Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” What does this verse mean? It means that man is born with a moral nature, which creates within him a conscience that reflects God’s moral values. (Rom 2:14-15) It acts as a moral law within. Even in imperfection, we are born with a measure of that conscience, which can be developed toward good or bad. The Word of God develops a Christian conscience.
When we think of the pain and suffering in this world, it troubles our inner person to no end. When we hear of a young twelve-year-old girl, who is harassed to the point that she climbs a sixty-foot tower, to jump to her death, we can barely control our wrath. When we think of an older woman in her seventies, beat to death by a young punk, who steals her purse, we wish we could have five minutes alone with him. When we think of the starvation, the genocides by dictators, the natural disaster, and the like, we are emotionally sickened. Why are we emotionally sickened? Because were created in the image of God, and we possess his moral values.
Have we taken the time to ponder what we are claiming about the hellfire doctrine? We are saying that a person born,
- With human weaknesses
- Who are mentally bent toward evil
- Who have a treacherous heart (inner person), and are unable to know it
- Who were born a sinner through no fault of their own
- Who have a natural (although contrary to what God intended) desire to do bad
- Who naturally lean toward evil
- Who have only sinned for 70-80-years
These ones will be tormented with fire for eternity. This is sickening and abhorrent. Some do not even want the United States government to torture known terrorists. They say that makes us like them, we should take the moral high ground. Yet, we are to accept that eternal torture inflicted by God is somehow acceptable. If a person kept breaking city laws like stealing, and he just would not change, could he be tortured. Could we strap him to a table and beat him hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year?
What happens is that we will eventually feel sorry for this person, especially if the punishment does not fit the crime. Would we give a person who stole some candy a hundred years in a maximum-security prison? What should we think of a person that has meted out such a punishment? Would any of us as a loving parent burn our child with a lighter, thinking that was just punishment. Of course, we would not, but we expect far worse out of God. Is that not contrary to Scripture? Is that not contrary to our sense of justice, which in turn is contrary to the Creator, in whose image in which we were created? When we set aside our church tradition for a moment and truly ponder Scripture and reason, things become clearer.
1 John 4:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Does this Scripture and the hundreds upon hundreds of other corresponding ones support God torturing someone, whose heart is treacherous, desires are toward evil, and natural leaning are toward sin, for a mere 80 years, forever? Bible scholars, pastors, and elders would have us think that this is divine justice. If this all is biblically true, this means that God planned or chose the world that would have a hellfire of torment, which would torture sinners for eternity. This does not sound like the God of the Bible, as far as this author is concerned. It would mean that God was responsible for torturing sinners for eternity.
God is the only person who knows what happens to us at death. He has revealed this to use through the Scriptures. God had warned Adam, if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, if you eat of it you will surely die. (Gen. 2:17) Wise King Solomon wrote,
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 English Standard Version (ESV)
19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
There is no mention of some eternal fiery torment. Think about this, God tells Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) Why would God withhold the punishment of eternal torment from Adam and Eve? If hellfire were real, this would have been a very underhanded thing. Just think, he tells the people of the Old Testament that if you sin, “you shall surely die.” Then, some 4,000 years later, he throws in, “oh, by the way, you will also burn in a fiery pit forever.” Imagine that you broke a rule in school that you knew would get you detention. You arrive at detention after school, and the principal tells you, “Oh, by the way, we are going to beat you to death with a baseball bat.”
The preaching of hellfire has been used as a scare tactic, which is a dreadful fear of God, not the biblical reverential fear of displeasing him. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We just saw God is love, why would it be prudent to fear him, and why would he want someone to fear him? Here is the answer from Norman L. Geisler,
PROBLEM: John affirms here that “perfect love casts out all fear.” Yet we are told that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7) and that we should “serve the Lord with fear” (Ps. 2:11). Indeed, Paul said, “knowing … the terror Ifearl of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).
SOLUTION: Fear is being used in different senses. Fear in the good sense is a reverential trust in God. In the had sense it is a sense of recoiling torment in the face of God. While proper fear brings a healthy respect for God, unwholesome fear engenders an unhealthy sense that He is out to get us. Perfect love casts out this kind of “torment.” When one properly understands that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), he can no longer fear Him in this unhealthy sense. For “he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Nonetheless, at no time does proper love for God ever show disrespect for Him. Rather, it is perfectly compatible with a reverential awe for Him, which is what the Bible means by “fearing God” in the good sense (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Peter 2:17).
Again, religious leaders would be in denial to say that almost all scholars, pastors, and elders have not used hellfire, to scare people into becoming a disciple and keeping them. This is what the religious leaders do. When we go to the Bible belt part of the United States, do we find a lower crime or divorce rate? No, we do not. Another aspect to keep in mind, Christians that are fire and brimstone to the core, tend to be far more aggressive in their physical punishment of their children. Those who have a cruel God will tend to adopt that mindset with their children as well. The very heart and mind that God gave us are repelled by such a doctrine and the Bible itself says, When a person dies, “his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish..” – Psalm 146:4.
Genesis 2:17 English Standard Version (ESV)
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Ezekiel 18:4 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
Romans 6:23 English Standard Version (ESV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:12 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
The penalty of death can be avoided, if we walk with God until our death, or Jesus return, whichever comes first.
Romans 12:2 English Standard Version (ESV)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Job 14:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)
13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath be past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14 If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
till my renewal should come.
15 You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
Yes, there us a resurrection hope, which will be covered in Chapter 3.
John 5:28-29 English Standard Version (ESV)
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
The College Press NIV Commentary offers this thought, “In fact the time is coming when the dead will hear the voice of God and those who hear will live. Surely this implies a resurrection. Jesus expresses it stronger in verses 28f when he says that all in the graves will hear his voice, and they that hear will be raised to life. Two views of the resurrection jostle one another here: (1) as in the case of Lazarus (11:43) Jesus can summon the dead and give them physical life (2) the word of Jesus can give spiritual life to these who are dead in sin. Too much should not be made in the distinction of the two views because both are true and both are needed.”
 WHERE ARE THE DEAD? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith by Edward D. Andrews (See christianpublishers.org)
 It should be noted that Dr. Norman L. Geisler does believe in the hellfire doctrine, and this author disagrees with him.
 Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (Kindle Locations 6287-6293). Kindle Edition.
 Beauford H. Bryant and Mark S. Krause, John, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1998), Jn 5:28–29.