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Bruce, Did You Ever Pray for God to Abolish Hell?

i have a question

I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

Dave asked:

[Christian] Fundamentalists believe you can bring anything to God in prayer and he will answer it. They also believe in eternal torture as this god’s punishment for most of the human race. As a pastor did you ever pray that God would not allow such a monstrosity as hell? Why do you think that this plea is not made continuously by people who hold this belief? Is it because they don’t really believe they can change the mind of God, or is it because they relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

Evangelicals believe that the Bible God hears and answers their prayers. While Evangelicals are all over the place theologically on prayer, they believe that God does hear their petitions and answers in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

According to Evangelicals, every prayer that conforms to the will of God is answered affirmatively. Why, then, do most Evangelical prayers go unanswered — especially big-ticket items such as the ones mentioned by Dave? Why does God seem indifferent to human suffering, pain, and loss? According to Evangelicals, God saying no or not now happens for one of these reasons:

  • God wants to increase our faith
  • God wants to test us and make us stronger
  • God wants to chastise us for our sins, restoring us to a right relationship with him
  • God wants to bring glory to his name

While I am sure there are other “reasons” for God saying no or not now, these are the big four — the reasons most often cited by Evangelicals.

For thirty-five years, I prayed every day — often multiple times a day. Yet, I never, one time, asked God to abolish Hell. I believed Hell (and the Lake of Fire) was an awful place of eternal damnation and suffering, yet I also believed the people in Hell were getting exactly what they deserved. Salvation had been offered to them by Jesus Christ, yet they rejected it, choosing instead their own selfish desires. Of course, I dared not think too hard on the matter, lest I see multiple glaring contradictions. Had I thought about that matter, I would have concluded that God was unjust and unfair; that eternity in Hell seemed to be determined by who your parents were and geography.

After embracing Calvinism, I concluded that eternal destiny was determined not by making a decision for Christ, but because God had chosen some people to spend eternity in Hell. No one deserved salvation and eternity in Heaven, so God can’t be blamed for sending most people to the Lake of Fire.

I never believed I could change the mind of God through my prayers. God was the sovereign Lord over all, and everything that happened was according to his purpose and plan. People saved under my ministry were converted because God purposed from before the foundation of the world to bring them to saving faith. When I prayed, it was not so God would give me what I want, but so my will would conform to God’s. Ironically, on many occasions God’s “will” aligned perfectly aligned with mine. It was amazing that God often gave me exactly what I wanted. I later concluded that the only person answering my prayers was me; that my prayers were self-fulfilling wants, needs, and desires.

Dave concludes by asking a question that most Evangelicals don’t want to answer: [do] they [Evangelicals] relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

I do know that some Evangelicals relish the fact that I will some day go to Hell to be punished and tortured by God for eternity. I am viewed as someone especially deserving of eternal torture. I knew the “truth” and rejected it. I spit in the face of Jesus, choosing atheism over the one true faith. I have received countless emails and blog comments from Evangelicals who, with sadistic delight, describe what God is going to do to me after I die. Usually, they end with a call to repentance or “praying for you,” but I suspect that many of my critics relish what awaits for me in Hell.

Deep down, Evangelicals need validation; to know for certain that they are right. Their lives are built on certainty; that their God is the one true God; that the Bible is a supernatural book given to them by a supernatural God, a book that is a blueprint or manual for life; that their decision to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ was the right choice, guaranteeing them an eternity of heavenly bliss.

Those who don’t believe as they do will get exactly what they deserve — eternal punishment in Hell. What better way for you to be proven right than for unbelievers to be cast into the Lake of Fire? I suspect some Evangelical zealots will take day strolls to the rim of the Lake of Fire, and say to unbelievers, I TOLD YOU SO! The eternal suffering of unbelievers is, for Evangelicals, vindication of their beliefs.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    darcyinsatx

    “I suspect some Evangelical zealots will take day strolls to the rim of the Lake of Fire, and say to unbelievers, I TOLD YOU SO! The eternal suffering of unbelievers is, for Evangelicals, vindication of their beliefs.” If some of those zealots really want to gleefully watch souls that are in torment for eternity, that is sadistic. Bruce, did you know Evangelicals who were that sadistic?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Gleefully is a bit of hyperbole, but I knew pastors who had a smug satisfaction that they would be proven right on judgment day; that people they witnessed to will one day know that Pastor So-and-So was right. If only these tortured people would have listened to these pastors!

      I heard Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard say that believers will one day praise God for his rightous judgment of unsaved friends and loved ones; that the smoke ascending from the Lake of Fire will be an eternal reminder that those in the Lake of Fire deserve to be there.

      Eternal punishment, Hell, and the Lake of Fire are sadistic in and of themselves. The God who created these things is a sadistic monster. That some of his followers are sadistic should not be surprising. Fortunately, many Evangelicals are better people than their God.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Hi DARCYINSATX, Sadistic is a strong word and it indicates a mental problem, specifically the enjoyment or the pleasure of seeing someone suffer. I was reading Lester Roloff’s obit. in the NYT’s and it included this info:
      “His Texas church compound also contains the Rebekah Home for Girls, which came to national attention in 1979 when there was a clash between Mr. Roloff’s adherents and state officials who tried to shut the home amid reports of overly harsh discipline and other mistreatment.” (NYT)
      Overly harsh! Harsh, I guess is okay but overly harsh speaks to another level; not-so-okay? Anyway, that odd phrase aside, Roloff answered his critics:
      Mr. Roloff, who consistently denied most of the charges, conceded that girls had been paddled and whipped for misbehavior. He asserted that such discipline was meant to save their souls. ”My old daddy spanked me, and some of these girls have to be spanked, too,” he said. (NYT)
      I believe that spanking and hitting, whipping, swatting and punching youngsters is always unwise and always reflects the personal damage of the perpetrator, their own harmed self erupting into violence. Did Roloff enjoy the abuse? Oh yes! He knew it was just what the doctor ordered and that without it, these kids might not be broken in spirit and brought to Christ. The man was sadistic in action, sadistically needed to hit. Notice that he uses the term ‘spanking’ to include paddling and whipping, using tools to really get the job done. Does that hitting need to be wild and out-of-control beating to make it sadistic? I don’t think so. The impulse to harm a child and call it correction is a deeply ingrained injury in humans that stops only with personal insight, hard emotional work leading to respect and compassion for others. Not the kind preached at your local church full of shame and blame and hell for losers. The church teaches that if you love your kids you will not spare the rod. The Bible includes this bullshit and has done such damage to us.
      I remember one of the kids in my dad’s church who was beaten badly by her dad, enough that we kids even heard the concern among the church folk. Rena got a sadistic beating from her loving father. He did not spare the rod by any means. Was anything ever done? No way. Mind your business. The father is the head of the family and that is God’s Way! More Bible filth and corruption made scripture.
      Religion is a good tool to perpetuate sadism, mental harm done over the generations and to pass it on.
      Is there any justifiable hitting of children? No. Should we apply different levels of respect and autonomy to our kids than we do for ourselves and other adults? No. Would you swat an adult on the head for not doing what you want them to do? The very thought is ludicrous and yet we see babies, toddlers and kids routinely abused this way.

    • Avatar
      Troy

      One reason for the gloating is that in many cases being IFB religious is a difficult life to live. All this self denial and suppression of natural drives must necessarily have a payoff. The prepper who builds his fall out shelter likely has the same self satisfaction. Seeing someone who didn’t pay the piper get his just desserts would just serve to justify the sacrifices made in life.
      It is not a particularly loving way to treat your fellow man, but very human I suppose.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    It’s vindication for the fundies, but all the people suffering in hell will give them a sadistic thrill. Not that they’d ever admit it.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    From what I read of hate preachers like Steve Anderson and many more, I get the impression that’s what they’re most looking forward to about heaven. Not the glorious worship and praise of god, but having an eternity to gloat as they look on that lake of fire and enjoy seeing the eternal torture of everyone who wasn’t in their nasty little cult that goes on there.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      To be fair, continual glorious worship and praise of God does sound like it would get old pretty quickly. I never got that Heaven was a great place to be, but that it was a whole lot better than Hell. Even as a Christian, I was ultimately a pragmatist.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I knew a few evangelicals who were genuinely distressed by the concept of hell and that people who had never even heard of Jesus were doomed to go there, just because they’d been born. They were distressed but felt they couldn’t do anything about it, and they sure couldn’t question God about it. But most didn’t give it a second thought.

    When I was a teen I had created an image of a sweet elderly lady in India who did all sorts of nice things for people, but our God sentenced her to eternity in hell even though she hadn’t heard of him. I thought it incredibly unfair, and it upset me a lot. When I questioned a Sunday school teacher about it, she said they don’t go to as bad a part of hell as those who heard and rejected the message. That still seemed messed up….

    • Avatar
      clubschadenfreude

      “They were distressed but felt they couldn’t do anything about it, and they sure couldn’t question God about it. But most didn’t give it a second thought.”

      I’ve met these before too. And they all have given the “I’m just following orders” as their excuse why they continue to defend and believe in such a petty pathetic tyrant.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      OC, I heard a version of that too. Or that “only God knows” blah blah. But I don’t think the differences in hell have anything to do with the Bible, but Dante’s Inferno!

  5. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    I’m always bemused how many Christians, not just evangelicals, simply ignore what their bible says about prayer. The bible never offers the excuses that Christians have invented since they know their god does nothing.

    “God wants to increase our faith
    God wants to test us and make us stronger
    God wants to chastise us for our sins, restoring us to a right relationship with him
    God wants to bring glory to his name”

    How is “faith” get bigger? It seems you either believe or not. No “kinda” involved.

    Why would an omniscient being need to test anyone?

    No agreement on what “sin” consists of.

    This god is a petty tyrant who needs adulation.

    many, if not most, Christians relish the idea of someone being punished for not agreeing with them and coughing up the external validation they are desperate for.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      Yep, OC, it really sucks that Christians are in an abusive relationship with (what they think is) God. And then hold it up as if it is something to long for.

  6. Avatar
    Dave

    Bruce, thanks for addressing my question. It seems you didn’t allow yourself too much time to ponder the implications of hell. I don’t see how any decent person can seriously acknowledge the existence of a place of eternal unspeakable torture and worship the being that can abolish this and chooses not to do so. You also reference your Calvinist period. I’ve always wondered if Calvinists, who believe that God arbitrarily and capriciously assigns people their eternal destinations, ever fear that he will just as arbitrarily decide to send them to hell. Who could ever be arrogant enough to presume to know the mind of such a cruel god?

  7. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hell is overkill and inhumane, I always felt this way , whether a churchgoer or later, now that I’m not. I never thought a person could pray to have God abolish Hell, but that’s a great idea. It can’t hurt to try. After all, we all know people we cared for, who are no longer with us.

  8. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I had to go do some chores for a while, so the short comment–but the thought about Hell has always been in the background. This being the fact that famous and local people alike die all the time. I simply took it for granted that it existed, as I was taught. I never thought it was fair though. Annihilation made more sense to me. I like the idea that Christians should at least unite in praying to God to get rid of Hell, as far as humans go, anyway. No one’s ever proposed this, until Dave here. Thank you, Dave. It’s worth the effort, for anyone who feels praying works. I would prefer that the Bible and it’s God not exist, be proven totally false, null and void. That’s even better !

  9. Avatar
    Dave

    Yulya, I did pray for a while for hell to be abolished. This doctrine was the first crack in my faith. What sort of Monster would allow eternal torture? I realized that I had no way of knowing if my prayer was being considered and later understood there was no one listening to this prayer. I started to consider other areas of my faith that I had always just accepted as truth and saw there was no proof at all to any of my beliefs. I begged for god to show himself to no avail and finally I just let it go. Realizing that no one would be going to hell more than offset any disappointment that there was not a heaven

  10. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I was raised Catholic, and that tradition (they really ARE Christians!) holds that God purifies souls before they can be in his presence in Heaven, in an existence called Purgatory, after death. It ain’t pretty (though I was taught no details), but it was how he fixed ordinary sinners–or even folks who’d never heard of him–before welcoming them into his presence. You had to die with a really horrible sin (aka “Mortal Sin”) on your conscience to be sent to eternal torture. But if you confessed your sins to a priest and had them absolved (this involved penance), God would forgive you, no matter how great the sin. (I never learned about the Unforgivable Sin as a Catholic.) In other words, you had to be truly evil and unrepentant to merit Hell. Polishing up after death, however, was going to be an unpleasant but temporary experience. Oh, and if the sin is criminal, priests often assign penance as turning yourself in to police.

    Note that keeping the length of your stay in Purgatory to a minimum requires generally behaving yourself, as defined by Catholic rules, and going to confession regularly to keep your unforgiven sin pile to a minimum. For most Catholics, confessions are held for fixed hours just before a service, and hey, you can stay for the service and put some money in the basket! Sorry about the cynicism, I read too much Roll to Disbelieve over at Patheos Nonreligious. I also remember that for a lot of the history of the Catholic Church, confessional penance required money gifts to the church.

  11. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hello, Dave. You know, I always wondered why there were so few details about Heaven. And if comparing it to Hell, made Heaven look good. So that if Heaven had faults or sucked in some way, at least you weren’t in constant pain from all those things that go on in Hell, like this is Hell’s real purpose after all. Also, as a deterrent for future rebellion.

  12. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Good morning, Karen. I grew up in the city of Los Angeles, and played with, attended school with the Catholic kids. They were from different countries then, not Mexican dominant yet. All the things you mention above that are requirements, they had to do. Old L.A. I was in the heathen”camp and well established in my Tenger ways. They often tried to convert me. But these belief’s didn’t make sense, and those poor kids were often high strung. Troy mentions that it’s hard to live the IFB lifestyle. The Pentacostals have the same practices pretty much.

  13. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    It occurs to me that many Christians’ notions about Hell are just like their (and, to be fair, other people’s) attitudes about the death penalty: The people sentenced to either one “deserve” it, Some people feel vindication when someone is tortured or killed for actual or alleged crimes or sins; others feel a sense of schadenfreude. Either way, people are arrogating unto themselves the power to decide what is just for another human being–and, in the case of Hell (and sometimes capital punishment), conflating their judgment with that of their god.

  14. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I looked up John Piper -cult leader, because he says that hell glorifies God. But this person has a lot of dysfuncton in his own life.

  15. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Oops ! Phone typo again. Sorry about that. I was thinking out R.C.Sproul and John Piper, both of whom did day that He’ll glories God, for the most unbelievable reasons. You can tell they’re reaching for straws just by looking at what they say. The priggyness and arrogance come through certain people’s writing. Sproul I’d heard on the radio a few years back, saying the above. If Hell is a supposed fact, and they aren’t bothered by the possibility of this being true, something is wrong with them mentally. They remind me of ISIS and their outlooks, nearly identical.

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