I've read the Bible and about the Bible.
Here’s an explanation from Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It should explain it.
Luke 16:19-31 - New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Follower of Jesus
The best way to understand God’s relationship with people is like a parent with children.
It is even better understood if you are a parent yourself so if you’re not, expect some disappointment.
I love my children. When my children were born, I loved them already just when I looked at them. They are my children after all.
Now, because I love my children, there are certain things I want to avoid for them. I would love them to avoid drug addiction or alcoholism or irresponsible lifestyles resulting in debt or anything where they cannot look after themselves.
What I could do is lock them up in a prison in a desert somewhere and ensure their needs are met but that they never get any contact with the outside world so that they would never be corrupted.
But that would not be very loving, would it? No, the most loving thing I can do is to set them free to choose their own way in the world. Of course, I try and provide the best nurture and guidance that I can up to that point, but after that, they must live their own lives.
At this point, if their lives go off the rails and they get into the things I am fearful of, I would be incredibly distraught. I don’t want to see my children hurt and suffer. But at the same time, I cannot control their lives. I would weep and suffer anguish if they ended up in self-destructive ways. But I would never stop loving them.
In the same way, God does not ever stop loving people who choose self-destructive ways. He aches and yearns for his children and, as we saw demonstrated in Jesus, he even weeps for them.
No-one is in hell because they are forced to be. Everyone who is there, is there by choice. But it does not mean they are there because God hates them. Quite the contrary. God loves everyone enough to let them go their own ways, even if the ways they choose end up hurting him.
atheist who knows the Bible inside out & still reads it.
Check out the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine on this. I think in their tradition it is possible to somehow escape hell after a period of time and move to higher levels of being, but I am not sure how it works. Here is one article on Roman Catholicism: Afterlife and Salvation, though I am sure you can find much more information online. As a Secular Humanist today, I no longer worry about hell and the inconsistencies of the Bible. However, I appreciate that these beliefs are precious and life-saving for many people. I understand the struggle of finding a life philosophy that is compatible to one’s personal convictions and am willing to help others do the same. Hence the search for this article in the hope that it is helpful.
EDITED TO ADD: I was wrong about Catholic theology allowing souls to escape from hell. See Joe Fessenden’s comments below.
We’re living a life which has two outcomes.
Take the Blue Pill - Live your own life. Do what you want. Disregard the warnings. Be part of the vanity of the world to live, enjoy, wild sex, make money, then to settle down with a family and die old. A life void of Gods eternal plan.
Take the Red Pill - See how far the rabbit hole goes. Experience God’s FULLNESS. Enjoy life a way HE intended for us to enjoy. Live and experience His power working for you. Take up your cross and suffer for a while the insults of the masses for your Godly life…To take up eternal life with God forever.
Those who took the blue pill knew the consequences, and chose to make their portion with the philosophy which was destined by God to be destroyed by Fire. This philosophy is indeed the teachings of the Devil himself. His Philosophy is the vanity of life which was unmasked by Solomon.
Life isn’t a game for anyone to consider God’s loving kindness when He strictly warned us about the Wrath to come. That’s like Hitler crying out for mercy after he slaughtered millions of people. The choice of Eternity was made and Mercy was rejected when He stood at the door knocking to keep you from harm. So as much as it may bring pain to Christ in the present age when we reject Him, in the end, it’ll be His vengeance upon all those who never believed Him. Those who didn’t believe were the ones who wanted Him crucified.
Catholic, family man, web guy.
‘Eternity’ is the state of being outside time. You need time to change.
God’s love is infinite and eternal; but if you have decided to separate yourself from God, then your separation will necessarily be infinite and eternal; you cannot change your mind once you enter eternity, for you have no time in which to do so.
Yes, this is so obvious to some of us, and clearly makes the entire Old Testament and half of the New Testament, obviously the work of very flawed human beings, not men of divine inspiration.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the poor misled people of 3000 years ago that believed, we now have hundreds of millions of people suffering under the delusions of an angry God and belief in Hell.
Sadly, it also influences their beliefs about their fellow man, whereby they visit judgment upon their brothers, rather than the love they were taught and chose to ignore. It also has affected their politics, so we all get to suffer double for their delusions.
generic Christian who sees the teachings of Jesus as the missing cornerstone.
Although some of the answers below are rather obviously coming from people who are just saying, “If I were God, I would do it this way,” the truth is that many of our most traditional theological beliefs are often based only on a verse here and part of a verse there, with bits and pieces scattered throughout the Bible. Consequently, even the experts disagree as they each try to put it all together into a coherent whole. This certainly seems to be the case with matters of the afterlife, as can be seen in the wide range of answers given here.
I see references in the Bible to hell itself being eternal, but I also see reference to it being destroyed. I don’t see clear evidence of anyone getting OUT of hell, but I’m not sure there is an airtight case for denying that either.
Nevertheless, the basic underlying message seems to be that we will be better off learning the lessons God would like us to learn NOW… in this life… and not in some kind of purgatory or hell later. It also makes sense to me (and there are a few verses to support this) that God does not want anyone to perish, and that his infinite patience may eventually over-rule his judgment against the human race as a whole and against each of us as individuals. In the Old Testament there is, in my opinion, a fair bit of this shown in God constantly getting angry with the children of Israel, and then softening and showing them mercy. But the point is that no amount of suffering that we might have to go through for the sake of doing what is right in this life will compare to the suffering we will have to endure in the next life if we fail to do the right thing now.
It does seem consistent with what parents go through with their kids. We want to warn them away from things that will hurt them, and they often see it as cruel that we don’t let them have their way or that we punish them for doing the wrong thing. But on the whole, our anger… even our impatience… comes from the frustration we feel when we see them making what we think are bad decisions.
I sometimes jokingly say (kind of like I’m defending God), “Hey, take it easy on him. He’s only human, you know.” Obviously he’s not, but we WERE created in his image, and it does seem (at least from biblical records) that some of our own contradictions and foibles are there, in the way that he operates too. Who are we to dictate to him our ideas about what a perfect God is supposed to act like?
I mean, he made us, didn’t he? So even if he is unspeakably cruel, that’s his right. What we need to do is to give some serious thought to ways that we can get on his good side. And I think he would far rather we do it now, while we can see that we have a chance, and not bank too much on our convictions about what he supposedly owes us after we die.
works at Papa John's Pizza
Well, I’m pretty sure nobody actually does suffer unlimited torment. Not that I think that is the only point to be made in response to your answer, but take a look:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is [the Book] of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [and be] their God. 4 "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." 6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
So there’s an ongoing debate as to what exactly is included in the second death. Is it actually death, as in you go in the lake and you cease to be a coherent, conscious entity? (I’m on that team). Or, is it more of a metaphor for how not-fun the lake of fire is? We’ll find out soon enough. But, we can all agree that there’s at least a few minutes on Judgement Day when nobody is being tormented, since we’re all in line listening to the books being opened. So at least there’s a brief respite!
If you want to avoid this alleged injustice, I’d try to avoid being judged based on what’s written in your book at all costs... Won’t turn out well. Much easier to avoid judgement altogether by having your name turn up in the book of life. Want to be penned in? Repent, and believe the Gospel!
Some other answers here are pretty great as well; check out John Simpson (who patently does not agree with me but does make a good case for eternal Hell) and Dale Denton (If you can seize the point he’s making with the parable, it is very relevant.)