Monday, January 19, 2009

Hell - Getting a Balance

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

Last time I wrote about Hell, I showed that one of the extended pictures the Bible uses for Hell is eternal conscious torment. But it's important that we don't leave it at that - that we teach the "full counsel of Scripture". Because there's another important picture...

"As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all people will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. "And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to the whole human race."
Isaiah 66:22-24, TNIV

We get the same picture repeated in Revelation 22:1-6 and 14-15. Inside the city is the tree of life and those who have been forgiven - who have "washed their robes" (v14). Outside are those who have not been forgiven, excluded from the tree of life and hence from eternal life.

This is the same picture as we get from thinking about the Bible's teaching on resurrection. It teaches both that everyone will be raised from the dead (Daniel 12:1-2) and that resurrection for the believer is participation in Christ's resurrection, who rose with a greater body than he had before, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15). So what does that mean for the unbeliever?

Because the Bible gives two different pictures, it is clear that at least one of them is metaphorical (incidentally, they broadly correspond to eternal conscious torment and to annihilationism). So we can see something useful if we compare the two pictures and see what is common to both.

In both, there is continued existence for the unsaved. In one case, as suffering prisoners; in the other as corpses. That is why the argument that the Lake of Fire is described as the "second death" doesn't imply annihilation - death isn't annihilation; it is the conversion of a living body into a dead body. It therefore seems only fair to say that the final state of the unsaved will be that they still exist, but only as the ruins of their former selves. This links back to what I wrote earlier about the final ruined state of the unsaved.

In both, there is shame and disgrace that lasts forever.

In one of them, God is present; in the other, they are excluded from God's presence. It seems fair to say, then, that they will be reduced to the stage where they cannot be conscious of God's presence - they will have lost the last remnants of the image of God.

At the end, all people will worship God, because the others will not be people any more.


Daniel Hill said...

Will they still be human, do you think?

John said...

Depends hugely on what you mean by "human"... I suspect not, because I think it's the capacity for relation with God which makes us human.