Last night, at youth group, one of my students straight-up asked me what I think about hell.  I said, “Do you really want to go there?”  He nodded.  So I explained to him the three main positions: universalism, annihilationalism, and the traditional view.  I told him that universalism’s main points of reference are the texts in the Bible that say that it is God’s will that all be saved.  I said that I believe that many universalists believe the way they do because their “modern sensibilities” balk at the notion of hell.  And I told him that universalists like to emphasize God’s loving character, a characteristic which compels him to respond to sin with forgiveness and mercy.  I told him that others are not so quick to toss out hell, but that they are also very hesitant in regards to eternal torment (physical or otherwise).  These folks, I said, have settled into a position called annihilationalism, in which those judged guilty are annihilated, or they cease to be.  I told him that as far as I could tell, this position lacked in biblical support (as pointed out by Schwartz and Grenz) but that it appealed to those who were not willing to do away with punishment for the wicked (as there is much biblical support for such an idea) but who were also uncomfortable with hellfire and damnation.  Lastly, I told him that there is the traditional view, which argues that the redeemed will live eternally with God and the unredeemed (or wicked, or whatever you wish to call those “others”) will be punished for eternity.  I told him that there are problems with this view as well, because it seems to contradict our understanding of a loving God.  Furthermore, it seems that the punishment (eternal damnation) doesn’t fit the crime (finite sin).

Then he asked me which one I believe in.  I told him that on my less self-righteous and pharisaical days, I hoped for universalism, but that it seems to me that the Bible points most easily to the traditional view, as uncomfortable as it makes me.  I told him that I believe God’s grace is very large (a la Barth) and that it is God who passes judgement, not me, thank goodness.  I told him that we have to trust that our God’s way, whatever that is, is best.  Lastly, I reminded him that our call is to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that “the kingdom of God is here; repent and believe.”
I’m not sure my answer totally satisfied him, but it satisfies me–I’m willing to live with not being entirely sure, trusting that God knows what he is doing and that his way of dealing with the paradox of his own love and justice is better than any way that I could (or would) do it.

~ by Mike Seawright on August 29, 2008.

4 Responses to “Hell”

  1. we live in the information age, and less and less people will accept the unsure answers that religion is trying to convey. The time of vague biblical scripture is over. People are now understanding that even within every religion, a solid answer cannot be found. The divisions within each group prove that nobody really knows.

    I say life is about being happy, but not at the expense of others. A perfectly fullfillung life can be had without the scare tactics of eternal damnation. If you are a good person, it wont matter what religion you are. If there is a god, and there is some sort of eternal afterlife, good or bad, it wont matter what religion you were. If you were a genuinely good person, you might make the cut.

  2. I would say that on a human understanding level, your unabashed truthfulness when asked your take on this subject was outstanding. Very well articulated and I don’t believe it could have been handled better. I was moved by your answers and have to say I agree…


  3. […] Hell « Mike At The Moment. […]

  4. yeah mike you definitely gave it a lot of thought and i’d say i definitely have to agree that the traditional view is probably the best supported by scripture, though it is definitely tempting to hope for universalism.
    what i find myself leaning towards the most is he idea that in the end there will be people in hell because they choose it over heaven. i guess i’ve read the great divorce one too many times, but it makes the most sense to me. of course i have no idea if that view has any biblical basis though. it definitely suggests some sort of purgatory, which is an idea that doesn’t hold a lot of weight with protestants for sure. i’m coming from a complete layman’s perspective though. you, being the seminarian, probably know much better whether or not there is biblical support of that particular view.

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