Erasing Hell: Might Makes Right (Jeff Cook)

By Jeff Cook

Erasing Hell – Might Makes Right

Hell is making us all think really hard about God. In order to push our thinking I am working through a few big ideas in Dr. Preston Sprinkle and Francis Chan’s recent book, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and What We Have Made Up. I have deep admiration and respect for these two men, and their book is worth our careful reading and engagement.

To get things going let me float our question right up front: Does God’s immense power and knowledge give him “the right” to do whatever he wants?

A central claim of Chan and Sprinkle—which creates their foundation (and breathing room) for embracing the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious torment—is the idea that whatever God chooses to do is, by definition, “right”. At the outset, the writers in defining the purpose of their book say,

“This book is actually much more than a book on hell. It’s a book about embracing a God who isn’t always easy to understand, and whose ways are far beyond us; a God whose thoughts are much higher than our thoughts; a God who, as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, has the right to do, as the psalmist says, “whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3). God has the right to do WHATEVER he pleases. If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s this last line. And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3 (p.17, emphasis theirs).

Though the word “right” (which adds a moral element) does not appear in Psalm 115, this is a foundational idea at work in Erasing Hell. The writers fall back on this argument and use the language of God having the “right” to do whatever he wishes throughout the text, and from this argument they establish that, because God is supremely powerful and all-knowing, God has the moral authority to create a state of eternal conscious torment if he so desires.

The authors’ most thorough construction of this argument comes in chapter 6—the most important and philosophically-charged chapter in the book—in which they examine a portion of Romans 9. Referring to a metaphor used by Paul, they say, “We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how he is going to deal with people. Because He’s the Potter and we’re the clay” (131).

Now, is this a worthy use of Romans 9? Morally, can a creator do whatever he wishes with his creation? I’m not sure this is a principle Paul would affirm.

For example, let’s imagine that I have the power to create 3 year olds out of thin air. Because I am the “creator” of such three year olds, do I then have the moral “right” to do to those 3 year olds whatever I wish? Push them in front of busses for fun? Poke out their eyes to defend my glory? Molest them to my heart’s content? How about in the case of God? Let’s imagine that God creates a little kid (that looks an awful lot like a kid you care about), and he chooses to place them in a microwave on low for entertainment until they explode. Because God is “the Potter” does he have the moral right to do this with his “clay”?

Well, if by “right” we mean “the ability to do so,” then I suppose he does. God is quite powerful. But if by “right” we mean the moral authority to do whatever one wishes and remain good, act justly, be kind and compassion—this is an obvious problem. How can one act in violent, abusive, seemingly negligent and self-serving ways and remain “good”?

What Chan and Sprinkle are in essence defending is a “might makes right” principle. They consistently assert that because God has immense power and knowledge, everything he does is morally praise-worthy. As such they ask questions like, “What if God, as the sovereign Creator of the universe, decided to create “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”? … What would you do if He chose to do this? Refuse to believe in him? Refuse to be a vessel of mercy? Does that make any sense? Would you refuse to follow him? Really? Is that wise?” (130)

The answer is of course, “I reject a “might makes right” theory of moral goodness, I think God agrees, and as such I think your interpretation and use of Romans 9 must be flawed. But supposing the kind of deity you are describing does exist, sure I might follow that deity out of fear, out of self-preservation, or in a state of confusion—but sheer power and knowledge do not make a god worthy of worship or affection.”

Of course, after rejecting the “might makes right” principle, we undercut the argument in Erasing Hell, and we may take the next step and affirm that—because a supremely good and loving God exists and would not actualize repugnant states of affair like the eternal conscious torment of a few million souls—we have another good reason to reject the traditional interpretation of passages on hell.

Jeff teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado, pastors Atlas Church (Greeley), and is the author of Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan, 2008) and Everything New (2012).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://peterennsonline.com Pete Enns

    Jeff, I’ve appreciated your comments about this controversy and I think you are approaching it with a level head. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

    In my opinion, there are several overlapping issues that need to be addressed, and they play off of each other. First, what does Jesus mean by “hell”? Second, are Jesus’ harsh words aimed at the hardened hearts of his Jewish audience or do they include all humans? Third, what do we make of the wrath of God? Fourth, and I think most importantly, is the biblical portrayal of God that supports (somewhat) Chan’s argument ( “a sovereign God can do as he pleases” ) a reflection of Israel’s participation in a tribal cultural, and if so, what does that hermeneutical dimension contribute to this discussion?

  • Susan N.

    Jeff, thank you. You have articulated very well several of my reservations about the whole matter of hell and God’s omnipotent prerogative to sentence millions to ECT. God’s immense power may give him the “right” to do what He wants, but the God I have come to know in my deepest being through Christ is the God whose love and desire for redemption, reconciliation tempers all of His actions. To my mind, a “might makes right” concept of God is a human projection. That’s the way we tend to operate! I’m very grateful for your “voice” speaking on this issue, and for Scot’s willingness to put this series of posts up on JC.

  • Adam

    First, being the creator does not equate to ‘might’. Your ability to create three year-olds does not make you strong it makes you a creator of three year-olds.

    So, this is not a “might makes right” principle. The principle is that of ownership. Do we humans own what we do not achieve on our own? Is life a gift or is life a right? Do we have a right to exist?

    I think this argument is off base.

    P.S. God having the ability to do whatever He wants means He can abolish hell whenever He wants. So, the argument that God’s ways are higher than our ways works on both sides of the hell argument.

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/my-contribution-to-the-erasing-hell-love-wins Justin

    Great thoughts, Jeff. Certainly how I would approach this from an interpretive, as well as philosophical, standpoint also.

    I have to say, Chapter Six was one of the more frustrating chapters to read through, partially because I expected more of a rich philosophical/telos angle. Ultimately, it appears to me that it took a much weaker approach to supposed philosophy, common sense, or even Kingdom Sense.

    I blog about this very thing and the unfolding of Judgment as regards Justice and Mercy in my latest post – my hyperlinked name points there today. The long and short of it is,

    If we-who-think/know-we’re-”in” only hope for GOD to be just, then we would, by definition be forfeiting mercy: for we are lawbreakers, born into sin, etc. However, if we wish also for GOD to be merciful, we must wish him to be Just, so as not to make Him out to be some sort of cosmic pushover. But what’s more! is that we end up with a terrifying telos or, situation, if we only hope that GOD would be merciful to us! If that proves the case, then does it not also make us guilty again by subjecting us to the measure of judgment which we exact on one another!?

    The only hope at the end of the day, then, is that GOD will prove faithful to administer justice and mercy will triumph – it’s the only way to include mercy since it de facto follows justice – without creating a Schizophrenic Mish Mash of Eschatology-Gone-Theology…

    And not to make a huge point about the analogy referenced, but I think we’d be alright with taking this analogy of Potter and Clay to the next level and even asking, does an artist, today, have the “moral right” to abuse, destroy, shatter, ruin his masterpiece? Again, to your point, they certainly could; but I think many artists would contend that what has entered into the public realm becomes a part of the public in a shared way…

  • Bill

    God is love–so says Scripture and Tradition. I cannot wrap my head around “eternal conscious torment” and love even in the same sentence, let alone being in God’s Nature.
    Just thinking, but I can accept annhilationism before I can accept the traditional view of Hell. (I am still praying over and contemplating this issue!) Thank you for your posts here, and thanks to Scot also.

  • Tim

    “a God who, as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, has the right to do, as the psalmist says, “whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3). God has the right to do WHATEVER he pleases. If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s this last line.”

    If I’m understanding Scot’s (and the author’s) reasoning here, it seems that they are both advocating ultimately subjugating one’s (fallible) conscience-based judgments as to right and wrong to what they perceive as God’s instruction on any matter.

    Here’s the danger with this type of thinking. It’s the same reasoning that the Taliban and Al Qaeda employ. One’s natural moral compass would inform anyone that intentionally murdering thousands of innocents as part of terror campaign is wrong, but done in the name of God the Taliban and Al Qaeda can effectively argue it is right. They have subjugated their conscience to their theology.

    Scot seems to be arguing to do the same. But rather than the consequence being the murder of innocents, the fallout from this type of thinking may lead to justification of otherwise absolutely heinous acts(albeit perhaps real only in the mind of the believer) to occur in the afterlife. In other words, the effect could be to lift up on a pedestal and worship a deity not of only pure good, but evil as well.

    I would note that I am not meaning to offend here, nor am I suggesting that Scot or anyone else worships an “evil” God. But I am trying to illustrate the dangers of where this type of thinking can lead.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @ Tim #6 – That is a quote from Sprinkle and Chan. Scot did not write this post.

  • Tim

    JoeyS,

    The quote was from Sprinkle and Chan, but the commentary afterwords expressing agreement was from Jeff Cook. Where I erred was not seeing that the post was written by Jeff Cook, not Scot. My apologies.

  • NoraB

    Tim,
    Jeff Cook does not agree with the quote from Sprinkle and Chan. That is the point of his post. But perhaps I’m misunderstanding the point of your comment?

  • Richard

    Spot on. My question for Mr. Cook is how does the annihilationist avoid this same charge, after all, Paul did speculate about objects of wrath prepared for destruction. Is your God more worthy of worship because he euthanisizes the three year olds instead of torturing them?

  • Tim

    NoraB,

    Well, that’s embarrassing. I’ve been trying to type this out as I’m heading out to work and read through the post too quickly. Kind of wish you could go back and delete comments you know? :)

  • Tim

    …I had thought that Jeff Cook had written:

    God has the right to do WHATEVER he pleases. If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s this last line. And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3 (p.17, emphasis theirs).

    with the quote from Sprinkle and Chan being:

    “This book is actually much more than a book on hell. It’s a book about embracing a God who isn’t always easy to understand, and whose ways are far beyond us; a God whose thoughts are much higher than our thoughts; a God who, as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, has the right to do, as the psalmist says, “whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3).

    Looks like I was wrong :(

  • http://www.ill-legalism.com rick

    I’ve had a similar argument with double-predestination Calvinist types who believe Romans 9 speaks to God creating people for no other purpose than to torture them forever in hell for his own personal honor and glory. In all fairness, they never phrase it that way themselves, but that’s the conclusion they are forced to admit to when backed into a corner.

    These same folks define sin as not just the commission of bad things but the omission of good things based on the book of James, “To him that knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin.” Since these Calvinists believe that the only effective saving force is God’s election, that puts God on the hook for not electing to save the reprobate (mainly because they are incapable of saving themselves and God seems unwilling to elect them, so they’re pretty much screwed with no real recourse). I ask them how God can remain sinless if he knows to do good, i.e. elect men to salvation, but chooses not to and in fact actively chooses to send them to eternal conscious torment for no other reason than his own personal satisfaction.

    Their only answer is that it is an eternal mystery of God’s sovereign will that is hidden to us. They have no explanation for how God can remain sinless for refusing to elect all men to salvation. It’s all “His ways are higher than our ways and beyond our understanding.” Yeah, right. I tell them we would consider a child who rips the wings off flies to be unspeakably cruel, but they seem to have no problem with a God who delights to send the victims of the Nazi holocaust to suffer eternal conscious torment alongside their Nazi oppressors and call it divine justice. I could never worship and serve such a God.

    Oh, wait, did I just invoke Godwin?

  • http://brianmetzger.blogspot.com/ Brianmpei

    @#3 Adam. The ability to create from nothing is power or might. That I can create you means I’m bigger than you and if I’m bigger than you I can do whatever I want with you. That’s the point being made.

    This particular line of reasoning was used by my O.T. prof back in the day to explain a whole lot of confusing things that God did – “keep your hands off my Ark!”

    Which is where I start to wonder. If we say that ECT is not the kind of thing Jesus would do, where do we draw the line? Is cursing the fig tree in or out? Do we toss out judgments in Revelation? Did Herod really have worms? And what really happened to Ananias and Sapphira?

    I’m not suggesting that these other things somehow support the position Sprinkle and Chan take on hell. I’m only saying this line of reasoning then makes me wonder about a whole bunch of things that have been accepted and what they say about the goodness of God.

  • Kenton

    Not a worthy use of Romans 9.

    Romans was written to a church struggling with allowing Gentiles (“outsiders”) into a circle that until then was exclusively for the Jews (“insiders”). Paul’s letter is all about recognizing that the outsiders don’t need to “convert.” In chapter 9 he explicitly says that God is opening up his mercy (not his justice) to those “outsiders.”

    Chan and Sprinkle apply the opposite of that principle into Romans 9. They say the outsiders *do* need to convert or else God will bring his judgment (not his mercy) on them.

    I think it’s a failure to see the abstract idea (“outsiders welcome”) that Paul is ultimately communicating behind the specific case of the issue facing the Roman church (“Should gentiles be circumcised?”).

  • Ty

    This just reminds me of a different angle of the Euthyphro dilemma: is something made morally right because God does it or does God do it because it is morally right. And because, in ancient/present orthodoxy of Christianity, God is the absolute of moral perfection, he would not use his power to do what is right in the moment. He would not simply put a child in a microwave to make him chuckle…I really need to read the book but it just seems that this review is just shy of convincing me. Well written, though, and enjoyable! Thanks!

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (10)Richard Asked, “how does the annihilationist avoid this same charge, after all, Paul did speculate about objects of wrath prepared for destruction. Is your God more worthy of worship because he euthanisizes the three year olds instead of torturing them?”

    A few things to say here. First, the argument from 3 years olds doesn’t apply to my position for I’m not suggesting God can do whatever he wishes and call it good. This is an argument against a might makes right metaethic.

    However, the question you ask–why think annhiliation is a good, loving and just responce to human sin–is a good one. Here’s a few thoughts. On the annihilationist view…

    (1) Hell allows human freedom to reach its climax, for those desiring to live eternally have united themselves to the only Source of Life, those who have chosen sin as master have chosen to unite themselves to death—and everyone gets what they want.

    (2) Hell is supremely merciful. To end the life of someone who has irreversibly wed themselves to sin is an act of exceeding kindness (lest such souls continue on zombie-like for all eternity).

    (3) Hell allows God to punish a Stalin or a pornographer or a slave trader in exactly the right amount before allowing their souls to pass out of existence.

    Finally, here are my all too brief thoughts on “objects of wrath prepared from destruction”:

    If we assume God has foreknowledge of all future events in any world he actualizes, and if the world God desires to actualize (for the purposes of creating the specific sons and daughters of God he desires) will contains moral evil (see John Hick, “Soul-making Theodicy”), and if some human souls will irreversibly wed themselves to such evil and not become a child of God–THEN it seems to me completely morally appropriate to allow such souls to pass out of existence. Perhaps noting the necessity of such souls in shaping other children of God. That is, these eventual “objects of wrath” are predestined for annihilation, yet the lives they have been given are (1) worth living, (2) real gifts from God that are valuable, and (3) God has not wronged such men and women by actualizing them. Not so the traditional view of hell. (Again, all too brief)

    Peace.

  • Amos Paul

    Contemporary thinkers have a lot they could learn from their Christian forefathers and thinkers in the faith.

    Most Medievals affirmed the idea that evil does not exist in and of itself but only as the privation or corruption of some good. Indeed, existence itself becomes a good then which, as Aquinas says, flows from God. And, beginning with Anselm’s Prosologion, the idea emerged that having ultimate power means having ultimate being which also means being ultimately good, and so on. All the “omni”s (Omniscient, Omni-Benevolent, Omnipowerful) are necessarily correlative one to another. You can’t have one without the rest.

    The CHRISTIAN understanding of God, then, became that *anything* God does is good by definition of it being of God. Even if we do not or cannot understand how something is good, we can be certain it IS good and that there IS a reason (or reasons) why this is so. It is not God’s might that makes it right. God’s might is rightness itself and where our *objective* ideal of goodness comes from.

    We cannot attribute intrinscially evil things to God, then, and say, “Oh, well his might makes that right.” Either it is right or it is not. If it is not, then his might would not be exemplified in something so obviously weak. Clearly, there is still the possibility that we are simply *wrong* about whether or not something is good or evil. But morality is certainly something God has given our minds to wrestle with. Our moral compass ought to be able to distinguish intrinsically good from intrinsically evil, if only in a fuzzy sense, if we are to know God at all.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    No problem, Tim.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (15) Kenton. Spot on. The context of Romans 9 is huge in understanding why Paul makes the argument and it is primarily about mercy. The potter can do whatever he wishes with the clay–say draw them into the family of God. That seems to me the main point of the chapter and its an argument against his fellow Jews who feel that the gentiles should remain outside.

  • dan reeve

    Your point would be true if it were not for the fact that God is not just the God of might but of Justice, always driven by being love. Sooo, the almighty, loving and just God can, in fact, do what ever he wants. He would not take a three year old and, for fun let’s say, throw him/her under a bus.

  • John W Frye

    rick @ 13, Your comment prompted a question: do Calvinists believe that the elect are from every nation, tongue and tribe? Do some of the elect *not* have to hear the Gospel and intentionally embrace it? Or, is the only way on the human side to know you’re elect is to intentionally embrace the Gospel?

  • http://peterennsonline.com Pete Enns

    Kenton (15) and Jeff (20),

    I agree re: Romans, and this is why these sorts of discussions have to engage pressing hermeneutical issues more than they sometimes do–which is to say, Romans is not ST 101 a letter written for people in real time situations.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (14) Brian. You asked, “If we say that ECT is not the kind of thing Jesus would do, where do we draw the line?”

    I think you need to tell a story in which the Jesus you know and love could desire the event/outcome at hand. I could see Jesus wanting to curse a fig tree (which has no cognition) in order to illustrate the judgment coming on the Jerusalem Temple. I could see Jesus wanting to judge evil and eliminate it. I could see Jesus wanting herod to have worms to illustrate his corroded insides.

    I can’t conceive of a reason why Jesus would think the indefinite torment of a human soul is valuable. So there’s where I draw the line. Peace.

  • Robert A

    Perhaps the misunderstanding is that we, finite humanity, is in no position to judge or evaluate the actions of perfect, necessary, God.

    The position of everlasting judgment for those who reject Christ is not based in God simply doing whatever He desires but being consistent with His character. God is not a monster, to attempt to say that everlasting judgment makes Him so is wrongheaded, but God is just.

    Attempting to pigeonhole the conversation into terms which appeal not to a framework of justice seems to miss the point. Again I would one to the recent text “God’s Glory Through Judgment” as a better treatment of this theme and Chan and Sprinkle.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (21) Dan. So I was waiting for this move, because it seems the logical place to go. You say, “Your point would be true if it were not for the fact that God is not just the God of might but of Justice, always driven by being love. Sooo, the almighty, loving and just God can, in fact, do what ever he wants. He would not take a three year old and, for fun let’s say, throw him/her under a bus.”

    Yes, and I can then make the further move and say God would not do other things that do not appear loving and just–for example create an everlasting torment chamber for broken human souls.

    I think Chan and Sprinkle are aware of a response like mine, and that is why they hold to simply saying God can do whatever he wishes and it would be good.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    “God is great, and God is good.” So began a “prayer” I was taught to pray as a youngster. Both have to hold true. Of course that presents all sorts of problems and questions. And sometimes we may not “get” God’s goodness, or greatness for that matter. But we have to rest assured that God is good in accord with what goodness means: something toward shalom, as given to us in scripture.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (18) Amos. Love this response. Is God significantly free on this view or he is controlled by his properties? Peace.

  • John W Frye

    If “might makes right” and “whatever is actualized is ultimately for the glory of God,” then we see that God’s glory is immune from any moral concerns whatsoever. God is glorified when Jewish teens are slowly frozen to death so that Nazi doctors can “learn” about the stamina of the human body. What seems evil to us actually glorifies God and is therefore not evil to God. This is this pathetic logic behind ECT.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (25) Robert. You say, “The position of everlasting judgment for those who reject Christ is not based in God simply doing whatever He desires but being consistent with His character. God is not a monster, to attempt to say that everlasting judgment makes Him so is wrongheaded, but God is just.”

    Two things. (1) On this view, is God determined by his character? Does he have freedom? (2) What if God has a monsterous character? That’s a possibility yeah?

  • http://brianmetzger.blogspot.com/ Brianmpei

    #24 Jeff. So you would say that as long as their is a redemptive potential to an act it is conceivably good but because there is no redemptive quality to ECT it fails?

    I’m not trying to argue ECT, just trying to clarify how you’re using “good” in this context.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (31) Brian. I think practical consequences have a major effect on whether an act is good or bad. Torturing someone with a drill in their mouth is bad. Doing the exact same action to remoive a cavity is good. The actions–drilling in one’s mouth–may be identical, but the consequences are what make one good and the other wicked. What say you?

  • Richard

    @ # 17

    Jeff, To make sure I understand what you’re saying: annihilation is a final act of God’s mercy in contrast to zombified eternity and thus it is an expression of his good, loving concern for his creatures.

  • Richard

    @ 17 You said, “Hell allows God to punish a Stalin or a pornographer or a slave trader in exactly the right amount before allowing their souls to pass out of existence”

    Would it be fair to say that your main beef with ECT is the “E” since this scenario you describe would include the might makes right aspect of punishing torment for a time? It still seems to me that “might makes right” is a leg the annihilationist is standing on here if there is a period of punishment/torment/torture before life is snuffed out.

  • http://11minas.wordpress.com Clint

    I may be on the wrong blog, but why so many philosophical arguments instead of delving into His Word? If I never had any interaction with Scripture and was asked to create a God of Love and Justice–I would not come close to the love and justice described in Scripture. Why would I tether my understanding of hell with similar conclusions?

    Many Calvinists do the same thing with doctrines like limited atonement. God loving the whole world doesn’t line up with their preconceived logic of election.

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/my-contribution-to-the-erasing-hell-love-wins Justin

    (25) Robert and similar folks speaking from the following standpoint, “Perhaps the misunderstanding is that we, finite humanity, is in no position to judge or evaluate the actions of perfect, necessary, God.

    The position of everlasting judgment for those who reject Christ is not based in God simply doing whatever He desires but being consistent with His character. God is not a monster, to attempt to say that everlasting judgment makes Him so is wrongheaded, but God is just.”

    We must still subject ourselves to some of the basic principles, rules, laws that GOD appears to also work within. Primarily, as I stated in (4), it’s all about Judgment:

    Mercy can always only follow justice.

    So it is that if we only hope for GOD to be just, then we would, by definition be forfeiting mercy: for we are lawbreakers, born into sin, etc. However, if we wish also for GOD to be merciful, we must wish him to be Just, so as not to make Him out to be some sort of cosmic pushover. But what’s more! is that we end up with a terrifying telos or, situation, if we only hope that GOD would be merciful to us! If that proves the case, then does it not also make us guilty again by subjecting us to the measure of judgment which we exact on one another?

    Sorry to be so repetitive, but it is a link that has to be made when referring to justice. It is downright wild to not consider such a thing in light of this conversation.

  • Rodney

    A better argument for Chan/Sprinkle than Romans 9 would be Romans 11–God can “break off” branches from the covenant tree if He so chooses. But, of course, they don’t want to make that argument, i.e., some can “lose” their salvation?

  • Amos Paul

    @ 28,

    I believe that Aquinas would say and agree with the assertion that God’s power is totally free to do any thing that is or can be a thing. Evil is intrinsically a non-thing. Therefore, God doing evil is contradiction. Any kind of contradiction is not possible to be willed at all, and thus one can still have totally omnipotent free will and be “unable to will” these things.

    To quote Aqunas, “Nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing.”

    Though, certainly, one might object that there are corrupt things (the bad things we know) that are not totally evil and, therfore, not totally non-things. Can God will those?

    However, the question can be re-stated. Can a morally and ultimately perfect being will to do an imperfect thing? Or, can ultimate goodness contain evil?

    I don’t think *any* of us would be inclined to believe that God *would* do evil, but I think I’d go even farther. I believe that these questions, themselves, are contradictions. Though we might be able to imagine God’s *power* being able to will something, we are too limited to fully comprehend that God’s power and goodness are literally the same thing. God. In that sense, no, I don’t think God is contradictory.

    Or, again re-stated. God is only limited in the sense that he *cannot* have a limit (infinite). Evil is a limit upon ultimate existence involving corruption of being. Therefore, it is again contradictory to imagine something limitless containing a limit such as evil.*

    *And yes, ultimately evil on this view is the complete converse of ultimate good. It is without power, without knowledge, without will, cannot and does not exist.

  • dopderbeck

    This is an extreme version of a Divine Command Theory (DCT) of ethics. It is profoundly, profoundly wrong both philosophically and Biblically, and it flies in the face of most of the historic Christian tradition. Taken to this extreme, it’s no exaggeration, IMHO, to suggest that such a version of DCT undermines the foundations of Christian faith. Who can have “faith” in an arbitrary God?

    God can indeed “do whatever He wants,” but what God “wants” is always consistent with who God is. The immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. And God is goodness, love, beauty, truth, and justice, undivided and all-together. He is not arbitrary.

    In a sense, then, there are indeed some things God “cannot” do. For example, God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2 (KJV) — or newer translations, “does not” or “will not” lie).

    If what is being called “ECT” here is true, it is not simply because God commands it, but because it truly is a good, loving, beautiful and just result.

  • Kenton

    Clint (#35)-

    Whom do you accuse of not “delving into His word?” It seems like everybody here is “delving into His word.” We may all come to different conclusions, but I don’t see anyone casting scripture aside.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @ 39, Dopderbeck – I’m not sure that Cook would disagree with you (he may, I’m just not sure of it). It seems, rather, that the focus here is on the latter part of your post:

    “If what is being called “ECT” here is true, it is not simply because God commands it, but because it truly is a good, loving, beautiful and just result.”

    The question is, how is ECT good? Is it good because God is mighty and all-knowing? Is it good because it accomplishes something “good, loving, beautiful and just?”

  • dopderbeck

    Amos (#38) helpfully refers to Aquinas and the notion of “being.” Here, I think, is an even deeper problem with Chan and Sprinkle’s version of DCT: a fundamental movement from “universalism” to “nominalism” in Christian theology starting in the Middle Ages. “Universalism” here does not mean universal salvation — it means a metaphysical belief that “things” have a “substance” beyond what is empirically perceived — that there transcendent “universals.”

    Nominalism leads to the notion that God can act arbitrarily — there are no universal essences and God can just call things whatever He wants. So, for example, God could have just as well accomplished the plan of salvation by becoming incarnate as a donkey as by becoming incarnate as a man (William of Ockham).

    Christian theology historically upheld the notion of universals. Things cannot be just any which way because things as we perceive them participate in a deeper universal ontology, ultimately in the ontology of God’s being.

    It’s easy to see how this difference traces out into theological ethics (even if the person asserting a particular ethic probably has no idea at all that there is such a difference).

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (33) Richard. I think the value judgment, “Annihilation is better than eternal zombie-ification” holds.

    (34) Richard. The “E” is the problem with ECT.

    And I do not think one must hold to a might makes right metaethic in order to inact judgment. For example:

    (1) God may subjectively believe that love is the greatest good, OR he may know that love is the greatest good (These would examples of an anti “might makes right” position.)
    (2) God may have created all human beings longing to create sons and daughters of God.
    (3) In judging a dysfunctional human soul (one that has failed to become a son/daughter of God) and allowing it to die because it has refused to unite itself to the only source of life, God does nothing unloving.
    (4) It is in no way unloving to actualize a human soul that Omniscence knows will eventually die, if that human souls temporary life isn’t altogether unworth living.

    As such, I think a consistent annihilationist can establish their position without a might makes right metaethic.

    Also, those who hold to ECT need not affirm “might makes right.” That is simply the path that Chan and Sprinkle take in order to establish the justness of ECT.

    Good stuff!

  • http://brianmetzger.blogspot.com/ Brianmpei

    #32 Jeff – I agree and I particularly think that whether something is redemptive – cavity filling – or just punitive has always been what Jesus is about now, then and in the life to come.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (35) Clint. I will be making the case next week that the intellect/philosophy are unavoidable when reading and inturpreting the Bible. Do stay tuned.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (38) Amos. Excellent. Again to push. What about God choosing between good choices. Can God choose between a good state of affairs and a better state of affairs? Do you think according to Aquinas God must (in Liebniz’s view) always choose the “best”?

    Love your contribution here.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (39) Dopderbeck. Love your concluding thought here: “If what is being called “ECT” here is true, it is not simply because God commands it, but because it truly is a good, loving, beautiful and just result.”

    To repeat myself from previous posts, the one thing I want to see from those who defend eternal conscious torment is exactly this. Why is ECT “truly good, loving, beautiful and just”.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (41) Joey. Whoops. Repeat. Ha!

  • BradK

    (39) dopderbeck and (47) Jeff,

    “If what is being called “ECT” here is true, it is not simply because God commands it, but because it truly is a good, loving, beautiful and just result.”

    IIRC, Jeff asked in a previous post or comment how can we tell the story of how ECT is “good, loving, beautiful, and just”? If we cannot possibly tell such a story, then it is only natural to question it as a sound doctrine or theological position, right?

    Fwiw, the only story/defense I have ever heard regarding ECT is basically the one Jeff is questioning here – if God does it, it’s good regardless of how evil or bad it may seem.

  • BradK

    Btw, the Arnold pic made me laugh. :-)

  • Amos Paul

    Jeff (46),

    Try not to flatter me too much ;). Sometimes I stumble upon a view that seems useful and internally consistent. In this one regard I imagine that there are many others who would say similar things as I have thus far [apparently dopderbeck, my Medieval Phi professor... etc].

    That said, I’m not personally aware whether or not Aquinas, specifically, thought God *has* to choose the best–though he certainly seems to think that God does with an unchanging will.

    As for myself, I have no problem with the Leibnizian statement that God necessarily chooses the best, but with some qualifications. Namely, I see ‘the best’ as basically equivalent to ‘the good’. I think God *is* goodness so when we consider the best, we are weighing it on the scale of He from whom goodness or the best proceeds. Therefore, his choices would also be exemplary of ‘the best’ *in a sense*.

    In a sense because I don’t think we have any reason to presume that ‘the best’ is a single option. We often imagine such to be the case, but for all we know there are millions, billions, trillions of ‘best’ decisions concerning some thing. Although we humans perhaps cannot conceive of or perceive these decisions.

    I say this to contrast against the Leibnizian conclusion that the world necessarily is as it is. That conclusions exceeds the grasp of the premise, I believe. Though perhaps there may be single ‘bests’ for our particular existence and estates, I don’t think we can then presume that such holds true for God.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    It seems much easier to dismiss this book than Bell’s, or is it just me?

  • dopderbeck

    Brad (#49) et al. — it’s beyond Jeff’s post so I don’t want to try to offer that defense here. Also, there would be lots and lots of prior work that would need to be done to define exactly what “ECT” is supposed to mean — “ECT” seems to me a loaded term. But, for now — Christian theologians from the ante-Nicene Fathers through Augustine through Aquinas justified some version or another of “ECT” without the heterodox version of divine command theory on offer from many of today’s neo-Calvinists (including Chan et al.). Generally, they combined “free will” and “best of all possible worlds” type of theodicies, and they also appealed to the monstrous gravity of sin. There were of course a handful of notable exceptions who tended towards universalism (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa). But the way in which “Hell” was understood and defended always was embedded in a rich ontology in which God’s actions were in accordance with God’s essence — not just by arbitrary command.

  • Kenton

    David (#53)-

    Part of the point of all this is to “unload” the terminology of ECT so we have a better idea of what exactly we’re talking about. I would think as an attorney you would appreciate that, no?

  • Kenton

    DRT (#52)-

    Probably. As long as you don’t factor in bias toward the status quo. :)

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (51) Amos. Good stuff. I wonder if at some point going down this road the crucifixion becomes, not an act of outrageous love, but the necessary response of the God who sees and does what is best always. That is, God could not fail to be the crucified God. If so, that takes some of the power away from God’s deeply loving acts in mind, for God seems in some sense determined. Much love.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (52) DRT. Chapter 2 is outstanding. When Dr. Sprinkle is speaking in the realm of his expertise he is really solid.

  • Amos Paul

    Jeff (56),

    I’ve heard that comment in passing before… and I acknowledge it as a concern, although I think it is on a completely different note than the goodness of God and the definition of evil in general. I see that latter distinction as the ‘categorical’ study of existence itself and the crucifixion’s antidote to sin as the study of a specific token within those categories (or whatever categories you accept).

    But on that token, I personally believe that there are ever so many powerful layers of mystery to the Christian story that may not even be comprehensible to us. However, IF the catagorical definitions of goodness and badness I’ve outlined actually do necessitate God’s action upon the cross within the context of this reality (a series of implications neither of us has, herein, traced for certain yet), I propose the following:

    Is it possible that, in the very act of Creating this existence, God chose the cross?

    I don’t think that would make Him any less merciful or powerful. And, from our perspective, I don’t think that makes the resurrection any less of a Eucatastrophe–that is, a good catastrophe. That’s a Tolkien term I’m borrowing to indicate an excellent and sudden turn of events when all else seemed to be inevitably heading towards death, despair, and destruction.

    Moreover, I also accept a Boethian view of God’s place in time. That is, from God’s ‘perspective’ he is ‘presently’ viewing, knowing, acting, and doing all things at all times. That is because He is necessarily not bound by our timeline and interacts with the whole thing at once. Within such a view, God would certainly be acting through the cross at the same ‘time’ as he breathed the world into existence.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Hey All – Off to see Rockies v. Phillies. I’ll comment again tonight and tomorrow morning on your thoughts. Much love!

  • Kenton

    Jeff (#57)-

    I found some deficiency in chapter 2 as well. It would have been better if he (they?) had developed some of the idea of where hell came from since (as they admit) “The old testament doesn’t say much about hell.” (Thomas Cahill’s “Desire of the Everlasting Hills” is an excellent and readable resource for that, and I wish they had taken more that historical context into consideration in chpt 2.)

    I questioned his use of scripture in that chapter too. E.g. I think equating Dan 12:2 with ECT is a big leap in exegesis.

    I also questioned his understanding of Gehenna. At first he says it wasn’t called a dump until 1000 years after Christ, and then he turns around and says bodies were dumped there years before Christ. Which is it?

    (I had more, but I’ll stop there.)

  • Albertomedrano

    A question that popped up while reading the post: “How would you feel if you knew you were predestined for eternal conscious torment, how would you feel towards God? And how would we feel towards those who are worshipping a God that is sending you to hell?”

  • dopderbeck

    Kenton (#54) — sure, but that’s not the point of the post.

    In my experience, people who have strong reservations about “ECT” (including myself and probably any other person who really thinks about it!) often have naive assumptions about what things like “eternal” “conscious” and “torment” must mean. We envision some Chick Tract or Halloween “Hell House” version of the ontology of Hell with literal flames and pitchforks and so-on. And we also tend to have naive assumptions about the human person and the teleology of the “soul”. We envision people “in Hell” just as they are right now sitting in their living rooms, but sitting instead in a cauldron or something. With all of that baggage, it’s almost impossible to talk about how an “eternal Hell” might be just.

    This is why, IMHO, allegories such as C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce can be helpful — they get back towards how the Fathers thought of “Hell.” Another really great contemporary allegory: the picture of Voldemort’s shrunken soul when Harry Potter is speaking with Dumbledore in the netherworld, towards the end of the final Harry Potter movie. A brilliant portrait of a soul reaching its true ends.

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/my-contribution-to-the-erasing-hell-love-wins Justin

    (60). Kenton and crew…Don’t stop there, lol! I have been researching, talking, questioning, conversating about this very topic for quite a while and one area that still seems sketchy or lost unto me is:

    Where are people getting this idea that Gehenna was or was not a “dump”? People on either side go out of their way to make their point on this issue, but I am just looking for a resource or something on this point – totally out of curiosity because I think the Cultural Mind of Judaism and even Gentiles in that time speaks more highly of the historic context of Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, etc. than just this one idea of it being a garbage dump; but still, my friends love to spout that cold water, haha! “Well, it’s just a myth!” they say…and I am like, um, well, um, but…maybe not…?

    Any hard resources for this specific point, guys?

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Jeff,

    First of all, thanks for putting a picture of yourself on this blog. I didn’t know you were so freakin ripped! Dang, man, I hesitate pushing back on your post, mainly out of fear. Please don’t break me…

    Second, I appreciate everything you’ve said. As always, you’ve challenging me to think more through these very important issues. Even as I sit here, I’ve got my NT (Testament, not Wright) open between me and my laptop and I’m scratching my head thinking, “I’ve got to make sure that what I said is grounded in the text.” So that’s always a good thing.

    Now, I don’t think I would word it as “might makes right.” I really didn’t want to convey that by any stretch. I would say: “a free creator has the right to do things that don’t make sense to us.” That seems to be the more narrow point we were making. This is quite different from “might makes right,” and I’m still not convinced that our point goes against what Scripture teaches about God.

    Jeff, aren’t there things that God does in Scripture that don’t really resonate with your moral sentiments? Anything? When God commanded Israel to run a sword through 4 year old Cannanite children playing in the fields–are you totally cool with this? Elderly women drowning in the flood; Achan’s kids (and oxen?) being stoned?

    So we never intended to suggest that God does things simply BECAUSE he is able to do them. But this seems to drive your whole post. I would love to see you re-write the post capturing the point we were actually making. Put more specifically: The Bible affirms that God has the freedom as creator to execute justice in ways that seem fit to him. (The justice part is really important, which makes your illustration about microwaving innocent kids nonsensical, though it did make me think of that scene from Gremlins.)

    (BTW, love the tone of your post; just think you’re not representing what we were saying.)

    And then there’s Rom 9. Your concerns here seem to be shared by many (well, shared by the non-Barthians among us). But I’m going to stick to what I said. Yes, of course, Paul has other overarching purposes in Romans, not least in chs. 9-11 (working out the relationship between Gentiles, Israel, Jews, the covenant, etc.). The main point in Rom 9 is to argue that the mass rejection of Christ by Jews has not nullified God’s promise to Abraham (9:6).

    We all on board with this?

    Now, to prove this, Paul reaches back through Israel’s history to show that God never promised to save every single descendant of Abraham. In fact, he elected the line of Isaac and Jacob, etc., not Ishmael and Esau.

    Does God have the right to do this? Does God have the…freedom to elect some and not others? Certainly he does. He has the freedom to have mercy on some AND the freedom to reject others. In fact, this is shown in the case of Pharaoh, and so on and so forth.

    In short, Paul ultimately wants to show that God has the freedom to pour out his mercy on Gentiles and this doesn’t mean that his promise to Israel has failed. It is this sub-argument for God’s freedom (Rom 9:14-23)–a point made in many other books (Job, Lamentations, etc.)–that we were drawing out in our book. And this doesn’t take away from Paul’s main concern in 9-11. It supports it.

    It’s a bit of a red herring to say that since Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles, we therefore can’t use Rom 9 to defend God’s freedom. Paul’s argument is much more rich than that.

    Ok, so this is where I get tarred and feathered…

  • Kenton

    David (#62)-

    YES! YES!

    It’s precisely those images (and I would add Jonathan Edwards and Dante) that Rob Bell and Francis Chan had in mind that need to (or as Francis Chan would argue “don’t need to”) be deconstructed!

  • Kenton

    Justin (#63)-

    The aforementioned “Desire of the Everlasting Hills” is my hard resource. It covers a lot more (the book is a Jesus in historical context book), but what he says about how the Jews imported the idea of hell from the Greeks during the inter-testament period is very insightful.

    And the other stuff is great too.

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/my-contribution-to-the-erasing-hell-love-wins Justin

    @64 Preston.

    Thanks for joining in conversations and lending your expertise for us to interact with – truly a blessing!

    Very simply, what do you do with the logic that Mercy, if ever extended, always only follows justice? And specifically, do you consider it a characteristic trait (if we could call it that) of GOD that he is merciful?

    Thanks again for your time!

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/my-contribution-to-the-erasing-hell-love-wins Justin

    @66 Kenton…Yeah, I have actually been through Cahill’s books – most including The Gift of The Jews, which is equally as stellar as Everlasting Hills, but I don’t recall Gehenna being tackled in that fashion – I am definitely going to revisit that later tonight.

    Thanks for the response, Kenton.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Justin (63), at the risk of self-promotion, read ch. 2 of erasing hell along with the endnotes.

    Kenton (60). I’m not sure how you got all that from reading the book. About Dan 12:2, we said:

    “The Old Testament does make a few vague references to punishment in the afterlife; Dan 12:2 is the most relevant: “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (see also Ezek 32:17-32). Such statements, though, are infrequent in the Old Testament. It’s not until the New Testament when these ideas are fully revealed.”

    How did you interpret this to mean that we were equating Dan 12:2 with ECT? We didn’t begin to discuss ECT in the Bible until the end of ch. 3.

    Also, the whole of chapter two talks about the development of “hell” from the OT to the NT.

    And about the garbage dump myth, I’m rubbing my eyes trying to figure out how you read that section in the book and concluded: “I also questioned his understanding of Gehenna. At first he says it wasn’t called a dump until 1000 years after Christ, and then he turns around and says bodies were dumped there years before Christ. Which is it?”

    Here’s the excerpt of what we actually said:

    “So what was it about the Hinnom Valley that forged the word Gehenna into an image of fiery judgment? In the Old Testament, the Hinnom Valley was the place where some Israelites engaged in idolatrous worship of the Cannanite gods Molech and Baal. It is here, in fact, where they sacrificed their children to these gods (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6) making them “pass through the fire” (Ezek 16:20-21). When Jeremiah began to preach, the Hinnom Valley began to take on a metaphorical reference where the bodies of the wicked will be cast (Jer 7:29-34; 19:6-9; 32:35). “Behold days are coming…when it will no more be called…the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter” (Jer 7:32). Jews living between the Testaments picked up on this metaphor and ran with it. The word Gehenna was widely used by Jews during the time of Jesus to refer to the fiery place of judgment for the wicked in the end times, as we have seen.

    For first-century Jews, the violent image of evildoers being punished in the Hinnom Valley provided a fitting analogy for God punishing the wicked in hell. Since Jesus lived and taught in this setting, His unqualified references to Gehenna would have been taken to mean the same thing, unless He specified that He had something else in mind—a question which we will explore in the next chapter.”

  • Kenton

    Preston (#64)-

    Welcome back! I did get a chance to read your book since Jeff’s last blog post.

    I don’t know if you read my comment #15, but I stand by that. You can’t rightly twist a text that says “God is free to be merciful even though you wouldn’t be” to read “God is free to kick some @$$ even though you wouldn’t”.

  • Amos Paul

    @ 64 Preston Sprinkle,

    If you have time, I’d love to hear you view on this specific qurstion. Basically, the view I’ve argued for on this blog’s comments.

    Are we not supposed to know God by how His character lines up with our conception of goodness in its ultimate form? Are our moral intutitions useful in apprehending who and/or what He is?

    I ask this because, if God is totally inexplicable to us via his actions that appear to oppose our moral intutions–how is He knowable at all? How do we know that HE is the Almighty and not some other (say, Muslim) definition of God?

    I see proper morality as one of our connections with God. What do you see connecting us in confidence with who and what He is (if anything)?

  • Amos Paul

    *Wow, embarrasing typos. I meant to say ‘you view on this specific question’. Sorry for not editing my comment, hah.

  • Joe Canner

    Kenton #60: I had similar concerns with Chapter 2. The argument seems to be that the inter-testamental Jewish literature supports Hell and Jesus didn’t contradict them, therefore they must have been right. I wonder, though, where the Jewish authors got their ideas from, since they aren’t in the OT. Did they just take a stab in the dark and happened to get it right? Were they inspired? Reading some of the context around those Jewish writings I get the sense that there was a lot of imprecatory wishful thinking involved, aimed at any of a number of tyrants who were persecuting the Jews at the time. Are there any scholars who have explored this line of thinking? Perhaps Dr. Sprinkle has some thoughts on this…

    As for Jesus, I can think of some reasons why he wouldn’t have bothered to contradict the Jewish literature, not the least of which being that it was irrelevant to the point he was trying to make (which often had to do with cautioning Jews not to rest on their laurels or they would be replaced by Gentiles).

  • Kenton

    Preston (#69)

    How did I interpret that to mean you were equating Dan 12:2 with ECT??? Wasn’t the point of your book to show that the end for God was to consign some folks to ECT??? That intent was pretty clear to me from Francis’ introductory video. I would gather that most of your readers would have made the connection.

    I don’t have your book here with me at work. (I do have access to the notes), but I could’ve sworn you made a mention that Rob Bell’s referring to Gehenna as a dump didn’t work because Gehenna wasn’t called a dump until… sometime in the 2nd millenium was it? If I’ve sloppily misattributed that to you I do apologize.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Kenton and Justin,

    Cahill is a brilliant writer and a great thinker. But he’s not an expert in Second Temple Judaism. If you want a good resource on these issues, you should start by reading stuff by Richard Bauckham (the dude who wrote the 2Pet/Jude commentary in the Word Biblical series).

    Does Cahill really say that “Jews imported the idea of hell from the Greeks during the inter-testament period?” That’s pretty naive and historically inaccurate, and it proves my point above.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Kenton (74),

    No, that’s true about the middle age myth. It’s your earlier comment about us contradicting ourselves in the book (it was a dumb, it wasn’t a dumb, etc.) that I was trying to clarify.

    Everyone (1-75), I’ve really got to get to work before I get fired! Email me if you want to chat (my email’s on my website).

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    (myself, 76) Ha! Not “dumb” but “dump.” I’m so dumb…or dump

    p

  • http://justinpheap.posterous.com/my-contribution-to-the-erasing-hell-love-wins Justin

    @69 Preston Sprinkle replied to my request (63) and wrote, “At the risk of self-promotion, read ch. 2 of erasing hell along with the endnotes.”

    Please correct me if I am wrong, there is literally zero references to “mercy” in Chapter 2 or it’s end notes.

    I have read it once before. Then just scanned the entire chapter and end notes. Am I missing something or are you not responding to my questions posed in 63?

  • Kenton

    Thanks for dropping by, Preston.

    But come back rather than looking to take the conversation offline! We’re all friends here!

  • dopderbeck

    Preston said: Put more specifically: The Bible affirms that God has the freedom as creator to execute justice in ways that seem fit to him.

    I respond: But, the Bible and Christian theology also affirm that creation flows from who God is, that God’s goodness and justice are embedded in creation (natural law), that God always acts in accordance with His goodness and justice, and that God’s justice is in fact “Just”.

    Therefore, it is not really correct to say that because God is the creator he has “freedom” to execute “justice” in any ways that merely “seem fit to him.” “Justice” has ontological content precisely because of the doctrine of creation!

    I’m not sure if you realize it, but the way in which you seem to be reducing God to bare sovereignty makes both ethics and faith impossible. It evacuates “justice” of any meaningful content. It undermines any belief that God will keep his own promises. And it is most certainly not how Christians historically have read the Bible or understood ethics, at least not before the rise of scholastic nominalism.

    Now, if you want to make the much more modest claim that, epistemically, we as human beings will not always understand precisely why or how God’s actions ultimately are “good” and “just” — I would be on board with you there. But I take you to be making a much broader claim here. The way you’ve stated it here frankly seems to me on balance not Biblically supported, theologically heterodox, and spiritually dangerous.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    Jeff (43), actually I would say the “T” is more the problem than the “E” in ECT when, as is often the case, it is externalized as punishment or torture inflicted by God on some. In other words, he offers love, warmth, and comfort to some, but punishment and torture to others.

    It’s impossible to have a coherent discussion about hell today without discussing your understanding of the nature of God, the nature of the plight of humanity, the purpose of the Incarnation, and what Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. A person’s view on hell necessarily flows from that understanding. Views on all of those today are so wildly divergent, it’s unsurprising that views on hell are also so divergent.

    I will note that that “traditional” (or at least the oldest and most traditional I can find) view of hell is not what most people seem to mean by that phrase. The traditional view is that we will all experience the same unveiled and inescapable light and love of God. There is no question of God’s attitude or actions toward us. We see that fullness in Jesus of Nazareth. The question is not about how God sees or treats us — that was answered on the Cross. Rather, the question is more about us. Do we experience God as light and comfort or as consuming fire. The Voldemort imagery toward the end of the Deathly Hallows is actually a pretty good illustration.

  • http://www.raisinghellbook.com/ Julie Ferwerda

    I don’t know how else to contact you, but really enjoyed this post and think this is a crucial topic right now with all the books defending hell coming out. I wonder if you’d like to do a blog review of my latest book, “Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire”? It came out a couple weeks ago on Amazon and we have dozens of reviews already for you to peruse (on Amazon) if you’d like to see what others are saying. You can also visit our book website or my personal website for more information. I hope to hear from you!

  • http://holyskinandbone.blogspot.com/ Kevin

    This is part of the reason I have suggested that Rob Bell’s book is erroneously titled. That is, if what he claims is true–that God values our freedom so much so that he honors the choice of those who would rather be separated from Him for all eternity–then love does not in fact win. I use the following analogy. Suppose one of my children is abusing drugs. Suppose that if I allow them to abuse one more time they will be irretrievably lost. Does a loving parent say: “Well, I value your freedom so much that I will allow you to make that choice.”? Or does a loving parent instead say, “While I value your freedom to choose I do NOT value it more than I value you. Sorry, but I’m throwing your butt in rehab.” While God very obviously values our freedom VERY highly indeed (look at some of the awful things God is willing to put up with premortem!!!!), I cannot imagine that God values the property of human freedom MORE THAN he values the humans who have that property. That, to me, would not look like love. Perhaps freedom is a relative and not an absolute good. Perhaps God gives us the longest leash possible, stretching far, far into eternity. But if ever a time came when with one more free act someone would permanently and irretrievably destroy themselves, perhaps just then God steps in says, “Sorry; I love you too much to allow you to do that.” That it seems would be love winning. To use your words, if a “supremely good and loving God exists and would not actualize repugnant states of affair[s] like the eternal conscious torment of a few million souls—we have another good reason to reject the traditional interpretation of passages on hell.” I guess I’m suggesting that allowing someone to eternally destroy themselves is a morally repugnant state of affairs.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am curious whether the authors, partly at least, choose hell because of their perception of the effect of the threat of hell on the population as opposed to it truly being a rational thing for god to do. Said another way, the same people who lecture on sin also seem to be the ones who are pro hell and in both cases, it seems to me, they feel that _other_ people need the fear of god, so to speak, to make them be good.

    If no one else was alive, would Chan feel god should have the threat of hell hanging over Chan’s head strictly because god did not destine him to love?

  • dopderbeck

    A thought experiment for the notion that God as creator is free to execute justice however seems fit to him:

    In the Bible’s portraits of the eschatological last day, there is a mutuality of relations between the Father and the Son. The Son demonstrates his obedience to the Father and the Son is glorified as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (E.g., Christ hands over the Kingdom to the Father as described in 1 Cor. 15. As described in Rev. 21 and 22, God and the Lamb are the “temple” of the new creation, the Kings of the Earth bring their splendor into the temple, the throne of God and of the Lamb reign over the heavenly city, and everyone whose name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life rejoices in the new creation.)

    Imagine that the Father receives the Kingdom from the Son and says: “sorry, as the free creator of this new creation, I have decided not to glorify you. Get out, and take the people in that book of yours with you….”

    Would this be “just?” Would God the Father be “free” to act this way?

    Just to ask these questions, I think, is to show that they are absurd. Such a scenario would set up an impossible opposition within and among the Trinitarian persons of the Godhead. Obviously, God is not “free” to act in a way that would involve a war among the Trinitarian persons — and He is not “free” to act in this way with respect to the creation that is the act of the Triune persons.

    To ask such questions also shows, I think, that no account of creation and ethics can rest only on God’s bare sovereignty. The starting point is the Trinity, not the “attribute” of sovereignty merely construed as bare, “free” power.

  • Richard

    @ 81

    Absolutely agree, which is why I’m surprised that Jeff’s main concern is the “E.” I’m more concerned about the “T” if we’re talking about goodness. God’s at least more good than the CIA, right?

    I’m not sure how temporary punishment/torment without a greater purpose is okay as long as its not everlasting. That’s why I tend toward the UR end of things…

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    In defense of E rather than T, and this is similar to the argument I make for wrath of god, people are T’ed by seeing a cake they can’t eat and many other things. Depends on the T. But E, E is forever….

  • Paul Johnston

    Did God create Hell? I suppose so, in the same way you would say God created nuclear weapons and disposed that the U.S. government should annihilate the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the same way God created the ovens at Dachau.

    Maybe we created hell, or better yet, hell either on earth or in the afterlife, is a consequence of our choices. Changes in human behavior will close the doors to hell. To think otherwise is to indulge evil.

    This entire thread has wrongly pre-supposed God as architect of Hell. It is the creation of Satan and man. God in His infinite justice and love tolerates what his creatures freely and knowingly choose. The consequences are theirs, not His.

  • Paul Johnston

    Forgive my last sentence, I consider it partially errant. Infinite justice makes the consequences ours. Infinite love renders a Son to the Cross on our behalf.

    If there is no hell, no other option for man but eternity with God. Why bother with morality? Let us simply defer to natural selection and act wholly in our material self interest, and then we die.

    If their is no hell, why the Cross? What were we being saved from?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Paul Johnston#89, My favorite visual for the concept you discuss comes from Rob Bell’s book. He says something like hell is full of people with the doors locked from the inside.

  • Richard

    @ 88-90

    The problem with the picture of hell being locked from the inside is that it entails God surrendering sovereignty over a portion of his creation, albeit a miserable part.

  • dopderbeck

    Incidentally, there is an excellent entry by D. Stephen Long in the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology on “Moral Theology.” Long encapsulates what I’ve been driving at:

    Moral theology assumes the doctrines of creation and salvation, which are grounded both in the procession of that love which is the ‘gift’ of the Holy Spirit and in the procession of the image, which is the Son. Although creation is purely gratuitous and non-necessary, it is not arbitrary. It has a purpose which is both disclosed by and accomplished in the incarnation of the Son, ‘the Image’ of God.

    The vision of the Triune God, disclosed in the procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father, is thus the ground of how we think of what is “just” or “good.” And this supplies the basis for some concept of a non-arbitrary “natural law” and a non-arbitrary governance of creation by God.

    There also is an excellent entry in the same volume by Stephen Holmes on “The Attributes of God.” Holmes (p. 63) notes the problem of nominalism that arises of “good” is simply a term without any objective content: “God may [then] be capricious, unaccountable (if nominalism were correct, how could Abraham demand ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?)”

  • Kenton

    Paul (#89)-

    The same question could be asked of traditional evangelical doctrine of salvation from damnation.

    If man spends eternity with God simply on the basis of a profession of faith, why bother with morality? Let us simply make said profession of faith and act wholly in our material self interest and then we die.

    I don’t think the life aionios (“life eternal” or how I prefer to read it: “the life of all time”) that Jesus calls us to is about acting in our own material self-interest. The life of all time that Jesus calls us to is one of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That life is SO much better than a life acting wholly in material self-interest. Once you get that, you understand what it means to follow Jesus (to me, anyway).

  • Aaron

    plus doesnt the whole argument of “his ways are not our ways, so we can’t really understand God’s Justice” open the door to complete moral relativism. Isn’t our basis for moral direction based on God? If we can’t understand Gods Justice than what is to stop a person from engaging in heinous sin and then simply say who says what I did was wrong, no one can really know because his ways are not our ways.

  • Joe Canner

    @90-91: “…the doors of Hell are locked on the inside” is usually attributed to C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain), who said that the damned would not want to leave Hell because
    “[t]hey enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded…” This seems somewhat speculative, however, and begs the question as to why God’s love and grace could not penetrate a locked door and why a door locked from the inside could not at some point become unlocked.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Kenton#93, Yes!

    You have to lose your life to find it. Doing things out of fear of hell is a selfish thing, not something in keeping with the ways of Jesus. Living in the KoG is not a difficult thing, it is a fun and incredibly rewarding thing if you lose yourself. Doing it out of a fear of hell is putting yourself first! It is anti-Christian.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Joe#95 “and begs the question as to why God’s love and grace could not penetrate a locked door and why a door locked from the inside could not at some point become unlocked.”

    Hence Rob Bell’s book.

  • ao

    Paul (#89),

    I think your second paragraph illustrates DRT’s (#84) hunch exactly. I feel like you’re saying that without the threat of Hell, people would have no reason to behave morally. Is the only reason you behave morally because you are afraid of Hell?

    One of the stronger parts of Bell’s book is his critique of traditional ways that we’ve presented our understanding of Hell. If we took away hell (which he never advocates, btw), then no one would want to become a Christian and behave themselves! God forbid someone follow Jesus out of love rather than fear.

  • dopderbeck

    Aaron (#94) said: If we can’t understand Gods Justice than what is to stop a person from engaging in heinous sin and then simply say who says what I did was wrong, no one can really know because his ways are not our ways.

    I respond: this is an important and excellent point. In very strong versions of divine command theory ethics, the response is: “because we have God’s commands, such as the Ten Commandments, in scripture.”

    A big problem I have with this response is that it assumes that God’s communication of those commands to us is meaningful, reliable, and non-arbitrary. But if God is “free” to issue arbitrary decrees, then who is to say that, tomorrow, God won’t simply issue a new decree reversing the Ten Commandments and punishing everyone who theretofore had been keeping the Sabbath and honoring their parents and so on?

  • Patrick

    Doperdeck,

    Good point, seems Yahweh is restrained by His character from doing certain things, such as lying, acting outside His essence, etc. Otherwise the Bible is a joke.

    Concerning this return to “the hell question”, there are OT antecedents we could allude to in a way.

    Are there OT examples when Yahweh ends up saying this(my vernacular), “OK, you don’t want My rule, have some other ruling you then”?

    I think there are.

    I think it is most likely “hell” is permanent rule from some “god” other than El Elyon myself. That’s been Yahweh’s Biblical revealed pattern so far with humans who rejected His rule.

    To me this isn’t punishment, it’s honoring the free will His imagers have. We who choose Him get Him, we who do not, get the alternatives.

  • Patrick

    Isn’t Romans 9 context Paul telling us Yahweh can elevate whomever He pleases? He can choose Jacob and not Esau, isn’t that an example?

    He can assign empire from Babylon to Persia, things like that?

  • dopderbeck

    BTW, it might be helpful to add a link demonstrating that careful Calvinists also agree that God is not “free” to act contrary to God’s own nature: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/05/does-god-have-libertarian-freedom-a-response-to-roger-olson/

    There simply is no strand of serious, historical Christian thought in which God’s judgments can be arbitrary and still be called “just.”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Atrick#100 and Dopderbeck (as well as my follow Jesus comments) I have been struggling with 1 Cor 5:4-5 referring to the man who sleeps with his father’s wife:

    When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, 6 and I am with you in spirit, 7 along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5:5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved 8 in the day of the Lord.

    I feel this pulls a couple concepts together from this conversation. What is going on here. Here is a case where the other ruler purifies! What is going on here?

  • Dana Ames

    As Scott M #81 says, this discussion is a part of the whole “ball of wax” that encompasses one’s views on the points he listed.

    David @85 and 92, I’m hesitant to to with you to the point of God not acting in contradiction to God’s “essence”. As you know, in the East God’s “essence” is believed to be unknowable. A big part of the difference between the western and eastern views is that the western folks have tried to understand all those things Scott M listed by starting with the “essence” of God and seeking to enumerate attributes, etc. The eastern folks have approached understanding of God through the Persons and their actions which we apprehend (“energies”), which is what led Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Nineveh and the Aeropagite and Maximus the Confessor to where they went.

    But, you are absolutely (!) correct to bring the discussion to the Trinity, and to reference someone who
    discusses God’s freedom in terms of freedom from necessity – that is, God is not obligated – not by any characteristic or attribute within or outside the Godhead – to do anything in order to ensure God’s own existence or “rights” or “glory”. It is in the relationship of the Trinitarian Persons to which we have to look to find some clarity about all this. One of the problems of ECT, as with penal atonement theories, is that it sets the Persons of the Trinity against one another.

    So it’s not simply “freedom” that is at issue, but “freedom from necessity”. But that, and the points Scott M bring up, are difficult, if not impossible, to encounter in these discussions.

    Dana

  • Amos Paul

    Dana,

    Saying that God does not act in contradiction to his own essence is different than claiming that one knows or can know God’s essence. Case in point–Thomas Aquinas, Moses Maimonides, and all sorts of folks stated outright that God’s essence cannot be known. But they still claim that we can know things about God indirectly which give us a sense concerning Him. For instance, to say that God is infinite and omnipotent is merely to say that He is absolutely without limits.

  • Patrick

    DRT,

    My take on that verse is Paul is saying turn this man over to the devil for discipline and this discipline will cause him to repent and get back on track with honoring Christ and in the “day of The Lord” his spirit will be saved.

    In this instance, “saved” means saved from awful judgment at the Bema seat of Christ, IMO.

    BTW, this answer is based on the fact that later this man was re-entered into fellowship with the Corinthian Church.

    In a sense, this man’s negative volition has led him to desire rule by satan as opposed to Christ though he was a believer. We do that a lot, I don’t care what theological angle we come from, every believer is a terrible failure sometime.

  • Dana Ames

    Amos,
    Yes, we can know things about God indirectly. The genius of the Eastern Fathers is that they gave us some vocabulary for that (the “energies” of God) which the west has not really latched on to. God is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). We derive attributes of God by observing God’s “energies” – the apprehendable actions of the Persons (hypostases) of the Godhead – not from knowledge of God’s “essence”. There’s a difference. This avoids circumscribing God, and allows God to be both immanent and transcendent in a more complete way.

    If you’re interested in this, try C. Yannaras, “On the Absence and Unknowability of God” – a small book, chock full of good stuff; or (pseudo-) Dionysius the Aeropagite, or Maximus the Confessor or Gregory Palamas.

    Dana

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    I’ll add to Dana’s comments that everything we can say about God describes his actions. We say he is Triune. That means that he exists in active communion. We say he is love, by which we mean he acts in ways that conform to what we understand and what the Scriptures describe as love. (Think 1 Cor 13.) We say he is omniscient, which is a way of saying that he exists knowing all things. The list goes on. That’s what is meant by saying the essence of God is unknowable, but we can know him (and indeed participate in) his actions or energies.

    It’s impossible to discuss “hell” until you agree on the God you envision or know. That was my main point. I agree with the Orthodox on virtually every point that matters not because they convinced me intellectually, but because they describe the God I encountered. Everyone else? Not so much.

    The problem is that most of what is called “God” in these “hell” discussions looks almost nothing like the God the Orthodox describe and whom little pluralistic me encountered.

    I still haven’t come to grips with that. Sometimes I think it would have been simpler if I had remained Hindu in my perspective.

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    Are we talking about the same Bible? the same God? Since the scripture specifically tells us that God is love (I John 4:8) and also gives us a definition of love (I Corinthians 13:4-8), we have a context with which to understand the rest of the story of the Bible. Read those verses until they sink into your beings. Then, read Isaiah 45:22-25 and Isaiah 25:6-8–this is God’s purpose.

    Guys, God is not sitting up in heaven deciding who He is going to strike down and who He is going to bless. Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and find out that we are the ones who choose life or death, blessings or cursings. Read Ephesians 6:11-13 and I Peter 5:8-10 and understand that we have an enemy whose goal is our destruction. It is simple–God is good and Satan’s kingdom is evil.

    We are called to take our places as sons of God and to overcome and defeat the kingdom of evil. [Remember, we overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).] There is only way we can do that–to seek God for His knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (64) Preston.

    Hey man, thank you again for responding online. It’s great for me and for the readers of Scot’s blog.

    You asked, “Jeff, aren’t there things that God does in Scripture that don’t really resonate with your moral sentiments? Anything? When God commanded Israel to run a sword through 4 year old Cannanite children playing in the fields–are you totally cool with this? Elderly women drowning in the flood; Achan’s kids (and oxen?) being stoned?”

    This may be a place we part ways. I find it nearly impossible to imagine that Jesus has desired the death of Canaanite 4 year olds, and that problem alone shapes the standing the Bible has in my eyes. I presently see the Old Testament scriptures as an inspired dialogue. There seems to be a conversation at hand about how to be Israel. It seems like there are mutually exclusive encouragements being advocated. There seem to me a violent solution to the problems of Israel (such as genocide), and non-violent answers to the problems of Israel (become priests for all nations) and these kinds of answers are in conflict through out. And it seems Jesus comes down strongly in one direction. “Love your enemies. You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth.”

    As such, the best I can do is call the Bible inspired, and look through every verse for wisdom, truth, and insight. I consistently give passages my upmost reverence, but there are places where I can’t say, “Yup that is the Jesus I know.”

    You said, “So we never intended to suggest that God does things simply BECAUSE he is able to do them. But this seems to drive your whole post. I would love to see you re-write the post capturing the point we were actually making. Put more specifically: The Bible affirms that God has the freedom as creator to execute justice in ways that seem fit to him. (The justice part is really important, which makes your illustration about microwaving innocent kids nonsensical, though it did make me think of that scene from Gremlins.)”

    Gremlins came to mind for me as well. Let’s go there for second: Would you affirm that God cannot do whatever he wishes and remain good? Can God do whatever he pleases simply because he is the creator? Would you agree on the argument I pose, and say that its different regarding “justice”?

    Responding to the claim that “The Bible affirms that God has the freedom as creator to execute justice in ways that seem fit to him.”

    This still seems problematic if we hold that God “has the right to do whatever he wants.” How about changing his mind about who is saved, and making sure to inflict special torment on those who bled and suffered most as martyrs for Christ? We could paint all sorts of troubling scenerios here, and they would be troubling because it would in fact be wrong for God to do such things. As such, my argument stands, God may be able to do whatever he pleases, but there are some things he cannot do (this time regarding punishment) and remain good, loving, and just while doing them.

    You said, “Now, to prove this, Paul reaches back through Israel’s history to show that God never promised to save every single descendant of Abraham. In fact, he elected the line of Isaac and Jacob, etc., not Ishmael and Esau.

    Agreed.

    “Does God have the right to do this? Does God have the…freedom to elect some and not others? Certainly he does. He has the freedom to have mercy on some AND the freedom to reject others. In fact, this is shown in the case of Pharaoh, and so on and so forth.”

    Agreed.

    “In short, Paul ultimately wants to show that God has the freedom to pour out his mercy on Gentiles and this doesn’t mean that his promise to Israel has failed. It is this sub-argument for God’s freedom (Rom 9:14-23)–a point made in many other books (Job, Lamentations, etc.)–that we were drawing out in our book. And this doesn’t take away from Paul’s main concern in 9-11. It supports it.”

    I disagree with your reading of Job (we may need time to talk about that. Deep waters there), but I’m happy to grant all the above.

    “It’s a bit of a red herring to say that since Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles, we therefore can’t use Rom 9 to defend God’s freedom. Paul’s argument is much more rich than that.”

    I think this is all worthy. It is moving from an argument like this to the claim that the Potter may morally do whatever he wishes with the clay that seems to me a misstep. The point of my argument was that a supremely loving being, in order to qualify as supremely loving, must be exceedingly loving to each creature he actualizes. In my mind, creating a state of affairs for the foreseen, eternal torment of specific human souls has not been shown, in my opinion, to be a loving act. And it seems you guys agree, for there’s not really an apologetic for it in Erasing Hell, but a consistent empathetic revulsion.

    I do appreciate both your heart in the book, and the target you are seeking to hit with your arguments. These are both praise worthy!

    Question for you: if a worthwhiled annihilationist interpretation of your 3 passages (Rev 14, 20 and ____ help me out) was offered that was atleast valid and worthy, would you be willing to embrace annihilationism given the non-biblical arguments (repugnance of eternal conscious torment and the like)?

    Much love to you and your family.

  • Kenton

    I found the section in “Desire of the Everlasting Hills” I was referring to earlier. It’s pages 45-49. After re-reading it, I can see that I put some of my own spin on what Cahill was saying. He does assert, though, that Jewish thought on the afterlife in general began to develop during the Greek occupation of Judea. Couple that with what he said in the same chapter of the strong influence of Greek thought on the Jewish mindset, and it’s not too much of a stretch to say the idea of hell was “imported from the Greeks.”

    (But again, that’s my interpretation of Cahill, which may or may not be valid.)

  • TJJ

    I think the post by Cook gets things quit wrong by reducing the issue by Chan to one of “might makes right”.

    I don’t think that is really what Chan is saying. I think the point is more as we see in the book of Job, where God speaks to Job and the point is made: God is a being whose wisdom, knowledge, ways, and being are so far above and beyond what we can ever really know, understand, apprehend, etc., that to presume to critique God and His ways, wisdom, knowledge, and being is such a foolhardy and necessarily flawed endeavor which humand beings should avoid trying to do so altogether. But if they do attempt such, let it be with utmost humility and awareness of how flawed and wrong our thoughts and critique are likely to be.

    In that sense, in my humble opinion, Chan is most certainly correct. There is a certain arrogance, unintended perhaps, but there just the same, in the post by Cook in regards to God. To suggest that because there is a mystery and/or ‘pieces of the puzzle” that one just does not get or understand, or actions or ways of God that seem to indict God as evil, sadistic, etc., requires a level of arrogance and confidence in one’s own knowledge and intelligence that I for one do not share.

  • Kenton

    TJJ (#112)-

    How is the story of Job resolved? Is Job left in his torment? If he had been then I could see how you could apply that story to make the case for ECT.

    But Job wasn’t left in his torment.

    Ultimately, Job was restored.

    So if we’re going to make lessons about our final state from the story of Job wouldn’t it make more sense to say that God has our restoration in mind, not our torment?

  • dopderbeck

    Dana, Amos and Scot M. — yes, I think we’re on the same page. For Aquinas, the essential unknowability of God means we can only say things about God analogically. So if we say “God is Love,” we can know something about what the means by analogy to our human experiences of Love. But this way of analogy doesn’t really “capture” what God in His hiddenness is truly like.

    I understand the Eastern approach to shy away from talk of “analogy” and to take an apophatic turn here. That’s a possible approach as well. Aquinas, the Eastern Fathers, Barth — they all in their own ways approach the mystery of saying something meaningful about the God who is beyond us, even with all their significant differences.

    But here is where I think I part ways with Chan et al., at least as summarized in these posts — Aquinas, the Eastern Fathers, Barth (and Augustine and Calvin too!) — they all agree that humans can, in fact, have “knowledge,” that we can say meaningful even if provisional and grasping things about what God is like or at least about what He is not like (apophatically). And, of course, they all agree that God is revealed in Christ and in the scriptures.

    To quote Job and part of Romans here as a sort of proof text for the complete unknowability of God’s justice seems to me extreme and way out of line with both scripture and tradition and not least with the revelation of God in Christ.

    Again, if all Chan et al. are saying is that (1) God, who is truly just, has authority as sovereign creator to judge all of His creation; (2) we humans cannot fully comprehend God’s justice; and (3) what seems to us arbitrary and unfair is in fact substantively just from the God’s-eye perspective, I have no problem with that at all. This sort of stance should prevent us from trying to construct precise renderings of what God will do in the last judgment one way or the other. And it should offer solid ground for Hope because of what we do know of God in Christ — Hope both that God’s plan of redemption will be completed and that evil and death will be finally judged.

    But from Jeff’s summary I take it that they are suggesting that God’s judgments can be truly and substantively arbitrary and still be called “just” simply because God wills them. That is the sort of stance which seems to me theologically and pastorally wrong.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (112) TJJ. You said, “There is a certain arrogance, unintended perhaps, but there just the same, in the post by Cook in regards to God. To suggest that because there is a mystery and/or ‘pieces of the puzzle” that one just does not get or understand, or actions or ways of God that seem to indict God as evil, sadistic, etc., requires a level of arrogance and confidence in one’s own knowledge and intelligence that I for one do not share.”

    I’m not refering to mystery or confusion here. I’m actually making an argument. I’m making an argument about ethics and how it functions. I am arguing strongly against a specific position through counter-examples, and if you do not think those counter-examples hold–please step forward with your argument. I haven’t really heard much critiquing the philosophy here. Peace.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    (114) dopderdeck,

    “Again, if all Chan et al. are saying is that (1) God, who is truly just, has authority as sovereign creator to judge all of His creation; (2) we humans cannot fully comprehend God’s justice; and (3) what seems to us arbitrary and unfair is in fact substantively just from the God’s-eye perspective, I have no problem with that at all.”

    Yes! You win the prize! That is exactly what Chan et al. were saying. I thought that we were clear on this in the book (esp. ch. 5), but if not, then that’s our bad.

    So glad we settled that; though a bit discouraged that it took 114 comments to do so.

  • Adam

    What if there’s another level to this argument?

    A “Might makes Right” kind of God I think is logical. God as the sole creator of all things has the right to do whatever He pleases. If God says that only people who stand on their heads will be saved and the rest get torment, who are we to challenge that? It’s about as logical to argue with gravity about the ability to fly as to argue with about Him following “the rules”.

    And we have further evidence of gods (in general) acting like this. Nearly every other ancient religion has petty and fickle gods with humans as play things. The only reason we don’t worship those petty and fickle gods is that they have shown to not have any power to influence our lives. So, if we believe that God has the ability to do these things I think we must accept a “Might makes Right” situation.

    But Christianity is a different kind of religion. Christianity is about Jesus who was a god-human or human-god or however you want to see that. Jesus as the Son of God, Son of Man, changes the playing field.

    Humans are no longer the created things of God. Humans are now (because of Jesus) part of the same family as God. So, does God have the right to destroy his own family?

    What I’m trying to say is that the flaw of “Might makes Right” is not in the morality of the situation but in the essence of humans. In the religion of Christianity, humans have been elevated above the angels to be just a little lower than God. So, the Might portion of God is not so great in comparison and subsequently does not grant as many Rights.

    In other religions, like Greek pantheism, the Might of God is absolute and therefore the Right of God in absolute. But again, that is not Christianity, and to argue Might and Right in Christianity is to make Christianity a different kind of religion than it is.

  • Kenton

    Preston!

    Welcome back!

    Did you read the rest of dopderbecks post (114)? Because the conclusion he draws from that seems to undermine the whole thrust of the book.

    For example, in the chapter 5 you referred to, you stated that “No doubt that James [author of the epistle] agrees that sinners of all sorts will go to hell…” That seems to me like a rendering of one particular way of what God will do in the last judgment, no?

    (And to that same quote based on what do you assert that there is no doubt that James agrees that all sorts of sinners will go to hell (not just “teachers of God’s word”?)

    In my efforts to be more graceful and peaceful I will follow Jeff’s example and close with…

    Grace and peace.

  • Kenton

    Andrew Perriman posted just today on Gehenna (dump or not-a-dump, the Greek influence on the concept of hell, and more). Worthwhile read.

    http://www.postost.net/2011/08/was-gehenna-burning-rubbish-dump-does-it-matter

  • Paul Johnston

    Kenton, as I’ve read your here and on other threads I suspect we would both agree that a true profession of faith reflects a lifestyle and is beyond a simple oral assent.

    The simple logic seems irrefutable. The problem for Protestants of all denominations becomes the challenge this presents to their disdain for theologies of “Works”.

  • Paul Johnston

    Scott, it seems to me that your concern regarding torment is misplaced. Have you ever grievously sinned against another? Were you not self tormented until apology and attempts at restitutuion were made? What if you sin grievously and never apologise, never make restitution, would your self torment end? Do you know people who purposefully choose to wallow in their sin? Do they seem self tormented to you? If an immaterial spirit were at work fostering torment would you ascribe that work to God or Satan?

    God rejects torment, He only offers forgiveness (love) through reconcilliation (justice).

  • TJJ

    Cook: My point is that the premise you present regarding “might makes right” is not Chan’s premise, and is a “strawman” that you then argue against. The theological premise presnted in job is not “might makes right” either.

    Thus asking the question or agument: if god wants to kill or molest 3 years old, just because he wants to, is that then right, because it is what god wants to do? Such a question clearly goes against lots of other revelation in scripture regrding the nature of god. So it is a question and argument that clearly misses the point.

    Start with the theological principle regarding the transcendence of god. And what transcendence means. Barth wrested with this is a very serious way in his work Romerbrief. so much of the comtemporary crafting and fashioning of god in “our own image” results from a fundamental failure to properly define and understand this more basic theological premise. Lets get this right first, before go off on ehtical expeditions regarding the nature and vadility of divine judgment and hell. Peace and grace to you.

  • dopderbeck

    Preston (#116) — so what’s my prize? :-)

    Is that really all you’re trying to say, though? In Chapter 6, you make a very strong statement that seems to me to say that God is “free” to define “justice” arbitrarily. Is that what you mean? God could do anything at all — anything — and it would be “just” by virtue of the fact that God did it? So theoretically, say, God could command you tomorrow to torture a baby with electrical cables, and that would be good and just because God commanded it?

    If so, I’d be grieved by the pastoral advice you try to give in that chapter. You’d be suggesting that for a person to ask questions about a picture of God based on conscience necessarily reflects a lack of faith. To probe the meaning of a text like Romans 9-11 in way that takes into account the light of what we do know about the substance of “love” and “justice” from human experience would represent an act of infidelity. You would be telling people not to think and not to feel.

    Also if so, I don’t think that would be a fair reading of scripture as a whole, nor of the Christian tradition. I don’t think your references to a few very difficult and highly contested passages in Romans — perhaps among the most difficult and contested passages in all of scripture — can support such a view, nor do I think any theological method in which just this one text controls the entire question for all of scripture and all of theology is valid.

    So it may be just me, but I feel the weight of lots of underlying Chapter 6: Calvinism, divine command theory, double predestination, presuppositionalism, a particular way of construing scripture and constructing doctrine, and a sense that anyone who doesn’t share these views doesn’t really believe God….

    But maybe that’s just my baggage. If all you’re saying is “sin is terrible, God is the just judge, judgment is real, humble yourself before Him and don’t presume to know too much about his judgments” — if that’s really the sum of it — I’m totally there.

  • Kenton

    Paul (#120)-

    Yeah, sort of.

    That would lead us into discussing the New Perspective on Paul, and we probably shouldn’t go there on this thread. To say it briefly, the shift to the NPP paradigm resolves that problem.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Perspective_on_Paul#Works_of_the_Law

  • ao

    dopderbeck (#123),

    I agree with everything you said. And it led me to a related question. If tomorrow God asked me to kill my only child, what would be the implications for how I should respond and how I should view God? I’m trying to make sense of the Abraham-sacrificing-Isaac story (Gen. 22:1-12) in light of your comment (which, again, I agree with):

    “So theoretically, say, God could command you tomorrow to torture a baby with electrical cables, and that would be good and just because God commanded it?”

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @ 125, ao

    Bell dealt with this story in his tour, The gods Aren’t Angry. The angle from which he approached Abraham and this sacrifice is this: God was demonstrating, in a stark contrast to other ANE religions, that He, to quote Jesus, desires mercy over sacrifice. God stayed Abraham’s hand which was a direct assault on the gods of ANE religions who “asked” for human sacrifice. Instead, God eventually gave His own son. It definitely speaks to the gravity of God’s grace and the direction of his wrath.

  • Paul Johnston

    Kenton @124, yeah sort of, right back at you :). It all depends what NPP ultimately accomplishes both within Protestant congregations themselves and in their relationships with Catholic and Orthodox communities.

    But as you say, a discussion for another time on another thread.

  • ao

    JoeyS (#126),

    Excellent. Thanks!

  • dopderbeck

    ao (#125) — good question. Some commentators think Abraham knew that God would indeed provide another means, or that God would raise Isaac from the dead… But that may be rationalizing, and yes, there are many passages in the OT in which it does indeed seem that God can command arbitrarily. IMHO, this is one thing that counsels against trying to build an entire theology just from one passage or another.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    TJJ – What is the ethical theory at work in Erasing Hell if not might makes right?

  • Carl

    There is something fundamentally wrong here in most of the suppositions stated in the many posts. The main problem with many of you is that you are saying that God must act within the parameters of human thinking, ie. “if I wouldn’t do that, then neither would God.” And that is saying that we created God in our image, not the other way around. Are you forgetting the flood of Noah’s time, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt, most of the nation during the time of the wilderness wandarings, the nations that were destroyed once Israel entered the land, the Philistines, etc., etc., etc.? Was God just in doing or allowing these things? In today’s society we would say a resounding, “NO!” Was God just in the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira? Again, our society would say, “NO!” Yet, it we believe the scriptures, those are things that God did indeed do. I ask, was God right in doing these things?

  • Kenton

    So, Carl (131)-

    Is it still just? Should our justice system make lying a capital crime? If my child disobeys me should I kill him? No, not kill him – should I lock him up in a closet away from all other human contact and torture him day and night for as long as possible?

    Our hero of the faith Jacob was given a blessing that involved changing his name from “deceiver” to “one who wrestles with God.” We worship a God who blesses deceivers and calls them to wrestle with Himself.

    I think we’re called to wrestle with these stories, and wrestle with who Jesus is in light of His being the incarnation of the same God.

    This isn’t the thread to deconstruct every one of those stories, but just look at the introductory videos. Francis Chan is conceding, and Rob Bell is wrestling. Even in their posture: Francis Chan remains seated the whole time while the camera approaches, and Rob Bell marches toward the retreating camera.

    Stop conceding Carl, and start wrestling!

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    (I’ve been off-line for a week so pardon the late reply please.)

    Paul @89,
    You wrote:
    “Forgive my last sentence, I consider it partially errant. Infinite justice makes the consequences ours. Infinite love renders a Son to the Cross on our behalf.

    If there is no hell, no other option for man but eternity with God. Why bother with morality? Let us simply defer to natural selection and act wholly in our material self interest, and then we die.

    If their is no hell, why the Cross? What were we being saved from?”

    In Genesis, God said that the reason that man was forbidden from the tree of life was so that they would not continue to live forever in the state of being that they found themselves in due to sinning against God. What state did they find themselves in? Bondage to sin and Satan, surrounded by death and destruction on every hand, consumed by evil from within and without, one could say…Hell on earth. So the purpose of death was to stop this evil existance; if God had desired for man to exist endlessly in the bondage of sin and death He only need allow them to live “forever” in this “present evil age” as the apostle Paul calls it. But God had better plans for humanity.

    Concerning your question “if there is no Hell, why the Cross?” I reply, if there was no cross, and people existed forever in this “present evil age”, then there would be Hell for us all! Does a life-guard that saves 100% of people drowning make the reality of drowning any less real? In like manner, the Cross saving 100% of humanity, reconciling 100% of creation, in no way lessens the reality of this “present evil age”. And the “present evil age” coming to an end, the kingdom of light completely overcoming the kingdom of darkness only highlights the awesomeness and total reign of the King of Light!

    As to your other question, “If there is no hell, no other option for man but eternity with God. Why bother with morality?” This question implies that salvation is based on how good we are, though it’s likely you believe as I do that salvation is based on the grace and mercy of God for us all. Also, if one studies the passages on judgment addressed to believers and the fearful warnings of age-to-come (aionian) chastizement/punishment for us, then one can fully affirm that what one sows, one reaps – reality discipline. Must ECT, forever torture, be the penalty for sin, to keep us from sin. I don’t believe so. Reaping what one sows is more than enough I think. And note that this principle is applicable to believer and unbeliever alike, but especially to believers for “to whom much is given, much is required!”

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Thanks Jeff for the OP. It always irritates me when people pull the “God’s ways are higher than our ways” trump-card in discussions for it stops all discussion and reasoning. The person using it “assumes” that what they believe is the way God Is, and that they just piously accept that in “faith” which supposedly transcends reasoning. And yet scripture is full of passages that affirmt he importance of knowledge and wisdom, and seeking both out whole heartedly. I believe that God gave us a brain and expects us to use it. “Study to show yourself approved…” “Seek wisdom and with all your seeking gain knowledge…” etc. etc. etc.

    Though it has cost me much, I’m very thankful that I’ve come to have faith in Jesus for us all, even me!

  • Michael Ejercito

    Might makes right if one has enough might to define what right is .

  • D A

    Because of something you have done, some failure in life, you come to discover that you are now REQUIRED to travel the entire circumference of a planet, say the size of Jupiter. The entire planet surface is covered in molten lave, the atmosphere is sulfuric and the only indigenous creatures consider humans to be a superb food source. I tell you that in spite of your objections you must go.

    Before you leave however, I offer to give you a ride in my specially designed Jupiter cruiser. Fully equipped with all the provisions you will need for your trip. Complete climate control, automatic defenses against all indigenous creatures and even a complete entertainment center. (Swimming pool, race car track, horse back riding, ping pong, live stadium games, you name it, it’s there.) In short the cruiser has everything and anything you could need or want to make the trip the most delightful and enjoyable trip you have ever taken.

    But, you choose to walk instead, even though I pled with you to take the ride. I spend my most precious assets in order to convince you to take the ride, but you insist you will walk. In fact, you spit in my face and tell me to go away.

    So I let you go.

    And now because you are upset by the requirement before you, you want to assail me, even though I offered you an easy, comfortable ride for your journey. Somehow you want to make you misery my fault. I’m the one who did all I could to provide you an alternative to your miserable task and yet I get the blame?

    I think not, you have chosen your own path and it is therefor your own responsibility. If you don’t want to walk I suggest you take the ride!


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