As a preface to this post, please read this one, to understand the position I’m writing from…
I haven’t read Rob Bell’s book yet, but I’m interested to do so soon. This paper was written as part of my own exploration of what the Bible had to say on the fun topic of eternal damnation. A seminary prof has since forwarded me an interesting article on a related idea called “Christus Victor” which is worth a read. Here’s my summary:
Faced with clear scripture as is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, a liberal, in a more conservative mood, would have to concede that “eternal destruction” probably meant, at least to Paul, “eternal.” A conservative, faced with the reality of hell for someone they love, likely would concede that God can do things we can’t imagine, and remember that He alone governs such things: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev 1:17-18)
Interpreting Paul’s words on judgment and hell, alongside Old Testament notions on the subject, Christ’s teaching, the cultural understanding that Paul was speaking into, the rest of the New Testament canon, and the literalness of the form, it would seem to take some significant mental effort to construe his writing as anything but literal and what God intended him to write. Paul spoke about judgment after life to inform, encourage and instruct the church at Thessalonica, admonishing them to live in a way worthy of God’s calling and reminding them that God would reward the just and punish the unjust – clearly articulating an eternal, painful outcome for those who did not obey.
Although it seems wise to take the scripture at face value, one should acknowledge that God’s love and his power are beyond what we can imagine. It is fortunate, then, that these things are up to Him, and not to even His church to decide in the end.
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