The Unbearable Doctrine of Hell
On page 282 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli state, “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned. The critic’s case against it seems very strong, and the believer’s duty to believe it seems unbearable.”
How can a good God allow people to suffer torment for all eternity? There are two basic ways to approach the unbearable doctrine of hell. We can argue for it based on the Bible’s authority and we can also argue for its rationality in light of some additional truths concerning God and humanity. I will seek to briefly do both.
The Bible on Hell
Biblically, the doctrine of hell’s reality is as clearly established as any central tenet of Christianity. Passages like Daniel 12:2, Matthew 25:46, and 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 (look them up!) seem to clearly teach the reality of hell and eternal punishment for those who die without Christ. Perhaps, however, the more traditional and straightforward interpretations of the relevant scriptures are wrong. Perhaps the majority of theologians throughout the centuries somehow misunderstood what the scriptures were really trying to say about hell and eternal punishment. The passages, as one arguments goes, might be better understood to speak of temporally limited punishment, or perhaps the wholesale destruction—that is, annihilation—of the wicked after a finite period of time. A more recent view is that “love wins” and all—even the most hardened and vicious haters of God—will be saved in the end.
Without addressing all of the details of such claims, most, if not all, attempts at reinterpreting the relevant passages in question appear to be consummate failures. The force of the scriptural passages themselves, alongside the broad consensus of church history, seem to necessitate either a dangerous retreat into an accusation of biblical error, or a journey toward a better understanding of the reasons for such a (presumably) hideous doctrine as eternal punishment for all who reject Jesus.
Rejecting Hell on Other Grounds
Because of the biblical clarity on the issue of hell, nearly all who reject the doctrine do so not upon purely biblical grounds, but upon other considerations instead. What are these grounds?
First, personal experience initially suggests that the majority of people on planet earth are fairly moral people, at least as we see them from the outside. Thankfully, truly evil people appear to be exceptions to the rule rather than the norm. Thus, punishing the (seemingly) moral person for an eternity simply because he or she rejected Christ seems unjust in light of those who live morally disgraceful lives and then, like the criminal on the cross, receive Christ’s perfect forgiveness (and eternal life in heaven) just prior to death.
In addition, God’s love and mercy seem incompatible with notions like giving eternal punishments for finite sins and the inflicting of horrendous unending pain for no compelling reason.
What Are Human Beings and God Really Like?
To answer such concerns, let’s reflect first on the nature of humanity. For all our strengths and glories, we humans are not as good as we think we are. Our standards of goodness without reference to God’s biblical norms are almost always measured by our own corrupt and limited understandings of right and wrong. Our sinfulness and finitude skew and distort our ability to clearly judge moral matters as God does.
Unfortunately, most people—Christians included—see their sin and the sin others as far less serious and offensive than God does. And herein lies a great deal of the problem: We see God as far less holy than He really is, and we see ourselves and others as far more holy than we really are.
God, then, the holy, righteous, and just God, takes sin very seriously; so seriously that He sent Jesus Christ into the world to die in our place and take the penalty for sin. His word makes it clear that He will tolerate no imperfections (James 2:10; 1 Peter 1:14-19). A perfect justice requires that sin must be punished, but since we are all imperfect and have all fallen short of God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23), we all deserve to be punished with death (Romans 6:23a).
This impossibly high standard of perfection levels the playing field when considering who deserves to go to heaven. In fact, no one does! That God saves anyone at all is an act of undeserved kindness on His part. Our offense to the idea that God would allow people to go to hell is better expressed as amazement that He would allow anyone to be with Him in heaven.
Why Is Jesus So Important?
And that is the critical reason why Jesus Christ is so centrally important in the discussion. He is the only one who was perfect and never did anything wrong (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, He is the only one who can take away sin and impart to us the perfection—His perfection—that God requires in order to get into heaven (2 Corinthians 5:21). We miss the point if we think that going to heaven has anything at all to do with what kind of moral life we lived upon this earth. It has nothing to do with that and everything to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ. God’s grace is expressed not in His being impressed with our moral lives. It is expressed in His being impressed by the righteousness of Jesus freely and undeservedly imparted to us, sinners saved only by God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9).
God Has Made Us Free
Some other things can be said about hell at this point. Part of the image of God in human beings includes the freedom to love or reject Him. If this is the case, then there will be people who willingly choose to love and serve God. However, there will also be others who choose to love and serve something or someone other than God, which is, at its core, the sin of idolatry.
Some may ask, why not force everyone go to heaven? Then the dignity of an individual’s freedom is transgressed, and God’s call to live well would be a mockery, for there could be no losers or winners. All would end up in the same place, and all would have to love and serve God whether they chose to or not. And love that is not chosen is not love in any meaningful sense of the word.
As well, why should we assume that people who reject God would really want to be in heaven? If heaven is a place of eternal, praise, worship and service to the almighty God, why do we automatically think that everyone actually wants to go there? It would not be entirely unlike making me sit through Italian opera for all of eternity, or (similarly) making my wife sit through interminable football and basketball games. Even biblically, we see in Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:11 that out of their hatred for God, some people will refuse to repent no matter what He does to get their attention.
What Is the Nature of the Crime?
It could be argued that a sin committed in finite time should not be punished for an infinite time. But if sin is an offense to an eternally holy God, then that offense is an eternal one! The nature of a crime is not measured in terms of minutes but in terms of who was offended and the degree and nature of the offense. Murder may take less time than a robbery, but it is by its nature a more heinous crime. And killing a rat is less of an offense than killing a human being because the type of being matters in moral evaluations. If God is the ultimate being, then an offense against Him is an ultimate offense. How great is our need for Jesus!
We Should Be Moved to Action!
I think the inescapable fact remains that hell is a real threat and danger to all who do not know Christ. As Christians, we should not be embarrassed by or afraid of this reality. Rather, it should motivate us to sensitively but boldly tell all who will listen about Jesus’ unique and loving ability to forgive and rescue us from an eternity in hell and give us eternal life instead.
Lewis, I appreciate everything you said and do not disagree with almost all of it. Until about three years ago, I would have been saying the same things. You summed it with, “A perfect justice requires that sin must be punished, but since we are all imperfect and have all fallen short of God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23), we all deserve to be punished with DEATH (Romans 6:23a).”
I have always thought that the traditional doctrine of hell seemed extreme, but I trusted that God knew what he was doing and was more loving than I am. I lived with hell at an emotional distance and was functionally agnostic on the question, as in, “Who can really know how or why, except God?” However, I began to wonder why all the other doctrines of God’s glory were becoming more beautiful to me except this one. How were people like Augustine, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards able to declare that one of the chief joys of heaven would be to be able to look down into the flames where the wicked were eternal punished and see that God was forever justified and holy. Why are we today not able to believe this doctrine with such conviction? And if we don’t embrace the full will of God, aren’t we living in opposition to his will? So, we tend to soften the traditional view and emphasize eternal separation and suppose that the torture endured is all the direct result of being cut off from the grace of God. Nevertheless, unless humans are inherently immortal (a view found nowhere in the Bible) or God prolongs the existence of each soul for the sole purpose of making them endure pain, then why would there be a need for eternal conscious torment of the unbeliever?
Then, I read Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes. I was stunned at how much sense it makes. I was embarrassed that I had read all these Bible passages all my life and had never seen it. I allowed one interpretation of the word “eternal” and one scene of Revelation to guide my thoughts. I had never realized how powerful tradition and unexamined assumptions could be in guiding my beliefs. A belief that I had assumed had solid biblical foundations, now seems to me to be built entirely on sand.
I would be glad to dialogue with you on this issue, but I would recommend a web site that lays out the Biblical case for Conditional Immortality. This is a good place to start. It lays out the differences between the 3 major views of eternal punishment. I find that most people who think they are against anihilationism/conditional immortality don’t really know the view. So, that’s where people should start — know what you are arguing against first. It can be embarrassing to argue against something and then find out that’s not what the view actually says. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/explore/
Tim (and Tom): Because the issues being discussed are both complex and emotional, I’ve always found the best forum for debate on these things is face-to-face over a nice frappuccino, especially when it happens to be with old an friend. And although I have not read Edward Fudge’s book, I am very much aware of what he is promoting and defending. In response, I would like to say essentially five things as to why I disagree with your perspective.
First and foremost, there is a reason why the majority reading of scripture on this issue remains what people label the “traditional” view. It is the plainest and most straighforward reading of the biblical text. I am aware of the Greek linguistic issues and yes, the viewpoint you take is a possible reading of some of these texts, but I do not think it is the most credible or likely one. The paralellism with concepts of eternal life, for example, are fairly clear. In this case, it takes hard work to try and explain an alternative view. The doctrine of scriptural perspicuity helps us here by reminding us that there is not reason to seek another meaning when a relatively plain meaning is present. Ast best, it seems odd that a doctrine as significant as conditional annihilation for the dammed is so tactfully hidden and obscured in texts that would otherwise seem so easily misread and misinterpreted. Why not come right out and say it: unbelievers will, after suffering punishment for a fair and finite period of time, be annihilated and no longer exist. Almost everything I’ve read on this gives me the impression that they are trying hard to make what sounds like one thing (eternal damnation) mean another (finite damnation). I could say more on this, but this is my primary concern since we all agree that scripture as the word of God is our primary authority in these matters.
Second, and closely related, the so-called “traditional” view is traditional because it is the majority position. And it is the majority position because it is the most obvious way to understand the texts in question. While I am not a Catholic, going against the majority stream of Christian interpretation through history requires clear and definite reasons from scripture and should only be embraced when scripture clearly teaches something else. This was the big issue in the Reformation period, for example, where the church was teaching one thing about the way of salvation but a plain reading of scripture taught another. In the case of hell, I do not see a similar parallel in terms of the traditional interpretation and the clear teaching of scripture. In this case, tradition is strongly supported and confirmed. Of course there were some who held a different view on hell throughout historty, even some highly respectable interpreters. But they were always the minority nonetheless.
Third, on a somewhat more psychological level, when a perspective has a strong emotional appeal and is culturally more desirable, that would be a red flag for me if there were strong scriptural and historical support for a currently unpopular view. We have to take great care when finding a perspective desirable because it makes us feel better and, for whatever reasons, we desperately want it to be true. I have no idea what motivations lie behind your embrace of this view, but even Pinnock (for example) openly admits he changed his view on this primarily for emotional reasons rather than scriptural ones. He came to scripture later to try and make sense of and gain support for what he hoped and wanted to be true. Again, I don’t know what pathway you took into an annihilationist view, but I am addressing an observation I have made concerning some I have known who take this view. I find that missionaries are especially susceptable to being overwhelmed by deep sadness at the thought of so many not merely dying without Christ, but that those they long to come to Jesus might spend an eternity in torment apart from God. Missionaries go in part because they are burdened by such things and want to do something about it. No only that, they are daily confronted by countless numbers of people who seem to show no interest in the gospel and are even hostile to it. How can God be more fair and less vindictive and vengeful? As missionaries, our sense of justice is often wounded and tormented by the thought of hell precisely because we do think about it often and wrestle with its reality daily set before us as we witness to those who keep spurning and rejecting a chance for full forgiveness in Christ. Human freedom is a terrible thing when turned away from service of God, but it remains a better reality than all alternatives.
Fourth, on a more philosophical note, the idea that God extinguishes the existence of anyone made in His image is, for me, anyway, a troubling prospect. All of this harkens back to questions surrounding the nature of human beings made in God’s image. What does it mean to say we are “like” and “image” God? Did sin eradicate our immortality or simply distort and corrupt it? Those in the annihilationist camp would suggest that our everlasting existence was lost at the fall, and would even use passages in 1 Corinthians 15 to support it. Okay. But it seems to me that eradicating a being made in God’s image is an affront to the idea of being a divine image-bearer and gives sin a power it does not have. When spiritual death is discussed in scripture, it is discussed in terms of separation–from God, from others, from nature, from self. But it does not suggest eradication. Again, the passages in support of eradication are the same passages that I see eternal separation and agony in. But having said all this (and probably not very clearly or compellingly) is not a strong point in my opposition to your view.
Fifth, and final, I want to affirm with you and alongside my PhD mentor, Veli-Matti Karkkainen (although he holds the traditional view), that conditional annihilation remains within the bounds of evangelical faith. That, I realize, is a very controversial statement and there are many evangelicals who feel this is an issue of orthodoxy versus heresy. I think this lies in what I call the arena of persuasion-level beliefs. Conviction-level beliefs are those that should not be compromised because they strike at the heart of the gospel message in terms of what is salvation and who can be saved and how. Although it is directly related to such issues, the fate of the damned is not as clearly within the conviction-level sphere of beliefs. There is scriptural support for your view, although, as I argue above, I do not think it is not as strong as the traditional view. But it remains a possible view and holding does not change the central nature of the gospel in terms of the questions I noted above. One of the reasons the Reformation was so necessary is that much of the argument centered around what is the gospel, who can be saved, and how, not to mention where the final authority for deciding such matters resides. But in the case of annihilationism, it is still an evangelical option. You are well within your rights to embrace it without fear of being a heretic or an apostate. We can agree to disagree on such an issue, but I still contend my view, as hard as it is to swallow, is the one that best accounts for all the data.
Well said Lewis. At the risk of flattery, I will say that you should be a public spokesman for this view since you do it much better than most others I have heard (Al Mohler, H. Handegraff, and even Keller). You laid it out clearly. I will note however, that none of your points laid out any scriptural basis, except for possibly the first. Perhaps you consider the textual argument to be well-trodden paths and there is no need to address them. Or, perhaps you did this out of respect for me knowing that I have seen and considered all the texts, yet somehow I have come to different conclusions. So, perhaps to rehash them is not very productive. Let me comment on your 5 points briefly.
Point one — Perspicuity: Scripture is meant to be plain and the plainest interpretation should be favored. This seems to me to be the strength of Conditional Immortality (CI). Death means death. Perish means perish. Destroy means destroy. Traditionalists have instead said that “death” should be interpreted as separation. “Perish” should be seen as almost perishing. “Destruction” means ruination of some kind. I realize these are English translations of mostly the same Greek word. Fortunately, we have Bible scholars like yourself to translate these words for those of us who do not know Greek. However, I think those words have been translated rightly and they do not mean the opposite of what they mean. I think they indeed mean death, perish, and destroy. I don’t know how the Bible could be any more plain. However, if we assume (along with the Greeks) that the soul is immortal, then we must find a way around the plain meaning of the texts, and explain these terms is a more esoteric way.
Point two — The strength of tradition: As an old Methodist, I believe in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral which includes tradition (along with experience and reason) as one of the pillars that we use to interpret scripture. However, tradition only gets a vote, not a veto.
Point three — Emotional appeal: I acknowledge that the psychic burden of traditional hell (and anihilation hell) is heavy. That’s where faith comes in for both of us. I think John Stott said it well — “Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal conscious torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it . . . my question must be—and is—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?” I think that feelings can and should be a good starting point to question and investigate things. I don’t fault Pinnock for this, although his arguments for CI tend to focus on emotional and justice issues. (Again, Fudge lays out the scripture arguments best.)
Point four — Image of God: Honestly, I think this is your weakest point. First, the phrase “image of God” has been stretched well beyond the boundaries of scripture. I will simply say for now that I don’t think that’s what it means. Also, mankind was never stripped of immortality. It was never ours. It is only our Greek heritage that makes us think that we are immortal. (1 Timothy 6:15-16, He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality…)
Point five — Orthodoxy and boundaries: Thank you for not casting me into the “outer darkness.” Not every opponent of CI would say that. There are denominations and parachurch organizations that have tried to make ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment) into a core belief and people lose their jobs and pulpits over this. (I looked up Cru’s statement of faith and noticed that there is room for CI in it.) Since you live and work with non-American Christians I imagine that you also have found American Evangelical narrowness and litmus tests to be somewhat obnoxious at times. Or maybe I’m projecting : )
However, I want to end by pointing out that if the doctrine of ECT is not true, that holding to it is no trivial matter. It would be a great tragedy to hold and defend a view that is one of the biggest reasons for thinking people to reject Christianity. With such an expensive doctrine, we should all the more examine it to see if it is true.
You are correct in assuming that I assumed you had already looked very thoroughly at the biblical passages concerning heaven and hell and that is why I did not go into a detailed reiteration of them. As valuable as that might be, I think it’s safe to say we understand each other’s evaluations of the relevant passages. It seems to me that the bottom line is that we do not see the same meaning in them, and I suspect that outside of a lengthy exchange, neither of us would be convinced away from one another’s views on the basis of an internet debate. Maybe that’s a cynical statement, but as an apologist, I find there are so many unspoken, even unknown layers to every argument on topics like these, it is hard to really plumb things in a meaningful way through the communication mode of social media. It has value, of course, but it lacks the depth and richness of genuine ongoing relationship–where I find most lasting persuasions are wrought and maintained and strengthened.
I could say more about the issue of tradition, but I think we agree it is not a definitive source of authority, only a help (or, I suppose, hindrance at times) in confirming what we think the scripture is teaching.
As for the emotive issues, I should clarify that yes, emotions do matter. I am not a rationalist who somehow thinks emotions are inherently untrustworthy whereas my logical reasoning is somehow unscathed by the fall. They both can lead us astray and they are also useful tools to help us understand ourselves, etc. I think some people are way too constipated about the value of emotions and I believe God feels genuine emotion as well. Biblical descriptions of God feeling are not simply anthropomorphisms. In fact, we reflect God with our emotions. And emotions do propel us toward various perspectives. This issue of ECT is one where truly sensitive and thoughtful people are grieved and bothered by it. But again, I still have a hard time escaping what I see as clear biblical reasons for holding to that view.
As for point four, if you reread it, I made no pretense of having a strong argument regarding that point. And I am not a Greek immortalist regarding the soul. The Bible is quite clear that our immortality is more than “soulish.” We will be given a physical resurrection body fitted for eternity in the new heaven and earth and not merely exist as disembodied souls. But I also believe from Revelation 20:11ff that unbelievers will also be given resurrection bodies, fitted for judgment. Again, this is not a strong point, but I think the implication is there.
As for point five, I’m not sure I agree that many people reject Christianity over this issue of ECT. Most (though certainly not all) of the evangelistic conversations I have with people never get to this issue. This is part of the reason why, as I have already said, this is not integral to the gospel message. It is a corollary to it, but not central to the issue of salvation. The reason people reject the gospel is multifarious and highly individual. Maybe I’m not in touch enough with US culture, but I have not found that many people who find this particular issue a stumbling block in terms of coming to Jesus. In my experience, and for whatever reason, most of the people who take issue with this doctrine are already saved or close to the church in some way.
Lastly, I want to say that the reason I am not so dogmatic (as some evangelicals are) about this issue is that I find the teachings on the end times, if not confusing, at least somewhat obscure and often ambiguous. The Bible is amazingly (although not surprisingly) sketchy on the precise details of the afterlife, so I find dogmatism in much of eschatology troubling and disingenuous to the nature of the subject matter. And I am grieved that much of conservative evangelicalism is so concerned about absolute truth and being “right” about so many things, it winds up sounding angry, wrong-headed, and pharisaical. I could be wrong, but it sounds like you have experienced some of this vitriol in your life and it has been hurtful. A long time ago, just before I got married, a wise man named Steve Ratliff reminded me that it’s better to be kind than to be right. Sometimes, in their zeal to be right, evangelicals wind up being unkind. And that is such a tragedy when the very essence of God is love. Love incorporates truth, but it also incorporates grace (cf. John 1:14) in perfect balance. Love is so much more than knowing and communicating truth. It also involves caring and serving and listening. Well, somehow I got off on that. Anyway, I truly appreciate your thoughtful dialogue on this, Tim!
I agree with almost everything Tim wrote in his first two paragraphs. It was about three years ago when I began to question the traditional teaching about the purpose and duration of hell, as well. I read about Fudge and some of his ideas, but then found and read Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin, which can be downloaded here: http://www.hopebeyondhell.net, and The Evangelical Universalist by Robin Parry. I have come to believe the third view discussed on the rethinkinghell page, universal restoration. I look forward to reading what you guys write here in the near (hopefully) future!
Tom, I invite you to look at my response to Tim’s previous post. I would only add a couple of comments. First, I find the second-chance after death view has relatively weak scriptural support, save one relatively hard to understand passage in 2 Peter and a few other passages that are taken out of their context against the more “damning” (forigive the pun) ones. Second, I think the universalist view makes light of the continual scriptural encouragements to live a holy life, which often makes our life less and not more enjoyable. In addition, the warnings given in scripture would seem to be negated by the view that eventually everyone will be saved in Christ. Again, as I note in my blog, why play the game if there are, in the end, no winners and losers and if by playing you frequently make your life even more difficult? There are also issues to grapple with regarding God’s justice and human freedom here, but I think you get the gist of what I’m saying. Thank you engaging with me on this subject! The fact that you would even take the time to read and thoughtfully consider what I wrote is a great encouragement to me and very much appreciated.
Lewis–Hello from a former traditional hell/fire/brimestone guy turned Ultimate Restoration (UR) guy. Something I think you are missing in the warnings of Scripture, specifically in regards to the gospel in NT context and deveopement is…The warnings of Jesus, found in the Gospels, and of the apostles, in their writings as well, being namely to NOT miss the coming kingdom. Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) or ‘that place’ (hell, lake of fire) is never mentioned in Acts or in Paul’s writings nor is it associated w/ or used to threaten or warn the audience of pending torment or torture to those who rejected their message of “the good news!” Furthermore, the good news was to be great joy for all the people, according to the proclamation of the angel at Jesus’ birth. God sent his son to be the Savior of the world, not merely to the few who get it right during their lifetime! The invitation or plea of the Gospel message telling was to join Christ and the disciples (larger context here) in being heirs to rule and reign w/ them in the literal earthly kingdom age inaugurated at Christ’s return to earth, following the resurrection, the first of several to follow at later determined times. The parables bear out the warning, which was to be prepared and busy, time and again. The emphasis was just as positive as it was negative. Jesus said “Come, follow me.” We know that life is found in the person of Jesus, not in letters, tradition or proper teaching (John 5:39). The Jews and the nation of Israel were Christ’s audience and their ethos was kingdom focused. Paul’s message was Christ risen and coming again through emphasis in the coming kingdom age, just like the prophets of old. This should be undeniable. Paul’s ministry of reconciliation (Rom. 11:15, 2 Cor. 5:18-19), like ours should be, was that all men would be reconciled back to God. This action was accomplished at the cross (Col. 1:19,20). This is a process not limited to a person’s lifetime and is at the very heart of God’s plan for the ages. With God nothing is impossible! God’s view is all, ours is the few. This problem is solved when we realize that God is working for the good and the restoration of all His creation, not just for a small portion of it. The message of tradition, regardless of how many years or how many smart people have believed it, is, ‘God will fully restore creation, meaning the heavens and the earth, for only those whom He chooses or those who choose Him while they are alive in their mortal bodies and those who don’t will be tormented forever by God.’ This is exactly what the gospel message has become and why so many, like myself, are now considered to be, “outside the camp,” and why many have left the church altogether. Yes, there will be winners and losers; those in the kingdom age and those outside, but that isn’t the end of all things or their life, is it? You will have to study more to see this for yourself. It is there in Scripture and like the hidden treasure in the field you must seek after it w/ great effort and cost–taking into account all that is written in Scripture. May God have mercy and grant us time to undue what we put upon Him as the actions He must take in the ages to come.
Jon, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and for your thoughtful reply. You can refer back to my reply to Tim for some of my follow-up comments, but I did want to say just a couple of specific things directly to you.
First, I appreciate your attention to the progress of revelation, something clearly evident in scripture. I do, however, take issue with your implying that because of this, we should see the ministry of the apostles (like Paul) in Acts somehow superceding the ministry of Jesus Christ in one important sense, namely the doctrine of damnation. Jesus talks about it quite a bit in His ministry and when He does, He not seem to suggest that the coming kingdom will not include judgment of those who reject God and Christ. And in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 Paul does, in fact, mention that the coming kingdom of Christ involves judgment of the godless. You seem to gloss over or miss this somehow in your restorationst view. Restoration involves victory over sin, yes. But victory over sin involves justice and the righteous punishment of those who deserve it and who have not thrown themselves upon the mercy of Christ who took the punishment we deserved upon Himself.
Lewis–Now we’re getting somewhere. I did read your reply to Tim. I never take the words of Paul over Christ. They proclaim the same message, do they not? That said, more was revealed to Paul than the other apostles, right? You assume to know what I and other restoration people believe. Big mistake. When you think about it, here’s the big difference in our views. Traditional teaching/doctrine of damnation, etc., has always been about about partial or the salvation/restoration of the few in scope. Is that truly the narrative of Scripture? UR is about God fully restoring all things and doing away w/ the former things, like death and the grave, sorrow, etc., in making all things new! It’s His work and plan, not ours. Of course we’re going to agree to disagree on these issues, but why? I am awestruck that God will fully restore paradise lost with the cosmos in mind! I’d rather err on this side any day.
Jesus spoke of the trash dump/landfill outside of Jerusalem as “gehenna,” the mistranslated word “hell” in the Gospel references. It isn’t there anymore nor was Jesus’ use of it in reference to the lake of fire as final judgment for the wicked, as assumed. Judgment is for everyone in my view. My point has been that all are raised at different times to stand in judgment before Christ/Messiah; some to reward, some to punishment and there are more resurrections to come that precede a judgment in the ages to come. The biblical order, missed by most, is: life, death, resurrection, judgment, resulting in reward or punishment. Yes, Christ and the angels will leave behind them “smoke and ashes” at the Second Coming, even affirmed by the prophets, but only to those who oppose his return at that event. The rest of the ungodly ‘stand’ in judgment before Jesus and are sent to “outer darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth.” I don’t believe outer darkness is a reference to the lake of fire. Still, they aren’t dead, are they? Destruction means physical, life ending death. It doesn’t have to refer, nor seldom, if ever, does it, to ECT, in Scripture. Mortal death and so called “everlasting” (means age-during) punishment are not the final destiny for anyone (sorry annihilationists & ECT). Certainly there is punishment of the wicked for a predetermined time, but it too will end. It must, for there will no longer be suffering or death or punishment when all things have been purged, including the earth when God becomes once again the “all in all” and dwells w/ us on the earth. Besides, dwelling in heaven was never promised by Jesus as our final destination, was it? So yes, I account for the judgment of all who are raised from the dead and all that the Scriptures declare, but w/ the teaching/thinking/ethos that God has a restorative plan in mind, not a destructive or eternally damning one for the many who reject Him while they were mortals living on earth. It’s clearly there in the Scriptures and in world and church history. I trust you will begin to see it as I and many others have. Blessings!
Thanks for clarifying your understanding of the relationship between Jesus and Paul, that they are in agreement. They certainly are. And you may be right to say I was not fully clear on the UR position you are advocating. It sounds complex and carefully crafted and that is always a difficult thing to communicate clearly in sound bites like these forums tend to lend themselves to. So I apologize if I mischaracterized or misunderstood your view. Hearing it stated here does not, however, convince me, just as my statements have not convinced you, but at least we can say we understand one another and that’s step in the right direction for both of us.
As for the question of scope of restoration, I’m not sure your characterization of the ECT position as somehow non-triumphal is quite accurate. The idea that Christ will restore all things is not in question for either of us. I think the difference between us is exactly what that restoration looks like in eternity. On the basis of the relevant scriptural passages, I take it that an aspect of that restoration properly and justly includes ECT. I think that becomes the bottom-line difference–what these passages really mean and the best and most comprehensive way to coherently account for the total data set. I admit that doing that for a complex set of events that yet lie ahead is a daunting task, but one worth undertaking. God’s wisdom and blessings to you as you continue to seek the best explanation for these passages, even as I will continue to do so as well.
God is not beholden to our ideas or beliefs of HIm, nor is He upset if we should get some of it wrong. He will accomplish all His decrees, judgments, covenants and promised to their ultimate good intention. Of course that’s my view and i believe the Scriptures bear this out. We can believe whatever we wish, we always do! Our struggle is to clearly see what that end should be in light of who God is, not by what we wish or hope it to be. Therefore, in spite of us, our systems and organizations, God will do what God does best and I am beginning to see that if God wins in the end, it will be very good for His creation, for all of us who bear His image and likeness!
Lew- Much like what you wrote as a response to Tim, many of the things we see differently now are as a result of looking at/interpreting scripture differently. And my hope was not to convince you necessarily but to inform you of my thoughts and heart on the issue. Clearly we differ, but hope you see that is differing among brothers.
I did want to make sure you understand that the issue of justice is very important even to a Restorationist (such a nicer word than heretic, thanks for that btw). Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that having a doctrine of judgement and justice is critical. My difference with traditionalism is in duration and possibly purpose, but not whether there will be judgement or if there are issues of justice with people should be concerned. There are, and it was important enough that I wanted you to hear me affirm that. Who knows… perhaps we can indeed continue over coffee sometime… Or perhaps a coffee-toned ale!
I would love to have some time to catch up. It’s been way too long, but what a joy to see God’s faithfulness in both of our lives through the years.
Thanks for the clarification on the issues of justice and judgment. As you note, we are not likely to agree on this issue, but isn’t it great to be able to dialogue on such a contentious issue and still be friends.