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Hell and how to preach it

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FWIW I think at least some of the exclusion passages could be taken as linked to a destruction. It's been a while since I looked at this so I'd be interested to know which passages you were thinking of in terms of exclusion and bondage.

Matt

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"If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."
Ryan, there was a thread from a few years ago where this topic was batted around pretty vigorously. I'm too lazy now to link it, but we touched on this hotly-debated passage and several others. I think even most traditonalists would caution against extrapolating doctrine from the highly symbolic language of the Revelation prophecies. This verse obviously represents the ace up their sleeve in favor of everlasting torture, but at best--using the rigid, literal exegesis of the traditionalists-- it represents a single curious passage indicating certain people (those who receive the Beast's mark) will be punished publicly in eternity.

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Each of these is attested in multiple passages, and each is linked to the others in various passages. Some of the imagery, as Matt says, is linked to destruction, and when Jesus speaks of weeping and gnashing of teeth in furnace flames is natural for annihiliationists to want to latch onto the idea that the flames will soon put an end to the weeping and teeth-gnashing. Likewise, it is tempting to argue that when Jesus speaks of "eternal punishment" (Matt 25:46), he means a punishment of eternal oblivion.

But there are also the images of imprisonment, bondage and exclusion: the closed door, the binding hand and foot, the outer darkness. None of these offers any support to the notion of a short time of torment, followed by oblivion.

None of those alternate images indicate eternal torture. The NT judgement images convey the identical payload as their OT counterparts. Darkness, blotting out, banishment and binding all express the desperate finality of the wicked. As someone who has watched a few unrepentant rebels breathe their last, I know a small part of the reality conveyed in those end-of-the-road images-- bitterness, craven anguish, emptiness.

The OT judgments on God's enemies make repeated references to things like fire, everlasting smoke, burning and ever-hungry worms. The context of these declarations is always obliteration. Fire was a means of utterly razing the encampments of the wicked. That the prophets used colorful and exaggerative language to describe the utter finality of this physical destruction is only fitting.

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"If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."

Ryan, there was a thread from a few years ago where this topic was batted around pretty vigorously. I'm too lazy now to link it, but we touched on this hotly-debated passage and several others. I think even most traditonalists would caution against extrapolating doctrine from the highly symbolic language of the Revelation prophecies. This verse obviously represents the ace up their sleeve in favor of everlasting torture, but at best--using the rigid, literal exegesis of the traditionalists-- it represents a single curious passage indicating certain people (those who receive the Beast's mark) will be punished publicly in eternity.

No, as I just indicated, there are at least three passages that explicitly describe perpetual torment in flames -- Luke 16 and Revelation 20 as well as Revelation 14 -- as well as several evocative references to punishment in "unquenchable," "eternal" flames. Also, as I pointed out in the other thread you mention, it seems unconvincing to argue that the fate of the worshipers of the beast in Revelation 14 is unique when in Revelation 20:15 we read that "if any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" -- the same location in which the devil, the beast and the false prophet "will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."

But there are also the images of imprisonment, bondage and exclusion: the closed door, the binding hand and foot, the outer darkness. None of these offers any support to the notion of a short time of torment, followed by oblivion.

None of those alternate images indicate eternal torture.

But that isn't the question. The question is whether there is any reason to posit only a short time of weeping and gnashing of teeth, followed by oblivion. Jesus offers no indication that the weeping and gnashing of teeth outside the door, in the outer darkness, etc. should not continue perpetually.

The NT judgement images convey the identical payload as their OT counterparts.

No, they don't, and to say that they do is like saying that when the NT applies to Jesus OT phrases like "You are my son, today I have begotten you," or "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek," etc., they mean by those phrases only what the original phrases meant in their original context.

The NT writers saw the OT writers as using language that was uniquely and more momentously true of matters revealed to them (the NT writers) than of anything that was clearly understood in the days of the OT writers, and they upped the ante in their own writings. David's son in the OT might have been called God's son in some sense or other, but Jesus was understood to be the Son of God in a unique and far more momentous sense.

Likewise, Isaiah was speaking of merely earthly calamities when he wrote "their worm shall not die, nor shall their fire be extinguished" of a worm that did die and a fire that was extinguished, but Jesus is clearly speaking of something beyond all earthly calamities, and he upped the ante, speaking not only of a fire that shall not be extinguished, but of one that is unquenchable and eternal, which is not language found in the OT.

To reductionistically flatten Jesus' words against the backdrop of their OT sources is to misunderstand the whole way that the NT uses the OT, and if followed consistently would result in turning Jesus into just another servant of God, much as he is seen by Islam. It is also to overlook the force of the image found in Luke 16 and in Revelation 14 and 20 of perpetual torment in flames -- an image without parallel, so far as I know, in the OT.

Edited by SDG

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Here's the old thread on hell. It blows my mind that that discussion happened over four years ago!

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Ross Douthat makes a case for hell.

Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human.

Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death ... salvation or damnation.”

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In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

I'm in complete agreement with this sentiment, actually. I just can't understand why the public dialogue is always limited to the choice between universalism and eternal torment-- the most extreme options in the debate.

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In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

I'm in complete agreement with this sentiment, actually. I just can't understand why the public dialogue is always limited to the choice between universalism and eternal torment-- the most extreme options in the debate.

Yes, and although it's not the main point of Douthat's article, he joins the chorus in criticizing Rob Bell for denying the existence of hell. Rob Bell does no such thing. I could quote several passages from Love Wins that explicitly acknowledge the existence of hell. But he doesn't believe in hell as a place of eternal torment.

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In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

I'm in complete agreement with this sentiment, actually. I just can't understand why the public dialogue is always limited to the choice between universalism and eternal torment-- the most extreme options in the debate.

Yes, and although it's not the main point of Douthat's article, he joins the chorus in criticizing Rob Bell for denying the existence of hell. Rob Bell does no such thing. I could quote several passages from Love Wins that explicitly acknowledge the existence of hell. But he doesn't believe in hell as a place of eternal torment.

Right. And I find the all-or-nothing reasoning of Bell's detractors to reveal something akin to a borderline cognitive disorder. However, Bell does sorta leave the door open by not positing any specifics about the kind of judgment he affirms.

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I also found his focus on hell giving our choices more weight problematic. His column suggests tat it is hell that gives weight to choices-both good or ill. It reminds me of Christians who tend to define Christianity as all the things they don't do.

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Link to our thread on Rob Bell's Love Wins (354 posts since February 2011, and counting!).

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I also found his focus on hell giving our choices more weight problematic. His column suggests tat it is hell that gives weight to choices-both good or ill. It reminds me of Christians who tend to define Christianity as all the things they don't do.

I find this critique unconvincing.

Suppose I say not only is there no hell, there's no sin. And even if there were, sin doesn't matter. Are you going to tell me sin does matter? If so, are you then defining Christianity as all the things you don't do?

Or suppose someone says that not only does everyone go to heaven, everyone was always going to go to heaven even before Jesus came, and that even if there had been no Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection everyone would have gone to heaven anyway. The whole Jesus thing doesn't actually make any difference, because there was nothing for us to be saved from in the first place.

Are you going to tell me there was something to be saved from? If so, are you defining Christianity by what doesn't happen to us?

On a purely natural level, if a surgeon successfully removes a tumor, does it matter whether the tumor was malignant or benign, or what the risk of the operation was? If you were going to be perfectly fine whether the surgeon operated or not, and even whether he screwed up or not, did the operation matter? If we say that it did matter because death was a real possibility, then are we defining the value of life by merely not dying?

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So Hell has more power and meaning than heaven? Because that is what it comes down to if Douthat is correct.

Also, "hell gives a major consequence to evil actions" is not proof hell is real. Douthat suggests reasons why believing in hell is helpful...he doesn't show evidence it is true. He also fails to show why his definition of hell is "better" or more accurate than Bell's. Part of that problem is he clearly doesn't have a clue as to what he is talking about in regards to Bell's take on hell.

Edited by Nezpop

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So Hell has more power and meaning than heaven? Because that is what it comes down to if Douthat is correct.

I continue to find this objection unconvincing, for the reasons stated.

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I find the reasons stated supporting of my objection.

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My reasons are a proposed reductio ad absurdum for your reasons. You haven't answered the reductio.

Edited by SDG

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The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

This part from the quote you provided doesn't seem to be too different from the "doctrine of hell" that Bell (& Lewis & Wright, etc.) ultimately espouse. What it doesn't explain or support is the view of hell that Bell is attacking, that hell is a place where people who simple don't have the right doctrine are sent, that it is a literal lake of fire where people are tortured BY God.

The view of hell that, as I understand it, Bell and co. are bringing back into discussion is one that sets aside the Medieval imagery and suggests exactly what Douthat wants: that there are real consequences to HOW we live our lives and that Jesus death and resurrection offer the real good news of how one can enter the Kingdom of God, in this world and world without end.

Or, I could say that I'm not sure some of these people are grasping the distinctions of Bell's argument, or the very damaging doctrines that he is preaching against.

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya: You keep describing what Bell "believes". I do not think he believes what you think he believes.

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Based on what's been said here, I'm entirely willing to grant that the perception of Bell (whom I've not read) as a universalist is a misunderstanding / misrepresentation. That's a point worth making, without detracting from the weight of Douthat's argument against universalism in itself.

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Another essay that recently came to my attention:

"Universalism: a historical study" by Richard Bauckham

The history of the doctrine of universal salvation (or apokastastasis) is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated (in its commonest form. this is the doctrine of 'conditional immortality'). Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included same major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment. Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians. Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument.

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Ross Douthat makes a case for hell.

Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human.

Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death ... salvation or damnation.”

Well... One of the biggest arguments against Rob Bells book out there, is that he has shoddy exegesis, and one of the biggest arguments against the doctrine of the ultimate restoration of all, is that this

is based all on philosophy, with poor exegesis.

So my question in regards to this article is..... Why isn't there any bibilical verses? It's all philosophy without Biblical exegesis, which is exactly what eternal hell supporters are saying that through

Christ alone universalists, and to a certain degree, Rob Bell's book, are guilty of.

Yet I strongly suspect that many people who already believe in the doctrine of eternal hell are going to read this article and cheer without ever even considering this.

I just wonder if this isn't a bit of a double standard.

But you see. There have been books, essays, and writings that dig into a deep exegesis for the support of the hope of the salvation of all through Christ alone. Books that are coming out of authors from a vast range of denominations (everywhere from Anabaptist to Catholic.) Yet these books are not even being hinted at or mentioned in the discussion which Rob's book has opened up.

The exegesis is out there. It's in print...... with a complete and sound refutation of the doctrine of eternal torments.

I just wish that people would read the darn books. ::depressed::

SDG said:

:Based on what's been said here, I'm entirely willing to grant that the perception of Bell (whom I've not read) as a universalist is a misunderstanding / misrepresentation.

Yep.... The thing that needs to be laid to rest in this whole (worldwide?) discussion about the book is that no one in the discussion (or at least very few) is saying that there isn't going to be a judgement, and no one

is saying that a person can get to heaven without accepting Christ.

Of course there are universalists who believe this, out there, but I don't think that Rob Bell is of this ilk. From my understanding, if anything, his book would be making people who deny judgement and salvation

through Christ alone, reconsider their position.

From Ross Douthat's article.

In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic, it makes us prisoners of God himself.

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make.

A simple argument to this could be that Because God stands outside time he knows that all people will eventually come to repentance in their free will, according to his plan. There is no need for this understanding to have to

be deterministic. I believe that I came to Christ in my free will, but I also know that God was working to draw me to him.

Throughout the prophets God's judgments were bringing people to repentance. We know that this was one of the reasons why he judged them........in order to bring them to repentance. If he was going to

be deterministic with their free will, he wouldn't have needed to judge them, he would have just snapped his fingers and they would have repented. So I don't see why it would be impossible for any future correction

to not have the same purpose and ultimate effect, without determinism, from a God whose character is unchanging?

I believe that sin terrible, God is Holy, and that our choices have consequences. I just don't see how God would have to punish people eternally in order for these statements to be true.

Edited by Attica

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So my question in regards to this article is..... Why isn't there any bibilical verses? It's all philosophy without Biblical exegesis, which is exactly what eternal hell supporters are saying that through

Christ alone universalists, and to a certain degree, Rob Bell's book, are guilty of.

Douthat is writing as a pundit with a NYTimes blog. He isn't providing a systematic critique of Bell. I think his approach is the right one for his venue.

Yet I strongly suspect that many people who already believe in the doctrine of eternal hell are going to read this article and cheer without ever even considering this.

You might want to check his combox. He's not writing for the people you seem to think he's writing for. ;)

The exegesis is out there. It's in print...... with a complete and sound refutation of the doctrine of eternal torments.

Since the doctrine of eternal torments is true, i doubt the refutation is all that complete and sound. :)

A simple argument to this could be that Because God stands outside time he knows that all people will eventually come to repentance in their free will, according to his plan.

Really? How plausible is that? Has there ever been anything that every human being without exception agreed on? Does this universal reconciliation include angelic people such as the devil? Is the eternal damnation of human beings more of a theological problem than the eternal damnation of demons? If so, why? Is it only because we don't personally know any angelic persons and so don't have to think about them roasting in hell?

believe that sin terrible, God is Holy, and that our choices have consequences. I just don't see how God would have to punish people eternally in order for these statements to be true.

Instead of thinking about God "punishing people eternally," ask whether God has left us free to reject him to the end.

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SDG said:

:Douthat is writing as a pundit with a NYTimes blog. He isn't providing a systematic critique of Bell. I think his approach is the right one for his venue.

:You might want to check his combox. He's not writing for the people you seem to think he's writing for.

I had a brief look at the comments. Point taken.

:Since the doctrine of eternal torments is true, i doubt the refutation is all that complete and sound.

Your just saying that because you haven't read the books. :P

:Really? How plausible is that? Has there ever been anything that every human being without exception agreed on?

I don't quite understand what you mean.

:Does this universal reconciliation include angelic people such as the devil? Is the eternal damnation of human beings more of a theological problem than the eternal damnation of demons? If so, why?

Is it only because we don't personally know any angelic persons and so don't have to think about them roasting in hell?

I think it's probably partially because as humans we don't (or can't) have as strong of an empathy for them as we can't connect with their experience like our own. At least I hope we can't.... they

are after all really evil.

To be honest I haven't thought as much about or studied as much into what would happen with demons. But some of the early and current theologians on the subject certainly have suggested that the demons and

satan wouldn't be dammed for ever. To explain the why's and wherefores of this would lead to a deeper discussion that I don't have time for at the moment. :)

:Instead of thinking about God "punishing people eternally," ask whether God has left us free to reject him to the end.

I certainly think that people are free to reject him until the end. Absolutely.

But like I said. I think that he knew that everybody eventually wouldn't, and that this was part of his plans for the human race all along, what a the Emphasized Bibles translation would say, is his purpose of the ages.

Edited by Attica

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Instead of thinking about God "punishing people eternally," ask whether God has left us free to reject him to the end.

Is there supposed to be something noble in this?

I picture some dude in the lake of fire screaming for the Lord to help him and God replying with "I can't. YOU chose this forever and because I Am Love I cannot violate your freewill". Talk about flimsy.

Finney took the approach that men's unchecked selfishness has an appetite that will grow even after death and will be like compound interest in hell, snowballing into greater and greater monstrosity. His view was that unregenerate men are so terminally bent on selfishness, that the glories of heaven would actually be a greater torment for them than the fires of hell. So in some way, everlasting fire is merciful. Selfish beings in the afterlife would actually prefer hell to the unrelenting holiness of God's heaven, and would dive out of his Light just to flee into the Pit.

I used to LOVE this reasoning and preached it often in evangelistic services-- to great effect i might add. If I was consulting traditionalists I would tell them to stick with Finney on this.

This other thing about God loving us so much he refuses to violate our freewill even it means eternal torture inside a giant oven, is mighty mighty weak.

Edited by Greg P

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Instead of thinking about God "punishing people eternally," ask whether God has left us free to reject him to the end.

Is there supposed to be something noble in this?

I picture some dude in the lake of fire screaming for the Lord to help him and God replying with "I can't. YOU chose this forever and because I Am Love I cannot violate your freewill". Talk about flimsy.

I think the picture is a poor retort to SDG's suggestion. As far as I can tell, he's suggesting that God would permit us to reject him utterly, that individuals with a confirmed and absolute choice against God are subjected to Hell; you, on the other hand, put forth a picture of a Hell where that isn't the case. In your image of Hell, people cry out for God, presumably in repentance, and God nevertheless rejects them in spite of their cries.

Finney took the approach that men's unchecked selfishness has an appetite that will grow even after death and will be like compound interest in hell, snowballing into greater and greater monstrosity. His view was that unregenerate men are so terminally bent on selfishness, that the glories of heaven would actually be a greater torment for them than the fires of hell. So in some way, everlasting fire is merciful. Selfish beings in the afterlife would actually prefer hell to the unrelenting holiness of God's heaven, and would dive out of his Light just to flee into the Pit.

Isn't that pretty much just what Lewis' THE GREAT DIVORCE suggests, albeit without the matching belief in Hell as a literal furnace?

This other thing about God loving us so much he refuses to violate our freewill even it means eternal torture inside a giant oven, is mighty mighty weak.

Who says SDG believes in a giant oven? The "eternal conscious torment" that so many Christians believe in does not by necessity equate a "giant oven."

Edited by Ryan H.

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Ryan H said:

:I think the picture is a poor retort to SDG's suggestion. As far as I can tell, he's suggesting that God would permit us to reject him utterly, that individuals with a confirmed and absolute choice against God are subjected to Hell; you, on the other hand, put forth a picture of a Hell where that isn't the case. In your image of Hell, people cry out for God, presumably in repentance, and God nevertheless rejects them in spite of their cries.

:Who says SDG believes in a giant oven? The "eternal conscious torment" that so many Christians believe in does not by necessity equate a "giant oven."

agreed.

Greg P said:

:Finney took the approach that men's unchecked selfishness has an appetite that will grow even after death and will be like compound interest in hell, snowballing into greater and greater monstrosity.

That gets back to the question of the purposes of judgement in the Old Testament (and thus I think in God's character). It seems pretty clear to me that the people God was judging were snowballing into greater and greater monstrosity, and that, although he is longsuffering, God eventually said enough is enough. He would then judge them and they would repent and come back in line.

So with this undertanding of judgements in the prophetic books, I can't really see much of a stand for someone snowballing into greater and greater monstrosity in and during judgement. It seems contradictory to what part of the purpose of judgement is, and therefore just doesn't line up for me.

I do suppose however that one could possibly use the case of Pharoah is at least somewhat of an argument for this view.

Here's another thought that I'd like to throw into the conversation. In the prophets (I'm thinking specifically of a couple of places in Isaiah), there is mention of God weeping with and over people who were being judged. Which is pretty wild when one thinks about how some of the nations that he was judging had fallen into some pretty rotten acts. I think God's weeping is actually and indication of his great love for the human race...... but no matter, this for me brings up the question as to whether or not God will be weeping over and with those that he is judging in the "lake of fire". If God's character in judgement is unchanging, when we clearly know that scripture says that God's character is unchanging, then it stands to reason that God will be weeping with and over these people.

I would think that this is also problematic for the eternal hell doctrine, because in this understanding, if eternal hell is true, then peoples sin and the consequences of this sin will have an eternal affect on God. Essentially the painful effects that sin causes in God's heart will not be totally eradicated.

Edited by Attica

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