Ambassador of Reconciliation
10/16/11 at 02:55 PM 1 Comments

"Heaven: We Have a Problem" What Does the Bible Say About Heaven and Who Goes There?

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Not long ago I was talking with my husband about heaven and hell and who goes where and why. He told me, “You have a big problem with your idea that God will restore everything and everybody. There are verses in the Bible that clearly teach that some people will never be restored to God.” I agreed; I do have a problem. But I said, “We both have a problem. My problem is that some verses do seem to teach that some people will be eternally condemned. Your problem is that some verses seem to teach that ultimately God will redeem and restore His entire creation.”

So we have two competing ideas:

1) Some people will never be redeemed.

2) God will eventually redeem all people.

Two contradictory ideas, both with scriptural warrant but mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true; what is a Christian to do? Some will automatically reject one of these statements or the other. Those who hold to the traditional view of hell (historically, the majority of Christians) accept statement 1 and consider the universalistic thrust of statement 2 to be erroneous if not heretical. For example, one person responding to a previous post of mine said, “It is an undeniable fact that the Word of God teaches that those who die in their sins go to hell. They will suffer conscious torments forever. believer and others have given you the scriptures pertaining to this teaching. If interpretation of certain other scriptures lead you to believe otherwise, then the interpretation of those scriptures is wrong.”

Others (a thread of Christians throughout church history and a growing number of twenty-first-century believers) reject statement 1 based on the fact that God sent His Son into the world to save the world and will completely fulfill His purpose. They would say that God’s plan to redeem and restore His entire creation is an undeniable fact of Scripture, and if the interpretation of certain other Scriptures leads one to believe otherwise, then that interpretation needs to be re-evaluated. A variant of these positions is annihilationism (also called conditional immortality)—the idea that the wicked are punished and eventually are destroyed and cease to exist. According to this doctrine, like the traditional position, statement 1 is true and statement 2 is false.

Thoughtful people on all sides will recognize that we do have a dilemma. Since it is impossible for both ideas to be true, one idea must be more fundamental, and verses that seem to teach the other must be interpreted in light of the foundational idea. In the traditional view, the belief that the wicked are eternally separated from God is a non-negotiable. Passages like Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2 in the Old Testament, and Matthew 25:46, Luke 16:19˗31, 2 Thessalonians 1:8˗9, 2 Peter 3:7, Jude 14˗15, Revelation 20:11˗15, Revelation 21:7˗8, and Revelation 22:14˗15 in the New Testament are cited as proof that the wicked are condemned to everlasting torment from which there is no hope of escape. Hebrews 9:27 is quoted as evidence that there is no possibility of salvation after physical death. Any verses that seem to teach that God will ultimately redeem all mankind are subordinated to the doctrine of eternal condemnation.

Conversely, those who hold that God’s love, as expressed in Christ on the cross, is foundational will interpret the eternal damnation verses in light of the ultimate purpose of God to reconcile all to Himself. They appeal to the character of God as revealed throughout Scripture and to the many passages that speak of His plans for restoration. They believe it is entirely consistent with God’s enduring mercy to continue to call sinners to Himself after they die. One passage that seems to teach the reconciliation of all is exegeted in “Reconciliation: The Heart of God’s Grand Plan for Creation.” Many other verses are discussed in my series “Presuppositions and Interpretations,” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. There I present the traditional treatment of these verses, as found in the NIV Study Bible, and I suggest that the verses ought instead to be interpreted according to their plain sense, i.e., that in the end God truly will redeem all.

Unless you dismiss the issue altogether, you have to take a stand one way or the other. Which doctrine is your foundational, central truth, around which the other must revolve? I would be interested to know what you readers think. I invite you to add a comment to this blog and state which proposition your belief system contains as a fundamental, non-negotiable truth: 1) Some people will never be redeemed, or 2) God will eventually redeem all people. “I don’t know” is a valid response. So is “Neither” or “Irrelevant” or “Cannot be known.” “Both” is not a logically acceptable answer. For my own curiosity, please also say whether or not you have read my other posts on this subject.

So when it comes to the question of heaven and who goes there, we do have a problem: Scripture seems to give contradictory messages. Will God reconcile all people to Himself to be with Him forever, or will some people be separated from Him forever? This post simply acknowledges and states the problem. In future posts I hope to address the eternal damnation proof texts, present more reasons to believe in universal redemption, and continue to explore how we might resolve the problem of this apparent contradiction.

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