Hello it’s firedup2000 again.
I originally posted this question on July 5:
I agree that just because the text of Scripture does not specifically mention a concept does not mean the concept is not valid. However, in some cases when a concept is not mentioned it is “conspicuous by its absence”. The lack of a direct statement concerning the finitude of the destruction and/or “lake of fire” awaiting present day unbelievers seemed to be just such a a case.
I do not ask this to tear down Christian Universalism but in an attempt to remove seemingly obvious exegetical barriers from a philosophically appealing view.
It is interesting to read in Revelation 21 that the kings and nations of the earth will bring their glory to the heavenly city whose gates are never closed. Perhaps this is just such a text that I am looking for.
I will continue to read and learn.
When I first submitted my question I did not anticipate that it would generate so much conversation. I read the initial posts and started to review some of the links suggested by Sonia. Unfortunately I had to leave town and could not access the Internet for a while (yes I was visiting another planet). Please do not misinterpret inability to post replies as a lack of interest or appreciation, as I did read through all of them upon my return. I think a few points are in order:
I am new to the blogging world and do not always realize the furor a question can produce.
Aaron37 is not me and I am not Aaron37 in disguise.
Aaron 37 is not my bulldog. In fact I am sympathetic to the Universalist view. However, I do appreciate his knack for drawing out many of the Universalist arguments. The exchange is enlightening.
4.) My firedup2000 userid has nothing to do with my “lake of fire” question but is a common userid I have used since 2000 related to the attitude I would like to have for Christ.
- Its probably best to not refer to me as FU2, but whatever.
Perhaps my involvement (or lack thereof) in the previous “lake of fire” thread is “conspicuous by its absence” as well. I will try to remedy that. JeffA asked for me to introduce myself a little more. Perhaps a telling of my present struggle will suffice for now. (Please forgive the length but there is alot to tell.) :
I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years. I originally came into the Kingdom with an Arminian understanding of salvation. In time I started to see how horrifying it was to believe that my perseverance was dependent upon my free will; my ability or inclination to continually trust in Christ. I then learned of the doctrine of Eternal Security which eventually led me to embrace Calvinism.
I must admit that the “L” (Limited Atonement) of the Calvinistic TULIP was problematic for me in that it seemed to bar me from being able to tell people, with any degree of certainty, that Jesus loves them and died for their sins. Arminians of course object to this as well. However, while they conceive of a God of broad and indiscriminate love, He actually comes off as somewhat impotent and cruel for creating human beings, who he sincerely loves with a desire for salvation, in full knowledge that they would not choose him. (In fact I believe a proper understanding of Total Depravity indicates that none would choose God were it not for Irresistible Grace.) Therefore I deemed myself a four-point Calvinist.
Though I recognized that most of humanity was still not the subject of Christ’s electing and redeeming love, there was at least a sense that God cared enough to go to the cross for them. This love grew out of his “will of disposition”. I accepted the idea that it was this “dispositional” love of God for all that allowed me to love and preach the gospel to all. How this was reconciled with his sovereign “will of decree”, that ultimately determined one’s fate, was a mystery I was willing to leave in God’s hands. At least this gave me a justification for approaching others “in genuine love” with the gospel.
However, as time went on I grew increasingly more uneasy about this apparent contradiction. It bothered me that I could joyously sing songs in church about “my” Redeemer knowing that some of my deceased loved ones were probably in eternal hell because they actively denied the faith. How could I keep that Christian smile plastered on my face knowing that the mass of humanity, who I am presently called to love, will share their fate? This seemed to imply that I did not really love them. What kind of monster was I? Yet this is the exact attitude that God seemed to be calling me to have.
How would I cope with this once I was in heaven? A well-intentioned Arminian friend of mine suggested that once we are in heaven God would remove our memory of lost loved ones and He alone would bear the misery of knowing about their eternal fate. But isn’t there reason to believe that we will remember our lives on Earth and rejoice in the way God directed them and used people, saved or not, to bring us to faith? How do we just remove the memory of people from our existence without removing the content of our lives? This isn’t the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” with a Hollywood script writer who can surgically remove a person from someone’s memory without disrupting every other contingency.
The moments of our lives are intertwined with people who may not be saved, yet they are objects of our love and play important roles in almost every event. In fact if we are truly loving, God would have to remove the memory of just about every person we meet who is unsaved. But even if there was a way to surgically remove our unsaved loved ones from our memories, other unsaved souls would undoubtedly be the loved ones of someone else in heaven. How would we communicate with others in heaven concerning events that involved the loved one of one saved person but not the other saved person? The loved one would be removed from the memory of one saved person but not the other which would make the communication impossible. It doesn’t take long to see that in order for God to shield us from the pain of the loss of our loved ones, he would have to wipe the slate clean in each of our minds. This life would need to be forgotten completely.
Some have suggested that the wonder of God’s glory will be so consuming that it would push the thought of our lost loved ones so far out of our thoughts that it wouldn’t really matter that they exist somewhere in our memory. But if God’s glory is so all-consuming that this would occur, is it not reasonable to believe that it would push the memory of everything from this life out of our thoughts? Likewise, what happens to the memory of various events in our lives when significant, but unsaved people, are pushed out of our thoughts? Again we are in the same situation of an eternity that bears no meaningful remembrance of the temporal life we live now; an eternity that makes no use of the events of our existence now in order to glorify God in the future.
Some have even suggested that God will simply rewrite the story of our lives to include only the loved ones that are saved while removing those who aren’t. However, again it must be pointed out that if we are truly loving, this could involve a major rewrite, removing just about every person we meet. This also involves a deception on God’s part.
Removing individual people from our memories, erasing memories, allowing memories to be pushed out of our minds , rewriting our memories: Does this seem like the way God would do things?
Moreover, what kind of heaven would it be if God alone is bearing the misery of lost souls forever. Do we really want to believe that while we are rejoicing and experiencing perfect bliss, it is only done so at the ongoing expense of God’s disappointment?
No, my Calvinistic understanding told me that God would not be disappointed but would be satisfied in the end. Perhaps I would just be so enamored with God and the wonder of heaven that I would no longer care about the lost souls in Hell, and neither would God. “After all, they are getting what they deserve and what they wanted.” This is the best I could come up with. Oh yes, I wholeheartedly admitted that were it not for the Irresistible Grace of God, I would be receiving the same. No, I adamantly did NOT believe that I deserved any better, but that my salvation was entirely due to God’s sovereign electing choice which was not based upon my righteousness or willing. Nevertheless the doctrine of “eternal torment for some” did lend itself to the idea that God was calling me to join Him in a "serves you right” attitude.
As much as my 5-point Calvinistic pastor urged me to love people and “go on mission” in the world, I started to notice that the lack of certainty about God’ s ultimate attitude towards people served as a psychological barrier to truly do so. How can I pour my love into other people without the assurance that God has at least as much love for them? How can I earnestly contend for their salvation today knowing that for most of them, or even some of them, a tomorrow will come when I will not really care about their damnation? Though these questions bothered me, I tried not to think about it, and continued to raise my hands in worship at church like any other good Christian.
Everything hit the fan when my son, who I truly love more than words can express, started to have intellectual problems with the Bible and became agnostic. While we converse on this and have a great relationship, suddenly this subject was not an abstract problem. I could no longer find contentment in the Christian doctrine. I really had to grapple with the idea that he could be separated from me forever in hell. The mere contemplation of such was an agony beyond words… beyond comprehension. Make no mistake about it, potential future Hell for him is actual present day Hell for me.
A reading of Jonathan Edwards’ paper “The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous” (biblebb.com/files/edwards/contemplated.htm) counsels me not to fret because, though I am to love my son now, I will hate him then, and rejoice in his never ending torment, when I see that God hated him all along:
Randy Alcorn, author of the book Heaven, concurs even suggesting in an online article (epm.org/resources/2010/Mar/26/if-our-loved-ones-are-hell-wont-spoil-heaven/) that once God’s gifts are removed from those we love we will see them as they truly are and agree with their eternal torment:
This makes me ask: “Shouldn’t we only love and want whoever and whatever pleases and glorifies and reflects God now? If we were to love anything else now wouldn’t that dishonor God? Therefore, by expressing indiscriminate love to everyone now, are we not in danger of loving someone God hates”
Others in church would counsel that this is all a mystery that our minds cannot resolve today but will make sense in the next life. I was told to “Keep loving your son and fighting for his soul.” I thought that maybe I could find some comfort in this, believing that the contradiction would eventually be resolved and all would be bliss in heaven regardless of how I feel about it today. But then I realized any comfort would come at the price of my present day sanity, and I do mean that literally. The love and concern I was feeling, and that God seemed to be calling me to presently have, for my son, was just too great for me to fathom the idea that it might be reversed in heaven.
Formerly, I expected to spend the rest of my life rejoicing in the fact that my son and I served and loved the one true God and would be with Him forever. This made up a large content of our prayers and worship as he grew up. This is what he expected as well; at least until recent months when he hit “intellectual barriers”. In any case, how was I supposed to feel now?! Was I to?:
a. experience daily terror for his soul. b. rejoice that he will one day fuel the fires of hell to glorify God and enhance my appreciation of God and heaven.
Option (a) would seem to ruin the joys of both Earth and heaven while option (b) would seem to contradict one of the very reasons we are to rejoice in our children. In fact, it would seem that the preponderance of Scripture specifically bars us from presently having the attitude of option (b) for anyone, at least as it concerns eternal punishment. Yet if we maintain a doctrine of God ordained “eternal torment for some”, logic would seem to call for it now.
I could no longer handle the well-intentioned exhortations to just leave this apparent mystery in God’s hands. I am not wired this way. It was as if God was calling me to literally go “out my mind” just to survive, albeit in an insane asylum. Either that or consider this life, and the emotions and attitudes we are commanded to feel, to be based on a mere illusion that does not reflect ultimate reality. Believe it or not, I actually tried to do this but could not help seeing life as just a game we are forced to play along with until the true reality is revealed in heaven. This seems to be more akin to the mysticism of Hinduism than Christianity. I thought Christianity was supposed to affirm the reality and importance of matter and our present existence. Is God playing tricks with me? Such thinking leads me to wonder if my own faith is but an illusion. I thought Calvinism would give me assurance and peace but now it provides the exact opposite.
What kind of monstrous and deceptive God is it that we Christians have?!
It was at this time I realized that whatever love I had for other family members, who either died in unbelief or currently walk in it, was not very deep or genuine. I also realized that whatever love I claimed to be expressing for our lost world was even shallower. For now I knew the agony true love can produce in a person when faced with the prospect that the object of their love may face eternal torment.
Moreover, we are always taught in any church, be it Calvinistic or Arminian, that God’s love for souls is infinitely greater than our own and that this quality of love is the goal we should strive for. I wholeheartedly agree. I confess that my earthly ability to love my son is dwarfed by God’s ability. I believe that I am supposed to love others like God loves them. However, if I was to love my son anymore, faced with his current agnosticism, it would kill me this very day. Perhaps the only reason the men in white suits have not taken me away yet is because my love for my son is lacking. Is this something I should be thankful for?! That the deficiency of my ability to love my son, though still immense, is preserving my sanity in the midst of the terror I presently experience for him?!
In an attempt to show the absurdity of my reasoning, someone recently pointed out to me that this is the ‘lot’ for all parents. When they bring children into the world they don’t know what their children will choose just as I don’t know what my son will ultimately choose. My son, as a young adult, is just a little older than the little kids of other parents and he can express himself more intelligently. “But God still calls us to have kids and take that risk, just as he took a risk in creation,” so I am told.
Is this supposed to make me feel better about the situation?! To my mind it just makes God’s program of procreation seem all the more ludicrous. Even if it could be argued that most children of believers ultimately, and finally accept the Christian faith, what about the few that don’t? Is a majority of saved children supposed to make me feel better about the supposed minority of unsaved children?
I know that I am supposed to love Christ more than my son, and I know I must choose God over my son just as Abraham did. As my son grew up I repeatedly told him that Jesus will always be there for him and that I will too. Now I have to ask: “Was this a lie?” I want to tell him that so badly now, but I am afraid I will be contradicting God’s will. After all, if God takes me to heaven and not him, I will be leaving him… forever. While it is true I will do and go wherever Jesus wants me to, I wonder if God ever intended for parents (or siblings, spouses, cousins, friends, church members etc.) to love people under the prospect of having to lose them eternally.
I must admit, with all this in mind I am afraid to love my son more than I already do. It makes me wonder if the doctrine of “eternal torment” has kept me from loving others in the past for the very same reasons. Perhaps this is why, while I am attempting to obey Christ’s commands to love and preach the gospel to unbelievers, I still secretly hold them at arm’s length on an emotional level. What incentive is there to love anybody who is unsaved, knowing that the flipside of such love is the agony of wondering whether or not they will turn to Christ?
Jesus please forgive me, but while you command me to rejoice in the message of the Gospel, I confess that the “news” no longer seems “good”.
I realize that many of the questions raised here are more philosophical than exegetical. I wonder if there is anybody else out there who experienced or is experiencing similar struggles. I assume that most people were not converted from atheism (or false religion) immediately to Christian Universalism. What was it that pulled you from a traditional Christian approach to Christian Universalism? Was it purely the text of Scripture or did it also have to do with a personal experience and its influence upon your philosophy? Any comments are welcome.