Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Hell as the Problem for Christians

posted by Scot McKnight

GregMacd.jpgThe single-most important problem for the logical coherence of the Christian belief in God is what Christians have believed about hell — that God will punish humans endlessly for their sins. We are approaching this topic through Gregory Macdonald’s book The Evangelical Universalist

Big question: How do you account for the justice problem? How do you account for the joy problem?
There are two fundamental problems for those who believe in hell as eternal, conscious torment. 
First, the justice problem: hell is understood as retributive justice meted out by God against sinful humans. The problem here is that the punishment must fit the crime in order for the punishment to be just. What possible crime could be matched by an eternal punishment?
Two responses have been given in Christian theology: Anselm’s theory is that sin against an infinite God is an infinite sin and therefore worthy of infinite punishment. [I would argue that humans cannot by nature ever commit an “infinite” sin because humans are finite.] A second theory, and he quotes DA Carson (who once told me this very theory when we were having lunch together), is that humans continue to sin and so punishment fits the crime because the sinner in hell keeps on sinning. “Macdonald” contends that this means God never really removes sin from the universe … and so he explores other options.

Second, the joy problem: “To have supremely worthwhile happiness, I must be able to know about the genuine fate of those I love and remain happy” (15). The fundamental problem here then is the capability of eternal bliss and joy and supreme happiness while knowing the fate of those we love who are in hell or knowing the fate of other Eikons of God. “Macdonald” contests the “memory-wipe” theory of Bill Craig that contends God will erase the memories of the saved of those who are in hell [and “Macdonald” contends the position is deceptive on God’s part] or that consciousness of God’s utter blessedness will render a person unaware of those in hell. “Macdonald” thinks awareness of God makes one more aware of the fate of others. The other theory is that the saved will join God’s side of satisfaction with the fate of those in hell because they will see the utter rebellion of their sin.


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Mike M

posted December 22, 2009 at 12:58 am


Of course we need some definitions to start the engagement process. First, where is Hell? Who invented the concept in the first place (I have some Jewish friends who firmly deny the existence of Hell)? Will the really bad people in Hell (or just about everybody non-Calvinistic) have bodies? If not, how can they sense the pain of fire or thirst after water? I have a hundred more questions about Hell but my wife just woke up after falling asleep on her arm and now I have a medical emergency…



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Robert Angison

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:40 am


As I read the text of the Bible, specifically the New Testament, I find myself confronted with a biblical portrait of a real, literal Hell. Luke 16:19-31 is an astonishing picture to begin with. Jesus’ teachings on the subject, likewise, point to a literal place that is everlasting separation from God (Matthew 5:22, 29f; 10:28; 18:8; Mark 9:42-50; Luke 12:5; 16:19-31; John 3:36; the juxtaposition of life and death in John 3:16, 18; 5:22, 24, 28, 30; 6:50; 10:28.) The epistolary literature of the New Testament also points to a strong belief in a literal, everlasting Hell where those who don’t believe will end up. (Sadly a comment in a blog post is not a good enough space to reply with depth and breadth.)
To answer honestly the two questions above, in terms of theology I would ask about the foundations of the questions. The issue of justice is replied to with the God of Scripture is not some sentimental, democratic, humanitarian as some might believe Him. He is a holy, righteous, and pure God before whom sin cannot exist. Justice, in God’s eyes, is usually vastly different than our view of justice when it comes to His eternal kingdom. While God does have the characteristics of love, mercy, grace He also is noble, sovereign, just, and yes even wrathful. How is it divinely just that a person who denies Christ all their days is sent to the same reward as the humble servant who serves Christ? The Bible shows us that we are born in rebellion to God and it is through His grace that we might have faith and believe in Christ. What other salvific formula is available?
To second question, joy of others’ fate is my promulgation to live a life of love and tenderness, a life compelled by the Gospel to present them with the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. My joy is finding God’s glory in my life. My joy is aided when I see those in rebellion of sin come to saving faith in Jesus. My joy is not in others, but in the delight of God’s glory.
These are terrific questions. I wrestle with this issue earnestly and humbly (I hope.)
You are the Church!
Robert Angison



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Dan

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:00 am


humans are finite?
many, including CS Lewis, would disagree.



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Bo

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:19 am


It seems that God’s justice would at least make a little sense to us, as we are His Eikons, however cracked. To say that God’s justice is just “different” than ours (even when it seems Hitler-esque), doesn’t seem to give God a good reason for us rebelling against Him. I don’t think God would give us perceptions that perceive Him as evil. I keep throwing the evil word out there, and it’s because I can think of no worse evil than eternally punishing a conscious being. I think we must view the issue through Jesus, in whom God was fully revealed. Jesus only talked about Hell to religious folk, and it seems today the issue only comes up when we talk about the fate of non-believers. We should be careful, not only did Jesus talk about a literal garbage dump (where disgraced bodies went to be burned, not eternally tortured), but also Jesus warned the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom before those who wielded the concept of Hell as a weapon (the Pharisees). Not ex-tax collectors and ex-prostitutes, mind you. It doesn’t seem, when it comes to Hell, Jesus even used right beliefs as a standard. Yes- of course He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, but perhaps we have misunderstood that verse. If Jesus really is the new Adam, we are all taken care of, as we are also all fallen in Adam. Jesus is not the demi-Adam. While God may be wrathful, angry, just, all that great stuff, he IS love. We see God fully revealed in Christ, and Christ was love, He embodied it in all his actions. With this is mind, we must see God’s wrath as a means to exercise His perfect love. God is not wrath, he is not anger, he is Love. Continual punishment is not loving in any demented sense of the word, it should violate every ethical threshold we possess as a race, and it does this because God put our standards in our hearts (though we often ignore them). If avoiding was Hell really was all about believing the right things and accepting Jesus as your savior, you’d think Jesus might have warned those poor gentiles. Alas, we shall see the prostitutes in the Kingdom, where the city gates are NEVER shut.



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Larry

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:54 am


C.S. Lewis spoke convincingly on both accounts. He demonstrated first that God does not vindictively send people to hell in eternal punishment for sin. People separate themselves from God and the result of that separation is what we call hell, a place (or if you will, a state of existence) that is (logically) without God or His influence. He wrote that life here on earth is already hell for people who reject God, and it will continue in that general direction. Read “The Great Divorce” … the choices we make take us constantly either closer to or further away from the God who made us and our fellow creatures. This is why the town that Lewis depicted as hell was always expanding in size in relation to itself; but diminishing in size in relation to heaven.
Second, I think we confuse joy (the emotional state of heaven) with this silly idea of “bliss” (a sort of orgasmic ecstasy that is blind to all the pain that exists in the real world). Christ even on the very day when he was betrayed by one of his disciples, and on the day when he was tortured to death on the cross, proclaimed that His joy was full. His joy came from that ultimately fulfilling relationship, knowing the Father and doing His will. True joy isn’t diminished by those who choose otherwise. Only hell, according to Lewis, would wish it to be so.



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 6:57 am


If the sinner in hell keeps on sinning – so the punishment continues to be justified, and one would suppose that an ability to continue to sin would require also the ability to stop, to repent – in theory. Otherwise the punishment does not really “fit the crime” and Carson’s attempt to rationalize it fails.
If there is an ability to stop and to repent, then we approach the Christian universalism of the last post. God removes sin from the universe, slowly.
The “joy” problem is a serious one as well. Well – the joy problem is serious if we actually believe that Jesus is teaching that the supreme commandment is love of God and love of others and that the kingdom of God preaching in the NT is an important part of the whole point. I don’t see it as much of a problem for the caricatured “fire-insurance” gospel.
Interesting.



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Percival

posted December 22, 2009 at 7:33 am


Usually the opposite of “eternal life” is “death” or “perishing”. One wonders what that could mean, but it seems different than eternal conscious punishment.
I vaguely remember that there was some reason that the human soul should not be considered conditionally immortal, but I can’t recall what that reason might be. It seems to me if something goes to everlasting destruction, that destruction is final. That is not to say it takes a really long time to destroy it.
Could it be that every knee that bows and every tongue that confesses are the knees and tongues (attached to bodies) that were not destroyed. I’m not trying to change the topic, but a discussion including annihilation flows from a shared set of questions and interpretations of the same texts.



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Jonathan

posted December 22, 2009 at 7:50 am


I find appealing CSL’s suggestion (in The Great Divorce) that rebellion against God is a diminishment or shrinking of what a person’s humanity or “self”. Continual rebellion shrinks the self more and more, as it increasingly separates the person from the source of all that is good, including existence itself. CSL portrays this as continuing even after death.
Just as those who dwell in God’s presence in eternity grow into new life in ways and to degrees unforeseen by us, those who dwell apart from God in eternity shrink into un-humanity. I guess it’s a kind of annihilationism, in that their humanity diminishes to the point of being essentially (or perhaps fully) gone.



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Percival

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:14 am


I once read that Calvin said one of the chief joys of heaven would be to be able to look into hell and see the eternal vindication of God in action for all of eternity. Hmm. Logical and abhorrent at the same time.



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JoanieD

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:15 am


Percival…annihilation does resolve some tricky situations. I think many of us would rather that a loved one ceased to exist as opposed to was going to be eternally, consiously in pain. I will be interested to see how Robin treats the whole annihilation matter. (I thought my book would be in the mail yesterday but it SURELY will be there today.)
I was just reading Eugene Peterson’s The Message recently (paraphrased version of the Bible) and I know he wrote one passage in one of the Gospel stories saying that God was “kind to the evil ones” or something like that. I need to find that again. If that is so, that is a slightly different feeling than “Pray for your enemies” and would indicate that God’s love is beyond what humans usually can manage to do.



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Your Name

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:21 am


Actually, I think I found the passage I wanted about Jesus saying God was kind to the wicked. It was in the New Living Translation:
?Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35)



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JoanieD

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:24 am


Oops, the comment above in #11 that says Your Name, was me, JoanieD.



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Percival

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:27 am


JoanieD,
Good thoughts. It is a repeated refrain in the OT too that God will not be angry forever. I find it easier to pray for my enemies than to be kind to them!



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:55 am


The punishment does not fit the crime?? My goodness, in the primal O.T. story, a couple takes a bite of a fruit and the whole stinking universe is cursed! Does that “fit the crime”? Duh. So, if in time, one act of human rebellion results in incalcuable suffering and death, how much more then for those who trample under foot the blood Christ Who came to put things to the right.
The thought that tax-collectors and sinners get “in” while the religious leaders were the ones threatened by hell is silly. The issue is not the state/status of the sinner/religious, but whether they were “known” by Jesus. Some comments on this issue here at JesusCreed are insulting in that they imply that if you argue for eternal conscious torment as God’s judgment for sin, then you are a 1st century Pharisee/religious leader. Hogwash.



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Kyle J

posted December 22, 2009 at 9:25 am


If we’re talking about a hell of the “eternal conscious torment” variety, then none of the explanations are very satisfying, as they all basically boil down to “There’s some major concept we just can’t begin to understand right now.” But if that’s true, how can we trust anything we think about theology or the afterlife? It’s one thing to “see dimly”; it’s another to see (and accept) something that seems completely at odds with rational human judgment.
For me, the C.S. Lewis separation-from-God idea is the only conception of Hell that begins to make sense.



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 9:34 am


“Eternal conscious torment” is a fluid phrase in this discussion. I’m not arguing for charred but never consumed bodies as people are screaming in relentless pain in the flames of hell. If the conscious torment is the awareness that a person’s rejection of the reality of God and his love is irreversible, then that is horrendous enough to eternally contemplate. God is not a sadist, but he is just.



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Percival

posted December 22, 2009 at 9:38 am


John Fry,
Do you really think fruit-eating was the crime? You seem to take both the fruit and the flame literally. I think most people here would not.
The fact remains that Jesus warned religious people about being thrown out of the kingdom. I don’t recall him threatening the masses with such a punishment. Was that just coincidence or did he have a reason for being somewhat selective in his warnings? Don’t mean to be washing any swine, but …



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:07 am


Percival (#17),
You’re kidding, right? About the fruit-eating being the crime? The point is *one act of rebellion* even if it was spitting in the dirt,I don’t care, issued in consequences far beyond the one act itself. I think Paul says something to this effect in Romans 5.
On your concerns about flames, see #16. It was not because they were *religious* people that they were shut out. It was their refusal to come to and admit that Jesus was their Messiah. Of course, they were confused about and resistant to Jesus. Even the ordinary people…non-religous…thought Jesus was Jeremiah, or another prophet.



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SteveT

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:08 am


KyleJ (#15) — The biggest problem with the idea that Hell is separation from God is this text from Revelation 14:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur >>>in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb



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SteveT

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:11 am


KyleJ (#15) — The biggest problem with the idea that Hell is separation from God is this text from Revelation 14:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur ***in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb***. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Now, there is a lot of question we can get into here about what exactly it means to have the mark of the beast, etc., and I don’t want to hijack the thread in that direction. But we do see here a description of hell as:
* God’s wrath poured full strength
* God’s anger
* Tormented with fire and sulfer
* Forever and ever
* No rest day and night
Which sounds a lot like our traditional description of hell. But this is the real kicker for me:
* In the presence of angels and of the Lamb (=Jesus)
How can we do justice to this with eternal separation?



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SteveT

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:12 am


Sorry for the double post (well, triple post now, right?) … my Rev 14 quotation was cut off in #19.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:36 am


This has been a good discussion, but I’d like to hear what you folks think of the issues of justice and joy when it comes to the traditional view of hell. How do you think these problems can be explained?



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Ellen Haroutunian

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:45 am


Just thinking out loud here, this is just imaginings around the scriptures and revelation of Jesus that we know: It’s interesting that when we read the creation stories there’s no creation of hell, even post-fall. An intriguing possibility is one that CS Lewis wrote of in The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia) where the Narnians that had rejected the way of Aslan were stuck in a hell of their own making – blind to the heavenly feast and beauty around them, wallowing in bitterness, selfishness and fear, even in the presence of Aslan to whom they were utterly blind. It seems that ultimately a heart bent on self will create a hell of it’s own choosing, preferring it to the freedom and love of heaven. And of course, we are ultimately given what we want (as Lewis says, all get what they want, many do not like it.) It also makes me wonder if even a chosen hell will not eventually be overcome by the Fire Himself- the white hot love of God persistently and eternally lapping at the hard, stubborn core of the human heart. Can God’s love be resisted forever?



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dopderbeck

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:45 am


John (#18) — even if the “fruit” isn’t “literal,” it’s still too simplistic to call the fall “one act of rebellion.” It’s not as though God was poised for that one little slip-up. Whatever the fall was in time, we have to consider it a decisive change in orientation towards God, not merely a legalistic infraction.
Larry (#5) I think makes an excellent point about the “joy” of heaven. From where do we get the idea that “joy” means “no knowledge of anything bad or sad?” At least five times, the New Testament speaks of our “joy” being “complete” in this life (John 15:11; John 16:24; Phil. 2:2; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 1:12). How can our “joy” be “complete” when we are aware of suffering in the world? Obviously, the “completeness” of joy is something thicker than a mind-wipe.
The image of the consummation when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4) seems to me to be one of comfort, not blissful ignorance. How will God comfort us in the knowledge that some people, even some of our own loved ones, will not partake in the heavenly city? I don’t know. I suspect it is along the lines of how Augustine explained it: when we see the full unveiling of God’s plan for creation, we will be perfectly satisfied in His goodness and justice.
I think this also “answers” the “justice” question. The “answer,” it seems to me, is that this is beyond us — it cannot be judged by any human conception of justice that necessarily lacks God’s-eye knowledge of the reasons for all things.
In all of this, it seems to me that the “comfort” for us know is a degree of agnosticism about the eternal fate of any other person. It’s not our job to separate the wheat and the chaff, it’s God’s. Our job is to be faithful in bringing the good news of the Kingdom to bear in our time and place.



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Percival

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:53 am


Well as for joy, if the thought that God is being vindicated is a greater joy than your affection for your loved ones, then logically, your love for God should far outweigh any feelings of compassion you might have for humans.
Not that I hold to such a view, but wouldn’t that be the traditional response?
I find the whole idea of wiping memory or personal recognition from the minds of the redeemed as very faulty. This would imply that our sense of what was right and just might be in conflict with God’s. Whether you go for the eternal torment or universal salvation as satisfying is not the point. The point should be that God and His worshippers must end up in total agreement and satisfaction with the final results.



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Jim

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:01 am


A guy dies and goes to heaven. God greets him, asks him to have a look around while God excuses himself. While God is gone, the guy walks over to the edge of heaven, looks down and sees, way down below, a great banquet with people gathered around a huge table, and generally pigging out.
Puzzled the guy heads back to the table just as God appears with a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. God invites the guy to sit and eat.
As the guy sits down he asks God about the banquet below.
God replies: “Oh, those are the people in hell.”
The guy says: “Hell? Why are those people in hell enjoying such a feast when all You and I are having is a bowl of soup and a piece of bread.”
God shrugs and says, “Ah, for two, why cook?”



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:10 am


David (#24),
You’ve got to include this phrase from Paul in Rom 5:15 t?? e??? pa?apt??at? = “the one trespass,” and in context Paul is reflecting on Adam’s trespass, however, you want to take Genesis 3. The “one” trespass. No, God wasn’t waiting for a “slip up” (I can’t believe you’d characterize the Genesis 3 act as a mere “slip up”), but one event/trespass eventuated into an enduring (to this day) curse on the planet/cosmos. You tell me, did the punishment fit the crime?



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:13 am


David (#24) again,
I should be more clear…it means the trespass of the one, Adam, not one act. Yet, the Fall story informs Paul’s theology.



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dave diller

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:43 am


A couple of questions: How do we understand the phrase “eternal destruction”? Is destruction on-going, or does destruction mean that at some point it is final, over, done-with, destroyed? Could it be that “eternal” speaks of the the effect and destruction speaks of the result? In other words: God’s descision is final (eternal) once something has been set for destruction (here it is not the process of destruction that is eternal).
Also, how do we understand the term: “eternal life”? Did the early Jews/Christians understand this as, “where will I go when I die” (i.e. ‘heaven”)? or rather the gift over death/destruction/decay is truly eternal living?
peace



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dopderbeck

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:57 am


John (#27, 28) — yes but my point is that, even if the fall was a discrete “event” in history as Paul assumed, the “crime” was much bigger than that “moment” of “biting into the apple.” As the representative / type of all of humanity, “Adam” decisively turned from God and then “hid” from God’s presence. The story represents a monumental, knowing, epic rejection of God by God’s image-bearer, whom God had given responsibility for filling and cultivating the entire created world. So, the punishment did fit the crime, if we understand the story’s implications properly. I think we have to be careful not to buy into the common skeptical treatment of the story, which makes God into a petty, legalistic cur.



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm


David (#30),
OK, then, if an event (or whatever) happened in time and caused such far-reaching and devastating effects not only in the human race but in the cosmos itself, then how much more devastating, dare I say, eternity-spanning effects of the continued rejection of God in light of all God suffered in his loving pursuit of rebels. If the punishment of “Adam” does, as you admit, fit the crime, then why does not eternal conscious torment fit the crime of trampling under foot the blood of Jesus Christ?



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Joey

posted December 22, 2009 at 12:25 pm


Does anybody else find it fitting, though, that God’s perfect act of Justice was dieing on a cross for those He loves?
Romans 3:23-31
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If we do not start recognizing that God’s perfect justice is mercy (Micah 6:8) then our understanding of God’s eternal justice is going to be twisted and probably based more in our biases than in love (the fulfillment of all of scripture).



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Tim Hallman

posted December 22, 2009 at 12:39 pm


If we believe God is completely just, and we believe that God created everything, then God was just in creating hell. Thus, when we have difficulty in accepting the traditional view of hell as compatible with the justice of God, it forces us to come to terms with how holy God is and how wicked our sins. Clearly God is so holy and our sins so wicked that the traditional view of hell is compatible with God’s justice. In this line of thinking, our perceived awfulness of hell ought to reveal to us how holy God must really be in order for this torment to be a just punishment.
As for joy, it is not just a feeling, but also a choice. When in the presence of God (glorious, brilliant, amazing, etc), we will also remember our loved ones in hell. We have a choice to make: be full of joy while in the presence of God or be lacking joy because of the torment of our loved ones. The scale tips in favor though of being in God’s presence: it is so overwhelming, so glorious, so amazing, so brilliant, so beautiful – a thousand times more than the our experience of remembering those we love who are in torment.
That’s a brief summary of an argument for justice and joy in light of the traditional view of hell.



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ron

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm


Interesting discussion.
I don’t quite understand the concept of ‘continuely sinning.’ I have always understood a distinction between the act of sin and the state of sin. We are born in a state of sin, we are sinners at birth. We share Adam’s rebellion. Punishment isn’t eternal because we continue to sin, punishment is eternal because we are inherently in rebellion against God.



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Alan K

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:24 pm


Scot, I think the questions you’ve raised are good ones but are asked prematurely. Wouldn’t it be better to first ask questions about heaven and earth and let them serve as referents for any further discussion regarding hell? The range of cosmologies in the postings today is quite bewildering–kind of like 6 or 7 soccer balls on a single pitch at one time.



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Anthony

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm


A third option: The Biblical historical understanding of The Christian Faith is true and the post split view of anselm and the western popular thinkers misses the boat of reality. What if it’s hell and gnashing of teeth to those who are so much in pain from being in the Presence of Perfect Love, and their torment is due to their state of unsaved soul, rather than due to only outward circumstance? What if it is not just God’s judgment, but rather the person freely rejecting God’s Perfect Love in Christ that has them eternally tormented? What if God is not out to punish me and force amnesia on himself to meet anselm and later roman catholic and western protestant theologian’s ideas of “justice”? What if God is LOVE and desires all men to be saved, but won’t force His Love on any of us? Read the link for greater understanding of a different paradigm of the early church.



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beckyr

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:33 pm


to Robert Angison – there are places in the Bible that speak of hell as eternal, but I don’t think it means those in there are there for eternity.



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dopderbeck

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:36 pm


John (#31) — I’m not a universalist. My comments here have been tracking a relatively conservative position, albeit one that’s agnostic about the exact nature of Hell and about exactly who ultimately will be there.



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Beckyr

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm


ok. so I went and read the rest of your post. That those who deny Christ their whole life should have the same reward of us, 2 things: it reminds me of the disciples arguing who would be the greatest, and 2) we are saved by grace so we have nothing, zero, nil, to have our ego involved in it. And if so, others can be saved by that same grace, maybe while in hell. We don’t deserve it and they don’t either.



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Your Name

posted December 22, 2009 at 1:52 pm


SteveT: you gave the scripture reference to base your comment but the scripture you quoted does not say “forever and ever.”



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Richard

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:02 pm


I tend to agree with Joey on this one. God’s perfect justice was/is/will be an act of mercy.
Anselm’s argument of the justice of infinite retribution was highly influenced by his historical setting (as we all are). In his day and age, a crime against the king would be punished more severely than the same act against a commoner. Since God is infinitely greater than a king, sin deerves infinite retribution. That was Anselm’s definition of justice but is that Scripture’s definition of justice? For that matter, would any of us argue that it would be just for someone that slapped the President (or threw a shoe for that matter…) to be prosecuted more harshly than if they struck me?
In the OT, justice carries a much stronger sense of setting things right as opposed to our emphasis on punishing. I’m not saying that the punishment isn’t there in some cases but I don’t think it’s as strong as we read it.
Even the famous account of Solomon’s decision with the two mothers is attributed to his “wisdom to administer justice” and nowhere does the account describe Solomon as punishing either of the women for being prostitutes (who were subject to stoning if I’m remembering OT law) or the woman that steals the other woman’s child. No, his justice was in restoring the lost child to the appropriate mother. (see 1 Kings 3:1-28)
Justice paves the way for peace (shalom), not for never-ending punishment.
As for joy, Isaiah 58 talks about Joy coming from God dwelling among us as we do justice even in a broken world. Joy comes from the presence of God not our knowledge or circumstances. If we can have joy here in a broken creation as a result of the Spirit dwelling in us, I think we can have joy in eternity as we dwell with God and his shalom fills creation.
Thanks again Scot.



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John W Frye

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm


Now, if God created hell for only the devil and his angels (ie, demons), fine. But Jesus did say, (and I admit, to religious leaders), “you are of your father the devil and the deeds of your father you do.” Now if would seem logically that if hell is for the devil, then it would be for the devil’s kids, too. Am I wrong?
We can choose to be in alliance with God’s arch-enemy, an enemy for whom God created hell. Now, explain to me, how, if atoning grace covers the humans who go there, then how it atones for the devil and demons, too. It would be so, so sad for the poor, poor devil and his minions to suffer eternally. No?



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Willie B.

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm


Interesting point made by Joey (32). Reminds me of something Jurgen Moltmann (a universalist) said at a conference in Chicago-the first time Jesus came it was good news for the whole world, it will be good news the 2nd time as well.
so on the issue of justice:
“the question: double outcome of judgment of universalism” is generally discussed as if it were already clear what judgment is, who the judge is, and what the justice and righteousness is, according to which judgment is passed.
BUT if Jesus is the JUDGE, can he judge according to any other righteousness than the law which he himself manifested-the law of love your enemies, and the acceptance of the poor, the sick and sinners? Can the righteousness which the Last judgment serves be any righteousness other than the righteousness of God which creates justice and redeems, the righteousness to which the law and the prophets testify, and which the apostle Paul in his Gospel of justifying righteousness?” -Coming of God (p. 236), MOLTMANN



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Travis Greene

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm


Though my own view is probably annihilationist (thus, I believe hell), I worry that some are sounding happy that hell exists. If we are compelled by truth to believe in hell, we should treat it the same way a just-war Christian believes in war. War may be necessary; we should never be happy about it or exult in it. Hell may be necessary, given our free will; we cannot be glad about it. God isn’t willing that any should perish. Neither should we.
As those called to love our enemies, following the one who asked forgiveness for his murderers, the idea that we would take joy from watching those on the receiving end of God’s judgment “get what’s coming to them” is abhorrent.



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JoanieD

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm


Joey in #32…I like your: “If we do not start recognizing that God’s perfect justice is mercy (Micah 6:8) then our understanding of God’s eternal justice is going to be twisted and probably based more in our biases than in love (the fulfillment of all of scripture).”
Richard in #41…I agree with your, “Justice paves the way for peace (shalom), not for never-ending punishment.”
I am 50 pages into Robin’s book. You really need to be focusing while reading this book! I don’t think I am going to remember all of the points made, but so far he is describing his positions well and there is nothing he has written that I am disagreeing with. He is also showing humility in the way that he does it and says he is even open to the possibility that he is wrong, though he hopes and thinks that he is not.



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Lee Wyatt

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm


What if . . we play with C. S. Lewis’s image in THE LAST BATTLE of the dwarves, who believed neither in Aslan or Tash and only looked out for themselves, find themselves inside the stable at the last battle. therefore, in Aslan’s country (heaven). They have not changed. They are still only for themselves. They gripe and complain about Aslan’s marvelous provision for them, experiencing them only as stinking leftovers. They cannot hear Aslan except as a roaring, frightening beast. Nevertheless, they are in Aslan’s country, loved and cared for by him even as they experience it something at least analogous to hell. This does not seem to be universalism because the dwarves do not experience Aslan’s country as a beautiful and wondrous place to be or have a relationship of love and adoration with Aslan. The dwarves are not, to use the lingo, “saved” but neither are they outside God’s and his people’s love and care. It is perhaps close to hell – a life within the glories of Aslan’s country but able only to experience it as privation and loss, presumably forever. Not the lurid kind of torment in traditional views of hell, but bitter torment nonetheless. Sometimes this image makes some sense to me. What do others think?
Peace,
Lee Wyatt



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Cam R.

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm


On the justice question, I can’t make sense of it. I don’t know how eternal torture fits a finite lifetime of sin. Carson’s explanation isn’t enough either. I think RJS is right, if you are able to continue in sin and that is the justification for continued punishment then there needs to be choice but in the traditional view of hell there is no real chance at second choice.
As for joy, I am not sure. If part of being transformed to be like Christ means loving people more, being more caring–especially than I am now; than I am not sure I would have complete joy with so many in torment.
Where does the “no second chance” doctrine come from? Are there scriptures to back it?
How does the traditional view of hell make sense of Phil. 2:9-11(NASB)?
9 For this reason also, God (U)highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The traditional view seems imply that there will always be human souls that don’t bow or confess that Jesus is Lord. An universalist or an annihilationist view seems to fit better.



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rebeccat

posted December 22, 2009 at 4:38 pm


I think that there’s a big problem with the way this conversation plays out in Christian circles. That being that all of this discussion seems aimed at helping Christians make peace with the concept of hell without much understanding or concern about what the conversation looks like to those who are not Christians. It’s all well and fine if those who are already committed to God can figure out a way to make all the pieces fit to their satisfaction. However, in the process I think that a lot of people lose sight of what a serious stumbling block this is to those who are not yet believers. We have a command and commitment to evangelize to those who do not believe and such people are highly unlikely to be convinced by the sort of discussion going on here, IMO. These are the people who are going to be stuck on the idea that infinite suffering for finite sins is unjust and that they will never be able to experience full joy while separated from those they love. To many non-believers, the sort of explanations offered for the problem of hell that Christians can make peace with sound a world away from being “good news”. The fact that CS Lewis – who is nothing to them – has worked out this whole way of seeing the matter is not going to convince many people who don’t already believe. It seems to me that being able to answer the objections of non-believers should take precedence over finding answers to satisfy those of us who already believe. (And, honestly, sometimes non-believers are able to see problems in our theology better than we can precisely because they have nothing invested in finding a way to make all the pieces fit.) What should matter most to us, I believe, is not whether we can get a problem like hell to work for the believer, but if we can explain our faith in a way which is both true and compelling to someone who is not already invested in the whole deal. IOW, the imperative of our witness and evangelism is more important than figuring out theology in such a way that works for us personally – which I think is what is mainly going on in inter-Christian conversations about hell. (Then again, I am a Christian Universalist, which according to some here must mean that I have no reason to care about evangelism! *big ole eye roll to that one!*)



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Fudge

posted December 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm


Scot,
I don’t know if this has been suggested, but how about a review of Edward Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment? It’s an older book, but gives a good presentation of conditional immortality (annihiationism), which is a thoroughly biblical view that avoids some of the “normal” pitfalls of traditionalism and universalism.
Aaron



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Bo

posted December 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm


Tim, #33-
I don’t know if you subscribe to that view, but it seems like an easy choice to make. A God who expects me to betray a majority of my loved ones? I’ll be in Hell looking for Jesus with my friends, I’m sure we’ll find him.



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E.G.

posted December 22, 2009 at 6:39 pm


Larry @ #5 (and his pal, C.S. Lewis) hit the nail on the head.



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Dave Errington

posted December 22, 2009 at 7:39 pm


Eternal burning in a place known as hell has been blown out of proportion by folklore. The bible does not really say much about it because it is nothing we need fear. How can God our Saviour treat us like despised cockroaches and hold us over a burning flame for God’s pleasure? God wants all to be saved through Jesus; but there are some who do not want salvation and all they get it is a lifetime.
Jesus referred to Gehenna; the rubbish/trash dump outside Jerusalem; it came to be associated with people because crucified criminals were dumped there to burn. The fire in the dump had to be kept burning to purify the waste there. It was also a place where previous kings had sacrificed their children to appease the gods.
After crucifixion, Jesus body would have been dumped there had Joseph of Arimithea not come forward.
Jesus referred to Gehenna because his hearers knew what it meant; the dump outside Jerusalem.
Paul and other NT writers never referred to a dump because it was irrelevant to the gospel of Jesus. No doubt Ephesus and Corinth and Thessalonika had trash dumps too, but they were never mentioned as no fear of eternal torment ever issued from them (and neither Gehenna)
We worship a loving and graceful God; if all he wants to do is burn us up forever, then all we have learned of him and his Son is untrue. Instead, we worship a God full of grace.
Happy Christmas to all as we remember God’s greatest gift.



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Ken

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:26 pm


A book that might be required reading for those who think about hell is “The History of Hell” by Alice K. Turner. There is a lot to deal with if we restrict the data to scripture (which would seem to be required for Christian believers), but their is truly a plethora of imaginative views of hell when viewed historically.



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Benjamin Ady

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:46 am


Scot,
I know this is completely off the point, but why is “Macdonald” in quotes? Is it to indicate that you are summarizing for him?
Thank you =)
Benjamin



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Doug

posted December 23, 2009 at 7:25 am


To the Joy part. I had an instructor in biblical studies school who commented one day when asked that very question: We will be happy in eternity knowing loved ones are in eternal punishment the same way we are happy here and knowing the same thing.



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Jim

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:52 am


Benjamin, “MacDonald” is in quotes because the name is a pseudonym. The real author of the book is unnamed.
I’m not sure you can simlpy discount Anselm’s infinite sin idea because we are finite. The object here is God, not us. Sproul once called sin “cosmic treason”. And that it is. Seen that way, surely there is a difference between me betraying a friend, and betraying my country. One destroys a relationship, the other is worthy of death. There is a huge difference based on who you commit treason against. As for the “joy problem”, though I see the point, remember, it was you who conceded that we are finite. I’m not sure that there aren’t just a few things we won’t get our heads around in this life. Paul says, “consider it all joy when you undergo trials and suffering…”. How joyful were you the last time you suffered? Can you get your head around that, honestly? Yes, the “joy problem” is real, but you are venturing into territory that might just be beyond our ability to understand, at least this side of heaven.



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Jim

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:59 am


Oops… In the post above I was thinking of Romans 5:3 and refered to James 1:2. My point is the same, though I’m embarrassed that I attributed the rereference to Paul!



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Misha

posted December 23, 2009 at 7:44 pm


I think, there is one more (and more important for me) problem: eternal torture means that evil still exists, cause even just torture is an evil thing.



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John M.

posted December 26, 2009 at 7:48 am


Scot observed the all over the map nature of this conversaion. I’m glad that our salvation doesn’t depend on our belief about heaven and hell!



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Jane Thorley Roeschley

posted January 14, 2010 at 10:26 pm


I resonante with Richard in #41.
It has been helpful to me to distinguish between civic/punitive justice and biblical/restorative justice. (Both are part of the biblical story.) Civic justice — imaged by the blindfolded woman holding the scales — is a justice that “is blind” to prejudice and metes out a fair and exact punishment for crime. It harkens back to “an eye for an eye”, and as a basis for helping to maintain law and order in a society, civic justice is a useful, important thing. As a citizen, I can be glad it exists and equally saddened when it is miscarried. And it is important to note that under civic justice, a punishment “pays” for the crime and the exchange has a sense of completion.
But God’s justice, what I think of as biblical justice, doesn’t settle for punishment. God’s aim goes WAY beyond a fair punishment for a crime — all the way to FULL well-being, complete wholeness (shalom). The arch of the biblical story, I think, shows us a God who relentlessly acts to restore all of creation. At the center of that “shalom endeavor story” is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Biblical justice is an eyes-wide-open, fully-seeing-everything justice (which is Good News, actually), yet unconditionally, unendingly and relentlessly loving until there is an eventual and full restoration. It is a Justice that loves us/all enough to become God-with-us — for-giving Godself to us “while we were yet sinners.”
That said, I confess that reading about justice in the bible is like an optical illusion for me: I “see” this restorative justice…..and then I don’t! But, when I can glimpse it, and hold on, it forms the basis of my hope in a compassionate eschatology — a universal reconciliation of all souls and all creation.



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