Rather, I’m sold that Edward Fudge is right in teaching Conditionalism, that is, that the damned will be punished with God’s perfect justice and then destroyed — they will cease to exist forever.
This position has several advantages, some of which are dealt with Hart’s essay on “God, Creation, and Evil,” which is where we began this sub-series.
- As Hart correctly argues, a good God cannot create a good Creation in which it is certain (or all but certain) that the majority of its rational inhabitants will wind up suffering perpetual, conscious torment (PCT) for all eternity. This is especially a problem in the Calvinist perspective that insists that a majority of the rational beings made by God are elected by God himself to PCT with no other choice. But even in the Arminian perspective (the non-Calvinist perspective), God is pictured as sending a majority of the rational inhabitants of his good Creation into a very un-good PCT. I agree. This cannot be.
- Free will does not change this result because God in creating the Creation knew its contingent possibilities — that Adam and Eve might sin and their descendants would not only sin but reject God altogether — resulting in PCT for a majority of the humans made by God.
- The solution is not Universal Reconciliation (UR) because UR —
- Requires that even Hitler be saved. To save the victims of men such as Hitler, we must also suppose that Hitler himself will be saved. This violates God’s just nature and many promises of justice.
- Assumes that everyone will live forever — whereas the scriptures insist that only the saved will be given immortality.
- Assumes that the damned will live forever even though the scriptures refer to the damned as destroyed and perishing in the next age (eternity).
- Takes away much of the mission impulse. After all, if the unsaved will be justly punished and then given eternity in bliss, that’s not a bad deal. Why bother to save someone from a fate that isn’t all that bad?
- Contradicts the story of Acts and Rom 9 – 11, in which the apostles and Paul work with the greatest of zeal to bring salvation to the Jews. Why bother if they were already saved?
- At least in some cases is motivated by the Postmodern desire to give power to victims, even victims who’ve rejected Jesus as Messiah, rather than the Christian desire to leave power with God and Jesus and to trust them to mete out justice perfectly. Therefore, there is no great moral crisis created by the eternal fate of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. They aren’t saved — having rejected Jesus — but they are punished only to the extent that God’s perfect justice requires punishment. And I would imagine that God’s perfect justice takes into account suffering already endured in this age. Justice should take into account, as it were, time served. That is, pain suffered in this life is surely taken into account in determining what punishment is deserved in the next. Hence, it seems likely that many who suffered greatly in this life will not suffer in the next age at all.
- The problem of pain and suffering does require that the saved learn to forgive those who’ve sinned against them. Contrary to Calvin and Luther, the saved will not delight in the sufferings of the damned. Rather, the saved will be vindicated by a perfectly just God meting out perfect justice, and the saved will forgive those who’ve sinned against them — freeing them to live eternally with God and Jesus.
- The saved will be forgiven — but at the cost of becoming fully aware of what their sins cost. Just as it partly true in this life, we are saved only when we realize that horrific price paid by Jesus for our sins. Our realization that we are responsible for the crucifixion is part of the price of our salvation — because to be forgiven, we need to become fully conscious of what we’ve done and at what price.
- The damned will suffer separation from God — a choice they make. And the separation will be painful (but only to the extent perfect justice so requires), followed by ceasing to exist.
- However, the damned will be vindicated. Those who’ve sinned against them will be punished. Hitler will pay a truly high price for the Holocaust, and the Jews he killed will see justice done. They may not forgive him, nor may he ask for forgiveness. The damned are not promised any release from the sins against them other than vindication.
- Thus, at the end of the time of punishment, there will be no damned people in existence. The Creation will be purged of all wickedness, and the saved will have forgiven those who’ve sinned against them — both the saved sinners and the damned sinner. Thus, the saved will be freed from the pain that sin brings them.
- Much harder is sussing out the fate of the Gentiles pre-Jesus, but Paul’s sermon on Mars Hills seems to plainly say that the Gentiles had not yet been offered repentance and so had not yet suffered accountability for their sins. That is, Gentiles, when they died, they just died with no afterlife. They received neither punishment nor reward after death.
- As we covered in the recent Salvation of the Jews series, the Jews pre-Jesus were saved by faith in God and the Messiah not yet revealed. Those without faith — who rejected God’s covenant faithfulness — would seem to suffer the same damnation as the damned described earlier.
- As to Gentiles living after the resurrection of Jesus who never heard the gospel, they either are like the Gentiles pre-Jesus or the damned post-Jesus. Paul’s Mars Hill sermon seems to say that, whether or not they’ve heard the gospel, they are accountable for what they know is wrong (as Paul explains in Rom 1 – 2). They will be punished to the extent they are accountable for God’s law, as seen through nature, their own culture, or their own moral natures.
- There is an argument that the post-resurrection Gentiles are only accountable and punished to the extent they reject the gospel. If the gospel has not been preached to them, they are like the Gentile pre-resurrection — with no afterlife good or bad. But this argument makes the preaching of the gospel bad news for some, and rather like Hart, I struggle to imagine a world in which “good news” damns. Hence, I take Paul at his word in Athens, Greece —
(Acts 17:30–31 ESV) 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
That is, I take “now” to mean “now” not “when the gospel is preached to others.” On the other hand, there surely is greater accountability and hence greater punishment for those who’ve heard the good news and rejected it.
The scriptures seem clear that greater knowledge of God’s will leads to greater accountability — and hence greater punishment. The solution that Paul promises is greater grace through faith in Jesus —
(Rom. 5:20-21 ESV) 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is no other solution.
P. And so, the verses that threaten punishment for those who reject the gospel are likely speaking of greater accountability and greater punishment rather than declaring that those never preached to receive no punishment at all. For example —
(Lk. 12:45-48 ESV) 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.