Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hell? Yes. - A Reply and Rebuttal

Runalong with Pastor Mark has posted 10 Foundational Principles on the topic of Hell - a much needed reflection to guide our thinking on this touchy subject. I'd like to add a few comments and posit an alternative to his second point (the word rebuttal is used to snag readers who are looking for controversy :-)

First, I agree with Mark that we need to take the whole of scripture as a message from its Author and work to understand it, rather than simply pick and choose the parts we're comfortable with. The topic of hell fits within this framework.

And to rightly understand hell, we need to be clear that God is not capricious with regards to punishment of wrongdoing. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25.41), not humans. It is part of his overall plan for justice and mercy, but God first and foremost wants to save us (grace); although he will not force us into heaven (our response to his grace). We can choose to "go to the devil."

Which leads to another good point that Mark makes on why hell and damn are swear words. These words have a reality behind them! That's also why people don't say "Oh, Buddha" but instead use the name of Jesus in a curse - it's because there is no reality in Buddha. Same with the English phrase "bloody" - it's a swear word because we're talking about the power of Christ's blood to save us.

Now to the rebuttal. One point where Pastor Mark might want to rethink his position a bit would be his rejection of an "expiration clause." He writes: "2. Hell, like heaven, has no expiration clause. The same words are used to describe the duration of torment in hell as are used to describe the duration of bliss in heaven. Eternal, everlasting, never-ending, you get the point. Matthew 25:46 is typical."

While words like eternal and everlasting are used, it is also clear from a plain reading of these texts and others (eg 2 Thess 4:9) that those who rebel against God are destroyed. The terrible reality is that people will be cut off from God forever. It's eternal punishment in that it is a permanent judgment, not an ongoing physical punishment that lasts forever.

To hold that humans will suffer consciously for an eternity is to assume the indestructability of the soul and most likely reads into the scripture a worldview or philosophy that isn't there. That is, the immortality of the soul is not a biblical concept.

A fairly plain reading of scripture indicates that eternal life is a gift - not an ontologically inherent state of being. Adam and Eve were potentially immortal, not necessarily so. (See God's concern that they would eat of the Tree of Life after eating of the Tree of Knowledge - Gen 3:22)

So, while believers are granted eternal life with God (note that we can enter eternal life today!), the wicked are destroyed and will be cut off from God for eternity. Hell is indeed a terrible fate. One that needs to be preached and proclaimed. And joyfully declared defeated in Jesus Christ for those who respond to his salvation.

Thanks for your thoughts, comments, and reflections/rebuttals.


gwynne said...

I'm still contemplating this post. :-) I'm pondering your statement that the immortality of the soul is not a biblical concept. Is that really true? I like your thesis and would like to believe it's true...just in case, you know. :-) Will you be posting this at the next Christian carnival?

Wayne M said...

Oh lyn, you would get me in huge trouble here.
In my realativly "Non-Theologian" mind would have me leaning more towards the eternal conscious torment of the sole or the possition that the human sole is eternal. This is not to say that I have studied the topic at all and I would certainly defer to just about anyone on this topic. My sense on this topic comes from both the teachings I pickted up in the Catholoic world when I was younger and in the EV Free evangelical world that I find myself in now.

This may end up peeking my imagination and encourage me to do more of a study on the topic in the future...

In a way, this topic is of more interest to the lost and could be of influence to those that do street evangelism etc. But I guess it is also worthwhile for us.