The Daily Chuck: Douthat on Hell

Ross Douthat has written a positively extraordinary editorial in the New York Times. I’m getting my money’s worth out of the Times this month. Douthat's piece is a case for hell. This is a spectacular piece.

I’ll be talking more about Douthat’s column later this week (or early next week) on “BreakPoint.”



Ed Just Flipped Me the Boyd. Why’d He Douthat?
Greg Boyd comes at things from the Ransom Theory of atonement (Eastern Orthodox). I’m in the Satisfaction (Penal Substitution) camp, so we’re bound to have some big differences. However, as he was on my reading list already, at your recommendation, Ed, I’ll bump him up a few spots.

For the record I reject what many of my Reformed fellows consider “the best argument to date”, namely that “God permitted evil in order to destroy it” (cf. MacArthur: ).

That notion seems to me just one more “end justifies the means” scenario analogous to letting a would-be murderer go ahead and murder in order to authorize his lawful execution. (The obvious problem here is, if you *know* with certainty that someone’s going to murder and you have the power to stop him, you don’t let him murder or you become a witting accomplice).

I haven’t read much yet but I believe Boyd, an Open Theist, would say God knows the future exactly as it is, but that since the future contains some things that are mere possibilities, God knows those things as just that: mere possibilities. I have a different take on divine foreknowledge, but that’s another rant for another day.

I see from his website Boyd and I have this in common: his role models include C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Roger Forster, and Jacques Ellul. Add Daffy Duck and maybe our differences aren’t that big after all.

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Sorry, Chuck. Gina can explain. Up to a point.
When I think of Hell, I'm reminded of Gayle Erwin's striking parable "Oatmeal and Fire", found here:

Pondering the parable, what strikes me about Ross Douthat's editorial is that a world with no Hell is also a world with no drama. If there's no possibility that the characters of Dickens or Austin will not suffer for their entire lives, then there is no real joy when they are rescued from that fate. But this also applies to the afterlife: our lives on Earth become meaningless and bland if there is no eternal difference that our daily actions make.

And about Gandhi - as R.C. Sproul often tries to remind us, we shouldn't be amazed that anyone is in Hell; we should be amazed that anyone is in Heaven.
A biblical theodicy
In response to Rolley's comment that he knows of no biblical or intellectually or emotionally satisfying theodicy, I strongly recommend Gregory Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil. It makes no biblical sense to speak of God's omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence in this present evil age without factoring In what scripture also says about the influence of Satan, his minions, and fallen humanness. Clearly the Lord God has not needed to micro-control his creation to accomplish his sovereign purposes. The early disciples found no conflict with the reality of a way-too-real war zone on this present planet and the reality of Jesus as Lord of all. They saw this present EVIL age as a probationary and provisional epoch of earth history, one that must play out a multitude of choices, for good and evil, and which bring a lot of arbitrary and absurd stuff into play. The Sovereign Lord can deal with all of it, and there is a final judgment to sort it all out. Perhaps some of our difficulty comes from our not knowing yet how much other factors of justice mitigated by mercy, equity, intercession, and empathy will influence the outcomes. After all, we will not be spectators to Judgment. Paul said WE shall judge the world...and angels. So, how do we wish to handle such future things? Hmmm.
Great article. The author could have replaced the fictional character of Tony Soprano with the real life murderer, Ted Bundy. James Dobson met with him before his execution and was convinced that he truly became a Christian.

While the argument that the consequence of residing in hell for choosing to turn away from God gives meaning to our free will and true life and death consequences to our choices and actions is one I accept and believe, I don't think it will convince the majority of my family, friends and neighbors.

We are living in the Age of Entitlement where few want to acknowledge that we must live with the consequences of our actions. Being able to "check out [from the deity] any time we want, but we can never really leave" as Douthat states, might sound rather good to many people. In this scenario, a person can do anything they want in this life and still be assured of God, heaven and comfort for eternity. What's not to like?

A friend of mine has a real problem with how awful hell appears to be. Why would God send anyone there? When I argued that our own choices get us there, she understood and even accepted the logic of my argument. However, she then went on to ask in a boggled, not-wanting-believe voice, "But why *hell*? Why would God create *hell*?" Hell was just too awful a place for her to contemplate that God would truly allow anyone to actually have to be there.

A conversation with another friend, who is an assistant pastor's wife, underlines the fact that a good, loving God allowing suffering in our lives is the age-old stumbling block for human minds to grasp. I recently had a collision with another skier and severed the ACL (anterior crutiate ligament) in my right knee in January. Less than a week later, I had surgery and was laid flat on the couch in pain when she brought a meal to our family. When she was later commiserating on the phone with me, I spoke of the fact that God had allowed this occurrence into my life. She had a real problem with that idea and spoke of my knee injury as being a consequence of living in a fallen world. However, if God is omniscient, then He knew my knee injury was going to happen; if He is omni-present, then He was right there when it happened; if He is omnipotent, He could have stopped it from happening. And it did happen. The same reasoning follows with the depression I battle, currently successfully. The same reasoning applies the the devastation in Japan. So, it comes down to the age-old "if God is all-loving, why does He allow us to suffer?" If God is all-loving and wants what is best for us, suffering must actually be good for us. Romans 3:4-6 states that suffering produces endurance, proven character and assured hope in God's goodness and His provision for our salvation from our sins. God uses suffering to develop goodness in our lives and reliance on Him.

But back to hell. Why hell and all its magnitude of awfulness? I would like to hear more on how to answer this question from my friend. When I ponder that hell is the complete absence of God and His goodness, then any manner of unspeakable horror waits there. It seems to me that our society chooses to be completely ignorant of the condition that each of us is born into: we are all enemies of God before we understand and accept His saving grace. When my husband came to understand, through an Alpha course, the eternal consequences of accepting or rejecting Jesus, he chose to accept Jesus' saving actions and follow Him. People need to understand the "Bad news of the gospel" as our pastor calls it, before they can understand and accept the Good news of the gospel.

Thanks for letting me ramble on and grapple again with why suffering and hell exist.
A Case for Bell
Whereas I would be among the first to agree Rob Bell has gone way too far in arguing for Universalism (the idea that in the end everyone will be saved), I would not be as quick to dismiss the underlying impulse that has unfortunately driven Bell and others to revive old heresies and formulate new ones.

This underlying impulse -- the sense that conventional explanations have not adequately reconciled, to use Douthat’s phrase, “God’s omnipotence with human anguish” -- could be, for all we know, the harbinger of reinvigorated scholarship that will result in that long-elusive “adequate reconciliation.”

In any event, I think it is fair – and honest -- to say Christianity has not yet presented a theodicy that is at once both Biblical and intellectually and emotionally satisfying to most of us. And the increasing trend towards jettisoning the idea of hell/judgment altogether makes it all the more important to do so.

It was honesty and proportioned respect for our God-given sense of justice and goodness that animated John Stott to rethink his position on the eternality of hell’s punishments.
My point is not to imply that Stott is right in his conclusions. My point is to suggest that it is not an unhealthy thing to have the courage to honestly admit unease with the orthodox view. The godliest and most scholarly among us have done so.

The unhealthy thing is jumping to conclusions, and worse still, pushing them as Bell has done, before there is consensus within the church at large, which is still the pillar and ground of truth.

So while I laud Douthat’s defense of the traditional view of hell as a needed check to our predictable tendency to jump on every feels-right train that comes along, I also laud the spirit of those who sense in Rob Bell’s quest the possibility of better answers.

“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Corinthians 14:40
If there is not a hell then tyrants are not repayed. You can only be hanged once on Earth.

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