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.