My personal escape from hell


#1

I wanted to put into writing my own journey out of hell. That is to say my journey out of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. In a way it is a journey out of a personal hell because this doctrine did in fact torment me for a long time. As a non denominational pastor of 30 years with a full gospel Assembly of God back ground, I was reaching a place of intense inward struggle with all that I knew about Gods grace and love and acceptance, and then having to believe an alarm goes off and He transforms into a merciless judge who hates anyone who for a plethora of reasons did not come into Christ in their short span on earth.

I fought this for a long time. Of course hell is forever. Its right there in the bible.
The only problem was that this created an ever increasing spiritual dissonance inside of me of which the effect on my life and spirituality and view of the world I did not fully comprehend.
Could believing in eternal conscience torment make a person more judgmental, less merciful, more prone to anxiety and depression and even make carnal thoughts and temptations harder to resist? Could this undermine the gift of grace a person was promised in Christ and keep them from living in the peace and joy and love that is supposed to accompany those born again?
I would have never guessed that could be the case. The fact is I struggled in all those things for so long. I knew the standards I was to live by but I just assumed the devil was really concentrating on me because Im a leader and we get more enemy fire.
But when I finally opened my heart and began to read the volumes of online study available from the well researched and well reasoned proponents of Universal Reconciliation, It was like a desert was being filled with streams of living water down inside of me. I began to experience the grace powered life like never before.

As I look back I realize that my spirit never really bore witness with the doctrine of eternal hell. The truth is I could muster the confession if asked directly, but I never really preached it. Not out of a deliberate refusal or a fear of man. I have preached many things people did not want to hear about Gods Word on all manner of human sins. I want to be a faithful messenger even if it leads to some people walking away because of unbelief. I don’t scratch ears. But descriptions of a hell of eternal punishment were not flowing from my inner man onto the page like so many other things from Gods Word. Maybe thats because thats never been what the Spirit was saying to the world. In fact I found myself wishing that hell might just be a temporary situation for sinners even before I was enlightened in the truths of Evangelical Universalism. That must have been God preparing my heart for a personal reformation.

Yet I was very vigilant about my doctrine. I had seen others go off onto extra biblical tangents and lead people astray. I saw the legalist and the mystics of the early church corrected and rebuked by the Apostles in the epistles and how they passionately defended the flock from the false teachers.

I saw how famous pastors were leaving sound doctrine and claiming all will go to heaven and there was no hell and that all religions lead to God and that all lifestyles are OK as long as we have love. Maybe its wrong of me to say this, but I don’t have a good feeling about Rob Bell or William Paul Young. I don’t think they want to lead people to repentance. I think they are trying to make repentance irrelevant. I don’t like the tricks they play with the bible. I heard Rob bell say in a video that God sent Jonah to bless Nineveh but Jonah refused to go. That made me angry because he deliberately exploited the ignorance of the general public and distorted the mission of Jonah which was to say “40 more days and Nineveh shall perish!”

In judging peoples sincerity I have always found that you can identify an ulterior motive by looking for contradictions in their actions and words. I have seen many try to exploit or undermine others over the years through feigned love or spirituality. But I was able to see early on before others that they were up to something because their actions betrayed their words in irreconcilable ways that identified their true agenda.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment, built on certain wordings in the New Testament, just did not agree with the rest of the picture the bible was painting about God. There was a fundamental contradiction that for me betrayed a flaw, but not in Gods Word or plan. It betrayed a flaw in the nameless, faceless, unaccountable people who the worlds understanding of God has been handed to as gatekeepers. These are the translators of the original manuscripts.

In considering how the bible reveals God i see two modes. Statements and stories. The thing about a statement is that every single word in a short statement about God has the power to misinform us if chosen or translated wrongly. Whereas in story mode, certain words can tolerate variation or even a little inaccuracy, yet you still come out with a clear accurate picture of what happened and what the story reveals about God.
As I look at all the stories about Gods dealing with people, I see an unrelenting determination for love and mercy and restoration to win out in the end. Mercy triumphs over judgement! James 2:13
Yet some New Testament statements about Gods dealings with man at the end of the age seem to conflict with these stories. This of course is not a bible error. As many have so skillfully illustrated there are some serious translation issues and Gnostic pollution in the formation of our traditional doctrines.
I would close this post by sayin I am experiencing a renaissance of joy in my life as I study the words of the wonderful people on this forum and other Evangelical Universalists across the web. I feel a brand new passion for the lost in my personal ministry, a renewed thirst for prayer and I cant wait to engage the world on a whole new basis of spiritual motivation which is flowing from a more perfect way.

Please know that I realize I dont have every position perfectly organized in this belief and I may say things that you could correct in some way. But this is not an argument, its my testimony and I hope its appreciated as such.


#2

Thank you, Mark, for your testimony. I have previously written my own story and intend to expand upon it in the near future.

Norm


#3

Thank you for your testimony, Mark. May the Lord continue to use you very greatly. (My background is similarly non-denominational and charismatic.)

I am not an apologist for the theology of William Paul Young; in fact, as a “convinced” universalist, I disagree with his uncertainty over whether or not everyone will eventually repent and come out of the lake of fire (i.e., his “hopeful” universalism).

But I very highly recommend his movie, The Shack. While it may not be the best-made, or most entertaining movie I have ever seen, I think it may well be the most important movie I have ever seen. And as to your assertion that Young does not lead people to repentance, I think people who view that film are led to change their minds (repent) about many lies concerning the true nature of God.

Again, thank you.


#4

I used to be Catholic. My experience before becoming a nondenominational universalist was similar. Eternal torment was my religion’s dogma, but I never really thought about it. Then, when I watched as my grandparents died of cognitive illnesses, I started to think about it more. It got to the point where I was hardly eating. I lost a lot of weight. ET made me sick. Once I finally started thinking about the implications of ET I had to leave it behind.


#5

Thank you for that transparency. Its awesome that you share that because just today I began feeling led by the Lord to think about the unhealthy compartmentalization ECT doctrine forces our minds to create. I think that there are some real psychological maladies being created by this doctrine that have created some serious dysfunction in the modern church.


#6

I write a lot and save everything in my computer. I was looking at some of my communications earlier today and came across a letter I wrote in 2004. I had totally forgotten writing it.

Frankly, I was surprised to read that I had entertained thoughts about ECT 14 years ago and had expressed them in writing to my pastor at the time. I did not receive a response. Following is an extract from the letter:

As you know, I was in my early twenties when I embraced Reformed doctrine. There is none more zealous than a convert, and I have no problem with 99.9% of what the Doctrinal Standards state, and what our church requires us to believe, especially if we hold office. I have no difficulty with accepting a limited atonement, for example, although I prefer the term “accomplished redemption” to describe the same truth. What I am struggling with is the teaching in all three of our confessions that the “unjust”, the “wicked”, the “unbelievers” who do not repent will spend eternity enduring endless torment and torture of mind and body in a place called hell.

In Article 37 of the Belgic Confession it would almost appear that unbelievers, the “evil ones” will “be made immortal …” for the express purpose of being “tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. The same teaching, expressed in slightly different words, can be found in Q&A 44, 52, 84 of the Catechism, and elsewhere in the Belgic Confession and in the Five Points of the Canon.

It is not that I believe in universal redemption – I’ve already confirmed my belief in a limited redemption. I preached a sermon recently about the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. I believe that if we are not saved by grace we remain under condemnation and the penalty remains the same as it was for Adam – banishment from the presence of God. That’s what John 3: 16 – 18 teaches me, at least. That is what I preach.

I believe that Christ died so that we can have what we call “eternal life”. We sample it here and now, but only after we are “raised incorruptible” will we fully experience it and that will be for all of eternity. I hope to improve my golf game in the first 1000 years or so.

For unbelievers to experience torment of mind, spirit and body in hell they will have to be alive. And it will be for eternity, according to the confessions. So does that mean they, too, will have “eternal life”, although it will be a life not worth living?

***, I struggle with the concept that a just, loving God would raise a person from the grave, make them immortal, then torture him, her, a child even, for time and for eternity. I know all the stock answers to that. I know I have only a very limited understanding of spiritual matters, that God’s thoughts are higher than mine, His ways are not my ways, etc. etc. and that sometimes we just have to accept what we have been taught even though it runs counter to our (hopefully) Spirit-controlled conscience. But it remains a problem. I try to take my commitments seriously and will not sign something, or say that I subscribe to something (the Church Order for example) if by doing so I will compromise my integrity.

There, you have it. I’ve laid open my soul to you. (Why am I being reminded of Charles Templeton?). Don’t worry, Templeton threw out everything he had ever believed. I’m only questioning the doctrine about eternal, everlasting physical and spiritual torture.

Today, of course, I still can’t be an office-bearer in the church of which I am a member.

I will be writing much more on all this in the next and subsequent posts.


#7

I certainly agree. When I was convinced of ECT, I could not think of anything else. The concept is overwhelming, breeds fear, draws lines between people, drives some to legalism and some to despair - but its biggest evil is casting shade on the character of God.
For those that still believe in it, I don’t know how they can bear it - how they can think about neighbors and family and their city, filled with people destined (literally) for hell.


#8

Dave, in an upcoming post I will comment on how it is that most Christians can live with the doctrine of ECT. I know, you can’t wait, but I have to eat sometimes, lol. :hamburger:

Norm


#9

We live with it because we have faith in God. We haven’t blasphemed His holiness by hardening our hearts against Him because of His wrath. I have this up already but I will share it here. As long as God has morally sufficient and justifiable reasons for hell then it’s not unjust for it to exist. He does nothing wrong in allowing it. Those in the state of hell would have their hearts separated from all mercy as Christ says depart from me. As a result their hearts harden. They would loathe God and His children. They don’t want Him. If they don’t want to love God they don’t have to. But God is never obligated to give someone who hates Him and His children and don’t want to have anything to do with Him the gift of grace. The longer one is in hell the more wicked they become and the more just the punishment would be. What God is mainly doing by keeping evil God haters out of the new creation is protecting His holy children from the contamination and harm of evil. Even those in hell would be protected from harm. God is love and love protects. Justice is to protect and serve. Therefore, the kind of torment is the kind that would be calibrated just right to restrain the wicked from harming each other in hell. God therefore has morally sufficient and justifiable reasons for hell. In all likelihood there are infinitely many more reasons seeing that God is infinite in wisdom in knowledge and logical explanations are infinite in number. I trust God’s love and infinite wisdom and knowledge to run things.


#10

MUCH BETTER, however, is to have every right to destroy someone, but RATHER to love that one and bring him back to joy. That’s the God the scriptures present. That’s the only One to bring heart-peace.


#11

Dave:


#12

Cole:


#13

Dave,

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all…

Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, His authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of His goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in His providence, of Godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness so ever He bestowed, His goodness would not be so much prized and admired…

So, evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which He made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of His love. And if the knowledge of Him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect. - Jonathan Edwards

The happiness here isn’t cruel and sadistic. As Edwards and Aquinas have stated: It’s not the suffering of those in hell in and of itself that the saints delight in but the glories of God’s love and justice. Aquinas and Edwards never taught a sadistic delight in the sufferings of those in hell. The saints delight in the suffering of those in hell only in the sense that the glory of God will appear in it. The saints will feel the intense glory of God as he shows His tender love for them by bringing His justice down on evil God haters.


#14

Cole, looks like you’ve flip-flopped to ET for the thousandth time, am I right?


#15

No. I hope everyone is saved although I don’t think everyone will be.


#16

Im sorry but the catagorization of all lost people as “god haters” belies a highly uninformed framework regarding the vast variety of unsaved people. The fact that you need to pidgeon hole all lost people as god haters speaks of the kind of compartmentalization that is required to cope with the intense cognitive dissonance created by the conflicting views of both God as love and God as torturer. Demonization of others makes it much easier to resolve all these conflicts but at what cost to our own heart?


#17

When Christ says depart from me they are separated from all mercy. As a result their heart hardens. All those in hell will hate God. You already do because of His wrath.


#18

Psalms 86:13
For great is thy mercy towards me, thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.


#19

Pastor Mark, just a warning: Hollytree changes his dogma as often as a beauty pageant contestant changes shoes. I consider him a troll, though he denies it. Engaging him is fruitless.


#20

Ok thanks. whaddaya think about ps 86:13?