state that all sin must be punished or at least borne by someone, even an innocent victim. But even if that victim did his best – and Evangelicals believe that Jesus, that innocent victim, indeed ‘did it all’ – even then, most people will burn. Jesus effectively said so in Matthew 7:13, and there’s no getting away from it. Of course, it’s always ‘someone else’ that’s going to burn, not those who believe they are the ‘Elect’. But still, if there are people who, by accident of health, geography, family background or for any other of a host of reasons cannot say or understand the ‘sinner’s prayer’, then they are going to burn. No exceptions. And so that means that the sacrifice of Jesus was 99.9% worthless, or at least it will be worthless for 99.9% of people.
The ‘good news’, then, is that a very few people will find the ‘way’, and the rest will burn forever in unimaginable agony. Linked with my earlier paragraph, the ‘bad-news monger’ will say ‘Yes, god is loving, ah but, he’s also holy and wrathful and righteous and all sorts of other stuff’. They prefer the ‘bad’ verses over the ‘good’ verses.
The doctrine of Hell is the single most repulsive doctrine in all of Christendom. If it were true, the Bible would be full of warnings and references to it – but it’s not. Would it not be fair of God to make it absolutely crystal clear? But that there Bible is in fact not clear on many things, and it’s especially not clear on this.
Just to reiterate: the gospel that contains a Hell doctrine is NOT a gospel – it is not good news. It is the worst news that there could possibly be.
Let’s make it personal, shall we?: most of the people you know, love and/or have ever met will be toasting in Hell for all eternity.
There is no escape; there is no recourse other than to a 0.1% effective (at best) Saviour, if indeed 99.9% of all people who ever existed will end up in Hell. These are not good odds, I would say. I would also say that this Jesus, as depicted in this doctrine, is not all that effective a Saviour, is He? How can that be called ‘Good News’??
If you believe in the Narrow Way doctrine, and you believe in Hell for those (most people) who will not find that Narrow Way, then these terrible, terrible things are what you must believe.
All the Church socials, all the outreach, all the best coffee in the world and all your social projects designed to reach the poor or the Lost; they are all a waste of time and are simply papering over this most terrible news: that actually, no matter what you do or how hard you try, most of the people who ever lived – including most of your family, friends, colleagues and loved ones – will be tormented forever. These points are relentless, irrefutable, despair-inducing, inescapable and hopeless. There is no hope in this gospel.
This is the relentless, uncompromising logic of the Evangelical doctrine of Hell. This entire logical sequence is what you must believe, if you believe in the Hell doctrine.
Think about it.
I am sorry to finish this essay on such a low note, but this is intentional because I wanted to show that this darkness and despair is what the Hell doctrine actually represents. For more on this subject, and a little more light in the tunnel, please visit my Hell Resource Page which is somewhat more positive. The one gleam of light I can offer right here is that I believe that these doctrines are completely untrue. Remember I have written this all from the point of view of an hypothetical Evangelical who actually believes it’s all true.
Header image shows the gate of the concentration camp at Auschwitz I – Birkenau, Poland; the atrocities committed here pale into insignificance compared with the horrors of Hell as espoused in Evangelical doctrine.
*I have to say that this essay has been written at a great personal cost. In looking at, and researching, the Evangelical doctrine of Hell, I have looked again at the most horrific doctrinal ideas I have ever seen, against which the Holocaust pales by comparison, and realised that this stuff is really and truly believed church-wide as standard doctrine. Even though not all churches are Evangelical, still one of the supposedly foundational beliefs in the Western Christian church at the moment is this Hell doctrine. It’s simply incredible. People like me, who reject the concept of Hell as a place of eternal conscious suffering, are usually ostracised in churches if we so much as mention that it might all be wrong. I see my wonderful God’s Name blackened beyond recognition; I see Jesus’s death as wasted (according to their doctrines anyway) and all this sort of stuff. I have felt my blood pressure rise; the whole concept has made me tearful, stressed and deeply saddened. I have felt physically ill because of it and it has made me sick to the heart. Such is the vehemence with which I reject this doctrine, and all the damage that it does, and such is the burden that people like me bear. Difficult is the Narrow Path indeed, and it is a very hard road indeed.
**There are a number of other factors involved in my reaching that 99.9% figure, but the main one is that it’s only about 0.1% of people in the world, at the most, that believe in the standard Evangelical ‘salvation’ model, and since it’s the Evangelical claims I am describing here, this is the figure I am using here so that the essay is consistent in its claims about Evangelical doctrine.