7/10/2009 7:27 PM
All biblical images of life everlasting imply, indeed even portray, its opposite. What would that contrary be?
The Yes of “life together” would face a No of “life apart,” everlasting estrangement from the relationships God intended for the world: no blessed participation in the Life Together of the triune Being; no joyful celebration of the same; no rapturous bonding in the unities God intended for us—familial, ecclesial, political; no reconciliation with or of the natural cosmos. So understood, everlasting death is more horrible than popular portrayals of fiery pain; our worst anthropomorphic imaginings seem far short of the hell of…life apart.
The fearsomeness of everlasting death, however conceived, has prompted some to argue for more hospitable endings. The most generous is that of universalism in which all will be brought to eternal life, given God’s universal desire for all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and every hellish region disallowed. The case for such is made variously: because God is too good to consign anyone to perdition; because humans are too good to be so consigned; the fires of hell are real and lasting but not everlasting for their role is rehabilitation where the dross is burned away in preparation for the purity of heaven; with or without such cleaning the trajectory of God’s story cannot be end with the fulfillment of God’s promise that God shall be all in all none excepted. Karl Barth’s thesis that all have died with Christ, and all have been exalted in him, sounds like that, moving ineluctably to the doctrine of universalism, but not so. Barth’s commitment to the divine sovereignty rightly will not allow us to tell God what must finally be done. But we do have “a command…to hope and to pray cautiously…that His compassion should not fail, and that in accordance with His mercy which is “’new every morning He will not cast off forever (La. 3:22f, 31). [Karl Barth, CHURCH DOGMATICS, IV/3/I, trans., G.W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), p. 478.]
Yet others, believing that the fearsome portrayals of hell do not comport with divine love, and seem an inordinate recompense for the outcome the damned do deserve, propose annihilation as their prospect, everlasting death as simply the end of our life in time, the “perish" of John 3 16 understood as extinction.
To be continued.
Copyright ©2004 William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
By Jane Ellingwood on
7/17/2009 10:58 AM
Re: Everlasting Death?
Gabe, I am very interested in the continued conversation here. I quoted some things from your book Christology in Context in my sermon on Eph. 1:1-14 this past Sunday. I offered or argued that if God does indeed have a plan to gather together all things in Christ, things on heaven and things on earth, as the author of Ephesians believed, who is strong enoug to thwart God's plan? God gave and gives us the ability to choose against God and God's plan. But at the end of the day, whose plan is the one that will be fulfilled? While I did not mention people, like Hitler, who have done great evil, a woman in the congregation (I was a visiting supply preacher) came up to me afterwards and said I had hit on a subject she had often thought about --- which was whether Hitler would ultimately be saved. She said she believed that ultimately God's love was stronger than Hitler's evil, but we agreed we did not know the answer. I look forward to reading more of what you have to say. Jane
By gfackre on
7/19/2009 6:09 AM
Re: Everlasting Death?
So good of you to be following this and struggling, as we all do, with the "Outcome."
On this subject , I have found Barth's ruminations in IV/3/1 to be very helpful, a universal homecoming being an article of hope, not an article of faith. While the trajectory of redemption appears to bend toward the universalist theory, given the radical act of the cross and resurrection, all dying with Christ and rising with him, we cannot tell God how this should work itself out (as with universalism as a doctrine), although we can hope and pray for it. (page 478) .