Towards a Deistic View of Hell?

Sadly, I think many so-called American “Christians” are headed in that direction.  We have a problem with a God who would eternally and personally pour out His wrath on sinful man in hell.  So we cope with that by making Satan the ruler of hell and we have skits and plays where Satan and his demons drag people into hell kicking and screaming.  If you have read Revelation lately then you will note that Satan, the beast, and the false prophet have actually been thrown into hell prior to the Great White Throne Judgment.  Who threw them in?  God did.  If Satan and his demons are already in hell then who throws those who are not in the book of life into the lake of fire?  God does.  Scripture is quite clear that God’s wrath is personal, which is why you read phrases like “the wrath of God” and “the wrath of the Lamb.”

“Ok, so I can cope with God throwing people into hell, after all He is just, but can’t hell just exist?”  “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).  Nothing exists that God has not first made.  Furthermore, nothing that God has made can continue to exist apart from being sustained and held together by Him.  Not only did God create hell but He also sustains it.  We appreciate a personal God when it comes to redemption but when it comes to wrath and judgment the God of most evangelicals looks more like the disinterested uninvolved god of deism who has created a clock-like universe and a clock-like hell that exist and function apart from divine intervention.

Jonathan Edwards paints a sobering picture of hell, “God aims at satisfying justice in the eternal damnation of sinners; which will be satisfied by their damnation, considered no otherwise than with regard to its eternal duration.  But yet there never will come that particular moment, when it can be said, that now justice is satisfied.”[1] 

What does this mean?  Why is this important?

I think this serves as a sobering reminder that we serve a just God, a holy God, and a wrathful God.  At the same time, we live in a world filled with rebels, with enemies of God, who are storing up wrath for themselves and not just for the Day of Judgment but for eternity.  Brothers let us live and breathe the Gospel.  Oh that we would be like Paul, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1834), 1:121.

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18 thoughts on “Towards a Deistic View of Hell?

  1. very interesting. you’re right, lots of people are having trouble believing God is sovereign over hell. until we understand God’s Holiness then his Wrath will never make sense to us. grace and peace.

  2. But Keith didn’t you know that when you portray the devil as having more or equal power to God, and show him with a cool synthesized demonic laugh dragging people to hell, that decisions would be made.

    It doesn’t matter how much you scare people as long they ask Jesus into their hearts.

  3. Scaring people into hell is not what you should do….but displaying the reality of hell is something the Bible does and drama can do as well. Here is a question, “What is the difference between physically displaying a horrible place called hell through drama and the writers of the Bible describing it to you with words?” Both are effective! The issue is whether or not we explain the gospel fully when we have the chance.

    Keith, I agree that the Devil does not rule over hell….but at the present time he is not sitting in the lake of fire. He is roaming around like a lion seeking to devour!

    Would love to have seen some balance with the Love of God and how He has sacrificed His Son to save us in this post.

  4. Whoah…Woody, did you just deputize Sophocles, Euripides, and Shakespeare into your argument?

    Here is a question, “What is the difference between physically displaying a horrible place called hell through drama and the writers of the Bible describing it to you with words?” Both are effective!”

    God INTENDED the Bible to be the basis for our understanding of himself, His Son, His Spirit and his judgment (i.e. hell), most definitely NOT dramatic or cinematic portrayals. Paul was surrounded by the Greek theater culture, and yet what did he do to portray God and his Gospel?

    Secondly, since when are we about the business of effectiveness? Didn’t God elect for us to use the silly or stupid ways to show his Gospel?

    My point, Jonathan was this: Drama is a wonderful, and can be God glorifying form of worship and cultural engagement, but it is never to be a replacement for our understanding of the Gospel (or biblical events).

  5. Sok…don’t be so dramatic :)…you know me I think….and are well aware that I would never in a million years say that drama should replace the Word! But that doesn’t mean you can’t use the it. It just has to give way to Scripture.

    So, use drama in a God-honoring way (as you stated could be done), and make sure to make the Word primary. That was the point in my early comment on making sure that you share the Gospel clearly and correctly (via the Word) when you have the chance. I would also say that God does indeed work through drama, so never forget that. At the same time acknowledging that the Word is the “basis” for understanding the Gospel.

  6. The whole issue of skits, plays, drama, sketches, shows, . . . ad infinitum, or maybe just ad nauseam, was not the point of the post. Rather the views portrayed in those skits are indicative of society at large. The main point is that most people think that something other than God rules, sustains, and causes suffering in hell. The dramatic productions were used as an illustration; they are not my main point.

    Although with all the discussion I may have to write a post on plays in the future . . . . . . . . . .

  7. What great discussion!

    I appreciate the clarification, Woody. I also concede to Keith’s argument that ‘plays’ in the church was not the issue of the post, but was convoluted by my first comment.

    A post on plays would be wonderful, Keith. Maybe then I could explain that most plays in churches, are not meant to be good by any critical standards (i.e. dialogue, acting, writing, etc.), but erroneously show biblical events with poor writing, acting, and production, in order to appeal solely to emotions and peddle a Gospel devoid of theological acumen, for the purpose of forcing a decision and further inflate their church membership numbers.

  8. Keith, this is a good post, and it got me thinking.

    There are still a large number of Believers out there who think that God doesn’t bring famine, doesn’t kill people, doesn’t give diseases, etc. That those things are all from Satan.
    It seems like the logic that flows from that is: therefore hell is also a place that is Satan’s, God had nothing to do with creating it, has nothing to do with it now other than saving people from it.

    Piper preached a really good sermon on Joseph a couple months ago, as part of his Spectacular Sins series, that helps illustrate that God uses spectacular sins for His purposes all through Scripture. That he ordains famines and things to bring Glory to Him and direct His purposes.
    ((The sermon is probably one of my favorite of all time, everything a sermon should be… I’ll probably link it on my blog, I learned so much from it)).
    Your post made me think about that, and people who have a hard time accepting that their present afflictions might be God-ordained to refine their gold. Good post.

  9. Thanks to Sok for linking the post on this one.

    I agree with everything being said here. We portray hell as some horrible place ruled by Satan and God is fretting over us making a decision so that He can keep us from going there.

    This was supplemented for me by Dr. Allison, who reminded us that God is not absent from hell, but is fully present there in all of His wrath. Hell is not eternal separation from God, it is being fully present in His judgment. See Psalm 139.

    I was talking to a gentleman at church yesterday about plays, specifically about youth plays. Who is writing these things? You guys are so right in saying that we cannot afford to sacrifice truth for dramatic and emotional appeal. Maybe this is why people have such a hard time accepting that God judges sin and why we are not so passionate about sharing the gospel. Perhaps people bristle at our condemnation of sin because saving people from this sin by the message of reconciliation is not quite as high on our priority list as proclaiming the judgment.

    A God-centered view of hell can’t do anything but spur us on to more preaching of the gospel, in our cities, our neighborhoods, our jobs and everywhere else we may be.

    Just a question, so how can we display hell correctly in our church plays?

  10. Thanks Dustin and I think we would all do well to retool our theology around this statement: “Hell is not eternal separation from God, it is being fully present in His judgment. See Psalm 139.” That is profound, atleast for me.

    Jonathon, Nick, and I have spent a lot of time recently thinking and talking about training up godly children, and one of the issues that constantly comes up is censoring God’s Word and removing all things sexual, gruesome, and horrific. Which leaves you with a Jesus who looks more like the Telletubbies than the Son of God, there is actually a PG-13 NASB Bible on Amazon.com which cuts all of this out so that children can safely read the Word of God!

    This censorship comes on numerous levels whether it is Veggie Tales reducing David and Bathsheba to a story about a plastic duck and a food fight to our romanticizing of Noah and the ark. But lets face it David saw her naked, murdered her husband, and fornicated with her. Furthermore, as much as Noah and the ark is a story about salvation and God’s provision it is also a horrific story of the righteous wrath of God. Can’t you imagine the people beating on the door to the ark cursing Noah and his God as the waters rise? Or thousands of mothers who have to watch their babies drown in the rising waters? What about all the rotting corpses covering the land as the water recedes? So in censoring children from violence etcetera you are actually providing them with an incomplete picture of the person of God.

  11. Dustin,

    Great point on “hell” and the reality of God pouring out his wrath there. Would you say that there is some sense of separation from God? We are born “separated from God” which is why we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation”, and when you die apart from Christ you are eternally separated from God without any hope of that reconciliation. So how does that idea play out when you say that hell is NOT separation from God?

    I immediately think that you can be separated from the love of God and present with the wrath of God but don’t know if that is theologically correct to say. Would love to hear your insight.

  12. Keith,

    Great point. Would you say, then, that it is better to teach kids about adultery, and all of the messy adultness that goes with it, or to avoid the David and Bathsheba story, or at least focus on less mature subjects such as the dangers of infidelity in general, until the children are older? Surely there are some things which require a mature mind to understand. For example, when I was thirteen, given the full details of the account, I would probably think more about how hot Bathsheba was naked than understand the gravity of what was wrong.

    Jonathon,

    In my understanding, the separation we have from God is a separation of relationship, rather than one of presence. There is no time or place when we are absent from the presence of God, whether we are redeemed or lost (again, see Psalm 139.) Our bodies are held together by His very will! (Col. 2)The “separation” in hell, then, is a separation from a covenant relationship. See Isaiah 66:5-14, where, in the New Jerusalem, the people of God are coddled and nourished as an infant and God’s enemies are destroyed, the very sound of His voice being the sound of their destruction.

    Verse 14b sums it up well “And they will know the hand of Yahweh, but He will be indignant toward His enemies.” No longer will we have to trust in the promise, or believe in faith the word God has said, because we will see Him as He is and all prayer will be turned to praise. At the same time, God’s enemies will know the fulness of His anger and wrath and will be put to shame. It could also be said that we are “absent” from part of God because we are absent from any hint of condemnation. (Romans 8)

    That’s probably overkill, but I wanted to provide a good biblical basis. My main point was to shy away from this Greco-Roman idea of hell that we have, some dark, damp, place ruled by Satan, who is the one who tortures and judges. If all of creation, which hell must be a part, is created and held together by Christ, God must surely be present there.

    p.s. Have you guys ever heard the interpretation that hell is not a literal place of burning but that the burning represents the consuming wrath of God? I have yet to thouroughly check it, but it sounds somewhat convincing to me.

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