Problem of Hell

Problem of Hell

The problem of hell is an argument against the existence of God. It is a variant of the problem of evil, applying specifically to religions which hold both that:

# An omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (all-loving) God exists.
# Some people will be penalized by God with everlasting punishment.

The problem consists in reconciling the assumed attributes of God, particularly omnibenevolence, with the existence of a place of eternal torment. The existence of hell might be considered incompatible with justice or divine mercy.

The problem

There are several major issues to the problem of hell. The first is whether the existence of hell is compatible with justice. The second is whether it is compatible with God's mercy, especially as articulated in Christianity. A third issue, particular to Christianity, is whether hell is actually populated, or if God will ultimately "restore all things" (apokatastasis) at the end of the world. Criticisms of the doctrine of hell can focus on the intensity or eternity of its torments, and arguments surrounding all these issues can invoke appeals to the omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence of God.

In the Abrahamic religions, Hell has traditionally been regarded as a punishment for wrong-doing or sin in this life, as a manifestation of divine justice. Nonetheless, the extreme severity or infinite duration of the punishment might be seen as incompatible with justice. However, Hell is not seen as strictly a matter of retributive justice even by the more traditionalist churches. For example, the Eastern Orthodox see it as a condition brought about by, and the natural consequence of, free rejection of God's love. [ [ What do Orthodox Christians teach about death and when we die?] ] The Roman Catholic Church teaches that hell is a place of punishment [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1035, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, ISBN 0-89243-565-8,1994 - the revised version issued 1997 has no changes in this section] brought about by a person's self exclusion from communion with God. [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, ISBN 0-89243-565-8,1994]

In some ancient Eastern Orthodox traditions, Hell and Heaven are distinguished not spatially, but by the relation of a person to God's love.

I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna, are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love?...It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of torments sinners...Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. —St. Isaac of Syria, Ascetical Homilies 28, Page 141
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Issue of justice

Some opponents of the doctrine of hell claim that the punishment is disproportionate to any crimes that could be committed, an overkill.Fact|date=August 2007 Humans apparently can commit only a finite amount of sin, yet hell is an infinite punishment. In this vein, Jorge Luis Borges suggests in his essay "La duración del Infierno" that no transgression can warrant an infinite punishment on the grounds that there is no such thing as an "infinite transgression".

Against the alleged injustice of Hell, some theists, particularly in the Thomistic tradition, have argued that God's infinite dignity requires that any transgression against him warrants an infinite punishment. On this view, the correct punishment for a crime is proportional to the status of the wronged individual. Opponents of this view reply that the correct punishment is also proportional to the intentions and understanding of the wrongdoer.

The eternity of Hell has also been justified in the Scholastic tradition by appeal to the irrevocability of the reprobate's decision to oppose God after death. Eternity is perceived not as an infinite stretch of time, but as an unchanging present. Proportionate justice is administered through the intensity of this eternal punishment, which varies according to the sinner.

Another argument against the justice of Hell is that humans are not culpable for their sins, since sinning is unavoidable to them. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Epistle to the Romans, 3:23) Most Christians attribute this inclination to sin to some variant of the doctrine of original sin, rather than to God directly. This aspect of the problem of hell reduces in part to the theistic problem of free will. The monotheistic religions, even those that lack a doctrine of original sin, agree that sin is to be imputed to the sinner and not to God.

Some theological schools, most notably the Scotists and Calvinists, have taken the position that divine justice is entirely a matter of God's positive law, not deducible by natural reason. Thus, whatever God does is just by definition, and if this contradicts our human intuitions of justice, then our intuitions are mistaken. This view is opposed by Thomists and others who espouse a natural law view of morality, or consider that divine goodness ought to be congruent with human virtue and rationality.

Issue of divine mercy

Another issue is the problem of harmonizing the existence of Hell with God's infinite mercy or omnibenevolence.

As in the problem of evil, some apologists argue that the torments of Hell are attributable not to a defect in God's benevolence, but in human free will. Although a benevolent God would prefer to see everyone saved, he would also allow humans to control their own destinies. This view opens the possibility of seeing Hell not as retributive punishment, but rather as an option that God allows, so that people who do not wish to be with God are not forced to be. C. S. Lewis most famously proposed this view in his book "The Great Divorce", saying: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"

A problem remains regarding Christian theologies' teaching about grace, which grant that God could indeed convert the heart of every sinner and yet leave the freedom of the will in its integrity. ["Hell", Catholic Dictionary, Addis & Arnold (rev. P.E Hallet), Virtue, 1953.] In the Thomistic tradition, God grants sufficient grace for salvation to all men, yet it only effects salvations for some. The early modern controversies on grace among the Jansenists, Jesuits and Dominicans focused in part on the question of sufficient and efficient grace, and whether these differed in kind.

Some modern critics of the doctrine of Hell (such as Marilyn McCord Adams) claim that, even if Hell is seen as a choice rather than as punishment, it would be unreasonable for God to give such flawed and ignorant creatures as ourselves the awesome responsibility of our eternal destinies. [Richard Beck. " [ Christ and Horrors, Part 3: Horror Defeat, Universalism, and God's Reputation] ". "Experimental Theology." March 19, 2007.] Jonathan Kvanvig, in his book, "The Problem of Hell", agrees that God would not allow one to be eternally damned by a decision made under the wrong circumstances. [Jonathan Kvanvig, "The Problem of Hell", New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195084870, 1993] One should not always honor the choices of human beings, even when they are full adults, if, for instance, the choice is made while depressed or careless. On Kvanvig's view, God will abandon no person until they have made a settled, final decision, under favorable circumstances, to reject God, but God will respect a choice made under the right circumstances. Once a person finally and competently chooses to reject God, out of respect for the person's autonomy, God allows them to be annihilated. The fact that one must believe in God or be subject to eternal damnation or annihilation, even if the choice is completely made by a person, is often perceived as a scare tactic that inevitably forces or scares one into having to believe in God, and God would seem corrupt and evil in saying, "You can believe in me or not, but if you do not, you will either suffer for all eternity in Hell (i.e., eternal damnation) or else be destroyed or obliterated out-of-existence (i.e., annihilation)".


An additional problem in Christianity, since the New Testament in several places asserts a universal salvific will, and suggests that at the end of the world, all things will be restored to God.dubious This "restoration of all things" or apocatastasis, was interpreted strongly by certain early Greek fathers, most notably Origen, as suggesting that sinners might be restored to God and released from Hell, returning the universe to a state identical to its pure beginnings. This theory of apocatastasis could be easily interpreted to imply that even devils would be saved, as was the case during the later Origenist controversies.

In the twentieth century, a belief in Christian universalism reappeared among many Protestant thinkers, and the notion that Hell might be empty was even espoused by the noted Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar was careful to describe his opinion that Hell might be empty as merely a hope, but even this claim was rejected by most conservative Catholics, including Cardinal Avery Dulles.

Universal Reconciliation and the Problem of Hell

Mainstream biblical theology typically includes the following three points, which are supported by numerous Bible passages in standard English translations (sample references are given for each point): A. God has proclaimed the good news that he loves the world and is reconciling all things to himselfdubious through Christ (bibleref2|John|3:16, bibleref2|Colossians|1:20)

B. God has determined that those who believe this Gospel are reconciled to Him and form the Church, the Body of Christ (bibleref2|John|3:16, bibleref2|Ephesians|1)

C. The rest of humanity will be separated from God in the everlasting punishment of hell (bibleref2|Matthew|25:46) The problem of hell is an issue because points A and C create an apparent contradiction. Proponents of Universal Reconciliation argue that point C contradicts point A only because words such as everlasting, eternal, forever, etc are debatable translations of the Greek word aion and its derivatives [Canon F.W. Farrar “Mercy and Judgment” 1904 chapter XIII pages 378-382 ] . “Correction of the age” [ Thomas Talbott "Three Pictures of God in Western Theology" 1995pages 13-15 ] , “chastening eonian” or "punishment age-during" are alternative translations for the phrase "everlasting punishment" in Matthew 25:46 and other similar passages (see the Concordant Version and Young's Literal Translation of the Bible). Christian Universalism claims to reconcile all three points in this way: A. God has proclaimed the good news that he loves the world and is reconciling all thingsdubious to himself through Christ (bibleref2|John|3:16, bibleref2|Colossians|1:20)

B. Those who believe this Gospel are reconciled to God and form the Church, the Body of Christ (bibleref2|John|3:16, bibleref2|Ephesians|1)

C. The rest of humanity will be purified through some form of remedial correction. Everyone will eventually acknowledge Christ as Lord (bibleref2|Philippians|2:9-11). Mainstream Christians might question the necessity of point B if God is going to save everyone eventually. The Christian Universalist in turn might question the need for the General Priesthood if those outside the Church are ultimately doomed. In the mainstream view the primary purpose of the Church is the salvation of those included, whereas Christian Universalism teaches that the Church is established as the Body of Christ to be ministers of reconciliation to the rest of humanity (bibleref2|2Corinthians|5:11-21 and numerous passages about the priesthood of all believers). Universal Reconciliation sees the Church as blessed to be a blessing to the rest of the world [Andrew Jukes “The Second Death and the Restitution of All Things” 1867 part 2: The Teaching of Scripture as to the Destiny of the Human Race "Even of the elect, few see that they are elect to the birthright, not to be blessed only, but to be a blessing" ] .


ee also


* Marilyn McCord Adams: "The Problem of Hell: A Problem of Evil for Christians," in William Rowe (ed.): "God and the Problem of Evil", ISBN 0-631-22220-0
* Jonathan L. Kvanvig: "The Problem of Hell", ISBN 0-19-508487-X
* Charles Seymour: "A Theodicy of Hell", ISBN 0-7923-6364-7
* Jerry Walls: "Hell: The Logic of Damnation", ISBN 0-268-01095-1
* C.S. Lewis: "The Problem of Pain", ISBN 0-06-065296-9
* Ted Sider. "Hell and Vagueness", Faith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 58-68.
* Jonathan Edwards,"The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners" Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846856723

External links

* " [ The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent] by Clark H. Pinnock of McMaster Divinity College.

* " [ The Resurrection and Immortality] An exhaustive study into the biblical definition of immortality and proof of conditional immortality.

* " [ Jewish not Greek] Shows how Biblical hermeneutics proves conditional immortality and not the Greek philosophical view of innate immortality.

* [ "Immortality Or Resurrection?" Chapter VI Hell: Eternal Torment or Annihilation?] by Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

* [ Heaven and Hell] from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
* [ Universal Salvation in the Eschatology of Sergius Bulgakov]
* [ A Rational and Biblical Approach to the Problem of Hell] (Essay from a Calvinist perspective)

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