Here’s an excerpt from Travis Loller at the Huffington Post.
How can a loving God send people, even bad people, to a place of eternal torment? A new documentary struggles with questions of punishment and redemption and how culture affects and shapes Christian beliefs about God and the Bible.
Coming in the wake of controversy over Rob Bell’s 2011 hell-questioning book “Love Wins,” which put hell on the cover of Time magazine, and treading some of the same ground, filmmaker Kevin Miller believes the debate about the nature of hell is not academic.
In an interview after a Nashville screening of “Hellbound?” Miller said he believes our ideas about hell have a real-world effect on the way we live our lives and the way we relate to others.
Perhaps popular theologian Brian McLaren best expresses that thought in the movie when he says, “If I believe that a small percentage of human beings were created to enjoy bliss eternally and another group of beings were created to experience eternal conscious torment, then I look at human beings differently than if I say, `Every human being was made in the image of God. Every human being is beloved by God. God is at work to save every human being.’”
This is a recurring discussion not only in cultural spheres but also theological spheres. I’m tempted to say that Rob Bell is mixed between cultural and theological spheres, but Kevin Miller says that this isn’t an academic debate. Really? Is this just an emotional debate? What’s a debate if it’s not academic, theological, philosophical, etc? Think about it. How does one argue for the truth of a proposition outside of such a debate nature? The article doesn’t really give the nature of what the debate is, but if it’s intuitive, or morally intuitive, that’s an axiological/philosophical debate–academic. If it’s an emotional debate then the subject’s feelings or reactions to certain propositions have no impact on the ontic status or truth value of certain propositions.
When someone evil is killed or dies should we celebrate in the fact that that unsaved person will be going to hell? For instance, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden were evil men. Should we be mourning and sadded by this? Yes. This person was not saved by God and another soul is in hell because of his unrepentant sin and trust in Christ to atone for his own sins. Love is twofold. There is love and holiness and when love and holiness are violated there is justice. My continuous reflection has got me thinking, “Why am I not more appreciative of justice?”
This is how I work it out and how I believe God views mercy and justice. Antecedently, God willed and genuinely desired Bin Laden to repent and to respond to the revelation he has been given. However, consequently, because of Bin Laden’s rejection of God and infatuation with evil, God has willed that Bin Laden atone for his own sins and for there to be justice. This justice is his death and punishment in the afterlife. Why am I not taking joy in God’s justice? I believe my apprehension of justice is far removed from how God loves justice since it is ontologically based in him.
Yes, antecedently we should not be joyful that Bin Laden is taking on his own punishment. However, in turn and consequently, God is receiving his glory from Bin Laden’s sins being atoned for. For the Christian, hell is a good thing, hell is the means by which God renders justice to those who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ on the cross. The important thing is to make the antecedent-consequent distinction in how we respond.
Questions about hell have permeated cultural discussions recently, primarily at the rise of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. I’m not going to look at Scriptural evidences or passages for hell; rather, I’m going to take concepts and allow them to develop on their own (I would argue that this is consistent with Scripture). For more on the Scriptural case for hell I would recommend Four Views on Hell. I’ll be working with an idea argued by William Lane Craig (here, here, and here).
Let’s start with God being a maximally perfect being, that which nothing greater can be conceived. He is perfect in every way, and his perfections do not and cannot contradict. Humans freely do morally wrong actions. This would include not doing what we ought to do and doing what we ought not to do. These sins are wrongs against an ontologically perfect being. If God is just and justice is a moral principle to attain (such that being fair is a virtue), then God must compensate for the wrong. There must be atonement. There are consequences for every action, good and bad. Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished (what these rewards and punishments are don’t necessarily have to be defined; it’s just that there are consequences). Let’s modestly assume that sins require finite punishments. I will deny Thomas Aquinas’ position that one finite sin requires an infinite punishment because it was done against an infinite God. I’ll take a more modest approach (I’m not necessarily saying that Thomas is wrong either).
Based on experience, I believe there is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime. In the afterlife, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just. Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the afterlife since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ. He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement). Because this person continues to sin he will always receive respective punishment for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration will last without end as well. Punishment without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins. Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.
I don’t believe this contradicts God’s love for this person either. I’m assuming that God genuinely desired this person to be atoned for by Christ but this person freely rejected the propitiatory substitutional atonement. By rejecting that loving offer, the only alternative, by the necessity of justice, is to atone for his own sins. Yes, love wins and Christ’s atonement is that love, but let’s not forget that justice wins as well since God’s attributes are equally perfect.