I’m reading slowly, but I have started the first chapter of Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. The first essayist (John Hick) believes that salvation can be achieved through religions other than Christianity. Hick’s background is in conservative Christianity. He went to seminary and preached for many years before embracing his current, more liberal views. Some of his sentiments echo those I encountered while reading about Universalism; the belief that all people will eventually (before death or after) be saved. Hick raises a few good questions, but it seems to me that the primary problem that traditional Christianity fails to address for so many people is the problem of evil. How could a good and loving God allow good and moral people who perhaps simply didn’t understand the Christian perspective to suffer eternally?
That’s a problem for me, too. I do not buy the explanation that God offers all the opportunity to come to Jesus… at least not in the narrow way that some Christians seem to define it. If I am to accept traditional Christianity, I have to believe that God reveals Jesus in different ways to different people. I am lucky, though. My experiences of God have led me to trust in his goodness and I don’t feel at all called to worry about the eternal souls of my fellow-humans. I can only share my experience, pray, and try to live in a way that reflects my faith… after that, it isn’t up to me.
That said, I still don’t feel at peace with my understanding of hell. As I’ve mulled this question over for the last few months, a few different verses having nothing at all to do with one another keep coming to mind. And perhaps they support the liberal views about which I’m reading.
The verses are listed below, but here’s my question: Could God’s love actually be the instrument of our torment? If in fact we cannot be separated from the love of God, even in hell (Psalms 139:7-8), then perhaps feeling God’s eternal love for us when we are not reconciled to him is incredibly painful. I would compare it to the concept in Romans 12:20; if we show our enemies kindness, perhaps the pain it causes them will result in their repentance. We don’t cause them pain to effect revenge, but to show our love. But this begs the question: Can we be made right with God from hell? Psalms 86:13 could be interpreted differently, but I think it speaks to the possibility.
What do you think? Am I way off base?
Psalm 139: 7-8: Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
Romans 12:20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Ps. 86:13: For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Romans 8:38-39: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.