In a recent interview with an atheist journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis reportedly said that unbelievers don’t go to hell, hell doesn’t exist, instead, their souls are annihilated.
“Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and go among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. There is no hell – there is the disappearance of sinful souls,” the Pope allegedly claimed.
Various news sources have picked up the story claiming it is true, while others are saying Scalfari’s piece is not an accurate transcription of the Pope’s words. In fact, the Vatican was quick to dismiss the report as untrue.
Regardless, Scalfari’s article in La Repubblica, has both the religious world and the secular media speculating. Rush Limbaugh, the conservative political pundit, suggested on his radio program that the “Pope is really a left-winger and actually trying to mingle his own leftist personal views with church doctrine.”
One thing, however, that is not given to speculation regardless of the Pope’s position, is what the Bible teaches on the topic of Hell. After all, the Bible should be the absolute authority in all matters of faith and doctrine, not human appointed leaders of religious organizations.
In his parable of the sheep and goats as He depicts the day of Judgment, Jesus said in Matthew 25:46, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” On another occasion, Jesus warned, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28)
Regarding the second coming of Christ, the apostle Paul penned, “and to you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:7-10)
These passages, as well as several others, do not teach the doctrine of “the disappearance of sinful souls,” even as some among our own fellowship have taught.
No doubt the teaching on hell is a difficult doctrine for some to accept. Often people find it incompatible with the nature of God’s love. Yet, Jesus who came to show us the Father’s love taught there is a place of punishment awaiting the wicked called Hell. Furthermore, the Old Testament Scripture shows both the loving mercy of God and his judgment on the ungodly. The great flood in Noah’s day (Gen 7), the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.19:24), and the death by fire of the priests Nadab and Abihu who profaned worship to God (Num.10:1-3), all demonstrate God’s punishment on the disobedient.
The apostle Paul’s reminder to both Jews and Gentiles in Rome ought to give us serious pause. “Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Rom. 11:22). If God is a rewarder of the righteous, then justice demands that He also is a God who punishes the unrighteous.
The Good News is that one no has to go to Hell. While “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23) and we all deserve eternal punishment, Jesus has provided a way to be saved from our sins. God in His grace and mercy sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins (Jn 3:16) and to be reconciled to God (Col 1:21).
Jesus call us to believe on Him (Jn 8:24), to repent of our sins (Lk. 13:3), to confess our allegiance to Him as Son of God (Matt 10:32-33) and to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Ax 2:38). By the grace of God, our sins can be cleansed by the blood Jesus (Ax 22:16; Rev. 1:5). Then we can enjoy a transformed life and walk in the light of the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2; 1Jn. 1:7)
To dismiss the Bible teaching on the doctrine of Hell is a terrible mistake. Don’t miss heaven, by ignoring the horrors of hell.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman