Thinking in Reality on Hell and Resurrection

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.

Detail from Dante's Hell by Bartokomeo, c.1420In 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.

I will pass over part 3 to part 4, the aforementioned Are there immortal worms in hell? Here the author explains the meaning of Gehenna, the word Jesus used to refer to hell:

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.

0 thoughts on “Thinking in Reality on Hell and Resurrection

  1. Thank you, Peter, for visiting my blog. I am honored and humbled.

    Your closing paragraph here essentially sums up what my study has revealed to me, in that God will give a fair chance (justice) for all to accept his salvation – even after death, and that the alternative is not an eternal torment but quick destruction by fire – once and for all eternity.

    Another idea that supports this is the realization that God can and does make an eternal covenant with His people even in the absence of physical conciseness. What? I am reminded that throughout the Old Testament the eternal covenants The Father makes with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all happened while they were asleep – dreaming – even literally, in a trance. Suggesting to me that, even more so, if they were conscious, their natural/physical realization of what was happening may have hindered their Spirit-Man’s response to the promise….

    All that to say, I believe it is possible for a person who has never had the opportunity to hear the saving message of salvation in “this life” with their natural ears and respond – will have opportunity to respond to the Grace of God after their physical body has died….and, there-in lies a deep evangelical issue….that which, I may or may not get into at my blog. 🙂

    Again, thank you Peter. It is an honor to connect.

    Bless you, and may you experience and know the love of Christ; which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

  2. “…God will give a fair chance (justice) for all to accept his salvation – even after death, and that the alternative is not an eternal torment but quick destruction by fire – once and for all eternity.”

    To paraphrase then, apparently God will say, “You have one more chance to believe that I love you or I will destroy you forever. But I will make it quick and painless because I DO love you… really I do.”

    Interesting viewpoint.

    1Cor. 3:15 – if of any the work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; and himself shall be saved, but so as through fire.

  3. Chris, you’re welcome, and welcome to Gentle Wisdom. It’s nice that you are now not so anonymous. As I said, I saw a link somewhere to your latest post, but I can’t remember where. What you say about dreams is interesting: many from other religious backgrounds are coming to Christ through having dreams of him, showing them truths which they might have rejected when awake.

    Jim, it would sound better if we put the same thing another way: God saying, I love you, and I’m offering you a free choice: eternity with me or painless destruction. I think from your previous comments you would argue that any rational person with their eyes fully open offered that choice would accept the former. You may be right, in which case Bell is also. But I am not completely convinced.

    I would see 1 Corinthians 3:15 as a separate matter: all the things which people acquire in this life, all “the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1), will be burned away before people even reach God’s judgment seat. That will be a painful experience, for some but a short-lived one as it will be followed by a quick realisation that these things were worthless compared with knowing God.

  4. Peter,

    So you are not convinced that “any rational person with their eyes fully open offered that choice would accept the former (eternal life with God).” Why? Is it because you believe that not all people are rational (and if so can God not heal that affliction?), or do you believe that eternal life with God will not fulfill all of man’s needs and desires and not give us all true happiness and contentment? Or perhaps you believe a “rational” person might reject God, and if so please explain?

    In your newest post you quoted 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

    Do you not believe that we will ALL be changed, or will only the Christians and other “good” people be changed?

    Did you save yourself, or did God save you? And if God was able to save you without violating your free will, why do you believe in your heart that He cannot do the same for all of His creation?

    If “these things were worthless compared with knowing God” will He not be able to reveal Himself to all people so that they will truly KNOW Him? And if they truly KNOW Him why would anyone then reject Him?

    1John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

    Just a few questions. Do with them what you will.

  5. Jim, I do believe that all will be changed, with new resurrection bodies. As I made it clear, I am unsure of my position on whether all will choose to be saved. I am not going to attempt to justify further my uncertainty. All I will say is that the whole point of free will is that people have the right to make a choice which appears to others completely irrational and stupid, and that it is not for the others to deny them that choice.

  6. Peter,

    Thanks for the clarification. You are most certainly welcome to your opinion and I would never deny you that right.

  7. Not to belabor the point, but a truly “free” will could not be operating under stupidity and irrationality. That will would be in bondage to them.

  8. On the subject of the second resurrection and judgement, I would point out that Jesus, the OT prophets, and NT authors such as the author of Hebrews would say that “today” is the day of salvation and the day to choose life over death, not “tomorrow.” I believe that the decision we make here temporally is the same decision we will make eternally. One that Day, everything will be laid bare and the true condition of our hearts will be revealed, not changed. As to the question of those who have not heard the gospel, I cannot answer as the Bible does not answer definitively.

    I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues, but want to emphasize to everyone that the sure-fire way we can know whether we are saved or not is to accept God’s offer “today”! That should really be the final word that we can all agree on. 🙂

  9. Tyson, that is certainly a final word that I can agree on. I think Iam4Jesus (Chris) would also agree. He was suggesting a chance after death for those who had never heard the gospel, not for those who had heard it and rejected it. But of course he can speak for himself.

  10. Why, yes…I can speak for myself… 🙂

    That’s right Peter, I am suggesting that even after death there will be opportunity for those who die a physical death without every having opportunity to hear about and respond to the name of Jesus….and unfortunately, this is the vast majority of all those who have ever lived.

    Certainly, as scripture suggests, once a person has heard the responsibility of their response is with them. But, until they hear – where is the encumbrance?

  11. “… the sure-fire way we can know whether we are saved or not is to accept God’s offer “today”! That should really be the final word that we can all agree on. ”

    Sorry Tyson, but I most certainly do not agree. The reason we “know we are saved” is to know that “Christ is the savior of the world,” and in that declaration is the promise that ALL will be “saved”– freed from our bondage to sin – restored and redeemed. Nowhere in scripture are we told that the way to be “saved” is to “accept God’s offer of salvation.” That is a tradition of men – a tradition that “makes the word of God of no effect.”

    As far as those “who hear the gospel but reject it” are concerned — have they truly had Christ revealed to them, or are they simply rejecting the ungodly story of a father who would abandon his own children for their ignorance and weaknesses – the story pawned off by the church as “good news”? I don’t blame anyone in the least for rejecting it. I reject it myself. That story deserves to be rejected and they are completely rational in doing so. It is those who blindly accept whatever they are taught who are acting irrationally.

    With all respect to your passion to defend what you have been taught, faith is not a choice, it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9), and anyone who claims otherwise is simply boasting in their works.

    No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ EXCEPT by the Holy Spirit. (1Cor. 12:3)

    By the teachings of the “church” however, WE make the choice to believe or not – just another contradiction to scripture that the “traditions of men” have passed off as “truth” for hundreds of years.

    I respect your opinions gentlemen, but I must wholeheartedly disagree. Salvation never was, nor ever will be, by CHANCE. It is of God – “who will have ALL men be saved and come to a realization of the truth.”

  12. Jim, OK, the biblical “the sure-fire way we can know whether we are saved” is slightly different:

    declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9, NIV 2011)

    But that’s not really very different from what Tyson said, is it?

    You have a point about those who have been presented with the gospel in some inadequate form which is not truly accessible to them. Will they get a second chance? We can’t be sure. But I don’t think anyone can count on getting another chance if they use that as an excuse for deliberately rejecting one that they have in this life.

  13. “declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9, NIV 2011)”

    How does one do that though? By an act of the will, or through an act of God?

    I will repeat 1Cor. 12:3 for your consideration:
    “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ EXCEPT by the Holy Spirit.”

    …and Eph. 2:8-9:
    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

    Your premise is that man must develop faith on his own, while these scriptures clearly say otherwise in my opinion. I realize that you may interpret them differently, but I think my point is a valid one that you seem to have overlooked or ignored.

    I very much appreciate your points of view and have no intent to offend you in any way, but I think our differences come down to just what we think eternal life with God will by like, and how the choice to accept it or reject it is being understood. The impression I get from you, in that at least some will “choose” to reject God, is that it is like choosing between living in Los Angeles or Seattle, or drinking Coca-Cola instead of 7-Up. You seem to view this eternal “choice” between heaven and hell as a fairly equal one and that given the vast number of people that will be making it statistics would suggest that there will always be some who pick Los Angeles and Coca-Cola, for example.

    In my mind, and which is the preeminent claim among Christians I might add, eternal life with God is the only way to true peace, happiness, and contentment. You either disagree, in that some will find that elsewhere, or you believe that God either cannot or will not remove the ignorance and deception that has trapped unbelievers into looking elsewhere. You seem to view eternal life with God as something that may not offer the only way to true peace, happiness, and contentment, otherwise why would you believe that someone would not want it?

    It seems that we have a disagreement as to just how wonderful eternal life will be with God. You believe that some will reject it, leading me to conclude that you don’t really consider it as wonderful as you might otherwise claim.

    Either eternal life with God is the only thing that will truly satisfy and fulfill all of man’s needs and desires – and thus be “unrejectable” – or it will not, which seems to be your conclusion.

    I would simply ask you this then: Is it the only way to true happiness… and if so, how do you imagine that ANYONE would reject true happiness?

    (And why do you insist that God is relying on CHANCE in redeeming His creation?)

  14. Jim, I can see how someone might pronounce the words “Jesus is Lord” apart from an act of the will, by some outside force taking control of their voice. But I don’t think Paul would have counted that as a genuine Christian confession. More importantly, I don’t see how it is meaningful for someone to believe that he was raised from the dead, or indeed believe anything at all, if that is not an act of their will. I accept that there are many other factors which influence the human will to confess and believe in this way, including of course the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But in the end it comes down to a decision of the free human will.

    You are misrepresenting my position by saying “You believe that some will reject it” and “you insist that God is relying on CHANCE in redeeming His creation”. I have told you that I am undecided on the former point. You have put forward quite a strong argument for your side, but others including C.S. Lewis are quite convincing in the other direction. I don’t want to discuss this matter further. On the latter point, I have said nothing of the sort: the decisions of free human wills are quite different from “CHANCE”.

  15. Peter, I do not expect a response as you have clearly stated your refusal to do so, but I will respond to you nonetheless.

    The scriptures which I asked you to consider, and which frame my whole point entirely, have absolutely nothing to do with an outside force taking control of your mind and having you “mouth” the words “Jesus is Lord.” They have to do with a divine touch unblinding your soul and allowing you to see exactly who Christ is — the savior of the world who died for you so that you would no longer believe that your sins separate you from your loving heavenly Father. Saul experienced it on the road to Damascus and spent the rest of his life joyfully enduring the same kind of brutal mistreatment and persecution on himself that he had previously sought out for Christians. The reason he, or you or I or anyone else, could “choose” to follow Christ was exactly because his will WAS freed. Prior to that he was in bondage to ignorance, deception, the need to defend his religious traditions, the need for vengeance, and the need to see himself as “better” than others — which is sadly why most “Christians” become “Christians” in the first place.

    I could not help but notice that you did not answer the one final question that I asked of you:

    “Is following Christ, and eternal life with God, not TRUE happiness…. and if so, how do you imagine that anyone would reject TRUE happiness?”

    Did you (in your own words) “choose to follow Christ and accept His offer of salvation” because you have learned that a life of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness is the best way to live, and in fact give true meaning and happiness to your life… or as only a means of self-preservation – to avoid the eternal wrath of an angry god? Are you truly happier as a Christ-follower than you were before, and would you ever consider rejecting that life and returning to one of disbelief, and ignorance, and hatred for your fellow man?

    If a life following Christ, and eternal life with God, is not irresistible then it is not true happiness — it is nothing less than EARNING God’s grace by trying to prove to Him and yourself that you are better than others. You are merely repeating the “Christian” mantra: “We’re not perfect, but at least we’re better than you are.”

    From one forgiven sinner to another, peace to you as you struggle to earn your Father’s love.


  16. Interesting point (to go back to the beginning) about immortal worms in hell. Shows the problem of taking metaphors and images literally. I’m just completing a little volume entitled “Our God is a consuming fire” (from Deuteronomy and Hebrews). I’d be happy to forward a copy to you, Peter, for review, once it’s ready. God is the only fire, and to suggest any other immortal fire is to fragment God.

  17. Jim, yes to both main questions in your paragraph “Did you (in your own words) …”, and no to both supplementary questions. But I fundamentally disagree with

    If a life following Christ, and eternal life with God, is not irresistible then it is not true happiness.

    On the contrary, if it is irresistible it is something forced on people, and so cannot be true happiness for those who wanted to resist it but could not.

    Michael, I don’t think anyone is really taking those immortal worms seriously. But I would be interested in reviewing your little volume.

    Tyson, thanks for the link. I will have a read.

  18. Peter, thank for responding again. I appreciate it.

    But why would anyone want to resist true happiness? Do you actually believe that anyone wound not want real peace, happiness, and contentment?

    Can YOU resist God’s unconditional love? Or is it not unconditional?

  19. why would anyone want to resist true happiness?

    Jim, you should ask those who seem to do so.

    Can YOU resist God’s unconditional love? Or is it not unconditional?

    Yes, and sometimes I do temporarily, but not for long when I see how wonderful it is. “Unconditional” is not the same as “irresistible”. God has chosen to make his love resistible. I don’t know why anyone would resist it, but again, ask those who do.

  20. “you should ask those who seem to do so.”

    “I don’t know why anyone would resist it, but again, ask those who do.”

    Peter, “SEEM to do so” is the key that I think you are missing here. I don’t believe anyone is resisting God’s love. They simply have not KNOWN it YET.

    A few scriptures for your consideration, all but the last from Jesus himself:

    “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,”

    “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

    “You did not choose me but I chose you.” (to his disciples, no less)

    “If I am lifted up I will draw all men to me.”

    “Those who are not loving do not know God, for God is love.”

    When they “see how wonderful it is” why do you think that anyone else can resist God’s love when you can’t? Are you somehow more responsive than they are… somehow “better” than they are… somehow less of a sinner than they are.. somehow more lovable than they are? I don’t believe for a moment that you would claim any of those responses, and yet you seem to promote that view whether you realize it or not.

    As far as your entire notion of man’s “free” will, and God’s refusal to violate it, is concerned, have you considered that your end-time scenario is the most violent violation of it – and forced submission to God’s will – that will ever occur? In your view man gets to “choose” only between heaven or hell? This is only one degree short of Henry Ford’s “free will” offer that “you can have any color of car that you want as long as it’s black.” What of the man who simply wants a house on the beach on Maui with his wife and dog, or the Muslim who wants eternity with 21 virgin brides? Do they get what THEY want… or that God will force “hell” upon them if they don’t choose Him? And I would ask as well, just when did your “free” will begin? Did God ask you if you wanted to be born at all… to a certain set of parents… in a certain country… at a certain time… under certain circumstances… with a certain set of abilities and disabilities? I would even bet, and the odds are extremely high of this, that you are a “Christian” because that is how you were raised by sincere and loving parents.

    I completely understand why you are against the idea of “forced love,” because I am as well. Simply put, “forced love” is impossible – love can only come as a response to being loved.

    “We love because God loved us first.”

    When we experience God’s love we want nothing other than to share that love with all of our fellow man. Until then, however, we remain in bondage to our own ignorance, bitterness, hurts, and regrets. Just like wounded animals, hurting people lash out at others because they are NOT acting rationally, but as a response to pain that they cannot resolve. It is only when we realize that God loves us absolutely unconditionally – that He is not holding our sins against us – that we are truly free to love others in the same way.

    If you “don’t know why anyone would resist it,” perhaps it is because there is no reason, and thus no reason to conclude that some would prefer eternal life without God.

    My friend, I am not asking you to abandon your view that we are not puppets, for we are most certainly not. We are clay vessels being molded in the image of God… and that image is love. If “God is working all things under the counsel of HIS will,” why is it not His prerogative then to mold us as creatures that are not truly happy unless we are loving and being loved? Is that notion really that bad? Are you really unhappy at being molded into the image of Christ? What other image would you prefer?

    In His love, Jim

  21. Jim, I think you are trying to manufacture a serious disagreement between us where there isn’t one. I am simply open to the perhaps theoretical possibility that some might choose eternity apart from God. In God’s kingdom if someone wants a beachfront house or the sexual gratification of 21 virgins, they can have it. God’s love is that wonderful. And I note that “I will draw all men [and women] to me” implies that that love includes everyone.

  22. Peter, I am sorry that you got that impression but I am not trying to manufacture a disagreement — the disagreement was already there and I am simply pointing out what I feel are inconsistencies in your arguments. When you said “I think I agree” with Iam4Jesus you were agreeing with his conclusion that God would annihilate those who rejected Him — not give them a beach house on Maui. If you believe that everyone will get exactly what they want for eternity then you have every right to do so, but until this last comment here you never even mentioned that belief and were in fact arguing against it.

    I more than realize that I have been a pain in your back side for several days now – asking questions that are clearly uncomfortable for you and most other Christians. I am sorry that you may have interpreted my comments as anything other than challenging you to see the love of God in new ways, for proclaiming the love of God is my only intention.

    I won’t bother you anymore. Thanks for an interesting discussion.

    Peace, Jim

  23. Pingback: Hell, Peter Kirk, Bell, N.T. Wright | Unsettled Christianity

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