Hell, I Believe…

Derek Ouellette —  May 1, 2011 — 3 Comments

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:

  • Evangelism

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.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    P.S. May’s poll asks what Church tradition you belong. This will help me gauge what percentage of my readers are from what background. Feel free to answer!

  • Brian MacArevey

    Derek,

    Isn’t it possible that overly individualistic understandings of God’s justice play a role in our understandings of what we believe that God must do in order to be just? In other words, it seems the only way that I could ever conceive of God being just by allowing people other than myself to suffer eternally in torment would be to completely ignore the fact that I am a participant in the world’s sin, and also, that my own sin has provoked sinful behavior in others. If people have not come to Christ, it is often the fault of Christians who have sinfully failed to bear witness to the character of God accurately. Why should these people suffer eternally when much of the reason that they would suffer is due to my sinfulness? It appears to me that the doctrine of ECT was formulated on the basis of an overly individualistic (and unbiblical, in my opinion) understanding of the way in which the world operates, and a concept of justice that has been built upon self-righteous presumptions; a belief that the sins of the individual can be abstracted, and de-contextualized, from the human community in which sin must occur in order to be sin. Just some thoughts…

    I just don’t think that views that oppose ECT are more palatable. It seems to me that other views are less palatable when we understand that the most wicked people in the world only are what they are because we, as a world community, participate in creating the people that they eventually become. ECT is, I believe, ultimately a mask for self-righteousness…and in light of these things, much easier for self-righteous and sinful human beings to accept than other views (such as annihilation, conditionalism, or universalism).

    • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

      I am of the opinion that every human person, whether during their life, at the time of their death, or even after their death, is given enough knowledge and whatever else they may need in order to choose or to reject salvation in complete freedom.

      Again, and again, and again: God “desires” that ALL be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”.