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Friday, July 03, 2009

Worth Reading: Three Views of Hell

I recently discovered Nathan Alterton's blog, and have found his most recent posts particularly thought-provoking. Nathan's family used to go camping every summer with my family and several other families of good friends. Those days of sunburns, sailboats, canoe races, bike rides, hikes, and endless speed card games are long gone, and now Nathan is a father of five boys - with a sixth on the way! Somehow he still manages to find time to blog, and I find his thoughts well worth reading.

Recently he's been writing about the Biblical doctrine of Hell. Three Views of Hell, Part 1 provides an overview on the subject, Part 2 brings to light how translation issues necessarily affect a study of the subject, Part 3 discusses the commonly-held view of Eternal Torment (those who die without accepting Christ's atonement will spend eternity separated from God in a place we call hell), and Part 4 is his critique of this viewpoint. Part 5 has really had me thinking over the past few days, as it lays out a Christ-centered doctrine of Universal Reconciliation quite unlike the "universalism" advocated by Unitarians and others clearly outside of orthodox Christianity.

Near the end of the post on Universal Reconciliation is this paragraph:
"There is one more argument in favor of Universal Reconciliation that I haven’t touched on yet, and in my mind it is the most powerful of them all. If Christ truly desires that all men should be saved and He paid the price for all men, yet because of Satan’s interference the majority of humanity is lost forever – then who is the real loser and who is the real winner for all eternity? [emphasis mine] Satan may be cast into the Lake of Fire at the Judgment, but even then he would be able to rejoice that he took the vast majority of men, the pinnacle of God's creation, made in His image, with him into that place to be separated from God forever. God wanted them saved, but the work of the Devil destroyed them, which seems to go against the teaching of scripture."

Nathan's posts have prompted me to think more deeply about my understanding of hell, and have motivated me to pull out a few things for re-reading, including C. S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" and maybe a little Gregory of Nyssa, too.

Part 5 is Nathan's most recent installment to date, but I believe he is planning on covering the view of Conditional Immortality in the future, so if you find his posts interesting, be sure to stay tuned. The comments on his posts are also well worth reading. I hope you find Nathan's thoughts as interesting as I have!


  1. Well, I don't have time to read through all the posts, but one thing really jumped out at me here - "God wanted them saved, but the work of the Devil destroyed them, which seems to go against the teaching of scripture." This seems to be overlooking original sin. It wasn't just the work of the devil - people are joining forces with the devil by deciding to sin. They can turn away from sin, from the devil, or from hell - they can turn towards God and salvation. People are not passive in this equation, we are not pawns. Does it wound God that people do this? Yes, of course, but that's the price of the free will God gave us.

    OK, so I'm Catholic and what do I know... *grin* but that's something that really stood out when I read that quote.

  2. Anonymous8:08 PM

    Interesting that he's the father of five (soon to be six) boys and has so much to say about hell. Not that there's anything wrong with boys, but I'm just sayin'.

  3. Hey Amber, I see your point, but I think you can replace the word "Devil" with "sin" and the statement still makes sense to me. So it's not just, is God victorious over Satan, but also, is God victorious over sin in the ages to come. I am very far from believing that people are passive pawns in a cosmic God-game and very much believe in free will, which does put me between a rock and a hard place when considering this concept of universalism, but perhaps the question is, is post-mortem reconciliation / salvation (I hesitate to use those words because I'm uncertain of the tense in which they are accomplished, but you get my meaning) a possibility, and if so, will those in hell choose to, after a time, be in the presence of God instead of separated from Him?

    And I appreciate your viewpoint and thoughts very much *because* you're Catholic, not in spite of it! :)