Changing Church Views of the Hell Myth Today
Today, even the church is drawing back from the hell myth, realizing that it has no Biblical basis and is simply incompatible with a loving God:
Among Evangelicals: Billy Graham
These are Billy Graham’s words about hell in an interview with Larry King:
King: But what about those faiths — the Mormons and the others that you mentioned — believe in Christ. They believe they will meet Christ. What about those like the Jews, the Muslims, who don’t believe as you believe.Graham: That’s in God’s hands. I can’t be their judge.
King: You don’t judge them?
Graham: No. No, I don’t say you’re going to hell, and you’re, oh, I don’t.
King: How do you feel when you see a lot of these strong Christian leaders go on television and say, you are condemned, you will live in hell if you do not accept Jesus Christ, and they are forceful and judgmental?
Graham: Well, they have a right to say that, and they are true to a certain extent, but I don’t — that’s not my calling.
(Larry King Live, June 16, 2005).
Billy Graham elaborated on the fact that all people are loved and accepted by God in a dialogue with Robert Schuller of the California Crystal Cathedral. He speaks pointedly of only a “heaven,” not a hell. Schuller, another renowned Evangelical, was delighted with Graham’s statements:
Schuller: Tell me, what do you think of the future of Christianity?Graham: I think everybody who knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…God’s purpose is to call out a people for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, Buddhist world, the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ, because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus…and I think they are saved, and that they are going to be in heaven with us.
Schuller: (overjoyed): What I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life even if they’ve been born into darkness and never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?
Graham: Yes it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world…that have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God. (Hour of Power television broadcast, May 31, 1997).
Among Canadian Evangelicals: Clark Pinnock
Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at McMaster University
How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself. (“Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” by Alan W. Gomes. Retrieved from http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell4.html May 21, 2007)
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses: Joseph Franklin Rutherford
Watchtower Society’s Second President
And now, who is responsible for this God-dishonoring doctrine? And what is his purpose? The promulgator of it is Satan himself; and his purpose in introducing it has been to frighten the people away from studying the Bible and to make them hate God. (“Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” by Alan W. Gomes. Retrieved from http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell4.html May 21, 2007)
Among Catholics: Pope John Paul IIThis is a statement from Pope John Paul II made on July 28, 1999. Hell is not a place of fire and eternal suffering, he says. He describes it as separation from God, chosen by people using their free will, and only symbolically described as a fiery place of torment as a strongly portrayed reminder of the freedom from death believers have. He refers to the descriptions of torment as “improper use of Biblical images”:
The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (n. 1033).
. . . The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm 8:15; Gal 4:6).
(John Paul II, General Audience, July 28, 1999. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1999/
documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999_en.html May 21, 2007).
Most heartening for the possibility that the church may be maturing to embrace Yeshua’s teachings is the fact that this statement by the Pope allows for people maturing into loving, compassionate, spiritual beings even if, during their lives, they weren’t able to grow to that spiritual level. People “self-exclude” themselves from God and spirituality, he says. That means they can, then, mature to loving God and humankind at some time later in their eternal lives.