Tim & Jon: Is Hell really outside creation & rationally chosen?

I love The Bible Project. Truly, it’s the best online Bible resource I’ve ever come across. I’ve been a monthly supporter since the early days, I’ve watched most of their 134 videos and soon will have listened to all of their podcasts. Jon Collins and Tim Mackie are easy to listen to, full of interesting insights, and express a genuine curiosity and desire for truth. I particularly love the way their work paints a beautiful, grand, biblical metanarrative showing God’s wonderful intentions for humanity in Eden, the amazing lengths He’s gone to throughout history (and especially through Jesus), and anticipating an exciting, joyful, glorious future with God in the New Creation.

However, I find that the clearer the biblical metanarrative is presented, the more jarring Eternal Conscious Torment becomes… So I was intrigued when Jon Collins and Tim Mackie discussed this in their Day Of The Lord Part 6 podcast episode. The context is that they have been discussing and comparing the OT warrior savior images (e.g. Isa 63) and modern movies (e.g. The Magnificent Seven), with the NT warrior savior images (e.g. Rev 19:11) and the Cross. They conclude that:

Tim: [In Revelation, John is] constantly taking aggressive, violent, Old Testament “Day of the Lord” imagery and saying the Cross was the Day of the Lord. It was the fulfillment of those images and it did not involve God killing his enemies—it actually involved the Son of God allowing Himself to be killed by them.

I think it’s inescapable. This is why readings of the book of Revelation that, I don’t know, help people look forward to some future cataclysm of violence, where Jesus comes of the sword cutting people apart—to me it’s not just a misreading of Revelation, to me it’s a betrayal of Jesus. Because what you’re saying is, “Oh, Jesus used the means of the cross but that was just like his way of being nice for a little bit but really he’s…”

Jon: “Ultimately he will use [death and] the threat of death as his true power to bring justice.”

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (24m 8s)

(As an aside, this is similar to what William Cavanaugh said to me in Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—Cavanaugh Interview)

What they discuss next is what I’ll focus on as it raises many questions.

Tim: Yeah. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a reality to final justice, where people suffer the consequences of their decisions if they don’t yield to Jesus—I’m not saying that. But what I am saying is the New Testament is transforming these violent images of the Day of the Lord in a really important way—that had gone largely unnoticed by the modern Western Church. Because we love Denzel Washington [hero in The Magnificent Seven] strangling the bad guy to death.

Jon: Yeah, it feels good.

Tim: Yeah, it’s satisfying.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (25m 29s)

I believe strongly in the reality of final justice (indeed it’s one of the reasons I started this blog) and that there are unpleasant consequences to giving our heart to anything other than our loving Father. I think seeing evil being stopped is satisfying, and rightly so. However, an issue arises when the method of stopping an evil (e.g. a “bad guy”) is evil (e.g. strangling someone). Our conscience should make us feel conflicted about that “solution”. Thankfully, there is a method of stopping evil that isn’t evil—that method is love—doing good to those who sin against you, melting their hearts, transforming them from foe to friend—rebel to follower of Jesus.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9, BSB

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head [melting his opposition?]. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21, CSB

Tim continues:

Anyhow, that’s how the Day of the Lord comes to its completion in the last book of the Bible. It’s this paradox. Here he defeats the armies of evil and then (in chapter 20) Babylon, Death, the Beast (the dragon), they’re all cast into the Lake of Fire. They are assigned—they’re quarantined—to a place of eternal self-destruction, and that’s the defeat of evil. And you could say that’s a violent image, but it’s interesting, it’s people being consigned or handed over to what they’ve chosen, something that they’ve chosen, which is destruction.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 4s)

Respectfully, there’s a huge difference between quarantining something and defeating it. Quarantine may be a necessary step to stop the spread of a plague but it’s only when it’s completely eradicated that it is defeated. Leaving evil quarantined is even worse than quarantining a plague and walking away:

  • it’s an affront to God’s holiness.
  • it’s a thwarting of His good purpose for humans, their telos, that He first articulates in Genesis 1-2 and ultimately in Christ.
  • it’s a denial of the praise and honour God rightly deserves.
  • it’s a failure to bring restorative justice, leaving countless broken relationships festering, unhealed forever—victims never receiving apologies, nor closure.

Eternal self-destruction is even worse than suicide, it’s never a rational choice, it’s a sign of a severe, unhealthy delusion about what is good and what is evil. It’s what God has been working to fix since Genesis 3, which they seem to acknowledge in other episodes:

Tim: … the Old Testament becomes a story of the family of Abraham but all within that larger story of what is God going to do to rescue the world from itself…

The Bible as Divine Literary Art (35m 3s)

But back to the episode I’m focusing on:

Jon: Yeah, how did how did Butler talk about it? He talked about it as creating a place for that to exist but not inside of creation.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 50s)

A very confusing suggestion, because far as I know, there’s only one thing outside of creation, and that is God Himself… everything else is part of, within the category of, God’s creation. “Creating a place”, surely makes it creation?

Tim: Yeah, if somebody refuses, like Pharaoh, to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord (using Pharaoh as an icon or Babylon), then God will honor the dignity of that decision and allow people to exist in that place.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m)

Pharaoh’s “refusal” is a contentious issue—I highly recommend reading Talbott’s discussion of Romans 9:17-18, in light of Romans 11:32 (p19 of chapter 5 of his book, which is freely available here). Anyway, even assuming Pharaoh freely rejected God, I don’t think it’s honoring to let someone essentially put themselves into a state of neverending suicide. I don’t think it’s a real, informed, rational decision. So I don’t see it having any “dignity.” Again, it’s a topic that Talbott has comprehensively addressed in his book, The Inescapable Love of God, but if you don’t have time to read or listen (there’s a great audiobook!), then I encourage you to read his Free-will Theodicies of Hell post (which I drew on in Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell?).

Jon: Yeah, “confinement”, I think was the term.

Tim: Confinement, yes. But what God won’t allow is for that evil to pollute or vandalize his creation anymore. And so the end of Revelation is the New Jerusalem and then outside the city are… “So wait I thought they were in a Lake of Fire?” (in chapter 20) But then (in chapter 22) the wicked are just outside the city… So these images are that God will contain those who choose evil. And the point is that he won’t allow them to ruin his world anymore.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m 17s)

I’m really not convinced that evil can be adequately confined in that way because humans (and God) are so deeply interconnected, we’re relational beings. When loved ones suffer, we suffer, God suffers. That suffering is polluting and vandalizing—it’s ruining any chance of harmony—of the promised Shalom. How can someone possibly be happy while their son, their mother, their husband, or their best friend is still destroying themselves? (And for some believers, all their family and loved ones are non-believers) If they are just outside the open gates, they can probably see, hear, and smell(?!) their torment.

At the end of Revelation, the only thirsty audience the Spirit and the bride (Christians) have are the wicked outside the gates. Perhaps, when the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”, everyone who is thirsty actually comes!

Overcome evil with good

The Day of the Lord

My transcript of The Bible Project animation is below:

Jon: “The Day of the Lord.” It is a phrase in the Bible that religious people use, usually when talking about the end of the world.

Tim: Yeah, things like Armageddon or the apocalypse. You might be familiar with this image of Jesus returning on a white horse. He has got sword to bring final judgment.

Jon: Everyone wants to know how will it all go down.

Tim: So a lot of these images come from the last book of the Bible. But to understand them, you have to go back to the first book.

Jon: When the story begins, we watch God create an amazing world. Then He gives humans power to rule over it on his behalf.

Tim: But the humans are tempted by this mysterious, unhuman character, who offers them a promise: you could define good and evil on your own terms and put yourselves in God’s place.

Jon: Which is what they do. And the resulting stories are about the broken relationships and violence that results.

Tim: Yeah, this promise creates huge problems. Now everyone has to protect themselves and fight for survival. They are all using death as this weapon to gain power.

Jon: It all leads to a story about the building of the city of Babylon.

Tim: Or in Hebrew, “Babel”. Everyone comes together to elevate themselves to the place of God. God knows how devastating this could be: a whole culture redefining good and evil, as if they are God.

Jon: So God confuses their language and scatters them.

Tim: Now from here on Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Jon: And the next time we see it is in the story of ancient Egypt.

Tim: Yeah, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, feels threatened by these immigrant Israelites. He starts killing all of the boys and enslaving the rest.

Jon: This is really evil.

Tim: Yeah, Egypt is like this bigger, badder Babylon. They take care of themselves at the expense of others, by redefining evil as good. And so God turns Pharaoh’s evil back on him. His pride drives him forward and he is swallowed up by death.

Jon: Now after this great deliverance, the Israelites sing a song about how God is their warrior who liberated them from evil.

Tim: The Israelites referred to this moment as “The Day”.

Jon: The day they were rescued from a corrupt human system.

Tim: And every year since then, the Israelites have celebrated the day of their liberation with the symbolic meal of a sacrificial lamb. It is called “Passover”.

Jon: Eventually Israel comes into its own land, have their own kings, and they face new enemies.

Tim: So that past Day of the Lord—celebrated every Passover—begins to generate hope that God will bring “The Day” again to save Israel from new threats.

Jon: Now out in the hills was a sheep herder named Amos.

Tim: He was appointed by God as a prophet to announce shocking news to Israel that God was bringing another Day of the Lord against his enemies. This time, the target is Israel.

Jon: Ah, what?

Tim: Sadly, Israel’s leaders had also redefined good and evil for themselves, resulting in corruption and violence.

Jon: So God’s people have become like Babylon? The oppressed become oppressors. Babylon seems like a trap no one can escape.

Tim: So the day of the Lord comes upon Israel. They are conquered, taken captive into exile. From then on, Israel suffered under the rule of continuous oppressive empires.

Jon: This is the story Jesus was born into.

Tim: Yeah, in his day the oppressive empire over Israel is Rome.

Jon: So, is Jesus going to confront Rome, take him out?

Tim: Well, no. Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jon: But he didn’t. And after that he started to confront the effects of evil on others.

Tim: Yeah, He started saying that he was going to Jerusalem—for Passover—for a final showdown to confront the evil of Israel and Rome by dying.

Jon: Dying? I mean, that feels like losing.

Tim: Jesus was going to let evil exhaust all of its power on him, using its only real weapon: death. Jesus knew that God’s love and life were even more powerful, that he could overcome evil by becoming the Passover lamb, giving his life in an act of love. Something changed that day. When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

Jon: Okay, so something changed. But, the power of evil is still alive and well. We keep building new versions of Babylon.

Tim: Right, so the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, points to the future and final Day of the Lord. It is when God’s kingdom comes to confront Babylon the Great, this image of all the corrupt nations of the world.

Jon: Yeah, this is it. Armageddon. Final judgment! How is Jesus going to finish off evil?

Tim: Well, it is not how you would expect. In the Revelation, the victorious Jesus is symbolized by a sacrificial bloody lamb… When Jesus does arrive in the end, riding his white horse to confront evil, he is bloody before the battle even starts.

Jon: Pre-bloodied? That is a strange image.

Tim: Yeah, it is because Jesus is not out for our blood. Rather, he overcame with his blood when he died for his enemies. The sword in his mouth is a symbol of Jesus’s authority to define good and evil, and hold us accountable when he brings final justice once and for all.

Jon: And so, in the meantime, the Day of the Lord is an invitation to resist the culture of Babylon.

Tim: It is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

[The Day of the Lord] is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 2

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Was God Violent To Jesus?

Was God violent to Jesus on the cross? Basically, is Penal Substitutionary Atonement 1, as taught by some people, an act of violence against Jesus?

As it’s taught by some people, yes. I think that I much prefer what Girard has to say about these matters. Which is, of course, based on the idea that God the Father didn’t kill the Son—we killed the Son.

That makes so much more sense {laughs}.

Right, absolutely {laughs}.

I think proper reading of what Anselm has to say about this is that the judge condemns the defendant. But then comes down off the bench and takes the defendant’s place—this is an act of self sacrifice. It’s not an act of violence, of one person of the Trinity against another.

Yeah… {both laugh} Yes, I totally agree. The way some people talk about it, it’s violence by our loving Father God against an innocent person, Jesus. I don’t think that sets a very good precedent.

Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?

Some people use some of the imagery in the Book of Revelation to try to frame Jesus as a military figure. He came the first time as a nice, meek, and mild Jesus but the second time He’s coming back as a military leader to conquer with the sword. Then they sort of use that to say that we should actually get on with that now—we should start bringing Jesus’ kingdom pretty much by military means—and you see them trying to reclaim the temple mount, etc. There’s a whole theological outworking. Do you see that as problematic and how would you interpret the passages in Revelation where it’s talking about wars basically?

To read through Revelation that way is to prove that Nietzsche was right about Christianity, that it’s a resentful, kind of slave religion, that would take revenge if it had power but doesn’t because it’s a religion for the weak but we fantasize about getting our revenge and take our revenge in kind of passive aggressive sorts of ways. I think that’s just a really horrible way to read Christianity, and it’s a misreading of the Book of Revelation too.

I mean, you’ll notice that the rider’s rope is already dipped in blood before the battle begins at the end of the Book of Revelation, which means that it’s the martyrs that conquer. I mean this is a book of martyrdom and it’s not a book of vengeance, and so the whole experience of the Church under the Pagan Roman Empire—under which the Book of Revelation was written—is an experience of martyrdom and not of violence. It’s of experience of refusing to commit violence, and suffering it instead, and praying for the conversion of the empire, which eventually happens.

But I think any other reading of the Book of Revelation as vengeance, is a misreading of the Book of Revelation and it’s really hard to square with the Gospels as well, where Jesus comes back with the wounds in His hands and says, “Peace be with you”. You know people want him to come back in life as Arnold Schwarzenegger—”Jesus is back and he’s mad as hell!”—and He just doesn’t.

Yes, He is the Lamb that was slain, seated on the throne.


1. As William implied, I think some explanations of Penal Substitutionary Atonement make a lot of sense but some don’t.