The alternative tradition, which predates Augustine, is that God annihilates evil by restoring the universe to himself, thereby healing it. The restoration of creation is the destruction of evil, for evil has no substantial reality.
Evil must necessarily be eliminated, absolutely and in every respect, once and for all, from all that is, and since in fact it is not […], neither will it have to exist at all. For, as evil does not exist in its nature outside will, once each will has come to be in God, evil will be reduced to complete disappearance, because no receptacle will be left for it. . . . [I]t seems to me that Scripture teaches the complete disappearance of evil. For, if in all beings there will be God, clearly in them there will be no evil.1
Gregory of Nyssa, De an. 101, 104
And God will not obliterate the good substantial beings he has made. As Al Wolters one said: “God does not create trash, and he does not trash what he creates.” Commenting on Psalm 59:6, 14, Gregory writes, “There will be no destruction of humans, that the work of God may not be emptied by annihilation. Instead of human creatures, what will be destroyed and reduced to non-being will be sin.” In a similar vein, Athanasius writes: “Christ, because he is good and loves humanity, came to bring fire onto earth. . . . He wanted the repentance and conversion of the human being rather than its death. In this way, evilness, all of it, will be burnt away from all human beings” (Ep. 3.4.8). Exitus et reditus.
I ought to flag up at this point that all analogies have limitations, and the problem in this context with the hospital analogy is that it fails to do justice to the critical notions of human responsibility for evil and divine judgment on human evil. So I am not trying to be comprehensive here, to say everything that needs to be said about God’s response to human evil, but merely to indicate the manner in which evil is finally annihilated: namely, by eradicating it from humans, rather than by eradicating the humans themselves. The idea of healing communicates that well.
This was the theological framework within which eschatological punishment was interpreted by more than a few of the Fathers. Consequently, hell was understood to be a means to a salvific end, not the everlasting fate of anyone. Such Fathers had no qualms about affirming the biblical teachings on final punishment, and did not shrink from the biblical imagery and language, but such were understood in this wider theological framework. The flames of hell were understood as flames of justice, of course, but simultaneously as flames of divine love. Hell was God’s burning love. St Isaac of Nineveh puts this rather well:
If we said or thought that what concerns Gehenna is not in fact full of love and mixed with compassion, this would be an opinion full of blasphemy and abuse against God our Lord. . . . Among all his deeds, there is none that is not entirely dictated by mercy, love, and compassion. This is the beginning and the end of God’s attitude toward us.2.
St Isaac of Nineveh, Second Part, 39.22
Or, as someone else put it, LOVE WINS.
1. “For it is clear that it will be the case that God is ‘in all’ only when in the beings it will be impossible to detect any evil” (Gregory of Nyssa, In Illud, 17 Downing).
2. “I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.” (Isaac, I.28, p. 266)
Above is the tenth (and last) section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.
6 thoughts on “Parry—The Hospital”
A question that has been on my mind a lot recently is — adopting the analogy of this post —
“where (and when) is the hospital?” The answer typically proffered by evangelical universalists is, at least in past, “in a period of post-mortem purification, which may involve suffering of some kind”. That’s pretty clearly Dr. Parry’s view. That might be right, but the (as it seems to me) apparent lack of interest in questions of post-mortem “intermediate state” experience in the entire OT and the likelihood (as it seems to me) that this is also the basic posture of the NT, suggests that perhaps we should understand the answer to the question of “where and when is the ‘hospital;” to be “here and now”, ie, “under the sun” for the simple reason that that is what the Scriptures themselves are focused on.
I for most of my life was puzzled by Paul’s seeming throwaway remark in Romans 6 that “anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” I used to think that that could not be meant literally, since it would imply that those who have died in unbelief are also “free from sin”, which would conflict with the anthropology, soteriology and infernalist eschatology to which I then held. I now think that Paul here is speaking of literal mortality — those who are bodily dead don’t sin (which is a very OT-ish kind of idea, sort of the other side of the famous remark that the dead do not praise YHWH). Paul then spiritualizes this and brings it into present-day “under the sun” lived experience of believers through their union with Christ.To suppose that the primary meaning of Romans 6:7 is already spiritualized kind of makes the statement pointless and redundant (which is why it seemed to me a throwaway remark). I have come to believe that the primary sense refers to bodily death, and this sense is what Paul builds on to make the case that believers should regard themselves to be no longer in bondage to sin, and to live “under the sun” accordingly, since they have in some sense already died with Christ.
But if it is true that all who die bodily are liberated from sin, that would seem to do away with need for post-mortem purification from sin. The dead no longer sin, being freed from its bondage. If you hold to a dualist anthropology, that would imply that in the intermediate state the non-material component of the human person doesn’t sin, since that is all that remains after the dissolution of the material component, the physical body.
I’m somewhat curious what evangeliical universalists reckon that Christ saves us from. The answer for infernalists is clear — “Christ saves us from justly deserved ECT”. The answer for annihilationists is clear — “Christ saves from justly deserved everlasting destruction from the Lord”. Is there a clear consensus answer in the evangelical universalist camp?
I suggest that a simple biblical answer is “Christ saves us from remaining in the condition of bodily death” or “Christ saves us from the mortality/corruptibility of our present condition.” That’s part of why Jesus’ resurrection was so central to the Apostolic proclamation. The problem isn’t post-mortem suffering, but the bare reality of mortality itself, which is, biblically speaking, the penalty or wages of sin. I think this view makes better sense of the text, than do the alternatives.
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Thanks Samuel for the articulate comment. I haven’t considered Romans 6 from that perspective before so I’d have to ponder it some more…
I think Christ saves us from lots of things: death, ongoing sin, evil, delusion, self-destruction. Some EUs would say He saves us from justly deserved ECT—that those not saved in this life will be saved out of the future conscious torment. Personally, I suspect Robin is right in believing that the “hospital” is in the age to come—that whatever/wherever the intense experience actually is, it’s primarily remedial. Having said that, I do think both Heaven & Hell (the New Creation & the consequences of sin/destruction of the age to come) seep into this age—that we’re already experiencing a foretaste of both.
I believe that many who holds to premillennialism and other future fulfillment paradigms, struggle with the judgement passages of the New Testament. Jesus only ever spoke of “hell” (Gehenna) to a Jewish audience, and the judgements he prophecied we’re actually fulfilled in A.D. 70. Over one million Jews died during the civil war, and the final Roman seige. Of that number, over six-hundred thousand were thrown Gehenna. Jesus specifically told them that these things would happen to “this generation”, “some of you standing here will not taste death”.
Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles never mentions “hell” (Gehenna). He makes it clear however, that he has not failed to teach everything that was profitable. Apparently he didn’t consider teaching on “hell” (Gehenna) very important!
Suppose the most vile person on the planet lives to an old age. Perhaps he was drug Lord responsible for hundreds of deaths. Suppose that on his death bed, he “accepts” Christ. According to traditional belief, he enters heaven with no baggage to deal with. Then suppose a sixteen years old boy, dies in a car accident. He has been a bit rebellious for the past two years, although a model child prior to that. He never made a “profession of faith”. According to traditional belief, he would end up in ECT. What I find odd however, is that according to some in the Christian Universalist understanding, he will end up in the “hospital”?
If Jesus redeemed the world, why is there yet something to be paid for. Could it be perhaps fellowship with Father, Son and Spirit, “and especially those who are believing” 2 Timothy 4:10 offer all the blessings of salvation in this life? Think of what one endures without this relationship… We do not have His peace, His love, His joy, His wisdom, etc…This spills over into our relationships. Jesus told us that eternal life is knowing the Father. Eventually everyone will know Him, but in this life, it is the “especially” that have this amazing blessing. Life without Jesus is flat, empty, lonely, hell… There doesn’t need to be anything further.
Thanks heaps for the thoughtful comment!
Holding a full preterist view would make things easier & I certainly think that Jesus was warning about the end of their current age (70 AD) a lot (most?) of the time. I’m just unsure whether or not he also had a second fulfilment in mind at the end of our age.
I agree that it’s significant that Paul didn’t discuss Gehenna but he still says God will cut some people off for a time where necessary (Romans comes to mind), that sometimes God’s discipline needs to be severe—like a surgeon, gardener, or metalworker.
I think https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+3%3A10-15&version=CSB & http://biblehub.com/mark/9-49.htm seem to imply some postmortem sanctification for everyone—but if you voluntarily have “surgery/pruning” it’s much less traumatic than if you think the “surgeon/gardener” is out to kill you! In the example you give, it may well be less painful for the 16 year old than the drug lord (despite the latter knowing at the start that it’s in his best interest & the former not yet realising it’s also in his best interest).
I don’t think the “hospital” in the age to come is a place of payment as you can never pay God to make yourself into his child—that honour is always a free gift from God. Instead, I think it’s a question of how does God sanctify us, educate us, heal the psychological, physical, mental, & spiritual damage that we’ve incurred in this life—particularly doing so maintaining some continuity between who we are now & who we become. That is to say, God seems to change us slowly so we can freely cooperate & mature, rather than zapping us (which I suspect would overwhelm us).
I agree that knowing the Father & having a relationship with His peace, love, joy, wisdom, etc. is an amazing blessing and a very significant & necessary step in the each & every person’s journey.
I thought you might like to read an old book by J.W. Hanson, D.D. It can be read on tentmaker.org. His writing explains a number of misconceptions Universalists sometimes have concerning what happens after death. Some of the most compelling ideas for me have been…
The only “threats” ever issued in the Old Covenant were temporal, for this life only.
The “wages of sin is death”. This concept is totally ignored by those who believe in ECT, but also seems to be missed by those who think we yet have something to be “healed” of after death?
Scripture speaks of ages past, this present evil age, (prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) and ages to come. Perhaps in ages to come, (and even after death) we may yet have progress to make. In this respect, I could see a “hospital” type experience.
The coming of Christ, the destruction of the temple, the end of the Old Covenant Age was so enormously on the minds of all the writers of the New Testament, perhaps we should be more sensitive to audience relevance concerning the coming “judgements” warnings?
I do appreciate your response to my comment. I would like to just briefly give a bit of background of our coming to embrace Ultimate Restoration…
Approximately three years ago, Hugh and I became aware of a different eschatological belief that we had previously been unaware even existed. As we began to study Preterisim, prophecy for the first time made sense. We began to question long held “religious” beliefs as a result. If we had been wrong about something so foundational, what else were we wrong about? About two years ago, we began considering Ultimate Restoration. I had grown up Free Will Baptist, and Hugh had grown up Methodist. We had raised our family in Southern Baptist, so as you can imagine, this idea seemed very heretical to us. We felt compelled to continue our research however, and by the summer of 2016, we were convinced. What happened next, changed our lives forever…
December 16th, we received a phone call telling us that our youngest son had just taken his own life. Jared was twenty-six years old, a six year combat veteran struggling with PTSD. We are a very close knit family, yet had no idea he was suffering to this degree!!! Three days after Jared “left”, Hugh came into the room I was in, visibly shaking. We had both been so distraught, but I immediately knew something was different. When I asked him what was wrong he said, “I just heard from God! He said to me, ‘ I have been preparing you for this for six months. I told Jared, you can come home son, I’m going to ease your pain, and everybody will be okay.'” If you knew my husband, you would understand how it is not possible this came from his imagination, or as a result of “stress”. What I do know, is if Father had not rescued us from our ECT paradigm, I would not be alive today. As painful as this year has been, I cannot imagine the grief it would have been…
I do believe there is “healing that happens in the next phase of our existence. In that respect, I can see that the “hospital” analogy is useful. I just cannot see any room for a future state of punishment…
I am in the process of writing a book to help those in this grief process, know their loved one is safe with the Father. I am also in the process of editing a book entitled, “Whatever Became of Melanie” by Allen E. Chevrier. This book was originally written as a work of fiction, but it is a stellar apologetic on Ultimate Restoration. I think it will be a wonderful addition to the library of information currently on the market. I’m very thankful Mr. Chevrier was willing to have it re-published.
December 31st, 2016 was the day our Jared left, not the 16th.