The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell, Part 1

In light of our encounter with a cult that teaches that there is no literal Hell as it is taught in scripture, I have decided to spend a few days on the doctrine of Hell. I, like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort would dearly love that there would be no such place as Hell, but we cannot be persuaded that way because the Bible overwhelming teaches the opposite. Do we place our trust in what men say or what the Word of God says? Like Luther, we must proclaim that unless we can be persuaded from scripture… In any case, I will be posting some articles from John Piper over the next few days about this. Why? Who is the enemy of truth? Would not the enemy of our Souls find the greatest leverage in teaching that no one has to fear Hell? What motivation could one possibly have to come to Christ if everyone is going to be saved anyway? This is the lie of Universalism and we must denounce it with all of our fervor.

Behold the Kindness and Severity of God

By John Piper

June 14, 1992

Romans 11:17-22

If some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, and you stand only by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

I am going to talk today and next week about hell as an echo of God’s worth and as insufficient to produce true repentance. So I have called the two messages “The Echo and the Insufficiency of Hell.” I have taken Romans 11:22 as the text because it is in obedience to this command that I am preaching these two messages. It says, “Behold then the kindness and the severity of God.” We are commanded to behold—to look at—not only the kindness of God, which we love to do, and ought to love to do! We are also commanded to behold—to look at—the severity of God, which we do not like to do as much.

Not to look at the severity of God is disobedient and dangerous and unloving. It’s like a parent teaching a child how a red hot eye on the oven is good—it makes water boil to cook the spaghetti noodles; it turns clammy eggs into a tasty white and yellow breakfast; it pops popcorn—the oven is good; but then never telling a little child that it is also very dangerous and can hurt badly if misused is in itself dangerous and unloving. So the command to behold the severity of God is a very loving command. And those who discourage us from seeing and believing this severity—in spite of all their sensitive language—are not doing us a favor.

The Rejection of the Historic Biblical View of Hell

In fact one of my motivations for choosing this subject is that I want to warn you that more and more well-known and respected Christian leaders are rejecting the historic biblical understanding of hell. What I mean by “historic biblical understanding of hell” is simply what is written in our own church affirmation of faith (which is the same as the BGC affirmation of faith), namely, “We believe in . . . the final judgment, the eternal felicity of the righteous, and the endless suffering of the wicked.”

The historic biblical view of hell is that it is “endless suffering.” Both words are biblical and important: “endless”—hell is forever and never has an end—and “suffering”—in this endless condition people are in conscious torment.

The Movement from Orthodox to Unorthodox

The abandonment of this biblical truth is following the pattern of how other unpopular biblical teachings are being abandoned: the impulse of abandonment is not coming from the Bible, but from the culture and from the subjective emotional impulses of individuals.

For example, Clark Pinnock wrote in 1990,

I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds. It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life . . . It’s time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment.1

This is the classic process for how a person moves from being orthodox to unorthodox. Personal emotions and desires combine with speculative reasonings about general ideas, and they take precedence over specific biblical texts and teachings. You can see the process at work leading people to abandon other biblical teachings that from time to time don’t fit the spirit of the age—and seem unacceptable to enlightened modern people.

Four years ago John Stott wrote,

Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal conscious torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain . . . Scripture points in the direction of annihilation.2

Both Pinnock and Stott (and others today) argue that no one goes to a hell of “endless suffering.” Instead, if people do not believe in Christ they are annihilated. That means they cease to exist in any sense at all. They have no consciousness and experience nothing. They are no more.

A Tremendous, Infinite Difference for Missions

So in response to these recent challenges I spent a long time during my writing leave wrestling again with this whole issue—because it really makes a tremendous difference for missions. The difference between suffering in hell forever if you don’t trust Christ and simply ceasing to exist is an infinite difference. Do you see that? This is no small adjustment in biblical teaching. It is massive. The difference between not existing and existing in torment forever is an infinite difference.

Imagine God meeting Adolf Hitler at the judgment day and saying: “For all your arrogance and unbelief and hatred and for all the torture and misery that you brought on millions of people my judgment of you is that from now on you will cease to exist. You will feel nothing.” And if you think that would be a terrible thing for Adolf Hitler (or anyone else), ask yourself if you were miserable during any of the thousands of years that you did not exist before you were born. The pain you experienced for not being born would be the pain Hitler experiences if he ceased to exist, none at all.

Contrary to the Teaching of Scripture

But the main problem with the view that unbelievers simply go out of existence is that the Bible teaches that those who do not trust in Christ will be punished with eternal suffering. In other words, annihilation leads the church away from biblical truth. And that always hurts people and dishonors God.

When the Bible says, “Behold the severity of God,” we should do that. And the severity of God includes the truth about hell as endless suffering. In the chapter I wrote about this issue in the new book on missions, I dealt with sixteen different passages of Scripture.3 It is not an isolated doctrine.

The Dreadful, Terrifying Portrait of Hell in Scripture

It is a profound and dreadful reality. To speak of it lightly, or not to speak of it at all, or to speak of it in a way that changes suffering into feeling nothing, simply proves that we do not grasp its horror. I know of no one who has overstated the terrors of hell. We can scarcely surpass the horrid images Jesus used. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth,”4 “their worm shall not die” (Mark 9:48); “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43); “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41); “the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:9); “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46); “anguish in the flame” (Luke 16:24). The point of all these is that we are meant to shudder. We are meant to tremble and feel dread. We are meant to recoil from the reality. Not by denying it but by fleeing from it into the arms of Jesus, who died to save us from it.

Revelation 14:11 is probably the most graphic New Testament statement of the eternal suffering of the unrepentant. “The smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day or night.” Torment forever and ever. The endless suffering of unrepentant sinners is a reality taught in Scripture and therefore good for us to know about.

A Solemn Warning in Closing

I want to close with a very solemn warning. I’ll simply use the words of Jesus: “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8).

I urge you to follow a process of thought about the Bible that is the reverse of the one common today. Instead of coming to the Bible and saying, “I feel that endless suffering cannot be just, and so the Bible cannot be teaching it,” rather say, “Since the Bible teaches it, it must be just and therefore, O how infinitely dreadful sin must be! How infinitely blameworthy it must be to treat the glory of God with contempt! How infinite must be the insult to God when we do not trust his promises! What infinite beauty and glory and purity and holiness God must have, that endless suffering is a just and fitting punishment for disobeying his Word! Annihilationism reduces sin from high treason to a misdemeanor. Hell is meant to fill us with awe at the glory we have scorned.

And it is to fill us with wonder that the death of one man—the God-man, Jesus Christ—could bear the infinite penalty as a substitute for everyone who repents and trusts in him. Hell is an echo of the glory of God. It reveals the greatness of the glory that has been rejected and the greatness of Jesus’ suffering because he bore that hell for all who believe.

1 Clark Pinnock and Delwin Brown, Theological Crossfire: An Evangelical/Liberal Dialogue, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), pp. 226–227.

2 David Edwards, Evangelical Essentials, with a Response from John Stott, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), pp. 314–320.

3 Daniel 12:2; Matthew 3:12 (Luke 3:17); Mark 9:43–48; Matthew 18:8; Matthew 10:28 (Luke 12:4–5); Matthew 25:41, 46; Matthew 26:24; Mark 3:29 and Matthew 12:32; Luke 16:26; Romans 2:6–8; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 6:1–2; Jude 12–13; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 19:3; Revelation 20:10.

4 Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.

© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:

29 thoughts on “The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell, Part 1

  1. It it a coincidence that many of the cults eliminate hell (Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Scientology, etc.). To deny hell is to deny the clear Scriptural teaching. Even men like Rob Bell, who teaches that most, if not all, the references of hell in the New Testament describe events on earth, cannot deny they are taught. So they must dilute their meanings because they are distasteful to the carnal mind that thinks way too highly of itself.

    This is the reason for Calvary, the very reason for the Incarnation. Feeding the poor, healing the sick, and all humantarian acts were acts of earthly kindness and can be used by God as looking glasses into His character, but they are not the gospel. “Should not perish” is the reason for the Word made flesh.

    And if universalism was true there would be no need for missions, no need to pray for the lost, and no need for conversion. And now some teach that the blood of Jesus is the only way, but it will be applied to everyone’s soul after death. “And whosever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

    This is no game and this is not open for doctrinal discussion. There is a hell, unfathomable to the mortal understanding, but to deny it creates a new religion. A palatable experience around which men can chit-chat about spiritual issues while ignoring the imput from God Himself, the Scriptures.

    The Scriptures now have become a pretzel, twisted into agreeable and bite-sized chunks that all religions can digest. God help all the naysayers, they live one precious heartbeat away from discovering they were wrong and God was true. There are sinners entering hell this very moment who are arriving at their fate and being immediately aware that this is eternity.

    That my friends is too much to bear but too Scriptural to deny.


  2. Well we just watched the History channel on the books banned from the Bible. Now we know where all this garbage is coming from. No hell, Mary, Jesus being a ‘naughty’ boy, all the garbage we are hearing. I have heard the wof’ers say this stuff all the time. Joyce Myers says Jesus was a naughty little boy, the Catholics worshiping Mary, and etc. Even the mystic stuff is all from this Gnostic bible. All this falseness we are hearing is from this junk. Like the guy on Amazing Grace dvd said, Its not a new heresy, its just an old heresy repackaged. Its all false and people are believing it. That’s why we all need to stick to the 66 books we have and know it well so we don’t get sucked into the false satanic garbage thats out there floating into the ‘churches’.


  3. Paul and Luann,

    Things are getting really bad my brethren. I received an email today with an article about Chip Brogden’s new book. He may be a universalist. I erased the link on this blog to his site until we know for sure. I did some research online today and found that he has articles listed on a Universalism site. Man, the really wacko heretics are easy to spot, but this is really disturbing, if it is true. Of course, Charles Stanley has shown his universlaist colors as well when he claimed that Outer Darkness was a temporary holding area for unrepentant Christians. Purgatory anyone?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  4. By the way… Thank you for informing me about Chip Brogden. I don’t visit his site often, so I will completely stop going there now. Thanks everyone. Any other wolf alerts anyone??


  5. Josh,

    That is Charles Stanley, the father. The son is a New Evangelism guru. We are in a time requiring some very keen discernment my brethren.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  6. Who else is in left field? I am aware that the TBN crowd is.. minus Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. I just hope that God will call Kirk and Ray out of that confusion, so as to prevent them from getting ensnared in it. The Way of the Master has helped me lead others to the Lord. That show is the only good thing going for TBN.

    As for the rest of that network. It is probably a breeding ground (and even a haven) for false Christs. Send your money to the slot machine named, “Jesus” because he is just waiting on the edge of his heavenly seat to bless you and perform instantaneous healings through his one and only anointed TBN prophets. He promises to give you the best that this life has to offer. “Come to Jesus so that you won’t have to go through the fire.” He will wave his magic wand, and presto you are now an anointed prophet/bishop/priest/apostle/preacher. Now you are on your way to becoming the new Christian Donald Trump. Be exalted and magnified. You are it. You are the one. You deserve the best. You will get your Bentley and your mansion because God is now indebted to you for sending them your last dollar. Money fallin’ like manna from heaven. Ha-babba-kon-da-lah–shakkah. (whatever that means)


  7. Hi

    I just got back from a mainstream well known christian teaching holiday ‘Spring Harvest’ in the Uk. It was very good – much straight down the line teaching just the food I needeed.
    One thing worried me – most of the teachers/preachers did not believe in a literal hell. I was shocked. The Bible is so clear about this. They believed that the lost would face judgement and then be annihilated! Theres a term for this but I forget it. I had to really spend some time after telling my 3 kids why this view is wrong.


  8. We had heard that about Charles S. and his son Andy. You think they are solid teachers and for some reason, they go off into left field. A bunch of them have done that. All the gnostic bible teaches is there is no hell. It says our christian God wouldn’t ever do that. The guy just picked and choose what he wanted to put in there. Is he in trouble. People believe what they hear instead of studying and reading for themselves.


  9. I read it. I didn’t want to see the error, but I do see it. It sounds like easy believism. As if it is promoting Christ as a license to sin. His quotes imply that one does not have to contend for the faith.


  10. Did you see this quote there Josh?

    Where is this place represented by the “outer darkness” in Jesus’ parables? To be in “outer darkness” is to be in the kingdom of God but outside the circle of men and women whose faithfulness on this earth earned them a special rank or position of authority. (page 126) (emphases in original)

    This is a denial that the Lake of Fire and Outer Darkness is the same thing. I suppose he says this so that those who live reprobate lives, but want to be a Christian can believe they are in without repentance.


  11. I just read the site you posted Mike. When our son was first ‘saved’ (so we thought) he was and had listened to Charles S. on t.v. and his message was on eternal security. Our son believed him. A year and a half later, he ‘slipped’ back into his old lifestyle and became worse than he was in the first place! But he thinks he is saved because of what Charles S. preached!! We have gone many a round with him on it. He FINALLY listened and realizes he is a ‘stony ground hearer’. So atleast we made that much progress. He told us he knows thats what happened to him. So no thanks to Charles, we really had some ‘head butting’ to do with our son. He has ‘head knowledge’ but appears thats all the further its gone so far. We just keep praying for him everyday.


  12. Paul and Luann,

    OSAS (once saved always saved) is not a biblically viable doctrine unlike The Perseverance of the Saints. They are not the same thing at all.

    Yes, I have family and friends like that as well. I think all forms of Easy-Believism are to blame for this epidemic of lukewarmness in the Church.

    You are right, we must pray for them and be witnesses with our lives not just our words.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  13. I do not believe in OSAS because I do believe in apostasy. However in the end I think this will be the most prevelant –


    Assumed Saved – Wasn’t Saved

    The danger of teaching eternal security without a corresponding strong message on “make your election sure” sometimes assures the lost of their salvation.


  14. Thats the whole deal……they fall away. Apostate, right? If they were really His they wouldn’t live like the world and call themselves saved. But like the prodical son, he looked as though he was a gonner, but, he came back. So its really hard to say one way or another, but the fruit of the prodical stunk. As our sons is right now. I guess thats why we aren’t to judge their salvation, but just their fruit. We never know. Its definatly a God thing.


  15. Where is that magic potion? You know the one where I don’t have to repent, get persecuted, or talk about God’s judgment. Can’t God just wave a magic wand over my head and presto me into his image?

    Maybe the TBN anointing ran out of time. Perhaps that holy water was tap water.


  16. Pingback: The Deception of Universalism - Part 2 « Possessing the Treasure

Comments are closed.