Hell: Eternal Torture?

“For the wages of sin is death…” Paul, Romans 6:23

Why have I decided to tackle the highly controversial issue of eternal punishment? Well, I feel I have too many friends. Not really, I truly like the friends I have. Honestly, I must say it’s because that’s where I feel the Lord has led me in my pursuit of the centrality and supremacy of Christ.

As a student of the Scriptures and as a lover of Jesus, I must share what I have come to believe is closer to the biblical teaching concerning the end of the wicked. It’s a reflection of where I stand at this moment in my journey with the Lord.

So why broadcast it? I will let my recent acquaintance and new friend answer for me.

“Few people want to study the subject any more.  The liberals do not believe in such things, and the conservatives are satisfied that they already have the answers.” Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes p.20

I believe in eternal punishment, but I’m not satisfied with the traditional view of never-ending torture or with those that would soon do away with all verses that speak of a horrible destruction of the unregenerate sinner; those that say, “What’s all the fuss about worms, darkness, and death? God’s love would not allow for such a thing. It’ll be alright in the end.”

Let me begin by very directly stating my intent with this article. I desire to shake you up a bit. If you’re not ready for that… please stop reading now. If you’re up for the challenge and a respectful dialogue, I hope that this article will cause you to run into the arms of Christ and into the Holy Scriptures that testify to God’s truth.

I am but a man and I can err. And so can you. We must look to the counsel of Scripture in pursuit of the Living Word.

This post is for the purpose of stirring the pot a little. It originally began as a section in Part III of Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection. I felt it needed to be expanded into a single article because it was distracting readers from the primary purpose set forth in the Heaven to Earth series.

With that said, it would be best if you read that 3-part series before reading this article. If you’re looking for more than what is offered in this article, I strongly recommend that you check out some of the books mentioned along the way and those listed in the Suggested Reading below.

Now… stop and pray… grab a modern translation of the Bible and a concordance… sit down and strap in. As Short Round said in Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom, “Hold on lady… we’re going for a ride.”

Might We Be Missing Something?

The more I am coming to know God in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the less I am able to find the traditional idea of eternal torture in “hell” as being reflective of God’s character and consistent with the biblical teaching on eternal punishment.

“When we say something about heaven or hell we are also saying something specifically about God.” Randy Klassen, What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell? p. 28

Let’s quit fooling ourselves by pretending that what we believe about heaven and hell doesn’t communicate something about God and the way we relate to Him and the world around us. A person can’t simply say, “It doesn’t matter. Who can really know? It has no bearing on me for I am saved.” I submit to you that it does matter. Your salvation is bound up in the person of Christ who is God incarnate. Who is this God you serve?

In my personal study, I will at times come upon inconsistencies. I know that I’m not the only one that has known these moments of crisis. However, I do know that not everyone bothers with taking the time to address those concerns with patience and honest endurance. It usually becomes about defending a preconceived idea that we believe is biblical, deferring to our favorite Bible teacher, or ignoring the matter altogether.

“we protect ourselves either by saying that not all of us can be theologians or we take comfort in the fact that ‘this is the way we have been taught!’  We may respond by drawing our doctrinal coat about us even tighter… or we may examine the Scripture again…” Gerald Studer, After Death, What? p. 111

So, I am merely setting forth a challenge. If you believe that we have missed something, or that something is out of place and is inconsistent with your present beliefs, then come along with me in the spirit of the Bereans. And realize that you’re a theologian whether you like it or not. The question is… “Will you be a responsible one?”

Where the Tradition Began

The traditional view of hell was born in the second century AD and it later became a concrete idea in the Middle Ages after being perpetuated by Augustine (c. 354-430). It was Augustine’s views that largely shaped Western Christianity.

Tertullian (c. 160-230) believed that hell was a “secret fire under the earth” where torment was everlasting.  Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), taught that believers would be able to watch the eternal damnation of souls in hell from their lofty place of comfort in heaven. And of course it was Dante’s Inferno in his Divine Comedy that gave us a vivid close-up of the torments of this medieval hell.

And like the famous Jonathan Edwards sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, we revel on with the preposterous idea that God is moody and hell-bent on having his enemies over for a barbecue. Edwards’ notorious speech is more reflective of a vivid imagination than it is of sound biblical exposition.

These ideas, along with a whole host of pagan beliefs on hell, have penetrated the church and continues to permeate the culture today. Still today books are written by folks who have “been to hell and back” and have lived to scare the hell out of you too! It is a message of fear intended to produce converts.

It’s no wonder that many are presently emerging to see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction on the doctrine of hell.

Anyone carefully reading the book of Acts can’t help but notice the absence of “hell” in the preaching of the apostles. There isn’t even a promise of heaven to convince others to “walk the isle” and receive Christ.

The apostles did however speak about the resurrection of Jesus and the people saving themselves from “this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). They did proclaim a coming judgment foretold by Christ and the Old Testament prophets.

Before we look at those Scriptures, let’s take a minute to reflect on the words of the one who is largely responsible for a slew of misguided teaching and practice within our faith.

“Do not follow my writings as Holy Scripture. When you find in Holy Scripture anything you did not believe before, believe it without doubt; but in my writings, you should hold nothing for certain.” St. Augustine, Preface to the Treatise on the Trinity

Let’s heed the words of Augustine and go to the Scriptures themselves.

Let Scripture Interpret Scripture

The Hebrew Scriptures were the Bible in Jesus’ day. What does the Old Testament say about death and eternal punishment?  Let’s take a brief look. Whatever is being said by Jesus in the New Testament must be born out of the language and the context of the Old Testament Scriptures.

In the Old Testament there are sixty-five references to Sheol. The KJV inappropriately translates Sheol as “hell” numerous times. A balanced reading of the Scripture will prove Sheol to only be a reference to death and the grave. “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Ps. 139:8). Those who trust in the LORD have reason to hope in His unfailing love (Ps. 34: 8-22).

The poet clearly wasn’t envisioning Sheol as a place of eternal (never-ending) torment. We do see that all men go to Sheol. But only those God raises up on the last day will live on in the Lord. Job expressed this hope when he said, “If a man dies, will he live again? I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer You. You will long for the creature Your hands have made” (Job 14:14,15).

David writes, “The Lord watches over all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy” (Ps. 145:20). The poet writes, “On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot” (Ps. 11:6).

This harkens us back to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 19. God destroyed the wicked and Abraham could see nothing else but “smoke rising from the land” (v. 28).  The smoke signifies that everything was destroyed and the wicked were no more.

In the Old Testament, those who have not trusted in the LORD will “wither like the grass” and will be “cut off” to “perish” and “be destroyed” (Ps. 37:1-40). The poets remind us in powerful language that there will come a day when the wicked will meet a horrible end.

We must carry over the meaning of the Old Testament images into Christ’s words and the whole of New Testament teaching on eternal punishment.

Immortality of the Soul?

In Genesis 1-2, God creates man in His image. In chapter 3 man sins and is put out from the Tree of Life. Man begins a descent from God’s image and the LORD sets in motion His eternal purpose; God wants man to live in community and bear His image!  God makes a way that leads back to the Tree of Life. His way is Christ.

I don’t see Jesus as plan B (1 Pet. 1:20). The Lord must have anticipated the Fall as it set up a greater revelation. It’s all part of His grand story. God wants to bring His realm “heaven” to our realm “earth.”

We see this very thing in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrected body is the consummation of heaven and earth. And the Lord said He would return to establish a new heaven and earth right here where we live—where God’s reign in His creation is made complete.

We must understand that the biblical composite of man is spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess. 5:23). It’s always been God’s intent to redeem the whole man. There is no life apart from the body and God’s resurrection. It’s the heart of Paul’s message to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17: 16-34).

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), the second-century Christian apologist, understood this and he opposed the pagan doctrine of the immortality of the soul. He viewed the Platonic idea as a direct challenge to the resurrection.

“For a Christian one simple sentence of revelation must in the end outweigh the weightiest conclusions of man-made philosophy.” John Wenham, The Goodness of God, p. 29

Greek wisdom taught that the soul is immortal. (I addressed this in the Heaven to Earth series. Reading that series is strongly suggested. Did I mention that already?) This is the one leg that the traditional view has stood on for 1500 years. As Greek-thinkers came to be Christian theologians and apologists, the popular idea of the soul’s immortality crept into Christian teaching.

“our traditional thinking about the ‘never-dying soul,’ which owes so much to our Graeco-Roman heritage, makes it difficult for us to appreciate Paul’s point of view.” F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 311

Christian teaching is quite clear that only God has life immortal (1 Tim. 6:13-16). Any human being that is not receiving the life of God, taking from the Tree of Life (i.e. Jesus), is most certainly headed toward death and destruction.

God placed Adam in the Garden and laid before him two paths: life and death. Life is given only to those who enter into the Kingdom now and take from the Tree of Life (Matt. 7:13-14; Jn. 3:16; Rev. 2:7).

Even the Didache, a mid second century text for training Christian converts, presents the entire Christian life in this manner: “There are two ways: one of life and one of death!” This early text of recitation very simply describes the way of life and the way of death.

This is in keeping with Paul’s own language in his theological work to the Romans (5-6). Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

Let’s be clear about this. The immortality of the soul is not found in the Bible. And without the immortality of the soul, the literal interpretation of the metaphors used to describe “hell” falls apart before our very eyes.

Rethinking the Words and Metaphors

The Pharisees believed in a literal hell where folks would be tormented day and night without a real death. However, Jesus painted a picture of a judgment for the unbeliever, like the poets of the Old Testament, that should in no way be interpreted literally. Let’s take a closer look at the words and metaphors that are often used to support eternal torture.

The word Gehenna is translated as “hell” in the Gospels. Gehenna was the name of the Valley of Hinnom, the garbage dump outside the southwest walls of Jerusalem. It was also once the site of child sacrifice to Moloch in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh.

This dump was continually burning. Everything from trash to dead bodies were disposed of there. The trash was consumed but the fire continued to burn as the smoke rose forever without end.

Jesus references Gehenna on numerous occasions to speak symbolically of the judgment of God (Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9, 23:15,33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; 16: 23). Jesus’ metaphors would have undoubtedly spoken of a horrible judgment for those who did not accept God’s salvation.

But it would indeed be foolish to hear Jesus describing a literal hell where there are worms, fire, and darkness all at the same time (Mk. 9:48). Worms and fire speak of a complete and total destruction. Darkness is the absence of God.

It’s worth noting that Jesus uses “Gehenna” when speaking to the Pharisees, but he uses “Hades” when speaking to Gentiles. The Gentiles would have been familiar with this term. Hades was known as the Greek god of the underworld; the place of the dead. Jesus says to those that reject him, “you will be brought down to Hades” (i.e. grave, land of the dead). He even uses Hades in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31).

Notice that the point of the parable is to show the finality of the matter, not describe for the listeners a literal description of hell (v. 26, 31). In listening to a joke, it is important that you get the punch-line of that joke and not be distracted by the details. It is the same in this parable told by Jesus. He is telling us that a person can reach a point that is beyond the life sustaining power of God.

In this sense, we find that a proper understanding of the adjective aionios (i.e. “eternal”).  Eternal judgment does not speak of duration, but of consequence or result (Heb. 5:9). The judgment is final—it is done.  The Scripture also declares an “eternal redemption” and an “eternal salvation” that we would never take to mean that God will forever be saving and redeeming us.  In the same way, “eternal” describes the far-reaching consequence of this judgment.

The “eternal” nature of the matter is not that these things will be happening forever (never-ending), but that the results will never end. The results are “eternal” because they proceed and are final in the Age to Come. So when the Scripture speaks of eternal punishment, judgment, and destruction, it means to say that there is no end to the result. It can’t be reversed, as its results are final.

If we take Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 literally, should we then assume that we too shall see our loved ones roasting eternally and crying out for mercy? “Sorry, Charlie! Uh, I guess I should have witnessed to you more?”

This even causes a problem for those who are our enemies. For our love for them will be perfected upon resurrection. There is plenty of reason that we should steer clear of this Inferno of imaginative lies.

After all, if God is “all in all” in the newly remade world, how is it that there will exist a place of never-ending damnation (1 Cor. 15:28)? Will God be known for His mercy or His wrath? We shouldn’t interpret descriptions of hell in a staunch flat-footed literalism anymore than those words of John concerning the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven to earth (Rev. 21).

Well, then what did John mean when he said that “outside” the city walls of the New Jerusalem are “the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22: 15)? In keeping with the literary style of the book, we understand this powerful image to speak of something much worse.

Like the valley of Gehenna outside the walls of earthly Jerusalem, John saw the eternal destruction of the wicked in the Age to Come. They shall never enter through her gates because they are destroyed. But “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and may go through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).

The Final Judgment

Without the life-sustaining power of God in Christ, having not accepted Jesus as the sacrifice for sins, a person faces the judgment alone with no resurrected life to carry them through to the new heavens and earth. A person is resurrected in the old body only then to be judged according to his deeds (Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Dan. 12:2).

The wicked then experience the “second death” (Rev. 20:12-15).

James D.G. Dunn calls this “the final destruction of the corruptible” (The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p. 125.) It is in the fire that the chaff is consumed and is no more (Matt. 3:12). The fire is “unquenchable” because it can’t be put out!  The fire consumes what is thrown in it. Then there is a real “second” death.

But don’t suppose I am proposing a simple annihilation. I believe there is a real punishment according to one’s deeds.

What is it to be judged according to a person’s deeds (Matt. 16:27; Rev. 20:12.13; 22:12)? What exactly causes a person to suffer in punishment? Is God tormenting them? Is the Lord causing nightmarish pain by afflicting them with hellish horrors?  Here is where I believe Tom Wright offers great insight into this discussion.

In his book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, Wright proposes that the wicked are punished through a “dehumanizing” process. What does it mean to be human? It means we bear the divine image of God. Christ is the image of God and the image by which God seeks to conform all of humanity.

Therefore, hell is what happens when people say “No!” to the creator God in whose image they have been made.  Those who reject God’s image enter into His judgment. They experience God as wrath. The righteous have been judged in Christ as He has incurred the wrath of God upon the cross (Eph. 2:14-16).

“But judgment is necessary—unless we were to conclude, absurdly, that nothing much is wrong or, blasphemously, that God doesn’t mind very much.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 179.

Judgment is necessary in the sight of our Holy God. And judgment “according to deeds” may just be the factor that determines the degree and duration of eternal punishment.

The Dark Side of God’s Love

Stanley Grenz calls God’s wrath the “dark side” of God’s love. We must refuse to believe that God has a “wrath switch” that He flips on when He momentarily decides not to be love. For we know that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16).  It’s not a guise that He puts on to woo us to Himself. Love is His very nature. We must accept that God’s wrath is found in God’s holy love. His wrath is known and experienced as a result of rebellion and in rejection to His image.

It’s the “dark side” of God’s love.

Therefore, it is consistent in seeing that eternal punishment comes in accordance to a person’s deeds as the Lord withdraws His life from the unregenerate. God’s nature is love and in that love is wrath. A parent doesn’t cease to love a child in punishment, the child simply experiences this love as wrath. It is a real thing, but not something outside of love. This punishment is indeed loving because it has a goal.

What then is the goal of eternal punishment?

Jan Bonda says, “Nowhere in Scripture do we find a statement that tells us that God wants those who are punished to suffer without end—this is not the purpose for which God created humans” (The One Purpose of God, p. 212). What sort of God endlessly tortures unbelievers for the sake of punishment alone? Even in this punishment we must reconcile our view to the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ.

At this point, many universalists are likely sitting on the edge of their seat anticipating the next few words. This is at the point they wish to say, “Yes, God’s goal is to restore them to Himself.” And I would agree. His goal is the same as it is for us believers who are purged by fire and being fitted for the new heavens and earth (Lk. 8:17). Yet, that intended goal has been eternally thwarted by the choice of the wicked on earth.

The righteous enters death in hope of the resurrection because they have been indwelled with the resurrected Christ (Jn. 11:25; Eph. 1:13). The Lord burns away all that isn’t reflective of Him. He sifts us down to Christ.

The wicked enter the grave without having experienced this spiritual resurrection in Christ. They rejected God’s image on earth. Their purging can only end in death. Like Adam, their eyes are fully opened. They see that man has no life within himself; only guilt and shame in the face of God.

How then can the wicked experience the future resurrection of the body that suits us for God’s resurrected world? Can a person turn from their wickedness in eternal punishment and be reconciled to God? Not if we accept “eternal” as the consequences and results of a person’s present decisions reaching over into the next age.

The Scripture simply does not allow for any teaching that gives man a choice after this life. Christ comes to those who await His coming (Heb. 9:27,28). Any teaching that promotes the idea that “everyone will make it in the end” can only come from isolating certain Scriptures and from building on obscure words and passages. This is always a recipe for error. Many denominations and cults have made a living at it.

This life really does matter and something happens upon death that seals that decision for eternity. God gave us choice in the beginning and He never removes it from us. What is “choice” if we have but only one real option to forcefully accept God’s image?

Why is it that the wicked are described as “gnashing their teeth” in punishment? They do not “gnash” out of pain, but out of hatred and anger! These are not repentant people. They are people who have rejected God’s image and God has given them over to their decision not to bear His image.

All the while God is pouring out His love, proving Himself to be good, the wicked gnash their teeth in human rebellion against God. Because of their own wicked hearts, they experience God as wrath.

It was not the Lord’s desire that anyone ever perish (Ez. 33:11). It’s also not His desire to choose life for us. He has placed us before two paths: the way of life and of death. And through the incarnation He has broke into human history to show us His great love and make a way for abundant life (Jn. 10:10). All are invited to the great banquet, but not all RSVP (Matt. 22:8,9).

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25)

Concluding Remarks

Is it not more consistent with the Lord’s character that those who reject the divine image would cease to bear it after having experienced God’s justice once and for all? What could be more dreadful than to experience a gradual shrinking of human life, life created in God’s image, until that soul can no longer be supported by God’s life any longer?

If we accept the “eternal life” Christ promised in John 3:16 to those who believe, should we not also accept His words that the wicked will “perish” (i.e. be destroyed in death) upon disbelief (Lk. 13:3-5)? God’s mercy is evident in allowing the person that rejects the divine image to fade from existence into death, not in sustaining their life for never-ending torturous suffering.

As we have seen, there is nothing biblical about it; certainly nothing that is in keeping with the Gospel message. After death and the wicked are destroyed, then God may be “all in all” as all things are restored and reconciled to Him (Col. 1:20). It is the only way in which I see that we can take serious the urgent call to presently follow the Lord in all things and heed His words to “repent or perish” (Lk. 13:3,5).

In this way, His justice is served, his mercy extended, and his love triumphs over evil.

The Word is true: “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8)! And that love has the final say; the cross overcomes; evil is no more; the final victory won!

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

If we were to stop and rethink all that we have been told about the traditional hell, I believe we would find that God’s character does not allow for such a place (1 Ch. 21:13; 2 Ch. 20:21; Neh. 9:31; Ps. 30:5; 103:9; 145:8; Is. 54:8; Ez. 33:11; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 7:18; Matt. 5:38-48; Jn. 3:16-21; 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 John).

It is not the Scriptures or Christ that has given us the traditional view of hell. Instead, if we look to Christ, we see a God that is reconciling the world to Himself and remaking the world in love. He has chosen to do this work through His church. And the gates of Hades (death) shall not overcome it (Matt. 16:18).

After the great war of the Lamb and the wicked are no more, John writes:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Rev. 21:1-5


D.D. Flowers, 2010.

Suggested Reading:

“The Bible and the Future” by Anthony Hoekema; “Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation” by Bruce  Metzger; “Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian  Living” by Stanley Grenz; “The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology” by Adrio Koenig; “An Evening in Ephesus: A Dramatic Commentary on Revelation” by  Bob Emery; “What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell?” by Randy Klassen; “Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God” by George Ladd; “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?” by Oscar Cullmann; “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the  Mission of the Church” by N.T. Wright; “The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the  Doctrine of Final Punishment” by Edward Fudge; “Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue” by Edward  Fudge & Robert Peterson; “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

123 responses to “Hell: Eternal Torture?

  • Rhonda Sayers

    Thanks for writing this article. It has cleared up some questions I had on scriptures that seemed inconsistent to me. I really appreciate the systematic way you put forth your teaching in words that I can understand.

  • Lionel

    David,

    Absolutely love it man. I reposted it. I am going to put it on my monday week in review.

  • cindyinsd

    Thanks, David

    I’ve always felt there was something more to the whole concept of Hell, but it’s one of those things I’ve put on the shelf until God brings me fuller revelation. My favorite view has always been that of the 7th Day Adventist books my mom gave me as a child–where the “bad” people are all burned up and it’s over. This because I couldn’t believe the Universalist position and the eternal torture thing truly doesn’t seem a proportionate response to even the most heinous sinner.

    So I’ve been leaning this way–just not talking much about hell and not having taken the time to look into it further. Well thought-out post. It helps to pull a lot of things together, and maybe I’ll take advantage of your reading list.

    Love, Cindy

  • cindyinsd

    Oh yes . . . I forgot to tell you–I clicked on the link to your other articles, but it took me somewhere else–some commercial site selling domains, if I remember–anyway, it wasn’t you.

  • Ron Pagliarulo

    Great Article David. WOW! What an eye opener and it really brings some Key teachings of Jesus alive. So basically if I’m correct in my assumption – Without Christ we are all headed towards a final death, but with Christ, He is our resurrection and life. A perishing, death, a fading of our existence, and finality of our soul, spirit, and flesh happens without Him. There will be torment and suffering and it will be based on their deeds on earth before that final death happens to those who do not have eternal life in Christ. Some might suffer longer, some not so much, but without Christ you will die and be no more. End of story.

  • cindyinsd

    I forgot to mention–the link to your other articles took me somewhere off your site–not sure what it was, but not the intended destination. I tried to post this to you once before, but wordpress didn’t accept the comment, so please forgive if this comes to you twice.

  • MistiPearl

    David, this is excellent! When people ask me about hell…the short and quick answer I give is: Eternity without God. You have gone beyond that to explain the reduction of God’s image in us, which I had never considered. Very thought provoking, and I believe to be closer to the truth than what many purport hell to be. Thanks for sharing your views on this subject, it is much needed! ~mp:)

  • Mark

    Good article David, but for one who believes in restoration, not universalism, I drop in these short notes.

    Acts 3:21, which says,
    ” (20) And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you, (21) whom the heavens must receive [dechomai, "accept, receive, take"] until the times of the restitution ["restoration"--NASB] of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”

    1 Cor 15:22

    “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order”

    Rom. 5:12 says,
    “Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, ON WHICH [eph ho] all sin.”

    1 John 2:2 says,
    “and He Himself is the propitiation [covering] for our sins; and not only ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

    no man is seeking God * Rom. 3:11
    no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him * Jn. 6:44
    God is the Savior of all mankind 1 Tim. 4:10
    the blood of the cross will reconcile all to Him those on the earth/heavens * Col. 1:20
    God is operating all things in accord with the counsel of His will * Eph. 1:11
    belief in Christ is graciously granted…our very faith is a gift * Philippians 1:29 and Romans 12:3

    “Since aion meant ‘age,’ aionios means, properly, ‘belonging to an age,’ or ‘age-long,’ ‘endless’ defends a position which even Augustine practically abandoned twelve centuries ago.” Of course this is the fight among so many!

    In the law, all judgment for sin is limited. For misdemeanors, judgment is limited to 40 stripes (Deut. 25:3). For felonies, the sinner is to be “sold” and placed under the authority of a righteous man who will teach him righteousness by discipline (if necessary) and labor. Yet even for felons there is a Jubilee, for on that day all debt (liability for sin) is cancelled, and every man is restored to his own inheritance (Lev. 25:40, 41).

    We delete the law because of what Jesus did…but, we uphold the law when we want to make our doctrines work for our theology. His purpose was to restore all of creation…yet, we can’t grasp that thought when thinking we have the “will” to over-ride God’s Will and believe for some reason that we actually have the power to believe or to even have faith… when scriptures teaches us it all can only come from God.

    I personally believe that salvation only comes through Christ Jesus…and I think we still see in part the whole picture.

  • Mark VH

    David, that was a different Mark (I say this because I mentioned UR in your FB thread). Ironic that there are 2 UR’ist Marks hanging around your page.

  • David D. Flowers

    Ron, you summed it up well. :-)

    Mark, thanks for taking the time to respond. I do appreciate it. I have considered your position but I just can’t get there, brother. I tend to believe this life is much more than a trial run and that “aionios” speaks of that Age to Come. The decisions we make now have eternal consequences. Also, I don’t see it as human will overriding God’s Will. God clearly gives men over to their own choices (will) and accomplishes His Will in the process. Most days I don’t know how those fit, but we must continue to strive for walking in the tension of the two. The emphasis on the finality and the horror of eternal punishment “death” doesn’t allow me to trod down the universal reconciliationist road. Like Tom Wright, I agree that “God is a God of surprises” but at the present time I must walk in the middle of the wicked “perishing” and God restoring all. Thanks, bro.

    Mark VH: I love you man! I’ll save our dialogue over coffee in the near future. :-)

  • Mark

    That’s okay David…it took me years too. Once I decided I couldn’t delete scriptures like some of those that I posted, it made it easier to accept God’s mercy, grace, and love.

    We try so hard to preach the good news…yet, we still put conditions on that Good News because of our lack of understanding and desire/need to walk in the ways of our doctrines and traditions.

    If God planted the temptation in the garden…knowing full well that man would fall, who is responsible for redeeming? God’s own law tells us who…but, we still don’t believe. We still believe and teach that it’s up to us to become redeemable. By our own faith, belief, will…we are saved because we were able to come to that faith all on our own. I personally don’t think that is what scripture teaches.

  • Kurt

    Hey Dave, I’ve been studying the Infernalism vs. Annihilationism vs. Universalism thing as well. I was wondering what the best work on the Greek “aion” and “aionios” is, that you have found. I’m at the very early stages of learning Koine, but I have found that a word study on that is critical for the study on hell. The reason I ask is because I have been questioned repeatedly concerning “why is it that all the modern translations of the bible give us “eternal” “forever and ever” “everlasting” etc., words that give us the idea of unending punishment, if, in fact, the original text does not intend to communicate that? I understand that that “aidios” from Romans 1:20 and Jude 6 are more along the ideas of “eternal” as we would think of that. I understand that argument for Romans 1:20, but it might be a stretch for Jude 6? What do you think?
    On a side note, do you think that Satan and demons are decimated as well?
    Kurt

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Kurt,
      I think that Fudge has covered it thoroughly in ch. 3 “Ainoios”–How Long is “Forever”? in The Fire That Consumes.
      Yes, the debate is often around this word. We not only need to consider the etymological meaning of the word, but how it’s used within the sacred Scripture. As the word is used in matters of the eschaton, it is consistently speaking of that “age to come”; a quality of the future age. It is unfortunate that modern translations often blur the message. That can be an honest attempt at translation and/or a display of bias. ;-)

      Yes, I do believe that Satan and his demons are destroyed along with those who gnash their teeth in the “lake of fire”.

  • cathy bitikofer

    Hmmmm….can’t really argue with the scriptural basis. Still trying to reconcile this on a feeling level, though. Those of us who have lost believing friends and relatives to death can find comfort in thinking “Mom is up in Heaven now”. Imagining wonderful scenarios for us, at this moment in our lives, which keep the spirits of our dearly departed somewhere where they can still have contact – still not quite letting go. I wonder how you would compare the “soul in Heaven” concept to the Catholic concept of purgatory… Heaven as a cosmic waiting room where dreams come true and we bide our time until the end of this world?

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Cathy, I encourage you to check out my Heaven to Earth series. I deal specifically with the difference in “heaven” and the “New Jerusalem” in Part III. I’m not dogmatic on the state in between this life and the next. I do believe we will be aware of the Lord’s presence. My problem is conceiving of a fully conscious life apart from the body. That’s the whole point of resurrection. There’s no life except in spirit, soul, and body. Edward Fudge believes that the Christian will be “resting” in the Lord like a napping baby in the arms of a parent. They are aware… but longing to fully awake in resurrection. It’s as if the entire creation cries out for that day. Please look into the series. I think you will enjoy it.

  • Esther

    I can’t say I have delved in as deeply as you have, but this really sums up much of what I felt God had showed me with regards to hell, judgment, etc as well as wrapped up some loose ends. I am willing to learn more and am open to changing as God opens my mind more and more. I am with you on the scriptures making it very clear that there is a day of judgment and that for those that have not chosen Christ, they already stand condemned. I am with you, they will not want God. They will shrink away from the light. They will want no part of His nature. I am so glad I have somehow escaped getting indoctrinated by man or religion, because from reading my bible I always rejected the idea that those who rejected him would have eternal life in hell, no, eternal life comes through Christ alone. Without Christ in us to resurrect us, we experience death.

  • Anthony

    David – wow! – and I thought my blog entries ran long!

    Sorry for the politics but I think there is valid correlation here.

    A Pew Forum poll shows that the majority of Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and the most frequent churchgoes support torture saying it is OK to “sometimes” or “often” use torture on suspected terrorists.

    ABU GHRAIB

    “Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.” – Report by Major General Antonio M. Taguba

    HELL

    “And there was a great lake full of flaming sludge, in which were certain men that turned away from righteousness; and spirits, tormentors, were set over them. And there were also others, women, hanged by their hair above that sludge which boiled up; and these were they that adorend themselves for adultery, that they might ensnare the souls of men to destruction. And the men that lay with them in fornication shall be hung upside-down by their genitals with their heads hidden in the sludge; and they will say one to another: We did not believe that we could come to everlasting judgment.” – The Apocalypse of Peter, dated to 2nd Century

  • Paul Anthony Wallis

    This whole area is one where the evangelical churches are, in my opinion, startlingly unreformed. I commend your boldness in issuing a call back to Scripture on the issue of the fate of the unsaved.

    Years ago I attended a very reformed church in London, Westminster Chapel. It’s then minster was R.T.Kendall who fervently preached Eternal Conscious Torment and had no time for other views on the matter. I challenged RT privately to support his views from Scripture and he did what many do – which is quote texts that affirm the exostence of hell as if they support the traditional (ECT) understanding of hell. I challenged this approach simply by listing every Biblical reference to hell that I could find.

    As you rightly point out the overhwelming majority of these are about destruction. What destruction means is even unpacked by the Scriptures and the word most commonly used for “destroyed” has a very close English equivalent – “disintegrated”. Some passages could be read a number of ways. Only two had a plain reading which favoured the ECT position. even those were questionable and highly figurative. My correspondent graciosly accepted that he could not answer these points and would need to do further study. Ten years later he gave me his reply in person. Verbatim he said, “Without an a priori belief about ECT you will not find it in the Scriptures. If you go only on the Scriptures you will believe in some form of annihilation for the unsaved. But I just don’t believe it.” So much for reformed theological method.

    Now I like RT and I don’t want this to be taken as a personalised point. i quote it because it illustrates perfectly the non-reformed nature of the prevalent defense among evangelicals of the ECT position. I would just affirm what you are saying here, David, and encourage all believers to believe what Jesus taught on the matter. We do not need to add to it. Hell is clearly, in the teaching of Christ, a fate to be avoided at every possible cost. And it is an essential component of his and our Gospel message.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Paul, that’s quite a statement from your minister friend! Your words are plain enough on the matter. It’s “unpacked” by the Scriptures themselves. Thanks, brother. I appreciate your input.

  • Edward Fudge

    Good presentation, David, and I am delighted to see so many high-quality responses! I really enjoyed visiting with you last Friday and look forward to the next opportunity. May I mention the surprising and informative quiz on hell at http://www.EdwardFudge.com/hellquiz.html and the video seminar and other resources at http://www.EdwardFudge.com/written/fire.html ? – Cordially, Edward

  • Heather G

    David,
    I guess my question after reading this is not really about hell, but about the resurrection.

    Do resurrected believers live “forever?”

  • David D. Flowers

    Hey Heather,
    Yes, immortality comes through the resurrection. Thanks for reading.

  • David D. Flowers

    For those interested… here’s my response to a few questions on facebook:

    Paul said, “I want to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10,11).

    I hear Paul speaking of one resurrection in two stages. First, a spiritual “first” resurrection… and then a physical “resurrection of the dead.” Knowing the “power of His resurrection” is the spiritual renewal that has already begun… that is leading to a complete and full resurrection of spirit, soul, and finally…. the body.

    Paul sees this resurrection as being perfected (growing all the more & moving forward) in participation of Christ’s suffering (e.g. Col. 1:24). He then says as if “somehow, to attain” to the total resurrection of the dead. Is that possible? Paul says, “not that I have already attained all this” (v.12) so he presses on in Christ Jesus.

    No, we can’t attain to the fullness of resurrection because only Christ can raise the body on the last day. But, as Paul says, “we press on” as if “somehow” it were possible. I hear Paul recognizing that resurrection has already begun in the spirit and soul of man. We seek the “prize” that is the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

    We are knowing resurrection from the inside (i.e. being renewed day by day) as it is making its way to the outside. The last step is “resurrection of the dead” body. This is the event that all saints past, present, and future anticipate. Without it… Paul says… “our faith is worthless.”

    Wow! This strikes at the heart of Greek (dualistic) philosophy and even challenges its present effects on Christian theology. It denounces the popular “escapist” idea that is so popular in Christian eschatology. If you haven’t read the “Heaven to Earth” series… I think you will enjoy it. It is all about resurrection.

  • David D. Flowers

    Also… are the wicked raised only to be destroyed?

    Yes, but the resurrection of the wicked doesn’t appear to be the glorious resurrection of the dead that fits us believers for the new heavens and earth. The resurrection of the wicked can only be a raising of the old body… so that “both body and soul are destroyed in hell” as Jesus warned us. The whole man is judged. In short, this is the purpose that I see for the resurrection of the wicked.

  • David D. Flowers

    From Elizabeth on facebook:

    A well researched and written article, David. Thank you for sharing….

    Something that does not make sense to me, however, is that the wickedness of man can be greater in strength and power than the love of God. That the love of God is dependent upon our “wickedness” which seems to me to be more of an ignorance than evil, makes perfect sense, but to imply that evil is sovereign over God? I am not yet convinced of that.

    Also, I would rather one my children live in separation of my love, and therefore torment, through his unbelief, than to annihilate him without any second chance of him finally being reconciled to me. Love never fails… and Love does not give up, I believe, especially as a parent. I’d rather be annihilated myself than live without those I love and kill them with my own two hands. How much more would God feel this way?

    And one last thing. If God is sovereign, how can He save some and not others? Can unconditional love be partial? If love cannot punish without a purpose, how can it annihilate without a purpose… for ALL?

    How do you reconcile these dilemmas with your annihilation view? You seem to solve the problem of eternal torment, only to create a new one. Could you honestly say there could be joy in heaven knowing that our loved ones were annihilated for eternity? It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Perhaps we need to take a break from the study of scriptures in order to think about it with our own God-given common sense?

  • David D. Flowers

    Elizabeth:

    It would be better if we could talk in person because there are limits to conversing this way. But I will give it a shot. Please give it some thought and consider re-reading the article again.

    First, I am not proposing a simple annihilation. Yes, I do believe that eternal punishment (as defined in the article) ends in death… which I think could not be more clearly laid out in the Scripture with words like “death”, “perishing”, “destroyed”, “consumed” etc. etc.

    After having established the case for a definite “second death” from the Scriptures… I seek to understand what the process of eternal punishment looks like according to God’s purpose for man and His salvation through the gospel of Christ.

    There is certainly a judgment according to deeds… so what does that look like? How is that judgment consistent with God’s nature and what we know of God in Christ? I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand that through prayer, Scripture, and common sense… and laying it out in this article.

    Let me mention that I don’t see that we must take a break from Scripture and use “common sense” as if they are mutually exclusive. I am confident that we can do both.

    That’s what I have attempted to do in this article: use common sense biblical interpretation with words and metaphors; find a consistent and verifiable interpretation that is in keeping with God’s holy nature presented in all of Scripture.

    I do know that’s not going to be enough for anyone that may have a low view of Scripture. I submit that we can’t just form God into any image we like… but seek to find the Living Word from the presentation in the written word.

    Furthermore, I don’t see that man’s wickedness is greater than the love of God once we understand the holy nature of that love described vividly in Scripture. That nature gives man a choice to be conformed to His image OR reject it: tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). I believe God’s sovereignty is actually deeper and wider in this way. God allows man to choose and He still reigns.

    If we start with our own ideas of God’s “sovereignty”… I imagine we can come to some scary places (e.g. hyper-calvinism). In all respect, I challenge you not to confuse your own feelings and thoughts with the Lord’s ways. That’s a really slippery slope. That’s why we must consider all aspects of God’s sovereignty… even those that we think seem to present God as “open” and not in control.

    I don’t say that like some of those fundamental fanatics out there, but in real experience of how that practice has actually served to separate me from the Lord in the past. I projected my own images of sovereignty, goodness, justice, love, etc. onto God until I broke down from the weight of it all. I was crushed in the weight of this false image… setting God up to be some cruel father that I could never please.

    The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction for others. They have adopted a “feel good” idea of God that is so separated from the Scriptures that their feet have actually left the ground of biblical theology. Both are born out of neglect of the Scriptures and projecting ourselves and our experiences on to God.

    Finally, I am proposing that being separated from God’s love IS to die a second (final) death. Being separated from God’s love is to be cut off from life. There are no second chances if we agree that the decisions we make in this life are eternal (reaching into the age to come) and their results are final. This is the case I have made. In this way, it is merciful to allow the wicked (by their own choice) to die.

    Honestly, just so you know, I’m not at complete rest on any idea of eternal punishment. It is truly a horrific thought. But I must confess that this article simply shows where I stand presently and how I understand Scripture and the Lord Himself. I am embracing the tensions and trying to walk in them.

    Regardless of how unpleasant it is… I am under the conviction that I must hold to the Lord in whatever tension I find myself. For I can confidently walk away and see the love and mercy of God in this view. And I have come to this in careful treatment of the Scripture in conjunction with my knowledge and experience of God in Christ. That’s the best any of us can do.

    Peace.

  • Marshall

    [fwd from facebook link to this Blog article:]
    “It is tempting to systematize something called “hell”, or heaven, or (gasp!) God Himself. Yet, doing so succeeds only to add to our many thoughts (and the general confusion). My, my, for all the opinions, where else would we be?”

    • David D. Flowers

      Marshall, did you read the article? Not knowing you personally, I can’t help but read this comment as being a little careless, a bit sarcastic, and almost disrespectful.

      I would submit that it’s not a communal biblical interpretation that brings confusion. We may say with Peter that “Paul’s writings are hard to understand” but we may not say that God and His Word are confusing. Real confusion comes from people not paying attention and listening to the voices of others, and ultimately, to that still small Voice within. I am presently writing an article that really seems to speak to the nature of your comment. It has to do with staying out of ditches in our faith. Your sentiment almost reflects the one ditch where people want to do away with a communal hermeneutic while masked in spiritualism. The confusion has largely come because of the attitude that neglects responsible interpretation that happens in dialogue.

      Brother, I have not made an attempt to “systematize” anything. If that’s happened, it should only help in seeing what the Scripture may actually say. The Lord speaks to us in ways we understand… anything else is truly confusion. I have only made an effort to read the Scriptures in their context and come to a biblical understanding of eternal punishment. It is about reconciling my experience of the Lord Jesus Christ with what the Scripture actually teaches about eternal punishment. As much as Jesus mentioned it… we can hardly say “It doesn’t really matter… let’s just have a mystical experience of Christ.” We must reason together as we learn how the written word leads us to the Living Word. We must find the balance where we discover that responsible interpretation can actually aid in a deeper spiritual knowledge of Christ (Phil. 3:10,11; Col. 2:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:16,17). I’m convinced that a proper understanding of eternal punishment magnifies our Lord.

      Please help me to understand why you have responded this way. Thanks.

  • Mary Ann

    David, I am a fellow blogger, Christian, and “home churcher” :-). My reply/comment is quite lengthy, and I felt it disrespectful to post the entire thing here in this comment box. Therefore, I will begin it here but will also include the web link to my blog where you can read it in its entirety.

    David,

    I don’t comment on your ideas about hell with the intent of changing your mind. You are where you are because this is where God has brought you at this time. My hope in commenting is that since you are a serious studier of the Scriptures and seeker of God, you will continue to seek and search Him further in this subject. I’m hoping something I say will encourage you to seek deeper. It is awesome that you are “not at complete rest on any idea of eternal torment”. Because as stated in your post, what we say about heaven or hell also says something about God’s character. It absolutely does communicate something very important about what God is like to the world around us. And through your writing and your blog, you have an open forum on which to communicate to the world about who God is and what His character is like.

    The first thing I’d like to do before continuing with this reply is to say that I am saying these things respectfully and with humility. In this age of communicating with the typed word, tone is often lost or misconstrued. I am not replying or commenting to attack you or your beliefs in any way. Like I previously said, my reply is to spur your thinking and searching. When I speak of the things of God, I can get so excited that I come across quite passionate and animated about it, but in no way is my intent to attack.

    On that note:

    I applaud your study of Sheol, Gehenna, and Hades. Sheol (Hebrew, OT) and Hades (Greek, NT) refer to the place of the dead. Literally, Hades means the “un-perceived”. It refers to a place where nothing is perceived. Neither Sheol nor Hades have anything to do with man-made doctrines referring to a place called “hell” and the horrible tortures that God has planned for the billions of souls who did not accept Christ during their brief earthly life. Gehenna certainly has everything to do with the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem and the burning of refuse and the sacrificing of children, but it also nothing to do with modern ideas of “hell”.

    With reference to your statement: “…hell is what happens when people say ‘No!’ to the creator God…” Have you considered the verses which say: “No one can come to Me if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him” (John 6:44) along with “For God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all…seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all…” (Romans 11:32, 36)? We are also told in the Scriptures that God is The One who opens eyes or also causes blindness (and I’m referring to the spiritual sense along with physical). Can God’s “drawing” any one to Christ really be rejected by the will of His creation? If so, then God is not so powerful after all.

    You spoke of the analogy of a parent never ceasing to “love a child even in punishment”. Have you considered that there is a big difference between “punishment” and “chastening”? Both words are used in the Scriptures. Parents do not punish their rebellious children with the intent of never letting up the tortures or eventually annihilating them. Loving parents chasten or discipline their children with the purpose of correcting their faulty behaviors and bringing them to repentance (a turning away from faulty paths). So in that manner, chastening or discipline has a goal. But it is not a “hell type” goal. Can earthly parents be more merciful than the God of all?…

    Here is the link to read the reply completely: http://mabsspot.blogspot.com/2010/03/god-will-have-his-perfect-way.html

  • David D. Flowers

    Mary Ann, I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond. I know that you mean well and I believe that you’re writing with the best intentions.

    I read your entire response at your blog. It’s better to take this one issue at a time. It’s much easier to respond that way. But I will go ahead and briefly share my thoughts from what I see in your lengthy post. :-)

    First, I have already responded to some of your statements in previous comments above. To Mark (UR) I said…

    “I have considered your position but I just can’t get there, brother. I tend to believe this life is much more than a trial run and that “aionios” speaks of that Age to Come. The decisions we make now have eternal consequences. Also, I don’t see it as human will overriding God’s Will. God clearly gives men over to their own choices (will) and accomplishes His Will in the process. Most days I don’t know how those fit, but we must continue to strive for walking in the tension of the two. The (biblical) emphasis on the finality and the horror of eternal punishment “death” doesn’t allow me to trod down the UR road. Like Tom Wright, I agree that “God is a God of surprises” but at the present time I must walk in the middle of the wicked “perishing” and God restoring all.”

    And…

    “Furthermore, I don’t see that man’s wickedness is greater than the love of God once we understand the holy nature of that love described vividly in Scripture. That nature gives man a choice to be conformed to His image OR reject it: tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). I believe God’s sovereignty is actually deeper and wider in this way. God allows man to choose and He still reigns. If we start with our own ideas of God’s “sovereignty”… I imagine we can come to some scary places (e.g. hyper-calvinism). In all respect, I challenge you not to confuse your own feelings and thoughts with the Lord’s ways. That’s a really slippery slope. That’s why we must consider all aspects of God’s sovereignty… even those that we think seem to present God as “open” and not in control. I don’t say that like some of those fundamental fanatics out there, but in real experience of how that practice has actually served to separate me from the Lord in the past. I projected my own images of sovereignty, goodness, justice, love, etc. onto God until I broke down from the weight of it all. I was crushed in the weight of this false image… setting God up to be some cruel father that I could never please. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction for others. They have adopted a “feel good” idea of God that is so separated from the Scriptures that their feet have actually left the ground of biblical theology. Both are born out of neglect of the Scriptures and projecting ourselves and our experiences on to God.”

    Yes, I did say, “I’m not at complete rest on any idea of eternal punishment.” But I also said, “I can confidently walk away and see the love and mercy of God in this view. And I have come to this in careful treatment of the Scripture in conjunction with my knowledge and experience of God in Christ. That’s the best any of us can do.”

    As for the parent-child analogy… all analogy’s break down somewhere. I acknowledge that. God is not your dad or mine. He’s the Holy Creator of the universe. We must be careful not to confuse our ideas of finite human goodness with God’s infinite holiness.

    Yes, I have considered all Scriptures from both sides. I have close friends that are traditionalists, URs, and annihilationists. I have friends on all sides of the isle on many issues and I prefer it that way. Really… I do. :-)

    As I said, I’m making my best effort to reconcile a very clear destruction of the wicked with God’s salvation in keeping with His nature… which allows for His seeking AND our turning away. It would appear that URs only want to acknowledge the “drawing” of God unto salvation and ignore man’s ability to choose.

    I don’t want to merely focus on one set of verses and ignore the rest. I personally believe the truth lay somewhere in the middle. I am writing an article on this real soon called “Walking the Line: Staying Out of Theological Ditches”.

    This is what I meant when I said, “Any teaching that promotes the idea that ‘everyone will make it in the end’ can only come from isolating certain Scriptures and from building on obscure words and passages”

    You said, “Can God’s “drawing” any one to Christ really be rejected by the will of His creation? If so, then God is not so powerful after all.” I completely disagree with this logic and I think it is a narrow view of God’s sovereignty.

    Mary Ann, I really do appreciate your heart. I would however stray away from saying things like “discover the even greater depths” of the Lord’s love. I have tried not to use language that sets one above another in their spiritual revelation. It doesn’t help in the dialogue and it’s always subjective.

    I purposely did not say that “I believe that God gave me this view” so as not to insinuate that others have received a false revelation if they disagree. Not only did I not say it… I don’t believe it. As I said before: “I have come to this in careful treatment of the Scripture in conjunction with my knowledge and experience of God in Christ. That’s the best any of us can do.”

    What is most important to me is that folks are walking in their knowledge of Christ and always seeking more as He draws them. Whatever I can do to assist in that… is awesome! If it does not edify for that purpose… I should abandon it.

    Blessings, sister!
    David

  • Marshall

    David, thank you for your response.
    The comment about which you ask was imported here at your suggestion from a facebook related-thread context. I’m sure it appears here a bit odd. And, there is no personal offense intended.
    Responding to your questions regarding it may break with the subject of this article, “Hell: Eternal Torture”. Let me be brief, and then following this, as Father is pleased and wills expedient, we know a number of options to further communicate regarding.
    Although a few men do have within their known intent systematized faith, the “system” often invades with stealth even the simplest of examination or review.
    “communal biblical interpretation”, when empowered such as exampled from Acts 15, aides to powerfully dispel confusion (turbulence). My comment is in regard to opinions, and our best efforts to converge them (or, a select set of them).
    Dialogue is good when/as all speaking the truth are affirming among one another what the Spirit is saying.
    We should be fully convinced that the Spirit teaches all things, interpreting the written Word to our hearts; intended through the Same to be communal (among us) in what is seen and unseen.
    The means by which the written word leads (points) to the Living Word is by the Law-Tutor. I am not trying to over-simplify this matter… rather, in Christ we (together) no longer need return to our former line-by-line parsing in search of the Living God: He has now come to dwell in us.
    “a proper understanding of eternal punishment” will not be found within English grammar. Christ is able to confirm all things among one another (language limits notwithstanding), even to our cleansed hearts & renewed mind.

    • David D. Flowers

      Marshall, thank you for your kind response.

      I agree with everything you have said above. The only point which concerns me is that you do not seem to allow for any benefit in reading the Scriptures in their context. That’s all I am proposing in any look at language. I’m sure you’re not suggesting that we permanently lay the Scriptures aside to “just listen to what the Spirit teaches.” I have personally experienced a much-needed period where I have placed the Scriptures aside to learn afresh from the Lord, but I don’t think that experience (season) means we should now throw the Scriptures in the trash and give up on interpreting it responsibly (2 Tim. 3:16,17).

      I am confident that the Lord can speak to us about many things without the Scriptures. But I also believe it is unhealthy to set the Scriptures up against the Spirit. Jesus had the highest regard for the Scriptures. He scolded the Pharisees, not for reading the Scriptures, but for failing to see they spoke of Him. A communal interpretive method is possible when brothers and sisters have first been captivated by the sum of all spiritual things: Jesus Christ our Lord. And that’s what I’m proposing.

      You may enjoy this article: http://ddflowers.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/christ-the-center-2/

      I hope it will prove that our concerns are the same and our trust in the indwelling Lord is shared. I only want to caution against the anti-intellectual attitude that wants to throw responsible Scripture reading out the window. Yes, ultimately it is the grace of Christ that gives us revelation. At the same time… I believe the Lord is involved in that process of a communal hermeneutic to the point of revelation. He still speaks through the originally inspired text. When our study is leading us to a deeper knowledge of Christ… it’s pleasing to the Father.

      Your Brother,
      David

  • jaredcburt

    Hey David,

    Again, a fine blog. I think this is the best you have written. I disagree with it and hold a different perspective, but it was surprisingly persuasive. I’ll givc it some thought and get back to you.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Jared

  • David D. Flowers

    Thanks, Jared! I hope you guys are doing well. :-)

  • mike

    Interesting article….I have always agreed with the traditional view of hell. Honestly just because that is the majority view of what is taught. I have always questioned this view though and struggled with two questions. One if God loves so much how could He let someone experience torment for eternity? Question two, God is so Holy and righteous He has a standard that He judges by. If there is no consequence to our actions then why should we live a holy life? Obviously I am aware that a regenerate person is going to love the law, statues and commands. He will want to please the Lord in all aspects of his personal walk.

    This is a very complex issue. We must be careful not to suppose God would act in such a manner because “we” can’t believe God would send someone to a torment in hell or the opposite of that. I think we liberalize God so much today that we take away the majesty and supremacy, we bend Him to our standards.

    I am not suggesting that you are doing this at all. Its just a general consensus of most “modern” churches to not offend and make God into some person form the sixties…loves everyone and wants to be there pal.

    Like I said I do wrestles with this among other things lately, I know that the answers are in His word. The Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth.

    Thanks for the article. I look forward to reading it again…without the kids jumping and crawling around me!!!:)

    Mike

  • Bill

    I began to question the ET view of hell while in seminary. Arthur Custance’s book The Sovereignty of God got me wondering, if universal restoration was possible but I couldn’t get past Matt 25’s reference to everlasting torment, until I realized that Matt 25 is not even dealing with the personal eschatology of the individual but the fate of NATIONS that oppose the church of Christ (the least of these my brethren).

    Once I saw that I understood that Matt 25 could not possibly be dealing with individuals unless we want to concede that salvation depends on conduct and is of works not grace. The sheep in this parable are rewarded for what the do -treat Christians well – vs what the goats do -treat Christians bad.

    Jesus is teaching here that the nation of Israel, (and all nations by implication who persecute Christians) will be judged and receive chastisement through out the age which was soon to come – The Age of the Son of Man. This present age.

  • cindyinsd

    I’ve been wondering about that parable, Bill. I’m not sure you’ve got it right, though, because how can you cast a nation into the fire? A nation is not some kind of entity of its own. It’s made up of people. No people: no nation: nothing–maybe a wilderness.

    When I see the nations gathered, I see people of all nationalities, and I’ve always seen the sheep as Jesus’ followers, because who else could be described as ‘righteous’? As for this being “works based salvation,” John also says in his epistles that the one who doesn’t love his brother is not of God, abides in darkness to this day, is a murderer, etc.–obviously he felt strongly about this.

    So not to minister to the least of Jesus brethren in need is to display this lack of love and thereby mark oneself as a goat. The doing or not doing doesn’t make you a goat or a sheep–it’s just an infallible characteristic of sheepness or goatness.

    I don’t think it presents a problem for David’s point of view, though, because he’s contesting that the fire’s effects are eternal–perhaps even the fire itself–but that it doesn’t follow that the things thrown into the fire continue to burn eternally. So according to what he’s saying, eternal punishment constitutes having been burnt up (or whatever) and existing no more forever.

    I know it’s David’s blog, and not trying to usurp his privilege of answering your comment–it just interested me. Thanks for giving me a stimulus to ponder this.

    Blessings, Cindy

  • Tarnya Burge

    Thanks for the post. I have linked to it at

    http://www.afterlife.co.nz/

    You might find some interesting articles there exploring these issues
    Tarnya

  • Andrew Thomson

    Hi David, Great blog. I agree with a lot of what you say. However, you appear to see a need to hold on to some sort of dualism (body/soul or body/soul/spirit). My understanding is that the early Hebrews did not view themselves as having separate parts or natures. They viewed themselves as whole persons. For example, Genesis 2:7 Man became a living soul (or living being): Dust + breath = living being. In other words; we don’t have a soul, we are soul creatures, as are the animals Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:19 (same Hebrew word “nephesh”). Thus when someone dies on earth, they are a dead soul: Lev 19:28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead (nephesh)…” Lev 21:1 “A priest shall not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die (nephesh).” Also Lev 22:4, Num 5:2, Num 6:11.

    I’d suggest that when the Hebrews used terms such as body, soul and spirit, they are emphasising the unity and totality of the whole person rather than referring to separable parts. Thus in Matthew 10:28 Jesus is emphasising the finality of the second death from which there is no hope of resurrection rather than a body/soul dualism. In the corresponding passage in Luke 12:4-5, the word “soul” is entirely missing, but the message is the same.

    No part of us is naturally immortal. Yes, those who are in Christ are guaranteed immortality through Christ, but we are not changed from mortal to immortal until the resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15: 52-54 “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards, Andrew

    • David D. Flowers

      Thanks, Andrew.

      Genesis says God breathed (spirit) into man and he became a soul (nephesh/psyche: personality, will, emotions). Yet man is at his core spirit (inner man) because God is Spirit. It’s how we commune as spiritual beings. God is spirit… we are spirit and that Spirit is made alive to God in Christ. I agree that the Hebrews understood man as a “whole” person. Nevertheless, we do have Old and New Testament Scriptures speaking of spirit, soul, and body. And they are not always being used interchangeably in the same ways. Where most folks argue for spirit/soul & body dualism… I argue for spirit, soul, and body (tripartite) as distinct parts and resurrection brings unity and totality. Paul even uses “spirit, soul, and body” in 1 Thess. 5:23. I see these distinctions more clearly in the New Testament. Therefore, I see parts to man evidenced in the Scripture, but I understand that God is resurrecting us as completely spirit, soul, and body. I see a whole man comprised of spirit, soul, and body in that divine order.

      I fully agree with the last part of your statement. It is Christ that makes us alive in spirit, bringing humaness to the soul, and immortality to the body in the new heavens and earth. Those who do not enter into the kingdom of God (born of Spirit) perish. I do believe that resurrection (immortal life) has begun already in the spirit and soul of man. However, as you said, only the physical resurrection on the Last Day will transform our lowly bodies into his glorious body. Amen.

      I have written about this in an ebook “Knowing Christ in Divine Order”. I need to revise and update the book, but the first part will lay out where I’m coming from.

      Here is what I stated in a footnote summing up my presentation:

      “I want to conclude my presentation of the tripartite nature of man by submitting that I am not severing the whole composite of man. I am simply distinguishing aspects of his nature. I agree that spirit and soul are used interchangeably, and at times, synonymously. Truth in Scripture is presented in tension-filled pairs and gives us many parts that are to be embraced as one. The tripartite nature of man is another one of those truths. To ignore the workings of Christ in our inner man is to forfeit a true knowledge of him. I am not promoting a Gnostic idea that spirit is more real than body and that body is somehow of lesser importance. I am only pointing people to the way by which we may properly experience Christ as resurrection of spirit, soul, and body. Our entire being is knowing the resurrection of Jesus and being redeemed in the divine order of spirit, soul, and body.”

      Blessings bro,
      David

  • Marshall

    Blessings & Shalom, David.
    In your reply to Andrew’s comment concerning the “whole” man/Adam, you have written in part, “I argue for spirit, soul, and body (tripartite) as distinct parts and resurrection brings unity and totality.”
    Would you be conveying a (tripartite) dualism or boundary that endures only until resurrection?
    If we would allow both the koine Greek and paleo-Hebrew “distinct parts”, more than 3 are to be found from the Hebrew alone; but are we in fact surrendered to a Greco-roman language-culture framework embracing ‘three, no more no less.’?
    With Hebrew in submission to the [Greek] New Testament, Greek thought (and language) surely allows for a more abstract (and terrifying) concept in both heaven and hell.

  • Marshall

    David, re-reading Andrew Thomson’s note here, inspired that we might together become “wholly” untangled from the last vestige of an old philosophic knowledge-source to the formation of Adam. (therein released from empiric or systematic requirement.)
    Further to faith, that we have been raised with Christ.
    [Ephesians 2; Colossians 2]

  • Andrew Thomson

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your comments. However, I do wonder whether holding on to a tripartite nature is more to do with tradition than what is actually contained in God’s Word :)?

    If I were to say “with my whole heart and mind and soul I …”, you would understand that I am saying “with my whole being…”. We wouldn’t immediately conclude that I believed that heart, soul and body were some separate thinking part of a whole. I believe that “body, soul and spirit” are used in the same way as my example and this is what Paul is expressing in 1 Thess 5:23

    You are correct that spirit and soul are sometimes used interchangably in the Bible, but is that necessarily any different from my example above? Is this not further evidence that the words are being used as metaphors rather than trying to describe certain parts of us?

    In Genesis 2:7 God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (nishmat or neshamah)… “Neshamah” is translated “breath” 15 out of 25 times it is used, and “spirit” only twice. On both occasions, Job 26:4 and Proverbs 20:27, they could easily be looked on as metaphors for the mind. The fact that “ruach” at times is translated: breath, wind, blast, mind, courage, anger, air, tempest etc. as well as “spirit”, should perhaps make us hesitate before applying something to “ruach” when used of man which may not have been intended?

    As more scientific discoveries are undertaken on the human brain, we may find that those things that have traditionally been attributed to the soul or spirit may be seen to be generated by the brain itself, which would leave nothing for the soul or spirit to do, and thus leave the orthodox teaching on man’s nature out on a limb and discredited. Suggest you get a copy of Joel Green’s book “Body, Soul and Human Life” to explore this issue further (available from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk ). Glenn Peoples also has some interesting articles and podcasts at http://www.beretta-online.com

    Regards
    Andrew

    • David D. Flowers

      Andrew, I don’t think what I have said about spirit, soul, and body is inconsistent with what you said about your “whole being.” I do leave room for error on my part, I hope others do as well. It’s an issue that I have presently tucked away and moved forward in my pursuit of Christ.

      I don’t follow your last paragraph on science and the human brain. Likewise, you might enjoy reading “The Spiritual Man, Vol. 1″ by Watchman Nee.

  • Tarnya Burge

    I am wanting to obtain permission to republish your post on our website http://www.afterlife.co.nz
    Regards
    Tarnya

  • Andrew Patrick

    Andrew Thomsen said: “Thus when someone dies on earth, they are a dead soul”

    Following were a couple scripture examples to support him, but that’s not always how the Bible speaks. For example:

    Gen 35:18 KJV
    (18) And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.

    They were left with a dead body, but the language it uses says that the soul (from the Hebrew nephesh) was departing. It does not sound like they were left with a dead soul.

    Our Bible does use words like body, heart, mind, soul, spirit, and so on and so forth, and some of the times it is used in such a way that would deny the materialistic model you have set forth. There are also a few other “difficult scriptures” that contradict a “matter only” model of man.

    I offer that your model is not necessarily wrong, but just overly simplistic to be applied rigidly for all situations. I would point to God’s creation for a similar example, namely, the nature of light. Is light a particle (a photon) or is it a wave (radiation in the visible spectrum?) Our modern science has observed that it exhibits the qualities and behaviors of both.

    I would also point out that the discussion is moot with regards to “life after death” when it is acknowledged that death is truly death, and that we can only live again through the hope of the resurrection, and of eternal life offered through Christ.

    Notice how John Milton cut right past any dispute as to what exactly “body” and “soul” and “spirit” might be and went to the heart of the matter:

    “Inasmuch as the whole man uniformly said to consist of body,John Milton and soul (whatever may be the distinct provinces of these divisions), I will show, that in death, first, the whole man, and
    secondly, each component part, suffers privation of life. … The grave is the common guardian of all till the day of judgment.”

    From John Milton, Treatise of Christian Doctrine, Vol. 1, ch. 13.

    Take care,
    -Andrew

  • Andrew Patrick

    Oops! That should have read “… the whole man uniformly said to consist of body, and soul (whatever may be the distinct provinces of these divisions)…”

  • Kat

    Have you read “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut – Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem” by Bradley Jersak? It’s so much like this. I have really experienced a shift in my thoughts and views on this topic, I’d say a wonderful shift after reading Mr. Jersak’s book. Your piece here is quite similar to “Her Gates. . . ” I enjoyed reading. thank you.

  • David Glosup

    Wow, what a thread! I think it’s fair to say that both UR and annihilationism make a lot more sense than infinite torchure……really hard to know which of those two is correct though….

    There’s a really good exposition of all three views here: http://www.digitalministries.us/steve_gregg/mp3/topical/three_views_of_hell-1.mp3

    A couple of the verses that Mark posted are cause me to struggle quite a bit….(I have to be honest, I knew those verses but I had never looked at them with that perspective)…I just wonder why the Bible would say things that sounded like that if it didn’t imply UR…..but then there are several verses that mention what seems to imply outright destruction as well.

    There is also the issues of emotions which play a big part in an issue like this. I think we would all like to think that UR is the right one….I mean, most of us are pretty cool about eventually giving everybody a break no matter what they’ve done…….

    This is a hard subject and one that I do not even pretend to be at the bottom of…..very interesting article though and the discussion threads below it are equally as interesting. Just for the record, I think my brain leans annihilation even though my heart would like it better if UR was the truth…..

  • John Wilson

    Had to review it again brother. Didn’t realize that the “eternal soul” came from paganism. Words make sense. Thanks for the thoughts!

  • Laura

    David,
    Just read this! Wow! I’m just starting (weeks into) a very in depth study into Hell and so far, am very traditionalist in my views. However, this has given me a lot to think about.
    Thanks for all the information! Great writings!
    Love you.

    • David D. Flowers

      Thanks, Laura!

      I continually affirm that we must allow the Scripture, reason, and personal experience shape our beliefs. I do believe that tradition can be a guide, but it must always come come under the authority of the text itself. It is because all traditions are flawed in some way or another… that we are always reforming on our journey where we have been given light from the Lord. I also think that this can’t be done apart from community. All biblical interpretation should follow this pattern. If it doesn’t, we are in danger of becoming a sect and we can be assured that we are like the Pharisees that Jesus scolded for their misplaced faith in traditions.

      Blessings!

  • Laurie M.

    I found this very thought-provoking, and helpful. I’m going through a time of transition in my Christian walk. I’m not sure really what that means except that I know it’s so. This doctrine is one of the things I’m reexamining in the process. Thank you so much for braving these heavy seas.

  • Andrew Patrick

    Jesus spoke of himself as the Rock, and he also said that those who fell upon the Rock would be broken, but those that it fell upon would be crushed to powder.

    Some questions to consider:

    1) If one is broken, can one be healed? Did Jesus not come to heal the broken-hearted? Are these not the scriptures he read from Isaiah when he stood up in the synagogue?

    2) If one is crushed to powder, is this the picture of a never-ending sadistic torture, or more fitting for utter annihilation? Can one piece powder back together again?

    Take care,
    -Andrew

  • mike

    Still not sure what this does with a God who knew us before the foundations of the ages and yet created billions anyway knowing that He would eventually have to punish then annihilate them? It is obviously not His will that any should perish yet this model seems to have most of His creation doing just that. Tell me what I am missing here?

    • David D. Flowers

      Mike, I don’t espouse a view that has God creating people that he knows (individually) will reject him. He certainly knew he was taking a risk… that’s the nature of love. God apparently felt the risk was worth it. You might enjoy my post “An Open Theism Theodicy” here at the blog. Thanks for reading.

  • Mary Ann

    God is made to seem so small and incapable sometimes. The almighty God, sovereign over all, creator of all cannot be the all knowing, supreme God if He created people without knowing what they would eventually do. That view leaves us with a god who created the world and mankind while shrugging his shoulders and saying to all his creation, “I cannot know what you’ll do, but here goes creating you anyway. Whatever happens, happens, and I am not in control anymore, you are.” What kind of god is that?! I do not believe in such a weak god. If God did not know what man was going to do, then Christ would have been Plan B or C or D… And the Scriptures clearly reveal that was not the case. God is still on Plan A because He did not create with some luck of the draw. He created with precision and exact planning from beginning to end. HE is all powerful and all knowing, we are not. Through Christ, ALL will eventually be reconciled back to Him.

    • David D. Flowers

      Mary Ann, have you read my post “An Open Theism Theodicy”? In my perspective, God knows all that is knowable. I don’t believe this leaves us with a “small” God who shrugs his shoulders at humanity. The Lord perfectly knows all that can be known about his creation.

      If there is genuine free will, this means that the future is at least partly open to many possibilities. So God anticipates all possible actions of humans and angels. In this way, the Lord’s knowledge of his creation is actually greater than the traditional view would like to boast. Please give my “Open Theism” post a read.

      As this pertains to “hell”… God creates free will agents that can choose to align themselves with God’s image or reject the Lord and cease to be human, or in the case of angels, for who hell was originally prepared, they reject God’s image in their angelic existence.

      If God knows all of the future according to historical theism, then he must know, for example, that Hitler would never receive eternal life. Therefore Hitler could do nothing else but be the mass murderer he was. For God to know all of the future exactly how it will happen before it does happen… means that free will is an illusion and life is a sick game.

      This is not the God we see relating to his creation throughout the biblical text.

      The Scripture reveals a God who genuinely believes that all of humanity has the ability to choose life. Biblical stories like the flood and the tower of Babel prove that God’s will is not always done and that creation doesn’t always follow his desires and expectations for the future.

      I also believe that Christ was always in the plan of God. God has indeed predetermined certain things to come to pass by working his will in the world. At the same time, the Scripture is very clear that many things are left undetermined and truly left up to the decisions of humans and angels.

      However, he never violates the free will of created beings to do this. In fact, he has willed that his kingdom would come through free will agents aligning themselves with his will for all of creation. I think a rereading of Scripture is in order–especially those passages that we have used to promote historical theism.

      Therefore, God anticipates what his creation will do with a perfect knowledge of future possibilities (as if they were certainties). Among many other things, I believe this view is true to Scripture and it makes sense of the God we see in Jesus.

      In the end, I believe God’s sovereignty looks like the scandalous cross, not a huge bicep coming out of heaven.

  • Marshall

    David, thank you for clarifying [within your response to Mike here] that you do espouse open theism’s framework, if in part. From your post “An Open Theism Theodicy”, I was not sure if you were actually going there…

    To Mike’s quandary, there are analogies in life; things we plan, build or initiate without the intention of their demise/destruction, while at the same time knowing that it will eventually be so — even at our own hand, as for the eventual day when your new automobile is sent to the wrecking yard. Who may desire sons & daughters that they might suffer discipline? No, our purpose in seeking godly offspring is higher than a punishment for some wrongdoing: purpose need not be denied by ancillaries or outcome.

    A deeper difficulty comes to understanding why all things cannot simply be “eternal”. Such a question is not sufficiently explored by the mortal. In attempt to address it, men have posited “immortality of the soul” and have conjectured various things. We are encouraged to allow faith in Almighty God in, and beyond, this life’s age. When He says, “My ways are higher”, do we know this to be true?

  • Marshall

    David, as you write,

    God has indeed predetermined certain things to come to pass by working his will in the world. … However, he never violates the free will of created beings to do this.

    How may you explain His overt impositions upon/against the free will of men? Use of overwhelming force being antithetical to an unbound choice?

    ref: Genesis 11:7-8; Exodus 14:24-25; Numbers 16; Jonah; I Samuel 10:6-9; 11:6; 16:1; II Chronicles 26:17-21; Acts 5:1-10; Acts 9:1-20; Acts 16:25-34, etc.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Marshall, I do believe that free agents are limited (to some extent) in their ability to choose and act on those choices. The limitations are there because of other free agents, including the Lord himself. I think this is clear from the Scripture you listed.

  • mike

    David, how do you know when a person “rejects” God? Too often we assume that because a person rejects our brand of Christianity that they have rejected God. I had a conversation the other day with a young lady who told me that she had been raised to be deathly afraid of God but when she turned 25 she realized that God loved her. She rejected the God that she had been brought up with.

    • David D. Flowers

      Mike, I agree that lots of folks reject certain portrayals of God. In many ways, I did this in my teenage years. I largely rebelled against a drill sergeant God who I never could please and earn his favor—a brand of Christianity that was about rules instead of a loving relationship. I suppose the Lord is fully capable of discerning a person’s heart and able to respond accordingly. I’m grateful for this. However, I am willing to say that there is a good portion of the true God contained within our false constructs. Paul said that men are without excuse and rebel because of their own wicked hearts.

  • Andrew Patrick

    Why would anyone use Jonah as a support AGAINST the free will of man? Jonah is an excellent example to show how that even if God were to swallow someone with a fish, and even if Jonah’s actions were “forced” that his will remained his own. His spirit was rebellious, even when he was “forced” to preach.

    Did not Jesus sorrow over Jerusalem, mourning the many times he would have gathered them as a hen gathereth her chicks, but they *would* not?

    I have yet to see ANY proof that anyone is “saved” against their will, or that anyone is ultimately “damned” when they would otherwise repent. If you think you have an example, send it to me through the email address at my website, and I’ll properly reply by email.

    God wants people that will love him OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL. This is what God will ultimately get. Those that do not love him of their own free will will be destroyed, because God does NOT want to torture anything without end (what would be the point?)

    ———————————————-
    Re: How may you explain His overt impositions upon/against the free will of men? Use of overwhelming force being antithetical to an unbound choice?

    ref: Genesis 11:7-8; Exodus 14:24-25; Numbers 16; Jonah; I Samuel 10:6-9; 11:6; 16:1; II Chronicles 26:17-21; Acts 5:1-10; Acts 9:1-20; Acts 16:25-34, etc.

  • Marshall

    brother Andrew, may you be tossed into a fish and still claim “free will”? No escape for Jonah, because the One who formed us knows how to change our mind and/or body; to withhold, and to fulfill. “For you know that even afterwards, when he [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.”

    “Saul, Saul…[blinded in the light] rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” My brothers, it does not give me indigestion to see my “free will” sailing over the horizon.
    [Hebrews 12:17; Acts 9:4]

  • Andrew Patrick

    Yes. Jonah had free will, and he chose to disobey God. That’s how come God had to send the fish to bring him to Nineveh. Jonah did not love his neighbor, and was unwilling to forgive. He knew not the love of God. I suggest reading the gospel of John and first epistle of John.

    If Jonah had refused to preach after that, God may have struck him down like he did King Saul, and forced him to prophecy, but this would have been *against* Jonah’s will, which again, proves my point.

    God did not force Jonah to by loving or obedient. Jonah’s heart, i.e. his “will”, remained his own.

    If you would be like Jonah and will not willingly serve God, you are going to be one of those goats on the left hand, claiming “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name?” And he will say, “I know you not.”

    It’s that important.

    Paul himself said that even after he had preached the gospel, he could still become a castaway. If that sounds shocking to you, read his letters to the Corinthians.

  • Marshall

    quite agree with Paul’s evaluation of situation; even as the Potter is He who holds the clay, and by this may find fault or satisfaction at any point, however He may will. Do you know Him?

    To this further, Paul also writes, So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
    [Romans 9:16]

  • Andrew Patrick

    When Paul said that he could become a castaway, didn’t it seem to you like this might have something to do with who Paul made himself to be?

    Why else would we be told that we need to run the race, to struggle, to let no man take our crown? Why would we be cautioned against putting our hand to the plow and turning back?

    Salvation depends upon God having mercy, but does not mean that God will have mercy against those who disobey his commandments: Love God, love thy neighbor, love one another, love your enemies, love truth.

    Can anyone “force” God to give mercy? No. But neither will God give mercy to anyone who shows no mercy. When a master gives a prize to those who run a race, it needs two things:

    1. The master with the prize
    2. People who are willing to run the race

    The prize depends on the master, but it goes without saying that the race requries willing participants.

  • susan

    Great line… “My brothers, it does not give me indigestion to see my “free will” sailing over the horizon.” Me, too.

    I believe we’re self-willed creatures, not free-willed. And as self-willed cratures, we merely respond to the strongest influence. Over time the lies of the serpentworm became Eve’s strongest influence, tapping in on our inherent flesh nature doubt-God complex. Which he tried to do in the wilderness with Jesus, too.

    I believe God, in His G-Dness is able to “impose” His will on us in such a way that it seems it’s us doing the deciding.

    John 1:13 seems clear that we are “begotten, not of blood, neither of the will of the flesh, neither of the will of man (does that include my own?), but of God.”

    If the “punishment” for Adam/Eve wasn’t eternal torment in hell, but simply death, how could it be for any of their children? And as far as “death” goes… we all know what happens to that.

  • cindyinsd

    The way I see this is that once we chose God (because He had already chosen us because He saw that we would choose Him because He had chosen us . . .) our free will had been exercised. We chose to become His, and now we are. He is our Lord. We can be self-willed and not obey Him, but we’re still His. We made our bed . . . .

    I feel very glad of this. I don’t want Him to let me go because one day I throw some kind of snitty fit and and say I don’t want Him. I’m glad to have made my choice and had done with it. Now I’m His.

  • Marshall

    I wonder if you may venture a bit further, Cindy, as to those who have “chose God”, and thereafter carry out insurrection against Christ and His Kingdom? We know that punishments (here i.e., torture) are not readied for the faithful and obedient.

  • cindyinsd

    I think, Marshall (and I am not THE authority, but this is my considered opinion) that those people you’re talking about never truly chose Him. It’s not that difficult to pretend, especially if you’re in institutional church, but even in an organic setting, one may slip through for a while and even consider himself to be one of the called, while never truly knowing who Jesus is. All who truly seek Him will find, but it may take a while — particularly if we have had multiple veils and curtains put between us and the truth by the teachings we have received.

    “Lord, Lord, did we not heal the sick, cast out demons and perform many mighty works in Your name?”

    And He will say, “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting darkness prepared for the devil and his angels. I never knew you.” (more or less; I’m quoting from memory here)

  • Matthew Berry

    I’m working through Fudge’s book too. It’s been very interesting and convincing so far. Great summary of your thoughts, David.

  • jaredcburt

    David,

    I stand by my comment I first made on this blog. It is your best! Your points are based upon Scripture and I think it is a reasonable position. However, I disagree with your final assessment for the following reasons.
    1. Jesus did speak of “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46). I don’t think it is plausible to simply view this statement as the lasting result or consequence of judgment. Instead, the Greek term for punishment (kolasis) carries with it the idea of severe suffering. For example, it is used of the suffering and torture of the early church (e.g. Martyrdom of Polycarp). It can refer to divine punishment in general.
    2. God’s anger will burn forever (Jer. 17:4). The proper Christian response to evil is hatred (Rom. 12:9; cf. 2:5-11). God’s anger/wrath against sin burns forever. Hell, the lake of fire, and eternal punishment does indeed say something about God. It says he is infinitely holy and just. He is not a corrupt Judge.
    3. Revelation 14:9-11 seems to unequivocally teach hell to be a place of eternal conscious torment when it says, “And the smoke of their TORMENT goes up forever and ever; and they have NO REST, day or night…”
    4. Revelation 20:10 and Matthew 25:41 teach that unbelievers, Satan, the beast, and the false prophet will be in a place where they will “be tormented day and night for ever and ever” in the “eternal fire.” How can there be torment if they no longer exist?

    When interpreting words like “destruction,” “death,” “punishment,” or “perish” one must understand them in light of passages like those mentioned above which point towards eternal conscious punishment. I think there are different levels of such punishment according to one’s deeds. But the punishment will be eternal. For the record, while the rich man and Lazarus does offer some information on (at least) the intermediate state, I believe this story (not convinced it is a parable) is mainly about the reversal of fortunes in the afterlife and stewardship.

    It is not popular to believe in eternal conscious punishment in our modern society. I do not deny that through history many have distorted the doctrine of final judgment. But this understanding of hell is not based upon Augustine or Dante (not that you “directly” said it was). Instead, it is based upon exegesis of Scripture. As you may be in error, so may I. Although there are those who are often wrong, but never in doubt! :)

    Jared

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Jared,

      1. Scholars like Ben Witherington, Gregory Boyd, Stanley Grenz, and Edward Fudge (myself included), just to name a few, believe the Scripture teaches an “eternal” punishment. The matter of debate is over the word “eternal” (aeonion), not punishment or its severity. Read Witherington’s recent post: http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/2011/03/16/hell-no/

      2, 3, & 4. I’ll take these points together. My response is already somewhat laid out above in my article. Like the word “eternal” (aeon-age), “forever” (aeon upon aeon) says something about God and the results of his character—like in the instance of Jeremiah. 17:4. His anger would indeed stretch out forever (“never-ending” as it is often interpreted) against evil and sin. But as I have pointed out above, the Scripture teaches that one day there will be no more sin and death.

      There will be an end to his wrath against sin and death. So, forcing “forever” to mean that God must then always need to have sin and death around to be angry, is ridiculous. The Lord’s character does not change. That’s the point the biblical author is trying to make.

      Also, you have not taken seriously the fact that Scripture does not teach immortality of the soul. This is something that must be addressed with great care and attention. As I see it, and have written above, without the immortality of the soul, the literal interpretation of the metaphors doesn’t work. Of course, I don’t think they work anyway (e.g. fire, darkness, worms, etc.). I don’t want to say anything else here, cause I would just be repeating what I have already written.

      A person is not standing on higher ground to argue, “No, you would make God out to be a liar. It says, ‘forever’ in the text.” Well, first off, “forever” is an english word. And if that’s the case, I think a person has missed the point entirely. I believe “eternal” and “forever”, used to translate the Hebrew and Greek words, speak of the lasting result which reaches forward from this present evil aeon into the aeon to come. Again, it’s the quality, consequence, and final result that is in view here—whether we are talking about “eternal” life or punishment. After all, “eternal salvation” doesn’t mean that God will forever-without-end be saving us. It means our salvation is of the next aeon.

      As you might imagine, I reject “everlasting life” in John 3:16 (KJV). I believe it’s a misrepresentation of what Jesus intends to say. Immortality (never-ending), sure. But that’s not the main point. “Eternal life” is life from the coming aeon which has reached into the present aeon. It’s quality and substance that Jesus has in mind. And that’s the reason why we can partake of it now. Christ has come to give us life that begins in the here and now and carries over into the age to come (i.e. “eternal”), because it is from the next age, God’s eternity (i.e. final consummation of heaven and earth).

      As for the Revelation (apocalyptic) passages, I would never read them the way you have. When you start interpreting apocalyptic literature in a staunch literalism (or parables for that matter), you have missed the point. As the late NT scholar Bruce Metzger has written, “It doesn’t mean what it says, it means what it means.” If you’re gonna interpret Revelation the way you have in ch. 20, then you must be consistent in your methodology and read the whole book that way. I don’t believe the text affords us the luxury of interpreting it in the manner of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

      You can, but of course, no real biblical scholar will take you seriously. :-)

      Thanks for chiming in again. I know that “hell” is in the air right now. I’m grateful for your appreciation of this post. Thanks for reading my stuff. I wish I could write more, but I’m just too stinkin’ busy!

  • Andrew Patrick

    Adding onto David’s response for Jared,

    In Revelation 14, there are no dead people being tormented “for ever.” You’re reading this wrong:

    1. First, if the dead cannot praise the LORD (see Psalms, multiple times) then it also makes sense that the dead can no longer worship the beast while they are dead. Why would the beast get eternal worshippers when the LORD gets no such priveledge? Your interpretatino creates a contradiction.

    2. When smoke ascends up “for ever and ever” it does nto mean the fire is still burning. Look in Ezekiel 34 for an undeniable example, where Idemea is consumed by fire and brimstone with smoke that goes up for ever and ever … that fire isn’t still burning. Or, if you want to think of it as a prophecy, also note that next in this sequence the entire land is possessed by vegetation and wild animals.

    3. Third, this event is just a short description of a more detailed vision in the same book. Look to chapter 18, where you get a detailed prophecy of how Babylon has fallen, has fallen.

    How many times is this Babylon going to be destroyed in the end times? Only once. Now, read the context of that prophecy, and the destruction of Babylon is over in one day, yet its smoke rises up “for ever” where everyone can see it and mourn. They stand a far ways off “for fear of her torment.” No one stands a far ways off from a disaster site for fear of being “tormented in hell!”

    4. Your understanding of God as being perpetually angry and raging and torturing people is really twisted. Please consider this. “God is love.” Read John, 1 John, etc. John wrote Revelation also.

    If you found someone who had been torturing his children in the basement for the past two months, you’d have no mercy on him. Yet you envision a god that is a trillion times more hideous than this, infinitely worse than the devil. This should tell you that something’s wrong with your defining of love.

    Look at the scriptures again. The “Eternal Conscious Torment” doctrine is scantily supported with faulty proof-texting, and descended from pagan mythologies. It’s a doctrine of devils: if Satan wanted to spread lies about God, this is the most wicked doctrine he could imagine that would turn any sane and loving person against their creator, and appeal to the basest and most evil instincts in fallen man.

    If anyone would *want* “eternal conscious torment* they know not the love of God, and they don’t understand mercy or the nature of Christ. Anyone that believes this doctrine (without wanting it) has been taken for a ride, and is trusting their tradition too much, and needs to look again at the scriptures.

    Take care,
    -Andrew

  • Andrew Patrick

    One last note for Jared,

    You said that Revelation said that the “beast and false prophet” would be tormented for ever. If you’re reading the Greek or any of the older English versions, like Tyndale, Geneva, Bishops, King James, it says no such thing at all. Newer translations in the last century (NIV, NASB, NLT, etc) have added that particlar gloss.

    Read the King James text carefully: “where the beast and the false prophet…” is a parenthetical phrase which identifies the fire or place of the fire. It does not say that the beast and false prophet “still exist” and the word “are” is in italics to show that it’s added merely for grammatical purposes. Tyndale even translated this verse using “were” instead of “are” for grammar.

    Secondly, the devil(s) are only going to suffer a torment that lasts while day and night still exist. That’s a pretty long time, as in “for ever” as in the entire length of the judgment. How long do you think it is going to take to judge everyone who has ever lived? The answer: FOREVER.

    “Until the end of the Age”

    Most people would say they were standing “forever” in line for movie tickets, or waiting for their turn in a shopping line. That’s they way “forever” is used in English. Even the Hebrew uses “forever” in the same way… the Hebrew who wanted to stay with his master had an aul driven through his ear, and “he was to serve his master for ever.”

    If you can’t find that verse, ask me, I’ll show you. That exact language “for ever” is used twice in Moses in such a way that no one can deny that “for ever” has a scope that is limited by the duration of its subject.

    Which brings me to the last point: the devil does not have an infinite duration. The prophesies concerning his eventual destruction are VERY CLEAR and numerous enough. It says he shall be “consumed by fire” and “be no more” and be brought to “ashes” when he is hauled before kings in judgment. It says he shall be made as weak as the risen dead.

    If this doesn’t sound familiar, then consider that you may have missed something. The devil will de destroyed, but he will first have to suffer the judgment for the entire duration. Day and night do have an end: this is prophesied throughout the Bible and reminded in Revelation.

    That particular question is answered in detail in the ‘Question 14/15′ section of “Burn On or Burn Up” which can be downloaded from my website, far better than I can present in a blog post.

    The destruction/annihilation of the devil is a very clear doctrine from scripture. If you’re reading a verse that says he shall be tormented “for ever” to contradict these scriptures, then you’re reading something else into it.

    The Hebrew servants also were to serve their masters “for ever” but that obviously doesn’t mean that it was meant to apply after they died. Let the Bible interpret itself consistently.

    -Andrew

  • jaredcburt

    David,

    I am aware of the debate over “eternal” (aeonion) and I understand there are solid scholars who hold the same view you hold (John Stott!). This is why I said it was a good blog and a reasonable position (I do not think this is the case, for example, with Rob Bell after seeing an interview). This is not something I am dogmatic about. But I think one sacrifices a lot by not understanding “aeonion” to mean “everlasting” in many passages regarding punishment, contempt, torment, etc. Indeed, many of these passages also reference “eternal life” (Daniel 12:2; Mt. 25:41, 46). Well, is God’s promise to us everlasting life or what? I see no good reason to think these passages do not refer to duration. I don’t think your understanding of John 3:16 fits all of these other passages referring to eternal life or even John 3:16.

    So I do believe to be consistent one must interpret these passage to refer to eternal torment. If this is the correct interpretation of these passages then this covers your point that the Bible does not teach immortality of the soul. Obviously, if the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment, which is how I interpret the Scripture, then the immortality of the soul point is under this umbrella.

    Regarding Revelation, while the passages certainly mean what they mean, the meaning is communicated in some way by the language and words used. Otherwise, the whole book would be meaningless. I have a Classic Premillennial interpretation of Revelation, so I do not interpret everything literally. But even so, my interpretation of these passages is not fringe. In fact, it could be argued that it is mainstream.

    Jared

    • David D. Flowers

      I would say premillennialism is the “popular” view with the church at large, mostly with the person in the pew, but it is most certainly not the first choice, or “mainstream”, among NT scholars. Unless of course you’re from DTS or Southwestern… and then you have to sign on the dotted line that you subscribe to Left Behind. :-)

  • jaredcburt

    Andrew,

    You almost wrote a book and I can’t respond to everything right now. But I can clear up a few things.

    First, that the smoke arises for ever and ever was never part of my argument.

    Second, your illustration about a man torturing his child in a basement as a picture of my view of God is horrendous. I would encourage you to be gentler in your defense. Understand, the wrath of God was not my idea. God is love, but wrathful (see Rom. 2:6-8 where “wrath and fury” are the alternative to “eternal life”). If the rich man and Lazarus shows anything it reveals those who reject God are certainly tormented (the question is about duration). I don’t know, but David may even agree in a period of punishment (whatever that punishment may be). Without a doubt torment of the wicked is taught throughout the Bible. I have never denied that God is love. He is. But we are not innocent children in a basement, we are radically wicked and rebellious against this loving Creator. Our wickedness is one thing the Bible is very clear about (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:9f). The illustration you gave made me angry because even as sinful as I am the wickedness of a person torturing children is offensive even to me. But I am sinful, corrupt, and depraved. What must this sin be like to an infinitely holy, loving, and just God? If it stirs anger in my finite and imperfect heart, what must it do to a perfectly loving God? To move the analogy further, if I lied to a friend the consequence for that lie would be minimal. No jail, no fine, etc. But if I lied to a judge the penalty would be much worse. Now we have a name for it: perjury and a sentence would be given accordingly. Why? Because of who the offense was against. My sin is against God (Ps. 51). I deserve God’s wrath and fury. Praise God, the righteous wrath was absorbed in Jesus Christ on my behalf. Perhaps people are repulsed at hell because they know that they could have gone there and imagining the torment is too much. But what about the offended party? What about God? What should be the punishment for sinning against God?

    Third, I did not bring in any pagan mythology to support my case – only Scripture. Has pagan mythology influenced my interpretation of Scripture? Well, as far as I know everything I stated in my response I tried to be faithful to the original intent of the biblical author. I have no reason to question this is what you would try to do as well as David.

    Fourth, see my last response for an understanding of “eternal” in relation to “forever.”

    Fifth, terms in the Bible referring to destruction, bring to ashes, consumed by fire need not mean that a person (the devil) is annihilated. Even Gregory Boyd (mentioned in David’s response to me) sees how certain passages do not fit the annihilationist view (he mentions (Rev. 14:10; 20:10; Matt. 25:34, 41; 2 Thess. 1:6-9 in “Satan and the Problem of Evil, p. 336). Notice how Revelation 14:10 is referenced which shows that my understanding of these passages in Revelation as teaching eternal conscious torment is not out of sync with good scholarship. Boyd attempts to take a mediating position.

    Jared

  • jaredcburt

    Lol. You just need to go back and watch that great NT scholar Kirk Cameron in Left Behind. :)

    No, I could not get in to DTS because I am not a dispensationalist and I have never read Left Behind (praise God!). I fall somewhere between disp. and amill. = classic/historic premill. Hey, Dr. Bob is classic! Is he not mainstream? Lol :)

  • Andrew Patrick

    For Jared,

    I would dearly love for you to respond to everything I just brought up, but as you’ve recognized, a blog entry won’t do justice to these questions. If you send me email through my webpage link, I will respond.

    In the meantime, I will briefly answer your labelled points:

    1) Smoke that goes up “for ever and ever” was not specifically part of your argument, but the biblical meaning of “for ever” was. It also makes an easy way to find this verse in an instant: enter a KJV search on “smoke” and “for” and “ever” (and follow the link to Ezekiel 34.)

    And, although that may not have been your specific argument, I have heard “smoke rises for ever and ever” used as an argument before. However, I used it in this case to establish the correct context of “smoke rises for ever” … which had only been used to describe a corporal punishment with a definite end. One should not read Revelation outside the context of the rest of the Bible.

    2a) What does it matter how horrendous my description of the child in the basement was? If what you say is correct, than God is really a million, no, infinite BILLIONS times more sadistic than that.

    2b) God is not wrathful in the sense implied. God has wrath, and God shall inflict wrath, but that does not mean He is wrath. The issue here is not whether God possesses wrath, but how this wrath is expressed.

    2c) Which brings us to the scripture you cited. If “wrath” is the opposite of “eternal life” then what is the end result of the wrath of God? The opposite of “eternal life” cannot be “eternal life in pain” as you’re implying. The opposite of life is death. The wrath of God brings death, which by definition, is the cessation of life. It seems that you are implying that “death” really needs to mean “life” which is an inherent contradiction.

    2d) The rich man and Lazarus has nothing to do with judgment, nor was it meant to contradict all previous scripture. It was a parable using a fictional backdrop of the Greek Hades. “Without a parable he spoke to them not” it says.

    Besides this, where in that parable did the beggar accept God and Christ? Read carefully: he went to the nice side of Hades because he “received evil things in his lifetime.” Why was the rich man tormented? Not because he rejected God, but because “he received good things in his lifetime.”

    How hard have you looked at this passage? For example, who would be described as dressing in purple and fine linen, having five brothers, possessing the law and the prophets, and calling Abraham “father?” Does he have a sister? What is his name?

    3) I am glad that my illustration made you angry. It should anger you, because even this pale example, being a millionth times smaller than what you’re defending, should anger anyone. It is the antithesis of “God is love.”

    4a) We are all children. God is infinite, we are finite, in age and mental capacity. We are even children from the perspective of the patriarchs. It makes no difference if children are wicked or not: torturing children for ininity is not the character of God.

    4b) Could you answer something for me on this? Do you believe that men have free will?

    4b1) If not, then why would God create people that he intended to torture for infinity, from the beginning, without any hope for them ever, for no fault of their own?

    4b2) If so, then if God was keeping anyone alive for an infinity, no matter how wicked they were, if they possessed free will, why couldn’t they repent after an infinite time? Do you believe that God would EVER reject sincere repentance, or alternatively, do you believe that God is going to sever their “free will” to prevent these people from repenting?

    In short, what is the POINT of your proposed judgment scenario? As I read the Bible, God will DESTROY the wicked and they will be no more. That’s the point. No more pain, no more suffering, no more death, just as it says in Revelation. It’s clean, it’s simple, it’s just, it’s merciful, it’s absolute.

    5) What should be the punishment for sinning against God? I believe the scripture says, “The wages of sin is death.” It does not say “life in torment.”

    6a) You are using pagan mythology to support your case, although you probably don’t realize it, because the Church of Constantine adopted it so long ago that most people assume it’s Christian. You’ve taken a parable with Hades as a backdrop (a pagan Greek hell) and interpreted the backdrop as the doctrine, and missed the parable entirely. It’s like if someone heard me tell a story with Sanata Claus and the Easter Bunny, and thought the whole point was to say that these were real people, and didn’t hear anything else I said.

    6b) If you were to read the first five books of Moses, what picture do you get? Do you have “immortal souls?” If you read the rest of the writings, do you have anyone alive after they are dead? No: the light is as darkness, the dead praise not God, they are as if they have not been, the infant and the wicked alike find peace in death, the dead don’t know that they’re dead, and so on and so forth.

    What about the prophets? Again, no contradiction to the Hebrew understanding of death. But, based on one parable, you’re understanding this as a confirmation of the pagan Greek mythology (Catholisized plus) and this must stand against all of this, even if it creates numerous other contradictions even outside of this topic?

    This is why I say you are influenced by mythology.

    7) Eternal vs. Forever… rather than write here, which has gotten lengthy already, I’d ask that you present specific examples of what you’re talking about. Here’s an example: when “eternal fire” burned Sodom and Gomorrah, they were reduced to ashes. Eternal fire does not burn without end: it is fire FROM the Eternal. I’m not sure that you’ve thought about this angle yet.

    8) The Bible specifically describes the devil as being fated to be reduced to ashes, consumed by fire, and being “no more.” It names the “covering cherub” that was present in Eden, which sinned, and fell. Can you think of any stronger way to describe “Annihilation” than phrases like these?

    9) I am not concerned with “good scholarship” or who agrees with whom. Isn’t Kirk Cameron considered “good scholarship?” I haven’t read Boyd, and I’m unlikely to. They have the “last trump” happening before the “first trump” to support their theology …

    10) However, every passage you cited entirely fits “Annihilationist View.” There are no contradictions. Why not send me an email, and tell me why you think said verses would contradict the normal meanings of “life”, and “death” and “burn up” and “ashes” and “consumed” and “no more.” I can’t answer questions that aren’t asked, but it certainly isn’t fair to suggest that there are “contradictions” when there is no opportunity given to answer.

    11) A blog format is not a good formum to provide overwhelming proof and scriptural support. With limited space, casual “proof-texting” never gets a chance to be properly tried.

    Write me, and we can talk (follow email from website).

    -Andrew

    P.S. In Dueteronomy, God describes that Israel would be faithless, and sin against Him. Do you know what he said the punishment would be? Death, disease, sickness, captivity, famine…. all intended to redeem them, but otherwise ending in death. Not a single threat of “eternal conscious torment.” Why would that be lacking?

  • Cindy Skillman

    What a controversial post you have posted, David. Maybe I missed it, but one thing I don’t remember seeing that has been a central point in my thinking on this subject; If God’s intent is to sum up all things in Christ (does Paul really mean ALL things, or is he using hyperbole?) then would “all things” include a lake of fire filled with tormented humans and angels? Could our holy Christ contain such a horrible thing? Maybe I’m missing something, but this is a major point to me. Please let me know your thoughts on this.
    Thanks so much!
    Cindy

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Cindy, I believe that “all things” will indeed be gathered up into Christ, but I don’t see this promoting universalism, or overturning the great warnings and the metaphors that speak of a horrible final death for those who reject the Son and his perfect salvation. Therefore, I hold all of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) teachings together, tensions and all.

  • Cindy Skillman

    Thanks for the quick reply, David. No, I agree with you that this does not support universalism, but I think it may be a support for annihilationism. After all, if those who refuse Jesus to the end are still suffering forever and ever and ever, then they would have to be outside Christ (or perhaps simply being INSIDE a holy God IS the cause of the suffering). That doesn’t really work for me, though. I think they are consumed by the fire and they are no more forever. I’m just wondering whether you think this is a side issue or a valid point.

    You really gave me something to think about with the point that the immortality of a human soul is not really so easy to find in the bible. I haven’t been able to find it anyway. From where I’m looking, it is only the indwelling Holy Spirit that makes a soul immortal.

    And the logical next question for me has been then, does the bible really and truly support the idea that death is the end of the person’s opportunity to choose Jesus? Even if everyone has seen enough to make that choice just by looking at creation, still surely not everyone has had the same opportunities we have had. Many have not heard of Jesus and many more, not heard in a way that would enable them to believe or to see the REAL Jesus. The only two passages I have found that seem to support the end of choice with death are “it is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgment” and “the tree lies where it falls.” This seems a bit weak to me. The first is talking about something altogether different, and the second is cloaked in metaphor and not explained.

    Clearly, there IS an end to the opportunity to choose at the last judgment if not before, but I wonder whether the death of the body really IS that end of choice? I can’t find it in scripture. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not there — I may not be looking hard enough. Thoughts?

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Cindy, the Scripture does not indicate that there is any opportunity after death to receive Jesus. Gregory Boyd seems to think that some folks will have a post-mortem opportunity to respond to the Lord. This is speculation, so what that would look like is impossible to say.

      Yes, all we have is that the judgment marks the end of this present evil age and it (Second Coming) inaugurates this new “eternal” age. It seems that the decision(s) we make in this life are crystalized upon death (or judgment). The decisions we make in this life really do matter after all. :-)

      The Scripture doesn’t explicitly state what happens to children (or the mentally ill/challenged) who are not able to make a rational decision. This is a legitimate concern. Also, when we consider what happens to those who have never heard of Christ or his gospel, we rightfully wonder how that person will be judged. There are plenty of “what about…” questions that concern me.

      Therefore, I move forward holding on to what we do know. Jesus will return to set all of creation free from decay and resurrect kingdom citizens for a new heaven and earth. There are good reason(s) to preach the gospel and repent in this present age (now)—not just because of judgment. God is merciful and full of surprises. Jesus preached a real judgment, and it ain’t all good.

      I recommend reading “A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in World Religions” by Clark Pinnock.

  • jaredcburt

    Andrew, Taking your points in order…

    1. Again, the “smoke” argument was never one of my points and I do not use KJV. But I agree that Revelation should not be read out of context from the rest of Scripture.

    2a. What if a judge let a rapist off with a slap on the wrist? The main issue concerns the “weight” and evil of our sin against the Holy One. So God is only “sadistic” if the punishment does not fit.

    2b. I think I agree with what you say.

    2c. As you so clearly illustrate, the opposite of “death” is not “existence.” Neither is the opposite of “life” assumed to be “nonexistence.”

    2d. I interpret the story of the rich man and Lazarus to be about the reversal of fortune, especially as it concerns wealth and possessions, in the afterlife. This is common in Luke (e.g. the Pharisee and the tax-collector). I am not convinced it is a parable simply because it never says it is a parable (the usual formula) and this would be the only parable in which Jesus actually names a character. That being said, I agree the main thrust of the story does not concern the doctrine of hell as many think it does. But the message the rich man wanted delivered was a message of repentance. My assumption is that no one enters into God’s favor without the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. He was not in torment because he was wealthy, but because he did not repent and believe.

    3. Gentle J 1 Peter 3:15

    4a. We are not all children. In fact, we must “become like a child” to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18). We are born in sin (Ps. 51). We are evil to the core – loving sin rather than righteousness. God hates the wicked (Psalm 11:5). To use a child in an illustrations gives an implied sense of innocence. But we are not innocent nor ignorant of our rebellion and the Father is not sinful, but perfectly Holy and Just.

    4b. Yes, I believe we have free will.

    4b2. The result of our free will is that our father Adam chose to sin. We follow in this tradition of choosing disobedience because while God is love, we are not (John 14-15). A man-centered view immediately wants to make excuses, negotiate judgment (reduce the sentence), and plead our case. The reality is that there is no excuse, judgment is nonnegotiable because God is just, and we have nothing to plead. This is why Jesus is the only way. He is our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), he absorbed God’s wrath on our behalf as the propitiation of our sin (1 John 2:2), and he died in our place and for our sins that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). God knew all of this would happen before the foundation of the world and was prepared to give the Son (Rev. 13:8; Eph. 1:3-14).

    To “destroy” does not necessarily mean to annihilate. That wineskins are “destroyed” does not mean they ceased to exist (see Matt. 9:17). The disciples said the anointing oil was destroyed when the sinful woman poured it on Jesus. This is does mean it ceased to exist, but was ruined and wasted. The same terminology is used concerning “eternal destruction/ruin/waste” in the NT. Obviously the no more pain, etc. refers to those who are in Christ Jesus.

    5. The punishment for sinning against God is “death,” and to be specific “the second death” which is the lake of fire (Rev. 20-21).

    6. I have backed all of my beliefs with Scripture. We all have presuppositions. While I used the “parable” as part of my argument, it was hardly the centerpiece of it.

    7. If one wants to hold on to the promise of “everlasting” life, then they must also hold on to the promise of everlasting punishment. Words do have a variety of meanings, but rarely in the same verse.

    8. I can see your point with the language used to refer to the devil. However, there is language in Revelation (also metaphors) which bring a fuller understanding of the devil’s fate.

    9. Okay. While I like Kirk Cameron, he is not a scholar J

    10. This is probably the last time in a long time I will post on this (although I would read your response to this post). I have already said too much on this.

    11. I have enjoyed the conversation and benefited from this little debate.

  • Andrew Patrick

    Responding to Cindy’s question,

    (paraphrasing) “Can someone repent after they die?”

    I’m going to answer differently than David. Someone cannot repent while they are dead, because death is death. However, when someone has been resurrected, they are alive, along with everything that implies. If one is alive, and not yet destroyed, there is still hope.

    I will provide a few scriptural allusions that you can follow up on here:

    1) First, in the great judgment of Revelation, does it not say that “the books were opened?” What books are these? The important part is that there is “another book” opened, which is the book of life. That book was closed, but now it is opened. See Revelation 20:12.

    2) On what day did Jesus stand up and ask for anyone who thirsted, to come to him, and drink, to have eternal life? The saints are raised to immortality on Christ’s return, but the Last Day of that Feast represents the judgment that we’re considering. Compare John 7:37 with Revelation 21:6.

    3) Why would the prophet speak of a child that dies one hundred years old, and the sinner, being one hundred years old, being accursed? This is spoken of in the context of this future time. “There shall be no more an infant of days.” See Isaiah 65:16-20.

    4) Why would it be “more tolerable” for some in the day of judgment than others? Jesus said it would be “more tolerable” for Sodom and Nineveh than the Pharisees. See Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22,24, Mark 6:11, Luke 10:12,14

    5) When God described the resurrection of Israel, he said he would put a “new heart” in them. Obviously, there was something wrong with their heart before, but he said he would raise them to life, graphically describing new flesh, sinews, skin, and animiating them to life – this hardly seems “metaphorical”, for how could it be described any more clearly? See Ezekiel 37:1-14. This alone should be a sufficient example to demonstrate that one’s heart can be changed after being raised to life.

    6) What is supposed to be so mystical about a moment of death that would “crystalize” our hearts? People have been raised to life before, including the daughter of Jarius. Was his daughter “Christian” before she died? Did his daughter still have free will after she started breathing again?

    7) Consider this for a moment. If you are brought before a judge and judged for your crime, are you not given an opportunity to “plead?” You are usually asked, “How do you plead?” If one insists they are “innocent” in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, what happens? On the other hand, what might happen if the defendant pleads guilty and throws themself on the mercy of the court? So, ask yourself this: 1) does God desire to show mercy? 2) can God truly read the heart? 3) does God ever reject a broken and a contrite spirit? See Psalm 34:18 and Psalm 51:17.

    8) When Christ returns, he shall raise the saints to meet him in the air, and the saints that still draw breath shall be changed to meet them in the air, but the rest of the dead are not raised for 1000 years. See Revelation 20. However, when Jesus described the coming judgment, he described a separating of sheep and goats, onto his hands right and left. See Matthew 25:33. Additionally, although the “goats” are claiming that they served Christ, the “sheep” are saying “when did we do this unto you?” These sheep are surprised to be accepted, so they cannot be the saints that reigned with Christ for the past 1000 years.

    Essentially, the very meaning of being “raised to life” means that one does have the free will to repent, the very character of God is such that he will not reject true repentance, and there are scriptures indicating the raised dead will have a chance to follow God.

    I know of no scriptures that say that the dead will be raised as a type of lobotomized zombie without free will, simply a prisoner inside a fleshy cage so he can witness his “fair trial.” It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, but this says nothing about the nature of judgment. For this we need to look to the scriptures and consider the nature of God and Christ.

    9) Does not the scripture say that “so shall all Israel be saved?” See Romans 11:26. Ask yourself, as you’ve read off “all Israel” does it seem as if they had a heart that truely followed the LORD while they first lived? I suggest re-reading the book of Judges. If hard-hearted and stiff-necked Israel might yet be saved, then what does this say about Gentiles for whom it will be “more tolerable” in the day of judgment that might say “When did we do this unto you, Lord?”

    10) In the parable of the prodigal son, did not the father say that his son was “dead” but now was “alive?” See Luke 15. This son had lost his inheritance, but was still welcomed with open arms when he finally knew repentance. What does this tell us about the nature of God and Christ? Would he not accept someone back who was literally dead, and raised to life, who truly repented?

    I could probably find a lot more evidences if I was reading through to specifically look for them.

    -Andrew

  • Andrew Patrick

    Responding to Jared,

    2a) The “rapist” and “slap on the wrist” argument.

    A “rapist” is simply someone that tortures someone for a (short) finite space of time, and our justice does not consider the death penalty to be a “slap on the wrist.”

    Therefore, if you argue that “the punishment must fit the crime” then any conscious duration must be similarly finite, and it would seem that you would start protesting “the wages of sin is death” as being too harsh, and unfair?

    “The wages of sin is death.”

    The punishment is already prescribed, regardless of the type of sin involved. Life is a gift, not a right.

    2c) You need to explain your statement:

    “As you so clearly illustrate, the opposite of “death” is not “existence.” Neither is the opposite of “life” assumed to be “nonexistence.”

    I illustrated no such thing. Adults, children, and animals alike understand the basic truth of:

    “Life” is the opposite of “Death.”
    “I think, therefore I am [alive]”

    The wrath of God bringeth death, and the salvation of God bringeth life everlasting. It’s not right to twist my words to claim I’m saying the exact opposite, and then claim that this is your “last letter.”

    It is a perverse and twisted theology that must fall back to staunchly claiming that “death” really means “life” in spite of all rational and biblical evidence to the contrary.

    2d) “Lazarus and the rich man”

    You say you are “not convinced it was a parable….” Yet, does not the scripture say that Christ did not speak to the multitude except by parable? Was or was not a multitude present? See Matthew 13:34

    You say that it does “not say” that he was speaking in parable. Then, I ask, does it not also “neglect” to say that Christ is speaking in parable when he talks of the woman who lost one our of ten silver coins, of the man that lost one out of 100 sheep, and the “parable” of the prodigal son before that same audience? Even beginning Luke 16, he speaks of a rich man that praises his servant that wasted his goods. Does it say “He began to speak this parable” prefacing this? Who invented this “Neon Parable” rule that claims that a parable cannot be unless it begins with a flashing sign that says “This is a parable?”

    When God inspired the writer of Judges, did he put a disclaimer in front of Jotham’s speech in chapter 5 that “he told this parable unto them?” Or is this a true story about how trees speak and elect kings?

    And, an most important question I would put to you:

    You said: “He was not in torment because he was wealthy, but because he did not repent and believe.”

    That isn’t what the Abraham of Hades said. I think he said that he was here because he received “good things” in his lifetime. See Luke 16:25.

    Where do we have any indication that the beggar repented and believed? The lord of hell (Abraham) that speaks to the rich man says that the beggar is in his bosom because “likewise Lazarus evil things” that he received in his lifetime.

    4) We are all children. No child is “innocent” or has eternal life in themselves. When Jesus said that we must become like little children, he was speaking in parable. I know some pretty demonic little children, and Jesus was not speaking of these.

    My illustration of “torturing children in the basement” is a fair enough representation of what you are defending. As child is powerless before the adult, so is the creation powerless before its creator. Like the child, we did not choose to be born into existence.

    Let’s not get distracted about the word “child.” Children are not innocent and do not have eternal life. If they did, we would have no need to receive a gift of eternal life, and there would be another way to God than Christ.

    5) “Destruction”

    You wrote: “To “destroy” does not necessarily mean to annihilate. That wineskins are “destroyed” does not mean they ceased to exist (see Matt. 9:17)”

    I ask: SHOW ME THE WINESKIN.

    Do you know what wineskins are made of? Even leather, which is a perserved form of animal skins, decays, and perishes, and ceases to exist.

    I ask: What does someone do with a broken wineskin?

    They throw it to the earth where the moth and worm consumes it, perhaps it is eaten by dogs, or they throw it into the fire to be burnt, and it is “burnt up.”

    You said:
    “The disciples said the anointing oil was destroyed when the sinful woman poured it on Jesus. This is does mean it ceased to exist, but was ruined and wasted.”

    I ask: SHOW ME THE OIL.

    Even if you were there within an hour of this gospel event, the most you might be able to produce is some greasy fingers. The molecules were absorbed by the earth and digested by plants and bacteria.

    So, how is this not a fit picture of “destruction” as “annihilation?” This certainly was NOT preservation, as you must insist that this word must represent for your specifical doctrinal belief.

    You wrote:
    “Obviously the no more pain, etc. refers to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    And surely eternal life is also reserved exclusively for those who are in Christ Jesus also, is it not? Pain, by definition, is something that one experiences when one is alive. We are back to the basic meaning of “life” and “death” all over again.

    5) “What does a lake of fire do?”

    You wrote:
    “The punishment for sinning against God is “death,” and to be specific “the second death” which is the lake of fire (Rev. 20-21).

    What happens when you throw someone into a lake of fire? Surely you’ve seen movies, like “Joe vs. the Volcano” or “Madagascar” or “Lord of the Rings” and you have an idea what one would expect? Is Mount Vesuvius still torturing people, or did that molten fire kill people?

    If I said that the punishment for rape was “the gas chamber” or “the electric chair” who would not understand that this meant the end result of “the gas chamber” or “the electric chair?”

    The bible also uses the term “sword” to mean “death by the sword.” Is this confusing?

    Regardless, the term used is “death” and not “life.”

    7) ETERNAL punishment

    You wrote: “If one wants to hold on to the promise of “everlasting” life, then they must also hold on to the promise of everlasting punishment. Words do have a variety of meanings, but rarely in the same verse.”

    If the punishment is death (“for the wages of sin is death”) then perhaps you could explain how an eternal death, from which there shall never be a resurrection or reprieve, is somehow only temporary?

    The punishment is death.
    An eternal death is a death that never ends.

    Please take a look at your argument: why would you use space on this? How can you claim that annihilation is only TEMPORARY? That’s what your argument supposes.

    8) The devil shall be destroyed.

    You wrote: “I can see your point with the language used to refer to the devil. However, there is language in Revelation (also metaphors) which bring a fuller understanding of the devil’s fate.”

    Then please prove what you say. I can plainly see that the devil will be laid before kings in the judgment, that they shall behold him and ask “Art thou made as weak as we?” and that the day and night it speaks of as the duration of this torment has a definite and prophesied end with the new heavens and the new earth. My reading has no contradiction.

    However, yours does, which you have rationalized as a “fuller understanding?” Since when does that mean “ignoring every other verse of the Bible?” Where is your proof that the devil is immortal and cannot be slain by God?

    11) You signed off,
    “I have enjoyed the conversation and benefited from this little debate.”

    The most difficult part in this sort of “debate” is getting someone of your position to be willing to see it through. Usually, a “retreat” is sounded at this point, or failing that, a descent into smack talk and denial.

    This doesn’t have to be a “debate” and in fact, I’d prefer if it not be. I’d welcome you (or anyone) to talk to me privately, because it’s hard for people to be open in a public forum where statements are guarded. I want to be able to put specific questions to you and require specific answers.

    I’m going to paraphrase your arguments as I understand them so far:

    A) Death really means “life” …
    B) Destroyed really means “preserved” …
    C) An eternal death is really only temporary…
    D) A lake of fire does not kill its victims, but preserves them in never ending pain.
    E) Infinite torture for finite crimes is justice.
    F) God is a infinite sadist far exceeding any rapist or any devil.

    In other words, you must reverse the meaning of plain language and common justice.

    Your argument fails on rational, scriptural, and moral levels, and it also has the effect of searing the conscience and hardening the heart. You cannot truely understand the love and mind of God and Christ while ascribing wickedness to his character.

    Please consider these things. How would you prove your doctrine? And if you could, how could you persuade anyone with a gentle heart and “like a little child” to love this god you’ve created?

    Take care,
    -Andrew

  • jaredcburt

    Well Andrew, I wasn’t going to respond. But your summary of my position was so off the mark I feel like I need to at least try to set the record straight. Clearly you did not quote what I said.

    A. Death does not really mean life. Death means death. But death does not mean annihilation or the cessation of existence. (To my utter astonishment even Rob Bell believes this! Not that you care.)
    B. Destroyed does not really mean preserve. The point of the wineskin and ointment illustrations was to show that “destruction” does not mean something ceases to exist, but that it is ruined or wasted. I cannot show you the wineskin or ointment anymore than I can show you the Apostle Paul… but perhaps we can agree that he does still exist.
    C. I’m not sure I ever used the phrase “eternal death.” So I am not sure where you are going with that.
    D. The lake of fire is a metaphor. Whether or not it will be a literal fire is questionable. But there will be torment and there will be no rest day or night.
    E. I do not believe our sins are finite when they are rebellion against an infinitely holy God. The gravity of sin depends largely on who the offended part is. My first concern is not with the offender, but with the One offended.
    F. God is holy, righteous, and just.

    For the record, I do understand where you are coming from. We have different understandings of Scripture. My hope is that Scripture informs my understanding of who God is – as I am sure you do as well – not my own personal preferences.

  • Andrew Patrick

    Dear Jared,

    A) Life means existence. “If I think, therefore I am.” This is the commonly recognized meaning by everyone.

    Scripture says that death is the same for man and beast alike (see Solomon and Peter – if you can’t find these scriptures, then ask for them.) Death is the opposite of life, not a form of life as you must insist.

    And who is Rob Bell? It seems that he is a UNIVERSALIST that holds your same error of an “immortal soul” that has been inherited from the pagan religions, from Plato, Origin, and Augustine. Universalists wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for your doctrine.

    B) Paul does not “still exist” unless you mean either:

    1) “the writings of Paul still exist”
    2. “our memory of Paul still exist”
    3. “Paul shall be raised in the resurrection of the dead”

    Where did you get the impression that Paul is currently alive? Have you spoken with an apparition that claimed to be Paul?

    D) Why would you think that “a lake that burneth with fire and brimstone” is a metaphor? For the record, it seems that you don’t believe in literal hell fire. Why would Jesus warn about hell fire? Why would fire be used so often? Why would Malachi say that the wicked would be “burnt up” and become “ashes?”

    It seems that your position does not allow the Bible to be taken very literally.

    E) If you were concerned with the one offended, then you should be concerned with reading what He actually says about the wages of sin … which is DEATH.

    F) God is holy, righteous, and just, which is why your protrayal of him as an Infinte Sadist is abominable, and totally contrary to his Words and his revealed Character.

    It is sad that you don’t realize how backwards this last argument of yours is. You are calling good evil, and black white. Look what the scripture says about that! Temporary pain is one thing, but sadism is EVIL. Infiniate sadism without any purpose of redemption is INFINITELY EVIL.

    If you want to know where I’m coming from, read what I’ve written. My web page is linked to my name on every post. I have an open challenge for anyone to show that I’ve said anything wrong at anytime. If that is not sufficient, I also offer to answer any question that one would ask.

    Plainly stated, there is no excuse for someone not knowing where I stand or where I’m coming from.

    You are describing God as a devil, and resisting a plain challenge to compare EVERY scripture on such an important doctrine.

    Actually, your version of God makes the devils look Good by comparison. Satan has never tortured anyone for an infinity. Your doctrine fuels Luciferians and Universalists (like Rob Bell) alike.

    I keep asking if you will talk to me privately, so you’d have a chance to lay out your questions. But I’m thinking that you *prefer* a sadistic God. Would you rather have a publically posted debate with rules?

    Here’s a sample question: you said you don’t believe in literal hell fire. Why not? Is this because it would mean that God actually WOULD burn up the wicked? I cannot imagine that you have a valid reason that would stand up to scrutiny.

    Enough of this “I believe this” and “it will not be tested.” Please show WHY hell fire *cannot* be literal. Present an insurmountable contradiction.

    Because … if you cannot show why it must be only a metaphor, then you’re guilty of metaphorizing away the scriptures for your personal preferences.

    Is this an unreasonable request?

  • Andrew Patrick

    Dear Jared,

    As a side note, listening to your arguments, it sounds like you are repeating William F. Procter from “The Fundamentals” in his essay “What Christ Teaches About Future Retribution” (1917). The denial of literal hell fire, the claim that an infinite God must be infinitely Sadistic, etc…

    I have his essay reprinted on my website, and a counter-essay “What Christ Teaches About Future Punishment” (written by myself) posted in the “Death and Hell” section.

    1) William can’t answer, because he’s dead.

    2) The preacher that presented William as his answer refused to answer… except for stating that he “believed what he wanted to believe” and that he also believed that he would “have to see people being tortured all the time for him to stay loyal to God.”

    In other words, he chose his doctrine for “personal preferences” and because he would not serve for reasons of love. Isn’t that a testament!

    Why not read these two essays? You wanted to know where I was coming from, didn’t you?

    Take care,
    -Andrew

  • Andrew Patrick

    I would welcome anyone to consider the following question:

    Based upon Jared’s statement:

    “I cannot show you the wineskin or ointment anymore than I can show you the Apostle Paul… but perhaps we can agree that he does still exist.”

    If Paul still exists, then why would he need be raised from the dead? Paul advised that if there was no literal resurrection, then wanton hedonism was justified.

    1Co 15:32 KJV
    (32) If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.

    Paul plainly states that if the dead are not raised, then after this life, we shall have simply perished, and that we of all men are most miserable.

    1Co 15:16-19 KJV
    (16) For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
    (17) And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
    (18) Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
    (19) If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

    Likewise, when Paul spoke to the Thessalonians, he comforted them with the assurance that their dead would rise again. If their dead loved ones were “in heaven” or otherwise in some sort of conscious state, why would he not tell them this?

    1Th 4:13-18 KJV
    (13) But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
    (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
    (15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
    (16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
    (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
    (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

    Paul is dead: he does not still exist. Yet he preached the resurrection of the dead as the hope and comfort of all who put their faith in Christ, assuring us that the dead would be raised when Christ returned. He did not fear death because he knew that we must die before we can be raised again.

    Has Christ yet returned? Or do we yet watch for him every hour? I also have faith that Paul shall be raised to life, immortal, and incorruptible, and so shall he ever be with the Lord.

    So, the questions for consideration:

    1) If the dead are “in heaven” or otherwise conscious, then why would Paul tell us that if the dead are not raised that we are “most miserable” and sanction hedonism? He preached that without the resurrection, there is no accountability or rewards for our actions.

    2) If the dead are “in heaven” or otherwise conscious, or somehow “with the Lord” then why would Paul tell the Thessalonians that they should be comforted in the knowledge that their dead would be raised when Christ returned, and that then they would they be with the Lord?

    3) Why did Paul continually preach the resurrection of the dead, if there was a more immediate punishment or reward? Why does Paul call continually call the resurrection of all the dead as his “hope?”

    Act 24:14-15 KJV
    (14) But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
    (15) And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.

    4) Why does Paul not preach this doctrine of “ascending to heaven when you die” or “being tortured by an infinite sadist for a finite sin against an infinite God?” Why is this doctrine missing from the entire Bible, for that matter?

    No one can show the Apostle Paul, because he is dead. But I can show you his words, and he preached that without the resurrection, we are without hope. Paul shall live again, at the resurrection of the dead, and he shall never die. Then, I could show you Paul, when he is real, when he is alive.

    Joh 11:23-26 KJV
    (23) Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
    (24) Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
    (25) Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
    (26) And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

    Did Lazarus die?
    Yes, he did.

    Did he die again?
    We shall assume that he did.

    Shall he live yet again?
    At the resurrection at the last day.

    Assuming his faith in Christ, when Lazarus is raised at that last day, shall he die any more?
    No, Jesus said that they shall never die.

    Assuming Lazarus was “in heaven” or in some otherwise pleasant or bearable conscious state,

    * Then how come Mary suspected nothing like this?
    * How come Jesus said nothing about this?
    * How come both of them talked of the resurrection?

    ** Why would Jesus comfort Mary by yanking Lazarus out of a “blessed conscious afterlife” instead of simply telling her that Lazarus was in a “better place?”

    Joh 12:17-18 KJV
    (17) The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record.
    (18) For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.

    The hope of the Christian is the resurrection of the dead, not ascending to some higher plane.

    Joh 3:16 KJV
    (16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    Why would everlasting life be a gift if this was something we had already?

    Must one perform theological gymnastics to render the word “life” meaningless? Man is not God, he does not have life in himself, and without this gift, he would surely perish. That’s not an obscure scripture.

    The alternative, for the unrighteous, is that they shall be destroyed, and perish as the brute beasts.

    2Pe 2:12 KJV
    (12) But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;

    Peter does not say “partially perish” as some must insist, but specifically states that they shall “utterly perish.”

    There isn’t much room for wiggling here, because he says “utterly perish” as “brute beasts are taken and destroyed.” The wicked shall die the death of beasts.

    * Without life we perish,
    * The gift of eternal life means that after we receive this resurrection of life, we shall never perish.
    * Without the resurrection we rise not, and we might as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

    * * * If the dead were conscious in bliss, why would there be a resurrection, and why are we told that this resurrection is our hope?

    * * * If the dead were conscious in torment, why would they be tormented before the judgment of the dead? Isn’t that backwards? Or if there was a secret judgment before the judgment, why would there be a second judgment?

    For Jared, or anyone else, now is the time to answer these questions. If you have any reason at all for a reservation, put forth a formal question, an official challenge.

    Act 17:30 KJV
    (30) And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

  • Chris Wileman

    All I can say is that the fear that this discussion causes so many… Even the backlash I’ve faced from being willing to discuss it. Loss of friends and being cast off from the “serious theologians” in my community. Looked upon as a “troublemaker”…
    Mostly the folk who want to keep eternity limited and exclusive I think… Gives me pause to think that God’s love and mercy can even outshine our well-hammered out and “scripturally based” doctrines of eternity or Hell.
    I read this article and what rises in me is fear, and doubt and shame. All that is what had fueled my Christian Life for 30 years. I want to mature.
    It’s opposite of what I trust I have received from Christ and others who have also received it and maybe don’t even know.
    I’m personally counting on being “surprised by joy”.
    This was well written and very well thought out. I appreciate your thoughts.
    It’s “safe” enough that no Evangelical should ever have a problem with it.
    Which is why it makes me wonder.

    • David D. Flowers

      Chris, it sounds like your fear is so deeply rooted that you may have missed the point of what I’ve written.

      Keep in mind that this was written to counter the fear and abuse of Scripture by fundamentalists. You apparently haven’t met the evangelicals that I know personally who think what I’ve written is a false teaching. I’ve got more flak for my stance on this one issue than any other I’ve made public.

      You must follow the Lord the best way you know how, but be careful not to overreact or over-correct in your response to the fear ingrained in you by fundamentalism.

      Blessings, bro.

      • Cindy

        I never had any fear regarding this that I can remember, but I have a number of friends who, having been Christ followers for their entire lives, still fear deeply for themselves. One in particular I’m thinking of is Arminian, married to a soft Calv. Wonderful people and he’s so loving and reassuring to her, but she can’t accept that she’s “good enough” because of the oft-present idea that she could lose her salvation.

        When I read this post, David, it started a search in earnest that I’ve been on peripherally all my life. I discovered the truth of your statement that the human soul is not immortal (apart from God’s sustaining us). That completely blew me away. For a year I was an annihilationist and quite satisfied with that.

        I believe (and I don’t want to push this off on anyone because I’m not in the canon — I could be wrong) I believe the Holy Spirit caught me up short one evening and said to me (quite unasked for and unexpectedly) “That’s not good enough. What if they (Christian universalists) are right? What if they have answers for your objections? Don’t you think you should check?” I have become persuaded that God will and can and is in process of leading all to Himself. I believe He will eventually succeed (and therefore has succeeded, in His pov). Strange as it may seem, this has greatly increased my desire to reach out to the lost.

        I did read the book you recommended — A Wideness in God’s Mercy (I believe) — but I just can’t conclude that this is good enough. It still leaves much of the world for most of history without a credible witness. And having studied very deeply (for my poor abilities) during the last year and a half or two in both scripture and philosophy, I am persuaded that God will manage to do what we know He wills to do. He will save them all, if He has to do it through hell and mighty waters. He is all loving, all powerful, and He will do it even without violating our freedom (such as it is).

        Love in Him, Cindy

        • David D. Flowers

          Hey Cindy,
          I appreciate your honest following of the Lord, and your sensitivity to the Spirit. I have given the UR position much thought. While I’m not closed off to the idea, I’ve yet to be convinced by their interpretations of the Scriptures.

          I would say that I hold to annihilation by the free will of those who reject God’s image, but I’m happy to be wrong. I certainly believe that a greater number of folks will enter the Kingdom than those who don’t, but there will be those who depart from the Lord for a second death. For the Lord said so himself.

          Nevertheless, I suppose that I shall live out the Kingdom like an annihilationist, but love like a universalist. That’s the best I can do. :-)

          Thanks, sista!

        • Cindy

          David, you’re so gracious. I gotta love you, Bro.

      • Andrew Patrick

        It’s interesting to see this thread come back to life again. Cindy, would you be up for some questions within the framework of Universalism?

        • Andrew Patrick

          Is anyone up for this subject? David perhaps?

          For example, if someone had a well-meaning idea to solve poverty and make everyone rich by giving everyone a million dollars, most of us could see why that wouldn’t work, and would even be counter-productive to the cause of the problem.

          And if someone was being spurned by someone else, and would not leave them alone no matter how many times they were told they were hated, refused to leave, etc… we would not consider that an expression of ultimate love, but we would call them a “stalker.”

          Even setting aside scripture, I don’t see how Universalism is loving, attractive, or even feasible, at least not within a context that allows us to have free will. And if we were not free willed creatures, then why would we be given the illusion of free will?

          And as I see creation, given to us for examples and illustration, everything I see reinforces the concept that there is such a thing as final death.

          It comes down to the same problem that “You can’t force someone to love you of their own free will.” And there’s another paradox that if God were to “force” someone’s will to make them “savable” he would actually be destroying the very thing that made them “them.”

          If the scriptures tell us anything, God is not a stalker, and he is willing to step back to see what we will choose. Love has to go both ways. God may love mankind, but if a man will not love their fellow man, there’s no place for that in his kingdom,

          … which is why God gives us examples of wheat harvested among chaff, tares, and weeds… and the parable of the father and the prodigal son does not sound Universalist to me.

          Is there anyone that might explain to me:

          1) Why Univeralism would be loving?
          2) How Universalism could be compatible with free will?
          3) How Universalism would be the obvious intended reading of scripture? (against the constant imagery of destruction?)
          4) How a Universalist might react if they were to discover in that final day that God was actually destroying the wicked in the most literal sense?

        • David D. Flowers

          Good questions, Andrew. I have been thinking some of the thoughts lately. I’m not a universalist, so I would love to hear how one answers.

        • Cindy

          I’ll go with the second one, Andrew and David, since I wouldn’t want to write a whole blog on David’s blog.

          First, I’m not sure humans do come with free will. Atheists sometimes say we don’t because they know they need humans to be reacting entities and not independent actors. This is because for a non-rational entity to produce (in whatever way) rationally acting descendents is not rational. Of course that doesn’t matter because if we are non-rational, nothing we might argue in a discussion matters a whit.

          But that said, while we are clearly independent actors (or if we’re not, there’s no point to the discussion), we are not as free as we like to make out. Jesus said that whom the Son shall set free shall be free indeed. That makes sense. As we mature physically we become more free. Infants have hardly any freedom. As they grow and mature they are capable of exercising and are given greater freedoms. Loving parents teach their children to grow into both freedom and responsibility.

          I submit that the same thing goes for spiritual maturation. We start out enslaved to sin. Paul makes out that the good he desired to do he could not do but that he was enslaved to the law of sin and death. Only through the Son could he be made free. So the unsaved do not have much in the way of free will. I do believe that God gives us the opportunity to choose to believe and trust or not. We can resist that. We can harden our hearts. But can we harden our hearts forever?

          Whatever you may say about indications for postmortem salvation (and I do see some in scripture), there is precious little against it. What there IS, is inconclusive. I was amazed at the sheer volume of what I did not find in scripture indicating that God gives up on His creatures at the point of physical death. There’s a bit in Ecclesiastes, but then Solomon doesn’t seem to expect any kind of an after life at all, and some scholars say that this idea hadn’t developed in Israel during his days. As for the NT, there’s one verse — the one everyone quotes about it’s appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment. First, this verse isn’t talking about death and judgment in general. Second, it doesn’t give us any indication as to what the judgment would be, nor how long it might last. I don’t know any evangelical universalists who would insist there is no judgment.

          I don’t think it’s credible to say that because God so greatly respects our free will, He will remove that free will at some point after death by either annihilation or eternal conscious torment imposed without hope of repentance. If a person facing judgment after death repents upon looking on the face of Jesus, would that repentance be acceptable? And if there is some punishment before annihilation (as Jesus parable of the wicked servant — few stripes, many stripes — seems to say), how long would that punishment last?

          What if the punishment of a really bad servant goes on long enough that said bad servant, having reflected on his evil ways, repents genuinely and begs forgiveness? Would God reject his freely chosen repentance? But what about the one beaten with few stripes? Maybe he doesn’t have enough time in the course of his punishment to repent, since his punishment is shorter. If he had been punished longer, might he have come to repentance?

          You might say that none of these things would happen because the will of these evil doers is set at death. But that begs the question of free will. God alone could set their will, and if He does that, then He does the very thing we find so abhorrent — deprives them of free will — of personhood, imo.

          But what if the punishment, as the original language seems usually to affirm, is corrective? (Timoria is used a couple of times, but usually it’s Kolasis. And even with Timoria, on one of the uses it’s being used of a clearly corrective punishment. I’m not saying that God would torture people in flames until they “repented.” For one thing, I don’t believe the flames are literal though I do believe the correction will be grievous. Perhaps it would be a visiting on them of the pain they have brought on others.

          Anyway, if these people undergoing appropriate punishment preparatory to annihilation have been stripped of their free will to repent, the whole discussion is, imo, meaningless. And if they have NOT been stripped of their free will it is possible and even probable that at least some of them would repent. If they did repent and God refused to forgive them, I think He would slight the price Jesus paid, and that He would trample on His own nature — His mercies endure forever.

          If God needs to show no partiality, then He needs to give the lesser sinners the same chance to repent that He gives the greater sinners. Ultimately this can only mean He has to drag the whole thing out until everyone has had the time to repent that is fair for them to have, and while I’m not a genuine philosopher I think that takes it out pretty much in perpetuity.

          Now, what does free will really mean? If a person causes himself suffering and cannot stop, then I think that person is irrational. It isn’t rational to desire suffering and it isn’t rational to do things that cause one to suffer if that one hates suffering. An irrational person does not have free will. God must give rationality if He is to give free will.

          If a person refuses to come to God because, in his fear of what he believes God to be, he thinks it would be worse to come home than to stay lost. That person does not have all the information he needs to make a rational choice. God must give him the info he needs if He is to give free will.

          It is, I believe, deeply incoherent to suppose that a rational person, fully informed, will continue throughout all eternity to reject that which he knows will ultimately be for his good. He may reject it for a long, long time out of pride or rebellion or anger, but eventually he must give in like the little boy pouting in his bedroom.

          Sorry about it being so long, guys. I have to give credit to Thomas Talbot, “The Inescapable Love of God” for quite a lot of this argument, though if you find some incoherent tidbits, those are probably my own musings.

          Blessings, Cindy

        • Andrew Patrick

          What is “rational” or not depends on your values. It depends on what you prized and what you hoped to accomplish. Is it not said, where your heart is, there will your treasure be also?

          … and lack of “rational” thought (by whose definition?) does not mean that person is without free will. Irrational people are usually very free willed, and refuse to allow themselves to be enslaved by facts, logic, or reason. Their feelings are most important to them regardless of reality. That’s a demonstration of free will.

          I dislike that phrase “postmortem salvation.” But if we believe in a resurrection of the dead, then we also believe that those who were once dead shall live once again. The dead are silent, but the living can repent.

          “I don’t think it’s credible to say that because God so greatly respects our free will, He will remove that free will at some point after death by … annihilation… “

          Besides being the clearest reading, this is entirely credible. It would not be “removing free will” but destroying the whole person, body and soul. I don’t think God is so in awe of his own creation that he cannot destroy it, regardless of how freely it exercised its will while it was alive.

          “. If a person facing judgment after death repents upon looking on the face of Jesus, would that repentance be acceptable?”

          Only God knows the heart, but “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psa 51:17). The God that I know does not reject sincere repentance.

          “And if there is some punishment before annihilation (as Jesus parable of the wicked servant — few stripes, many stripes — seems to say), how long would that punishment last?”

          This would be Irrelevant after you were dead, but you’re going someplace else with this…

          “What if the punishment of a really bad servant goes on long enough that said bad servant, having reflected on his evil ways, repents genuinely and begs forgiveness? Would God reject his freely chosen repentance? But what about the one beaten with few stripes? Maybe he doesn’t have enough time in the course of his punishment to repent, since his punishment is shorter. If he had been punished longer, might he have come to repentance?”

          Simply punishing someone does not produce repentance. It isn’t like you can just keep squeezing someone until they produce a glass of repentance juice. The law of God is love, and if someone will not love because they have no love in them then why would God add this to his kingdom? God doesn’t have artificial quotas.

          Punishment is corrective when there is already love and obedience to work with, and God does not want anyone who would only obey because they fear punishment. And did not Jesus warn us that “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it?”

          So anyone that would simply “come out from sulking in their room” because “they are hungry and want dinner and want to stop being punished…” … I don’t think God would want that type of person. Love is genuine, not cold and calculating for self gain. This is why some are told “When you did this unto the least of my brethren, you did this unto me…” (but remember the other half?)

          Anyway, if these people undergoing appropriate punishment preparatory to annihilation have been stripped of their free will to repent, the whole discussion is, imo, meaningless. And if they have NOT been stripped of their free will it is possible and even probable that at least some of them would repent. If they did repent and God refused to forgive them, I think He would slight the price Jesus paid, and that He would trample on His own nature — His mercies endure forever.

          Then let’s assume this discussion is not meaningless. It’s also not unreasonable to think that some people might repent at the judgment. If we grant that God forgives those who sincerely repent, those workers who arrive in the last day or those prodigal sons that return after they were counted as dead…

          … then that still leaves those that are not repentant on judgment day, because of their heart, not a lack of information. And regardless of how much real time that Judgment day takes:

          a) There is no requirement for perpetuity
          b) There is no reason to think that repentance is simply a random act that will eventually happen if you give someone enough time…
          c) But if we were to assume that repentance was simply a random happening (just wait long enough for an infinite time and it will happen) then you also need to allow that it could go the other way as well … to rebellion.

          If a person refuses to come to God because, in his fear of what he believes God to be …

          If someone were preached a false God, and they rejected that false God but simply lacked understanding, have they necessarily set their hearts to reject the true God? But that’s one reason for a judgment, to strip away the lies and to cast down the deceivers.

          Now, what does free will really mean? If a person causes himself suffering and cannot stop, then I think that person is irrational. It isn’t rational to desire suffering and it isn’t rational to do things that cause one to suffer if that one hates suffering. An irrational person does not have free will. God must give rationality if He is to give free will

          Woah… irrational people do have free will, and one that is irrational usually chooses their course of action because of what they want regardless of whether it leads to good results. And as to whether God will give rationality or take it away, aren’t we told in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11,

          “… because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie…”

          Note the positioning of that word “because!” So rather, it is the other way around. Those that love not the truth are sent a delusion, are even made to be more irrational, and it is because they loved not the truth to begin with.

          So, at this point the philosophy (from Talbot?) seems to break down:

          * 1) God desires sincere repentance, not someone simply trying to save his own life or to escape punishment

          * 2) God cannot force someone to love Him of their own free will (an impossibility by paradox)

          * 3) Your measure or rational or irrational depends upon your gods, goals, or objectives. Someone that is their own god will allow their choices to be dictated by pride, and pride will not allow them to bow to another (with repentance). Defiance in the face of death would be perfectly “rational” under that framework.

          * 4) Irrationality (even a God-sent strong delusion) follows a lack of love of truth, not the other way around, so there is no magic cure that will give someone a “love of truth”‘

          “…But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

          I don’t get the impression that God wants to add these types into his kingdom. God accepts repentance, but he has also promised to destroy the unrepentant, and it is called the second death.

          And while I know there is a resurrection to life from that first death (it is appointed unto men once to die), I have seen nothing about a resurrection from the second death, an eternal punishment, which would imply that you stay dead… forever.

          So, if this was in response to that question two, it seems that the consensus is that Universalism is not compatible with free will, but would rather require that God force or coerce genuine love out of everyone.

          But in the real world, I know it is possible to teach love, but you cannot force someone to adopt it. Someone may obey a system because of the incentives but that is not love.

          So would Universalism require a lower standard of love, redefined to simply mean any behavior that is simply adopted to gain reward or avoid punishment?

        • Cindy

          Hi, Andrew

          So basically what you’re saying is that we’re saved because we’re smart enough, good enough, and have a worthy enough heart to bring us to repentance? Because that’s what it sounds like here. God doesn’t want that kind of person? (ie: the person who doesn’t have these traits) So He’s on a quality quest and He’s chosen US? Okay . . . you and Paul might have a little controversy over that.

          And you keep insisting that an irrational person is exercising free will. You don’t give scripture for this (and I don’t have scripture for it either). Therefore it’s your opinion against mine on that point, and I just think my position is more rational. ;) A person who is rationally incompetent (irrational) is not capable of making competent decisions for him/herself. That’s why they get their affairs taken over by a competent relative.

          I had an aunt like that. Her “free will” was dead easy to manipulate by anyone who wanted to take advantage of her. I’m sorry, Andrew, but while she was a hateful and unpleasant person, the irrationality wasn’t her fault and she was most certainly NOT free. And what’s more, she was like that from puberty on, according to my mother. Like everyone else, she wanted a good life but she couldn’t have it because she sabotaged herself at every turn. Oh sure she did what she thought she wanted to do, but her perception of the expected results of the things she did was so incompetent that all her attempts to find joy were no better than sticking her own hands in the fire and holding them there while she screamed in pain.

          Oh yes, I don’t want to forget this one: You stated that punishment doesn’t bring repentance. Scripture disagrees with you on that. I won’t go into it as this is already long, but if you look at God’s history with Israel, you’ll see that He dealt with them both in forbearance and blessing AND in chastisement/punishment. NT, off the top of my head, Paul states that God chastises believers for their good. I see no reason to suppose He doesn’t chastise unbelievers for their good — for example the prodigal son’s suffering leading him to repentance.

          In response to your numbered points:

          1.) Really? Then why did He accept the prodigal who by his own statement wanted only a bed and a loaf? He takes us as we are and from there HE (not we) conforms us into the image of His Son.

          2.) God doesn’t need to force anyone. Time is on His side. At the most, the idea that some might hold out forever only requires a “hopeful” universalism rather than a “dogmatic” universalism. It is possible that God might, in time, succeed at what scripture clearly states He desires to do.

          3.) I already talked about this one.

          4.) Same as 3, more or less.

          You don’t get the impression God wants to add these types to His kingdom? His kingdom is the area/place/life in which He is sovereign. He wants to add ALL to His kingdom. You cannot enter His kingdom while you remain in the kingdom of this world, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to bring you under His sovereignty.

          Death is the last enemy to be destroyed. That can’t mean the first death (since it doesn’t say that). It can only mean the second death, if that’s the last death. Otherwise death remains. But if death is destroyed, only life remains.

          Andrew, the “consensus” is not necessarily what you declare it to be. There is no consensus between us on this issue so long as we disagree, though of course we can still love and respect one another as children of One Father.

          Your opinion, if I’m hearing you right, is that the sort of love that comes from returning to the Father because of our own misery, can never become the genuine love the Father requires.

          I would agree. He and He alone is the source of love. If we love Him well, it can only be with that love with which He has loved us. So while the returning prodigal is not capable of loving his Father as he should, the love of the Father toward the prodigal, which He lavishes on him in abundance, undeserved, can be returned to the Father. We love Him because He first loved us. Is this the unselfish love you’re talking about? Wouldn’t truly unselfish love give love whether it was loved or not? But only God loves like that. If we ever attain to that kind of love, we can only truthfully give Him the credit, for that is the love of God loving through us.

          Therefore none of us is more worthy than another. God does not receive us because we are the “sort” He wants — or because we are in some way “good enough” while those others aren’t. Our human “love” will never be good enough. Only His love in and flowing through us can make us perfect.

          Old Yaller had to be destroyed because the family could not save him. In his irrational, rabid state, destruction was the most loving thing they were capable of doing for him. But if they could have cured him and had chosen to destroy him instead, that would NOT have been loving. I submit that hate and fear and irrationality are a disease that, given time, God is capable of curing. While we may not be as worthy of cure as Old Yaller was, Father loves us anyway. That’s just the way He is.

          Blessings and love, Cindy

    • Chris Wileman

      Well, didn’t mean to overact or overcorrect at all. Didn’t feel I was correcting. I said it was “well written and very well thought out. I appreciate your thoughts.”
      I was only letting you know my initial feelings as I read it and my feelings about how most people address this subject by and large. I didn’t mean to take away from or criticize your well thought out points.
      As you have told me…
      You must follow the Lord the best way you know how, but be careful not to overreact or over-correct in your response to (people who share their feelings about your blog.)
      Again, I thought it was well thought out. I am just at the point where saying “I don’t know”… seems to be my best bet.

      • David D. Flowers

        Hey Chris, I think we both missed each other. That’s cool. It happens.
        I was responding to your mentioning of “fear” in this discussion, and because you seemed to think my position is “safe” for evangelicals. I have not found it to be safe at all. I appreciate your input, bro. I thought I responded directly to the words you used in your comment.

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  • h0llings

    I like to ask pointed questions where the answer is rather obvious.

    Since “hell” and “hades” actually refer to death and the grave, Isn’t the popular belief of “hell fire” actually what the Bible calls “the lake of fire”? If hell is to be in existence forever, why does the Bible say that hell and death will be burned up in the Lake of Fire? Revelation 20:14

    What is the second death? What is the first death? Is it true that all men die once but the righteous do not die the second death? Does death really mean dead, or some sort of sort-of death? Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 21:8

    Did Jesus die the second death to show the world what it really is and encourage them to avoid it by accepting Him? John 3:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21

    Why do most Christians think that God will burn the wicked forever? Is it because the enemy of God has been telling lies for a long time and most of humanity believe the lies? Psalm 63:11; Romans 3:19 Would it actually be the Devil who would burn everyone forever if he was in charge of the universe?

  • Mary Ann

    I do not consider myself a “universalist”, but a Christ believer who also believes in Ultimate Reconciliation. I wanted to try to address Andrew Patrick’s comments and questions:

    Andrew, in some of the things you are initially proposing in your comments, I think you are making God too human-natured, and God is not human at all. God is spirit and GOD is GOD. God is not a man that He should be considered to think and act like a man or be limited in power like a man.

    Free will is a human illusion. While we are not puppets, our will is not truly free because our will—all the choices and decisions we make—are influenced by something. There are reasons for everything that we choose to do or not do. These reasons have come from who we are and our experiences in the life that God has given each one of us. (I explain a bit more about free will at my own blog: http://www.discoveringgodtoday.com/2010/09/is-there-such-thing-as-free-will.html)
    Ultimate reconciliation does not need to be compatible with free will because there truly is no such thing. Humans seem to have made a demi-god of their imagined concept of “free will”. It’s only an illusion created to make us feel like we have control and power.

    Jesus said in John 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” Through Christ, and in His perfect love and ways, God will draw (not demand or force) and bring everyone to love Him. It has nothing to do with “stalking” in the ways us humans define stalking. God will not be doing this in ways in which violates or threatens as a human “stalker” would do. A stalker does not LOVE a person. A stalker is obsessed with having a person. God LOVES perfectly, and He will bring all to repentance at some point; *bring*, not stalk or beat them into repentance.

    The parables you are mentioning spoken by Jesus are being taken out of proper context. What we call our Bible was not all written TO us. While we can learn from ALL Scripture and all Scripture is profitable and helpful, a lot of it was written about Israel and to Israel and has to do with how God dealt with and will be dealing with Israel in the future. We are Gentiles and will do much better paying attention to what Paul said to our fellow Gentiles in his letters. It was PAUL who was sent to reach the Gentiles (those people of other nations outside of Israel). This mixing up and jumbling of Scriptures and of things that do not have to do with us Gentiles is the cause of a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding.

    God ultimately bringing everyone to reconciliation with Himself is not merely about being loving, it is about what God chooses to do because He is love, love never fails, and it is what He wills to be done. It is what he desires to do and therefore will do. God has already conciliated (“made up”) with mankind and the world through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). It’s just a matter of Him drawing, bringing, leading all mankind into reconciliation (“making up”) with Him.

    There is judgment and death spoken of in the Scriptures. The first death is the one when we die in these earthly bodies. Then there is a second death in the future, after the resurrection, at the lake of fire. However, neither of these deaths is about never ending eternal conscious torment or annihilation. We are also told in 1 Corinthians 15 that in the end, the last enemy Christ will overcome is death and that it will be completely abolished.

    How might those who believe in hell or eternal torment react when they discover that God meant it when He said all would be subjected to Him and that He would be ALL in ALL in the most literal sense? (1 Corinthians 15)

    How might those who believe in hell or eternal torment react when they discover that He really is the Savior of ALL mankind, especially of believers? (1 Timothy 9:10)

    How will those who believe in hell or eternal torment react when GOD, who is GOD, completely sovereign, and Creator and Ruler of ALL, and nothing like a human, has His perfect will that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth? (1 Timothy 2:4)

  • David D. Flowers

    Hey guys, I’m glad to see a jump start in an old discussion! However, please try to keep your responses as brief as possible. I’ve put this into the blog Rules for good reason.

    Try to focus on one point at a time. It helps to assure the conversation continues. Folks get discouraged from reading long comments. Plus, it’s overwhelming when you try to respond to multiple points at once.

    Thanks!

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