In an excellent series at Brazenchurch.com 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.