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    March 5th, 2012 @ 6:19 pm by Kevin

    This cartoon plays to the common conception that hell is a place where Satan and his demons punish humans for their sins. But can we find anything resembling this conception of hell in the Bible?

    The only real connections I can find between hell and demons are Matthew 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and 2 Peter 2:4, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell [actually Tartarus, a term borrowed from Greek mythology], putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.” But even in these cases, the fallen angels aren’t in charge of hell (or Tartarus), they’re imprisoned and punished there alongside the humans.

    A clear connection between the devil and hell is Revelation 20:10, where he is cast into the lake of fire. But even if you want to interpret the passage in those terms, Satan is not running the show, he’s there to be punished, just like the fallen angels and humans in the previous passages.

    So if something like the fire and brimstone version of hell exists, and Satan and his demons aren’t running the show, then who is?

    Many Christians dodge this question by saying no one is in charge of hell, because hell isn’t so much a place as a state of being–complete separation from God and his goodness. But Annihilationists like Edward Fudge remind us the Bible teaches that God is not only the author but also the sustainer of life. Therefore, if there is such a thing as life after death–even life in hell–God must be the one who sustains it.

    This appears to make the idea of eternal separation difficult to maintain, because if people are going to exist throughout eternity in a state of anguish, their connection to God can never be severed. They might perceive themselves as being separated from God, but he will have to be right there in hell with them. And the entire time, he will be perpetuating the illusion that they are actually alone. All the while he’ll also be celebrating with his beloved in heaven. Admittedly, you could argue that God sustains the lives of those in hell through some form of remote control, but you don’t have to be Gary Larson to begin to grasp the absurdity of that situation.

    So if we really want to argue for hell as a place of eternal torment for the wicked, and we accept that nothing in the Bible teaches that Satan and his demons will rule hell as God’s agents of wrath, and if, in the end, Jesus will truly be all in all, then I can only see one conclusion…

    Jesus is in charge of hell.

    In fact, Mark Driscoll makes this very argument in his book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, where he refers to Jesus as the “Lord of hell.” One of his proof texts for this is Revelation 14:9-11:

    A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

    If you’re going to take this passage literally, then those in hell will be tortured forever in the presence of Jesus, so it’s not much of a stretch to say he must be the Lord of hell. But then again, if you’re really going to take this passage literally, you’ll also have to argue that Jesus is literally a lamb and that there really is a wine called God’s Fury and a special cup out of which the wicked will drink it. Otherwise you leave yourself open to accusations of reading Scripture selectively to support your presuppositions rather than submitting to its authority. And I’m sure no one would want to be accused of doing that.

    Facetiousness aside, if this argument is correct, we have Jesus (literally a lamb) running hell. A man who taught us to forgive our enemies, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to forgive those who wrong us 7 x 70 times. A man whose most famous apostle taught us that love never fails and that it keeps no record of wrongs…

    Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?



leave a comment on this post (20 Comments)

  1. I will only say one thing and that is in response to the last part there.

    “Facetiousness aside, if this argument is correct, we have Jesus (literally a lamb) running hell. A man who taught us to forgive our enemies, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to forgive those who wrong us 7 x 70 times.”

    By writing this, you imply that if Jesus is Lord of Hell, He is a hypocrite. Jesus is not being hypocritical by teaching us to forgive others who wrong us.

    One reason He calls us to forgive those who wrong us is because, simply, wrath is not ours to take. Romans 12:19 reads “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

    In the end, there will have been only two ways the Lord avenged Himself. Either on his Son on the cross or continually on the individuals in Hell. All have sinned and are Hellbound. Jesus alone can save us from our sins.

    Or more clearly, Jesus alone can save us from Jesus.

    Thank you.

  2. I just happened to be reading Driscoll’s “Doctrine” as well working on a post on how he inadvertently supports a universal salvation of all mankind. One is this idea of “Hell will be ruled by Jesus, and human and demon alike, including Satan, will be tormented there continually.” (pg 425)

    This is a point we brought up in our Open Letter to Tim Keller: if all flesh is maintained by God’s “sustaining grace” how can there be a separation from Him? (which for many is THE definition of hell, the absence of God).

    I believe one of the most powerful confirmations of universal reconciliation is listening to theologians try and explain eternal conscious torment. If they speak long enough they say the most incoherent things.

    godslovewins.com
    christianuniversalism.com

  3. We identify God as omnipotent, loving, merciful, just, but we cannot know his unity. His identities are paradoxical and his unity hidden, incomprehensible.
    “When all is said and done, the human being can approach this incomprehensiblility only in loving surrender and not by a perception that would drag the Perceived before some high tribunal charged with the perceiving of all reality.
    Making ourselves judges of Infinity is pretty ridiculous; don’t you think?

  4. Ted, I understand where you are coming from having been a Calvinist for 30+ years. But consider the fact that we are told we are going to “rule and reign with Him”. Who are we going to rule? What is this lifetime of learning to love, forgive and have mercy preparing us for? To prepare us to co-judge with Christ as He consigns mercilessly billions of God’s image-bearers to eternal conscious torment? What is the point of God driving us to forgiveness in this life if it has no ongoing implications in the coming ages? Does forgiveness not reflect the eternal nature of God? What about “His mercies never come to an end”?

    God cannot be avenged by punishing sin against Him with infinitely more sin. The concept of eternal conscious torment entails a never-ending cycle of sin in the form of unrepentance, rebellion and hatred for God eternally alongside punishment (explains D. A. Carson). This is incoherent and immoral.

    And nothing is avenged by a sentence that never ends.

  5. Philip,
    Agreed. In a similar way one argument I’ve made in the past is that both Calvinists and Arminians seem to have a denial of the fall (seperation from God) embedded in their doctrines. Seems you’re onto a similar notion (future seperation).

    Kevin,
    When I hear the people who received visions and went to hell like 23 minutes in hell – if that’s the correct name – and I hear them say how the devil was down their accusing and tormenting these people, I just think…man at least read the bible – sheesh.

  6. A comment per Benoit,

    We identify God as omnipotent, loving, merciful, just, but we cannot know his unity. His identities are paradoxical and his unity hidden, incomprehensible.

    So what did Jesus mean when he said in John 14:9, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father?”

    If anyone is going to make an argument that God is not paradoxical and cannot be understood, they might as well throw out scripture and start making up whatever they want no matter how ridiculous it might seem to anyone else. Jesus is called the Logos because he was the living breathing explanation of God in the flesh, not a paradoxical contradiction.

  7. Kevin, setting aside Mark Driscoll as irrelevant and agreeing with you that he is absurd, I do see something wrong with your logic.

    If you’re going to take this passage literally, then those in hell will be tortured forever in the presence of Jesus, so it’s not much of a stretch to say he must be the Lord of hell.

    A question for you… where does “hell” enter into Revelation 14:9-11? The word “hell” is not used in the passage at all and nothing says that those that experience this torment have already died. However, you will notice some striking similarities if you compare chapter 14 with chapter 18. Babylon is not hell.

    If we are taking this passage literally it says nothing about hell.

    But then again, if you’re really going to take this passage literally, you’ll also have to argue that Jesus is literally a lamb and that there really is a wine called God’s Fury and a special cup out of which the wicked will drink it. Otherwise you leave yourself open to accusations of reading Scripture selectively to support your presuppositions rather than submitting to its authority. And I’m sure no one would want to be accused of doing that.

    This is what is “wrong with the picture.” The “Lamb of God” is a well recognized symbol that is defined within multiple places within scripture, such as John 1:29-1:36 (Jesus) and Revelation as God.

    Although the “cup of his wrath” is not specifically defined outside of Revelation, it is usually clearly understood by anyone. Chapter 19 uses the wine press of wrath symbolism as well.

    Revelation does use symbols but these symbols are such that they are able to be logically identified without requiring bizarre presuppositions.

    Facetiousness aside, if this argument is correct, we have Jesus (literally a lamb) running hell.

    Unless you didn’t recognize the “Lamb of God” as define either within or without Revelation, you are still being facetious.

    But may I say something regarding the intent of the post?

    A man who taught us to forgive our enemies, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to forgive those who wrong us 7 x 70 times. A man whose most famous apostle taught us that love never fails and that it keeps no record of wrongs…

    Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?

    1) The context of 1 Corinthians 13 does not mean that “love always persuades its victim” but that love always endures and does not fail on its part. It does not guarantee acceptance by another.

    2) I did pull up a passage of scripture where Paul is talking about the forgetting of wrongs but it did not seem very Universalist. From Hebrews,

    Heb 10:15-27 KJV
    (15) Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
    (16) This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
    (17) And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
    (18) Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

    I am hoping that you are with me so far… but now look how this continues in the very next breath…

    (19) Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
    (20) By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
    (21) And having an high priest over the house of God;
    (22) Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
    (23) Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
    (24) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
    (25) Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
    (26) For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
    (27) But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

    There can remain no more sacrifice for sins if we willingly turn away, and there are also adversaries. The remembering the sins no more must be conditional. Those that turn away and the adversaries shall be devoured. Why would it say that if it didn’t mean it?

    I would also point out that “devoured” is not a word that describes eternal conscious torment. That which is devoured by fire no longer exists… so this does not support the Far Side comic (above) either.

    • Sorry Andrew, not much time to get into this right now, but just to be clear, I am not reading the passage literally, and I agree that hell is not mentioned. I just know that many people interpret the lake of fire as a symbol for hell. What I’m trying to say is that if people insist on taking the lake of fire literally, then they should also take Jesus as a literal lamb, b/c if you’re going to say one of them is symbolic in that passage, you pretty much have to agree that everything in that passage is symbolic. But then you have to give up this passage as a justification for eternal torment in hell.

  8. Ouch… it looks like I missed an ending blockquote tag.

  9. Andrew Patrick, I guess you fit the bill. Humility in recognizing our reason’s limits would go a long way. Jesus addressed limited human beings.
    That Jesus is Man and God is a definition, not an explanation.
    Soteriology is helpful, but it does not EXPLAIN a mystery.
    Things are not as simple as you seem to make them.

    While not forgetting that we are dealing with a mystery here, the neo-Chalcedonian understands the expression “Jesus was obedient unto death” of the divinity itself, as well as of the humanity. A representative of pure Chalcedonianism, however, while continuing to maintain the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Jesus, will insist here that, in this union of divinity and humanity, the nonconfusion must also be safeguarded. Death and finitude belong only to the creaturely reality of Jesus. They remain “this side” of the infinite distance separating God and creature; they remain on the creaturely side of the one “God-man.” The eternal Word in his DIVINITY, can undergo no such historicity nor any “obedience unto death.”

  10. Benoit, perhaps things are as simple as they seem. Maybe I misunderstood what you were saying before, but this is my understanding:

    a) You were saying that God is so complex that he makes no sense by any of our standards. Therefore, his version of love involves giving people eternal life in infinite pain.

    b) I was saying that God is both understandable and knowable. If we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and being, how can we love with all our mind what we cannot know? God wants to be known. God is not paradoxical, incomprehensible, and he does not remain hidden.

    If I am misunderstanding what you meant, I would not mind if you were more direct, maybe with less references to the Chalcedonians and hyper-elastic unions… because it seems that one’s view of God might make a difference on this “eternal conscious torment” allegation as well.

  11. Andrew, I am curious as to how you would complete the following sentence: “The authority for my interpreting the Biblical message comes from …”

  12. … from the scripture itself. Here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept.

  13. As I am sure you know, many who have the same authority as you, the Bible, come to quite different conclusions. Who should I believe and for what reason?

  14. No, Benoit, those that use the scripture as their authority do eventually come to the same conclusions. If you want to know who to believe, look to those who consistently allow the scripture to interpret itself without contradiction.

    However, your “quite different conclusions” that you allege are somewhat vague. Bring forth your “others” who claim the same authority who are willing to stand and evaluate their “different conclusions” on the basis of scripture and then we can compare line by line, precept by precept, and see who to believe.

    Jesus himself used the scripture for authority, and so I think that sets a fairly good precedent.

  15. That’s what I thought you would say,the same thing that they tell me: “I can show you why I’m right, and why the others are wrong”.
    Sorry that you cannot see that taking the Bible as your only authority, only means that you make yourself the authority, and you cannot blame anybody else for doing the same.
    I then have an impossible choice…as to whom to believe.

  16. Benoit,

    Since you have no argument, and no issues, and can only allege disagreements upon the supposed same authority, nothing can ever be settled. You are refusing to put forth a question, so of course you will never have an answer. Congratulations, if that is what you want.

    I said that we should put forth the question, listen to the people who accept scripture as authority, and see what the scriptures say. Your idea seems to be to have a permanent darkness of the eyes. Why do you think we were given scripture in the first place?

  17. One can have quite a consistent theory about anything, but, if the premises are wrong, the theory is wrong.

    If you cannot show me, as I realize now that you cannot, why I should believe you instead of anybody else. Tell me why I should now ask you a question about anything in the Bible.

    Perhaps inquiring how the Bible came into being would help you. However I’m sure that in the ‘darkness’ of your ideas, you might think that you already know…but I’m not so sure that you do.

  18. Benoit, if you don’t care about the scripture, then there is no reason for you to test me on the scripture. I already know how the Bible came into being. The short form is that God gave us his word.

    Perhaps you may have a different idea, but since you’re not putting anything forward and you don’t seem to want to say anything concrete that can be tested one way or another, it seems pretty pointless to continue.

  19. I am starting to think that some who comment are just having a theological pissing contest and showing ones great need for significance….. Our joy is to question… To learn and not just to hold onto our very limited view on any given subject… But I could be wrong…it’s never happened before but I could be…

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