A Biblical Contradiction On Hell?
Recently, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church was quoted as saying that Hell does not exist. In an interview granted to Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Pope Francis allegedly stated, “Hell does not exist, the disappearance of sinful souls exists.” Within hours of the interview’s release, papal apologists claimed Francis was misquoted; they claimed the interviewer took no notes in his meeting with Francis and the report was not to be believed. This may very well be the case; certainly “the press” is notorious for misquotes. Still, this view of Hell represents what many humans unabashedly think; they believe that there is no Hell and that if there is a God, He certainly would not condemn anyone to everlasting torment. Such a thought blatantly contradicts the Bible.
Within the pages of His Word, God defines Hell as a literal place and one to be avoided at all costs. Consider some of the descriptors He uses to make this point: a place of outer darkness (Matthew 22:13); a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42); a place where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48). While these descriptors show the pain and suffering associated with this place prepared for the devil and his angels, they pale in comparison to the very worst characteristic of Hell. As the apostle Paul sought to stoke courage in the Thessalonian Christians, he told them of their great reward and what lay in store for those who sought their demise: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might” (II Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). The very worst part of Hell is separation from the goodness of God. Even when the bitterest atheist denounces God in this life, he is free to enjoy many of the blessings that come with life on earth; yet, this will not be the case in eternity. Those who have chosen to have no ties with God in this life have also chosen to have no ties with Him in the life to come. However, does this thought contradict another biblical description of everlasting torment in Hell?
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the visions he received, wherein he describes the outcome of those who serve the devil. John writes, “And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of His anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb’” (Revelation 14:9-10). Paul told the Thessalonians that punishment meant separation from God, while John stated punishment is in the presence of the Lamb; is this contradictory? As with most alleged biblical contradictions, the answer is found in the context.
John’s message in the book of Revelation might simply be summed up in two words: God wins! Those who have denied the Lamb in their earthly existence will see His vindication in the life to come; they will know that He is indeed victorious. The apostle Peter may very well echo this point when he discusses Christ making a proclamation to the “spirits in prison” (I Peter 3:19). He demonstrates that although wicked men thought they won by inflicting suffering and death of the Son of God, He will proclaim His victory over them; they will know the eternal winner! John’s point is that a part of Hell’s torment will be in knowing that salvation was readily available on earth; it will be in knowing that the Son of God wanted to bring all men into the household of God; it will be in knowing that foolish rejection led to the present condition of outer darkness and everlasting fire. Ultimately, it will be in knowing that the residents of Hell are cut off from the gracious and merciful blessings of God.
The day following the release of Francis’ alleged statement on Hell, Catholic clergyman Jonathan Morris gave an interview on the morning show Fox & Friends to defend his leader. In this interview, Morris stated that it is not God who sends anyone to Hell; it is a decision that each makes for him/herself. There is truth in this sentiment. God has clearly stated that He wants to save all of mankind: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9). Just as clearly, God has stated that those who reject His salvation will face destruction away from His presence. Hymnist Will L. Thompson well summarized the reality of this choice in the old song “There’s A Great Day Coming.” In the first stanza, Thompson writes:
There’s A Great Day Coming,
A Great Day Coming,
There’s a Great Day Coming By and By;
When the Saints and the Sinners Shall be Parted Right and Left,
Are You Ready for that Day to Come?