The poll question for April essentially asked what readers of Covenant of Love believe regarding Hell. I have provided four options plus “other”: Eternal Torment, Annihilationism, Postmortem Reconciliation or Universalism.
Sixty-one percent of the readers of Covenant of Love affirmed Hell as a place of eternal torment. Twenty-two percent believe in annihilationism. Seven percent affirm postmortem reconciliation and one percent affirms universalism.
Nine percent said “Other”, but in reality those votes could just have easily been allocated to one of the four options provided. One person wrote, “Everlasting separation from God”, but since I left “torment” undefined, this vote could have been allocated to “Everlasting Torment” as well as the voter who wrote, “Everlasting aloneness”. One person wrote, “post-mortem revelation and OPPORTUNITY for reconciliation” which is postmortem reconciliation.
Reflections on the Poll
I went into April fully confident in the historic Christian teaching of Hell as a place of Everlasting Torment. But throughout the month I felt the full force of the Annihilation arguments (on by blog, on other peoples blogs, on YouTube and on Facebook) and it has caused me to take a closer look, not just at the traditional view, but also at the annihilation perspective and arguments against it.
Given that 61% of my readers affirm Hell as a place of everlasting punishment, I should have no hesitancy to affirm that belief. But most of those readers have no desire to engage in debates with those who hold to the annihilation perspective. Contrary to the traditionalists, my annihilationist friends are fully eager to “correct the misunderstands” of the traditional perspective. So I am hesitant to affirm the traditional view because I neither have the time, energy or desire to engage in endless debates about the nature of hell.
What’s At Stake
I’ve long thought that nothing of significance is at stake in the debate over Annihilation or Eternal Torment. In fact, given the fact that I am a sensitive guy, I am predisposed to accept the Annihilation perspective. If the scriptures can be interpreted this way or that, I would be prone to choose the interpretation that would be most palatable. I think the two points where people begin to question the traditional view and seek to reinvent the doctrine of hell is:
It is easier to believe in a God who annihilates then a God who eternally punishes
- Justice of God
People ask the question “If Hell is eternal torment, how can we speak of God being just?”
I don’t know how many annihilationist would out right admit this, but Clark Pinnock does and it would be respectful if other’s were as honest. “The idea of eternal torment is simply not very palatable. For that reason, lets return to the scriptures and see if tradition has made a mistake”.
It is true that were you begin determines were you will end off.
For the traditional perspective, there are reasons to maintain belief in the doctrine of Hell as Eternal Torment:
- Justice of God
Someone pointed out recently that to modern sensitivities the idea of Hell as Eternal Torment calls into question the Justice of God; for the bible writers (from the perspective of the traditionalists) the idea of Hell as Eternal Torment answers the question of the Justice of God.
- The Character of God
For the traditionalist anything but Eternal Punishment cheapens the character of God (by playing up his nature of Love to the unbalanced extent of making almost null and void his ontological fullness).
Of course there are dozens of more reasons and issues at stake for both the Annihilationist and the Traditionalist, and many of those reasons criss-cross. My intention here is not to be full or exhaustive in any way (annihilationist might say, “the Character is God is our reason too, but thought differently”, et cetera).
Where I Stand
Ultimately the question falls back to what the scriptures teach. My apprehension claim is this: I still affirm the traditional view of Hell as a place of Eternal Punishment. I think I have a fairly good understanding of the arguments of the Annihilationist perspective (see upcoming post). I feel it’s weight and merit and yes, I do believe it has a place as an Evangelical option. But it’s arguments have not convinced me that the Church as been wrong all these years.
One danger I want to avoid is making Covenant of Love about Hell (that’s an oxymoron!). I have no desire to let this subject co-op this blog. It is one of many (MANY) theologies I’ve been (and will continue to be) exploring in finding my way on this journey.