Let me begin by thanking you for continuing to read and reflect on these matters with me. This will be the final post on this particular topic.
If it can be demonstrated from the Scripture that man is not a naturally immortal being, but depends wholly upon the life giving power of God, not only for life now, but for life to come, which I affirmed in part 1, and if it can be demonstrated that nowhere does the Bible sanction the idea of an eternity of pain and suffering in an eternal 'hell' for those without Christ, which I took on in part 2, then the question is to be asked straightforwardly: Why do so many of pastors, preachers and teachers throughout Christendom continue to hold, to promote and insist on a position which is completely contrary to the revealed Word of God?
One reason may be simple ignorance. This is what they were taught and they never thought to question those who taught them. We may overlook such ignorance with gentleness and enter into constructive dialogue which leads us to God’s Truth.
Another reason may be fear. The notion of ‘hell’ is such a pervasive dogma within our religious structures, that to be seen as going against it is to invite the condemnation of going to it! There may be those (and I was once among this group) whose consciences are seared by the fallacy of eternal conscious torment, yet are perhaps too young in their ministry or too dependent on the good graces of church or denominational boards for their livelihood to challenge ‘hell’, even with the power of the Word behind them. We encourage boldness to do the right thing no matter the personal cost.
Yet another reason, more sinister by far, is the exercise of power and control. To stand before a congregation, the majority of whom are unlearned in these matters, and wield the power of eternal hell, or more specifically, the power to decide who may avoid hell’s horrors and how, is power indeed! Isn’t that part of what the Protestant Reformation erupted against? The Catholic machine believed itself the possessor of the ‘keys of the Kingdom’ and dictated the terms of salvation. We decry it this as an outrage against Christ. I am not saying that the preachers of hell do this intentionally; it is a by-product of a false theology.
The repercussions for holding to the notion of eternal punishment are many. It cheapens salvation; devaluing Christ. This position we oppose has an unmistakable conclusion: you don’t need Jesus to have eternal life, you need Jesus to have eternal life free from torment. ‘Life’ in ‘hell’ may be horrific beyond measure…but it is still life. It sets people up to seek goodness in their own merit to improve their own personal experience, after all, how bad can ‘hell’ be for the best of men left to their own goodness.
The position gravely misrepresents the character of God. When God passed before Moses He declared of Himself, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” (Exodus 34:6-7) Do we now declare, and here I quote H.L. Hastings, “The Lord, unmerciful, implacable, and Who will preserve countless myriads of His creatures eternally, for the sole and only purpose of torturing them without mercy, without intermission, without end, without aim and without object.” (Hastings, H.L. After the Verdict. Himes Publications: Lennox MA., 1982. p54) How do we draw people to the love of God if we call them to an unloving God?
What is the remedy? It is found in the title of these posts. We need to proclaim a theology of hope rather than a theology of horror. How often is Christ preached as the escape from ‘hell’? We proclaim Jesus not as escape from an eternity of torment and torture, but Jesus as the means to enter into an eternity of blessedness and peace. As Conditionalists, we do not desire to dwell on the terror of God’s judgment, though we will not dismiss it; rather we prefer to proclaim Jesus Christ “the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). When we do preach the consuming fire of God’s wrath it is not to scare people into the Kingdom of Heaven, but to set in stark and infinite contrast the consuming passion of God’s love through Jesus. We call people to seek life, to flee the inevitable and irreversible death which is the only end for mortal creatures. We offer the hope of the Gospel; hope that through Jesus is eternal life found; in spite of our sin and shame He reached out to us and lifted us from the stench of decay and set us in green pastures. We say with the Psalmist, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6)
A theology of horror keeps people in line; keeps them under control; keeps them dependent on human institutions rather than on Christ.
A theology of hope sets people free; free to seek Christ with joy and gladness through His Word; free to live not under a shadow of judgment but in the sunshine of His pleasure both now and forever.
Well. Much has been said and much has been necessarily left unsaid. My voice is but a whisper compared to the mighty shouts of others who have stood to defend the Truth of Life only in Christ against the tide of dogma. I do not ask you now to agree with me, but to yield to the Word of God on these matters? I ask you to boldly look satan in the eye and say with all boldness, “Yes, God hath truly said!” I ask you to devote yourself to the theology of hope: “this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1 John 5:11)
We say with Luther, “I cannot choose but adhere to the word of God, which has possession of my conscience; nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience! Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.”