Wm. Paul Young writes:
The topic of hell is a massive one, sparking all manner of heated debates. There are a number of basic views of hell, including l) eternal damnation, 2) annihilation, and 3) an age of redemptive purification. If you would like to step back a moment and take another look at this particular conversation, let me recommend a good place to start: Brad Jersak’s book Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (2009).
For many, the crux and conflict of the question is how we can posit an eternally Good God, whose very nature is Love, allowing human beings to be in conscious torment and pain for infinite time, as if that were somehow Just.
The thought is so disheartening that, for many, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle. I regularly receive emails that say, “I am terrified to take the risk and trust that God is as Good as you have written, and then find out you are wrong.” Doesn’t it seem intuitively wrong to be desperately afraid of a torture-devising God and yet hope to spend eternity with this God?
Agreeing that the entire topic of hell is too massive for a simple chapter, I want to address one significant element: the belief that hell is separation from God, from Love, from Light, from Goodness.
Consider this simple line of reasoning. Either hell is a created place or thing or it is not. If it is not created, then it must by definition be God, who alone is uncreated. In this sense, hell would be God, who is a consuming fire. Your destiny would not be apart from God but directly into God, who is Love, Light, Goodness.
The other alternative is that hell is a created place or thing. Consider this passage: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:3839, emphasis added).
This is a list of all the realities that cannot separate you from the love of God. What isn’t in the list, keeping in mind that it includes “any created thing” or any “thing to come”?
Nothing. There is nothing absent from the list.
You are a ‘created thing’, so therefore you do not have the power to separate yourself from the love of God. And whatever hell is, if it is a created thing, it cannot separate you from the love of God.
Please keep in mind, saying that we cannot ever be separated from the love of God is not the same thing as saying we cannot reject or ignore the love of God. What we choose to believe, even if a lie, becomes our experience. I have the power to choose to live in the blindness of assuming that I am separated from God. I may have convinced myself or been convinced by others that I deserve to be separated from God. Such lies will bring with them a shadow in which I experience a sense of separation, feelings that seem to validate the illusion that God is not connected and in relationship with me or that God has stopped loving me or has given up on me. Many of us on the planet live in this illusion now.
Consider with me: Anyone who speaks of separation from God assumes that a person can still exist while separated—as if our life is not contingent upon the presence of God, who is Life. Does that mean we have eternal existence apart from Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit? Scripture is emphatic: not one thing has come into being apart from Jesus, and the existence of everything is completely dependent upon the sustaining life of Jesus.
So, if we continue this thought … perhaps hell is hell not because of the absence of God, but because of the presence of God, the continuous and confrontational presence of fiery Love and Goodness and Freedom that intends to destroy every vestige of evil and darkness that prevents us from being fully free and fully alive. This is a fire of Love that now and forever is “for” us, not against us. Only if we posit that we have existence apart from Jesus can we believe that hell is a form of punishment that comes to us in our separation from Jesus. I propose the possibility that hell is not separation from Jesus but that it is the pain of resisting our salvation in Jesus while not being able to escape Him who is True Love.