Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? (4 – A Judgment Day Parable)

Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? (4 – A Judgment Day Parable) April 19, 2012
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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.


Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares?

Otto the Non-Believer at the Final Judgment

Baker invites readers to imagine a man named Otto: “an international leader who has launched preemptive wars and terrorized nations with his arrogant dominance, leading to the death of thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children” (115). Otto stands in God’s throne room on the final Day, not a Christian. He anticipates that God is going to give him his due for all the wrongs committed and therefore hates this God. As he approaches God, the heat from the flames of love gets hot. Baker explains:

His anger and rebellion turn to sheer terror. He moves closer to the flames, and as he does so, he realizes that the blazing fire is God. The closer he gets to God, the more deeply he feels, not God’s hatred or judgment, but God’s love. It is a love of such magnitude that, with its abundance, it act as wrath, judging him for his deficiency, and with its purity, it serves as a hell, punishing him for his depravity. God’s love and mercy, both acting as judgment, are so extravagant, so abundant, so incomprehensible that they completely overwhelm Otto. Then he hears a voice from that fire. He does not hear, “You evil, vile murderer! I am going to get you now. Revenge, punishment, and torture forever and ever!” Instead, he hears God say with sorrow forged from love, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. But look at your life; what have you done?” (115-116).

The fires of God’s love are more wrathful than the angry God of many theologies. Judgment continues for Otto:

Totally undone by God’s unorthodox approach, auto falls to his face, still afraid but with his hatred replaced by remorse. As his life flashes before his eyes, he sees all the victims, mothers crying for lost sons, children begging for the return of their murdered fathers, 18-year-old boy dying alone on the battlefield, crying for his mother… He looks to his right and sees his victims. Still in the fire, God makes him go to each one and lay his hand upon their hearts. As he does so, he feels all of their pain, all of their disappointments, all of their fear, and knows that he has caused it all. Within the crowd of victims, the last one he has left to touch, he sees Jesus (116).

At this point Otto touches Jesus’ heart and feels the totality of Christ’s pain because of sin. “All the while the fire of God burns, devouring Otto’s wickedness and evil… and he cries out in utter remorse, in unmitigated repentance” (Ibid.). The pain of judgment through love leads to the ultimate vindication of his victims, including Jesus. God’s offer of forgiveness extends to Otto and he accepts, having been purged by God’s wrath and reconciled to those he hurt. Otto is now fit for the resurrection reality in the renewed creation.

Lest one accuse Baker of some sort of purgatorial universalism, she emphasizes that Otto’s free will (and God’s non-coercive nature) demands that Otto can deny God’s offer of forgiveness through loving wrath. Some will refuse to feel the full weight of the evil within them and won’t turn to Jesus. Without Christ they have nothing good, and this overwhelming love consumes them until there is absolutely nothing left. Body and soul then will be dead, forever. The fire that purges will show that there is nothing left that is fit for the new creation reality, and they will essentially experience the “lake of fire,” which is utter annihilation. This is hell (117).

What do you think of this *Judgment Day Parable?*  Does this sound somewhat similar to Love Wins to anyone else (more on that later)?  Other thoughts thus far?

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  • I still don’t think it will be possible for anyone to resist reconciliation with God forever. If God is restoring all things, then he can’t allow for somethings not to be restored. The point is the defeat of death. If not everything gets redeemed, then Love does not win. God is making all things new. He does not give up on anyone or anything. If he did, he wouldn’t be all loving. Dr. Beck helps explain this view here: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/03/musings-about-universalism-part-8-my.html

    You have to scroll down a bit, but here is the section where he addresses the question: “And as I pondered all this it started to dawn on me that the flaw in the Arminian theology I held was how death was functioning as a moral stopwatch. I realized that that Muslim kid was in a race against death. Hopefully he’d make it. But given his lack of a headstart I wasn’t optimistic about his chances. I mean, how likely would it be for me to convert to Islam? That’s just not going to happen. And yet, given the symmetry of the situation, it’s going to be just that hard for the Muslim kid to convert to Christianity. So if it’s not happening with me, it’s not going to happen with him. So Death is going to outrun and catch that Muslim kid. Death is going to win.

    Well that sucks, I thought. I thought Death had been defeated. That death no longer had asting. And yet, everywhere I looked, Death was stinging the hell out of everyone. The only way it seemed death could be defeated is if you had a headstart, if you got lucky. If you got lucky you didn’t have to worry about the stopwatch. Your Christian parents dropped you off at the finish line with a Capri Sun in your hand on the way to soccer practice.

    And so I started to wonder if the Calvinists might have been on to something with Proposition #2. Maybe if God wants something God will get it. That nothing could defeat God. Not even death. And if that was true, well, God’s love would continue to pursue us even after death. And Love, being love, would never, ever give up on us.”

    • Charlie

      Gregory, respectfully I’m going to disagree with you on a couple of points.

      Firstly, I am flabbergasted by the emphasis on “love winning” in the end. I think we’ve chosen to worship love instead of God all too often. In the end, GOD wins. That’s the beauty of the cross. God being victorious now and forever over death. To first century Jews, death was it, and what happened after was a mystery. You could hope that you followed the law well enough to get in, but it was up in the air. But Jesus offers assurance of eternal life, and says that those who don’t believe in him or his message will experience “the second death.” God’s victory over death is for physical death. 

      The question posed by Rob Bell in his book that tries to address the above idea goes, “Does God get what God wants?” True, God has promised reconciliation and to make all things new, but Paul says that God DESIRES all people to be reconciled to him. Jesus makes it clear that some, if not many, will not find the path to life everlasting. It’s true that God doesn’t want people to be separated from him. But does that really mean that God will, in the end, overlook a life of rebellion towards him? 

      I’m troubled by the original parable Kurt/Baker wrote about. NOTHING in the Bible alludes to a choice on judgment day. I’ve read nor heard NOTHING consistent with that line of thought. In my opinion, that’s our way of trying to make the words of the Gospel and the Bible more palatable and safer for us. I do not believe there is a second choice after we depart from this life. Otherwise, it cheapens what Christ did on the cross to merely confetti at a party: nice to look at for a moment, but not monumental in the grand scheme of the plan. 

      • I think Charlie here touches on something important. There isn’t any biblical witness to conversion-after-death, so it might be just as dangerous to insist on such a possibility as it is to insist that Ghandi (or whoever) is assuredly experiencing the fires of conscious eternal torment.

        This idea seems to me like it makes the very misstep it accuses traditional understandings of hell of making.

        • I would say rather that the Biblical evidence on ANY certain possibilities after death, is uncertain at best. No, we don’t know for certain that people will have the opportunity to reconsider Jesus’ supremacy after death, but honestly, we don’t know that they won’t, either. The comment above about death as a ticking stopwatch is compelling.

          And there is that weird reference in Peter to the “spirits in prison” to whom Jesus preached. Nobody alive knows what that means, but I find it suggestive of there being reasons to preach–and by extension, to respond to preaching–beyond this earthly life.

          • I’m agreeing here.  The story in Luke 16 about the rich man is described as being “in Hades” and he is also described as being “in agony” and regrets his location and his former actions.  Jesus does not describe a process where this man gets a “re-do” opportunity.

            Luke 19:27 also shows some (what really appears to be) final judgement against the enemies of God.  The opportunities of the past are ended at some point.

            Finally, the part of the story that described “Still in the fire, God makes him go to each one and lay his hand upon their hearts. As he does so, he feels all of their pain,… etc  “.  We’re talking about God being so good, (which I believe) so would God “punish” this person by making him go to each one and feel pain?  Is not Christ’s death on the cross enough for “Otto” in the story as well?  To suggest Otto does something to make his own salvation a possibility is almost counter-Biblical, no?

      • Charlie,

        I very much appreciate your view. It is one I held for a long time. Nevertheless, I think there are some real problems with what you articulate here.

        Your rejection of Love Wins in favor of God Wins doesn’t make much sense if we are to believe 1 John which asserts that God is love. When you assert that “God is victorious now and forever over death” what do you mean? If you mean that only some people are saved from Death, then Death wins. If some people live forever in Hell–or are even just annihilated–then God doesn’t win because the Principalities and Powers, with their destructive paradigms for life, win. The Gospel is the proclamation of the lordship of Jesus of all things (here I am following NT Wright). He trounced the powers, principalities, Satan, and Death through refusing to bow to their paradigms in his life. Instead, he lived a life of sacrifice for the other, going so far as to die on the cross—killed by Romans, in order to save them. By living a life opposed to the powers, he angered them. By dying at their hands, refusing to save himself, he disarmed them. By rising from the dead, he destroyed them. His Church bears witness to this act of triumph by refusing to follow the Principalities and Powers. She bears witness to the Spirit who empowers people to live the way of the cross. Salvation, then, is not undergoing a legal transaction whereby the guilty sinner is made right with God, although that happens. Being made right with God is restorative in that the person is transformed into the likeness of Christ. But God is doing far more than restoring people. He is restoring all of creation. If he permits Death or Satan or Sin to exist forever, then he is not doing his job of restoration—the powers win. If there is not, in the end, peace over all things, then God has not been successful. He would not be righteous. He would be complicit with the anti-kingdom forces.

        Your rejection of Love Wins because there is no account in scripture for a “second chance” makes since if we are using the God-is-made-right-with-sinners-through-legal-transaction-whereby-God’s-wrath-is-satisfied framework. Salvation is not from the wrath of God. That would make God the bad guy. Salvation is from the life of hate and depravity we live at the leading of the powers. If the alternative frame—which I have sketched above—is true, then the idea of a “second chance” isn’t even a category. There is only the question: is God restoring everything or is he not? Will he answer the fundamental question of Romans: Will a righteous and Holy and Loving God restore fallen creation? How will this occur? Will he actually liberate humanity or will he leave them in bondage? There are no scriptures that say “God will give people a second chance to get into Heaven.” There are also no scriptures that say “God is a trinity.” So what? Both positions can be deduced from the scriptures. I simply desire to select a narrative—universal reconciliation—that makes the most sense of the trajectory of the Story of God and of God’s character, as revealed in Jesus. Also, the final description of heaven-on-earth found in Revelation, where the leaves of the trees of life are for the healing of the nations, makes far more sense in light of universalism than in any other frame. God will remake Heaven and Earth. The existence of an eternal Hell would mean he made a mistake.

        As for scriptures to back my claim, I will only say that I here quote Dr. Beck (again):

        “The biggest objection to universalism involves the passages regarding hell in the bible. However, there is no doctrinal teaching that doesn’t have contradictory tensions within the biblical witness. Witness the hermeneutical and exegetical diversity within the Christian tradition. In short, universalists are not in any unique position. This is the way it is with just about any doctrine.

        The issue, then, ultimately boils down to which biblical texts will regulate doctrinal choices. For example, which of the two passages regulates your doctrine regarding female leadership in the church?

        1. “I do not permit a woman to teach, nor have authority over a man.” (1 Timothy 2.12)
        2. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3.28)

        If you are a Complementarian Passage #1 regulates your understanding of Passage #2. If you are an Egalitarian Passage #2 regulates how you understand Passage #1. And there is no way to resolve any debate between the two camps as these are meta-biblical choices.

        A similar thing holds for the soteriological debates. Universalists have regulating passages that frame how they understand the texts about hell. Here are four regulating texts for universalists:

        1. “God is love.” (1 John 4.8)
        2. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1.19-20)
        3. “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15.28)
        4. “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11.32)

        As with the gender texts one has to choose regulating texts about hell. And these are meta-biblical choices. People who believe in a classical vision of hell will read the four passages above through that lens. Universalists, by contrast, will read the texts on hell through the lens of these four passages.

        That is, they will teach that hell must:
        1. Be a manifestation that “God is love.”
        2. Be a means to “reconcile all things” to God
        3. Allow God to be “all in all”
        4. Provide a way for God to “have mercy upon all”

        • Sorry about the formatting of this comment. I posted it from my word processor since it was so long (for which I also apologize!). 

          • Charlie

            Greg, no worries about the long response. Glad to continue the dialogue. If I may respectfully respond again…and mine was a bit long, so I’ll do this in two parts.

            (1 of 2)

            I’ve heard a lot of people in the past few days respond with
            1 John’s claim that God is love. While I don’t disagree, I have to wonder if we
            are using that to replace God WITH love. By that, I mean to ask have we
            elevated a quality or characteristic of God and lost the complexity of his
            character? I think we’ve bought into the Beatle’s message of “all you need is
            love” to the point that we’ve been too narrow in thinking that’s all about God
            that matters. We have to remember that God is love, but he’s also jealous,
            compassionate, merciful, wrathful, etc. If we elevate one characteristic of
            his, do we create a new God? If all we see God as is loving, and make that most
            important, we now have a hard time stomaching the other things about Him that
            don’t fit in that category. Example: surely a loving God wouldn’t send people
            to eternal punishment.


            As for what followed after that, I love your explanation of
            the Gospel. Very eloquently put! You and I tend to track with NT Wright, I’m
            with you on Jesus’ lordship. To answer your question, what I mean by God being
            victorious is that death doesn’t have a hold on humanity anymore…as long as you
            love God and obey his commandments. People in the new testament wanted
            assurance of God’s blessing of eternal life. Jesus made that way known, when he
            said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” and “I am the way, the
            truth, the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”


            I know we hate to think of salvation as a “transaction,” and
            rightly so. We don’t want to put salvation on us because it’s not up to us.
            HOWEVER, there is action being taken on our part when we come to faith. It’s
            like turning the ignition on a car. We trust God to make it run and have the
            parts in working order. There IS action on our part. If we believe that we’ll
            partner with God in this new creation, why can’t we all (in a minutely small
            way) partner with him in our salvation? We know that believing comes by
            hearing, and the first step of faith from there is baptism, and the rest is up
            to God. We have to CHOOSE this gift God has extended, and then ACT upon our
            choice. And there’s a clear description of what happens if you don’t.


            To address your next point, God saving us from his wrath
            wouldn’t make him a bad guy. Nor is salvation from “the life of hate and
            depravity we live at the leading of the powers.” Salvation is from the
            consequences of sin, sin that separates us from God. God brings us back into a
            right relationship with him. God can’t be around anything sinful, that’s the essence
            of his holiness.


            Your next question: is God restoring everything or is he
            not? Of course, we know he will, and he’ll bring it to fullness one day. May he
            be praised for such a promise! But here’s where I get a little iffy for the
            universalists: if God were doing this, why wouldn’t he have just healed
            everyone at once while Jesus was on earth? What would the point of giving us a
            choice in this life be if everything will ultimately be restored? If God’s plan
            was “fulfilled” on the cross, then why let creation continue? Why not restore
            it the second the veil was torn? 

          • Charlie

            stupid word processor did it to me too. sorry!

          • Charlie

            (2 of  2)

            Now, on to your scriptures claim: you’re right, there’s
            nothing that says “God is a trinity.” But it’s an observable claim. I still see
            no such observations that God gives us a second chance after we depart from
            this life. If you can come up with some, please, make them known. The narrative
            you’ve selected – universal reconciliation – is not the same as creation
            restoration. The existence of an eternal hell means he’s going to punish evil
            and injustice. It doesn’t mean evil exists forever, THAT would mean God has
            made a mistake. I see a more annihilationist way to see this, that those who
            have chosen “not to be image-bearing humans” any longer will cease to exist
            (little more NT Wright for you).


            As for Dr. Beck’s use of scripture, I’ll start out by saying
            that anyone can proof text. He did that quite effectively. But here’s the
            problem with the 1 Timothy passage as holding water (culturally). That was
            written to a church at Ephesus, one in which women were easily influenced by
            false teachers. Since women weren’t educated enough to know the difference
            between what’s right and wrong, they were repeating ANYTHING that sounded good.
            So when Paul wrote that to Timothy, he meant that uneducated women who are
            easily swayed by false teachers shouldn’t be teaching in the church. Specific
            instructions to a specific church. So how does that hold up today? His first
            argument can be thrown out.


            The same can be applied to the passages in Colossians, Corinthians
            and Romans. Specific things written to a specific church. Not written to all
            men, but written to Christians for encouragement. Reconciliation, in his
            assessment, trumps relationships. God makes it clear it’s all about your
            relationship with Him that should matter to us.


            Rob Bell himself makes it clear that what we do in this life
            matters immensely. Universalism doesn’t hold much water when it comes to the
            bible. We in the church should stop thinking in terms of reconciliation and
            start thinking about relationships: our relationship to God and our
            relationship to each other. Remember? Those are the two greatest commands: Love
            God, Love Others. If the most important command (emphasis on this word!!!) is
            to love God, what happens when you disobey it? Because just as you can choose
            to obey it, you can choose to disobey it. One leads to a reward, one leads to
            destruction. And that has to be what we preach, since Jesus talked about it and
            that should be more important than anything else. 

  • Keaton Brownstead

    mewithoutYou says it best in The Spviet, “God is Love and Love is real, but the dead are dancing with the dead.”

  • Aaron

    Great thoughts, definitely getting the book. 

  • I think what crouches behind the door of our hearts on this issue is arrogance. We cannot fathom a world where equity takes the place of the good works vs. bad paradigm. “Why should someone be allowed to live a whole life of sin and get away with it?,” we ask. We want them to be punished because, after all, we’re not like them.

    I’ve struggled with this view for a while. I realized there was some deep seeded sense of arrogance in my heart that said I was good enough, but not them. They had to suffer. But who is to say that they don’t pay for it? I think they do as the story in your post demonstrates. In the end, they get to choose. The door is locked on the inside as C.S. Lewis puts it.

    But I like what Gregory said in his comment, that if all things are to be restored and the enemy ultimately defeated, then it must be annihilated.

  • Kenton

    Does it sound like “Love Wins”? Hmm, I don’t quite see it. But it DOESN’T sound like eternal conscious torment, and for me that’s the real issue. Whether it’s universalism or annihilationism or Lewis’ forever wandering away, I think the matter is how we see God. If we paint Him as the eternal torturer, then we have an evil image, and *any* of the other alternatives makes for better theology.

    Razing Hell came out at the same time as several other books, and I didn’t read it. I think I will now, thanks to this series.

  • Gripdriv3r777

    This scenario is assuming that the guy will repent of sin once he sees it’s effects? I don’t think he would have cared, he knew what his actions were and did not see them as sin or evil when he was alive. Humans are not inherently innocent, they know what they are doing.

  • Scott Gay

    Obviously by this comment I have not been following closely. But has anyone even considered an inclusive view? All are saved, but some are not. Only willful, persistent, and actual turning from the light given are lost. Since no person knows who this is, it makes conjecture( which has gone on for far too long among new life people) irrelevant.

    • Kenton

       Yes, me! At one  time I would have self-identified as “inclusivist”. I think it’s one way to move from a classic doctrine of  “I’m in, my buddies/family are in, everybody else goes to hell” to a “Love Wins” understanding. (Annihilation is another, and a direct leap is a third.)

      I got called on my inclusivism by my mentor who asked me who was not in – where was “the cutoff point?” My only answer was that there were some beyond saving: Hitler, et. al. He rightly pointed out that that was classic self-righteousness – my sins were forgivable but worse ones weren’t. I pretty much moved into the universalist camp at that point, and “worked the theology out” later. (The conversation was more nuanced than that, but that’s pretty close as I remember it.)

  • Valient

    Unorthodox is a good word because that is just what it is. I can not read anymore without a comment–this is just ridiculous. Everyone who has responded has no conviction or courage to state the truth. What Otto did before God is called “atonement”, that which only Jesus Christ has provided. This is why hell exists because there is no other sacrifice or payment that can be provided for our sins other an that of Christ’s substitionary atonement. If you refuse this than all that remains is eternal conscious punishment. We think way to highly of ourselves and not high enough about God. Jesus spoke more than anyone else in Scripture about hell because He understands the reality of it. Please read your bibles properly. This is very poor exegesis and the premise that hell is just a tradition is a false one.