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Tormented by the Flames?

• Greg Boyd

The story of the rich man and Lazarus has often been used to ground our theology when it comes to the doctrine of Hell. This message aims to broaden our imagination about this issue by looking at this passage in the larger biblical context.

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This text is one of the primary inspirations for the traditional view of hell as an eternal place of fire. In traditional teaching the torment of hell will never ever be abated. Another disturbing aspect of this text is that people in heaven and hell can see and talk to one another! In addition, it raises the concern about how GOD enjoys heaven watching all this.

This text points to three questions about eternal punishment:

  1. How is eternal punishment consistent with the Biblical theme that God’s anger lasts “for a moment,” but his love, mercy and/or favor last “forever” (e.g. Ps. 30:5; 103:9; I Chr. 16:24; 2 Chr. 20:21).
  2. How is eternal punishment consistent with the teaching that “God is love” (I John 4:8; 16)
  3. How is eternal punishment consistent with the Bible’s teaching regarding God’s final victory?

In order to understand Jesus’ teaching on hell in this passage you need to grasp these four things:

  1. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable. The main point of the parable isn’t to teach us about the nature of heaven and hell, therefore we can’t draw conclusions about these matters. There are other texts in the ancient world where dialogues between people or gods in heaven and hell were used to teach a lesson. This is one such example.
  2. There are many metaphors used to describe God’s final punishment. In all references to fire except for this passage the fire consumes the wicked. When it says the fire is unquenchable, it means it won’t be put out before it does what fires does, which is burn things up.
  3. The most common ways of referring to God’s final punishment in the Bible are death, destruction and perishing. It’s hard to reconcile this with the idea that the damned are consciously suffering throughout eternity.
  4. The Bible sometimes speaks of things being “eternal” in consequence, not in duration. So also, it possible that when the Bible speaks of eternal punishment or eternal destruction, it doesn’t mean that people will be eternally undergoing punishment or destruction, but that once they’re punished or destroyed, it’s eternal. There is no going back.

God’s love is like a fire that purifies all that is consistent with love character and burns up all that is not. To the saved God is a purifying fire of love, to the rebellious God is a consuming fire. Everything and every one will be subjected to this metaphorical fire. God’s hope and desire is that his fire would purge all and destroy none. But God will not turn people into robots and the Bible warns rebels over and over against about the threat of being consumed by fire of God’s judgment.

This leads to three conclusions:

  1. You were created for eternal life, not death.
  2. The consequence of rejecting God is hell, and it’s nightmarish.
  3. The only way to be compatible with God’s love is submit your life completely to Christ and therefore align yourself with a Kingdom community.

Christ came to defeat the devil, rescue you from destruction, and establish God’s Kingdom on earth. You will begin to be transformed by his love when you submit to him and join his Kingdom revolution.

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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 16: 19-24

    There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

    The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.

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17 thoughts on “Tormented by the Flames?

    Pingback: If Rob Bell is a Universalist, then maybe I am – along with many prominent evangelicals? (A response to Justin Taylor) | the Pangea Blog

    kevin sandidge says: Wednesday March 2, 2011 at 11:56 am

    for the most part of my walk with God i have feared the possibility of being consigned to an eternity of agony in the fires of hell because i was living with sin in my life; today, through His great grace, i have been set free from my besetting sins and due to my now having a clear consceince, i do not fear this fate. i struggle now with how to properly teach the revelations that pastor greg set forth in this and other sermons.
    my biggest hangup is this; if annihilationism is indeed His plan and i believe it is, then will He, of necessity, also destroy the Spirit? i have trouble understanding what exactly we were created with. i’ve been taught that at physical death, our spirits live on forever thus making our consciousness live on forever either in heaven or in hell. i’d appreciate it if someone could comment and/or lead me to some teachings on this.

    blessings,
    kevin

    Reply
    Robert says: Friday March 4, 2011 at 4:34 am

    I have wondered for awhile now if the teaching of people going to a hell where they are constantly burning is actually what is taught in the Bible, not because I don’t like that idea… (though I don’t) but because it does not seem consistent with a lot of things, many of which you brought up. If God says that the only justice for sins not covered by Jesus’ blood was eternal never-ending conscious pain, I would say, “ok, only You know what is required. You are just. I trust and bow to Your will.” However, I am not convinced that He is clearly telling us that that is actually the case.

    Thanks for being bold enough to teach things contrary to what many in the church today hold as truth. This is a view that I have seen bring passionate debate.

    Just a note: I do not believe the Bible ever alludes to the fact that satan will torment anyone in heaven, but rather he will be tormented.

    Reply
    Robert says: Friday March 4, 2011 at 4:52 am

    *hell, not heaven…

    Reply
    susankps says: Friday March 4, 2011 at 10:08 am

    If there is such a ‘place/state’ as eternal torment in hell, than poor, insane Andrea Yate had it exactly right and all the rest are just B team player wanna be’s.

    The issue isn’t hell… the issue is what happens at THE END? The scriptures on my website GreatestStoryTold.com bear out that GOD WINS in the end through Christ Jesus. If there is a ‘hell’, it can not be ‘eternal’. End of story.

    Reply

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    Pingback: If Rob Bell is a Universalist, then maybe I am – along with many prominent evangelicals? (A response to Justin Taylor) | The Pangea Blog

    Yosk says: Tuesday December 6, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    For kevin sandidge:
    Your question is very interesting. I think this eternally living “spirit” is another misinterpretation of the scriptures (influenced by pagan beliefs).
    Biblically the spirit and the body are inseparable, as in genesis when God created Adam, the body without spirit was dead, and the spirit was sort of an energy living spark that came directly from God.
    A holistic view of man is logically and biblically sound. So what happens when we die? We are sort of sleeping, unconscious, waiting for the resurrection.

    Reply

    Pingback: Greg Boyd Sermon on Hell “Tormented in the Flames?” (Amazing!) | The Pangea Blog

    Greg says: Tuesday August 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Thank you Pastor Greg for not being afraid to challenge the traditions of men! While I thoroughly enjoyed this video, I challenge you to go one more step and challenge even your own teaching. God will reward you for this.
    http://www.tentmaker.org/books/EternalDeath.html

    Reply
    Rich says: Monday September 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I tend to take the scriptures of the Holy Bible for what it says. After all, who am I to decide what Gods intent and purpose was for giving this information to man to write? Who am I to determine for myself if when the Bible says there’s a hell it doesn’t really mean that?
    If it says there’s a hell then there’s a hell. if it says there’s a heaven then there’s a heaven. We’re given a life time and ample opportunity to learn about what the infallible, Holy Spirit inspired word of God says about both, and then make a choice as to where we want to go once our time on this earth is done. As far as weather or not a spirit will be tormented for eternity goes, If Rev 20:10 says ….”And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Do I have a right to determine that it doesn’t really mean that? and if Rev 20:15 says….”And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Is it for me to decide that
    it’s a different lake of fire then the one in 20:10? I do agree that not all scripture can or should be taken literally the way it’s written, but these two scriptures seem to be pretty straight forward.

    Reply
    Ev says: Sunday November 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Rich,
    As you say, take the scriptures of the Holy Bible for what it says. Right on. But that includes reading it in context of at least the immediate surrounding text (though other contexts are also appropriate). Searching, as you are, as this is a new thought to me, finite suffering for humans. After hearing this sermon I think I may have been wrong on the concept of eternal suffering. Suffering for the unsaved, and in hell / lake of fire, was not as riveting an issue for me, as that there will be an end to the suffering for humans into annihilation. This would be a big and helpful concept change for me.
    The 2 verses you refer to:
    Rev 20:10 clearly refers to the devil, the beast, and the false prophet – specified in the same verse.
    Rev 20:15 does not say anything about eternal suffering for people – and might refer to the point of annihilation at that point for the unsaved – or in a finite time-frame thereafter.
    See also 19:20 – contrast between how the beast and false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake, but the rest (who worshiped the beast’s image) were killed with the sword and eaten by birds.
    But perhaps more difficult:
    Rev 14:10 does say those who worship the beast and his image will be tormented, but does not say forever, only that the smoke of their torment goes on forever, and “there is no rest day or night” for them, but again, that MIGHT still be finite. Pastor Greg, could you address this verse in context of your message, please? – Or refer to a sermon/literature where this verse is tackled? Thanks for your powerful and sound teaching.

    Reply
    Andrew Langbehn says: Tuesday November 20, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Hello all!

    I did some digging on Greg’s site, http://www.reknew.org, and I found some articles that might give some further thought to this sermon. Greg specifically addresses “there is no rest day or night” passage in the first article.

    http://reknew.org/2008/01/the-case-for-annihilationism/
    http://reknew.org/2008/01/are-you-an-annihilationist-and-if-so-why/

    Enjoy!

    Reply

    Pingback: Current Bible Prophecy being fulfilled *Checklist* - Page 28

    Kevin says: Thursday March 5, 2015 at 12:34 am

    Thanks Yosk!

    Reply
    Paul Myers says: Friday February 5, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    The Mercy of the Lord endures for just a few moments? Of course not… The Bible clearly says “forever”.. Joy comes in the morning! God will be “All in All”. Every knee will bow and every single tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to God’s glory. Yes the Lord may say depart from me for I never “knew” you, but is it for trillions ans trillions and trillions and trillions…of years? How can he say he is patient, not willing that any any any perish, but that all all all all would come to repentance. May take a while for the spirit to draw each to that place of repentance, but noone can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. That is why God gets the glory when the day comes that every creature in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, etc. etc.. says “Blessing, and Glory, and Power belong to he who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb.” As In Adam all all all all have died, so in Christ shall all all all all be made alive. Of course I added a few alls there so you get the meaning. Jesus is the savior of just a part of the world….no no no it says he is the savior of the world! Hope a few if not all can re-evaluate the scriptures and see that some in the past have twisted the Love of God into a hellish torturing evil doctrine inspired by demons. Jesus warned of False doctrine. It has crept into the church very early in time. The apostle Paul, who said he was the “Chief of sinners” was rescued by this great love.. That’s why we can all have hope that someday God will make “all things new”… not just some things… ALL THINGS! Amen!

    Reply
    Paul Myers says: Friday February 5, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    You better love everybody now… God may make them your next door neighbor in heaven.. Are you as patient as God? Or do you beat them over the head with your bible and tell them they are going to hell? What kind of a God do you represent? hmmm? Why didn’t God tell us the wages of sin is eternal suffering? Do you know why? Because the wages that sin pays us is simply DEATH… the next part of that same verse says….BUT THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE! Where is the emphasis? LIFE! Jesus said, “I have come to give you life and that more abundantly! He also said he did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. And whomsoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall shall shall be saved! not might.. if he lives a good enough life…. but SHALL.. No one is able to pluck them out of the fathers hand… all whom the Father has given into his hands for his keeping. He will leave the 99 sheep in the fold and go looking for that one little lost sheep. The God of this age (epoch/ time period) has blinded the minds of those who don’t yet believe.. Will you tell someone the real truth.. the real good news? There is hope for all.. Love (God) is patient.. Love (God ) is kind. Love is not jealous, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, does not get puffed up, etc…. Hopes all things, endures all things, believes all things, LOVE NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER FAILS! Do you think God’s plan to save the world will fail? NEVER! Love Wins!

    Reply

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