Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A little chat about hell

Part 3 of 5 Blog post on the Dmin topics of this semester.
I have never been one to dwell upon the deeper concepts of heaven or hell.  I remember as a college student looking at the Pauline letters and how he mentioned, “keeping your mind on heavenly things” and feeling like I was not a good Christian because I found this unhelpful.  The basic idea of knowing that through Christ I can experience resurrection was promise enough for many years. I have wanted to focus on the present reality and the hope that Christ brings into that. For the past handful of years I broadened my study to include concepts of the importance of resurrection, what exactly the New Heaven and New Earth mean for those who are in Christ and for those who are not.

For our class we read Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes and it revealed some new ideas.  Fudge believes in "annihlationism" This basic belief is that that there is no "eternal conscious torment" of hell. Rather at some point victims of hell are consumed into nothingness and cease to exist. Fudge sets up his argument in the Old Testament stating that the death of the wicked will ultimately lead to destruction.  He points to images such as the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh and others as the foundation for such a view.  In these stories the wicked were destroyed, they ceased to exist, while the righteous were rescued. Whenever the image of fire, worms, ash, etc. is used he argues that a consuming fire is not one that is of eternal conscious torment but instead images that devour completely and are irresistible.  The purpose is to remove the wicked completely from the earth so that the righteous may inherit it.  If the wicked are not punished in this life they will be in the next.  So there is an assumption of an afterlife of some sort.

When he comes to the New Testament he makes a good case for understanding that there are two deaths.  The physical death that sends all people into “gravedom” commonly called Sheol in the Old Testament.  NT Wrights, Surprised by Hope he makes a similar claim with a waiting room metaphor.  A second death awaits those who did not place their hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, while those who did place their hope in the saving work of Christ will experience eternal everlasting life. They will experience resurrection but not an eternal one only enough to be experience final judgment then be ultimately destroyed. Therefore, eternal life is reserved only for those who are in Christ not for all people.  This is a free will choice for each person to make. The result is that the righteous resurrected ones will experience the New Heaven and New Earth with Christ. 

Jesus’ use of fire and the place Gehenna in the New Testament was explained by Fudge as total destruction.  Gehenna serves as a physical place of representation from the time of the Second Temple.  Just as fire completely consumes what is present in this place, so too will the fire of the future that will consume the wicked until they are completely removed.  In Matthew 5 and 18 Jesus encourages people to avoid hell anyway possible because there is no escape, the second death is final.  It is better to be lame in this life than to lose your life completely with no hope.  Jesus’ use of metaphors, for Fudge, also lean into this concept of complete destruction.  Matthew 3 is about cutting off and burning trees that do not produce fruit.  Images of pruning grapevines, burning left over chaff after harvest, and separating weeds from wheat speak to this idea.  Once a thing is burned, it is gone, not eternally tormented.  For Jesus the options are eternal life or complete destruction (Matt 7, 10, and John 3)
For the sake of historicity, the Jewish world hoped for a new world where the righteous dwell with God and the wicked are punished. Christians adopted this view and hell became the place of punishment. Our eternal conscious torment ideas are based on the platonic notion that each of us are by our very nature "immortal" since we have an "immortal soul." therefore if we have an immortal soul it will either dwell in heavenly bliss or hells fury. However, annihilationists would argue that our humanity is by its very nature not immortal but mortal since Genesis three people no longer had access to the tree of life, their former source for eternal life. Now eternal life is only possible through the resurrected Jesus. Those without that hope do not have an immortal eternal existence and as such will experience a judgment but not suffer eternally but instead suffer like a piece of wood in a fire at at some point cease to be.


  1. So would you consider yourself an annihilationist after all of this?

  2. Honestly I don't know. It makes sense in a Jewish historical way of understanding their desires for punishing their enemies. Sheol was more of a holding cell until the resurrection, those left would be consumed. However there is still Luke 16 with the story of the rich man and Lazarus which clearly shows a conscious torment. However, this does not mean it will last forever. So maybe there is a happy medium where one is consciously aware of punishment until they are consumed.

  3. Plus Revelation 21 and 22 has a whole new heaven and earth where the old versions of both have passed away. Why would hell be the only created thing that does not pass away also? Wouldn't it be consumed/annihilated along with any inhabitants without any need of it being remade. The "lake of fire" from Rev 21:7-8 speaks of the second death not a conscious dwelling place. So again I don't know but might be leaning this way for now.