Apr 252013
 

In the last article, One Way or Another, I suggested that God is present in the teachings of other religions than just Christianity. But aren’t these religions just deceptions of the devil? Well if they are, then the devil seems to have a pretty strange agenda. Let’s look at the lives of three famous people of other faiths.

Ashoka

glooct01Let’s start with Ashoka the Great – an emperor who ruled most of India in the third century BC. According to tradition, Ashoka began his reign as a ruthless tyrant, purging dissent and violently conquering his neighbors. But as he surveyed the death and destruction of his latest conquest in Kalinga, and heard the wailing of the mourners, something changed in him. He became a Buddhist, and completely reformed his life and his empire. He made peace with his neighbors, forgave his enemies, released many prisoners,  built schools and hospitals, and encouraged compassion and kindness in his laws. He protected the forests and animals and encouraged all religions.

He said

“Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought “Let me glorify my own religion,” only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.” 1

H. G. Wells, said of him:

“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.” 2

So who would inspire an enlightened empire of peace and compassion. Satan or God?

Guru Teg Bahadur

guru9Let’s look now at a Sikh, Guru Teg Bahadur who became the ninth guru of the Sikhs in 1665. He was a humble but powerful leader of the Sikh’s but also wrote beautiful verses that became part of the Sikh scriptures. Such as this one:

“Oh mind, love the Lord. With your ears, hear the glorious praises of the Lord of the Universe, and with your tongue, sing his song.” 3.

When the viceroy of the Mugal emperor began trying to convert the Hindus of Kashmir to Islam by force, their leaders approached Teg Bahadur for help. He told them to tell the viceroy that if he could convert Guru Teg Bahadur, they would convert also. But after four months of prison and torture, the Guru still refused to convert, and the viceroy had him beheaded.

Many Christians have found the grace and strength to die for their faith. Guru Teg Bahadur died not merely for his own faith, but to protect others of a different faith. Does satan inspire this kind of grace?

Rabia Basri

36611_b_4181Finally, let’s look at Rabia Basri, a Muslim saint and Sufi mystic who lived in the 700’s AD. Captured by bandits and sold into slavery, she would spend most of her nights in prayer after finishing her duties. When her master overheard these prayers he realized what a saintly person she was and released her. She moved into in the desert where she taught about divine love to a group of disciples. Many religious leaders came to seek her counsel.

She once said to God,

“Everyone prays to You from fear of the Fire;
And if You do not put them in the Fire,
This is their reward.

Or they pray to You for the Garden,
Full of fruits and flowers.
And that is their prize.

But I do not pray to You like this,
For I am not afraid of the Fire,
And I do not ask You for the Garden.

But all I want is the Essence of Your Love,
And to return to be One with You,
And to become Your Face.”

As we close up this discussion of heaven and hell, I wonder how many of us come anywhere close to understanding God like Rabia did? How many of us only try to be good out of fear of hell, or a desire for heaven? How many of us understand the true object of our search?

I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:

With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell

So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.

 

  1. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ashoka
  2. H. G. Wells, in The Outline of History (1920)
  3. Guru Granth Sahib – the Saloks
Apr 062013
 

moses (1)In the last installment, we saw that the idea of everlasting punishment is not compatible with a God of love. But isn’t a a hell of everlasting punishment taught in the scriptures? No, but they have been aggressively mistranslated and misinterpreted to make you THINK they do.

Let’s start with the Old Testament. When Moses and the prophets gave the law, they warned people that whoever broke God’s laws would suffer in hell forever. Oh no wait. They didn’t say that at all. The curses for breaking the law included famine, sickness and war, but NOT eternal torment. 1

But doesn’t the Old Testament mention hell? No. The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word “Sheol”, which means the grave or the place of the dead. Both the righteous and the unrighteous go to Sheol. But the translators of Bibles like the King James pulled a trick on us. They knew that whenever Christians hear the word “hell” they think of eternal flames. So whenever the Old Testament mentioned wicked people going to Sheol, they translated the word as “hell”, and whenever it mentions righteous people going to Sheol, they translated it as “the grave” – even though they are the same Hebrew word. It’s simply the place of the dead. There is no mention of screams and torment in Sheol. In fact it was called a land of silence 2
This is similar to the use of the Greek word “Hades” in the New Testament. As you may remember from Greek mythology, Hades was simply the underworld. Like Sheol, it was a place of the dead, good or evil. But Jesus does use another word that is translated as “hell”. Most of the images of flames and punishment come to us from Jesus’ use of the Hebrew or Aramaic word “gehenna” or “gehinnom”. For example:

“If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Gehennah), where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.” 3

So what exactly is “Gehenna”. It sounds like a punishment of everlasting fire. But is it? Well, it turns out that it’s actually a valley just outside of Jerusalem. Depending on which historians you read, this valley was either a dump where the garbage was burned, or a valley of tombs, or the place where in ancient times they sacrificed to the god Molec. Perhaps all three of them. It’s also a place where Isaiah claimed God would burn the bodies of the wicked after a great last battle. In fact, Jesus is quoting Isaiah when he mentions it. Here’s what Isaiah says.

“They shall go forth, and look on the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” 4

But Isaiah isn’t talking about souls in hell, he’s talking about dead bodies. So many that the fires go on and on. And it’s interesting that many of the people Jesus preached to ended up slaughtered a few years later when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the Roman 10th Legion burned the bodies of the dead in Gehenna valley. 5

So was Jesus simply warning people about the destruction of Jerusalem? Some commentators think so. But about this time, the rabbis also began to use Isaiah’s prophecy of physical destruction as a symbol of a purification process after death. A person who had been wicked would suffer fiery pain in this spiritual Gehenna, but after their wickedness was purged, they would come out. The fires of Gehenna might continue to burn, but no one would spend more than a year in Gehenna, and some would come out much sooner, after they had paid their debt in full, as Jesus said. 6

But what about all the scriptures that talk about eternal suffering and punishment? Here’s where the biggest mistranslation comes into play.

With no exception that I can find, when the Bible mentions eternal or everlasting punishment, the word it uses is “aionios” This is derived from the Greek word “aeon”. That word probably looks familiar, because it’s where we get the word “eon”, meaning a long period of time. But in Greek it could apparently mean ANY period of time, from a week to many generations. So these “eternal” torments are actually “age-long” torments. They may last a long time, or at least seem to, but they come to an end. Also the word Jesus uses for these punishments is “kolasis” 7 which is the word used for pruning away the dead wood from a tree to improve it and help it grow. It is purification to improve a person, not endless punishment to torture them. There’s no point in pruning a tree forever. But over the centuries, theologians began to translate “aionios” as eternal and everlasting, to make the punishments seems more horrible, probably to frighten people into being obedient.

If God had wanted the scriptures to convey the idea of a hell of everlasting torment, surely he would have mentioned it in the Old Testament? Surely Jesus and the apostles would have chosen words that really meant “eternal” or “everlasting” when describing God’s purification (there are several Greek words to choose from). The idea of hell hardly appears in Paul’s writings at all.

St Augustine said that whoever interprets the scriptures in a way that doesn’t teach love – doesn’t understand them. And we’ve just seen that in order to get the Bible to teach a God who tortures most of humanity forever, you have to mistranslate and misunderstand quite a bit.

So what DOES happen to the wicked after death? There are a lot of possibilities, and we don’t need to sort it all out right now. All that’s important for this episode is that we realize that if there are punishments after death, then they are limited, and they are redemptive. As for the rest, some early Christians, as well as some today, believe that God will save everyone. This is called universalism. Some early Christians, as well as some today, believed in some kind of reincarnation. Some believe that the wickedest souls will be destroyed, rather than punished forever. This is annihilationism. You don’t have to believe any of them. Some people combine parts of all of them. I’m going to refer in the annotations to a video of my mentor Bishop Lewis Keizer where he explains the mystical Jewish view of what happens to these various parts of the soul after death. 8

But the moral of the story is that God is just and merciful. We will be punished for our sins, but only to the extent necessary to purify us so that we can move on. You can still follow Jesus without having to think God is a monster who punishes most people forever and ever.

Until next time, I’m Keith Campbell for Godsmarts. See you soon.

  1. Deut 28:16-8, Lev 26:14-29
  2. Ps 94:17
  3. Mk 9:47,48 NET
  4. Isa 66:24, WEB
  5. Gabriel Barkay, “The Riches of Ketef Hinnom.” Biblical Archaeological Review 35:4-5 (2005): 22–35, 122–26
  6. Mat 5:26, Luk 12:59
  7. See Matt 25:46
  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG98q8jRcJg
Mar 312013
 

Last_Judgment_Triptych_(detail)_Thirteen_1467_71Most people in the world will die and  go to hell, where they will spend an endless eternity burning in unimaginable agony with no hope of release, ever. This is what many churches teach,  often enthusiastically.

But these days, more and more Christians are secretly embarrassed by this teaching, but are afraid to question it. But perfect love, says the first letter of John, drives out fear. 1. Remember in an earlier post, we say that Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all said that love is the real meaning of the scriptures, and if you think the scriptures are teaching something other than love, then you’ve misinterpreted them.

So is it really loving of God to condemn most of humanity to be an object lesson of everlasting pain? Of course not. Not only is this not loving, it’s not even just. The scripture says God is just 2, but I would argue that a God who dishes out infinite punishment in an infinite hell is infinitely unjust.

Justice means that the punishment fits the crime. “An eye for an eye”. 3 As limited, finite humans, by our very nature, we can’t  commit an infinite crime, therefore, so infinite punishment is unjust.

Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Hitler lived for 56 years.Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a good, long while.

We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night, year after year, century after century, for 20 million years. Doing some calculation, let’s suppose we find that he has suffered more than the combined total pain of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the pain of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded that combined total. At that point, justice is satisfied.

But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was affected in any way by Hitler. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. hithell0We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering calculation – and we send Hitler back to the flames.

And 200 hundred million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some.

But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.

We come back in two hundred trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. for every second of every day and night. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.

Can ANYONE tell me that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell says that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun.

He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an eternity of suffering.

Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who, if they had to watch this,  would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment ages before this point. Are we more merciful than God? And yet millions of Christians think that not only will God continue to torment Hitler forever, he’ll also give the very same punishment of endless suffering to Gandhi, Socrates, Buddah, Hipatia of Alexandria, and anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus, including people in now and in the past who live in areas where Christianity hasn’t reached.

The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would be worse than the most bloodthirsty god of the Aztecs. He would be worse than Molech. The Aztecs sacrificed less than 1 percent of their population every year hoping to keep their culture in favor with the gods. But by most estimates, only 7 to 14 percent of humans in the history of the world have been Christians. So God allows 86 to 93 or more percent of humanity to be sacrificed forever in hell to save 7 to 14 percent in heaven. Such a God would be such a monster that the most noble thing we could do would be to oppose him.

contempt-of-court1Now some Christians suggest that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for insulting a judge in a courtroom than for insulting a guy on the street (because of the more exalted office of the judge)  it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.

But this leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t understand  the seriousness of their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded).

To commit a great sin requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE sin requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even understand the nature of an infinite sin, far less commit it.

Even so, there are some people who are willing to accept God being more cruel than Molech if that’s what the Bible says. Even though Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all say that only loving interpretations of the scriptures are correct ones. But is that really what the scripture says?

We’ll take that question up in our next episode. Spoiler alert – the answer is NO. The picture is a lot less grim.

Until next time, this is Reverend Keith for Godsmarts.

  1. 1 Jn 4:18
  2. 2 Thes 1:6
  3. Exodus 21;24
Apr 022007
 

Since this is bound to come up at some point, I wanted to do a more comprehensive post on the words “everlasting” or “eternal” connected to punishment (hell, hades, lake of fire, etc). This will be somewhat redundant of my earlier short post. My apologies in advance.  Also, it will be rather technical and of probably no interest whatsoever except to a believer in sola scriptura (the Bible Alone is truth). You have been warned.

As far as I can find, EVERY single scripture which is traditionally interpreted as teaching everlasting punishment uses some version of the Greek words “aion” and “aionios” to describe this punishment.  These words are also the origin of our English word “eon”, and, like that word, convey the idea of a long – but finite amount of time. They are, however, consistently MIS-translated as “everlasting” or “eternal” by the King James and many other translations.  It is safe to say that the doctrine of eternal punishments stands or falls on the correct translation of this one, somewhat obsure, term.

This in itself raises a question. If God wants us to know about eternal punishment and directed the writing of the Bible, could he not have inspired the choice of some other, less controversial word? Yes, he could have. Several very appropriate words are available in Greek, such as “akatalutos” (endless, permanent – strongs 179), “aidios” (ever-enduring – strongs 126), “athanasia” (undying – strongs 110), “adialeiptos” (ceaseless, permanent – strongs 88). All these words ARE used in the New Testament – but only when referring to eternal life and eternal rewards, never in reference to punishments – a telling difference.

The Pharisees and the Essenes apparently DID believe in eternal torment for the wicked, and when Josephus, the Jewish historian of the time of the apostles, describes their beliefs, he uses the Greek words I mention above. The Pharisees, he says,  believe the wicked are sent to an everlasting prison [eirgmon aidion] subject to eternal punishment" [aidios timoria]. The Essenes believe the wicked would suffer never-ceasing punishment [timoria adialeipton], or deathless punishment, [athanaton timorian].

Jesus teaching, by uses terms such as “olethros aiónios or aióniou kriseos "age-long chastisement," or "age-long condemnation." In distinguishing his doctrine of punishment from the Pharasees, it may be that this is at least part of what Jesus had in mind when he warned his disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Mat 16:12). The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and the Pharisees believed in endless torment. Perhaps those who teach endless punishment today are, in fact, teaching one of the particular doctrines of the Pharisees that Jesus specifically repudiates.

The writers of the time who used the word “aion” and “aionios” used them to refer to “age” and “age-long” – not eternity. Here are some examples:

From Homer: "Thyself shall be deprived of pleasant aiónos" (life – or age.) "Husband thou hast perished from aiónos" (life or time.)  

From Hesiod: "To him (the married man) during aiónos (life – his age) evil is constantly striving,”

Hippocrates. "A human aión is a seven days matter."

Euripides: "Every aión of mortals is unstable."

Euripides: "Marriage to those mortals who are well situated is a happy aión."

Plato: "Leading a life (aióna) involved in troubles."

Arisotle: "Which of these things separately can be compared with the order of the heaven, and the relation of the stars, sun, and also the moon moving in most perfect measures from one aión to another aión,"

Philo: "These they called aiónios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations."

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint)  the same use of “aion” or “aionios” for “age” applies:

"There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, (aiónos), men of renown."

“"Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an aiónion excellency, a joy of many generations."

"And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee, then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant. aionios"

There are also a number of places where the word is used in the New Testament that simply CANNOT refer to “eternity”. Here are some examples.

What was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of this age (aion)  and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.  (Matthew 13:22 WEB)
[Is the listener distracted from the gospel by the cares of ETERNITY??]

So will it be in the end of the world (aion). The angels will come forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous,  (Matthew 13:49 WEB)
[The angels come at the end of ETERNITY?? (ie, never)]

as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old (aion) (Luke 1:70 WEB) [From the beginning of ETERNITY?]

His lord commended the dishonest manager because he had done wisely, for the children of this world (aion)  are, in their own generation, wiser than the children of the light.  (Luke 16:8 WEB)
[The children of ETERNITY are wiser than the children of light??]

Since the world began (ek tou aiónos) it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. (John 9:32 WEB)
[Since the beginning of ETERNITY?? ]

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began (chronos aionios) (Romans 16:25 KJV)
[Since ETERNITY begain??]

that in the ages (aions) to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; (Ephesians 2:7 WEB)
[That in the ETERNITIES to come?? Is there more than one eternity?]

Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages (ta tele ton aiónon) have come.  (1 Corinthians 10:11 WEB)
[Has the end of all ETERNITIES come upon us?? THAT would be bad news]

Even where the word refers to something where “eternity” might make sense, the construction doesn’t allow for “eternity” to be the meaning. For example:

Now to the King eternal [aionos], immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever [eis aionos] . Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 WEB)

No one would object to calling God the eternal King. But would it make sense to call him the King of the “eternities” (plural?) This makes no sense at all. There’s only one eternity. However, if aion means age, then we get this translation (from Youngs)

and to the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God, is honour and glory–to the ages of the ages! Amen.  1 Timothy 1:17 YLT)

“King of the Ages” – and “ages of ages” make perfect grammatical sense, and are still accurate.

So, if “age” and “ages” and “age-long” are really the better translations of these words, how and when did they come to be translated “eternal” and “everlasting”? We can get some clues by examining ancient dictionaries and lexicons. Here is the definition of “aion” from some ancient dictionaries.

Hesychius, (A. D. 400-600,) "The life of man, the time of life."

 Theodoret (A. D. 300-400) "Aión is not any existing thing, but an interval denoting time, sometimes infinite when spoken of God, sometimes proportioned to the duration of the creation, and sometimes to the life of man."

John of Damascus (A. D. 750,) says, "1, The life of every man is called aión The whole duration or life of this world is called aión. The life after the resurrection is called 'the aión to come.' "

Then, by the 16th Century, we read this in the lexicon of Phavorinus: "Aión, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aión is also the eternal and endless AS IT SEEMS TO THE THEOLOGIAN."

So sometime after the Council of Nicea, the meaning had begun to change to “eternal”, and it was apparently at the instigation of theologians, rather than translators. There began to be a theological preference for thinking of “aion” as “eternity”.

Another help in pointing out that “aionios” cannot mean “eternal” is in the word for punishment associated with it, for example, in this scripture:

And these shall go away to punishment age-during (kolasis aionios), but the righteous to life age-during. (Matthew 25:46 YLT)

The word used for “punishment” (kolasis) actually refers to pruning, to cutting off branches to improve a tree. The correct translation is closer to “correction” or “chastisement”. It is a REMEDIAL punishment – the object being to improve the person being corrected. It would be absurd to imagine undergoing “corrective” punishment for all eternity! The word suggests that at some future point, the branches will be sufficiently pruned that the tree can be allowed to grow again.

Mar 302007
 

Universalism is the doctrine that eventually, all humanity will be saved and united with God. Since I've argued elsewhere that the infinite punishment of an everlasting hell is incompatible with the love, justice and mercy of God, it follows that eventually, all punishment must end, and all humanity united with God. While I find this doctrine obvious simply by what I know of God's love, as I've studied it, I find it has amazingly strong support even from a literal interpretation of the Bible. I'd like to present several scriptures which I don't believe can be properly understood or explained except by a universalist interpretation.

"and through him [Jesus] to reconcile ALL THINGS to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross. You, being in past times alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and blameless before him" (Colossians 1:20-22 WEB)

Can anyone suppose that a soul tormented in hell is "reconciled" unto God? According to this verse, ALL THINGS will be reconciled, and presented holy and without blemish to God. No exceptions are mentioned. In fact, it was verses such as this one which led the early Church father Origen to speculate that eventually even Satan would be reconciled to God. But I'll be satisfied for this writing to concentrate on humanity. At the least, it's very hard to see how all things can be reconciled to God while a significant portion of humanity are suffering in hell, eternally separated from his presence. Here's another scripture

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ ALL will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christs, at his coming. Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For, He put all things in subjection under his feet.[1] But when he says, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who subjected all things to him. When all things have been subjected to him, then the Son will also himself be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:22-28 WEB)

This one is quite shocking also. ALL will be made alive by Christ. The same "ALL" who die in Adam, which is to say, all humanity.  This does not refer only to the resurrection, where death will be abolished, for it says that death is the LAST enemy that will be abolished. All other enemies will be in subjection and (per the scripture before) reconciliation to Christ BEFORE the resurrection. And then God will be "all in all". God will be FULLY united, through and through, with all humanity – a difficult thing to reconcile with the idea of millions screaming in hell.
Origen put it this way: So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him "all," and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is "all in all." And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be "all in all" –Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3.

I quote the next one from Youngs Literal, because there is an important nuance in the Greek that Young's captures.

"So, then, as through one offence to all men it is to condemnation, so also through one declaration of `Righteous' it is to ALL men to justification of life; for as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners: so also through the obedience of the one, shall the many be constituted righteous. "
(Romans 5:18-19 YLT)
Who will are condemned because of Adam? Absolutely everyone. Who will be made righteous in Christ? The same group – absolutely everyone. Who became sinners because of Adam? "the many". Some Bibles simply translated it "many" – but it actually implies "THE many". Which many? The group specified before – ALL mankind. In any event, the many who became sinners in Adam are the same many who are constituted righteous – that is, absolutely everyone.

Next, in Romans 11…

"For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on ALL."  (Romans 11:32 WEB)

Paul has used several examples to show that even disobedience doesn't disqualify us from the mercy of God. ALL will be shown the same mercy, and Paul concludes with this profound scripture:

"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen."  (Romans 11:36 WEB)

Everything came from God (of). Everything is sustained by God (through) AND…. everything will RETURN TO God (to). There will be no eternal separation.

But isn't it an absolute requirement that everyone confess the name of Jesus to be saved? That is the position of some. They would point to this scripture:

"that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. " (Romans 10:9 WEB)

You'll notice it doesn't say "ONLY if you confess…" simply that this is one route. But even if we want to say it is an absolute requirement… it's clear from scripture that absolutely everyone will meet that requirement!

"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that EVERY TONGUE should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. " (Philippians 2:10-11 WEB)

Even those who are dead ( "under" the earth ) will ALL (EVERY tongue) confess that Jesus is Lord – and at that point, will obviously believe with certainty that God raised him from the dead, and hence will be saved! But wait, you exclaim. Isn't it too late to confess Jesus after one is dead? Says who? There is no such limitation in the text of Romans 10:9. Certainly it takes more courage to confess Jesus in the here-and-now. But does God save by courage, or by grace? Is there some "merit" in confessing before death? Does God save by merit, or by grace? There is nothing in scripture to forbid the idea of that the dead may confess and receive salvation.

"For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with iteself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body". –Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

"We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life" –Clement of Alexandria

There is much, much more to say on this topic. Perhaps a 30 part series would work 😉

Mar 262007
 

A hell of infinite suffering and duration makes the God of the Bible into the archetype of all sadists. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that we MUST believe in this doctrine. Why? Because the Bible teaches it, Jesus teaches it, and therefore we have no option but to believe it. Of course, our atheist friends would happily point out that if the Bible really teaches that God is infinitely unjust – so much the worse for the Bible. Yet another reason to confine the Bible to the flames as one of the most evil books in history. And if Jesus endorsed such a doctrine – all the more reason to ignore his claims of love and mercy.

But the Bible doesn’t teach the doctrine at all. The Bible has, in fact, been aggressively mistranslated in an attempt to make it support such a doctrine. Rather than ticking off every single scripture that has been misapplied to this doctrine, I’ll try to give a few general principles that should allow the reader to properly understand what the original text is saying.

Sheol

First of all, the doctrine of a hell of infinite suffering is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. God did not warn disobedient Adam and Eve about perpetual flames. Moses didn’t threaten the children of Israel with everlasting damnation. The prophets didn’t promise demonic tortures. The punishments threatened were entirely here-and-now. If you sin, you might die. Every time the word “hell” appears in the Old Testament, it is a translation of “Sheol” – which has the character of a shadowy underworld. “Sheol” is simply “the grave”, and no rewards or punishments seem to be associated with it. A hell of torments doesn’t begin to appear until the inter-testamental apocrypha, as I mentioned in my post on Satan and evil.

Gehenna

When Jesus speaks warns of a “hell”, where the “worm doesn’t die, and the fire isn’t quenched”, the word he uses is “gehenna”, the name for a valley behind Jerusalem where garbage was burned, and which was associated with the abominations of sacrifice to Molech. And his phrase makes clear that he is quoting from Isaiah 66:24. If we read Isaiah 66, we see that it refers to the burning and decay of the DEAD BODIES of evil doers who are destroyed in an apocalyptic judgment. It is not referring to the torture of souls in the underworld.

They shall go forth, and look on the DEAD BODIES of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66:24 WEB)

It’s almost certainly NOT a coincidence that Jesus is speaking to a group of people who are about to undergo a devastating national destruction in which huge numbers will be killed by the Romans. Jesus warning is about physical destructions and judgments.


“Aionios”

 

The word “aionios” is very often translated in many Bibles as “eternal” or “everlasting” – for example:

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal [aionios] damnation:” (Mark 3:29 KJV)

This is derived from the word “aion” from which we get our English “eon”. In ancient usage – in translating the Old Testament into Greek, and in classical usage – this word doesn’t mean “eternal” or “everlasting”. It means “eon-long” or “age-long”. Here, for example, is how Young’s Literal Translation treats Mark 3:29:

but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness — to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment;” (Mark 3:29 YLT)

This is particularly true of the words of Jesus, where “aionios” is probably a translation of “olam” from Hebrew or Aramaic. Olam may also refer to periods of time with definite ending – such as:

“then his master shall bring him to God, and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever [olam].” (Exodus 21:6 WEB) Obviously this doesn’t mean for all eternity – only for the period of his life.

The choice of “aionios” is even more significant when we consider that there are other words that could have been chosen which would have been completely unambiguous. For example, when Josephus describes the doctrines of the Pharasees, he says they believed in eirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment). It’s rather significant, then, that Jesus is described as only preaching aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement). While it may possible that the “age” to come, or God’s “age” are regarded as everlasting or eternal, there is no need to suppose this applies to the punishments of hell.

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t appear to mention hell or eternal punishment at ALL. There is one scripture in 2 Th 1:9 which suggests eternal DESTRUCTION (an entirely different doctrine). But of course, 2 Thessalonians wasn’t written by Paul in the first place. It’s also interesting that the doctrine of eternal suffering doesn’t appear in any of the earliest church councils and creeds, even Nicea, until about 553 – and several prominent early church fathers and teachers were universalists and were not condemned.

If eternal suffering were a doctrine God wanted taught as a fundamental of faith – is it likely that the Old Testament wouldn’t have mentioned it at all – that Jesus would have apparently taken pains to use words to differentiate his doctrine from that of eternal suffering, and that the greatest of the New Testament authors didn’t bother to mention it at all?

Mar 262007
 

While the infinite tortures of hell have been a popular motivational device for centuries, the time has come when this doctrine is far more of a liability than a help – if it ever was a help. It is a liability because modern people, unlike their ancestors, don’t shirk at the audacity of evaluating and judging the God of the Bible, and by any reasonable evaluation, a God who subjects anyone to infinite punishment is infinitely unjust.

Justice demands equality of crime and punishment. “An eye for an eye”. “Let the punishment fit the crime”. A finite human, by very nature, cannot commit an infinite offense, therefore, infinite punishment is unjust. Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a while.

We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night. Doing some calculation, we find that he has suffered more than the combined total suffering of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the suffering of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded them. Justice is presumably satisfied. But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was effected peripherally. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering quotient – and we send Hitler back to the flames.

200 million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some. But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.

We come back in a billion, trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.

Can ANYONE presume that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell suggests that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun. He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an infinity of suffering. Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment aeons before this point. Are we more merciful than God?

The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would sink below the most bloodthirsty God of the Aztecs in his cruelty. He would be so cruel and malicious that it would be a mark of the highest possible virtue to oppose him.

 

Just as a pre-emptive rebuttal – it has been suggested that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for spitting at a judge in a courtroom than for spitting at a passerby on the street (because of the more exalted status of the judge)  it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.

But the analogy leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t sufficiently understand their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded). To commit a great offense requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE offense requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even comprehend the nature of an infinite offense, far less commit it.

 

 

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