The Corrigibility Of The Soul After Death

Is the soul incorrigible after it leaves the body? That is to say, can a person change their mind and take on new ideas and beliefs and  become something different to the better after they have left the body?

My impression is that traditional Christianity resists this notion in either a conscious or subconscious way. I need to find citations but my memory serves to recall statements where people in hell are changed into some kind of hardened, stupefied creature that is submerged and melted down into some form of self pity, sorrow or rage with all other faculties collapsing into these. 

Yet I find there is no scriptural evidence provided for this. It appears to be an argument from necessity. That necessity being that we cannot allow the mind to imagine souls repenting after death. For then we might imagine the souls repentance being answered by God’s salvation. That has always been out of the question.

If nothing else we should agree Hell is a place where the people there don’t want to be. Apologies to C.S. Lewis and all his fans but the idea that people lock themselves in hell is totally unscriptural and illogical. But it does a devious job of helping us escape hard questions about a loving God and eternal torture. Besides, if Lewis asserts people lock themselves in hell that means they could let themselves out. But that has been decided to be impossible because people, once in hell we are told, love it so much they would rather be no where else. So they spend eternity happily away from God. While the whole scenario appears very genteel it is also quite preposterous.  

I cannot help but reflect on the rich man and Lazarus. Now on the outset we have to acknowledge the questions regarding whether we can actually derive a technical doctrine of hell from the story. Baucham  documents the fact that this story preexisted Jesus telling in popular culture throughout the ancient world beginning with the Egyptians and moving into Judaism. He says it was a justice motif which may have been told in as many as 6 other forms. All of them shared an after life and a reversal of fortunes between rich and poor where the rich suffered torment and the poor relished paradise.  

Legendary form and origin not withstanding, the dominant view has been this is a wholly novel and unprecedented glimpse into the afterlife provided by the Son of God who was privy to such secrets. I say unprecedented because nothing like it exists in the Old Testament. You will not find Abrahams bosom or a gulf separating good and bad based on life’s fortunes. Nor will we find in the New Testament that people’s ultimate destiny is determined by the suffering they had in life. The entire story is filled with rules and assumptions that have no correspondence to New Testament doctrine. But none of that matters. It depicts people suffering in hell and that’s all some people need. That alone is worth the price of suspending logic.  

So we will for a moment insist that Jesus meant for all of it to be literal. We will insist for this discussion that Jesus wanted this preexistent folktale derivative he adapted to be a crucial component in our understanding of the after life. 

What then does it give us regarding the corrigibility of the soul after death?

We see the rich man enduring flames. We should assume He is able to speak intelligently without choking on spittle or blood. 

  He asks for only a single drop of water. Quite humble for a man whose very excess and luxurious living seems to be the pretense for this judgement. Had his original entitlements and arrogance been burned in concrete we might have thought he would be demanding his waiters and his cupbearers. So we can say he has managed to learn to ask for less. That might be a sign of progress.

  Yet as humble as his request is, it has been declined by Abraham. Abraham is prohibited by the gulf set between them. Abraham incidentally is within earshot and audibility over the presumably deafening screams of the innumerable damned that populate the other side of the gulf. Of course there’s always telepathy. But even telepathy would be quite noisy if everyone down there could do it. For that matter, how do the blessed who rest in Abrahams bosom get any peace with all the shrieking across the way? But there again we only have three characters. Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man. That seems quite implausible that they are the only ones down there. Let’s lay this out simply. The damned can speak to and hear from the blessed, but the blessed can rest in tranquil bliss despite the incessant screaming of the hordes of the damned. Perhaps that is due to the joy the torture of the damned provides to the blessed? I would have to defer to the Reformed camp for clarification on that one.

What else do we observe? The rich man has another request. He asks that a message be sent to his five brothers up above that they may avoid this place. Now this is very problematic to a narrative of incorrigibility. The rich man seems to have also evolved a sense of concern for others! This is the main thing in life he appeared to lack in as much as he ignored the dog-licked Lazarus at his gate. Yet here he is hoping for others up above to avoid this place and out of what motive? Love?

How can love exist in hell? It cannot if you listen to the doctrines of infernalist. The damned if anything are to become more selfish and hateful and utterly self absorbed. What they were sinfully in life they become utterly in hell. 

But that’s not what the story tells us. 

However, shouldn’t we derive our argument from words less disputed as to their literal status? The rich man and Lazarus may not be the very best place to establish our premise seeing that there is so much uncertainty about Jesus technical intent.

Where else could we find support for the notion that the soul could undergo reform after death? 

Let’s begin by asking this. Could a soul that did not worship God on earth become a soul that learned to worship God in the after life? That would certainly be a fine test of whether the soul could undergo change post mortem. 

Some may tap this question out at first base by citing the authoritative words of David in the Psalms.

“Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you?” Psalms 88:10

It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to the place of silence.”Psalms 115:17

I misspoke. Neither of these is attributable to David. The first one was written by Heman the Ezrahite.  The second one is unattributed to any author. 

Psalms are songs after all and not every song of the Beatles was written by the fab four. You could put all Davids Psalms in a single collection, but if you did, these verses would not appear. How any given Psalm was determined to be the infallible breath of God we don’t know. All we know is that these were the songs that got sung at some point in Jewish worship.

And then you have Ecc 9:5 spoken by the Son of David in the midst of a disillusioned existential crisis.

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.”

These passages are trotted out to make the case against the corrigibility of the soul after death. But they offer problems. Namely they are overruled by later and more authoritative revelation. 

The story of the rich man and Lazarus seem to contradict death as a place of unconsciousness, or silence. For they did appear to think and speak there. Furthermore the notion of the dead never rising and praising would certainly be a clobber verse for the Sadducees, but the entire doctrine of resurrection testifies against the authors conclusion, or at least the meaning we have attached to it. 

Yet we have several passages in the New Testament that declare that there will be not only worship, but universal worship in the underworld. 

[Phl 2:10-11 NIV] that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge(in the same places) that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[Rev 5:13 NIV] Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Simple logic leads us to understand that when these passages were penned Jesus had already long visited and left the grave and liberated certain inhabitants. (Eph. 4:9, I Peter 4:6) So who are these under the earthlings that are envisioned as offering the same exaltation as those on earth and in heaven?  They could only be thinking, speaking souls of those passed on who are not in heaven by virtue of some disqualifying standard. Yet they too will worship? Certainly most of them never worshipped before. Had they been worshippers on earth, they might never have come to that place. 

Note that there is nothing that necessitates that we imagine these worshippers of the underworld all exalting God in unison in one large event per se. There is no reason they are not scattered through history and time just as much as their life and death were scattered through history and time. Each in their own order may have come to a place of exalting God after realizing and repenting. 

Some would insist that this worship is not as a devoted follower but as a defeated foe. That would accommodate a more comfortable and assimilative vision of people worshipping in hell.  There is nothing in the text to support such ad hoc objection. The words chosen in original language and the inclusive phrasing are formed in such a way to eliminate any other conclusion but true and sincere adoration. 

Would it not be odd to make the argument that God allows people to go to hell because he respects their free will to reject him, but then promises he will force them to their knees in worship once they are there? And if the hell dwellers are so reprobate and so incorrigible, what would their worship be to a God who desires sincerity but a dollhouse church of flaming corpses who stringed rings are being pulled by sovereign force so that spooky crackling records might play from within, “You are Lord, You are Lord.” 

Quite a macabre vision if you eliminate the possibility that they might really worship out of love and admiration.

Of course that would require a change after death would’t it? And what does it mean to repent? Metaneo means to change the mind. Some hate that definition. That definition takes too much power from the will and the works of the sinner and makes God’s grace and mercy and power the beginning and end of all sanctification. To simply change our minds and confess we are sinners and God is righteous, that we are powerless and he is all powerful surely couldn’t be enough to spark heaven’s gift. One must achieve a turning away from sin as evidence in the works of their life before redemption can become effective mustn’t one? Well, maybe in Lordship salvation, but not in the gospel of Jesus. 

Paul said if we believe in our heart God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord we shall be saved. No mention is made of a mortal deadline. 

But there’s always one verse alone we can combat this conclusion with. 

The solitary scripture of Hebrews 9:27 is expected to stand against the weight of all that we have pressed against the gates of hell.

[Heb 9:27 NIV] Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.

Well simply stated, the author forgot about Lazarus, the little girl Jesus raised up and numerous others who either resurrected at the crucifixion of Jesus or were resurrected by miracles of the church age. Anyone who came back from the dead to continue a longer life on earth necessarily died twice or else they were never raised at all, or else they all ascended into heaven. 

Consider the thief on the cross. His faced was pressed against the doors of death and he was shown mercy. How ever thin those doors are, does it seem the Savior would be emptied of all love for the thief had he passed on through   and pressed his face on the other side? Is salvation really a matter of flesh and blood connection to earth? Or is it the hearts connection to heaven? Is God now like the Pharisees, so pedantic and legalistic about the repentance of a soul? Are these limitations we imagine more like the impossibilities of human intolerance or the possibilities of divine grace?

The disciples asked Jesus, “‘Who then can be saved?’Jesus replied,  ‘With man this is impossible, with God all things are possible.’”

God is sovereign and is not obliged to bow to our theology. He will give life to whom he will give life and he will will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy and the love from which that mercy flows cannot be contained or overruled by time or dimension. 

[Eph 3:16-21 NIV] I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

If Universalism is true what’s the point of the gospel?

It is often objected that Universalism guts the gospel of its necessity in that if everyone is going to be saved, then theres no point in trying to convert people. This position is a result of limited perspective and lack appreciation for the true value of a relationship with God.

Lets say a person was born in a cave in total darkness. One day someone came to them and said “you don’t have to live in darkness” and they showed him how to make fire. He lived by the light of that fire and made his way around that way. Then someone came to him and said, did you know there is a world outside this place where you don’t need to carry a torch because the sun shines and gives light all day long. Would the man say, “Then what good is this torch?” No because the fact is the fire he has is very helpful and good UNTIL he reaches that outside world. 

The idea that Christianity is only worthwhile if there is an eternal hell to escape seems to devalue the inherent good in knowing God as soon as possible as an end unto itself. Has eternal hell become such a large fixture in our psyche that without it God’s love and salvation is meaningless to us? 

Jesus has a bride. Marriage is a revelation of that mystery. What part of the marriage metaphor requires the threat of eternal punishment to reveal the fulness of the grooms love? The groom marries the bride because he loves her. She marries him because she loves him. They know each other and love each other. No threat of hell is involved in this marriage. In fact if the groom were to use threats to guarantee her acceptance of his proposal, the proposal would no longer be based on love but instead coercion. 

As I look back on my own conversion I realize hell had nothing to do with it. I did not really have any kind of understanding of hell. I did fear death. That played a major role. But I did not accept Christ because someone told me I was going to hell. I accepted Christ because I hated what I had made of my life and knew that I was empty and lost and imprisoned by my habits and desires and needed God in my life. I let him in and he revolutionized me. Then later church people taught me about hell. Because they had been so instrumental in helping me find and grow in God I accepted everything they told me. 

Yet the idea of eternal hell really was not something fully revealed to me. I just didn’t think it through. But eventually it did sink in and when it did I vomited it out of my heart. I no longer accept hell as a place of eternal torture. I see it as a place where rebellion and unbelief are destroyed so faith in Christ can be accepted. 

But had I known that when I got saved would anything have changed? No. I still needed God and my life was still not what I wanted it to be. The idea of continuing in the life I was in simply because I knew hell was not for forever seems ludicrous. It would be like saying I regret moving to Hawaii now that I found out there are some warm sunny days in Alaska. 

Knowing God and being loved and cared for by him is the core of my faith, not the escape from hell. This is why the absence of eternal hell does not really leave a empty place in the gospel. There’s too many other reasons to share Jesus. 

I mean if God is real and God wants to live in your heart, isn’t that reason enough to feel excited? The creator of the Universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you, and He died to remove the one obstacle to that relationship.

Eternal hell was never spoken of in the book of Acts as they proclaimed salvation. Then what does salvation mean? It means being saved from Satan and evil and our own sin. Theres plenty to be saved from in that list. Theres plenty to celebrate and worship right there. But there is a hell and being saved means not having to go there right? Yes it does.

But what is hell for? Is it an eternal torture chamber where the God who calls himself Love puts people who never got in on the offer? That introduces serious logical and philosophical as well as theological problems. Love cannot be a torturer. If Love is a torturer then He is not Love. If He is Love he cannot be a torturer. This means hell must be something else besides a torture chamber. Perhaps it’s an operating room. Perhaps it is where the cancer of unbelief and stubbornness is burned off by fire. 

Look at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Its very hard to tout the importance of free will in that conversion. Saul was forcefully coerced by Jesus himself. He was not convinced by scriptures and Christian love in the church. He was overthrown by Jesus. That in itself is a powerful evidence that God will do what he has to do to get who he wants. He wants everybody and he will get them if he has to send them to hell to coerce them. 

But that reality does not negate the fact that the person who is saved through hell instead of from hell could have lived an entire life of fellowship with God. They missed out on something beautiful. I would never want to go back to the life I was living out of assurance I would eventually be saved. There would be too much I would have missed out on living for God and way too much I would have regretted and hurt myself with had I gone on in that path. 

So the idea that the absence of eternal hell renders the gospel meaningless is a sad symptom of how meaningless the gospel has become if we cannot appreciate it’s joys without the threat of eternal hell. 

Universalism leads to moral apathy? Degreasing the slippery slope

The common argument proposed by anti Universalist spokesman is the fear tactic of the slippery slope into unholiness. The argument goes like this. If there is no eternal punishment, every Christian would have the license to just go wild and live anyway they want to. The premise then is that the basis of the Christians holy life is the fear of eternal hell. 

As long as hell is eternal there is a psychic failsafe to enforce self control.

This is a notion based on medieval doctrinal constructions which have long since been abandoned by Evangelical theology. Yet in desperation to fend off the enlightened reason of Universalism, opponents are often willing to retreat to positions which are not only obsolete, but contradictory to what they would otherwise tell believers if Universalism were not at the center of the discussion. 

Namely, our motivation for holiness is not fueled by heaven and hell but in fact by the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. Consider the following passages. 

“[Phl 2:12-13 NASB] 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.”

[1Jo 4:17-19 NASB] 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.

[Heb 2:11 NIV] 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
[Heb 10:10, 14 NIV] 10 “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ... 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
[Mat 22:37-40 NIV] 37 “Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

In light of these passages it is quite problematic to suggest that hell plays any role in keeping the believer in pursuit of holiness. And the true acid test is a simple question? How well is it working? Are all who believe in eternal conscious torment free of sin and compromise and corruption and backsliding? 

No, there is plenty of that among those who would never accept Universalism. Why then isn’t the fear of eternal hell the perfect guardian against backsliding? How does it not better protect all Christians who pay homage to it? Because the fear of hell is not what transforms a person, it is the love of God that transforms them. It is the inner working of the Spirit of Holiness that keeps the new nature hungry to do God’s will.

I would assert that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is a poison that is making Christians sick and corrupted and may in fact be an actual source of much backsliding. 

When I got saved I knew nothing about hell. I literally did not have a thought about hell on my mind before during or after my conversion. All I knew was that all my attempts to make myself happy and find my own way had lead to pain and dead ends. I was experiencing a fear of death but not because anyone told me about hell, but because death seemed like the end of my existence and that scared me. Then God led me to a church where the gospel was being preached by an Evangelist named Rich Wilkerson. I answered the alter call because I wanted to be free from my life controlling urges and I wanted to know God. That night I was gloriously saved and set free. I went home and flushed all my drugs down the toilet and dumped all my worldly paraphernalia in the trash. I began to devour the word and pray like it was the air I breathed. And yet for all this, I knew nothing about eternal conscious torment. I witnessed to people and prayed for the sick and saw miracles in my life and personal ministry. 

But then I started taking classes in theology. Then I started listening to the old time preachers who had fed on wrath all their life. Suddenly I had to start worrying whether or not I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing. Suddenly I had to be concerned that if I slipped up I might lose my salvation. Then I found out from the people who I trusted (because they were there at my spiritual birth and I imprinted on them like a  baby duck) that hell was the place God sent sinners and backsliders for eternity. I found out that if I wasn’t living right when Jesus returned I would get left behind.

Condemnation set in like a conquering tyrant. My joy and peace began to turn to fear and trembling. The stress of worrying of whether I was still loved by God was too much of a strain and I started feeling tempted to medicate my feelings again. Sensual pleasure began to creep back in. For a long time I lived under my own dark age of fear and works because eternal flames were the ever present threat in Arminian based Christianity. 

What I am showing you is that in my life God’s grace alone had done a great job making me a holy and pure child of God. Then mans doctrines came along and cut my dosage down by half and prescribed me a drug that had terrible side effects. That drug was infernalism. 

God doesn’t need hell to threaten us into holiness. The fire and conviction of the Holy Spirit does the work in our soul. The spirit of adoption makes us cry out to Abba for more holiness because we love Him for having first loved us. Religion has interfered with the relationship between a father and a child the same way the serpent in the garden did. As a result darkness and separation result in minds clouded with religious lies. 

[2Co 11:3-4, 20-21 NIV] 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. ... 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”

  So Paul is concerned that the original transformative message is being polluted by preachers who are heaping abuse and fear upon the converts. Paul says facetiously that he would be too weak to treat people that way. What he really means is that what religious men often describe as strong, bold, uncompromising preaching is in fact spiritual abuse! And like all abusers they will brain wash their victims with the idea that the abuse is for their own good so that the converts relish being abused and then themselves go on to abuse others.

[Mat 23:15 NKJV] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

One of the unfortunate mistakes Christianity makes is prescribing grace in half doses out of the fear of overdose. Like a medicine whose dosage is under-prescribed, we rob grace of its true transformative power to produce holiness by fearing too much grace will result in unholiness. This is why Romans 7 is never preached. It’s more grace than we are willing to give. When Paul says “If I do that which I do not want to do, then it is no longer I who do it but sin living in me”, preachers bristle and scurry for their commentaries. “It doesn’t mean what it sounds like! Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?! That’s just too much grace. People won’t take responsibility if they believe that.”

I’d like to propose another option. What if we just get out of the way and let God’s truth do what it does best and that’s setting captives free and inwardly transforming the sinner. God doesn’t need our double minded doctrines editing his Word or commenting in the margins.

People don’t get the medicine they need when we try to interfere with what the doctor prescribes. “You can’t give them that much grace…they might develop a dependency!”

Fancy that, people depending on God’s grace instead of what – men’s approval or fear based methods of reform? If thats a dependency then I’m addicted. I’m a grace junkie! I need a fix and the grace of God is the only thing that will do! 

The problem that the modern church faces is we have too many doctrines and not enough doctors.

Do you realize that for hundreds of years Christians had no bible to read the day after they got saved? They had no literature to take home or books to train them. All they had was a hearing of the gospel which bore by faith the presence of God into their inner man. They had a relationship with God without a bible of their own. There were no ministries passing out bibles to the early church and yet they turned the world upside down for Jesus. Yet they were being inwardly transformed by their communion with God through the Spirit. 

People who walked in the ministry gifts had scrolls they studied and the Holy Spirit gave them messages to speak that built up believers with spiritual words from God. But this compilation we now call the bible did not even exist for several hundred years. My point is not to devalue the bible. It is precious to me. I mean only to show that regarding the transformation unto holiness, we underestimate the simple power of having a living relationship with God by faith in the gospel. We tell people that unless they read the bible everyday they will wither and die. Then how did converts with no bible thrive? They did so because they were attached to the vine Jesus Christ by the Holy spirit. 

We had an ancient original Christianity that said all you need to be saved is to believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners and rose from the dead.   Now we have a complicated modern Christianity that says you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless you adhere to all the vast doctrinal constructions exactly as we do. Like the Catholics who persecuted people into compliance to one controlling doctrine, religion uses threats of hell to command loyalty to their doctrines. Before Emperor Constantine seduced the church onto the back of the beast, there were rich and varied schools of theology that explored doctrinal possibilities and had differing views, all while calling each other brothers and living in unified love. But when Rome took over the church, all that changed. Hell broke loose when Emperor Constantine decided Catholic doctrine was law and those who broke doctrine would be punished as if they broke the criminal law. 

It was then that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment exploded upon the minds of the churches across the world. It was a powerful tool for maintaining conformity with Rome. 

But in fact, the Apostle John set a boundary on the authority of men regarding individual believers and their relationship with God. 

I John 2:27 “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

Is John undermining the authority of the church? No, he is setting limits on the authority of men upon the conscience and conviction of the individual believer. He is granting the believer authority to reject any doctrine that grieves the anointing that abides within us. We Universalists have an anointing that teaches us that God is not and will never be an eternal torturer.

What did Jesus say to his soon to be Apostles?

[Mar 10:42-45 NIV]  42 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus modeled spiritual leadership by way of inspiration not enforcement. He won hearts through his ransom payment which proved the depth of his love. Yet men have trouble living in that level of faith. Christian leaders will take hold of mens hearts by force if given the right weapons to do so. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is such a weapon. 

In fact I wonder sometimes if God left the parts of the bible that sound like eternal torment in there just to see if men would assemble a gun out of it or if they would beat the sword into a plowshare.  In some ways the bible is a inkblot test that mirrors what is in our hearts. If our hearts are filled with anger and judgement those are the parts of the bible we will see most. But if our hearts are filled with love and grace we will place the weight of our faith on those. 

I do not believe eternal conscious torment is needful to produce faithful holy people. 

“[Phl 2:12-13 NASB] 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.”

Notice to what Paul attributes the internal motivation of the believer. God is at work internally by His Spirit granting us a drive and desire and motivation to please Him and fulfill His purpose for our lives. Of course the phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” should never be construed to mean we could work up our salvation but to work out our salvation. The language indicates a salvation that is internally in place already and is then being manifested visibly for all to see through the good works it produces. Jesus declared his disciples the light of the world and then told them to let their light be seen. He did not tell them to create light within themselves. Jesus is the light that lights everyman who comes into the world. 

The fear and trembling spoken of is never to be taken as a indication that a threat hangs over the Christian. First, it would contradict the statement that follows that God’s love inside of us is the source of positive motivation to do what pleases Him. Second, it would argue with the message that we are not appointed unto wrath. Third, it would be more accurate to understand fear and trembling as an idiom that points away from pride and towards humility. In other words, good works can cause us to be proud and glory in ourselves. We can begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought when we see God’s mighty working through us by His power and wisdom. So Paul sets a balancing weight on the scales and suggests that we always keep our head down as we are so mightily and beautifully used of God to manifest His goodness.  Pride is the original sin with which Satan would seduce the holiest of men if they were to forget the insufficiency of their own merit and power. Thus we work outwardly with careful humility the wonderful power that is already at work within us.

A Universalists goal is salvific and sanctified liberty, but not libertinism. We would see all men utterly freed from sin by the convicting and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. And while due to the Gehenna fire of the tongue having been quenched by our distinctive faith, we are less likely to judge harshly the backslider and the sinner, (especially by employing the threat of eternal damnation) we would no less seek to spur everyone on to love and good works. To see people become transformed is our great delight. We are not here making intellectual or philosophical excuses for why biblically defined sins are acceptable to God. We can say “God forbid” as well as anyone regarding sin and immorality. But what makes us different is that we say “God forbid” to the notion that the God who makes men holy is ultimately impotent to make all men holy in due time.   Note the phrases preceding our above noted passage:

[Phl 2:10-11 NASB] 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Who will deny the stunning and hopeful implications of this statement? How can eschatological understanding not explode with a greater hope than we could have ever imagined. For is it not God who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or dare to imagine? Dare we imagine that God would save all, even those who were judged in hell? I can imagine that and yet Paul says God can still do more than I can imagine! 

But if the human authorities of religion believe they can enforce limits on divine possibilities, I will not stand in their way. I will simply point to another way. That is the way of salvific possibility. For was it not Christ who answered the disciples question saying, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And to what question was this answer given? “Who then can be saved?”  We know that Jesus harrowed hell in part for the sake of the righteous dead, but at the time Paul wrote this, that event had taken place decades before. Of what relevance is the joy and worship of those under the earth at this juncture? When Paul says every knee will bow under the earth, he is in fact looking forward, even beyond our time to the end in which God will truly “be all …in all.”

Now it would be amiss not to mention that for all the assertion that Universalism will grease the slope and send its followers sliding backwards morally, there is in fact no historical evidence for this in the centuries old tradition of this belief. In fact Universalists have always been some of the holiest and all the while gentlest Christians you might find. 

In fact I can say with absolute confidence that among the ancient traditions of Christianity, Universalism is the only one that has no murderers or suborners of murder in it’s historic legacy. Yet What do we see of others? Augustine, Calvin, and others both wrote doctrine and gave winks and nods for those who eradicated brothers and sisters and babies in Christ in the name of one enforced theology. These men never shed a single drop of blood for the cause of Christ, for they were too comfortably ensconced in the seats of power the early church once hid from. Yet look at the Universalists who were persecuted and tortured and slain having never cursed but only blessed those who abused them. 

Furthermore, where is the great hedonistic hoard of Universalists living in the lifestyle of eat drink and be merry? The whole notion is a straw man, a scare crow, a red herring. It’s what people say who have nothing to say other than what they fear they themselves would do. In fact the assertion that Universalism would remove moral deterrence is more of a confession as to their own motivations than that of Universalists. Perhaps by their argument they tattle on themselves as to how feeble their understanding is regarding how exactly God does make men holy. Or perhaps they simply have yet to be liberated to the joy of holiness without torment.

Therefore I reject the tired and impotent argument that Universalism breeds moral apathy. For it was never hell that made us holy in the first place. It was and is God’s truth, love and power in Christ through the Holy Spirit at work in our heart.

The parable of the sheep and goats: problems, paradoxes and promises

The parable of the sheep and the goats is a very compelling vision set forth by Jesus. It evokes a different emphasis depending on who you talk to. Pro-Israel Christians focus on Jesus speaking of what we did for his “brethren” as absolutely identifying Israel. So the whole parable means we will all be judged by how we treated Israel. Well that falls apart pretty quick when you consider that most of the worlds population has never had the opportunity to do good or bad towards Israel. But I’m sure someone‘s twisted scriptures can hot wire that logic somehow.

  Then there are those who say this is an image of the judgement of the nations and everyone is getting punished or rewarded based on the charity they showed to their fellow man. The problem here is that we are supposed to be saved by grace in the Lutheran sense and thus our works count for nothing. There is no mention of faith in Jesus in the entire parable. The only criteria appears to be the charity works for the needy. So are people of other non-Christian religions going to be counted among the sheep because they did compassionate works? Furthermore does this mean faith alone will not save a person who has confessed Jesus if they turn away from the poor and needy? James did ask how can such faith can save anyone.

Then there are those who claim that the sheep and the goats are simply the totality of confessing Christians who are divided by the charitable vs. the non-charitable. However this appears to again run afoul of salvation by faith alone. For if someone can confess Christ and turn from sin and yet fall short on charity to the needy, then they are a Christian who goes to hell forever. Besides, if this is merely the judgement of the church, what happens to the rest of the world?

In any case then, how does anyone know if they have done enough charity to escape hell? Furthermore can any of us say we stopped to think about the parable of the sheep and the goats when we were actually moved with compassion for the needy? Does fear of eternal hell really produce authentic compassion? 

But what if we read all of this in a Universalist light? What if hell is not eternity in punishment but instead punishment in eternity? What if the fire of hell purifies and burns out evil from peoples hearts? If that were the case it would not be a problem to think that even those who had professed Christ by faith would go to hell for being uncharitable for it is necessary to burn the sin and selfishness out of them. That would explain how Jesus could tell his disciples they would not be forgiven if they did not forgive. That would explain how religious people can blaspheme the Holy Spirit and not be exempted from the judgement fire in the age to come. 

Some think we Universalists are making a huge leap in assuming hell is for purifying because they don’t see it plainly in scripture. However, often what people think they see plainly is because they are told it’s there and they see it by power of repeated suggestion. Remember when the three wise men went to visit the baby Jesus? You think you do but you really don’t. You were told there were three wise men by paintings and stories but it’s not in the bible. The word three never appears in the nativity. There were three gifts listed but that is no evidence of how many wise men showed up. None the less we are trained to imagine three wise men and so we assume it‘s in the bible. By the way, one is brown, one is white and one is jet black according to my Mom’s little mossy nativity scene circa 1974.

In the same way we can also be taught to ignore things that are in the bible that should help to define things we beleive. How in the world do you think the church ignored justification by faith for so long? 

  Over and again God referred to the crucible of fire to purify mens hearts. We have been taught not to connect that to any understanding of hell even though they both share the element of fire. We see in the bible Nebuchadnezzar threatens that if three men don’t bow to him he will roast them in fire. Do you realize how much that looks like a parable of our doctrine of hell? But we have never been taught to think that way so we don’t see it. Did you know that Gehenna was a place where Israelites committed idolatry by throwing their babies in the fire in dedication to a bull God Molech? God said such a thing had never entered his mind. Yet we have Gehenna being used to threaten us with being thrown in the fire like those babies. Gehenna went on to be referred to as a name for hell. 

Now keep in mind these are divinely inspired stories which are supposed to be infallible scripture, yet they are a conspicuously ironic argument against a belief in eternal torment. Is God like Nebuchadnezzar? Or was Nebuchadnezzar simply imitating God? 

But did you notice that when they were thrown in the fire they were not hurt? Instead Jesus was with them in the fire and only that which bound them and restrained them was burned away. The ropes were burned off yet they were saved. 

Universalism believes that in fact when souls go into hell that what burns is the sin and bondage that keeps them from bowing to Jesus…the very point of Nebuchadnezzars judgement! 

Yes the story is primarily about courage and fidelity under persecution. But like a beautiful two sided tapestry we see another salvation story on the flip side made of the same woven threads. It is a revelation of God‘s liberating judgement upon the souls of sinners and those whose hearts are unloving. 

Whereas on the front we see Nebuchadnezzar as the sinner converted to faith by seeing the righteous delivered. On the flip side the king is the righteous God and the people in the fire are the sinners being liberated from their sin. 

A tapestry always has a negative image on the back side. God in His masterful artistry has woven a second revelation of eschatological victory into this story. Who could make this up?

So take heart dear soul. God has a plan beyond the grave and it is far more beautiful than you could have dared to imagine.

May you be a sheep and may all the goats you love join you in heaven after the holy fire of judgement has set them free from what binds them. For as it is written, “every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and UNDER THE EARTH.”

Fallacy: Without Eternal Hell We Are Lost!

In an excellent series at a particular man named Bill posted a comment at the conclusion of part three of a series about the origins of hell as a church doctrine (1)

“If heaven is not eternal and hell does not exist, even though some form of time limited punishment might (although I’m not clear on your views about that) and in the end everyone gets saved then as far as I’m concerned I might as well ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow I die’. Or put another way, live a life of ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’ as perhaps is meant by Meatloaf when he sings ‘A wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age.’ I’m sorry but the love of God which you emphasize (and I truly believe in) to me is pretty meaningless if there is no eternal condemnation, perishing, unbearable separation etc from God which that love and sacrifice of Jesus saves me from. Frankly if I’m going to be ‘saved’ eventually anyhow I don’t see that it matters what I believe or how I live.”

This is a perfect representation of how many people react who are so deeply entrenched in the doctrine of ECT that without it it they lose all definition of God and gospel.

Notice that in Bills mind, the love of God is meaningless without eternal torment. How truly tragic this is. It’s like saying that if we eradicated the death penalty in the penal code, justice and law would have no more meaning.

Well, there are many nations that have no death penalty and have a much lower crime rate than those who do, yet they still find it necessary to punish people in ways that do not eradicate all hope for their future. Some would say they have a higher respect for justice because justice is not defined by punishment alone. That is the major flaw in many Christians theology of God’s judgement. Justice is only about retribution and not restoration. Every judge who sentences someone to jail has made a decision about duration based on the crime and the amount of time it will take to impress upon the person a determination to reform. The parole board says, “Have you learned your lesson?”. They often shorten the judges sentence based on good behavior and provable change of heart.

Perhaps paroling someone before the actual sentence is fulfilled should be abolished lest we lose all meaning of what justice really is? But I suppose if it were your brother or sister or child who is up for parole, the meaning of justice would blossom far beyond just punishment would it not?

Lets restate the point Bill made:

“I’m sorry but the love of God which you emphasize (and I truly believe in) to me is pretty meaningless if there is no eternal condemnation, perishing, unbearable separation etc from God which that love and sacrifice of Jesus saves me from.”

So unless the duration of hell is forever, Jesus sacrifice is worthless to us? Unless hells duration is forever, our obedience to God has no meaning?

I’m reminded of a particular brother from a certain parable who felt that all His years of faithful service and all his pleasing the father was made worthless by the acceptance of his long lost brother back into the family. A brother who was “dead but is now alive” according to the happy dad. (I have always noticed that statement to be an almost glaring insertion of afterlife application inserted by Jesus into this parable.)

It’s truly sad when our own love and devotion to God seems to have no meaning unless it can be set against the backdrop of someone else’s total rejection by God. Isn’t that what afflicted the resentful brother?

(if) “everyone gets saved then as far as I’m concerned I might as well ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow I die’.”

The commenter confesses that his faith is immature and not well developed. For in Christianity we reject conformity to this world not because of punishment but because of conscience.

In view of Gods mercies we become living sacrifices, not in view of Gods judgement. (Rom 12:1)

If the fear of hell is our only motivation to be obedient, then the work of the Holy Spirit is failing within us. For the spirit works in us to will and to do according to his purpose. And God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. Yes by the fear of the Lord men may depart from evil, but once departed they would never return for the blessings of righteousness satisfy them enough never to return.

And if hell is of any duration there is still plenty to fear, if fear is as necessary as Bill contends. In nations with no death penalty, people still fear sitting in jail for half their life. As a result they think twice before resorting to murder, do they not?

As a Universalist I must conclude there is far more room in hell for me as a believer if I fail to live up to the standards of love as set forth by Jesus.

When he says “and this is how my heavenly father will treat you if you don’t forgive your brother from your heart.” and “ everyone will be salted with fire”, I am disinclined to lean on my assurance of salvation as a guarantee that I myself will not have to “do time” in the flames. When the dichotomy of eternal punishment vs eternal reward is set before men they tend towards the construction of a very self forgiving theology that imagines themselves being immune from hell by faith in Jesus. Thus being that hell and heaven are an either/or prospect in their mind, they believe theres no chance they could go there like the people who reject God altogether. Thus they create a wider zone of disobedience. But for the Christian, if hell and heaven is an either/AND possibility, or an either/THEN possibility, we find ourselves examining our life with all the more vigilance.

Lets take an illustration from history. Both Augustine and Calvin considered themselves as having the superior doctrinal system on just about everything. If anyone was sure they were going to heaven it was them. And they believed that following their theology was the only sure way to stay on the path to heaven. Now these two are credited with the development of eternal hell as we formulate it today.

Augustine warned that the softness of Universalism might lend itself to depravity and disobedience to God. Yet what did Augustine and Calvin do as men who so feared God and revered the threat of hell? They burned people at the stake for heresy. You can talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll all you want to. I would rather stand before God guilty of those than have to explain why I murdered others in His name and how I could be such a learned Bible teacher of others who thought he could commit such acts and still enter heaven.

So it would seem belief in eternal hell doesn’t really provide much restraint upon the morals of men. The pioneers of this doctrine prove it. Whereas the pioneers of Universalism are known to this day as men of Christlikeness, holiness and meekness who loved and served and never raised a hand against sinner or saint. Yet todays historic assessments of the patristic fathers cover up the violent sins of Augustine and Calvin while greatly embellishing the few marginal doctrinal errors of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. Never mind that Gregory was the final editor of the Nicene Creed.

The truth is that Augustine established the Catholic hell, and upon the emergence of the reformation it was Calvin who made sure that the Catholic eternal hell was a carryover doctrine in Protestant theology. Neither would worship in the same church, but both would burn men at the same stake for departing from their orthodoxy.

The reality is with or without eternal hell people can excuse their own sins and slide down some slippery slope afforded by licenses derived from or in spite of their doctrines.

So it’s not really saying anything when Universalism is accused of creating a license to sin. Its like saying if we allow bank robbers to get out of jail someday, pretty soon everybody will be robbing banks.