I worked out “with fear and trembling” my position on hell and shared that material with you in the last four blogs. However, I have also alluded to the fact that I continue to learn and, so, it is certainly possible that I will change my position again. Proceed with prayer and caution.
Some have asked me what kind of punishment might there be in hell. Most of us assume that the mentions of fire, being tied up, falling, gnashing of teeth, etc. are metaphorical or symbolic, not literal. I agree, if for no other reason than that the end of time and place also ends such mundane things such as gravity, teeth, and fire. So what is the punishment?
I really, really need to stress that what follows is entirely conjecture on my part. I have absolutely no Biblical backup on this. This is a thought exercise, not a proclamation of doctrine. Got it? Great!
Yesterday afternoon, I spent a lot of time child proofing our home. My grandson is coming up for a few days and we needed to put drawer locks on the kitchen cabinets. Why? Because children don’t know what can hurt them; they are not born ready to face the dangers out there in the world. We spend a lot of time watching them, protecting them, and telling them things such as “the stove is hot” or “you could fall down the stairs and hurt yourself.” Psychologists don’t agree on what instincts, if any, are present in children at or shortly after their birth but many say that the only fears they have are falling, loud noises, and heat. Babies will shy away from a fire if it projects its heat (but not from hot surfaces if the heat is not obvious) and if you hold a baby and then suddenly lower it, its arms stick out in an instinctive move designed to break its fall. What is hell described as? The embodiment of our earliest, most basic fears: constriction, falling, darkness, and noise (weeping of the damned, etc.).
Quantum physics also helps us here. The whole science of black holes and the discussion of what happens when time stops (or slows to a crawl), and matter is suddenly broken apart into energy makes a lot of us Bible believers look at the descriptions of hell and see total and sudden annihilation in a whole new light. I have come to believe that the lost are annihilated after a time of punishment; a time which varies according to their guilt and God’s judgment (as Jesus put it: many stripes, fewer stripes).
Still… there is compelling evidence that after a period of punishment, souls can (will?) be redeemed. This is what I mean when I refer to myself as a hopeful universalist. I am not really there yet, but I will share next time why I would even consider it. When I bring that up, people ask me what kind of punishment could be meted out on people that would then prepare them for an eternity with God. And here is where the conjecture part of the blog comes into full bloom. There is only one punishment I can imagine that would fit the bill (and I say this knowing that my imagination is a pitiful thing compared to the wisdom and creativity of God).
Think of this: God has had to witness every evil act… and its effect on other human beings, His children. He has spent an eternity inside the fear, the dry mouth, the terror, the helplessness of those attacked by rogue militias or evil government regimes. He has felt the brokenness of the woman whose husband has been unfaithful. He has entered into the heart and soul of the child whose mother is too drunk to feed him. You get the idea. Now…
…what if hell went like this: you are put into a place where you have to feel every hurt you gave to others. You have to see through their eyes, feel through their nerves, and have the full weight of the sins you committed roll through you until you had fully and completely felt ALL of them? You had no Jesus to take them away. You have to bear them… but not forever. Once you drank the full measure of this punishment (and it would take a lot longer for Hitler than it would be for your next door neighbor who is pleasant enough but not a Christian), then redemption could be possible by the grace of Jesus. THEN, every knee would bow. I’ll give you scripture in the next blog but, for now, I want to just do this thought experiment on the type of punishment which might be waiting for those who die outside of Jesus.
Those who “without law” lived as if they were subject to the law, such as those described in Romans, would be spared a great deal of this. Once anyone felt it all, they would be so very grateful for the opportunity to be redeemed. They would be convinced of the just nature of their punishment. They would be formed into a being that understood evil and was so very ready to turn away from it forever. However, if hell is a literal fire and terror filled pit of pain… would someone be happy and ready for heaven after a good roasting? I have trouble imagining that. However, if they were able to see with God’s eyes and feel the pain they caused His children… if they could “know even as we are known”… then they would come into heaven prepared to bow to God because they finally “get it.”
Like I said… just a thought. I’ll give you scriptures that lead me to think I might be a hopeful universalist next time.