Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? (3 – Fires of Judgment!)

photo © 2010 William Warby , Flickr | via Wylio.com

The following is part of a series on Hell, partially as a response to the Love Wins controversy.  To catch up, go here.

As I stated in the first post, this section will be mostly based on Sharon Baker’s Razing Hell.

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Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? (Part 3)

The Fire of God’s Judgment

For Baker, the overarching reality of God in Scripture is that God constantly seeks to forgive and restore relationships in spite of the actions of the offenders of God’s perfect standard (102). Part of reconciliation is to name evil or else justice is not complete. We must not, therefore, ignore what the Bible says about a coming Judgment Day. God will judge with metaphorical fire. And it is to this fire that we must turn our attention to understand Baker’s perspective.

Fire, throughout the Bible, is attributed to God. God, for instance, “…is a consuming fire” (Deut. 4.24; Ezek. 1.27; 8.2; Heb. 12.29) who purifies and refines (Mal. 3.2-3; 4.1). Fire represents the means by which God judges evil, a fire that “devours and consumes its target” (113). This is God’s ultimate wrath. For the biblical writers, God is a fire and these flames burn up to the point of non-existence all that is not pure goodness. God’s fire “burns and devours wickedness like stubble so that it no longer exists” (in Psalms and Isaiah), “cleanses and purifies what remains (Isa. 6:6-7),” and “will not burn up whatever is righteous and pure” (Isa. 43.2) (ibid.).

Isaiah comes before God’s throne and the fiery coal cleanses his sin when the seraphim (plural for fire in Hebrew) touches his lips. Zechariah says that God will send the wicked “into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested” (13.9). Even the Apostle Peter speaks of faith that is tested by fire to purify humanity (1 Peter 1.7). Fire cleanses as it destroys all that is evil leaving intact all that is good (ibid.).

Baker continues her discussion on God’s fire that will be experienced by all on judgment day by looking at 1 Corinthians 3.12-15. This states:

So, whether someone builds on top of the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or hay, each one’s work will be clearly shown. The day will make it clear, because it will be revealed with fire—the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work survives, they’ll get a reward. But if anyone’s work goes up in flames, they’ll lose it. However, they themselves will be saved as if they had gone through a fire.

Here Baker notes, “in the final judgment, everyone will go through the fire – through the fire that surrounds God, comes from God, and is God” (114). This passage specifically speaks of believers being judged, but it gives us a clue to what the final judgment will entail. All that is pure survives the fiery judgment of God, all that is rubbish because of sin will be annihilated. This is how God will reconcile humans to others and to God’s own self. If biblical justice is restorative and not retributive, this judgment will be consistent with that reality. Christians and non-Christians alike will go through this final judgment by fire, which is based on works.

After talking about the importance of justification by faith N.T. Wright makes a similar distinction:

Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. He says this clearly and unambiguously in Romans 14.10–12 and 2 Corinthians 5.10. He affirms it in that terrifying passage about church-builders in 1 Corinthians 3. But the main passage in question is of course Romans 2.1–16.[1]

This will be the fire of God that purifies believers and unbelievers alike. “To stand in God’s presence entails standing in the flames.”[2] This purging makes Christians fit for the new creation. For Baker, to experience “hell” is to go through the terrifying purging fires of God’s love, which is the vehicle for God’s justice. The question that remains when speaking of this final judgment is: What is the outcome of this judgment, especially regarding non-Christians? (Ibid.). Her answer comes through a hypothetical hell story about a man on the final judgment named Otto.


[1]. N.T. Wright, New Perspectives on Paul, http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.pdf (accessed April 5, 2012), 8.

[2]. Baker, Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught about God’s wrath and Judgment, 115.

  • http://www.danwhitejr.blogspot.com/ Dan Jr

    keep um coming, great reading.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

       @7da3d8476e761ec40a6ba5edc1a08104:disqus … thanks!!!!

  • Raleigh

    Isaiah 33:14-16 and Song of Solomon 8:6-7 speak to the nature of God’s unquenchable fire along these same lines.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-J-Teston/611354012 Michael J. Teston

    Absolutely. I’m sure you will have more to come. It is more than interesting that Moses’ encounter is with a “flaming bush!” God’s Holy presence. John said One would come baptizing us with “fire.” Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit is manifested as “tongues of fire.” Dr. Robert Mulholland in his book on Revelation, “Holy Living in and Unholy World” opened my eyes to the reality of the “Holy & hot” presence of God as redemptive as it burned away all that needs to go. The only question that remains is, will anything be left of me for the keeping. 

  • Charlie

    I think you lost me at “ignore what the Bible says about judgment day.” It’s just funny to me that either you or Baker, not sure wich, chose to ignore teachings about judgment and focus instead on imagery of fire. 

    I also have to question you on the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Is that talking to ALL people, or Christians at Corinth? I’m fairly certain it’s to Christians. In that case, we should read it as the work we do as Christians being tested and refined. Each will build using different materials and tools. Some will have built better than others, but the goal was still the same: to work for God’s glory. This is almost undoubtedly a warning to the church as to how our work will be tested in the end. That which is from God and for God will remain, while that which is for naught will be consumed. It does not addressed what nonbelievers will experience. It merely talks about the refining process of the church. 

    It sounds like you’re toeing the line on universalism by saying we’ll all go through the same refining/restorative fire, but any sort of retributive fire doesn’t exist. If it’s all works based, as you suggest, then faith is worthless in the end. It’s all about what you do, not where you’ve placed your faith. Jesus had a very different idea, when he recognizes faith as something that saves. 

    • Janet

      Charlie, I just wanted to point out that in your first sentence you only pulled out part of Kurt’s statement .  It actually says  “We must not, therefore, ignore what the Bible says about a coming Judgment Day.”

      • Charlie

        Oops, you’re right. My mistake, didn’t see the “not” in there. Kurt, apologies. 

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

           @e1afb9ea50b0a6ad75edd5a9a3d6360b:disqus … actually. it was my mistake. i accidentally failed to include the word “not” until a fb friend pointed it out to me.  Truly we “MUST NOT” ignore such passages :-)

    • Lisa

      Works based sounds like a certain Theology to me!?  To me, we might as well say if you are a GOOD person..you get to spend Eternity with our Heavenly Father.  NO ONE is  or CAN be GOOD enough!
      THANK YOU for writing this response… only through ACCEPTING Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, picking up our Cross and FOLLOWING HIM…….will we get to Heaven. It is good to be GOOD…..but being GOOD will not get us a ticket to Heaven…!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Charlie… That was a typo. It should read that we must NOT ignore…

      KURT WILLEMS
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

  • http://www.anirenicon.com an irenicon

    I understand the logic here and recognize something solid about it. I just wonder, however, what this understanding does to teachings like-

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24

    Is it possible that those who “hear and believe” have already passed, and will not come into, the type of judgement that others will face? The common fire which tests houses of faith doesn’t seem like the same type of “death” and “judgement” spoken of by Paul and other New Testament writers.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I’d simply say that I wondered about that for a while but as you will see, I now hold that there will be a final judgment for all… even those who are dead. I will say more about my view next week.


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