Engaging with CPX’s discussion of hell—part 1

Before I post the second part of Life & Faith‘s series on hell, I’d like to engage with some of the points they raised in the first part.

Justine: But let’s be honest, like, no one likes the idea of judgment.

Currently in Australia we’re having a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It gives us mixed feelings. On the one hand, we lament the many awful things that are being exposed. On the other hand we rejoice because:

  • Victims are beginning to receive some justice, closure, and healing.
  • Perpetrators are, ideally, genuinely comprehending the damage they’ve done, sincerely apologising, turning their lives around and seeking to make amends (see ideal justice flowchart).
  • As a result of the commission, changes are being made to our institutions to make it much harder for abuse to occur in the future.

In many ways, Judgment Day is like a Royal Commision or War Crimes tribunal, but on a far greater scale, covering every injustice ever committed throughout all time and space—something only possible because the Justice Commissioner is God Himself. In Jesus, God is the only Justice Commissioner who has personally undergone execution as a result of gross injustices. Again, it will be a time of lamenting and rejoicing:

  • Our own sins will be exposed. The hurt we caused others will be revisited—possibly revealed to us for the first time—and that will be very unpleasant, to say the least. Then, I believe each and every sin will need to be corrected. Again, that will be painful, but the sooner that “cancer” within me is purged, the better!
  • In the same fashion, the sins of each and every other person will the exposed and corrected. That will be unpleasant for them and for those watching on. It’s heartbreaking to see others in pain, even when you know it’s for their own good.

Like the Royal Commision, the good that Judgment Day brings—not least the cessation of evil—outweighs the period of lament, pain, suffering, and correction, and therefore, overall. I appreciate how John Dickson unpacks it below:

Simon: What’s the good news when we’re talking about judgment and hell?

John: … God sees the injustice of the world, He hears the oppressed’s cry for someone to make things right, and he is coming to make things right. This is why the Bible can actually say “hallelujah” for the judgments of God and you certainly see that in the final book of Revelation in the Bible—there’s great praise for the God who finally comes to overthrow those who have oppressed the poor, who have shed blood around the world and so on.

So if you think of it like this, that it’s actually a sign of God’s love for the oppressed that he is coming to bring his justice on the oppressor. In a weird way judgment is a great sign of God’s love because it’s that he loved the massacred indigenous people of Tasmania that he will bring those who perpetrated those judgments to justice and there’s a sense in which love fuels that judgment. So judgment itself is good news.

Simon:  … ultimately, I guess, there’s a choice of whether we want to accept that relationship [with God] or reject it—and there’s a sense of respecting those wishes.

The idea that God will allow some people to eternally reject Him was popularised by C. S. Lewis, but interestingly Lewis’ own conversation gives us good reason to believe God will eventually win over even the most ardent atheists (Talbott explains in Why C.S. Lewis’ Conversion Suggests He Should’ve Been A Universalist).

Justine: You gotta say though, like, you can see the attraction of that universalist idea [that Jesus’ death and resurrection—His victory over sin and death—will mean that eventually all people will be saved]. Everyone wants to talk about God as a God of love—and He is that, right? So what’s wrong with that?

Simon: I just think the amount of the material in the Bible that takes you in another direction is overwhelming. J.I. Packer, my old lecturer, used to say this is avalanche dodging when it comes to the material in the Bible. And so, while the makers of this film seem to want us to leech-out aspects of God that are right through the Bible: that He is holy, that He requires holiness on his people’s part, to some degree, that we’re incapable of that and we need help in it, are part of the same thing. So there’s judgment, there’s mercy. I’d agree with the makers of the film who say that God’s primary characteristic that you see in the Bible is one of grace and great love and mercy—I really believe that. But I think that you have to hold that in tension, to some degree, with his holiness. And judgment is part of that.

Although some people do “want us to leech-out aspects of God”, in my experience, most Christian Universalists do not. For example, Robin Parry, doesn’t dodge God’s holiness and judgment, and our sinfulness, but spends a significant amount of his book (The Evangelical Universalist) engaging with these aspects.

I’d also point out to Packer that there’s an “avalanche” of biblical material saying God’s primary characteristic is love and mercy, and that the tension Simon mentions, will be resolved through God’s restorative justice—everyone (indeed everything) will reconciled to God—the Shalom resulting from the crucifixion.

Justine: Do you think Hellbound? the film has kind of lost that tension that you’re speaking of?

Simon: Well in fairness, they do talk about judgment—like a post-death judgment, but then an opportunity to come back to God in that—a refining sort of aspect to this. So no, they don’t junk it completely. They keep it there. Now the nature of that judgment I think may not quite match with the sort of material that’s in the Bible, where Jesus talks about, you know, “I never knew you” and these sorts of pretty sobering comments that He makes. So yeah, it’s there but we need to look carefully whether this matches the biblical material.

Properly addressing the “nature of judgment” would require writing a whole book but I think it’s fair to say that refining is one metaphor repeatedly used in the bible (e.g. refining fire: Zec 13:9; Job 23:10; Ps 66:10; 1Cor 3:11-15; Mal 3:2-3; 1Pet 1:7). So the nature of judgement they describe is certainly biblical.

I agree that “I never knew you” is sobering. At the same time, I’d suggest it shouldn’t be interpreted as an absolute statement because:

  1. It’s impossible for an all-knowing God to not know someone.
  2. God created and sustains everything, which implies knowledge of everything.
  3. It’s a statement within a parable, a genre known for hyperbole.

Justine: So what then does it look like to hold the two and in tension, I guess, the aspects of God’s holiness but also His love? How do you juggle that?

Simon: I think there’s a way in which you have to realize that God’s not someone to be trifled with. There’s a necessary reverence for God if we’re seeing God for who He truly is and who we are before him. But the overwhelming picture, Justine, in the Bible is that God is a father figure who just loves us—is full of mercy and grace—I think that they get that part right in this film—and he is looking for a way to bring us back to him. We see that in the life of Jesus and so I think you’ve gotta remember both things. But the mercy and the grace—I think absolutely is the most outstanding characteristic of God. It’s one really worth responding to.

Amen, and I can’t imagine our Father failing to find a way to bring us back to Him. After all, when the disciples were worried about God’s ability to save anyone, Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matt 19:26, NLT) Jesus says, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are all found in the end.

Life & Faith by the Centre for Public Christianity
Source: cpx.podbean.com

7 thoughts on “Engaging with CPX’s discussion of hell—part 1

  1. Pingback: CPX Interview the Director of Hellbound – Reforming Hell

  2. Hell, or Hel, is the Norse goddess of the underworld, a mistranslation in the KJV of the Hebrew sheol, its Greek counterpart Hades, and two other Greek words, Tartarus and Gehenna, none of which mean a place of endless punishment.
    RCC codified the hell doctrine in its demonic Athanasian Creed.
    Please see “A Truer God: The Supreme Spirit of Light and Love in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.” http://www.atruergod.com

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    1. I don’t think the core of the Athanasian Creed is demonic but I do agree with scholars who think wrapper statements was added by the RCC much later. i.e. that the following weren’t part of the original creed.

      Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

      And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.

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      1. If you look at the structure of the creed, you find that it consists of a riddle (How can one be three and three be one?), a taboo (After having three gods and three lords described to you in detail, you are “forbidden” to say there are three gods or three lords), and a threat (If you don’t accept the riddle as unsolvable and the taboo protecting it, you can’t be saved).
        The riddle, taboo, and threat comprise a spell – the god-spell or gospel of Christendom. The purpose of the god-spell is to obscure the evangel of the grace of God given by the risen Christ to Paul for us – which has nothing to do with a mysterious “trinity” of co-equal “persons.” God the Father is a figure of speech. He is not a “person.” God is invisible Spirit that heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain. Jesus is the Son of God, not god the son, and He is the Image of the Invisible God, not the “second person” of the RCC’s mysterious trinity.
        The language of the creed is utterly unscriptural – forbidden additions to the word of God.
        http://www.atruergod.com
        http://www.genesisingreekart.com might interest you also.

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      2. I find the case for the Trinity very compelling—biblically, theologically, and philosophically (e.g. eternal love requires an eternal beloved). I’m not surprised God is more complex than we are. I found the following booklet helpful: Steps Toward the Trinity (it’s written by an Christian Islamic scholar but most of the points are relevant to the broader discussion)

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      3. Alex, we are enjoined quite often not to add to the word of God:
        Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
        Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar (Proverbs 30:5-6).
        Our Christ-commissioned apostle, Paul (Acts 26:17-18, 20:24) presented the ideal teaching (I Timothy 4:6) to the body of Christ, and it does not include a mysterious trinity, hell, or free will.
        Paul let us know exactly how to stay within the ideal teaching and be competent teachers ourselves:
        “And what things you hear from me through many witnesses, these commit to faithful men who shall be competent to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2), and “Have a pattern (literally, stencil) of sound words which you hear from me in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 1:13).
        The trinity doctrine is a man-concocted philosophical construct meant to confuse people, and cover the evangel of the grace of God given by Christ to Paul for us.
        The Scriptures are inspired in the original Hebrew and Greek, making accurate translation extremely important, in that each mistranslation simultaneously adds to and takes away from the word of God. The most accurate and faithful translation is the Concordant Literal – http://www.concordant.org – Every serious believer should be using it.
        Competent teachers today teach exactly what Paul taught using his exact words. Your “Christian Islamic” scholar does not do that, and is therefore not competent to teach.
        As to your reliance on philosophy: “Beware that no one shall be despoiling you through philosophy and empty seduction, in accord with human tradition, in accord with the elements of the world, and not in accord with Christ, for in Him the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily” (Colossians 2:8-9).
        http://www.atruergod.com
        http://www.genesisingreekart.com

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  3. Pingback: Engaging Dickson & Smart: Loving Judgment, Shalom, & Eternal Proportionality? – Reforming Hell

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