When I first heard the gospel, it was good news. Everybody was going to hell where there would be eternal, unbearable punishment…wait, here’s the good part: I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to. I could have a free ticket out.
Yes, please. Sign me up. I was eleven years old. Who the hell would want to go there?
Then came other questions. Do you have to be baptized for this free ticket? What if you’re baptized in the wrong church? What if it’s a sprinkle, not immersion, or it’s before the age of reasoning? Do you have to get baptized again for the free ticket? And a weird question that arrived later…can someone else get baptized for you after you die?
1 Corinthians 15 is an interesting chapter.
Paul addresses some believers who have an incorrect view of eternity in verse 12. Apparently, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Let this sink in. It’s possible for believers to have an erroneous belief.
Paul reasons that if there is no resurrection, then Christ didn’t rise. If Christ didn’t rise, then it’s all in vain and worthless. And if our faith is worthless, then we’re still in our sins. And we should be pitied more than all men. Basically, what the hell is this life for?
He says in verse 18 that if this is so, believers who have died perish. Without resurrection, you perish. You are destroyed; you cease. Without resurrection, you don’t live forever.
Last week’s post challenged the idea of humans having an inherently eternal soul. But let’s say eternity is not a gift from God, and the Greek philosophers rationalized correctly: our souls live forever. Maybe Satan was right when he assured Eve, “You will surely not die. You will be like God.” God, who is immortal.
Unrepentant or Not
Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 15 to describe how God will subjugate everything under Christ. And the last enemy will be death. Verses 26-28 What it would look like if a billion people are in outright, unrepentant rebellion, hating God and cursing his name, writhing in the pit. Are they subjugated?
To subjugate is to conquer into submission. And I can see the victorious lion who comes bringing war ruling the earth this way. One day, every knee will bow—but I’m unsettled that their hearts don’t matter anymore. That heaven is eternity with some still despising the king.
It’s equally unsatisfactory to believe that the uncleansed sinners grow horrified at their mistake while writing in pain, and acknowledge the one true God, crying out in repentant sorrow. When the hell would it end?
I doubt people in hell will eat from the tree of life (just so they can suffer eternally) since that right is given to the residents of heaven. While they burn, instead of the fire doing what it normally does, consume completely to ash, will God preserve bodies and souls like he did with the burning bush? Will he preserve minds as well?
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is one of those books that seems to take me longer than it should to finish. I wait months without picking it back up. It’s just a hard read for me, not uninteresting. I’m fascinated that our human bodies have so many ways to protect our brain from trauma: blacking out, going insane, disassociation, repression of memories.
In verse 51 when Paul says not all will die but all will be changed, is he talking about unbelievers as well? Will residents of hell be given a special new body that feels all the sensations of trauma, but they cannot escape in any way? Will God supernaturally keep them conscious to make unbearable punishment just bearable enough to last forever?
Torturers study and aspire to that goal.
Who is a vindictive torturer, delighting in our suffering? I think our enemy doesn’t just try to look like God—sometime he tries to make us think God looks like him. So much skewed doctrine comes from thinking God is like man, or evil.
“Does the one who told us to love our enemies intend to wreck vengeance on his own enemies for all eternity?”
Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism
Irrevocable, not Ongoing
I’m not suggesting there is no hell, or that there will not be a punishment. I’m merely suggesting that the punishment might not be ongoing torture—but irrevocable perishing. Eternal separation from God, who is the source of life and in whose hand all things are held together. And I am suggesting that eternal just means permanent.
I am not a scholar, and I have been mulling over these ideas for a few years. So, I do not reject the suggestion of eternal conscious tournament lightly. Neither do I need this to be true because I want to escape hell. I earnestly desire to spend eternity with the God I love. But something shifted inside me toward God when I began to contemplate these ideas. I don’t actually know how it will all work out, but based on what I know of God, I can trust him.
There are terms for last week’s post (conditional immortality) and this week’s (annihilation view of hell.) But I think we are too quick to jump into labels. We tend to want to know what flag to raise so we can know who is in a different camp and where to aim the heretic gun. Working out your faith is a process and you will have to be willing to sit in undefined thoughts and to wait on the Lord. As you read and study on your own, consider that every time the Bible speaks of eternal punishment, perishing, death and destruction, it means that there is no going back. Not torture.
If, at the end of your physical body, you still reject him and do not want to spend eternity with the Almighty God who loves you, he will let you have your way.
You may ask, “How the hell are we going to scare people into heaven?” It’s true that if you take the fear out of religion, it is a different choice. Fear the Lord is a reverent awe of him, not cowering before capriciousness.
If you want to spend eternity with God because you love and trust him—spend this life loving and trusting him. Just the possibility of the annihilation view of hell helps me do that a bit more.
Of course, the truth of God is not based on what “feels” right to humankind. But if the traditional view of eternal conscious torment in hell is unseated according to your prayer, reflection and study—is that because you have more compassion than God? Give me a freakin’ break.
I would like to apologize to my mom for the language in this post.