The flames of the great debate on hell seem to be burning low. So, lest they are extinguished, and Rob Bell’s roasting by fundamentalists proves less than the eternal punishment they think he deserves, here is an attempt to stoke up the fire again, although not against Bell…
I just discovered the rather occasional blog Thinking in Reality, by the anonymous male Iam4Jesus. The first link I followed was to a new post Are Atheists Right About Bible Prophecy? I don’t have anything to say just at the moment about Harold Camping’s prediction of the Rapture this Saturday, beyond my general scepticism about the Rapture. But I was attracted by the title of one of the other posts at Thinking in Reality, Are there immortal worms in hell?
It turns out that this post is part of a 2009 series on hell at Thinking in Reality. And there is certainly reality in the thinking I found there. The series starts with a post Where are we going…and why are we in this hand basket? asking
Will a Loving God Punish People Forever in Hell?
and noting that the biblical answer is not exactly what many people think:
Romans 6:23 where it says, the wages of sin is death. It does not say – the wages of sin is eternal suffering….
The very idea of this Hell – eternal suffering – is actually what drives many highly intelligent people away from Christ and His love. They say that they can’t beleive in a God who would be so terribly horrific. In fact Charles Darwin, in his autobiography, wrote: “Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete . . . I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe . . . will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine”
I think, the problem is not that the Bible teaches this “damnable doctrine” but that men have misunderstood what the Bible actually says.
Indeed, and some women have also misunderstood it.
In the second post in the series Iam4Jesus offers A Brief History of Hell. He mentions the place of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the development of the idea, and notes that
The popular concept of hell is a mixture of small bits of Bible truth combined with pagan ideas and human imagination. … One of the reasons this concept of hell survived is because theologians believed the teaching deterred people from evil.
With the understanding that Gehenna is what it is (an acursed trash pile), we can begin to ascertain that He means simply the fire will burn until the bodies of the wicked are consumed.
The last main post in the series by Iam4Jesus is The Destruction of Soul and Body in Hell. Here he anchors his main argument in Matthew 10:28:
Jesus here explains that, when one man kills another, the resulting death is only temporary because God can raise the dead to life again. But, when God destroys one in hell (Gehenna), the resulting death is eternal. There is no resurrection from this fate, which the Bible calls “the second death.”
… the wicked will be destroyed. They will not live for eternity in another place or state of everlasting anguish. They will reap their destruction in the lake of fire at the end of the age. They will be consumed virtually instantaneously by the heat of the fire and will never live again.
There is a lot more here, which I can only agree with. It is good that after a few follow-up posts Iam4Jesus moves on to the more positive topic of The Resurrection(s). And here he puts forward an interesting and surely controversial suggestion. Referring to the second, post-millennium resurrection of Revelation 20:4a, he writes:
That same verse explains, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.” In this resurrection will others have the opportunity to receive salvation? I believe, they will be called to understand God’s truth and His plan during a period sometimes referred to as the “great white throne” judgment (verse 11). …
Those resurrected in this group have never completely understood the truth of God’s plan for Grace and Mercy that He has designed and instituted from before the beginning of time. Once we realize that the majority of all people who have ever lived have never heard God’s truth, this resurrection offers some clarity and hope to these. Rather than such people being condemned to eternal suffering, the truth of the Bible is much more comforting and encouraging. I believe that God will extend the opportunity for eternal life to everyone, possibly relatively few in this age but to billions of people in the coming second resurrection.
Now I am by no means sure that Iam4Jesus is correct on every point in his discussion. But he seems to have put forward strong arguments for two points, that hell consists of annihilation rather than eternal torment, and that there will be a second chance after death at least for those who have not clearly heard the gospel in this life. Despite the protestations of the Reformed camp, the Bible does not unambiguously teach the “damnable doctrine” rejected by Darwin.
Iam4Jesus does not say what Rob Bell seems to, that “Love Wins” to the extent that all will be saved. But he does say that God will give a fair chance to all to accept his salvation, and that the alternative is not horrific eternal torment but quick destruction by fire. I think I agree.