>In the last post, I started a short series on hell. I examined the classical doctrine of hell (CDH), which has enjoyed a strong showing in church tradition since the time of St. Augustine. In CDH, God keeps people in hell and punishes them forever. In the last post, I described some of the ways that this view has fallen out of favor and what some Christian thinkers have opted for instead of it (i.e. progressive doctrines on hell) (PDH). The most common PDH is basically that hell is NOT locked by God from the ‘outside’ but rather ‘locked from the inside’. C.S. Lewis, among many others, have preferred this view.
It is impossible to maintain the idea that God is love, that He has loved, continues to love and will forever love all people, and also maintain CDH. Progressive doctrines of hell provide some relief for this notion of God’s love.
What about God’s justice?
“God exists in and of Himself. His being He owes to no one. His substance is indivisible. He has no parts but is single in His unitary being. … The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of parts. Between His attributes, no contradiction can exist. He need not suspend one to exercise another, for in Him all attributes are one.”
-A.W. Tozer Knowledge of the Holy
This is a profound statement on the attributes of God! God’s justice does not sit on the opposite ‘side’ of His personality as His love. God’s attributes are not Yin and Yang.
If we agree with Tozer on the unity of God, then we might say something like, “the love of God is just and His justice is loving.” No contradiction exists between His love and His justice. In CDH, those in hell receive God’s justice, but not God’s love. This amounts to a bifurcation of God’s attributes. In others words He would be suspending one attribute (love) to exercise another (justice).
PDH provides some relief because, God is not keeping people locked in hell, per se, they are choosing it. One of three things is possible at this point…
1. They continue to reject God forever, though He loves them and wants to redeem them, He cannot and their miserable existence continues into infinity without the possibility of reprieve. God chooses to sustain their existence, or at least chooses not to extinguish them from existence.
As I mentioned before, this is problematic for this version of PDH. Though it is a bit easier than CDH, to reconcile with the love of God, it is ultimately unloving to sustain the existence of irredeemable people and not extinguish them (AV). Proponents of AV and UR contend that only vindictive justice, contrary to any sort of loving justice, would keep people alive in a perpetual state of torment, without putting them out their misery.
2. They are annihilated (cease to exist). God carries the choices of people to their ultimate end – destruction. The trajectory of their heart is hardened to the point of disrepair and God ceases to sustain their existence in self-inflicted misery.
3. The final “option” in doctrines of hell is universal reconciliation (or ultimate redemption) (UR). UR theologians see hell as a means to God’s desired end, and not an end in and of itself. Hell is an education about the consequences of sin, for those who have chosen rebellion against God. Since God is just, people do not escape the ramifications of sin, and since God loves them, He does not ‘shut the door’ to them and eventually all see the error in sin and rejecting God and are redeemed from hell.
AV and UR theologies of hell, though they are different, are thought (by some) to be more compatible with unity between justice and love.