"Okay, then," I said as I settled deeper into the couch, "here's your chance to set the record straight. Let's lay some groundwork by getting our definitions in order. You said hell is not a torture chamber. Then what is it?"
"The essence of hell is relational," he replied. "Christianity says people are the most valuable things in the entire creation. If people matter, then personal relationships matter, and hell is largely relational.
"In the Bible, hell is separation or banishment from the most beautiful being in the world-God himself. It is exclusion from anything that matters, from all value, not only from God but also from those who have come to know and love him."
I was confused about something. "Is hell a punishment for having broken God's standards?" I asked. "Or is it the natural consequence of people living a life where they say, 'I don't care if I'm separate from God, I want to do things my way,' and then they are given their desire for all eternity by being separated from God forever?"
"It's both," he said. "Make no mistake: hell is punishment-but it's not a punishing. It's not torture. The punishment of hell is separation from God, bringing shame, anguish, and regret. And because we will have both body and soul in the resurrected state, the misery experienced can be both mental and physical. But the pain that's suffered will be due to the sorrow from the final, ultimate, unending banishment from God, his kingdom, and the good life for which we were created in the first place. People in hell will deeply grieve all they've lost.
"Hell is the final sentence that says you refused regularly to live for the purpose for which you were made, and the only alternative is to sentence you away for all eternity. So it is punishment. But it's also the natural consequence of a life that has been lived in a certain direction."
"According to Genesis, when God created everything, he declared it was 'good,"' I pointed out. "Obviously, God created hell. But how could he possibly think that hell is good? Doesn't that call his character into question?"
"Actually," replied Moreland, "hell was not part of the original creation. Hell is God's fall-back position. Hell is something God was forced to make because people chose to rebel against him and turn against what was best for them and the purpose for which they were created.
"You know, when people founded the United States, they didn't start out by creating jails. They would have much rather had a society without jails. But they were forced to create them because people would not cooperate. The same is true for hell."
"Is hell a physical place?"
"Yes and no. When people die, their soul leaves their body and they're no longer physical. The Bible says when people who are ultimately headed for hell die before Christ's return, they're separated from the presence of God but they're not in a physical place because they're not physical. In that sense, hell is probably not a location, but it's a real part of the universe. It's like you go through a door into another kind of existence."
"Sounds like a near-death experience," I chuckled.
"Well, I think near-death experiences have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that when people die they're still able to be conscious," Moreland replied.
Then he continued: "At the final judgment, our body will be raised and our soul will be reunited with it. At that point, I do think there will be a part of the universe where people will be cut off from the primary place where the activity of God and his people will be manifested. So at that point it does make sense to talk about hell being a place-but it will not be a torture chamber or anything like that."
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