THE SHACK Author Writes: “Hell is not separation from God” and death “initiates a restorative process”

Posted: March 19, 2017 by pastorerichann in Apologetics, Books, Theology
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This is part 2 of a series of posts about Wm. Paul Young’s (author of The Shack) latest book (released just 10 days ago, March 7, 2017). This reviewer recognizes there have been other statements Young has made which sound contradictory to these as recently as just a few years ago (click here). Know that what’s posted here are his latest, written statements on these subjects from his book Lies We Believe About God (below is a picture of my own personal copy):


Oddly, the author clearly says in Lies (March 7, 2017) that what he intended to portray in various dialogues from 2007’s The Shack  is a depiction of his positions on universal salvation for all, with hell/death as a restorative process – etc… (also, Christian apologist Eric Barger has an excellent summary, mid-point in this article, of his history of inquiring personally with Young about this subject – dating back to 2004). So, the best we might ascertain about Young’s changing positions, even based on his own words, are:

2007 (date of release of THE SHACK): Young held to universal salvation for all.

2014 (date of the above youtube interview): Young did not hold to universal salvation for all, or at least stated he “didn’t know.”

2017 (date of Lies book release): Young goes back to affirming universal salvation for all.

This unpredictable, faucet (on again, off again) approach to theology shouldn’t be a huge surprise coming from someone who places a high premium on “listening to the Holy Spirit” and “intuition” at the expense of scriptural authority.

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(Left: Wm. Paul Young, from an interview in Simple Grace Magazine; April 2017; taken from my own copy)





What the author seems to mean by teaching “stuff” we can’t find in books, includes stuff we can’t find in those 66 Books we call the Bible. Instead, he promises concepts that will be “new” and “transformative” – and we need to “relax” and let the Holy Spirit be our “true” teacher (see below):




(Right: Wm. Paul Young from Lies We Believe p. 20)



Young doesn’t seem to understand that Christians have a Biblical imperative to “not believe every spirit” but to “test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). True, the Holy Spirit is our teacher, but the “sword of the Spirit” is “the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17a). The author’s lack of scriptural support in the recent Lies book echoes the cynicism of The Shack’s narrator when the following remark is made about the character Mackensie: “In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects… Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book”  (Young, The Shack p. 66). From my experience, when someone is this belittling about the importance of scripture and its diligent study, you can be almost certain his wheels are about to run off the road of truth. Know that if you’re on The Shack bus,  I sincerely pray God’s presence and grace will strengthen you – because it’s hard telling where your trip is going to end. Know, also, I don’t address the themes mentioned here lightly. These subjects (Hell, it’s condition / duration) are quite foreboding – which is all the more reason they need to be addressed truthfully according to God’s Word and not the whims of popular authors.

Today’s post is based on what’s deemed in the book to be “Lie # 15”“Hell is Separation from God” (photo of chapter 15 from my copy below)


The author’s clear point is that Hell is NOT separation from God, even though to his dismay many believe this “lie.” One of his defenses of this, is that if hell is created, then Romans 8 proves hell isn’t separation from God:

“(one) alternative is that hell is a created place or thing. Consider this passage: ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 – with emphasis by Young on created thing)

(below, from Lies p. 134)



The most obvious problem with this line of reasoning should be evident from anyone nominally familiar with the New Testament. The context of these Romans 8 promises is saved people – who are “in Christ Jesus” (The entire chapter begins “There is therefore now, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… 8:1a NKJV …  and the chapter continues in vs. 9 “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” 8:9b NKJV). Of course, Mr. Young sees everyone as being in Christ, because he holds to universal salvation for all, with nobody needing to be saved (which was the subject of my previous articlesee here). Along with a basic contextual understanding of Romans 8, Young’s universalism is a blatant denial of countless sections of scripture (see just a few here – Luke 16:19-31; Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:11-15). In fact, let’s revisit this subject of Universalism (or Universal Restorationism) some moreConsider Jesus own words in Matthew 25:46:

“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (NKJV)

Note that the original Greek terms for everlasting/eternal are the exact same word (Grk aionion, a form of aionios “eternal, everlasting … without end”  – F. Wilbur Gingrich Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament 1st ed. 1957 c. 1983 p. 6)


(above – Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament 25th edition c. 1983 p. 100 – taken from my personal copy)

In other words, from both the thrust of the context and the word usage – in the same way heaven and its conditions are eternal, hell and its conditions are eternal (note Mark 9:45-46,48 “fire shall never be quenched… worm does not die… “)


Furthermore, note these verses from the book of Revelation:

“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10); And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15).

It’s no wonder one of the earliest North American Bible Scholars, Moses Stuart, who saturated himself on this subject when studying the scriptures came to this conclusion:

“The result seems to be plain, and philologically and exegetically certain. It is this; either the declarations of the Scriptures do not establish the facts, that God and his glory and praise and happiness are endless; nor that the happiness of the righteous in a future world is endless; or else they establish the fact, that the punishment in a future world, is endless. The whole stand or fall together. There can, in the very nature of antithesis, be no room for rational doubt here, in what manner we should interpret the declarations of the scriptures. We must either admit the endless misery of hell, or give up the endless happiness of Heaven (Moses Stuart, Exegetical Essays on Several Words Relating to Future Punishment c. 1867; as cited by Robert W. Yarborough in Hell Under Fire c. 2004 pp. 75-76)          

Returning back to the theme of Hell, Young’s preferred train of thought is that hell is what it is, because of the presence of God. At one juncture he goes so far as to suggest maybe hell isn’t created, and hell is God himself, and (a person’s destiny) is “not apart from God but directly into God, who is Love, light, Goodness” (Lies p. 134). At any rate , again, his concluding proposal is that hell is what it is, not because of the absence of God, but because of God’s presence, “the continuous and confrontational presence of fiery Love and Goodness … a fire of Love that now and forever is for us, not against us…” He concludes: I propose the possibility that hell is not separation from Jesus but that it is the pain of resisting our salvation in Jesus while not being able to escape Him who is True Love”  (see below from p. 137)


This fits in nicely with Young’s avowed universalism, but does it line up with scripture?

Specifically on the theme of hell and being separated from God, let’s start with Matthew 25:41: “Then He (The Son of Man) will also say to those (people) on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels'”  (NKJV). Below are Greek study notes on the words depart and from:

depart (Grk poreuesthe / poreuo “go, proceed, travel“)  From (Grk ap / apo “away from, out of, separation, departure”) (Gingrich SLOTGNT pp. 165, 21)  

This “depart from Me” saying, in the context of the Eschaton (end times / judgement), is also found elsewhere in the words of Jesus:

Matthew 7:23 “And then I (Jesus) will declare to them, depart from Me…”  (NASB)

Luke 13:24-27 (24) “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will   seek to enter and will not be able” (25) “Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord open up to us!‘ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ (26) ‘Then you will begin to say, We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets (27) “and He will say, I tell you, I do not know where you are from. Depart from Me, all you evildoers” (NASB)

This Hell is separation from God motif in the Gospels has been succinctly summarized by the words of respected Bible scholar scholar William Hendriksen:

First of all, then, hell means separation. The wicked will hear the terrible words, ‘Depart from me, you accursed,’ which is the opposite of ‘Come, you blessed.’ Besides Matt. 25:41 see also 7:23; Luke 13:27. They will ‘go away’ into everylasting punishment (25:46). Their dwelling place will be outside the banquet hall, the wedding feast, the shut door (8:11-12; 22:13; 25:11-13)” (William Hendriksen New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew c. 1973 p. 890)                                    

If Mr. Young, or anyone else still needs more Biblical support that hell is a place separated from God, here is 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9: “Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (9) “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (NASB)

away from (Grk apo prosopou “From the presence… or face. Apo/from has simply the sense of separation. Not “from the time of the Lord’s appearing” nor “by reason of the glory of his presence” (M. R. Vincent Word Studies in the New Testament c. 1972 p. 949)

“Destruction does not mean here annihilation, but, as Paul proceeds to show, separation from the face of the Lord (apo prosopou tou kuriou) and from the glory of his might (Kai apo tes doxes tes ischous autou)” (A.T. Robertson Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. IV c. 1931 p. 44)

One hang-up Young seems to have is assuming God’s omnipresence is the same as His relational presence. Because God is omnipresent (everyone at once), that doesn’t mean God’s relational presence and “restorative love” is always near and available – which is clearly what the author is stating (see this William Lane Craig article and the question answer section). Hopefully it’s obvious to people when the scriptures say “separate” or “together” with God, it’s speaking relationally, because metaphysically speaking God is not spatial.

As a corollary statement to his belief of universal salvation for all, and Hell not being a relational separation from God, Young “proposes” the following: “I propose that the event of death introduces a crisis (krsis – the Greek word, as in ‘Day of… judgment’), a restorative process intended to free us to run into the arms of Love” (Young, Lies, p. 187) (Below, from Lies p. 187)


As you might have guessed, this particular chapter doesn’t have so much as one single Bible verse, out of context or otherwise, to support the premise that death introduces a restorative process. Instead, as is the pattern through much of the book, the idea stems from what Mr. Young merely “thinks” (see below from Lies p. 182)


As a personal side-note: It’s quite audacious to claim to be a Christ-follower in any way while candidly tossing out what the Bible clearly teaches based merely on what one “thinks.”  I’m certain Jefferson and Tolstoy would be proud!

Aside from the countless “time’s up” parables of Jesus (see the Bridgroom’s response to the unprepared virgins in Matthew 25:10-12), and besides Hebrews 9:27 which says “it’s been appointed for man once to die, and then the judgement” NKJV), let’s refresh ourselves on Luke 16:19-31 (25) “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (26) “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us (NKJV)

Of course, if someone’s basis of support for a proposition is “listening to the Holy Spirit” and standing on “intuition” and what one “thinks” apart from scripture – there isn’t much more that can be said. Be mindful that one of Young’s recurring bents that is heavily influencing these views is his leanings toward monism a fallacious view that  God is “one” with all creation (think “one” – ism). This erroneous teaching is foundational to pantheism, panentheism, the New Age Movement, Gnosticism, and Hinduism. This will be addressed further in a future post.

Here are some some final statements on these matters from Bible scholar and apologist Norm Geisler (former president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and prolific author – including being the general editor of The Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics):

“Jesus taught that not only is there a hell that was created for Satan and his angels, but, tragically, there will also be persons in it” (Norman Geisler Systematic Theology Vol. 4 c. 2005 p. 401)

“Heaven is ‘everlasting,’ and the same word (Gk: aionion), used in the same context, also affirms that hell is ‘everlasting.’ If heaven is forever, then so is hell; there is absolutely no biblical ground for supposing that one is eternal and one is temporal. Likewise, there is no possibility of a person escaping hell after arriving (Luke 16:26). Judgment begins after death (Heb. 9:27; John 8:21)” (Norman Geisler Systematic Theology Vol. 4 c. 2005 p. 339)


(This is part 2 of this series on the beliefs of Wm. Paul Young (the author of The Shack) from his recently released book  Lies We Believe About God released March 7, 2017. Part 3 will be forthcoming).


  1. […] clicking right here, and part 2 “Hell is Not Separation from God…” can be found here. Know, again, this is his most recently released book (March 7, 2017), and these excerpts are taken […]