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The Tortures of the Damned?



"...we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound." (C.H. Pinnock, Four views on Hell, Zondervan, (1992), Page 136)

"How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself."  (C.H. Pinnock, "The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent," Criswell Theological Review 4 (1990-Spring), Pages 246-47.)

Is author/theologian Clark Pinnock, quoted above, exaggerating what is taught in Christian circles these days? Is "everlasting torture" too strong a word for what is alleged by theologians, preachers, teachers, and church leaders of large numbers of denominations to be happening to every single person throughout human history who has died "unsaved"?

Brian Schwertley, Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church of Waupaca County, Wisconsin, puts it this way on a Reformed Church website.

The doctrine of eternal punishment is probably the most unpopular, hated and feared teaching in the entire Bible. The thought of people burning in hell for eternity is most repugnant to the human mind.

... It is well known that those who die by burning to death suffer tremendous pain. Burning to death is a terrifying and excruciating experience. Throughout history, death by burning was reserved for only the most wicked of criminals. Yet the fire in hell is much worse than earthly fire. Earthly fire consumes the flesh of its victims. When the nerve endings are consumed, the pain ceases. But for those in hell, the pain will not cease, because the fire of hell does not consume. Rather than being consumed by it they are preserved to burn and suffer and be tormented on and on, forever and ever. (http://www.reformed.com/pub/hell.htm)

Not only does Schwertly assert this view of the plan of God for the vast majority of His human creation, he approvingly provides a quotation from an earlier preacher who was even more eloquent than himself in describing the tortures of Hell:

... The noted American preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) gave this warning regarding the everlasting nature of hell’s torments: “Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, or a great furnace, where your pain would be much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine also that your body was to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, and all the while full of quick sense; what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! And how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! And after you had endured it for one minute, how overbearing it would be to you to think that you had to endure the other fourteen! But what would be the effect on your soul, if you knew you must lie there enduring that torment to the full for twenty-four hours! And how much greater would be the effect, if you knew you must endure it for a whole year; and how vastly greater still, if you knew you must endure it for a thousand years! Oh then, how would your hearts sink, if you knew that you must bear it forever and ever! That there would be no end! That after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, and that you never, never should be delivered! But your torment in hell will be immensely greater than this illustration represents.” 

Modern religious writers don't commonly create elaborate new descriptions of the tortures of Hell. They don't need to. They have a vast collection of the writings of previous centuries from which to draw. Here is famous preacher C. H. Spurgeon, in a sermon titled "The Resurrection of the Dead" that was first delivered 2/17/1856:

When thou diest thy soul will be tormented alone—that will be a hell for it—but at the day of judgment thy body will join thy soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, body and soul shall be together, each brimfull of pain, thy soul sweating in its inmost pore drops of blood, and thy body from head to foot suffused with agony; conscience, judgment, memory, all tortured, but more—thy head tormented with racking pains, thine eyes starting from their sockets with sights of blood and woe; thine ears tormented with
"Sullen moans and hollow groans.
And shrieks of tortured ghosts."
Thine heart beating high with fever; thy pulse rattling at an enormous rate in agony; thy limbs crackling like the martyrs in the fire, and yet unburnt; thyself, put in a vessel of hot oil, pained, yet coming out undestroyed; all thy veins becoming a road for the hot feet of pain to travel on; every nerve a string on which the devil shall ever play his diabolical tune of Hell's Unutterable Lament; thy soul for ever and ever aching, and thy body palpitating in unison with thy soul.

Modern preachers seldom speak about another topic that was enthusiastically addressed by their predecessors: the fact that those who have been saved and are "in Heaven" are able to "look down into" Hell and see the tortures of the damned--including their own loved ones who didn't make it to Heaven with them!

Theologian Peter Lombard (d. 1160):

“Therefore the elect shall go forth…to see the torments of the impious, seeing which they will not be grieved, but will be satiated with joy at the sight of the unutterable calamity of the impious .” (Sent. Iv 50, ad fin)

Jonathan Edwards, sermon preached in April, 1739, "The Eternity of Hell’s Torments.

Hereby the saints will be made the more sensible how great their salvation is. When they shall see how great the misery is from which God has saved them, and how great a difference he has made between their state and the state of others, who were by nature (and perhaps for a time by practice) no more sinful and ill-deserving than any, it will give them a greater sense of the wonderfulness of God’s grace to them. Every time they look upon the damned, it will excite in them a lively and admiring sense of the grace of God, in making them so to differ. ...

Fourth, the sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. It will not only make them more sensible of the greatness and freeness of the grace of God in their happiness, but it will really make their happiness the greater, as it will make them more sensible of their own happiness. It will give them a more lively relish of it: it will make them prize it more. When they see others, who were of the same nature and born under the same circumstances, plunged in such misery, and they so distinguished, O it will make them sensible how happy they are. A sense of the opposite misery, in all cases, greatly increases the relish of any joy or pleasure.

Jonathan Edwards again:

"Can the believing husband in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving wife in Hell? Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? Can the loving wife in Heaven be happy with her unbelieving husband in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be their sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish their bliss."  [Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738.]

So not only do these preachers and authors insist that God is a vengeful being who will torture billions for eternity. They insist that the God of Love will recreate the nature of humans so that they will take joy in the suffering of others, including their closest loved ones. In 2 Timothy 3:3, the Apostle Paul notes that one of the signs of the perilous "last days" would be people without "natural affection." The Greek term that this comes from implies "hard-hearted toward kindred." If people are created, then, with such a natural soft-heartedness toward family, their nature would have to be drastically changed to cause them to be able to endure seeing the endless suffering of a loved one and take joy in it!   

Perhaps this doctrine is not accepted these days in as wide a circle. But it would likely be difficult to find articles on the Internet refuting it--by those who still believe that the destiny of those closest loved ones is torture in Hell for all eternity. The fact that their loved ones in Heaven might not have to focus on their sufferings in the way glorified by Edwards and Lombard doesn't really change the reality of the suffering.

And although the material above doesn't focus on the fact, the reality is that all of this vivid imagery of the tortures of Hell is not a description of just the fate of the "incorrigibly wicked" such as men who molest and kill children. It is likewise the fate of the children who were molested, if they didn't become saved Christians before their death at the hands of their molesters! Perhaps they will get by with enduring for eternity slightly cooler flames and slightly less fiendish methods of torture, than those of their killers. But it is not clear how their "saved" parents in Heaven could draw comfort from that fact. In fact, according to the authors above, those parents will rejoice at the sight of their suffering children they see, convinced of God's righteousness by it.

The Law in the Old Testament never provided torture as a solution to any situation. The Israelites were not a nation that used torture as a method of discipline, penalty, or retribution. It was "beast-like" peoples such as the Assyrians who were famous for torture. For some grisly examples of the notorious tortures of the ancient Assyrians, if the reader can stomach them, see http://www.dushkin.com/olc/genarticle.mhtml?article=11492 . What is painfully obvious when reading through these descriptions is that they are almost identical to many of the fiendish descriptions of the tortures that await the damned in Hell. How Christians can possibly conceive of a righteous, loving, just God whose methods are identical to the Assyrians--but taken to the nth degree because those methods are to be inflicted on humans for eternity--is almost beyond comprehension.

The Bible does not require the believer to accept this doctrine of eternal torture.
The reader is encouraged to consider carefully all of the
documentation and commentary on this website
before coming to a personal conclusion on
just what the Bible does have to say about these matters.


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All of the articles on this Is it true what they say about Hell? website were written by Pam Dewey, with the support and sponsorship of Common Ground Christian Ministries. For more of Pam's inspirational and educational writings, visit her Oasis website.

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