Dan Popp
Hell is separation
By Dan Popp
June 5, 2017

If there is any concept which cannot by any conjuring be removed from the teaching of Our Lord, it is that of the great separation; the sheep and the goats, the broad way and the narrow, the wheat and the tares, the winnowing fan, the wise and foolish virgins, the good fish and the refuse, the door closed on the marriage feast, with some inside and some outside in the dark. – C.S. Lewis

Nothing in the New Testament could be clearer than the doctrine of hell. You may not like it, but it isn't vague or complicated. Hell is a place of torment. Hell is eternal. Hell is separation from God.

The heretic William Paul Young, author of the book and movie The Shack, teaches otherwise. At about 8:08 into this program he says, "Hell is not separation. Let's start with that." He argues that, since hell is a created thing, it cannot, according to Romans 8, "separate us" from God. Let's look at that passage. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38, 39, NAS95)

This reminds me of an old joke. The Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians. The Lone Ranger says, "What are we going to do, Tonto?" And Tonto replies, "Who 'we,' Kemosabe?"

Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God – but who is us? Paul is writing to Christians, of course. Look back through the chapter: those who cannot be separated from God's love are the ones suffering torture and death for the sake of Christ (vv. 35 and 36); they are the "elect" (v. 33); the foreknown and predestined (v. 29); who "love God," and are "called according to His purpose" (v. 28).

The inseparable ones are, in short, "the saints" (v. 27). This name is exclusive by definition. To say that some are "set apart" means that there is no universal "everyone." Some people love God, some don't. Some are foreknown and chosen and called, others are none of the above.

Jesus will say to some, "Depart from me." He will give the command to cast some into "outer darkness." The Bridegroom will bolt the door against the foolish virgins. That all sounds like separation to me. I think it would be difficult to find any verse on hell that doesn't in some way incorporate the idea of rejection, isolation, separation.

Hell is not only separation from God, it is separation from everything good; from light and all human companionship: "You have removed lover and friend far from me; My acquaintances are in darkness." (Psalm 88:18) It is separation from comfort and relief and hope "If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'" (Mark 9:47, 48)

Once Young has made his ludicrous argument for what hell is not, he hints at what it may be. He says that a common metaphor for hell is fire, and that fire is often a symbol of restoration and cleansing. Toward the end of the program he completes the argument: Since hell equals fire, and fire equals refinement, therefore hell is a place where people will be refined – and once refined, of course, they will be let out of hell.

Let him produce one scripture that promises anything like that!

But of course he can't. Yes, fire can refine – or it can destroy. Jesus taught that hell is a place where human beings are destroyed: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) God rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah not to correct the inhabitants with a-hunka-hunka burning love, but to kill them. The farmer in Jesus' parable gathered the wheat and burned the tares, and the tares never became wheat.

In Revelation Jesus calls the lake of fire "the second death." We know that the first death, physical death, is separation of the spirit from the body. How could "the second death" be something altogether different than the first death? Can we at least agree that Jesus makes coherent metaphors? Mustn't the "second separation" be an even more profound and irrevocable separation than the first?

Especially since that's the plain, consistent warning of the Scriptures?

© Dan Popp


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