We’re told in the Book of Revelation that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. How will that be accomplished if we have loved ones who are suffering in Hell? How will God console us? Will He wipe away our memories? I can’t imagine such a thing.
A comforting promise to believers with unbelieving loved ones is the assurance that one day “Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess Christ, to the glory of God the Father” (Romans 14:11). These people will not be coerced but convinced. The original language indicates a willingness to declare Jesus as Lord. What does this mean with regard to those who have died without faith? Will they have another opportunity after death to receive Jesus? God can save everyone if He wanted to…does He not want to?
In comparing our ruin with God’s remedy, the Apostle Paul states that “in Adam all died; in Christ, all will be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22). We agree the “all” of Adam refers to everyone…can we say the “all” who will be redeemed also refers to everyone, eventually? Does human choice end after death? Can people resist God forever? The very ones who came under condemnation, as a result of the first Adam’s disobedience, will eventually be brought to justification and life, as a result of the second Adam’s act of obedience. The first Adam brought doom upon all; the second Adam brings life to all. The Apostle Paul affirmed both human responsibility and the universal victory of God’s grace.
Knowing what we do about Hell, is divine punishment to be understood in terms of retribution or restoration? And while Hell exists in eternity (a realm beyond time), is the separation of Hell eternal? The Greek word used in our English translations to describe eternal/everlasting suffering could be translated “of an age”--a limited, defined period of time, which transcends time; a quality of time, but not endless.
How could eternal, conscious torment ever be the just punishment for the finite sins of any individual? This seems massively disproportionate. Christian scholarship has developed a theology of fear and arbitrary wrath. The alternative is hope.
It’s been said that people choose Hell, that Hell has “a door locked on the inside.” Yet if people choose horror over bliss, Hell over Heaven, does this defeat God, who desires that all be saved?
Let’s not limit God. C.S. Lewis noted: “We don’t know what the scope of God’s saving capacity is.” We all die physically--the wages (natural consequences) of sin, a severe mercy--but Paul rejoices that the last enemy to be overcome is death…through the powerful, inexhaustible, and perfect love of God. Do you know anyone who hopes this is not true?
Madeline L’Engle remarked: “I don’t think God is going to fail with Creation; I don’t believe in a failing God. Do you want God to fail? I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love. I know that a loving God will not abandon what He creates.”
This teaching is a paradigm shift from what we have heard in our evangelical churches, yet this hope does not mean that “all roads lead to God.” Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life, and His vicarious atonement will cover the sins of the world. No one comes to the Father except through His Son. One day everyone will accept this truth, and the victory of God will be complete.
One Spirit, One Faith, Many Opponents
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