An eternal tormentist, annihilationist and universalist walk into a pub…

An eternal tormentist, annihilationist and universalist walk into a pub…

What follows is part of a wider response to various questions that theologian Rob Knowles has responded to.  Here, after writing a thorough response and critique of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, to which the opening of the article below refers, Rob proceeds to outline the actual biblical view(s) of what is associated with biblical notions of judgment and hell.

This debate suffers from the worst kinds of crappy-Christian polemics, historical amnesia and hermeneutical foreclosure, and dare I say, the real possibility that many Christians are going to be really cheesed off if God does indeed save everyone! Similarly, if God does or will save everyone, would that constitute what my brother refers to as ‘a pleasant hostage situation’?

If someone of the scholarly stature of A. C. Thiselton can confidently and unashamedly assert that within the Bible there exists three contradictory traditions, the interpreting community that is the Church had best sit up and pay proper theological attention!  At the very least, this would make an interesting discussion actually worth listening too, if our three traditions named in my title ever got into that pub!

Anyway, enjoy.  Cheers….

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How could hell be just?
I have already said a lot on this question in my earlier theodicy on “the problem of evil”. There I offered a highly modified version of C.S. Lewis’s theodicy in his book, The Problem of Pain (see above). The theodicy went into some detail on the question of hell, and broadly rejected C.S. Lewis’ thinking on the matter in favour of A.C. Thiselton’s view, which we might call the “deliberate ambiguity” approach to hell. Lewis’s theodicy, in my view, was at its strongest in describing how, given that God had decided to create “persons” with (at least some measure of free will), then this was impossible without (a) some kind of neutral background – creation or “nature”, and (b) the possibility of us deciding to do wrong. These two factors explained 80% of the suffering in the world: that is, when it comes to the question: “why is there so much suffering in the world?” our answer is – roughly speaking – about 80% in agreement with the atheists. They say: there is no God; there is suffering; so humankind must have caused the suffering. We 80% agree that humankind must have caused the suffering – with the qualification that demonic influence on humanity also has to be accounted for.


The main exception to this was (c) what Lewis referred to as remedial suffering – suffering associated with God’s disciplining intervention into our lives, and with our going “cold turkey” on sins once we had decided to follow God – a “cold turkey” experience that Lewis, rightly, likened to crucifixion, since Paul speaks of the crucifixion of the sinful nature in the Christian.


In my view, though, Lewis’s theodicy was at its weakest in its depiction of God as being less than able to fully resolve the problem of human sin – as though the Almighty God was threatened by sin, and could only partially guarantee a partial salvation that heavily depended on our co-operation and works. The effect was to leave the reader exhausted, thinking that his or her works could be the deciding factor in his or her salvation.
To my mind, this view, whilst rightly stressing human responsibility, fails to present the biblical picture of God’s sovereignty. Yes, God is the crucified God, who suffers with us in weakness. And, for God as a man in Jesus Christ, nobody can under-estimate the suffering of the cross, and the difficulty God faced at that point, given the parameters that he had placed upon himself.

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Die sin must or God

Christmas isn’t usually the time to talk about evil, or of Satan’s ultimate destruction, but that is precisely what Christmas, the coming of God in Christ, means.  Evil encompases all the chaos and dysfunction in the world, all the rebellion against God; and God’s salvation means an end to all that, and the return to a new heavenly order of holiness.

The coming of Jesus is God meeting His own requirements for not only sin’s penalty, but the whole moral order of the universe.  It is, in the end, God working to satisfy His own holy Name; and Jesus is the only One who can do that.

P. T. Forsyth wrote in Work of Christ that “An unsatisfied God, a dissatisfied God, would be no God.  He would but reflect the distraction of the world, and so succumb to it.”  Yet holiness must be satisfied, and nothing created can possibly do that.  Similarly, neither can God’s holiness be satisfied whilst any vestiges of unholiness, namely evil (i.e. hell), remain.  The destruction of evil is the fulfilment of God’s unsurpassing reign and joy of His holiness in all the New Creation for all people, everywhere. Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 15:28 means?  That God will be all in all?  Thus if evil exists, what else does “all in all” mean?

Evil has no future because God is holy.

That means, as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God into the world, we remember and partake of God’s renewing of the whole cosmos to put an end to evil, but not to put an end to rebels, such as we, the human race, are.

Forsyth wrote in a brilliant sermon entitled The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen,

“If evil is to be permanent in any part of the universe, then God is there foiled and the Cross of Christ of none effect . . . . .So long as evil lasts there will be Hell.  If evil should cease Hell would be burned out.  Now if Christ’s Cross means anything it means the destruction of evil everywhere and forever.  The work of the Cross is not done while there is a single soul unwon to the mastery of Christ and uninfected by His Spirit. . . . If we believe in the Cross then we believe there will come a time when evil shall everywhere cease and sin no longer be.”

Evil has no future because Jesus has come, and remains by His Spirit.

Evil has no future because Jesus has satisfied God’s own holiness.

Evil has no future because God will be all in all.

“Die sin must or God.”  When Jesus was born, sin’s fate was sealed.  When Jesus died, sin was defeated forever.  When Jesus rose from the dead, sin was left behind in the tomb.  When He returns, sin will be erradicated forever.  The New Heaven and New Earth will know no sin.

That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.

DSC_0082A sunset in South Devon.

Note:  This post was spurred by my reading of the excellent chapter on P. T. Forsyth by Jason Goroncy in ‘All Shall Be Well’ entitled ‘The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity.’ And also the brilliant collection of Forsyth sermons in Goroncy’s ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’, which has been mentioned on this blog before.

All shall be wellForsyth.DescendingonHumanity.90702

Jesus in Hell

John Chrysostom (347-407) the golden-tongued preacher of the late fourth century said this in a sermon about what the Cross of Jesus has achieved in our salvation and the entire redemption of all creation:

“He has destroyed death by undoing death.

He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.

He vexed it even as it tasted his own flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he cried:

Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;

Filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;

Filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;

Filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;

Filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains

Hell received a body, and encountered God.

It received earth and confronted heaven.

O death, where is your sting?

O hell, where is your victory?’

CROSS