This week we took some time to further discuss Hell. I continued to make my case that Hell is annihilation. Again, my key texts were – Isaiah 66 – Matthew 10:28 – Revelation 18 – Revelation 21:1-8 – John 3:16 – and of course my definition of the word for eternal “Aionos”.
I also made my case that the purpose of the Gospel is not to rescue individuals from Hell. Rather atonement makes possible a life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed we are saved by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – but the biblical picture is much more robust than a view that says Atonement is solely to save individual soul’s from burning in Hell.
Atonement is so much more. Atonement (or the cross) secures the table at which we commune with God and others. Atonement frees us from the empire’s clutches, because in His sacrifice Jesus unmasked the principalities and powers and showed them for who they are – weak, cowardly, fearful, murderous, and full of deceit. Atonement forgives and redeems – and this forgiveness makes possible a new way of life – a life like Jesus Christ. The biblical view of sin is not just past immoral behaviors. Rather sin (especially in Paul’s writings) is seen as a force over our lives that seeks to enslave and oppress us. The cross frees us from this enslavement and gives us power to confront our evil oppressor and break the chains and cycles of sinful behavior.
So then, a limited view of atonement (or the cross) leads to a skewed view of hell – at least it leads us to assume that atonement is only to rescue us from hell and that such rescue is the sole purpose of the gospel message. Such misuse of hell in the role of the gospel has led to all kinds of evil tactics and means that are intended to get people to come to Christ. So when people “come to Christ” they are not so much “coming to Christ” as they are “fleeing hell”. It’s no surprise then, that so many Christians do not understand the “way of Christ” that they have been “called to” and thereby form whatever comfortable religion that suits their previous sinful life-style. Because (remember) they did not necessarily turn from a “way of life” as much as they turned to the belief that Jesus has saved them from an arbitrary future place called hell. If such belief is all one needs to go to heaven, then there is no real reason to embody the radical way of Christ envisioned in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount.
We also talked about Lazzarus in Luke 16. We read it both literally and figuratively. My contention was that either way you read it, it still does not disprove my case that hell is annihilation. Just that prior to the final destruction there is a period of torment and conscious punishment (I like to think of them as natural consequences).
So thoughts? Further Questions or Comments?