Silence in hell?
“And (they) shall be as though they had never been”
Obadiah 16 (ESV)
Halloween customs often conjure images of hell-fire. I recently heard of some people who were praying for relatives suffering, supposedly, in Hell. Their prayers were sincere and compassionate,but is it true that hell is a place of eternal torment?
Obadiah has an historical context of the mutual hostility between the descendants of the brothers Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom). Its contention is that Edom had played a treacherous role in Israel’s downfall and captivity, and that, one day, Edom would get its comeuppance. Parallels are drawn between Israel, often seen by Biblical scholars as a metaphor for true religion (Christianity), and Edom, metaphorically regarded as secularism because the Edomites were not particularly religious.
Edom appeared to have the upper hand militarily, but which side would triumph in the end? Obadiah lifts his readers and listeners from their present circumstances to the future day of the Lord, when good triumphs clearly over evil. He writes “there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau” (verse 18). He explains that, as we read above in the leading scripture, the Edomites “shall be as though they had never been.”
There are some obvious implications for us today. The victories of secular thinking will in the end come to nothing. Jesus is victorious. “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (verse 21). But, what about those who ultimately reject God’s gracious acceptance of them in Christ? If we follow through on the metaphors of true religion and secularism, do Obadiah’s words imply that there will be no secularists in God’s kingdom, and that those who refuse Jesus completely will be as though they never had existed? In other words, no memory of them. Is it that in Hell they would be no longer sustained by Jesus, by whose life the universe and everything in it are held together (see Colossians 1:17)? Without Jesus there is no physical or spiritual life.
We don’t know everything about Hell, and there are lots of odd notions about it in circulation. What the Bible suggests is that no one is there yet, and that those who end up there choose it for themselves by rejecting Jesus Christ. And, if we take a hint from Obadiah’s words, the fate of those in Hell may be that they cease to exist. Silence: the weeping and wailing is over. That sounds more like a loving God than one who lets a conquered and sadistic devil punish unrepentant sinners eternally.
Eternal Father of grace and compassion, we don’t know everything about Hell, but we do know about your Son, Jesus, and we pray that we may live in His life forever. In Jesus’ name.
Reprinted with kind permission of daybyday.org.uk.