The Three Conditions of Hell

The Three Conditions of Hell July 7, 2011

Many today wonder if a loving and good God can “punish” humans endlessly in hell in a way that can be called just. There are, however, actually two kinds of eternal punishment doctrine. One can be called hard retribution. This view argues that God sets out the conditions, humans knowingly (or corruptedly knowingly) choose otherwise, and God’s just retribution is eternal. In this case, eternal hell is divine punishment and is viewed from the angle of God’s punishments. A second view, which some call “progressive,” and which focuses not on the divine side but on the human choice, is just that: humans knowingly choose hell endlessly. I would call this non-retributive eternal hell instead of progressive. I think this is an important distinction. Which all raises the conditions for hell: what is required for hell to be just? If many think that the retributive model ultimately fails to meet the “justice” or “goodness” test, what about the non-retributive model? What would be the conditions for a non-retributive model that is ultimately just and compatible with a good God?

In the book, Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate, edited by Robin Parry (aka, Gregory Macdonald) and Christopher Partridge, Eric Reitan puts together the three conditions for hell. In other words, for hell to be “fair” or “deserved” or “just,” the following three conditions must be met:

1. Humans must have a full and adequate understanding of the nature of the choice to refuse God in Christ. That is, humans must be free from all ignorance and deception. [Without this, it would be unjust for God to send someone to hell endlessly. A person must know what is the outcome of choice.]

2. Humans must be free from any bondage to desire or sinful desires the human is incapable of resisting. [Again, the same logical point.]

3. Humans must have the ability to have chosen otherwise (this is called libertarian free will). [Otherwise, the person is coerced and not truly free.]

Without these, for God to punish someone eternally is somehow unjust or undeserved. Reitan’s argument is that eventually, given libertarian free will, or given all three of the above, humans will all choose God and thus he is a universalist.

Inherent to the universalist case is another belief, and it is encased in this sentence by Reitan: “The person must unwaveringly choose to reject God at every moment for the rest of eternity, even though the person sees absolutely no good reason for doing so, has every reason not to do so [here his argument is that it becomes increasingly irrational and incoherent for someone who knows what they are doing to reject god], and has absolutely no compelling desire to do so? Is that really desirable? [I’ve omitted italics.]

Universalism, in other words, in this set of beliefs, is not conceived apart from the capacity of humans after death to have an eternity of choices, and we are back to the problem we had Tuesday: What evidence in the Bible is there for “second chance/s”?

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