Exposing the Greatest Lie Ever Told
By Ken Eckerty
You have all heard preachers and evangelists speak of the "Greatest Story Ever Told." It is a story of love, of sacrifice, and of "everlasting mercy." It is a story that has been told for over two thousand years with great passion and tears, and one that has changed the lives of countless millions all over the world. This story, of course, is none other than the story of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. On this website, you will hear of that story, but you are also going to hear (maybe for the first time) another story. This story, like the other, is told with equal passion - perhaps even more. This story, unlike the other, is a lie. It is the "Greatest Lie Ever Told" to man, and you might be very surprised to find out where this lie comes from. It does not come from those we would consider heathen, nor does it come from atheists, or even those who are violently opposed to God and religion. No, this lie does not come from those we would expect. The greatest lie the world has ever heard comes straight from the very people who love and follow Jesus Christ. It comes from our pulpits, it is taught in our Sunday school classes, it is broadcast all over the world through our television ministries, and it is preached by the missionaries who are in the remotest places of the world.
Have I gotten your attention yet? OK, so what is this lie? It is the lie that says that God will eternally torment most of His creatures; it is the lie that says that Jesus Christ cannot save most men; it is the lie that says that death will continue to exist forever, and it is the lie that says there will come a time when God will never be able to show mercy and love to the majority of those He created. Yes, this is the lie of religion and it is one that has all but consumed evangelical Christianity, so much so that the Church's message has become one of fear rather than one of love and victory. It has taken the beautiful judgments of God and turned them into a sadistic torture chamber, and worse than this, it has made a miserable failure of the work of Jesus Christ in that only a small minority of the billions of people who have ever lived will ever see heaven. This website's purpose is two fold: 1) to proclaim the victory and power of the Cross of our Lord Jesus, and 2) to expose the false doctrine of "eternal" punishment (as it is taught by orthodox Christianity).
Why is it important that we study the issue of the final destiny of man? Some people have told me that this issue is not really pertinent to them because it focuses on future things and our concern should be with the "here and now." I absolutely agree that our focus should be on the here and now which is why we need to seek out the heart of God on this matter. However, I disagree that our conclusion on this matter in no way affects the way we live. Understanding this issue is extremely important because it will significantly affect how we respond to those around us (both toward Christians and non-Christians alike), and how we deal with adversity in our lives. Also, in order to be able to effectively minister to the world with the gospel, we must know both the beginning and the end of God's plan for man.
In this essay, we are going to ask four very important questions.
1. Do we desire to know what our Heavenly Father is really like?
2. How can we overcome evil with good if God can't do the same?
3. Do we want to be sure that we are portraying God accurately to the world?
4. Do we desire to take the right message to those who are perishing?
My intention in this essay is not to present an exegetical argument against "eternal" punishment. You will find more than enough resources on this website and others that will expose the lie of "eternal torment." My goal is to simply introduce the importance of this subject and encourage the reader to seek the truth for himself. It's easy for us to take for granted certain doctrines we've believed in our whole lives. Many times we become numb to error because we hear the same thing preached over and over again in our pulpits. But just because the majority believes something to be true, that doesn't necessarily make it so. Men like Martin Luther will attest to that fact. There is always a risk in challenging traditional thinking because it can put us in the uncomfortable position of standing alone - but we need men of God who are willing to stand against tradition - alone if necessary - in order to be a light in the midst of "religious" darkness. My prayer is that God might grant to us the courage to seek after the truth, no matter what the cost!
First of all, it should be our desire to know our Heavenly Father. Jesus said in His glorious prayer in John 17,
And this is life eternal, that they might get to know you, the only real God, and Him whom You did send, Jesus Christ. (V. 3)
The Apostle Paul also expressed this thought, That I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, (Phil. 3:10). It should be the desire of every one of God's children to get to know their Father in heaven.
Hannah Whitall Smith in her book, The Unselfishness of God , said,
By the discovery of God, therefore, I do not mean anything mysterious, or mystical, or unattainable. I simply mean becoming acquainted with Him as one becomes acquainted with a human friend; that is, finding out what is His nature, and His character, and coming to understand His ways. I mean in short discovering what sort of a Being He really is - whether good or bad, whether kind or unkind, whether selfish or unselfish, whether strong or weak, whether wise or foolish, whether just or unjust.
There is no better place to find out what God is really like than to look at how He treats His wayward creatures after they pass into the next age. What is God really like in the ages to come? Will He be different then than He is now? Is He really the way most have pictured Him - a God whose love and forgiveness is limited, whose mercy ceases for most of those whom He created? Is it true that in the next age God cannot reach out and extend mercy to the most pitiful of men?
There is a big difference between being thrown into "eternal" torment to suffer endless pain (which serves no purpose for the offender), and being punished for the purpose of "bringing one to an end of himself" so as to lead him back to his Father. Our answer on this matter will determine our views of God, and consequently how we view and treat others around us. Is He cold, unforgiving, and merciless to most of His creatures that reject Him here? Will He only give "eternal" bliss to a small percentage of His offspring?
I'm a father of two little girls. Both of my girls are very different. My oldest daughter is stubborn and has a very strong will. It takes much to break her (she's just like her dad). My youngest is more sensitive and conforms to my will a lot easier. As a father, I can't deal with them in the same way. For my oldest, I must use tough methods to break her of her stubbornness, while the younger, I can get the same result using milder methods. But in either case, my intended result is to get both of them to conform to my will. And I will do whatever it takes to accomplish this. But no matter what either of my children do, I love them both equally the same. Everything I do for them is for the purpose of training them to love and obey God. I have never punished either of them purely to satisfy my own demands of justice. And while my children sin on a daily basis (as all of us do), my goal in punishment has always been to correct their behavior in order to see them mature into productive and responsible adults.
Is God, who is the Father of all (Mal. 2:10; Acts 17:29), any different? If the Bible is true when it says that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8), then can God do anything distinct and separate from His love? We have perverted the love of God by saying that God's punishments are solely a demonstration of His justice. Jonathan Edwards went so far as to say, "Hell is perfect hatred without love." What a perversion of the marvelous love of the Father! If the majority of the Church is right and punishment will never end, then God cannot love those to whom He torments forever. And if this is the case, then Jonathan Edwards is right, and "eternal" punishment is simply a demonstration of God's justice without His love.
But I am here to argue that God can do nothing apart from His love. Even His punishments serve a purpose to the offender (Is. 4:4; 26:9). God is perfect holiness, and as such, He must deal with sin. But He is also perfect love. So anything God does must demonstrate both. We cannot separate God's justice from His love otherwise we create a schizophrenic god with two very different personalities. Yet this is what most of the Church teaches. If hell is "eternal", then God has done something apart from His love. Why do I say that? Because for love to really be love, some act must be accomplished toward another person with no thought of itself. In other words, to say someone loves, he must perform some act of love outside of himself, and then, it must have the purpose of bettering that individual. Even punishment must have the goal to better a person otherwise it is not love.
Getting back to my analogy of a parent. If I truly love my children, then every thing I do to (and for) them will be for their betterment, not simply to satisfy my own selfish desire for justice. So if I spank my children, as painful as it is to them, it must be done with a desire to better them in some way. If not, then I cannot say that I have truly loved them. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful description of how we are to manifest love.
Love is patient and kind. Love knows neither envy nor jealousy. Love is not forward and self-assertive, nor boastful and conceited. She does not behave unbecomingly, nor seek to aggrandize herself, nor blaze out in passionate anger, nor brood over wrongs. She finds no pleasure in injustice done to others, but joyfully sides with the truth. She knows how to be silent. She is full of trust, full of hope, full of patient endurance. (1 Cor. 4-7, Weymouth NT)
So let me ask you then, what is the purpose of "eternal" punishment? If God's punishment never ends, then what purpose does it hold for the offender? What betterment to the sinner? The answer is none. And if there is no intent on correcting the behavior of the offender, the only purpose it could serve would be to either satisfy God's own sense of justice or to teach the poor sinner an "eternal" lesson. And in either case, this would be a selfish act because he would be thinking solely of himself. Certainly God would not have the best interest of the sinner at heart if His punishments continued without end. And isn't this what love is - being concerned for the welfare of another? The very essence of love is the idea that it is purely unselfish - it thinks not of itself (1 Cor. 13:8). If God acts in the manner prescribed by orthodox Christianity, how then can this be love? The idea of "eternal" hell shows that we believe in a god who acts simply to satisfy his own need for justice and revenge. Therefore, this is an act that cannot be considered love because it does not result in the betterment of the sinner. And if this is the case, then God is not love, at least to the great majority of those He torments "eternally."
NOTE: Some in the Church believe in the doctrine of annihilation. In contrast to "eternal" torment, at least this view holds some element of love for the offender. In this case, the poor sinner would be put out of his misery by being totally destroyed. However, we believe it falls short of God's victory of the Cross.
No one would deny that God loves all men. But if the Scripture is true when it says that God is love, then God must love all men, not just in this short lifespan He gives us, but also throughout the age of time and beyond! Didn't Jesus Himself tell us to love our enemies? Didn't Paul teach us that if our enemies hunger and thirst, we should give them food and drink? Does this only apply to a man's short lifespan on the earth? None of us doubt that those thrown into the lake of fire are enemies of the Cross. But does not God love even them? And if this is true, how will He manifest His love to them while in the lake of fire? Or will He stop loving them and "eternally" forsake them?
These are tough questions, but they must be answered.
No matter how bad and rebellious my children act, I could never punish them simply out of anger and vengeance - for to do so would be selfish. And if I did, could it be said that I truly loved my children? If I inflict severe pain on them simply to teach them a lesson without exhorting them to improve, what kind of father would I be? And what kind of Father would God be if He acted in this same manner? Isn't His love for us far greater than the love that earthly parents have for their own children? Does He expect more from us than He Himself is willing to do?
Do we serve a schizophrenic god? Are there two different gods in the Bible - a god of vengeance, and another of love? Which one describes the God you worship? The god of the majority says that he is vengeful and hateful to most of those he created. I say that our God cannot act as the majority says. I say that our God cannot throw people in "eternal" hell and love them at the same time. I say that God's punishments always serve a purpose to those who receive them.
Would you like to know the heart of God as Jesus prayed and as Paul desired? Study to show yourself approved!
Secondly, God has called us to be overcomers in this world. But how are we to do this? The philosophy of the world is to overcome by strength and might - do whatever it takes to get ahead - look out for number one, and if that means hurting people climbing up the ladder of success, then so be it. But is this to be our way? Do Christians overcome by strength and shrewdness? Paul said,
If your enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, quench his thirst. For by doing this you will be heaping burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome the evil with goodness. (Rom 13:20, 21)
We are to overcome our enemies by love and goodness. Isn't this exactly how God dealt with us?
Or is it that you think slightingly of His infinite goodness, forbearance and patience, unaware that the goodness of God is gently drawing you to repentance? (Rom 2:4) Doesn't God make his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust? (Matt 5:45) Why does God do this? Why does He return evil with good? He does so because He loves us and wants to bring us to repentance.
The perfect example in Scripture of overcoming evil with good is the Cross. This is God's way. Paul said the Cross is foolishness to the world because it's a symbol of weakness and lowliness (1 Cor. 1). Instead of conquering the world and all its evil through power and vengeance, the Lord chose the most humiliating means anyone could ever imagine. The Cross is the perfect picture of love. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. This was God's choice for how He would overcome evil. It would not be through the strong arm of vengeance, but through the goodness and love of the Cross. And it is this same path of humiliation that our Lord commands us to trod. We will overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil through the Cross?the perfect expression of God's goodness.
John Milton said, "He who overcomes by force hath overcome but half his foe." No one doubts that God can subdue the world by force. Anyone who can speak this world into existence with just a word can certainly wipe out all His enemies with the same. And at the same time, anyone who is powerful enough to turn the hearts of kings and use entire nations to accomplish His will, is also powerful enough to win His entire creation by love. But by which way is God going to reconcile the world? (Col. 1:20; Phil 2:10, 11) Will He accomplish it by force or love? At the end of the day, when all has been reconciled to God, what will we be able to say about the Creator; that He, with great force and vengeance, suffered most of His creation to endless torments, or that He overcame all that was evil in the world with eternal goodness, kindness, and love? Which do you think is the greater work for an all-powerful, sovereign God: forcing most of the world to bow in submission and then tormenting them forever, or through the love of the Cross, win all His lost and wayward children back to Himself again? Which do you think brings more glory to God?
And what does that say about how we are to live on this earth? If our God can't overcome evil with good, how can He expect us to do the same? When we are faced with adversity, why should we respond in love, when our God, in the end, fails to do the same? Why should we forgive seventy times seven when there will come a time when God will not forgive most of those He created for ever and ever? Why should we turn the other cheek and not render evil for evil, when God, who is supposed to be good, renders evil with evil?
Andrew Jukes said,
For our views of God re-act upon ourselves. By an eternal law, we must more or less be changed into the likeness of the God we worship. If we think Him hard, we become hard. If we think Him careless of men's bodies and souls, we shall be careless also. If we think Him love, we shall reflect something of His loving-kindness.
How true this statement is! I have seen this in my own life. If we worship a God who torments most of His creation forever, then why shouldn't we act the same way? Most of the Church is so quick to judge and condemn others, but we are unable to see that we are only acting out the theology we've embraced!
Thirdly , the doctrine of "eternal" torment maligns the character of God, and portrays Him to be a God of limited forgiveness and love.
Some of us have been in the unfortunate situation of having our reputations marred by malicious and untrue statements. Perhaps the most painful of all is being falsely accused by family or friends. There is nothing that hurts more than to be stabbed in the back by someone dear to us. David certainly understood this, as he writes in Psalm 55:12-13,
For it is not an enemy reproaching me; or I could bear it; it is not the one who hates me who is magnifying himself against me; or I would hide myself from him. But it is you, a man of my rank, my friend and my associate.
Our Lord Jesus certainly understood the pain of being forsaken, for it was only John and a few women who stood with Him in His final hours on the Cross.
If you've never experienced the pain of being forsaken by someone you love, or felt the hurt of being falsely accused by a dear friend, you may not be able to fully understand the point I am about to make. While most of us would quickly come to the rescue of a friend who has been on the receiving end of such an injustice, we don't realize that we are guilty of doing the same terrible injustice to our Heavenly Father. The doctrine of "eternal" torment misrepresents the character of God who is pure love and forgiveness. "Eternal" punishment says that God's love will fail for most of His creatures, His forgiveness has an expiration date, and He either can't or won't show mercy beyond the grave. Even if someone in "hell" were to cry out for God to show mercy and beg Him to give them another chance, this hard and calloused god will simply turn away, ignoring their cries as if he'd never heard them.
Most of us have never studied this "tradition" to see if it is indeed taught in the Word of God. However, I would be willing to bet that most of us are uncomfortable with this common teaching believed by most of the Church. And very few stand up and preach this doctrine with enthusiastic fervor. There is good reason for this. How long is "eternal?" L. Ray Smith writes:
Picture yourself being burned and tortured without relief and without any hope for trillions of centuries. Well, of course, we humanly cannot imagine such torture for such a long period of time--our minds and our emotions are incapable of it. If any sane Christian could witness, even for a few hours or a few days, the kind of hideous torture presented by Christian doctrine, I believe he would seriously reconsider whether a loving God is capable of such sadistic punishment. Try to imagine this torture for most of the human race, continuing for trillions upon trillions of centuries. Try this: A grain of sand contains millions and millions of atoms. Imagine that every atom in the known physical universe represents a trillion centuries of torture in Hell. It would thus take billions of trillions of centuries just to complete the atoms in a single grain of sand. Now imagine going to the second grain of sand, the third, the seven hundred and eighty ninth billion grain of sand, then all the atoms in the Earth, our Milky Way Galaxy, the next closest galaxy, the next billion closest galaxies, etc., etc., ONE ATOM (a trillion centuries) AT A TIME! How far into eternity do you suppose such a mind-warping number of centuries would take us? It would take us NOWHERE into eternity! Victims of such a heretical teaching as eternal torment would be NO closer to the end of their ordeal after all these trillions upon trillions of centuries than when they began. They would not be ONE SECOND closer to the end of their suffering.
Oh, how blind and hard-hearted we have become to think that our God could do such a horrible thing! God's judgments that are designed to bring men to an end of themselves are one thing, but "eternal" misery and torture is something quite different. Shame on us for first, not even questioning whether such a doctrine could be true, and secondly, for being lazy and content with accepting what our church leaders have taught us without doing the study required to determine the real truth of God's great love for all men.
How God must be grieved to see His own people telling lies about Him. How we hate when lies are told about us. How much more our Father in heaven must hurt because of the way we portray Him to men. At Golgotha, two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one on each side. One thief mocked Christ, while the other defended Him. The doctrine of "eternal" torment mocks the work of Christ and the love of God. Which "thief" will you be today? Will you continue to mock the character of God by continuing to teach this lie or will you come to the defense of the gospel and proclaim the real truth about God and His Son Jesus.
Lastly, we must ask ourselves, what "gospel" are we taking to the world? What is the good news that Paul tells us to proclaim?
And all things are from God, the One having conciliated us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and having given to us the ministry of conciliation, as, that God was in Christ conciliating the world to Himself, not charging their deviations to them, and having put the Word of conciliation in us. Then on behalf of Christ, we are ambassadors, as God is exhorting through us, we beseech on behalf of Christ, Be conciliated to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
Our message to the world is not that they need to "accept" Jesus Christ or they will suffer the consequences of "eternal" torment. We are to go forth and tell the world that they have been conciliated to God through Christ and that God is not charging their sins to them. We are to exhort them to be conciliated back to God. This is the message of ambassadorship that we are to carry to the world.
Paul spoke to the philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17:31 and warns them of a coming judgment. I do believe we would be incomplete in our representation of God if we failed to warn men (including Christians) that there are consequences for sin. Paul's message to these philosophers was that God is strictly commanding all men everywhere to repent. (V. 31) However, there is a big difference between warning men of a coming day when God will judge all men (which He most certainly will), and that the consequence of not accepting Jesus Christ is "eternal" torment in flames of fire. The latter is not the gospel. The gospel of God in Christ is that God has conciliated the world (not just Christians) to Himself through the blood of His Cross. Paul tells us in 1 Tim. 4:10 that Christ is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. When was the last time you heard an evangelist tell unbelievers that Jesus Christ is their Savior and that God has conciliated them to Himself, and is not charging their sins to their account? When? Our message is to implore them to be conciliated to the Father in Christ - in order that full reconciliation can take place, not so that they will burn in "eternal" flames if they don't accept Christ. This is not the message of an ambassador of the good news. This was not Paul's message to the nations, and it is not to be ours. I believe the doctrine of "eternal" torment has done more harm in turning people off to the gospel than any other false doctrine the Church has embraced. It is a blasphemous lie that maligns the character of God and weakens the work of Christ. It is high time to "study to show ourselves approved" that we may know the truth of the "full" gospel of God in Christ.
In conclusion, I have tried to set forth the reasons why I believe we need to re-think this doctrine of "eternal" punishment. My hope and prayer is that I have helped you to see the necessity of seeking the Lord on this critical issue. There are many study resources available to help you in your search for the truth. See: Tentmaker's Scholar Corner
Today, we have so-called ministers of the "good news" who are spreading false accusations about God and His ways. They are threatening the world with the fear of "eternal" punishment if they don't accept Jesus. Some unbelievers I've talked to are thinkers and have thought through the message we're presenting to them - and you know what - it's not flying with them. I know people who have forsaken Christianity because of this false doctrine of never-ending punishments. I know dear saints who've had nervous breakdowns because they were honest enough to really think through what the Church teaches on this issue. The rest of us (myself included) have simply accepted this "tradition of men" as truth. It was Adolph Hitler who said, "Tell a lie long enough, loud enough, and often enough and people will start to believe you."
I will close this essay with a short quote by Andrew Jukes in his book The Restitution of All Things .
It is not for me to judge God's saints who have gone before. Their judgment is with the Lord, and their work with their God. But when I think of the words, not of the carnal and profane, but even of some of God's dear children in that long night, when "the beast" which looked "like a lamb, but spake as a dragon," had dominion; when I find Augustine saying, that "though infants departing from the body without baptism will be in the mildest damnation of all, yet he greatly deceives and is deceived who preaches that they will not be in damnation," meaning thereby unending punishment; or Thomas Aquinas, that "the bliss of the saved may please them more, and they may render more abundant thanks to God for it, that they are permitted to gaze on the punishment of the wicked," or Peter Lombard, that "the elect, while they see the unspeakable sufferings of the ungodly, shall not be affected with grief, but rather satiated with joy at the sight, and give thanks to God for their own salvation;" or Luther, that "it is the highest degree of faith to believe that God is merciful, who saves so few and damns so many; to believe Him just, who of His own will makes us necessarily damnable;
"When I remember that such men have said such things, and that words like these have been approved by Christians, I can only fall down and pray that such a night may not return, and that where it yet weighs on men's hearts the Lord may scatter it.
"Jesus wept." (Jn. 11:35)