November 20, 2017

Bringing Ultimate Harmony to Creation

Fall leaf orange

Eschatology Week
Part 5: Bringing Ultimate Harmony to Creation

Previous Posts
Part 1: The Christian Hope = Resurrection
Part 2: Eschatology starts in our past
Part 3: Jesus’ Future Presence

Part 4: Setting the World Right

I believe . . . He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

• The Apostles’ Creed

• • •

Hell.

Most Christians I know (the majority of them evangelicals) believe there will be a hell. That it will be a real place. That the ungodly and unbelievers will “go” there. That they will be punished by God for their sin and for not believing in Jesus Christ. That this will be their eternal destiny. In the end, it’s “heaven” or “hell.” Once you die, your fate is sealed.

Beyond those simple “facts” of doctrine that they say they believe, I don’t think they really think much about it. If they did, I doubt they’d sleep.

Hell is such a difficult subject that even the great N.T. Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, frankly, lays an egg when he writes about it.

His chapter on “Purgatory, Paradise, and Hell” is clear only about the fact that he doesn’t think “purgatory” holds up under biblical or theological scrutiny, and that he cannot avoid the conclusion that there will be some sort of final judgment that will bring ultimate condemnation to “those who, by their idolatry, dehumanize themselves and drag others down with them.” His tentative understanding of that condemnation is that human beings who are thus condemned in the end become:

…at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all. With the death of that body in which they inhabited God’s good world, in which the flickering flame of goodness had not been completely snuffed out, they pass simultaneously not only beyond hope but also beyond pity. There is no concentration camp in the beautiful countryside, no torture chamber in the palace of delight. Those creatures that still exist in an ex-human state, no longer reflecting their maker in any meaningful sense, can no longer excite in themselves or others the natural sympathy some feel even for the hardened criminal. (pp. 182-183)

I get the feeling that N.T. Wright did not have fully formed conclusions about this subject when he wrote Surprised by Hope. I’m not criticizing that. This is a hard one. As you’ll see, I’ve not come down on an exact interpretation of the evidence, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be anything but hesitant and waffling when it comes to this subject.

So what I’ll do today is lay out some basic parameters of Christian teaching about hell and give you my current perspective.

When it comes to hell, here is the text that sets forth the central theological issue with which N.T. Wright and everyone else has to grapple:

Ephesians 1:9-10God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” (NLT). 

This is the basis of the ancient teaching of recapitulation. In essence, recapitulation is what we talked about yesterday — the ultimate triumph of God’s justice: all things will be put right in Christ. As Andrew Lincoln says in his commentary on Ephesians, “Christ is the one in whom God chooses to sum up the universe, in whom he restores the harmony of the cosmos.”

But in order for harmony to be established, in order for all things to be “right,” that which is wrong, unjust, and out of harmony must be dealt with.

Christians have found three general ways to think about how God will deal in the end with the disharmony in creation: sin, evil, and injustice and the people who have devoted their lives to practicing such things.

VIEW ONE: God will deal with evil by punishing the wicked in hell. This represents the more traditional view also known as “eternal conscious torment” (ECT). God brings harmony to the creation by separating out the evil from the good and consigning the evil to a place of everlasting punishment. Everyone lives forever; what matters is where they will live.

What this view gives us is an eternal dualism of blessing and curse, homeland and exile, good and evil, all kept in place and separate under the rulership of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed the immortality of all humans and their continuing existence in one of these two places: “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.”

The “harmony” that is thus envisioned is one in which both God’s love and God’s wrath remain on display for all eternity. The fire of hell torments forever.

VIEW TWO: God will deal with evil by restoring the wicked. This is universalism, the restorative justice of God. In the end, all will be refined, restored, and reconciled to God.

There are various ways that people who hold this view see this happening post-death, but all involve some kind of temporary refining process in which sin, evil, and injustice is done away with and sinners ultimately reunited with God.

Everyone lives forever and is finally redeemed under the rulership of Christ.

The “harmony” that is thus envisioned is one in which God’s love triumphs completely over all evil by transforming it into good for all eternity. The fire refines.

VIEW THREEGod will deal with evil by destroying the wicked. This is known as “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality.” In the end, only the righteous will live. The wicked will die. Evil will be eliminated.

Both of the first two views share the assumption that human beings are immortal — they will live forever. This view, however, sees immortality or everlasting life as “conditional” — it is the gift of God in Christ, given only to the redeemed. Those who do not partake of this gift will suffer “death” — they will cease to exist under the judgment of God.

The righteous live forever under the rulership of Christ and evil is eradicated from God’s creation.

The “harmony” that is thus envisioned is one in which God destroys evil completely so that there is no more remnant remaining within his creation. The fire destroys.

• • •

If these are the three options to consider, then I guess I would count myself:

  • Hopeful about view two
  • Holding lightly view three

I do not think view one holds up under the scrutiny of the biblical texts, plain reason, or human sympathy. The “harmony” it brings is a monstrous one. I cannot conceive of a God who is love — even if he is a God who must punish and deal with evil — allowing a state of affairs in which he would countenance the punishment of those made in his image Going on forever. Whatever this may be, it is not just, and that should be clear to anybody who thinks about it.

In the end, in some form, mercy triumphs over judgment.

Comments

  1. The only people in Hell are the people who believe in it and they’re already there.

    • I think you reflect on something important, STEPHEN. There is something profoundly prideful about a ‘christian’ who looks down on ‘those other sinners’, judges them to hell, and returns to his own insulated exclusive club of a ‘church’ and to her own home where their children are ‘home-schooled’ to keep them ‘safe’ from the influences of evil. And in their minds, it’s all backed up by ‘the bible’. A frequent refrain: ‘The Bible Says’ and zip, there goes another sinner to hell.

      This whole scene is so far from what is holy that no wonder it is coming unraveled at its seams: scandals erupting among the high-profile ‘righteous’ is smelling up the myth of the ‘purity’ of such ‘christianity’ . . . there isn’t much of Christ in it, but there sure is a lot of what hell requires: unmitigated pride, the mother of all sins.

      Are these people ‘already there’? I don’t know. But they sure are the torment of many around them . . . some gossip post is now saying Anna Duggar has moved with her children back to the home of her mother . . . out of the frying pan into the fire? In their world, where is kindness, and humility, and patience, and respect for the dignity of the ‘others’? I can’t see it, no. Too much critical, too much anger, too much finger-pointing, too much . . . and what for? As some way to say ‘I’m better than you.’? or ‘I’m saved, and you’re not.’ or more simply, as was once said to me: ‘you are on the road to a devil’s hell’ . . . my crime? I’m Catholic. The accuser and judge: a fundamentalist friend, meaning well, wanting to convert me. . . he’s a dear person, but very fearful of that which he cannot control . . . He’ll be okay, I keep him in my keeping (prayers) . . . he’ll be okay.

  2. Eckhart Trolle says:

    View Four: Reincarnation as a vehicle for divine justice / mercy.
    View Five: Resurrection (variously interpreted: bodily revival, “spiritual” translation, archetypal recapitulation, etc.)
    View Six: No afterlife or immortal soul; posterity consists of one’s descendants. Lights out. Worm food.
    View Seven: Ego extinction; unity with or dissolution into the Godhead

    4 and 5 being classical apocalyptic themes, and 6 being represented, for example, by Ecclesiastes.

    • None of these within the realm of classical Christian views.

    • My response to people who believe in View Four, Reincarnation, is that maybe God lets us all get do-overs until we finally believe in Jesus and get saved.

      So Eckhart, you do yourself a favor and avoid several future lives’ worth of births and deaths and believe in Jesus today!

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        Multiple lifetimes would just be wasted on some people…

      • Did anyone ever read “Phantastes” or “Lilith” by George MacDonald? He was a huge inspiration to C.S.Lewis and Tolkien (and a friend and contemporary of Lewis Carol), if the references sell you on reading them 🙂

        Anyway, Lilith is essentially exactly this, with the dead being taken to another world where they awake from a sleep – those ready to accept salvation do so, and those who cannot go into the new world and live another stranger more enchanted life, with the implication being that when they die in that world, they will simply wake up in the next stranger world, and the next, and the next, until they are ready to accept what was theirs all along.

        I’m oversimplifying it, but I read it in high school three times through. Its fascinating and strange, challenging and comforting. All at once.

  3. Eckhart Trolle says:

    View Eight: Ghosts.
    View Nine: “The Singularity”

    • Blackholes and Revelations

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        Not black holes–think Ray Kurtzweil by way of Frank Tipler. Basically techno-babble arguing how we might achieve a kind of immortality through scientific means.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          By uploading our “consciousnesses” into the Cloud., never mind whether that AI “consciousness” is really you or just a copy a la Max Headroom. Cybernetically evolving beyond Meatspace into ones and zeros.

          Wasn’t N.I.C.E. also into that general idea of Transhumanism?

      • Great album.

  4. …at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.

    This partial quote from Wright reminds me of the scenario in “After Many A Summer Dies The Swan”, by Aldous Huxley. The main character, in mortal fear of death, resorts to some experimental trials for longevity only, in the end, to lose his humanity in a most elemental way, transforming to the animal from whence the “cure” originated.

    Could it be that hell and its punishment might be the removal of “the divine spark”, that “God Sense” that humans are born with? And without that spark those so judged might they live lives of elemental survival and desperation, transforming into the “animal” they claimed to be?

    If “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God hath prepared” for those who remain faithful, could we not extend that type of description for what is prepared for those who reject their Creator in life? To simply say that they will “burn in hell” just might be an artless and unthinking literal description that is not worthy of God’s supreme imagination and purpose.

    The judgement will come, but what form it may take is a mystery.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      That doesn’t seem like much of an improvement. “Obey me, or I will rip out your divine spark” makes it hard to distinguish your God from the devil.

      • “Let me save you… from what I’m going to do to you if you don’t.”

        You’re always a helpful counterpoint on here, even if you may only intend to Trolle us, and I think you hit the nail on the head here. Excision of the “divine spark” and sentencing people to lives of desperation in the manner of our savanna ancestors, eternal conscious torment, or annihilation all seem very cruel, however “just” they may be. I think from the Gospel we can certainly see which of mercy and justice takes precedence in God’s eyes.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          Thank you for your kind words. I’m new to trolling, so I sometime accidently make positive contributions to the discussion!

          The idea that we possess a “spark” which other “animals” lack, and presumably our “savanna ancestors” also lacked, strikes me as a kind of myopia. We ARE animals–specifically, a species of tropical African ape. People who get to know other types of apes tend not to see apehood as a slur. As for “lives of desperation,” a glance at the newspaper shows this to be rather common among our species today.

          • David Cornwell says:

            “I sometime accidently make positive contributions to the discussion!”

            Nothing accidental about it. Just a little of that “divine spark” letting itself be seen. Perhaps to keep us lively on a tired out Friday.

      • Jazziscoolithink says:

        I wonder if you realize that you almost quoted Luther, who said that God in God’s abstract, metaphysical attributes (e.g. omnipotence, infinity, etc.) is “often indistinguishable from the devil.” That is one hell of a quote!

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          I did not. What did he say?

          • jazziscoolithink says:

            I’m not sure where it initially came from, but quite a few Lutheran theologians have used the quote. I first heard it in connection to Luther’s idea of the metaphysical attributes of God (which really only talk about what God is not–like the infinity of God says that God does not have limits) as being masks God hides behind. Behind these masks (omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) God-not-preached or the hidden God is “indistinguishable from the devil”–that’s the part of the quote that stuck most with me. Luther goes on to say that the God-preached (which, in Luther’s view, is Christ) does battle against the infinite, omnipotent, wrathful, hidden God and ultimately wins–so that the death of Christ is the death of the God of wrath, and the resurrection of Christ is the victory of the revealed God of mercy.

      • Not really. The Devil is hell-bent on ripping out your divine spark regardless. God, it seems, would rather not.

        • Yes. And don’t let the Devil convince you otherwise.

        • jazziscoolithink says:

          Right. God revealed in Christ has shown that his every act of will is salvific. The mercy of God is the justice of God, effecting the restoration of all things. Then again, this is promise, which is by nature counter-factual, a thing to hope against hope for.

    • lo que será, será

    • Currently reading the last battle with my kids. This is pretty much what happens to the Talking Beasts, those who hate and fear Aslan turn away and become normal dumb beasts.

  5. I find myself drifting toward View Two also, CM.

  6. If there must be judgment, why must it be final? What would it cost God to leave open the possibility of repentance to those who are now turned against him? What finite human free decision to remain turned away from God could outlast or override an infinite divine free decision to keep open the possibility that those now turned away, those now under “judgment”, could turn toward? What interest does God have in “final” judgment?

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      This theology is less about God than religious identity. If somebody wants you to join their religious group, then “Take it easy, no pressure, God loves you no matter what you decide” is hardly calculated to close the sale.

      • Neither is “Ideological submission or taste my pain!” Hell or the lack there of is not the selling point nor defining teaching of Christianity.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Considering all the ink spilled and books sold on the subject, you might have a hard time convincing a large segment of American Evangelicals that’s it’s not.

          • +1

            And it’s not like it’s just an American Evangelical phenomenon. It goes WAY back.

          • Can’t argue you there, except to say that as a selling point is sure isn’t. Who buys that anymore? Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop a good deal of people (including my own pastor who has a curiously unfortunate loyalty to the completely non-Lutheran “evangelism explosion” Gospel) from making the faith completely about “get out of hell free (sort of).”

            Anyone who preaches the doctrine of hell without tears has lost me. Jesus weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem. We ought also weep over the perishing of the wicked, and when we don’t, we are not giving them Christ, but merely Moses (law).

          • It IS fundygelical American christianity. Hell is more important than Jesus. Because you have to prove Hell, before you can offer the Solution.

            ugh

            Yeah, I don’t believe any of it anymore.

          • As a child, I’d have found this book to be pretty defining and “motivational”. Makes everything else about life seem irrelevant and pointless.

            http://www.puritanshop.com/shop/the-cage-a-young-children’s-guide-to-the-biblical-teaching-on-hell-c-matthew-mcmahon-childrens-book/

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It IS fundygelical American christianity. Hell is more important than Jesus. Because you have to prove Hell, before you can offer the Solution.

            Isn’t that a lot like that Witchfinders-General justification during the Thirty Years’ War?
            “If no witches, then no Devil.
            If no Devil, then no God.”

        • ehhhh…in my experience, hell IS the selling point of Christianity. It’s why I’m a Christian and probably many of the rest of my fundygelical friends who grew up in the church. Fear of hell was THE reason to go to heaven, more than any “love of God” or “love for his law” or anything. Heaven just seemed a preferred destination over hell. Rinse and repeat weekly, monthly, through church camps, through youth retreats, through promise keepers, through whatever. Once you definitely have an answer for The Hell Question, then peer pressure and societal pressure and fear of questioning and fear of doubt and fear of what social consequences keeps you firmly locked into place.

          Have you ever lied? That’s breaking a commandment. Do you know where you’d go if you died? Hell, you’d be in hell. Don’t you want to escape hell?

          Mark Cahill, snapping his fingers, another soul just went to hell.

          *snap*

          *snap*

          *snap*

          There goes three more. Do you want to join them? What are you doing to save them?

          *snap*

          *snap*

          *snap*

          Sorry, Miguel. Your version of Christianity sounds ideal. It’s not what I grew up in.

          Also, once you start believing you are going to heaven, you stop believing in hell, functionally at least.

          No fear of flame where I’m going.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Makes you wonder if a lot of churches would cease to exist if they lost Hell.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            <blockquote.Have you ever lied? That’s breaking a commandment. Do you know where you’d go if you died? Hell, you’d be in hell. Don’t you want to escape hell?

            Mark Cahill, snapping his fingers, another soul just went to hell.

            *snap*

            *snap*

            *snap*

            There goes three more. Do you want to join them? What are you doing to save them?

            *snap*

            *snap*

            *snap*

            Two words:
            WRETCHED. URGENCY.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            (got the blockquotes right this time)

            Have you ever lied? That’s breaking a commandment. Do you know where you’d go if you died? Hell, you’d be in hell. Don’t you want to escape hell?

            Mark Cahill, snapping his fingers, another soul just went to hell.

            *snap*

            *snap*

            *snap*

            There goes three more. Do you want to join them? What are you doing to save them?

            *snap*

            *snap*

            *snap*

            Two words:
            WRETCHED. URGENCY.

            P.S. Remind me to steer well clear of this “Mark Cahill” character.
            For my own sanity.

          • Mark Cahill is an asshole of the worse variety, up there with Charles Finney with his manipulation techniques. I saw him fuck up many of my friends. I dislike him intensely immediately, and suffered through their love and praise of him and backlash against my bitter spirit.

            If there is a hell, he will burn in it.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Fear of hell was THE reason to go to heaven, more than any “love of God” or “love for his law” or anything. Heaven just seemed a preferred destination over hell.

            Not just a “preferred destination”; the preaching on Heaven that accompanied this sort of thing made Heaven look a lot like Hell; if it was better than Hell, it wasn’t by much.

            As for Hell as Manipulation Threat, my introduction to this whole thing (after being raised completely non-practicing) was the Jack Chick tract “THIS WAS YOUR LIFE”. Talk about Hell Trips… Almost 50 years later, the damage is still there.

            Long-term effect similar to StuartB’s being raised GUBA.
            Completely-different starting point, similar ending point.

  7. Our faith tells us that God is love, and God is Father. It’s possible to imagine a truly loving parent strictly limiting her relationship to her violent and destructive son for the sake of her own safety and the safety of her other children, but can anyone imagine her turning away from the possibility of any relationship with him, ever? Because that’s what final judgment would involve: not just the turning away of a sinful creature from its creator, but a loving creator and Father turning away forever from the creature he made, which is the same as ceasing that creature. Can love really do that? I don’t believe it, no matter what evidence can be adduced from the Bible, or the traditions, for it.

    • Correction: which is the same as ceasing to love that creature….

    • Your analogy is flawed. The other possibility is the violent son becoming so hardened against the unconditional love of the parent that they pass a point from which they will not ever return to embrace it. You are placing the blame on hell in God’s lap with your analogy, but it should be on ours. The man who spurns the unconditional love of the cross will not delight in eternity in the presence of Christ. It will be hell either way.

  8. This may be somewhat tangential to the subject at hand, but I would recommend “Inferno” by Larry Niven and Jim Pournelle. It is a retelling of Dante ‘s Inferno from the perspective of a dead science fiction writer and his guide (whom I won’t name so as not to spoil the plot). In the most recent edition, the authors state in the afterword that they deliberately borrowed Dante ‘s geography of Helll, but used C. S. Lewis’ theology.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      When describing Hell, I think Lewis came closer than just about anyone to defining it. Hell is where you can get anything you want, instantly, but you won’t share it with anybody else. They don’t want it, anyway, and somehow, it doesn’t satisfy you either. So you move farther and farther from each other, into that yawning Nothing that you call your Self, but is really just a collection of momentary whims. Hell must be like everybody wielding Tolkien’s One Ring.

      In as far as I can follow, the Eastern church teaches very little for certain about the intermediate state between our bodily death and our resurrection. Everybody goes to the same “place”. Father says it is kind of like being at Divine Liturgy, except more so. If you like going to Divine Liturgy, chances are you’ll like your new surroundings. If you don’t, well, maybe not so much. The important thing to remember is that even the intermediate state is not static. Our incarnate existence allows us traction. We can decide to move towards God and towards others (it is really the same direction) in humility and repentance, or we move away from them in fear and arrogance. When we die, that friction is removed. It is like a driver driving a car on a snowy road and suddenly hitting a patch of ice. The car now continues along that trajectory with no impediment. This is why in the Liturgy we beg God for a “Christian end to our lives; peaceful, unashamed, and of a good defense before the fearful judgement seat of Christ.”

      Also, I should point out that potentially all souls are salvable through the prayers of the Church, although the mechanics are not well-understood and definitely not well-explained. With their particular Roman thoroughness, our Latin brethren have this meticulously sorted out, but I hope they’ll forgive me if I’m not entirely convinced they have it right.

      All in all, “Heaven” must be an unusual place. The creed talks about “the life of the world to come”, but the older Apostle’s Creed talks about the “Communion of the Saints”, which we don’t use much in the Eastern Church, but which I think is a more accurate description. The Eternal Life we are promised is so much a shared thing that there is some component of it that will be missing if, heaven help me, RobertF is missing.

      Sartre had it backwards. Heaven is other people. Hell is yourself.

      There was a man who kidnapped two boys, tortured and sexually abused them in the woods for two weeks, then killed them and buried their bodies. He was discovered and sentenced to prison for life. This man also preached Christ to me and I responded. I cannot imagine what the parents of those two boys will experience when the time comes for them to decide whether they will live in communion and intimate sharing with this man, or whether they will do what I would do, decide that no such place could possibly be Heaven where such a monster did not get his due, and recoil from the offer. I am not in any position to make a call either way.

      It is easier for me to forgive a wrong done to me that it is for me to forgive a wrong done to someone I love.

      • Hi BURRO,

        it has occurred that the phrase ‘hurting people hurt people’ may be more true than we know . . . the concept of a person ‘acting out’ the harm that was done to them when they were abused is a story we hear too often . . . in such cases, the person was injured at such a deep level that they aren’t completely ‘in control’ of the harm they ‘act out’ on another . . . and so it goes on and on in an endless cycle of pain until it comes up against the One Who sees beyond the behaviors into the soul of the ‘sinner’ . . .

        I can only imagine what happens to a small child who is terribly abused and is bereft of any comfort . . . how does this abuse change them in ways they themselves don’t control? . . . we make jokes about people that are obnoxious, saying ‘He was an abused child.’ So we already get it that at some point, something likely happened that caused an effect we despise.

        There is a difference between ‘hardships’ and outright abuse in the life of a very young child. So we look at that murderer of two boys and think ‘how could he?’ . . . and we can’t see IF in his early formative years, he endured what made it possible in his psyche so that he ‘could’ ? so how do we judge on a cosmic level the soul of such a person? We can only look at the crime, and measure the ‘evil’ that created the victims . . . question is: ‘when did that evil first arise and begin to do harm? How ‘far back’ does the chain of abuse-acted-out go? We have our courts, our juries, our jails, but the only Judge who sees clearly is Witness to the whole story, and His judgment may be so much more of divine mercy in light of the reality of that whole story.

        ”Who first seduc’d them to that fowl revolt?
        Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
        Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
        The Mother of Mankinde”

        John Milton (Paradise Lost)

        • the concept of a person ‘acting out’ the harm that was done to them when they were abused is a story we hear too often

          I want to see my previous pastors and religious leaders burn in hell for what they’ve done to me and my friends and many others. I want to see them humiliated, injured, harmed, destroyed, devastated, everything.

          But I choose to forgive. To remember they meant well. That they are still nice people. I choose to forgive and to as best I can forget and move forward with life.

          Doesn’t mean their ideas shouldn’t be consumed in the fire.

      • I see the story of the Prodigal in Lewis’ version of hell. This makes the most sense. The question is, do we have the opportunity to repent after death? I truly hope so.

      • Your first paragraph is brilliant. I love CS Lewis’ view of hell also. (“love” being a strange word in this context…)

        • +1.

          The idea that everyone has their own One Ring – the source of all power and all they desire – yet remain empty, lonely and separated…great analogy for what Hell might be like.

      • And your second to last one is chilling, and sobering.

    • Slightly off topic, but in the one hundred years between Dante’s Inferno and Jonathan Edwards, I wonder how much that story influenced and basically created Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

      It’s a wonderful piece of horror. Horror Sermons. It’s up there with the best horror movies of our modern times.

      Too bad it’s utterly false. Great fiction. False truths.

      Churches and pulpits got replaced with movie theatres and projector screens.

      But the same horror tropes can be found heralded. As well as the same encouragements.

      No wonder they got competition. Remembering all the years I had to sign a contract with my Christian fundy school that I would “never attend or rent a movie in a theatre or movie rental store”…

      • Just for the record, it was more like 400 years between Dante and Edwards.

        • Was it? Then who am i thinking of? I looked it up the other day and it was just 100 years difference…

          what’s the other major literary work about hell and the devil that’s english and late middle ages?

  9. HAROLD CAMPING, about the time he turned 90, decided on annihilation [ probably because almost all of his relatives rejected his May 21, 2011 rapture/judgment date]. In the annihilation scenario, the most EVIL of sinners ultimately does not suffer other than whatever blows life dealt them. So Harold taught that the “true believers” would be instantly raptured and the unbelievers would simply, and instantly, cease to exist.
    *
    Under that scenario, your friendly and kindly neighbor suffers the exact same punishment/suffering as Mao, Stalin, Lenin et al.
    *
    Somehow, that never seemed quite just to me.

  10. To be fair to points #1 and #2, there are those who hold to either one but don’t believe in the inherent immortality of the soul. Existence is always by grace, now and always. So it’s not that God created something that he can’t destroy and now he has to make the best of it.

    Of course the motives for keeping people in existence can be VERY different between the two.

    If I’m not mistaken, Wright actually holds to a form of #1 (are sort of de-humanization that isn’t quite ECT, but never reaches complete non-existence) and doesn’t believe that the soul is inherently immortal.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Asymptotes are very like this. Very small increments along the x-axis result in very large displacement along the y-axis.

      Eternally dying. Eternally falling. But it happens in the blink of an eye.

    • Wright’s view is a form of #1, yes.

      And though you are right about immortality not being a logical necessity to points 1-2, those views developed with that as a philosophical foundation.

      And even if the soul isn’t inherently immortal, in those views God grants immortality and raises all the dead to some form of eternal existence.

      • but only if you are grafted into the tree of ethnic pure heritage. eternal life as perk of being born a jew, because our god is best, nm if he technically created others, he doesn’t love them for ancient reasons, we’re the best.

        it still all comes across as wrong.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I do not think view one holds up under the scrutiny of the biblical texts, plain reason, or human sympathy.

    View one might not hold up under scrutiny, but it IS the most widespread.

  12. Whatever this may be, it is not just, and that should be clear to anybody who thinks about it.
    In the end, in some form, mercy triumphs over judgment.

    Mercy triumphs over judgement in the cross, and in the cross only. Those who refuse the cross embrace their judgement, whatever that may be or look like.

    Simple question for those who reject hell: What does the suffering and death of Christ save us from?

    • In view 1 the death of Christ saves us from eternal torment.
      In view 2 the death of Christ saves us from sin, which is purged from us now or in the life to come.
      In view 3 the death of Christ saves us from destruction.

      “Hell” as it it has been traditionally conceived is not necessary as the means of God dealing with unrepentant sinners.

      • Thanks, nice and clear.

        In Lutheran theology, “salvation” is often spoken of completely apart from reference from hell: God’s good gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are what free us from sin, death, and the devil. I believe those lists are parallel in that order – forgiveness frees us from sin, life frees us from death, and salvation frees us from the devil. So in this sense, God saves us from the devil, rather than the eternal abode he has created for the devil. The idea being that those not in Christ have sided with the deceiver and will be turned over to the master they have chosen. THAT, imo, is the essence of hell.

    • This question is one of the main reasons that hell has such staying power. If there’s no hell of eternal torment, what’s the point? Jesus didn’t REALLY do anything. And God must not really care about “justice”.

      In my mind, it’s the wrong question. None of the 3 positions believe that (wink, wink) all people just sort of waltz into “heaven” and get a big bear hug from Jesus. All parties – #1, #2, #3 – can agree that Jesus saves us from the same sorts of things – all that is wrong with the world and in ourselves. This is the purpose of the cross and the nature of it’s victory. Forgetting about atonement theory for the time being, all believe this. The nature of what is overcome by the cross is no different. The only question is, what is the extent of that victory? And if there are things outside the scope of this victory, what then?

      #2 – Universalists – don’t disbelieve in “hell” or any kind of post mortem punishment. The simply disbelieve in its irrevocability and its purpose (it’s purpose isn’t endless retributive punishment, but restorative justice). Individual bible verse grenades aside, it’s the logical conclusion of the answers to two questions:

      1 – Does God actually want to save ALL people?
      2 – Does God, in the end, get what He wants in regards to #1? Or has he structured the order of creation in such a way that it is impossible? If it’s impossible, when does he change his mind about wanting to save all, making a “free-will” rejection irrevocable?

      If you answer “Yes” to both of these questions, by definition you must be a universalist. Most of the debates about this topic – between Arminians and Calvinists for example – are about which of these to answer “no” to, with an eternal hell being the one constant.

      #3 – Annihilationists – don’t disbelieve in “hell” either. They simply don’t believe that the descriptions of it represent an ongoing condition.

      In both cases, a lot of it comes down to inferring things in a 1+1 = 2 way (such as that the soul isn’t inherently immortal). But also from a lot of analysis into the Greek words translated into the English wod “eternal”.

      Now a question for you.

      What does eternal conscious torment accomplish?

      I’d suggest that “taking sin seriously” doesn’t mean “endlessly punishing it” (thereby sustaining it’s existence in some remote corner of creation – whatever that looks like), but completely defeating it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’d like to know the history of how ECT came to dominate.
        Was it diffusion from the Greek idea of Tartarus?
        Medieval accretion?
        Whatever, it ended up not only the most widespread but THE default option. To the point that any other option was Heresy.

        • HUG,

          what makes the best sense to me is J. Romanides’ view that it rode into Rome with the Germanic/Frankish soldiers Charlemagne and his successors sent to help the Popes. The northern fringe of Europe was still missionary territory into the 700s, and Scandinavia into the 1000s. Those relatively very recently converted fighters brought pagan Germanic notions about the afterlife with them, and one of those was a world of fiery torment, out of which would arise the Ragnarok – the “it’s all gonna burn” of that time and place. Anselm’s feudalistic understanding of offending the Deity (c. 1000) and eternal offense calling for eternal punishment/wrath was a hand-in-glove fit. It was the default option in the more legal-oriented West. It never gained traction in the East, where the inner torment thing is the default – most believe the torment will be “eternal” as in “lasting forever” but some recognize the word “aionios” also means “age” and so will last only as long at it takes for people to turn to God (some will take longer than others…).

          If you haven’t already, do read St Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation.” (c 320) Try to find a copy of the translation by Lewis’ friend Sr Penelope. There is absolutely no mention of PSA, which is also unknown in the East. It can be inferred from this and other patristic sources that the default in the early church was universal reconciliation. The Catholic scholar Ilaria Ramella has done the bulk of the work on this. Her original book is full of footnotes, fat and expensive, but she’s working on an abridged, more popular treatment.

          Dana

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It never gained traction in the East, where the inner torment thing is the default – most believe the torment will be “eternal” as in “lasting forever” but some recognize the word “aionios” also means “age” and so will last only as long at it takes for people to turn to God (some will take longer than others…).

            Sounds like the idea Lewis used in The Great Divorce — Hell and Purgatory are the same place/state; just if you grow out of it, it was Purgatory; if you never grow out of it, it is Hell.

          • My childhood in church was hell. My adulthood in church was purgatory.

            I look back, and see church as nothing but hell. Religion, is hell. Christianity, in america at least, the culture, being a part of it…is absolute hell.

            Leave it, leave hell.

            What’s on the outside?

            Probably Jesus.

          • the lamb slain outside the camp wandered back in, told everyone he was back, then wandered back out of the camp…

            where he meets us

            outside the camp

      • Mike H,

        in the hope of some in the Orthodox tradition for #2, it is not so that there is disbelief in “any kind of postmortem punishment.” It’s simply that one’s rejection of love and failure to love will come face to face with Love Himself. There will be inner torment proportional to the amount of one’s rejection of love, and rejection of others. You know how you feel when you realize you have injured the mutual love between yourself and one you hold very dear. It will be like that. I suppose that’s not technically punishment, since it is not administered from without. But it will be painful.

        “What does eternal conscious torment accomplish?” Very good question.

        Dana

        • Excellent, excellent clarification Dana.

          Yes, the restorative view is not consistent with the idea that any sort of tortuous punishment is a form of payment in and of itself. Torture is not a form of divine currency that balances any kind of “scale of justice”. It wouldn’t do a single thing to right a wrong.

          The idea is not that a soul is released from “hell” after 50,000 lashes from a whip, 500 years in a lake of fire, or 1,000 years of being poked by the tail of the devil, and that an unchanged wicked person emerges who is then granted access to “paradise” (which they would no doubt find miserable).

          The idea and intent is restoration and new creation, of the defeat of all that is opposed to God. And this is simply to recognize what a creature of God actually is, a creature made by God. Original blessing is more original than original sin.

          I’m convinced that any metaphor will fail (whether it uses time or space), but the important thing to recognize is that whatever its nature, the nature of this “punishment” is to restore.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Torture is not a form of divine currency that balances any kind of “scale of justice”. It wouldn’t do a single thing to right a wrong.

            That doesn’t stop people from investing in that particular form of divine currency.

          • When you’ve got a HOLY and PERFECT god on one hand, even being born a sinner is enough for ETERNAL justice.

            Remember, he just CANNOT stand sin…

          • …it’s almost like God is stubbornly trying to scrub out a spot that just won’t rub out, endlessly trying with no success…

            what a god

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            When you’ve got a HOLY and PERFECT god on one hand, even being born a sinner is enough for ETERNAL justice.

            Remember, he just CANNOT stand sin…

            As that one “The Calvary Road” tract kept putting it over and over:
            “FOR GOD HATES SIN WITH SUCH A PERFECT HATRED…”
            (All caps from the original)

      • 1 – Does God actually want to save ALL people?
        2 – Does God, in the end, get what He wants in regards to #1? Or has he structured the order of creation in such a way that it is impossible? If it’s impossible, when does he change his mind about wanting to save all, making a “free-will” rejection irrevocable?

        How amusing that you respond to my “wrong questions” with those. Those are the very questions which the pursuit of answers to created Calvinism. Just sayin…

        It’s very simple. 1. Yes. 2. No. That is the most offensive thing to propose that an omnipotent being does not get everything he wants, because they he wouldn’t be like we would be if we were omnipotent. His ways would be much higher. Christ did not want to suffer. He wept over the destruction of Jerusalem. God did not want Adam to eat the apple. God willingly subjects himself to our abuse, though he desires our affection. That’s what happens on the cross.

        What does eternal conscious torment accomplish?
        I’d suggest that “taking sin seriously” doesn’t mean “endlessly punishing it” (thereby sustaining it’s existence in some remote corner of creation – whatever that looks like), but completely defeating it.

        I don’t understand why Hell has suddenly become about productivity, as if there were still some celestial society to be reformed. Most teachers of the doctrine of hell describe hell as the place people willingly embrace by their willful rejection of the divine love given by Christ through His cross. The only thing it “accomplishes” is God saying “have it your way” to those who will not have it His.

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      There are other (quite obvious and concrete) things we need saving from besides an eternal hell (for which I’ve seen no evidence).

    • What does the suffering and death of Christ save us from?

      Possibly what it saved us from all along: nothing. We made something up to give it meaning. There was never anything. And realizing that, we find the truth, and are free. There were never any bars on the cage.

      Possibly. But I hope it means something. And maybe that’s just the fear of judgement, the fear of death, the fear of religion, the fear or law.

      Live free. Live happy. Live with joy. Live with love.

      Because the things that prevent those, we no longer have to worry about. Christ set us free.

      Amen.

      • I dunno. I live with and deal with things that prevent freedom, happiness, love, and joy every day. Don’t see much of the hand of Christ freeing me from those, it takes faith to see the good in His promises. There are bars on my cage every day, and though I am thankful that my religion is no longer the one building them (for the most part), that doesn’t seem to lighten the load much. The “freedom” that Christ brings seems often like an abstract concept with little bearing on reality, and I’ve given up on teachers who find “radical new explanations” of it and seem to think they’ve got the doctrinal mojo to restore happiness to life. Life is pain, and that’s where Christ finds us. For most of the saints, it is enough to hope that Christ is saving us from the final mercy of death, and that he would strengthen us to resist temptation in the meantime. Christianity is not a religion for those seeking happiness, it is a religion that brings hope to the hopeless.

        • –> “Life is pain, and that’s where Christ finds us.”

          One of the best comments here at iMonk. So true, Miguel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        • “Christianity is not a religion for those seeking happiness, it is a religion that brings hope to the hopeless.”

          +1

  13. This is what I have come to so far:

    1) Human beings have huge free will courtesy of God. None of this makes sense without that.

    2) Choices have consequences. There may be limits but we always are free to choose in an ultimate way. Always.

    3) This isn’t about rewards and punishment, it’s about reconciliation and restoration in Oneness. Punishment and revenge are low level ego responses. God doesn’t operate at that level. We often do.

    4) The door is always unlocked in the Now. We are allowed to ignore that for as long as we choose.

    5) If you don’t distinguish between soul and spirit, you aren’t going to figure this out. We are tripartite beings.

    6) We are not our ego. God is stronger than our ego. Our task is to overcome.

    7) Love wins.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And where did the “tripartite being – body/soul/spirit” get established? I heard it ALL the time when I was in-country, but how widespread is the concept? Or is it just Universal TRUTH within the Evangelical Bubble? What’s the diff between a “soul” and a “spirit”? And what happened to the original Jewish concept where body/soul/spirit/whatever are all parts of YOU required for YOU to be complete?

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        Uh, Hebrews 4:12.

        It is a distinction that even the Fathers respect, but I don’t know much about any particular Father’s interpretation. I think the Pentecostals make more of it than other Evangelicals.

      • Yes, as the Georgia Mule sez, and the concept is NOT widespread, mostly dualistic body and soul, but not unknown either. Most people would not see what difference it would make. One of the points that convinces me Luke the physician was indeed the author of Hebrews is the clarified translation in 4:12 as to a two-edged scalpel being used to separate soul and spirit, not a two-edged sword as we usually get it. If you think about it, if you were trying to delicately cut away a growth from an artery, you would be better off using a scalpel than a meat cleaver.

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        It’s from Paul (1 Thess. 5:23) but he didn’t make this up himself. “Spirit” is basically wind or breath, considered as the animating force of life. (You still hear stuff like this from yoga and qigong people.) Ancient usages of “soul” (psyche) are very close, and the two terms are often switched (e.g. Aristotles vs. Galen). If forced to gloss it, I would say that “soul” is the distinguishing characteristic of each living thing. For example, the “soul” of the eye is sight according to Aristotle. Paul might have been using these terms to translate Hebrew concepts such as nephesh (nafs) or ruach (ruh).

  14. Option 2 is patently ridiculous, to assume that Hitler etc… get a free pass is a terrible indictment of the worthlessness of human moral effort. How we live here today matters, eternally. I cannot accept that whatever happens here will eventually be undone and so is therefore ultimately inconsequential. That is more than absurd. It is heartless.

    That being said, eternal punishment for finite transgressions seems highly disproportionate and therefore unjust based on the scales of a God who said “an eye for an eye.”

    Therefore I’m leaning towards a synergy of 1 and 3: Hell is the unending torment of being eternally uncreated by our own willing cooperation with the one desires the destruction of anything good resembling the divine spark. Whatever hell is, it is the foil for paradise. Both are mysterious in nature, incomprehensible for mortals, and pictured with strange imagery in the Biblical texts. This is not because they are not real concepts or places, but rather, they exist in some sort of state of existence we cannot now wrap our minds around. This much, however, is painfully clear: One of those places eternally delightful, with pleasures forevermore at the right hand of God, and the other is ultimately undesirable, and worth avoiding at any cost.

    • What if Hitler’s victims forgave him? And all was made right with these victims? And a murderer – just like Saul who became Paul – became a new person?

      • I’m sure there’s at least some who did. But if Hitler goes to hell, it isn’t because his victims hold a grudge.

        The celestial white picket fence does not mean all was made right with the victims. Their blood cries out for vengeance, and a just God does not turn a blind eye to this.

        Hitler finished his work by murdering himself rather than facing the music. He did not, from all reasonable inference, become a new person, and there is no biblical or theological case for the opportunity to do this post-mortem.

        But granting all your hypotheticals, then yes, Hitler certainly would be in heaven. The death of Christ can save the most foul of sinners, and then some. But to those who persist in unbelief, the rejection of this salvation, God freely allows them to have it their way.

        • What of the victims also bound for hell? What do they care if vengeance is visited upon their murderer? It wouldn’t change anything. Mere retributive punishment, punishment designed to do nothing other than balance the scales of justice, is not the biblical picture of justice.

          As far as postmortem repentance, its not addressed biblically one way or the other so far as I can tell. Like many things, it’s an inferred position. It’s not “proven” from some dizzying display of exegetical gymnastics. Like most things, there’s no clobber verse that answers the question either way.

          It stems from God’s own desire for ALL to find life (which seems uncompromisingly biblical) – a position that reflects God’s character and immutable commitment to humanity, the question being whether God sort of changes his mind and revokes the offer the moment the last grain of sand drops through the hour glass. It’s based on the idea that the same freedom of choice that allows one to choose against God (per the free will theodicy of hell you seem to be defending) enables one to repent and choose for God. If the doors truly are “locked from the inside” then they can be opened (unless God secretly steals the key and throws it away). It’s based on images of the cosmic Christ who has conquered death and who is outside time. It comes from an unwillingness to explain away the places in scripture that speak of “all in all”, “reconciling all things”, etc. and others.

          Probably not real convincing. If a hell of eternal conscious torment is presupposed and an escape from it is the whole point, there’s always ways to explain away anything that might conflict with that.

          • The Bible does not speak with one voice about this subject; the Bible expresses conflicting and mutually incompatible positions in this, and other things as well. Typically, Christians have sought to interpret the Bible in ways that make it express one consistent position, but it’s a losing battle. The Bible is not consistent. We have no choice but to prefer some textual witnesses over others. I prefer the ones that express God’s desire that all shall be saved; I privilege them over ones that say otherwise, because I find that I’m constitutionally unable to trust a deity who is not maximally inclusive.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I cannot accept that whatever happens here will eventually be
      > undone and so is therefore ultimately inconsequential.

      A does not follow B. Whatever happens here matters here because it is what happened here. It does not need to matter FOREVER in order to matter. This is a form of thinking that pretty much only shows up around these arguments and is recognized as false in nearly every other context.

      This do ‘fade’ in consequence with the passing of time and the changing of context. That is OK. And it does not render bad things not-bad, it just means they are eventually forgotten.

      • That is pretty easy to say when it happens to someone else, isn’t it? Some crimes take things that can never be given back. These consequences do not fade, and the world is never the same after. The ones who “forget” are the comfortable and unaffected. Shame on them. The holocaust will never be forgotten, not in this world.

        Obviously the victims won’t still be complaining after they’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun. It doesn’t therefore follow that because they’ve found healing that the offense need not be reckoned with. Like I said, I’m willing to temper the idea of eternal punishment for finite crimes. But I certainly reject the idea that no reckoning is necessary because mercy extends to all equally. God is not a socialist, giving mercy to all equally whether it is desired or not, just as he is not a capitalist, giving mercy only to those who earn it by their effort.

    • >>That being said, eternal punishment for finite transgressions seems highly disproportionate and therefore unjust based on the scales of a God who said “an eye for an eye.”

      It wasn’t G-d who said “eye for an eye”, it was G-d who said “you have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye’, but I say, ‘do not resist the evil person'”. Our G-d said to give the thief our shirt when he takes our coat, to offer another cheek when one is slapped.

      It seems to me G-d may not find option 2 so “patently ridiculous”.

      • Actually, God said both those things, at least, according to the person who said the latter. Instead of pitting a surface reading of to a-contextual phrases against each other, you could do the work of a theologian, which is to consider careful the whole text of scripture and how there may be a dovetail to these opposing concepts.

        The Old Testament introduced the concept of proportional justice to the world, which was a revolutionary concept at the time AND the foundation of ethical thought in western culture. You could just as easily argue that the Levitical code does not follow this idea very well (and to a certain extent it is limited: You can’t punish a rapist with rape, for example). The actual phrase was specifically used in reference to wounding an infant in the womb, so it wasn’t necessarily, at the time, a universal prescription for all times and situations.

        The other shortcoming to this phrase as a system is that each of us sees the burden of what is owed us as being greater than that which we owe. We are not capable of being impartial judges when our own interests are at stake. Nevertheless, it does help us get an important handle on what justice does look like.

        But even within the Old Testament, God also says “do justice, LOVE mercy.” We are to do right by our fellow man, and to delight in overlooking offenses. It’s a both/and, not an either/or.

        In the NT, the Jesus who says “turn the other cheek” also calls out tyrants for oppressing the poor. It is not fair to his teaching for us to pit these ideas against each other. Jesus had a lot to say in judgement of some people, and is promised to judge all men at the end. So forgiveness for all does not necessarily mean judgement for none. Else he would be returning to pardon all men.

        • to consider careful the whole text of scripture

          I think I’m learning here at iMonk and on Enn’s blog and elsewhere that you simply can’t do that. They don’t jive. It’s assuming there is a flatness to Scripture that is not there. There may be a dovetail, there may not be. It may be two conflicting statements with no resolution.

          So, which do you pick.

          I choose to pick whatever came last. Jesus.

          • I think you are entirely correct, StuartB. If we find the Bible speaking consistently, it’s because we project consistent interpretative schemes on it. More and more I’m seeing that the Bible is a gathering of voices saying many different things, some of them inconsistent and incompatible, rather than a single voice expressing consistent positions and perspectives on every subject. That cognitive dissonance is part of what Wendell Berry calls “the burden of the Gospels”, which can be creatively and faithfully lived with, but not honestly denied.

          • I’m sorry, Stuart, but there is a remarkable uniformity to Scripture that you will never see if you refuse to look past the fundagelical construct of inerrancy, where the forrest is completely missed for all the trees. The Scriptures do not have to be flat to be cohesive, you just have to know how to understand them. The entirety of Scripture only has two doctrines: Law and Gospel. Learn how to identify and distinguish these, and everything else falls into place. You are already on the right track! Jesus comes last. He is the final word. The New Testament takes precedence over anything in the Old. That doesn’t mean, for example, that the Levitical code was wrong. It means that it wasn’t given for the Christian church or society at large. Only that which is repeated and reinforced from it in the New Testament is valid and binding for Christians.

            I mean this in all seriousness: apart from the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, all of Scripture remains a sealed book. If you don’t get this, it does not freaking matter if Jonah swallowed the whale.

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      If you consider salvation to be merely “getting a free pass,” then I would say you have an absolutely neutered and deficient concept of salvation.

    • If Hitler doesn’t get a “free pass”…i’d drop the word free, here…then is God still God?

      • Imagine how great of a God he is if he could redeem Hitler.

        • Jazziscoolithink says:

          +1 Exactly. The idea that the existence of an eternal hell is the only way true justice can exist is patently ridiculous. Purely retributive justice is unworthy of the God revealed in Christ.

        • +1 “+1 Exactly”. Not only “imagine how great of a God he is if he could redeem Hitler,” but also imagine if Jesus’ work on the cross and in the tomb is truly what we think it is, if it truly provides the way and with it “It is finished.”

          I look at it this way (and this is in human terms, but it works for me). Would I create a child just to see her be cast into Hell? No. If that child rejected me and I provided a way for her to avoid hell, would I then still allow her to be cast into Hell? No. If I send Jesus to save some, I’m going to have him save them all. I’d want all my beloved children in Heaven with me.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          They’d probably find they had a lot in common.

        • “If you can? All things are possible for him who believes.” – Jesus

  15. Awhile back on a Christian podcast Al Mohler debated a young theologian who was defending annihilationism. Al Mohhler, of course, defended the classic ECT view.

    The young guy (I forget his name) totally dismantled ECT, in front of Mohler’s eyes, without letting up, passage by passage. It was quite a show. Mohler came off as a stuttering bonehead. (I’m sure he’s not totally like that in real life, but people give him way too much credit). He really couldn’t mount any defense other than church tradition, which is funny, for a southern baptist.

    I waffle somewhere between those two. If ECT, I think we should probably tone down our view of the word “conscious” because honestly an eternality of conditioning in separation from God must reduce consciousness, awareness, psyche, and emotion to something close to void. I actually liked Wright’s explanation, to this end.

    I don’t find ECT to be intrinsically just. I find the restoration of damages to be just. Justice is not found in punishment of the wicked, except so far as, in our court systems, it allows a society to stand with victims and to (ideally) prevent further harm.

    For example, if we calculate that crime X deserves punishment Y, and the criminal serves Y, and then is released and commits crime X again, then justice was not done. The crime is just being re-committed over and over. The justice in the situation is found when things are set right for the aggrieved, not by consequences for the guilty. Likewise, in a murder case, whatever you think of the death penalty, it is not “just” because it doesn’t bring back the victim. It’s just retribution. Not retributive justice. Justice would be resurrection, or reversal of the crime’s effects. Otherwise, in some measure, the criminal wins.

    We reach for a measure of justice in our systems to reflect what we want to be true eschatologically. But we can’t judge eschatology by what our gut tells us is right with our justice system. ECT defenders really need to take note of that.

    So when I have this conversation, I don’t focus on defending one of three views, but on the notion of justice and judgment. Setting right. The good Creational and divine political order restored.

    • Got a link (or google directions) to that podcast?

    • Could you share a link? I’d love to hear this, if for nothing more than the schadenfreude of hearing the “intellectual pope” of the SBC get out-debated, but mostly for a serious textual debate. Most argumentation, like here even, is from reason in the abstract, text and hermeneutics be damned if they offend my presuppositions.

      If ECT, I think we should probably tone down our view of the word “conscious” because honestly an eternality of conditioning in separation from God must reduce consciousness, awareness, psyche, and emotion to something close to void.

      That is an interesting and compelling thought. I believe the biblical text leaves that open to possibility.

      • None of the positions here are absent of serious debate – “text and hermeneutics be damned if they offend my presuppositions”. It’s simply impossible to discuss such things here.

        For option #2 see:
        -The Inescapable Love of God – Thomas Talbott
        -The Evangelical Universalist – Gregory MacDonald (Robin Parry)
        -Her Gates Will Never Be Shut – Brad Jersak
        Visit the Eclectic Orthodoxy blog (Fr Aiden Kimel)

        For option #3 see:
        The Fire That Consumes – Edward Fudge
        Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism
        The Rethinking Hell website

      • Also see Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most – Jerry Walls.

        Doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Examines post mortem repentance.

        • post-mortem repentenance sounds more like fan fiction. any and all discussion post death is a huge WHAT IF, even if it’s in the scriptures themselves.

          fantasy is fun.

          • Agreed.

            But I don’t think he’s trying to “prove” anything via some fantastic biblicist display of Bible verse smoke and mirrors. And it’s not “about” that – that’s a misconstrual on my part.

            It’s more a high level discussion.

      • “… an eternality of conditioning in separation from God must reduce consciousness, awareness, psyche, and emotion to something close to void.”

        I seem to recall Paul saying something about all things having their existence through and for Christ and that Jesus is the glue that holds everything in the universe together. So, if that’s true, I’m wondering if existence of any kind is even possible in the complete abscence of God’s presence. Where anything is, He is there. Where He is not, there is nothing.
        That would seem to uphold view #3.

  16. While we generally conceive of forever as a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long time, it is in fact a complete absence of time. It is a simple now: this current state of being. There is no yesterday or tomorrow. I can conceive of a possibility that a soul rejects Life and remains that way. No counting days, weeks or months. It simply exists in a self absorbed state. This is indeed a difficult topic but we must not run to the most expedient answer at the possible expense of what actually may be; what has been alluded to or directly referenced by none other than Jesus Christ. I don’t want there to be hell and I don’t want God to have a dark judgemental aspect but is that symptomatic of my living in an antiseptic world where I don’t kill my own food and wouldn’t know how to prepare it if my life depended on it? I won’t discount that possibility. Is the universe sometimes not a benevolent place? Certainly our planet and us people are not so benevolent. I genuinely don’t want a hell. I really mean that but I am also afraid of sterilizing the truth of the gospel. I don’t want to step up to the table and demand that God give me finer linen and better china to please the sentiments of me and my cohorts. It’s just like the question of evil or suffering. It requires bigger parameters of thought and deeper intuitions into the nature of things. In the end, the answer may be discerned and felt rather than cognized and elaborated upon. That sounds like a cop out but so does the answer to most big questions because they simply get lived, not explained. I’m afraid to write hell off to relieve my cognitive dissonance. It may be one calf I have to slaughter instead of finding it prewrapped and ready. Who knows?

  17. C. S. Lewis famously remarked that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. I don’t buy the medieval obsession with fire, brimstone, and unending tortures imposed by demons with pitchforks. St. Theresa of Avila maintained that the fire of Hell is the burning love of God for those who have yet to embrace it. We are creatures bound by time and space, and it’s hard for us to imagine a reality that is not in some sense physical, yet I think Hell is more an attitude of being than a place. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of Gehenna, sometimes translated as Hell, though in his day it was the name of a garbage dump outside Jerusalem, and he uses it metaphorically to describe the condition of spiritual estrangement from God. Jesus speaks elsewhere in his parables of the prospects of an afterlife of bliss or misery (e. g., Lazarus and the Rich Man), but often these stories are meant to illustrate a point about the kind of people he wants us to be. We do have to reckon with the possibility that we live in a moral universe where choices matter. It may be that souls who insist on abject separation from God will linger in a lost and restless state until they surrender to His Relentless Love. From a human space-time perspective, this wandering could last a million years but on the rim of eternity it may be a few seconds. Who knows? Each of us decides whether Love wins in our lives.

    • I think Hell is more an attitude of being than a place.”

      Back to Lewis, I like his picture of hell in the Great Divorce, in which hell is a place, but a veeeerrry small place, a mere microscopic bit of ground, in the middle of heaven.

  18. The PS: “Father, I want what’s coming to me, and I want out. I’m sick to death of this place, I’m sick of living by your self-righteous rules, and just being around you makes me want to puke. And don’t give me that hurt look or try to tell me how much you love me. I don’t want your love. I never have. I don’t love you, and, to be perfectly honest, I’d greatly prefer it if you stopped loving me. At least stop saying it, cause I don’t want to hear it. I just want what’s mine, and I want to go as far away from this place and as far away from you as I can get. Don’t come looking for me. Don’t call me. Don’t write. I don’t want to hear from you or see you ever again. Do you hear me? I not joking around. I really mean it. Stay the hell away from me. I hate you! Do you hear me? I hate you, and I wish you were dead! But since you’re not showing any signs of kicking off, I’ll take my inheritance now, thank you very much, and then I’ll be on my way. And once I’m out that door, you can be damned sure I wont’ be coming back. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t even exist to me, and I would appreciate it if you would return the favor.”

    Of course, we all know how that story ends. A father rushing down the road to meet his son. Tears of joy. Rings for his fingers. The fatted calf.
    It really makes me wonder if there are any boundaries to God’s mercy — even within the confines of death and hell. On the other hand, I wonder what would have happended if the son had persisted in pride and had turned his feet the other way.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      Sounds like the old man had it coming. It’s not like he gave Junior much in the way of options.

      • According to the parable, the old man freely gave junior exactly what junior was asking for — even though demanding your inheritance while your father was still alive was way out of line in ancient Jewish culture and the equivalent of spitting in the old man’s face.

  19. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    CM, are you sure you’re not a little bit Brony?

    Because “Bringing Ultimate Harmony” sounds like a term that came from the show. Or from Pony fanfic where the final destiny of Equestria involves bringing All into Harmony.

  20. Interesting to me in today’s discussion is that almost no time has been given to the concept of purgatory, or as I much prefer to think of it, an intermediate state between so called heaven and so called hell. I much disagree with the Roman understanding of this state, but I believe it is real and may even affect the majority of people passing on to the other side.

    Also no discussion of degrees or levels in so called heaven and hell. I have no more information on this than is available to anyone else, but it seems to me that the whole prospect of life on the other side is far more complex than our first grade Sunday School idea of St.Peter sitting outside the gate with a thumbs up or thumbs down, s binary decision as in a flip of the coin, for everyone forever and ever amen.

    But the rancor was minimal, and that’s a plus. I’m glad this week is all over but the shouting tomorrow. If eschatology is the study of final things, Saturday Ramblings ought to be at the top of the list.

  21. Earlier in the summer, I decided to embrace View Two in its entirety, and I have no regrets. I would have lost my faith completely if I hadn’t. It’ll likely get me kicked out of my evangelical church eventually, so I’ve kept it on the low-down for now. Heresy or not, I’ve found that I simply can’t stomach any of the other views of hell, being the sensitive soul that I am. Universalism also satisfyingly answers, or at least softens, many issues I’ve struggled with over the years concerning my faith, and provides a picture of God and His plans for creation that is inspiring and ennobling.

    • –> “It’ll likely get me kicked out of my evangelical church eventually, so I’ve kept it on the low-down for now.”

      Same here. I know enough “like thinkers” now that I can chat with about this drift toward View Two. I’m not convinced it’s right, nor am I convinced it’s wrong, and I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care what I think about it anyway. I feel no need to tell people who wouldn’t understand why I think View Two makes sense, and I’m comfortable with that.

    • Sort of the same. I admitted to myself a month ago that I no longer believe in hell or satan because I can’t find the modern understandings of them anywhere in Scripture, only outside of it. I’m no longer so committed to needing to be in anything that I have to study hard in order to replace or adopt a new view. I’m content to just no longer believe for the moment.

      Scary at first, but…sort of nice. I’m waiting for my first real life conversation about it.

      “Well Satan still believes in you even if you don’t believe in him!”

      So does Superman, and he’s got him beat.

  22. Patrick Kyle says:

    ” I admitted to myself a month ago that I no longer believe in hell or satan because I can’t find the modern understandings of them anywhere in Scripture, only outside of it. I’m no longer so committed to needing to be in anything that I have to study hard in order to replace or adopt a new view. I’m content to just no longer believe for the moment.”

    At last, an honest ‘Progressive.” Thank you for having the balls to admit the truth that if something doesn’t fit into the modern meta-narratrive or is distasteful to modern sensibilities you discard it, even if the Scriptures or Jesus Himself teach it.

    I wish your Progressive friends on this forum would likewise be as honest, and we could dispense with the authority or supposed superiority of the Judeo Christian Scriptures and the pretense of Christianity, at least in the traditional sense, and open this this blog and conversation up to the merits of other religions or philosophies.

    • You’ve completely missed the point.

      It can be clearly demonstrated that it’s distasteful to more than just modern sensibilities. There are conservative believers across all traditions and all times that have held to beliefs other than #1.

      But that’s not even the issue. The question being discussed is what Jesus and the scriptures actually DO “plainly” and clearly teach. There are mountains of scholarly work that have nothing to do with some supposed progressive conspiracy that call into question the validity of option #1.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        “You’ve completely missed the point.”

        No, I have not. StuartB openly admitted that if it doesn’t jibe with modern viewpoints, he quit believing it. My point was not about the various views of Hell, but the Progressive tendency to dismiss what does not fit with modern sensibilities. (Note carefully I have not said anything about what I think the correct view of Hell is) StuartB has openly demonstrated what a great deal of those in ‘Progressive Christianity’ tend to do: dismiss and reject what they do not like or don’t understand. It doesn’t matter which doctrine we are discussing. Once you start that game there is no foundation to claim that the Scriptures are any more authoritative than any other ‘Holy’ book that claims speak for God. End of story.

        Many progressives try to preserve the ‘specialness’ of the Scriptures because of a sense of nostalgia or history, but when you can say carte’ blanche that this or that part is wrong/untrue/false and unworthy of belief, then it’s pretty much like any other book, although with a far more illustrious history.

        As to the subject of Hell, this whole discussion is predicated upon the unease people have with what the Scriptures seem to be saying. That’s fine. I lean more towards C.S. Lewis’s view myself, however to deny the existence of Hell is to do great violence to the teachings of Jesus.

        • Not that it requires my defense, but here is the quote:

          I no longer believe in hell or satan because I can’t find the modern understandings of them anywhere in Scripture, only outside of it.

          That statement simply doesn’t jive with what you’re saying. It’s that the modern understandings are derived from outside scripture, not within it. And if that is indeed true – which is what we’re talking about – which one actually does more “violence to the message of Jesus”?

          And I’m only responding here because a common and fallacious criticism when discussing this topic is that anything outside of the “traditional” view is based on human “emotion”, disregards “plain teachings” for NO other reason than they don’t like them, etc.

          • Mike H,
            When StuartB is talking about the “modern understandings”, he means to include the traditional understandings, right? If so, I think StuartB’s choice of the word “modern” is a little misleading here, and probably threw Patrick Kyle off.

          • Traditional = modern in this context. That’s the way I read it Robert, yes.

            Even using the word “traditional” is a bit misleading on my part though, as the tradition has always included several viewpoints.

  23. @CM


    Hopeful about view two
    Holding lightly view three

    Pretty good summary of where I’m at, I guess.