Is It Possible to Be Eternally Separated From God? | TQ.43

In Top 50 Questions For Christians, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone2 Comments

Hell is a sticky subject.

For centuries the church has sold God as a loving being full of grace and mercy. And yet, equally consistent has been its message that Hell, a place of torment, is the eternal place for unbelievers. That eternal damnation awaits those who don’t make the right choice about God.

Understandably, the two ideals create an odd friction. How is it that God can be loving and full of unmerited favor and send people to torment in Hell for an eternity?

Before we begin, I think the Christian must first recognize the question as legitimate. More than legitimate, even. Most of the time the very asking of this question implies a “benefit of the doubt” being afforded to God. The asker wants to believe in a loving God, who pardons in great and fantastic ways.

There, of course, are other times when the person asking has simply identified what appears to be an odd contradiction in God’s character. Eternal separation does not, on its surface, jive well with ideas like love, mercy and grace.

It’s important to grant these positions.

The Matter At Hand: Judgment

Now, on to the question. In short, yes, I believe it is possible to be eternally separated from God.

A facet of love is justice, and with justice comes judgment. We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament — with Noah and with Sodom and Gomorrah, for example — where God rightly exacts judgment for sin. In fact, the God of the Old Testament is not shy about showing the justice/judgment side of his character. After all, he did hand us the book to read that contains all of those stories.

Sure, there is plenty of patience, love, and grace to be found in the Old Testament, but there’s also some definitive, unforgettable pictures of judgment to the enemies of God and his people. If  we believe “all scripture is inspired” by God, then we have to believe God co-signed these stories despite how damaging they are to his “loving” character.

But why? What does he want us to learn through these stories? What’s he trying to tell us? Where might he be leading us?

At the minimum, he seems intent on showing us that judgement and justice is large part of his character.

The Crux of the Cross

The justice of the Old Testament leads us to the Grace in the New Testament.

I remember when I first learned that every color, at its brightest, is white. And that every color at it’s darkest is black. I was fascinated by this sort of color contradiction. Blue, Red, Yellow, they all converged at their brightest point. In a sense, every color is white, even when they aren’t white.

Ah, contradictions.

But perhaps thinking about colors this way will help us get a handle on this judgment/grace contradiction. Perhaps it is the case that justice at its highest level, and mercy at it’s highest level are the same, much like blue at its brightest and red at its brightest are the same.

That’s a bit abstract, I know. But luckily, God gave us something a little more concrete to consider. In Jesus, justice and mercy converge in ways similar to colors. Jesus epitomizes both the height of God’s judgement, and the height of God’s grace. If he was not a just God, Jesus would not be necessary. If he were not a God of grace, Jesus would not be necessary. But because he is a God of both justice and grace, Jesus is absolutely necessary.

So then, Jesus takes the full wrath of God for us and delivers to us the fullness of his grace in one swoop.

To reject Jesus, then, is to take on the fullness of God’s justice and to reject his grace. The stakes are pretty high. I won’t pretend to know the whys and hows of God’s “judgment” but if he sent his Son to rescue us from it, I’d say it’s a pretty big deal.

For whatever reason, the Bible informs us that we have this lifetime to make our minds up about what to do with Him and Jesus. The lives we live now is for an eternity later… and like the colors, we’ll either become the bright white or dark black. There is a heaven. There is a Hell. And they are eternal.

Again, this is what makes Jesus so key and crucial to the Christian faith. He is the only way to escape the judgment of God and accept the great grace and mercy of God that leads to the sort of life and relationship we were made to have with him.

Let’s Discuss.

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
6 comments
upsidedwnworld
upsidedwnworld

There's a meme going around Facebook that pretty well sums up the church's teaching on he'll which says, " God loves you so much that he made hell in case you don't love him back." Harsh, but yes, this is exactly what the world hears us saying. And they have a point. The dynamics you describe make some sense in theory, but they are clearly inferior to the way good people and parents think and behave. You can appeal to justice from now to forever, but when we paint a God whose justice requires him to behave worse than we mere mortals can manage, that's not exactly impressive. 


It's a shame the post Constantine church has locked onto this inferior vision of God's love and justice. In the early church it was broadly accepted that Jesus's work secured the salvation of all men (as scripture repeatedly claims). Hell was a place of purification, not pointless suffering. If this were not the case, then the work of Adam would be of greater effect than the work of Christ. (Note that it's impossible to opt out of the work of Adam.)


At any rate, a bit over a decade ago I quite accidentally stumbled across the teaching of the early church fathers on universal salvation. I wasn't questioning eternal hell, I just accidentally became aware of the claims of universal reconciliation. I assumed it was wrong and set about looking for holes to poke in the idea. A few hundred hours of intense scripture study and other research later and, like most of the early church, I was convinced. 


I wrote a brief series outlining the biblical basis for universal reconciliation if you would like to see the evidence. The links throughout lead to all sorts of scholarly documentation. But you only want to check it out if you are willing to be at odds with much of the church. The case for universal salvation is so strong and so consistent with scripture in the original language that if you're not willing to risk putting yourself at odds with other Christians, you are probably best off not looking at it.

www.theupsidedownworld.com/hot-topics/hell

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@upsidedwnworld Hey there! I'll have to read your posts to see where you are coming from. Been chilling all day today enjoying the holiday! Hope you had a good one too. 


In the meantime, I cover a lot of my thoughts about Hell and universalism in my series of posts that deal with "Love Wins" (a book by Rob Bell you, no doubt, have heard of.) Here is the link to the series of posts. 


As you know, the topic is nuanced and so will not fit nicely into a single post, or in this case, comment. But take a glance at that series and see what you think.



http://antwuanmalone.com/lovewinsexperience/

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@upsidedwnworld I see that one of your points (on your site) have to do with the etymology surrounding eternal. They seem well thought out and written. 

I must ask this question of you as you work through this. What does this do for verses like John 3:16 (the promise of “aionian” life) and 1 John 5:13? 

Are you also a believer that the life that Jesus provides for us is not eternal? If so, how do you separate the meanings of these same words in the verses that describe the eternal life that God grants us? Would not the death that is born to us from Adam be even more victorious if the sacrifice Jesus makes only covers us for a season?

upsidedwnworld
upsidedwnworld

@antwuanm @upsidedwnworld I'm so glad you went and checked it out. I hope you will consider going through all the posts in the series. I left a detailed response to your excellent question on my blog. I hope it helps.

I will check out your posts on Love Wins, but I have to be honest; I may have a wee touch of OCD and a brain that tends to work on overdrive. When I first stumbled upon this topic, I kind of went nuts studying it. I'm pretty sure my two oldest children still bear the scars of neglect from that period. In particular, I looked for every possible hole or defect in the teaching that I could find. I read every critic from CARM apologetics to Augustine and went well outside the boundaries of Christian scholarship, attempting to understand it from every angle and look for potential flaws. Basically, I figured that big claims took big evidence and wasn't going to step so far outside of modern orthodoxy unless I was certain universalism was solid. In the decade since, I have yet to come across an objection or criticism I hadn't already dealt with and found a satisfying (to me anyways) answer for. So, I'm pretty set in my thinking on this issue. 

But one of the really nice things I discovered when I embraced universalism is that it took my trust in God to an entirely new level. Disagreements don't bother me nearly as much as they used to, since I know God can be trusted to work everything out in his good time. So I know I can come across a bit strong for some people's taste, but I in no way mean to say that you must be convinced or accept what I believe. Even when we are on differing sides of an issue, anyone who claims the name of Christ is precious to me and my desire is to enjoy fellowship with them. :)

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@upsidedwnworld I love your reply here. This is the spirit of this site, actually. To discuss the varying looks at Christianity in a way that is civil. 


For many, a conversation like this one holds high stakes (souls are at stake). But I think we do more harm than good when we discuss differing views in combative ways. It's important to me that Christians and non-Christians alike know that differences of opinion can be worked through, and that regardless of where we stand, fellowship can still happen. 


I'm glad you're here!

Carl Rooker
Carl Rooker

And to think that Jesus experienced the dark for each of us, in order to bring us the Light.  What wonderful Love.


May you have a blessed Ressurection Sunday.