Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Some of the popular attempts to defend the Bible's teaching have a high price.
One such approach is the idea that everlasting hell is fair since the damned in hell continue to rebel and sin without repentance. This apology is utilised by leading writers such as DA Carson:
'What is hard to prove, but seems to me probable, is that one reason why the conscious punishment of hell is ongoing is because sin is ongoing' Gagging of God, p.533.
The chapter from which this quote is taken is one of the best summaries of the issues available, and one I frequently recommend. Carson himself admits that the apology is 'hard to prove'.
Tim Keller makes much of the idea, originally taught by CS Lewis (Problem of Pain) that hell's 'door is locked on the inside'. Keller develops these ideas in his Reason for God, Chapter 5.
Recently, in response to Rob Bell, the idea that rebellion and sin are ongoing in hell has been commended by various evangelical teachers.
Defending hell's justice on the basis of people's ongoing rebellion is an appealing approach. Tragically though it is an apologetic which comes with a high price - it is predicated upon a Pelagian prioritising of human freedom over God's sovereignty. This is seen very clearly in the development of the approach by Keller and Lewis, which makes the reality of hell more palatable by calling into doubt the sovereign freedom of God, as the ultimate reason for hell. Ironically even those who have come to a Calvinsit/Augustinian view of the will, are susceptible to accepting the Pelagian approach when it comes to post-mortem existence. The injustice done to God's sovereignty is just as real at that point of reality.
The Pelagian prioritising of human choice over God's sovereignty was presumably the reason Augustine - a strong defender of the Biblical view of hell as everlasting torment - refused to countenance the idea that sin exists in hell. The idea that sin could continue to exist and even be enlarged in hell flies in the face of the expectation that after Christ's return, all sin is ended and God is glorified in all things.
'After the resurrection, when the universal judgement is over and done with, the two cities will have their boundaries, one of the good the other of the wicked, both composed of angels and people. The former will have no will to sin and the latter no ability to do so, nor will either have any possibility of dying.'
Rather than a portrait of hell as a place where sin continues and grows as it is endlessly freely chosen by the rebellious damned, Augustine saw the Biblical texts as urging him to conceive of hell as a place where sinners glorify God by agreeing with the rightness of God's judgement, regretting their sins (which the New Testament describes as having been done 'in the body,' not post-mortem) and being subject to the fearsome reality of God's righteous, holy wrath.
God is God of this world, and the future worlds of heaven and hell. Humanity has never been, nor ever will be, in charge. Sin truly will be no more after Christ returns. Thankfully, in view of the horrific nature of hell, the God who is in charge is abounding in mercy and intervenes to give us that which we could never desire of ourselves.
Friday, March 18, 2011
"I am aware that I now have to engage in a debate, devoid of rancor, those compassionate Christians who refuse to believe that the punishment of hell will be everlasting either in the case of all those men whom the completely just Judge accounts deserving of that chastisement, or at least in the case of some of them; they hold that they are to be set free after fixed limits of time have been passed, the periods being longer or shorter in proportion to the magnitude of offences. On this subject the most compassionate of all was Origen who believed that the Devil himself and his angels will be rescued from their torments and brought into the company of the holy angels, after the more severe and more lasting chastisements appropriate to their deserts. But the Church has rejected Origen's teaching, and not without good reason."