A thought occurred to me while watching the first film in the Left Behind series – a series that I'm not particularly fond of. As I search for Biblical truths I have been finding some in Universal Salvation. Now, I do believe in Hell, but my brain couldn't help but ponder this question: who benefits from Hell? Does God benefit from such a place? Satan? Do we? Let's explore this.
After Lucifer tried overthrow the Lord, he was cast out of Heaven, his name was changed to Satan, and as far as we can figure, he now dwells in an underworld of sorts that we call Hell. This stopped his rebellion, so we could say that God benefits from this right now, but let's continue.
Satan is able to take the form of a serpent to deceive Eve who, in turn, convinces Adam to join her in her sin. Now, if Hell can keep Satan away from the gates of Heaven, why can it not keep him away from the Earth that he sought to claim? By having the ability to sever the harmony that existed between mankind and God, and even the harmony that existed between all life forms and God, he, in essence, claimed possession of God's most prized creation! If you believe in the eternal torment theory, then that means that Hell is not only incapable to keeping Satan away from God's creations, but it also houses most of God's creation in the end! If we look at it this way, Hell is most certainly Satan's greatest asset and God's greatest liable!
In the end, if you believe in eternal torment, even Jesus' ultimate sacrifice is not enough to keep Satan from claiming eternal souls, nor is it enough to save people from Hell after it has claimed them; it's only good enough to save the people who have chosen grace during their lifetimes on earth, and it cannot compare to the lost. Thus, Hell is still very unbeneficial to God.
Now, strangely, another party besides the Evil One seemed to benefit a great deal from Hell at one point in time, and that party is none other than man. Sound strange? Well, it shouldn't. The earliest churches didn't resort to the fear mongering of an eternal torment, but as religion became less about faith, devotion, and trust in the Lord and more of an organization that could be used to control the masses, Hell became a very important tool. Throughout time, torture and fear have always been used to drag people onto their side. We can look at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, or for some non-Christian sources, we can look to Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and even certain instances of pre-Meiji Era Japanese crucifying Japanese Christians to warn missionaries away. All of these use fear, torture, and manipulation to achieve their goals and to win over as many people as possible, even if they never truly believe in it to begin with.
For a long time, Hell was used as a way to keep people in line, and a lot of men benefited from this. They could use it to achieve their ends, all in the name of saving souls. We were all sinners in the hands of angry God, dangling over the pits of Hell by a thread with God holding the scissors at the ready! So many people were indoctrinated by the teachings of an eternal torment that they were unable to break away from that fear.
Now, we have hit a problem in today's culture. Fear mongering doesn't work so well on today's apathetic world, at least not in a religious sense. Instead, the doctrine of Hell pushes more people from the Lord than anything else found in scripture. Christianity in particular has won the reputation of being hateful, violent, and tyrannical. A lot of people will respond with something along the lines of, "You're thinking of religion. Real Christians don't let the fear of Hell dictate their lives." In one sense, this is true. We don't worship out of fear, but then what is Hell for? Fundamental Christians can't cast off their teaching of an eternal torment and still pretend that Hell doesn't hold much significance for them, and many of them know that Hell will actually drive away potential converts. Still, their message of grace tends to ring hollow to those who know that the alternative is interminable suffering.
It reminds me of a line from the movie - the one that got me thinking about this. Chloe and her father are talking about God, since her father has recently converted since his wife and son have been Raptured away. Chloe brings up Hell, and adds a sarcastic comment of, "What a nice God!" Her father responds with, "It isn't about Hell." Given that the Left Behind series gets its thrills from the ever looming prospect of Hell, then I highly doubt that Chloe's father really meant what he said. It comes off as nothing more than fundamental Christians trying to replace their past indoctrination with a message of pure love and grace.
In the end, didn't Hell become the Church's greatest liable, too?