In my last post I talked about my discomfort with the concept of hell as traditionally presented. A very large turning point for me was reading the blog of a brother in the Lord, David Flowers, which he entitled: Hell: Eternal Torture? It’s a long read, especially if you check out the comments. Reading David’s blog set me to thinking earnestly about the subject. From time to time I had already been accustomed to musing over it because, as I said in my last post, it has always been a troubled spot in my heart.
I had considered, “What if hell is the same (objectively) as heaven? What if the presence of God, which is life and joy and peace to those who love Him is death and despair and agony to those who reject Him? Our God is a consuming fire, after all. Paul says that even of the believer’s works, the wood, hay and stubble will be burned, and only that which is precious — the gold, pearls and precious stones — will remain. What if there’s nothing left after that? Paul said that the person would be saved, though as through fire. But what if that person is not in Christ? Would anything of an unredeemed soul survive an encounter with pure holiness in the terrible presence of the Most High?
Or would the lost soul, because of the horrifying fact of its own innate immortality, burn in that presence of Holiness which was to him hell, for all eternity? Could our omnipotent God even do anything about it, since the unbeliever had definitively rejected holiness? Maybe the unbeliever had made himself such a one as could never rejoice in the presence of God. As I look back, writing this, I wonder if I hadn’t, in this thought process, received a germ of the beginning of a truth about hell. But perhaps I will know more later, as I journey farther.
The human soul is NOT immortal in and of itself. This is a Platonic idea and you will not find it in scripture. In the Old Testament, the word for soul is nephesh, and it is applied to life of all kinds, animal and human. As far as I can tell, nephesh is nothing other than life, and at least post-fall, mortal life, whether human or animal. If you read David’s blog, you’ll find a rather more scholarly treatment of this. I didn’t believe him. (Sorry, David!) I searched for myself to see whether this was so, and my conclusion, using NO hyberbole, shocked me. He appears, so far as I could discern, to be right. The human soul is, in itself, mortal and destructible.
Nevertheless, life is always in God’s hands. Jesus said:
Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out–those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29 HCSB)
So the wicked dead are not off the hook. Though neither they nor we have life within ourselves, they and we will be called back from our graves to either a resurrection of life or a resurrection of judgment. But what judgment? What will judgment look like, and what its purpose? What will be its end?
To be continued . . .
PS: Another brother, Steve, just today sent me this link to Paul’s Anthropology, which is a very interesting discussion of the use of words such as soul among the Hebrew people. I found it enlightening and helpful. Thanks, Steve!