Hell, it’s better than annihilation.

To be honest, I normally do not waste my time writing on my ideas about the afterlife (since it almost always leads to abstract thinking away from the concrete problems in the world) but Rob’s and Joel’s recent posts have gotten me thinking about the topic of hell.  Also, recently someone at a Bible study was almost laughing at the possible fact that a person of a different religious background was burning in hell.  This was not the first time I had heard of Christians getting all giddy because there are persons condemned to Gehenna (one of the greek terms translated as hell); I do recall there was a five-point Calvinist one time who sent me a facebook message who told me to also rejoice because there were persons in hell because of Christ’s limited atonement.  Just the other day, I heard of a pastor who preached in a sermon that hell is when a person refuses to be part of a community.  It goes to show the reason why Christians steer away from discussing the topic of hell because it is sounds like sadomasochistic and cruel, with the saints in heaven rejoicing (since there will be no more tears in the new creation according to Revelation) as they observe sinners burn in the lake of fire below them.

Eternal torment is currently the least popular doctrine in traditional Christianity.  In fact, a recent survey suggests that 59 percents of Americans believe in hell as opposed to 74% who believe in heaven.  Pope John Paul II, stating the Roman Catholic teaching on the topic in 1999, said that hell was the state of being separated from God.  Many evangelicals got into an uproar because they opposed the idea that eternal damnation is only a “state of mind.”  What they do not realize is that the official Catholic teaching is just not about a “state of mind,” it is a state of the soul after a person dies (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1035).  While I agree that hell can be a state after the soul dies, I disagree with the Apostles Creed and the traditional teaching that says that Jesus descended into hell; Jesus did not descend into hell according to the New Testament witness—he descended into Sheoul, which is a totally different concept than the idea of hell/eternal punishment (1st Peter 4:6).  According to Peter, the Gospel was preached to the dead, the righteous and the unrighteous, even going back as far as Noah’s generation (1st Peter 3:18-22).  This makes Jesus the Messiah’s victory over sin, death, and the Enemy transcendent; Jesus the Messiah’s sacrifice surpasses any concept of time that humans know because his death was not only made relevant for his generation and subsequent generations, but also for all people who lived in the past.  The biblical text suggests that the Good News can be preached to persons even after they leave this world.

I do not believe that Scripture teaches us that we live in a three-tiered world, where there is this place called heaven up there above us and hell right below us.  Three-tiered universes are reserved for people who adhere to dualism, and I am definitely not a fan of dualism because it makes the Enemy out to be an all-powerful, all-knowing rival of God.

Instead, the doctrine of eternal punishment should be examined through the lens of the New Testament author’s testimony and the doctrine of the Resurrection.  The apostle Paul even preached that he had “hope in God—a hope that they [the prophets of the First Testament] themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”  The righteous, according to Paul will receive new imperishable, immortal bodies at the Second Coming (1st Corinthians 15), but he does not say anything of the bodies of the wicked.  All we know is that the unrighteous rise up in their bodies to be judged by the Son of Man.

The lake of fire is not a place, but a metaphor for what John of Patmos calls “the second death”; those who experience the second death are still on Earth, but they experience the presence of God, who will be “all in all,” as death just as the righteous experience God in their bodies as eternal life.  There are some Christians such as Open Theists Clark Pinnock and John Sanders as well as Anglican theologian John Stott who teach the heresy of annihilationism, which is the idea that rather than eternal torment, the wicked will be completely destroyed: spirit, mind, and body.  This god of the annihilation is not the God of the bodily resurrection.  Annihilationism contradicts God’s ultimate aim for the reconciliation for all of creation as well as God’s own ordinance that the human body is good as we see in the Incarnation of God’s very word.  Annihilationists dismiss the hope of the resurrection as well as the hope that the Triune God’s forgiveness and mercy brings.  The wicked still have their subjectivity and body in Hell as they experience God at the new creation; they even have their hands, feet, teeth, and tearducts from their eyes for weeping as Jesus graphically tells us (Matthew 22:13). Jesus bore all the sins of the universe in his body; he was raised from the dead in his body by the Father and Holy Spirit so that he may judge our ancestors, contemporaries, and our descendants.  The same God who tells us that the body is the Holies of Holies of the Living God would not be the god who destroys the bodies his enemies completely.

Finally, what do my thoughts on eternal judgment mean for the here-and-now?  It means that hell can possibly also be experienced here in this world.  Hell is Darfur.  Hell is Iraq.  Hell is an abortion clinic.  Hell is death row.  Hell is Guantanamo Bay.  This understanding also means that like Christ, the Church is given the authority to invade the gates of Hades and death (Matthew 16:18) to proclaim life to dead bodies.  The politics of the cross permits Christians to resist death-dealing forces nonviolently as they preach the Word of the LORD.  It means that the power of the resurrection is possible in any instance or place because God’s Almightiness revealed in the raising of the Messiah supersedes all human notions of time and space; it is God’s eternal power that goes back in time to save even sinners who once had not hope in the past.  Even in hell, there is hope.

And for the record:  I am neither a Calvinist (obviously) or a Universalist.  I do not think that God has predetermined that anyone should go to hell prior to creation nor do I believe that God forces anyone to love God as universalists believe.  People freely choose with their own libertarian free will to either love God or to reject God’s love.  That choice is limited but it is still the choice of the individual person.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

0 thoughts on “Hell, it’s better than annihilation.

  1. T. C.

    I like your take on hell, Rodney. I like that you defend against the dualism of body and soul that is so pervasive in our culture. I also like that you connect hell to the Resurrection and consummation of all things in God.

    However, I think you misunderstand annihilationism as a violent belief. You say God would not destroy the bodies of his enemies. But I can think of at least two reasons why he might.

    1) God “gives over” humans to their sinful desires as judgment (Rom. 1.18-32). Sin, being rejection of God for lies and idols, is voluntary separation from God. God’s judgment then is to give sinful humans what they want. Hell is the final “giving over” to human rejection of God. Since God holds all things together (in him we have our being), it seems reasonable that the giving over of humans to their desire for separation from God would result in non-existence. Utter and total separation from God = non-existence.

    2) Annihilation seems far more merciful than eternal torment/torture. If God’s anger is brief but his favor enduring (Ps. 30.5), how then are we to understand eternal torment/torture as accurately reflective of God’s character? Not to mention the obvious dilemma it creates for the saints who no longer cry yet have loved ones in eternal torment.

    While, I enjoyed this post, I don’t think annihilationism deserves to be called heresy.

    I’m going to keep my suspicion of eternal, conscious torment/torture …which doesn’t rule out annihilationism as a merciful interpretation.

    Reply
    1. Rod

      1) I can agree with you on part one, but my point was that I also believe that there is a separation, the wicked are still able to gnash their teeth and cry; they are not annihilated.

      2) God’s anger is brief and God is merciful, but in annihilation, there is no hope for a wicked person; in my view, 1st Peter’s telling of Jesus going down to the prisons and Sheoul means that the Good News can be preached to souls that are passed away into eternity. I have a hard time believing that annihilation is merciful because there are no second chances available.

      Reply
    2. Rob Kashow

      I agree with TC on 2. The whole point and appeal of annihilation is that God does not eternally torment souls forever. The fact that God eventually annihilates causes an escape from the torment and thus some have less of a problem with the ‘problem of hell.’

      Reply
      1. Rod

        Rob,

        I already addressed your concern about the eternality of torment. In my post, I mention 1st Peter 3:18-22. With eternal torment, there is hope for the dead souls being ministered to, just as Jesus proclaimed the Good News to the wicked from Noah’s generation.

        Reply
      2. Rob Kashow

        Rodney,

        You say in reference to 1 Peter “The biblical text suggests that the Good News can be preached to persons even after they leave this world.” and then later in the comments that “in my view, 1st Peter’s telling of Jesus going down to the prisons and Sheoul means that the Good News can be preached to souls that are passed away into eternity. I have a hard time believing that annihilation is merciful because there are no second chances available.” This is indeed restricted to “your view” which is certainly a minority view.

        To base an entire doctrine of “second chance” on one of the most controversial passages in the entire New Testament is not convincing for me. Moreover, the implication this has make little sense in the rest of the New Testament’s call to preach the Gospel here and now with urgency.

        Moreover, even if you interpretation of 1 Peter 4.6 is correct the aspect of the verb is punctiliar as denoted by the aorist tense. Therefore there is no textual support to say that people will continue to be given a second chance. All that is stated, if your view is correct, is that those before Christ heard the Gospel. If this is the case, then I would think it is because the Gospel was absent pre-Christ. But again, this view is suspect.

        As far as I see it, 1 Peter 3.18-22 contributes nothing to the conversation. There is no evidence to suggest this applies to humans, rather it sounds like the spirits refer to the ‘sons of God’ in Gen 6. Regardless, it’s too difficult to say. However, again, even if it were to refer to humans, which I don’t see how it can, all of the verbs are also punctiliar. Thus, this action indeed happened, but there is nothing that says it will ever happen again.

        Those that want to hope for a second chance seem to hang on to these verses, but unfortunately they are probably the most ambiguous verses in all of Scripture, and typically people say more and read more into them then what is there.

        Reply
        1. Rod

          Rob,

          I hate to use this cliche but we are going to have to agree to disagree.

          And your attempt to marginalize my interpretation of 1st Peter 3:18-22 epically fails. In fact, this is the interpretation that the Roman Catholic Church holds to.

          If you remember our disputes from Theology Rocks, our interpretations of the Noah story are completely different!

          Reply
          1. Rob Kashow

            Yes, I recall you arguing for Gen 6 being the fallen angels and I was arguing against that. I was arguing for the sons of Seth. So if you are right, then 1 Peter 3 would be speaking about them.

            Catholics are divided on this issue. And I really haven’t heard one Catholic argue for a ‘second chance,’ though you’re free to provide reference to any bibliography, rather they see purgatory as a chance for those who weren’t quite holy enough to be redeemed. But those who are very wicked don’t get this chance, they will go to hell regardless.

          2. Rod

            On Genesis 6:

            No, I do not think that I have to read Genesis “sons of god” as the spirits the passage is talking about. I was thinking more towards the human souls that were excluded from the ark that the spirits are in reference to. I have good reason to believe that Noah’s generation was disobedient. In fact Genesis 6:9 says that Noah was blameless among the people of his generation, and that in Genesis 6:11& 12 tells us that God floods the world not because of the sons of god but due to the violence and depravity of the human beings in Noah’s generation.

            As for the Catholic teaching, please see the section of the Catechism on the nature and work of Jesus Christ. In paragraph 634, http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p122a5p1.htm#631

            It says that the gospel was proclaimed to the dead, and that Christ’s redemptive works was made viable for men that had died in the past and who were disobedient (which is what Peter says). Although I disagree with the RCC that Jesus descended into hell (since it was Sheoul as the text says), but some of these human beings (it does not say which ones) were accepted Christ’s death as salvific. It is only in Christian tradition that Jesus saves the saints like Moses and Gideon in his death; that comes from Justin the Martyr, and I respectfully dissent with his views. The text clearly says that it was the wicked that were saved; I believe that the First Testament saints were justified; nothing in the New Testament says otherwise.

            Of course it is of much urgency that Christians preach the gospel in the here and now! I have not argued to the contrary. I am arguing against the cruelty of annihilationism which contradicts everything Scripture says pertaining to the resurrection of the dead, the human body, the goodness of creation, and the truth we find in the Incarnation.

          3. Rob Kashow

            No I am not arguing as you say to John above. Remember, I believe that Gen 6 is the sons of Seth. What I suggested was that if anything that interpretation of 1 Peter is the most probable. And I agree with John above, the Catechism is what it is, but most Catholics seem to realize how difficult their interpretation of these Peter passages all.

            Regardless, Rods, my point is still the same, if you are appealing to Scripture for this second chance, there is not evidence for it. One must appeal to philosophical or other disciplines. The grammar doesn’t allow. Interesting, if such were true, I would think such a first order affirm would be found clear in the Scriptures.

            You’re indeed right about the cliche, “agree to disagree” but I have one better for you: “It is what it is.”

          4. Rod

            Rob,

            Just because you say it is most probable, does not make it so. The link I provided shows the tradition where 1st Peter 3 can be about the wicked people of Noah’s generation. The text does not contradict my point either.

            I know your arguments for Genesis 6. You know mine.

            It is what it is.

          5. Rob Kashow

            you’re not understanding my point. my point is that regardless of what 1 pet 3 refers to (something of debate and which any interpretation is suspect) to conclude that people are given a second chance after death. It’s a conjecture.

  2. T. C.

    PS – I liked your paper entitled “Only God Can Judge Me.” Next fall, I’m presenting on “The Gospel According to Tupac Shakur” at a Theology on Tap group. Is it alright if I quote you on your analysis of Tupac’s dualistic view of body/soul at the resurrection?

    Reply
  3. Yeshua is the Lord of Glory

    Hi Rod

    ” Everlasting fire ” (real or metaphoric-it does not matter) was prepared for the devil and his angels… Matthew 25:41. In the judgment those who are on Jesus’ left will depart from him and are cursed into ” Everlasting ” fire…Matthew 25:46…

    The scriptures also teach that the devil will be cast into ” the lake of fire ” along with death and Hades…And all who’s name are not written in the book of life…Where also the beast and false prophet will be and are tormented day and night -Revelation 20:10,15…

    Why would Jesus preach so often to keep the children of Adam from this “Everlasting ” place of torment and punishment? Where there is no rest-day or night and the fire is not quenched (real or metaphoric).The place where even the worm does not die… Mark 9:43-47 and Revelation 14:11 ???

    Rob all of these passages seem to speak of the same eternal place (real or metaphoric) were there seems to be no hope of a second chance.. or mans idea of mercy-which is annilhilation…

    Reply
    1. Rod

      Hi YIG.

      Thanks for your comments.

      I do not think you are understanding my point. My point is that the lake of fire is not a place below us; it is that the hell happens here on Earth. The Enemy is not annihilated and neither are those who follow him. What happens is this, YIG, is that there is a new creation, as the book of Revelation says and that Satan and his minions experience for eternity, the second death (which John, the author of revelation says is ‘the lake of fire;) If you notice, in your Bible, it says “the lake of fire, which is the second death.”

      I am not making the case against eternal damnation; I am making a case against the heresy of annihilation.
      Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  4. John Anthony

    Not every catholic believes every letter in the Catechism Rodney. And Genesis 6 is the ark of the spirits what? You’re one crazy theologian.

    ~John

    Reply
    1. Rod

      Ummm, John, apparently you did not read my post.

      So, let me update you.

      I never said that all Catholics agreed with each other. That would be outrageous on my part, especially since I have many Catholic friends from all walks of life and ideologies.

      Rob Kashow is arguing that in 1st Peter 3:18-22 the spirits are the sons of god in Genesis 6.

      I disagree. The spirits that Jesus runs into at Sheoul (according to 1st Peter 3:18-22) are the wicked people of his generation. That is the dispute. If you have something to contribute about 1st Peter 3 or your very own position on the issue of hell and/or annihilation, I would love to hear it.

      Reply
  5. Jared Albin

    Rod,

    David Hunt, a Catholic, in a similar topic regarding Hell in the Theology Rocks, made this same point of there being a second chance for people only he was using Purgatory as the big fix for everything. He said there exist people he calls the “righteous unbeliever”. These righteous unbelievers go to Purgatory where they have a second chance. His view is not far from universalism.

    I made the point that if salvation is that easy—if all it requires is to live a good enough life on earth and make it into Purgatory at which point we will be given a second chance—what was the point of Jesus’ atonement? The fact that our salvation required that the Son of God had to be killed should say something about the absolute horror of sin and its weight on us.

    So when I read about eternal punishment in Matthew 25: 31-46, I don’t reason about how this cannot be in sync with God’s character—rather I see it as an echo of the weight and horror of sin. Sin is not just some trifling thing, its a absolute wall that towers high and rests heavy on our shoulders.

    I heard an analogy from a preacher once (and I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before), that the consequences of sin increases as a result of whom it is done against.

    In other words, I may hurt my sister’s feelings if I lie to her. I may lose my parents trust if I lie to them. But I may go to jail if I lie in a court of law and they call it perjury. Lying to the government is grounds for treason. The consequence of the sin increases in relation to whom the sin is against. Psalms says that our sin is first and foremost against God. And if it is against in infinite and holy God, then what does this say about the consequence that is to follow?

    This is why our sin did not just require the death of anyone or of thousands of sheep or goats or of thousands of years in Purgatory, it required the death of the actual Son of God.

    –Jared

    Reply
    1. Rod

      Matthew 25 is actually a good example; many persons however would argue that Matthew 25 sees us being judged by our works; you see, the sheep and the goats are separated by what they do, by visiting those in prisons, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.

      Anyways, I do not think that I have argued that good persons go to heaven because of their works. What I have argued is that the “second chance” (I am not for certain; I am depending on my interpretation of the Catholic reading of 1st Peter 3:18-22) may occur because the gospel is preached in the afterlife to those in Sheoul, after they die. That was all I was saying, besides my opinion that eternal damnation/hell is a more merciful concept than annihilationism. It is the Gospel that saves and those that receive the gospel receive the gift of salvation, which is eternal fellowship with the Triune God. I would disagree with David’s position somewhat. There is no room for the idea of an “righteous nonbeliever.” Jesus never separates believing in him from obeying him and living rightly; ever read the Gospel of John?

      Truth and Peace,
      Rod

      Reply
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  7. John

    There is nothing abstract at all about talking about the after-life, or rather the all important question of the meaning and significance of death.

    In fact until this question is answered EVERYTHING else IS mere abstraction. Impenetratable towers of abstract babble/babel.

    Why?

    Because until one has truly understood the overwhelming significance of death, every dimension of ones being is saturated with a hell-deep fear and trembling.

    Put in another way. Such Understanding is the KEY to right life altogether.

    Thus:

    http://www.easydeathbook.com

    http://www.dabase.org/dualsens.htm

    Reply
    1. Rod

      The question becomes exactly who is the concept of heaven/hell an abstraction for? I argue it is an abstract, irrelevant construct for those already suffering through hell in the here and now. Also, if heaven and hell are already decided as concepts that only God knows who ends up where and when, then really, they are insignificant to the cause of fighting oppression.

      Reply
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