Lee Strobel’s chapter defending an eternal hell in his book A Case For Faith has given us a great trajectory with which to follow the main reasons for an eternal hell from an Arminian perspective. I believe when we are finished with this chapter we will have addressed most of the arguments made in support of an eternal hell by our brothers and sisters who support the free-will position.
We left you with the teaser quote by J. P. Moreland and will complete his thought here:
“Actually, hell was not part of the original creation. Hell is God’s fallback position. Hell is something God was forced to make because people chose to rebel against Him and turn against what was best for them and the purpose for which they were created.”
Moreland goes on to compare God’s “building of hell” with that of our nation having to eventually build prisons even though it was never obviously their “ideal” to begin with.
First, I will continue to point out the elephant in the room whenever it manifests itself: The definition of an eternal hell and the reasons for its existence are presented by the Arminians and Calvinists in completely different ways. And, as J. I. Packer has observed, these differences characterize “two different deities.”
For instance the above statement that “hell was plan B” would be a blasphemous statement for a Calvinist. That would be suggesting that God was caught off guard. To say that hell was something God was forced to create because of the fall would be analogous to the assertion that the cross of Jesus Christ was a forced “plan B” operation and not in God’s original plan. Yet we are told that, “Jesus was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” (Rev 13:8)
But I am not actually criticizing this explanation. In light of what Strobel and Moreland are convinced are their Biblical options (that there is an eternal hell) they are just trying to make sense of it. And to me theirs is a more palatable explanation than to say God created eternal hell just for predestined sinners who had no real choice in the matter (Calvinists).
What I am trying to show is that within Evangelicalism we have two irreconcilable theologies posing as “one faith.” Now I believe we are indeed “one in Christ” but we cannot yet see it and the world is not perceiving a unity that convinces them that Jesus is the Savior of the World. (John 17) I will continue to highlight this tension until we begin to consider that the God who wants all to be saved must be the same God as the one who is able by His irresistible grace and love to eventually make it happen.
But back to Moreland’s comparing hell with that of the institution of the penal system. As Christians we have come a great distance in our understanding of what is true justice. The late Charles Colson wrote his book Justice That Restores which looks at the Biblical view of justice as doing justice rather than getting justice. This has been termed “restorative justice,” meaning it is not an “eye for an eye” (retributive) but rather the attempt to restore an offender back to his original purpose: “Let him who steals, steal no longer but rather let him give…” (Eph 4:28)
This does not negate bringing consequences to bear or protecting society from dangerous criminals but it does instruct us on what the ultimate ideal of justice is: the return of the sinner to righteousness or “right-useness” meaning literally and ultimately”in right relationship”! So comparing a prison with eternal hell will only prove to point to a more restorative justice paradigm as we are becoming more and more Biblically enlightened in this area. (Check out this excerpt from a sermon transcript on justice by a Reformed pastor who believes in eternal conscious torment–yet it amazingly supports hell as restorative!)
Strobel and Moreland now turn to the physicality of hell and the nature of the imagery of fire and flames. Strobel remembers his Sunday School teacher lighting a candle and saying hell was like this flame burning your whole body. They agreed this was “evil manipulation.” Moreland teaches that hell is a separate place in the universe away from God and His people. He also believes that flames and fire are metaphorical and not literal. Strobel immediately protests,”Wait a minute, I thought you were a conservative scholar, are you going to try and soften the idea of hell and make it more palatable?” to which Moreland assures him that he is not.
So we have to wonder. If scaring people with the image of a literal fire is “evil manipulation” and the real explanation is actually worse than a literal fire then what does that make the threat of “metaphorical” fire, worms and gnashing of teeth? It must make it a mega-evil manipulation! Tim Keller in his article on hell says that to negate a literal fire of eternal hell is not softening it but rather making it even more potent. So I really don’t get the point of trying to differentiate whether the experience of a hopeless, endless painful unredemptive hell will be literal, physical, spiritual, mental, psychological etc., It’s just horrible and spells religious manipulation however you look at it.
And finally, Moreland says, “Using the metaphorical imagery of fire is a way of saying He’s a God of judgment.” Is that true? Is that the only connection between fire and God…judgment? What about when God calls Himself a Refiner’s fire? Or when He said He will baptize with fire? Or when at Pentacost the believers were filled with tongues of fire? Are there two fires with two different purposes? Is God two and not one? Is He divided?
So I believe we must understand that while judgment is to be feared and expected to be painful, and not least of all it represents a broken relationship with God, it is from a Father who is one and not two. He is one. The fire is one. His purpose is one: and that is to “make all things new” and be “all in all” or literally become “everything to everyone.” (Rev 21:5, 1 Cor 15:28) Hallelujah…!