A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Calling all Hell believers...

Hi folks,

If you've been reading my blog, say, at all, you'll know that I've been struggling with the idea of Hell. I guess you could put down my objections to two things:

1) If God wants to save everyone, why can't he? (see 1 Tim 2:4)
2) And if God won't save everyone eventually, why Hell?

(2) is my main problem, especially since there are very definite Scriptural objections to the eternal torment idea (see Edward Fudge's Hell Quiz for example, or even my analysis of Hell in Matthew) as well it being contrary to compassion and contrary to any frail human notion of justice.

So I thought I'd turn the tables a bit, and instead of stating my views and allowing you to object to them, I'd actually ask some questions! (If ya don't ask, ya don't learn ;) ) There are some things that make me very curious about Hell-belief - because really I've never managed to seriously believe in Hell without going crazy, and I wonder why others don't too (some do, and then they become universalists). Please respond with a comment.

1. How do you cope with the idea of Hell? That is, how do you live happily with the idea many people - perhaps the majority of people - being lost to eternal torment?

2. How do you reconcile the power of God (for whom nothing is impossible), the desire of God (who will have all men come to a knowledge of the truth), and the love of God (God is love), with a traditional belief in Hell?
(Question edited to provide a comparative)

3. Is Hell fair? Why?

4. How do you explain eternal punishment as the just response to a finite sinful life?

5. Is God happy with the idea of people suffering eternally?

6. How will God be all-in-all if some are in Hell?

7. To what extent do we have free will? If we have it now, will we have it in the Kingdom of Heaven or during eternal punishment?

8. What is the purpose of Hell? (If it is eternal it cannot be for correction of the sinner, and if it is conscious it cannot be for the destruction of the sinner.)

9. Forgive the apparent facetiousness of this question, but... If Jesus paid the penalty for sin, and the penalty for sin is eternal torment, why didn't Jesus endure eternal torment? (I guess you could rephrase this as "What is the penalty for sin and how did Jesus pay it?" but I was worried you wouldn't see what I was driving at...)

10. And finally how do you reconcile verses speaking of destruction (again, see Edward Fudge) or even salvation for all (see Craig Nolin's essay on universal salvation)?

Ayez l'amusement!

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6 Comments:

  • At 9:42 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    I have spent some time on thinking about these questions and I have tried my best to be honest. I haven't given them the time they deserve so please do not judge their incompleteness.

    1. How do you cope with the idea of Hell? That is, how do you live happily with the idea many people - perhaps the majority of people - being lost to eternal torment?

    Probably the main reason is because I am self-absorbed, and have little love for anyone. Also I am short-sighted and have trouble imagining the second coming while going about my daily business.

    That is a serious answer – I am not trying to be humbler than thou – and accounts for about 99% of the reason it doesn’t haunt my thoughts. When my thoughts raise higher than that level I guess I can live happily because my thoughts never rest on the punishment for long at all before moving onto either the Christ’s overcoming of the power of hell, or the promise that the defeat of evil which means there will be no more tears etc…

    Perhaps also it comes down to the fact that I hate the idea that what God says will not come to pass, that I am willing to see others suffer to see it happen.

    If you read enough of the Psalms and Revelation in particular, you will find that for the bible punishment of wrong is inextricably linked with salvation of God’s people. From the Exodus, to return from exile, to the cross, to the final day, each go hand in hand. The greatest cause of hurt and pain in this world is social, and human. Of course Christianity isn’t as simple as the holy being rescued from the pure evil, but there is an aspect of that. My personal actions have caused imeasurable hurt (both directly and through lack of action) and so I must recognise that reconcilliation will not happen without my judgment. However, my judgment was in Christ and my resurection was in Christ, and so I have hope.

    I am rambling and not making too much sense but I press on.

    2. How do you reconcile the power of God (for whom nothing is impossible), the desire of God (who will have all men come to a knowledge of the truth), and the love of God (God is love) [with hell]?

    I reconcile them because those three facts are not the whole story, and we know far more about God than that. We know that God is also a God who cannot tolerate rebelion against him forever, who cannot simply permit his creation to tear itself apart. Our God is not just love but also a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We have trouble reasoning how God can both love and hate people at the same time, desire both justice and mercy, and be all powerful and yet not excuse people of responsibility. But in an infinitely complex God they do hang together even if we cannot reconcile them from our limited perspective. That is not to say that these different aspects of who God is are equally important to him, and I do believe his love, trumps his righteous anger. But to be honest I cannot really put it all together in a self-contained theological construct. I do not understand the bible well enough to strike off with my own corollaries and so must try and be careful not to say less or more than the bible does. I do not know God better that Isaiah, Peter, or least of all Jesus, so if they can affirm all the above then I will even if I cannot reconcile them as you ask me to.

    3. Is Hell fair? Why?
    4. How do you explain eternal punishment as the just response to a finite sinful life?


    I think question 3 and 4 must go together. I am pretty abivilant in chosing between a traditional doctrine of hell, annihilationism or something else. But I do believe that God will punish those who do not call Jesus Lord, and can reconcile in my head how that can be deserving of infinite punishment.

    I believe punishment is justified by the nature of the offense which not honouring God as God. And I believe infinite punishment (whether in a finite or eternal amount of time) is justified because sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely bad. If we can even comprehend what we pontificate about.

    5. Is God happy with the idea of people suffering eternally?

    This is linked to q 2 I think. God is happy with justice being done, and his honour being restored. However, he is unhappy that it had to come to it. At least that is all I dare say from my simple understanding of the scriptures.

    6. How will God be all-in-all if some are in Hell?

    I think that question is the best argument for annihilationism, or universalism. And the fact is I cannot answer the question. All I know is that Christ will be all in all, and yet there will be a lake of fire (however that specifically is formed)

    7. To what extent do we have free will? If we have it now, will we have it in the Kingdom of Heaven or during eternal punishment?

    Free-will is the most slippery term I know. I think the most useful way to define it is the ability to will what you desire (if you can separate the two). In that respect your will is always free. That God is in control of every sparrow that fall, and every desire of the kings heart, is also true though. I think the imagery of the New Creation holds out the promise that there will be no repeat of the fall, and that without the influence of the Holy Spirit a heart will never turn to God. I do not think that either of these things means we will mean we are unable to will whatever you desire (just what you desire will be within certain lines). Of course there is also a strand of biblical teaching that claims that no-one is free but are either a slave to Sin/the Devil or a slave of Christ. I think we can then project back to the present the mixture of Hell and Good Creation which is the world we live in.

    8. What is the purpose of Hell? (If it is eternal it cannot be for correction of the sinner, and if it is conscious it cannot be for the destruction of the sinner.)

    I guess the purpose is the vindication of God (and so all that is good).

    9. Forgive the apparent facetiousness of this question, but... If Jesus paid the penalty for sin, and the penalty for sin is eternal torment, why didn't Jesus endure eternal torment? (I guess you could rephrase this as "What is the penalty for sin and how did Jesus pay it?" but I was worried you wouldn't see what I was driving at...)

    The penalty of sin is death (Rom 6). Death is what Jesus suffered. Can you quantify death? (I am not being aukward, I do think that is a good answer).

    10. And finally how do you reconcile verses speaking of destruction (again, see Edward Fudge) or even salvation for all (see Craig Nolin's essay on universal salvation)?

    As I have mentioned with regard to destruction, I think the bible is pretty loose in how it imagines the nature of ‘hell’, even more loose than it is about the New Creation. But I do not think you need detailed diagrams to act in the here and now, and the bible is concerned with the future only as it effects our lives now, not in theological speculation. I think unquenchable fire is unpalatable whether eternal or temporary. I do not see any evidence either which can make it anything but final.

    I tentatively submit that the explanation for most universal salvation passages, is either the reconciliation of the Jew-Gentile divide which is far more important to our understanding of the bible than is usually realised, or the universal (as in whole universe/world) nature of the New Creation.

    -------------
    I must hope that God will forgive me the lack of compasion that my above thinking demonstrates about the fate of those lost. I have a lot to learn from your angst.

     
  • At 9:47 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    Ooo.

    If I could be so bold as to ask a couple of questions of you they might be..

    1. Do you beleive that retribution is a good justification for punishment in any sphere (when compared with the other options deterent/reformation)?

    2. Can you trust two seemingly contridictory statements can be reconcilled if you are assured so on a trustworthy authority?

    Any thoughts.

     
  • At 4:34 pm , Blogger Dr Moose said...

    I'd love to be able to promise an answer to the intriguing list of questions, and they are saved in a file on my desk top for perusal.

    More immediately though (and only half in jest!) - when will you ditching chemistry and starting the theology degree?

    I'm sure these go far deeper than anything I studied for mine (or is my selective memory kicking in again, I wonder?)

     
  • At 10:52 pm , Anonymous ross daws said...

    Hi Helen,

    if your questions / thinking about hell haven't been prompted by reading Brian McLaren's "The Last Word and The Word After That" can I suggest you track it down and read it. In that book he wrestles with the question of hell from several angles, and while he doesn't seek to propose one simple answer which clears up the whole thing, he does make several thought-provoking points along the way. One in particular, which you may have come across in your own study of Matthew, is that much of Jesus' teaching about judgement and being 'cast out' - which we so often implicitly read as referring to hell - makes much more sense in its immediate context of Jesus declaring that God was beinging judgement upon Israel for forsaking her calling as the light of the world. The parable of the wicked tenants is a great example of this, where the parable about people being judged was identified as being spoken against the chief priests and pharisees. NT Wright explores this theme extensively, and I recommend that you pick up some of his works for some more fuel for your thoughts.

    I'm not really a hell defender, but one of your questions (2) I thought I might blather about briefly as in a way it ties in with some of my own wonderings...

    2. How do you reconcile the power of God (for whom nothing is impossible), the desire of God (who will have all men come to a knowledge of the truth), and the love of God (God is love)...?

    You asked this question regarding hell, but I ask it most days with respect to suffering and healing. How do I reconcile the power and love of God with the fact that little James was born with Cerebral Polsy? Or that despite the anguished and faithful prayers of his family and community, God has not healed him? It seems that, without trying, we can all easily identify examples where God's infinite power and love do not translate into the kind of existence that we daily experience, and despite the throng of theologians leaping to God's defense stating that "he could change it if he wanted to but he doesn't because..." I am not satisfied.

    Harold Kushner in his book "When bad things happen to good people" speculates that perhaps some things are impossible for God. If a car is out of control and racing towards a tree, one quick and faithful prayer cannot move the tree or stop the car in time. There are some things, he argues, which God does not have control over because he is not the puppeteer of a puppet universe. Granted, Kushner is writing as a Jew and so doesn't have to grapple with the stories of Jesus' miraculous healings, but I still wonder whether he has a point. I'm not sure that God being all-powerful and all-loving necessarily means what we sometimes claim it means. We put God on a pedastal of love and awesome power, and from that pedastal even God must fall because - for whatever reasons - the way he manifests and exercises his love and awesome power does not match our expectations.

    So I struggle to apply the question to hell, just as I struggle to apply the question to healing and suffering. If I postulate that a loving, powerful and saving God would not need nor tolerate hell, then I will also postulate that such a God wouldn't tolerate needless suffering; yet the evidence of needless suffering abounds, so I am forced to concede that either he would tolerate such things (in which case, why not hell too?), or that he isn't a loving, powerful or saving God in some capacity. Neither of those are very good conclusions to draw, I feel, especially if the later brings on a total deconstruction of one's faith. (I speak from personal, and rather current experience!)

    No profound conclusions, just some toughts...

     
  • At 6:15 pm , Blogger Helen Louise said...

    Thanks for all your responses so far.

    Dave: wow, thanks for taking so much time to answer my questions, and so honestly too :) You wrote a lot so please give me some time to chew over your answers... (I love the phrase "humbler than thou"!) I think I may have a few questions or comments, but I don't want to put you off ever commenting again ;)

    To your questions:
    1. Do you beleive that retribution is a good justification for punishment in any sphere (when compared with the other options deterent/reformation)?

    Y'see I try to make myself out to be so compassionate and forgiving that I only believe punishment should be for reformation, but actually I thought about it and I do have sympathy with retribution as a justification for punishment - I do believe in fair trials etc. but I admit I have a gut feeling that murderers should be locked up not just to reform them or to protect the public, but just because they deserve to be locked up. On the other hand I don't believe in the simplest form of retribution, like the Death penalty - kill someone and we kill you - and actually having a belief that Jesus can save even the "vilest offender" means that I would rather they had the chance to be saved... leave the retribution to God ;)

    On the other hand, to quote Gandhi, "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind". It seems like a sensible reason to punish someone - punish them simply because they deserve to be punished, and punish them as much as they deserve to be punished - but I feel that this doesn't seem like the most wise or practical course of action in every case. I feel that retribution is a valid reason for punishment, but I still feel that it would be better if punishment was done for the sake of reformation. I'm not quite sure how to stretch this to an eternal application, but in a societal context I feel it is the best-case scenario if we do away with criminals not by killing them but by stopping them from committing crime. If we are obsessed only with retribution, we might serve justice, but we won't heal or change anything.

    Punishment as a deterrent is a difficult issue. I suppose in an ideal world people would do what is right because it is right, and not do what is wrong because it is wrong, and I do think it's unjust to treat someone harshly just to discourage people from imitating their crime. But I admit, it has a practical use. If there is a policeman on the street, a criminal is less likely to commit a crime for fear of being arrested.

    2. Can you trust two seemingly contridictory statements can be reconcilled if you are assured so on a trustworthy authority?

    It depends on the statements! I remember at school a lot of the physics we learned warped my brain and I just had to accept it was true even though it sounded like nonsense. On the other hand, in a life or death/heaven or hell situation, I wouldn't be nearly so quick to accept it.

     
  • At 6:34 pm , Blogger Helen Louise said...

    Ross: Thanks for commenting! Thanks for the books you recommended. I keep meaning to read some NT Wright as he seems to be willing to think beyond the "traditional" doctrine. Brian McLaren is another I keep meaning to read... I've read quite a few people give the "judgement of Israel" interpretation to many of the parables often taken to be about eternal, spiritual judgement, and I think there's definitely something in it...

    Harold Kushner in his book "When bad things happen to good people" speculates that perhaps some things are impossible for God.

    That's interesting. I would admit that I don't believe God could make 2 + 2 = 5 or make a rock so heavy that even he couldn't lift it. I guess the question that I don't really want to ask that there might be some necessary logical reason why God's glorious might require all this suffering... there could be no other way.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comments (also thanks for looking at the blog ;) )

     

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