Now for the matter of how to put the entire issue of hell into a larger Biblical framework –
Here are two indisputable facts:
- Scripture (if left to its plain, literal meaning) undeniably teaches this indisputable fact: There IS a hell – and those who have not embraced the Good News of Jesus Christ will go there.
- Scripture (if left to its plain, literal meaning) also undeniably teaches us that ALL will ultimately be saved.
Fundamentally the biggest problem when it comes to the question of “eternal” punishment in hell: MOST Christians will not face BOTH of these facts (1 and 2 above) – they cannot behold the goodness and the severity of God in one sweeping perspective. Instead they (well at least the vast majority) simply cling to the belief they have been taught by their pastors and denominations that hell for the vast majority of humanity is eternal, conscious torment – and that those who are sent there are beyond hope.
Genuinely and boldly facing BOTH of the above facts will bring us into a deeper understanding of the true nature of God.
But the path to that deeper revelation is not easy – it requires that we possibly have our warm and safe theological bubbles burst – and opens the door to what some call “cognitive dissonance” – where we may find ourselves doubting whether we know anything “for sure”!
A big part of this issue is that we do not want to face the mysterious ambiguity of some passages Scripture! Like the enigma (the literal Greek in 1 Cor. 13, “we see through a glass darkly”) Paul speaks of – it is also the case that not everything in the Bible is simple and clear… especially when certain passages have the appearance of being in contradiction to one another…
In the link shared – Les Feldick says, “What did I say? They will be separated from God for all eternity, and then verse 15 makes it as plain as English can make it… Now look, I hate the thought of it as much as anybody. I wish I wouldn’t ever have to teach it. But the Book does and we can’t throw it out.”
But here’s the rub: if a passage of scripture tells us something “as plain as English” – does that mean we are to take it literally over all other scripture that appear to teach something else?
A simple example: Nothing could be more “plain” in the Bible than this: If you are a true disciple of Jesus you are required to hate your father, mother, wife and children. These are the plain and indisputable words of Luke 14:26! There is NO getting around this – it too is “as plain as English can make it”!
But do we simply say, “Okay – the Bible says it – I believe it – that settles it!”? No! But why? Because – taken on the whole – we know this cannot be the real intent of Jesus – and that He commands us to LOVE everyone as ourselves – even our enemies! Therefore we conclude that there is something else going on here – something we call “hyperbole” – a rhetorical device we all sometimes use in speech to drive home some point very strongly: and so we (rightly) interpret the passage to mean: by comparison to our love and commitment to Jesus as our Lord and Savior – our love and commitment to even our closest kin will be seen by some as “hate”… But, again, note: that is NOT what the verse actually says!
Another great example (for me personally) is Romans 9.
I was (as a young college student) taught in no uncertain terms that it is simple, plain and undeniable that God predestines certain “vessels” to destruction – and others (the “elect”) to mercy. If you JUST read the plain text of chapter 9 – you will be forced to come to those conclusions!
But I was never taught to read further – on through to the end of Romans 11 – where we learn that the elect are chosen to reach the NON-elect, and that the hardened (non-elect) of the people of Israel will ultimately also become objects of God’s mercy!
Why didn’t I see this? Because it was and is a mystery! In other words something hidden except to those who have some maturity in spiritual matters – and have learned through the Spirit to discern “spiritual things” – chief among them the grand purposes of God in Christ: the greatest mystery of all!
A key here is what Paul says (in Romans 11:28), “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;” (NASB 1977). Or – it could be fairly translated, “From one perspective – they are your enemies – But from another perspective they are the beloved of God” – TWO perspectives – the goodness AND the severity of God (11:22)…
We prefer two dimensions (or black and white) when it comes to the Bible – but the mystery of a 3rd or 4th dimension is dizzying and disorienting – initially we are like the blind man healed by Jesus who sees “men walking about as trees” (Mark 8:24) – but Christ will bring us to clearer, 20-20 vision over time (and, I would add, that will not happen completely until we see Him face to face!).
Here is where it all lands for me: I have hope for all of humanity because the Bible plainly teaches that I should have such hope! I will always let “grace abounding” trump over those verses that seem to constrict His never-ending Love for the lost…
Finally – let us end where we began:
- God is Love
- God is a consuming Fire
- There is a hell –
- God’s will is that ALL be saved – and He WILL accomplish what He purposes in Christ: the reconciliation and salvation of ALL!
I close with these verses that are my foundation for Hope for All:
Psalm 22: 27, 29 All the ends of the earth will remember and return to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him… all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. (Note: this is the Psalm Jesus “sang” on the cross! – “My God, My God – why have you forsaken me?”)
Isaiah 55:9 As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
(Note: Jesus is supremely that “Word” that Isaiah prophecies – and, what purpose was He sent forth to accomplish? The salvation of the World! – John 3:17)
Romans 5:18–19: So, then, just as through one transgression came condemnation for all human beings, so also through one act of righteousness came a rectification of life for all human beings; for, just as by the heedlessness of the one man the many were rendered sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be rendered righteous.
1 Corinthians 15:22: For just as in Adam all die, so also in the Anointed [Christ] all will be given life.
2 Corinthians 5:14: For the love of the Anointed constrains us, having reached this judgment: that one died on behalf of all; all then have died
Romans 11:32: For God shut up everyone in obstinacy so that he might show mercy to everyone.
1 Timothy 2:3–6: our savior God, who intends all human beings to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth. For there is one God, and also one mediator of God and human beings: a human being, the Anointed One Jesus, who gave himself as a liberation fee for all
Titus 2:11: For the grace of God has appeared, giving salvation to all human beings
2 Corinthians 5:19: Thus God was in the Anointed reconciling the cosmos to himself, not accounting their trespasses to them, and placing in us the word of reconciliation.
Ephesians 1:9–10: Making known to us the mystery of his will, which was his purpose in him, for a husbandry of the seasons’ fullness, to recapitulate all things in the Anointed, the things in the heavens and the things on earth
Colossians 1:27–28: By whom God wished to make known what the wealth of this mystery’s glory is among the gentiles, which is the Anointed within you, the hope of glory, whom we proclaim, warning every human being and teaching every human being in all wisdom, so that we may present every human being as perfected in the Anointed
John 12:32: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will drag everyone to me.
Hebrews 2:9: But we see Jesus, who was made just a little less than angels, having been crowned with glory and honor on account of suffering death, so that by God’s grace he might taste of death on behalf of everyone.
John 17:2: Just as you gave him power over all flesh, so that you have given everything to him, that he might give them life in the Age.
John 4:42: And they said to the woman: “We no longer have faith on account of your talk; for we ourselves have listened and we know that this man is truly the savior of the cosmos.”
John 12:47: for I came not that I might judge the cosmos, but that I might save the cosmos.
1 John 4:14: And we have seen and attest that the Father has sent the Son as savior of the cosmos.
2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not delaying what is promised, as some reckon delay, but is magnanimous toward you, intending for no one to perish, but rather for all to advance to a change of heart.
Matthew 18:14: So it is not a desire that occurs to your Father in the heavens that one of these little ones should perish.
Philippians 2:9–11: For which reason God also exalted him on high and graced him with the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of beings heavenly and earthly and subterranean—and every tongue gladly confess that Jesus the Anointed is Lord, for the glory of God the Father.
Colossians 1:19–20: For in him all the Fullness was pleased to take up a dwelling, and through him to reconcile all things to him, making peace by the blood of his cross [through him], whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.
1 John 2:2: And he is atonement for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the whole cosmos.
John 3:17: For God sent the Son into the cosmos not that he might condemn the cosmos, but that the cosmos might be saved through him.
Luke 16:16: Until John, there were the Law and the prophets; since then the good tidings of God’s Kingdom are being proclaimed, and everyone is being forced into it.
1 Timothy 4:10: we have hoped in a living God who is the savior of all human beings, especially those who have faith.