I write this post as a comment reply to a post from a fellow blogger and brother in Christ. I feel my reply is too long to respectfully take that much space on David’s page, so I am posting it here.
This week, David Flowers posted an article titled “Hell: Eternal Torture?” The title immediately sparked my interest because a few years ago God graciously granted me new spiritual sight regarding hell and the eternal torment doctrine. I thoroughly read David’s article and some of the following comments from his readers.
Here is my reply:
I don’t comment on your ideas about hell with the intent of changing your mind. You are where you are because this is where God has brought you at this time. My hope in commenting is that since you are a serious studier of the Scriptures and seeker of God, you will continue to seek and search Him further in this subject. I’m hoping something I say will encourage you to seek deeper. It is awesome that you are “not at complete rest on any idea of eternal torment”. Because as stated in your post, what we say about heaven or hell also says something about God’s character. It absolutely does communicate something very important about what God is like to the world around us. And through your writing and your blog, you have an open forum on which to communicate to the world about who God is and what His character is like.
The first thing I’d like to do before continuing with this reply is to say that I am saying these things respectfully and with humility. In this age of communicating with the typed word, tone is often lost or misconstrued. I am not replying or commenting to attack you or your beliefs in any way. Like I previously said, my reply is to spur your thinking and searching. When I speak of the things of God, I can get so excited that I come across quite passionate and animated about it, but in no way is my intent to attack.
On that note:
I applaud your study of Sheol, Gehenna, and Hades. Sheol (Hebrew, OT) and Hades (Greek, NT) refer to the place of the dead. Literally, Hades means the “un-perceived”. It refers to a place where nothing is perceived. Neither Sheol nor Hades have anything to do with man-made doctrines referring to a place called “hell” and the horrible tortures that God has planned for the billions of souls who did not accept Christ during their brief earthly life. Gehenna certainly has everything to do with the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem and the burning of refuse and the sacrificing of children, but it also nothing to do with modern ideas of “hell”.
With reference to your statement: “…hell is what happens when people say ‘No!’ to the creator God…” Have you considered the verses which say: “No one can come to Me if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him” (John 6:44) along with “For God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all…seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all…” (Romans 11:32, 36)? We are also told in the Scriptures that God is The One who opens eyes or also causes blindness (and I’m referring to the spiritual sense along with physical). Can God’s “drawing” any one to Christ really be rejected by the will of His creation? If so, then God is not so powerful after all.
You spoke of the analogy of a parent never ceasing to “love a child even in punishment”. Have you considered that there is a big difference between “punishment” and “chastening”? Both words are used in the Scriptures. Parents do not punish their rebellious children with the intent of never letting up the tortures or eventually annihilating them. Loving parents chasten or discipline their children with the purpose of correcting their faulty behaviors and bringing them to repentance (a turning away from faulty paths). So in that manner, chastening or discipline has a goal. But it is not a “hell type” goal. Can earthly parents be more merciful than the God of all?
I do take a bit of offense ;-) at your statement, “At this point, many universalists…” I will state that I am not a universalist. I am a Christ-believer who believes that God will ultimately reconcile ALL (in the full meaning of the word) to Himself through Christ, just as He states in the Scriptures. In the same manner that the “Christian” label can have various differing connotations depending on any individual’s belief about Christians and what they are like, it is the same with the universalist label. Please do not lump us all in the same group, believing and thinking all alike. I am not a “feel good” universalist who does not hold to the authority of the Scriptures in the name of believing whatever I prefer about God. Like you, I am a serious seeker and studier of the truth of God.
Regarding your statement “…that intended goal [of God] has been eternally thwarted by the choice of the wicked on earth.” What kind of God do we have? Is He truly an all-powerful God or only a somewhat powerful God? Can HIS creation really thwart His plans and His will? God-forbid NO! His creation cannot possibly be stronger than the GREAT, ALL MIGHTY GOD OF ALL. Or is He a weak God whose “hands are tied” with regards to the very work of His hands—mankind? Did He set Himself up to fail when He created man and set this world into motion? Or did He only hope to succeed, but wasn’t sure He would do so?
May we never water down the immensity of the fact that HE set this world into place—every aspect of it. HE created evil along with good, HE created mankind to be fallible (otherwise we could not have sinned), HE put the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, HE knew the Serpent was there, HE knew exactly what was going to happen even when He gave the command to not eat of the tree.
He says, “I’m Yahweh, and there is no other. Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of good and Creator of evil, I, Yahweh, make all these things.” (Isaiah 45:6-7)
You are SO right on target when you say that Jesus was not Plan B. He has always been Plan A because God knew exactly what was going to happen.
God also says of Himself: “El [God], and there is no other! Elohim! [God] And no other like Me! Telling from the beginning, the hereafter, and from aforetime what has not yet been done, saying, ‘All My counsel shall be confirmed, and all My desire shall I do” (Isaiah 46:9-10)
Can we truly believe God is not going to have HIS will done? Can we say that it will be mankind’s will done instead? Do we propose that God’s will from the beginning was to doom countless billions to an “eternal hell” of anyone’s particular imagination?
The Scriptures also state:
“Indeed, our Elohim is in the heavens, and all that He desires, He does” (Psalm 115:3)
"I know that You are able in all things, and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
“A man’s heart, it devises his way, Yet Yahweh, He establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
“…with God all is possible” (Matthew 19:26)
“…for all is possible with God” (Mark 10:27)
Jesus said to God, His Father, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you” (Mark 14:36)
He is “…the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11)
He is “Saviour, God, Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into the realization of the truth” (1Timothy 2:4)
“…one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not tardy as to the promise, as some are deeming tardiness, but is patient because of you, not intending any to perish, but all to make room for repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
If God does all that He desires, and nothing for Him is impossible since with Him all is possible, and He wills it that all mankind will be saved and come into the realization of the truth, and it is not His intent that any perish…How then can it also be impossible for Him to ultimately bring everyone to salvation? How can the greater part of His creation remain doomed to never-ending tortures by His decision or disappear into nothingness after His “punishment”?
If He is operating all in accordance with how He wills it, how can it also be impossible for Him to fulfill His will for all mankind to be saved and brought to repentance and to the realization of the truth?
Can we really believe and teach that evil and the rebellious will of mankind (the evil and the mankind that the ALL-Mighty, ALL-Knowing, ALL-Powerful GOD created) in the end, ultimately and for all eternity, will overcome the perfect will of GOD?
A few times you mention that you believe God will be “all in all” as we are told in 1 Corinthians 15. However, how can God possibly and truly be ALL in ALL if billions of people He created and gave life to will one day just cease to be completely? Then He will not truly be all in all. He will only then be all in “a select few”. I say “few” in a relative sense comparing the amount of believers to unbelievers.
Regarding the suggestion that we wouldn’t have a “choice” if we were made to “forcefully” accept God…Why do we think that God will have to “force” anyone? Did he “force” you to believe? “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Some of us have been given the faith to believe now; others will have to believe by sight in the future. Yes, they will face the judgment of a lake of fire and a second death. However, I believe the Scriptures when they say that the last enemy of God to be abolished will be death, and all will be subjected to Christ. “Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him (God, the Father) Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:26-28)
With reference to the statement that “Any teaching that promotes the idea that ‘everyone will make it in the end’ can only come from isolating certain Scriptures and from building on obscure words and passages” is an erroneous one. Once again, I state that there are a number of Christians who believe in ultimate reconciliation who also hold to the full authority of the Scriptures. Most unfortunately, there are also countless Christians today who regularly isolate various Scriptures in an attempt to prove their particular theological point. And they are not trying to prove ultimate reconciliation. They are trying to prove other things such as eternal torment and any other number of man-made doctrines they hang on to.
Is it beneficial or true to call any words or passages of Scripture “obscure”? That makes it sound like there is some mysterious, hidden darkness in the very words of God that have been given to man when there is really not. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). I believe in the perfection of God’s word in its original writings and languages. In that form, God’s word is infallible. But, I also believe there is fallibility in language translations from the original text and that fallible men (as we all are) did some translating with particular biases.
David, if it is not “the Lord’s desire that anyone ever perish”, then, ultimately, none shall do so for “eternity”. At the consummation, God will be ALL in every single person He has ever created. He will be ALL in all because He IS an ALL-mighty, powerful God and Christ died for every sin, including the one of unbelief. God says, “Is My hand too short to ransom? Or is there no vigor in Me to rescue?” (Isaiah 49:2)
Would you consider doing further research on the word “aion” and “aoinios”? Aion, a noun literally meaning a period of time, has been a word very inconsistently translated in our modern translations. It has been translated as “world”, “world began”, “of old”, “beginning of time”, “age”, “forever”, “eternity”, etc., etc. Surely one word cannot really mean so many different things. Aoinios is an adjective that merely describes something to do with an aion. For very serious, scholarly studies of this word I suggest The Concordant Publishing Concern. Also, I noticed you are an avid reader of spiritually related books. Bob Evely recently published a little book called At the End of the Ages which clearly shows that many who believe in the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind are serious studiers of the Scriptures and base their beliefs on what the Scriptures say. I have extra copies and would be happy to send you one for free.
I also have a previous 2008 post on this blog titled “God, The Savior of ALL Mankind” which explains a little more about my journey to where God has brought me with the belief of ultimate reconciliation. I took a few, brief snippets from it and included them in my reply to you here. Briefly, I’ll share with you that in 2005 God surprised me by showing me there were Christians who believed in the ultimate salvation of all. At first, I thought they were seriously misled (and that they should probably study the Scriptures more seriously). Immediately after bringing me face to face with that, God brought a person into my life that actually believed such a thing. In the process, I set out to prove to myself (and hopefully convince that person) that what I had always been taught about hell was the truth and that it could not be otherwise. My journey seeking the face of God and the reality of His character turned out totally different than I expected, and here I am today. I make no claim to know it all—not even close!! But just like you, I proclaim and share with others what God has allowed me to discover of Him thus far.
David, thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy reply to your post. May God continue to stoke the fires within your heart, mind, soul, and spirit to discover the even greater depths of His boundless love and supreme power.
Peace and blessings to you,
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