Hell, the lake of fire

Does God Really Subject People to Everlasting Punishment?

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I know I’m not alone in feeling intense horror at the idea that God would punish people eternally. Christian Universalists, who believe all will ultimately be saved, are motivated by the intuition that everlasting torment cannot ever reflect the truly merciful character of God.

My own philosophical understanding is that God is in control of the unfolding of all events, including all human activity, meaning that when He punishes, He is really punishing actions which have been brought about by His own will. In light of this, how could God punish with torment for billions upon billions of years?

There is at least one surah in the Qur’an in which the torment of hell is described as everlasting. There is also the book of Revelation in the Bible, in which the torment of some is described as ‘forever and ever’. Of course, Scriptures all have different versions, and different interpretations of those versions, so that should be noted.

I can imagine that if God is just, hell can be real, even without free will. God can punish people for the sins that He has caused them to commit in a fair way (further discussion of this in my book Christianity, Islam, and the One True God). But can everlasting torment ever be considered just and fair? And yet the idea is countenanced in the sacred Scriptures of the major Abrahamic religions.

A related question is whether God is really angry about sin. Again, from my perspective, God has caused all sin. So why would He truly be angry about it? Much more logical in my view is the idea that the whole of creation, including religion, is part of God’s cosmic playground, created for His enjoyment. If God is a self-sufficient, perfect being, who does not suffer Himself, it seems untenable to defend the idea that He has cause to punish human beings for eternity.

Of course, God does whatever He will. He is sovereign and so if He chooses eternal punishment for some, He has the power to choose to do this. But I am skeptical about whether this is truly His plan, for the reasons given above.


For full and through discussion of my arguments in favour of God’s sovereign control over all activity in creation, and our lack of free will, I recommend my book ‘Puppets’ (which is actually a four-book compilation). Visit the Books page for further information.

8 comments

  1. Steven,
    Based on your interest in philosophy, the Christian Bible and the Qur’an, might I suggest looking into Sufism. It is the esoteric branch of Islam that has survived over many centuries somewhat in parallel with the exoteric aspect of Islam (strict interpretation of the Qur’an and adherence to Islamic law, sharia). Sufism is rich in philosophical understanding of God as infinite, absolute, and all encompassing.
    About hell. To me “hell” is being in separation from one’s Lord and that brings about the suffering of one’s soul. But if there is only God, there can never be a “thing” separate from Him or in addition to Him. So hell must be a self imposed, illusion. And the people of fire actually choose this illusion – no punishment from God here. Yes, we have “apparent” free choice. I prefer to use the term “free choice” rather than “free will” since God only presents us with choices.
    When we make a choice, God, the Absolute Sovereign, unfailingly conforms to our desires and says “Be,” and our choice becomes manifested. As it is mentioned in the Qur’an, “When He wishes a thing, He says to it Be, and it becomes.”
    The great Sufi master, Ibn ‘Arabi describes this “becoming” as happening in each and every instant in “time.” He often describes the Absolute Sovereign as “the Unlimited He” and all the particulars of the universes including us as the “the limited He.” But In all cases, there is only, He.

    If I may leave you with a story about hell by one of my favorite Sufi saints, Rabi’a Basri:
    “One day some friends-of-God saw Rabi’a running along with a lite torch in one hand and a pail of water in the other. ‘Oh, lady of the next world, where are you going and what does this mean?’ Rabi’a replied, ‘I am going to burn down the gates of paradise and quench the fires of hell, so that. . .God’s servants will [only] see Him without hope of reward or fear of punishment.”
    – Rahim Gee

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  2. As a Christian I find this post intriguing. First I believe that God also suffers, he is not spectated from the suffering in this world for Jesus Christ, the son of God suffered on the cross to save humanity. Second, God is sovereign, which means that yes He has the power to determine the future for he has already seen it happen. Yet at the same time, God has give humanity the freedom of choice. It is not God who tempts but he allows temptation, it is not God who sins but he allows sin. If God does not suffer or feel our suffering then God cannot have empathy and love. Yet God is love, so it is impossible for God not to feel our suffering. The greatest example of this was demonstrated through Jesus who “had compassion” on them and healed many. I hope this comment does not offend you, I simply want to share this with you. God, also loves you more than you could ever imagine! God bless

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    1. Hello, thank you for commenting! I guess you must be new to my blog, otherwise you would know that I have good reasons for strongly disagreeing with nearly everything you said in comment. Feel free to explore this blog some more if you’re interested in going deeper into matters of faith, I really hope you’ll take the time to do so. But I respect your views (in my view, God gives everyone their perspective so I’m sure you have reasons for believing what you believe). Have a great day.

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      1. You are welcome! Truly appreciate your honesty and comments! I’m sure we can have some great talks with your views and mine. I will check out more of your blogs. Have a great day too

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        1. That’s kind of you, thank you. I started this blog in 2012 and have explored matters of Christian theology in great depth since then, there’s a ‘search’ bar if you scroll down, or check out the category list to see if anything interests you. There have been many interesting comment discussions as well so check them out! ✌🏻

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  3. The Book of Enoch 100% explains exactly what happens when we die and where we go. This knowledge brings great peace and joy, knowing justice will be rendered, no matter what.

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