God Does Not Torment Souls
1. What have religious leaders taught and done about “hell”?
IT HAS been a common teaching in Christendom, as well as in the religions of the Orient, that “souls” of wicked persons undergo cruel torment after death in a fiery “hell.” Since they have this inhuman belief, many religious leaders have thought it to be a fine thing to persuade the rulers to torture and burn people alive in this life also, especially if they held to another faith.
2 However, Jehovah, the Creator, is a God of love. He is merciful and kind. His attitude toward the wicked is expressed at Ezekiel 18:23:
“‘Do I take any delight at all in the death of someone wicked,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘and not in that he should turn back from his ways and actually keep living?’”
Thus, Jehovah does not want to see even the wicked person die, let alone be tortured. God’s compassion for, and interest in, mankind is expressed in Jesus’ words at Matthew 10:29-31:
“Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore have no fear: you are worth more than many sparrows.”
The God who regards mankind in that way would not approve of torturing persons in this life or in a life to come. The Bible contains no such teaching.
ORIGIN OF “HELL” TORMENT TEACHING
3. (a) Which religions have taught a hell of torment? (b) How have some of these teachings varied?
3 The idea of a “hell” of torment stems from ancient Babylon. It is found also among the religious teachings of ancient Persia and Phoenicia. The Encyclopedia Americana (1956 ed., Vol. 14, p. 82) says:
“While there are many and significant variations of detail the main features of hell as conceived by Hindu, Persian, Egyptian, Grecian, Hebrew and Christian theologians are essentially the same.”
Though most religions of history have taught that there is a fiery “hell,” their teachings have differed as to its purpose. Says the Encyclopædia Britannica (1971 ed., Vol. 11, p. 320):
“The Roman Catholic Church teaches that hell is a state of punishment for those who die unrepentant in grave sin. Hell will last forever; its suffering will have no end. . . . The traditional Protestant teaching on hell remained until modern times substantially the same as Catholic doctrine and is still held by many conservative Protestant groups.”
On the other hand, Hindus and Buddhists teach that hell is a place of purification, akin to the Catholic “purgatory,” and that a person who goes there may have a rebirth, though rarely as a human, after his evil karma (deeds) have been burned up.
4. (a) What are the Buddhist hells like? (b) What similar teaching does the Roman Catholic religion have?
4 Describing the Buddhist hells, the above edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica states:
“There are eight hot hells and eight cold hells plus the realm of the pretas (ghosts with small mouths and great stomachs who are tortured by hunger and thirst). A person is born in hell as a result of the ‘ripening’ of his evil karma.”
On page 104 of this book, some idea of the supposed fiendish tortures administered in this “hell” is given in an illustration taken from a Buddhist scroll entitled “Kanzen Choaku” (meaning, Recommending the Good, Disciplining the Bad). It has many similarities to the “Inferno” of the Roman Catholic Dante, a portion of which is shown in this book on page 105.
5 Can you believe that such a hell really exists? Is it reasonable? Of course, if you wish to belong to a religion that teaches these things, you are perfectly free to do so. But these teachings of fiery torment are far different from what Jesus taught. He gladly aided tax collectors, harlots and other sinners, who were considered to be outcasts by the religious leaders of his day, so that they could clean up their lives, and “find refreshment” for their souls. (Matthew 11:28-30) The Bible shows that it is only the incurably wicked that God will punish everlastingly—not with eternal torture, but by mercifully putting them out of existence forever:
6 However, some persons may point to Jesus’ parable at Luke 16:19-31, which describes a rich man in a “blazing fire” of torment. The dictionary defines a “parable” as a “short fictitious story”—not something that literally happens in real life. Here, Jesus was illustrating how, as a class, the religious leaders of the Jews would “die” figuratively toward having God’s favor and come into distress while alive on earth—as they did on hearing Jesus proclaim his message against them. The Bible says nothing about God’s tormenting people after death in “hellfire.”* The idea of torment by fire is completely foreign to Jehovah God, who forthrightly condemned apostate Jews for the “detestable thing” of making “their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Molech,” the god of Ammon.—Jeremiah 32:35; 2 Chronicles 28:3.
7. (a) Who is “the father of the lie” about a “hell” of torment, and how have religious leaders used this lie? (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) (b) But how does Jehovah show himself to be the “God of all comfort”? (Romans 15:5, 6)
7 Like the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, that of a “hell” of torment is based on the Babylonish lie that man’s soul lives on after death. This lie has its source in Satan, who is “the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Religious priests and clergymen have made effective use of this lie, holding many persons in bondage to their religious sects by striking into them fear of a fiery “hell” after death. On the contrary, Jehovah, as “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort,” purposes a bright and happy future for the dead ones of sinful mankind who are promised a resurrection.—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
TORMENTS IN THIS LIFE
8. In their treatment of persons who disagreed with them, how have Catholic and Protestant religions failed to follow God’s teaching and example? (Matthew 7:21-23)
8 Consistently, God does not approve of living souls being tortured in this life. The Catholic Church used the notorious Inquisition to stamp out so-called “heretics” by fiendish torture and burnings at the stake. In the sixteenth century alone, the Catholic Inquisition burned more than 30,000 “heretics” in this way. Nor were the Protestant reformers of that time without guilt, a notable case being the burning near Geneva of Michael Servetus, because of his publicly declaring the truths that the Trinity doctrine and the baptism of infants are contrary to Bible teaching. John Calvin, one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church, argued for the death penalty, and looked on while Servetus was literally roasted alive in a slow fire for about five hours till dead.
9. Because of what qualities of Jehovah can we have confidence in him? (Psalm 11:7)
9 Jehovah, the ‘God of love,’ has never consented to such tortures. All men can look to him with complete trust and confidence in his loving-kindness.
“How precious your loving-kindness is, O God! And in the shadow of your wings the sons of men themselves take refuge.”—Psalm 36:7.
10. Would you agree that scoffers should be treated as outlined in the Lotus Sutra?
10 Nor would such a loving God approve of the eternal torment of souls according to the sutra of the “Lotus of Truth” of Nichiren Buddhism in Japan. This sutra states in its concluding chapter 28:
“He who scoffs at the devotee of this sutra shall in every existence have his teeth broken and separated, his lips shall be ugly, his nose flat, his feet and hands contorted, his eyes squinting, his body disgusting; he shall have ulcers, pus, and blood shall come from his body, his belly shall swell up with water, he shall be short of breath and suffer from all kinds of malignant and serious diseases. Therefore, if one should see—even from afar—a man who is keeping this sutra, one should rise and show him the same reverence as the Buddha.”
Surely it would not be right to afflict even a scoffer in that way! It would be most unloving to heap such everlasting misery on him. In any case, as the Bible shows, the souls of sinners do not survive the death of the body to be tortured in other existences. Those souls “die.”—Ezekiel 18:4.
DO SOULS TRANSMIGRATE?
11. What is the belief of “transmigration,” which is common in Buddhism and Hinduism?
11 The above sutra describes the supposed tortures to be inflicted upon a scoffer in “every existence.” Here reference is made to the belief, common in Buddhism and Hinduism, that at death the soul “transmigrates” or passes over into another body. Persons who believe this feel that they have lived innumerable lives before and will continue to pass from one life to another in a virtually endless cycle of rebirths. Karma (deeds) performed in one life will determine what type of life the next one will be.
12. How do the Hindu scriptures describe the law of karma, and how do you react to these statements?
12 One of the Hindu scriptures, the Chandogya Upanishad, explains the law of karma in this way:
“Those who are of pleasant conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahmin [priest], or the womb of a Kshatriya [the military], or the womb of a Vaisya [farmer or merchant]. But those who are of stinking conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast.”
In similar vein are the following excerpts from the Hindu code of Manu concerning women:
“Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. . . . By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world; after death she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases, the punishment of her sin.”
13. (a) What effect has the teaching of transmigration had on people? (b) How is it said that Nirvana may be attained?
13 Of course, Hindus and others are completely free to believe that way if they want to. But does such a belief bring them happiness? Professor John Noss writes in Man’s Religions:
“Hindus have come to speak of the process of rebirth as ‘The Wheel.’ They look upon it with despair. . . . their hearts have failed them at the prospect of a possible thousand million rebirths stretching out their length before them.”
Hinduism teaches that when a person realizes that his real self is a part of God, he can lose desire for further physical life, escape from the rebirth cycle, and attain Nirvana. According to various sects of Hinduism, this can result from Yoga, or from ecstatic dancing and chanting. Zen Buddhism in Japan also stresses meditation as the way to Nirvana.
14. What is the plain teaching of the Bible as to the condition of and hope for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:20, 21)
14 Let devotees of these religions follow these beliefs if they will. However, the Bible, in contrast, brings us the simple, down-to-earth teaching that all men are mortal souls, inheriting sin and death from the first man, Adam. Death is the end of the road for each soul until the happy time when God resurrects the dead:
“The wages sin pays is death [not tormenting fires or the ‘Wheel’ of rebirth], but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Now the question arises: Why has God tolerated wrong religious teachings for so long? Why has he permitted all the unhappiness that continues to afflict mankind?
See the book Is This Life All There Is?, pages 98-110.
[Picture on page 95]
God cares for birds; even more for you
[Picture on page 99]
Not eternal torment, but an opportunity for life in paradise, lies ahead for sinful mankind
[Picture on page 100]
Tens of thousands died in fiery persecutions in Christendom
[Pictures on page 102]
Law of karma teaches “wheel” of endless rebirths
[Picture on page 104]
Buddhist scroll shows torments of bad souls in “hell”
Locations in the Buddhist “hell,” as shown on page 104, reading from top to bottom: Way to Hell, Murderous Winds, Way of Thirst and Starvation, Mount of Needles, Clothes-Stripping Hag, Lake of Blood, Hiding-Place from World, Way of Slaughter, Hell of Repeated Lives, Place of Excrement and Mud, Hell of Black Ropes, Hell’s Assembly, Grove of Sword Blades, Hell of Shouts and Yells, Wind of Gloom and Fire, Hell of Extreme Agony, Hell of Unceasing Torment.
[Picture on page 105]
Roman Catholic “Inferno” as depicted by Dante