Flames, Chains and a Guy called John

I’ve talked about hell before and I want to talk about it again because it’s a doctrine that is often misunderstood.

When I hear questions about hell they are not usually about the location of hell, or what it looks and smells like but who will go there and why?  This of course is the pointy end of the stick.  I mean, who cares what hell is like if no-one ends up going there, right?

Then questions about blame necessarily surface and what if anything can be done about it.  In other words, whose fault is it that someone is in hell?  And if someone is there, what is the person who can do something about it doing about it.  In other words, what is God doing to get people out of hell?

In this post let me deal with the question: Why does God send some people to hell (eternal condemnation)?

Before I answer any question I like to have a look at the question itself to work out what the question is assuming as fact.  So, in the question, ‘Why does God send some people to hell?’ the assumptions underlying the question are that God sends some people to hell and that hell exists.  If hell existed and if God sends someone to this place then it would be right to ask why, but is it really the case that God does this and that it exists in the first place?

Where to start?  The Bible.

I love John 3:16 because it gives a good picture of salvation and how is was won for me and how I can claim it as my own.  It was won because of God’s love, through the person of and though faith in God’s son Jesus.  Eternal life is waiting for all who believe.  Ok Dan, that sounds more like heaven than hell, how does hell fit into it all?

Let’s move along in the passage.  The next verse (3:17) points out that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  This is an interesting point.  Jesus, who was God, entered our world to rescue it and not to sentence it.  Jesus is not presented here as a heavy handed judge, far from it.  Jesus is merciful and one who saves.  After all, he does love the world!  How could this God send people to Hell?

Let’s move along in the passage.  In the next verse (3:18) we see John do some great author work.  Like any good teacher he brings his ideas together to reinforce the point that he is making.  We already know the connection between belief and being saved, now he links belief and condemnation, ‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned.’  That is, whoever puts their faith in Jesus will not see condemnation.

John makes two points the second of which is more subtle.

Firstly, through belief in Jesus one is saved into eternal life.  Secondly, through faith in Jesus one avoids condemnation.  We avoid it because we are taken from it.  The subtlety of this point is that humanity is not, as people often assume, put into this state.  Humanity is found by God in this state and through faith in Jesus can be saved from it.

If Jesus is going to save the world (as verse 16 suggests) then he must save it from something into something.  It is John’s point that we are saved from condemnation into eternal life.

Now that we have come this far we can address the question of blame:  who is to blame for putting humanity in a state of condemnation?

Let’s move along in the passage.  The next part of the verse (3:18 the last part) states blatantly who is to blame. ‘Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’  We read here that condemnation is the result of one’s choosing to not believe in God’s son, which makes sense.  We saw in the previous verse that when one believes in Jesus they avoid condemnation.  John intends for us to realise that one is condemned because they do not believe in Jesus.

Who does God condemn?  It is clear that God condemns no-one, but that we condemn ourselves.  It appears that God has done the opposite.  Seeing that humanity is in trouble (in a state of condemnation) he has provided a way out through belief in Jesus.

Hell is not a place for God to send people but rather a place that is a consequence of our unbelief in Jesus.

What is the real issue behind the doctrine of hell?  Simply, (un)belief in Jesus.

Annoying, isn’t it?


58 comments on “Flames, Chains and a Guy called John

  1. Beau says:

    Awesome words Mr Patto! This is something the kids in my class want to talk about all the time! And this is exactly what I tell them:) Who cares what it looks and smells like? It’s eternal separation from our God and that would suck!

  2. 2tensions says:

    so a natural question that arises is, why does unbelief in Jesus deserve eternity in hell?

  3. Yes, it is the natural question that arises, as is the one about whether it is eternal or not? But they are certainly for another day:)

    That God does not send us but that we stand condemned is a good starting point I think.

  4. 2tensions says:

    Ok, Dan, I’ll wait for a later instalment to hear your answer. But other natural questions arise perhaps more directly related to your point –

    and I don’t want to be difficult, but…perhaps you can flesh this out for me..

    you quote the verse that….
    “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”

    If we already stood condemned by not believing in Jesus, and that’s the reason Jesus was sent…. then…

    Were people condemned before Jesus came? for not believing in Jesus? or for something else? What does it look like to not believe in Jesus?

    One might say, let me not hear about Jesus, so that i might not be judged for not believing in him.

  5. My next post will go some way to answering those questions. And I appreciate the pushing… keeps me honest and on my toes:)

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