During his weekly address to the general audience of 8,500 people at the Vatican on July 28, 1999, Pope John Paul II rejected the reality of a physical, literal hell as a place of eternal fire and torment. Rather, the pope said hell is separation, even in this life, from the joyful communion with God. According to an official Vatican transcript of the pope's speech, Pope John Paul II noted that the Scriptural references to hell and the images portrayed by Scripture are only symbolic and figurative of "the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. " He added, "Rather than a physical place, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy." He said hell is "a condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life." Concerning the concept of eternal damnation, the pope said, "Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person, and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever." The pope also added, "The thought of hell and even less the improper use of biblical images must not create anxiety or despair." Rather, he stated, it is a reminder of the freedom found in Christ.
The Religion News Service reported that a Vatican-approved editorial published several weeks ago in the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica agrees with the pope's latest pronouncement. The editorial explicitly pronounced, "Hell exists, not as a place but as a state, a way of being of the person who suffers the pain of the deprivation of God" (Los Angeles Times, 7-31-99). The pope said eternal damnation is "not God's work but is actually our own doing." Only a week earlier the pope stated that heaven is neither "an abstraction nor a place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship of union with the Holy Trinity. "
Such a statement on hell is strikingly similar to that made by Billy Graham several years ago in which he was quoted,
The only thing I could say for sure is that hell means separation from God. We are separated from his light, from his fellowship. That is going to be hell. When it comes to a literal fire, I don't preach it because I'm not sure about it. When the Scripture uses fire concerning hell, that is possibly an illustration of how terrible it's going to be-not fire but something worse, a thirst for God that cannot be quenched. (Time magazine, 1 1-1 5-93)
Both Graham and now the pope completely reject the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the reality of a literal lake of fire that burns throughout all eternity. The author of Hebrews taught that the reality of hell is a vital Bible doctrine (Heb. 6:1, 2). Jude taught that believers are to contend for the faith (doctrine) once delivered unto the saints and that hell is a real, literal place of fire and torment Jude 3, 7). The apostle Paul taught that those who knew not Christ would suffer the vengeance of God which entailed everlasting damnation (2 Thess. 1:8, 9). The apostle John saw that hell was a real place (Rev. 14: 1 0; 20:10-15; 21:8). And, Jesus Christ Himself taught that hell literally exists, that it lasts forever and that those who reject His perfect salvation would spend eternity therein (Matt. 13:41, 42; 18:8, 9; 25:41-46; Luke 16:19-31). Rejection of the Biblical doctrine of hell by the pope and Graham does not nullify the fact that a literal hell truly exists. "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:3, 4).
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