By Sharon Lindbloom
12 February 2016
On February 4, 2016 the Huffington Post published an article by Mormon author and blogger Mette Ivie Harrison: “Do Mormons Believe in Hell?” She writes,
“The short answer to this is simple: No.”
Ms. Harrison goes on to explain that though the Book of Mormon speaks of Hell, it is “largely metaphorical.” She says,
“But the reality is that along with universal resurrection, Mormons believe that nearly everyone is eventually given a place in one of the three heavens–or degrees of glory, the telestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the celestial kingdom. This is one of the things that I love most about Mormonism, that we believe in God as a loving Father, eager to give as much as He can to us, His arms always outstretched. God does not punish us. We punish ourselves in being separate from Him and His Love. Christ’s Atonement is infinite and includes all of us, even if [sic] those who do not accept Him, even the most wicked.”
Even so, Ms. Harrison recognizes that this is not the whole picture.
“And before I get Mormons telling me I’m wrong, there is one more sense of ‘hell’ that Mormons believe in, a place that is called ‘Outer Darkness.’ This is where the ‘sons of perdition’ go**, those who have known Christ truly and have denied Him, as well as where Satan and his angels live who rejected Christ from the first.”
Ms. Harrison is a knowledgeable and articulate Latter-day Saint, but she seems to hold some different opinions on this topic than that of LDS prophets, LDS apostles, and even LDS scripture. One sentence is particularly troublesome: “God does not punish us.” Consider Doctrine and Covenants 76, which says God saves all but the “sons of perdition”:
“Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—” (D&C 76:44. Emphasis mine.)
Lest the reader think this endless and eternal punishment is self-inflicted, as Ms. Harrison suggests, Doctrine and Covenants 19 clarifies:
“For, behold, I [God] am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.” (D&C 19:10-12. Emphasis mine.)
According to Mormonism, Satan and his angels rebelled against God in a pre-earth life. George Q. Cannon of the LDS Church’s 1891 First Presidency noted,
“There were two-thirds then who were loyal to the Father. One-third fell. The punishment of their rebellion was that they should not have tabernacles” (i.e., earthly bodies of flesh. Collected Discourses 2:229-230).
This was God-inflicted punishment for rebellion. Likewise, the “sons of perdition” will be punished:
“The extent of this punishment none will ever know except those who partake of it. That it is the most severe punishment that can be meted out to man is apparent. Outer darkness is something which cannot be described…” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:220)
Who is meting out (dispensing) this punishment if not God?
Ms. Harrison is wrong when she says, “God does not punish us.” From both a Mormon and a Christian perspective, He does indeed.
Maybe the more important question is, “Who or why does God punish?” Mormon leaders have long taught that God punishes those who rebel against Him.
“One-third part of the spirits that were prepared for this earth rebelled against Jesus Christ, and were cast down to the earth, and they have been opposed to him…” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 54-55)
“When the plan of redemption was presented and Jesus was chosen to be the Redeemer of the world, some rebelled. They were not willing to accept him…” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:64)
“All spirits blessed by birth will ultimately be resurrected, spirit and body reunited, and inherit kingdoms of glory… The exceptions are confined to those who, like Satan and his angels, willfully rebel against God.” (Quentin Cook, “Our Father’s Plan – Big Enough for All His Children,” General Conference, April 2009)
God punishes rebels. Even so, Mormonism minimizes the biblical doctrine of Hell and limits its horrors to a few of the very worst offenders.
According to Mormonism, as Ms. Harrison notes, almost everyone is rewarded with an amazingly wonderful level of glory in eternity – believers, unbelievers, the righteous, and the wicked; they go to the heaven they have earned according to their works. Only the rebellious “sons of perdition” will join Satan in Outer Darkness. In this, Mormonism sounds like the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11)
But what is an extortioner, other than one who rebels against God and His holy standard of perfection? What is an unjust person, other than one who rebels against God? What is an adulterer, other than one who rebels against God? At the deepest level, all sin is rooted in rebellion against God; all sin is a rejection of God and His authority over us; all sin is a display of our own quest for autonomy – to sit on the throne and be our own gods. And the worst of it is, according to God, we are all sinners.
“as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” (Romans 3:10-18)
Yet these are the people Mormonism (and Ms. Harrison) says God should reward throughout eternity. The Bible warns, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). The wrath of God punishes sinners. The danger of spending eternity in what the book of Revelation calls the “Lake of Fire” is real; it is real for all of us (see Revelation 20:11-15).
To minimize the reality of Hell and God’s warnings (as Mormonism does) is to minimize the wrath of God. It removes the urgency of the necessity of becoming reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20) and in the process, as David Platt says, “we end up maligning the mercy of God.”
“Platt explains that hell is the manifestation that our sin against an infinitely holy God warrants infinitely eternal punishment. Moreover, when we minimize the reality of hell, we actually malign the mercy of God — because central to the fact of hell is that it is escapable. Jesus has endured the wrath of God on our behalf so that all who trust in him will be delivered from God’s wrath and brought into fellowship with him forever.”
The Bible tells us “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). And so it is. The idea that practically everyone escapes the wrath of God is attractive; people want this to be true. But truth is not determined by what we want; truth is determined by what actually is. In its unbiblical doctrine of near-Universalism, Mormonism demonstrates a fulfillment of New Testament prophecy:
“The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3) . . . who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
The truth is we are all rebels against an infinitely holy God. We are all “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). We are all deserving of God’s infinite and eternal punishment for our sins against Him. But God can change that.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)
The biblical doctrine of Hell is unpopular, but we must not deny it. To do so not only makes our eternal hope hopeless, but as David Platt said, “it minimizes the wonder and beauty of what Christ has done at the cross.” God will certainly not reward us for that.
For a deeper look at the biblical doctrine of Hell please see Sinclair Ferguson, “Universalism and The Reality of Eternal Punishment: The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.”