God, Hell, Time

**This is the second of two posts in response to some questions a cousin of mine asked . These were about; my Position on the first chapters of Genesis, the truth of evolution, big bang cosmology, time as it relates to God and which kind of hell awaits sinners.
I’ve split my response into two posts. This post deals with Hell and, Time as it relates to God. 

Riot!The fall supposedly brought about Death into the world. What is strange though is when the judgement is pronounced on the Human race through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, they both don’t instantly die. The question then is, what did God mean by, “you shall surely die”. I think the answer is, Death is a thematic category in the Bible. Hell is called the ‘second death’ in Revelations, Absurdity of existence or vanity or fleetingness of life in Ecclesiastes. The point is, a state of Death is what life is like in the absence of union with God, which is the original intended purpose of humanity. I think Jesus comes and fixes that (For more see this post).

When it comes to the nature of Hell then, people want to argue about the amount of fire or torment but I think just as Heaven is not primarily a location but about the unbroken presence of God, Hell is mostly about the abject absence of God. I think hell then is everything horrible about this present life but without any hope of redemption.

On the fairness of the whole thing, an aspect that remains less explored is the possibility that Hell is fair precisely because the people who go there might prefer this existence and the punishment is precisely the abandonment of the human by God. Hell is primarily God’s indifference which itself is also a form of active punishment. This though slightly differs from a punishment that’s meant to induce right behaviour, which is actually deeply gracious – think parents disciplining their children. It also somehow gives another insight into the difference that some people seem to see in the depiction of God in the O.T vs N.T. The old God, the father, seems harsh and vindictive and Jesus is gentle and mild, apparently ! Except, given what I’ve just said, punishment in it of itself does not prove that one is vindictive and harsh, while the other kinder, sometimes not punishing is a sign of the abandonment of the wrongdoer – think on the bit of Lord’s prayer where Jesus teaches us to pray, “lead us not into temptation”.

A writer I’ve found extremely helpful on this issue is a Nottingham University professor, Anthony Thiselton. In a Book called, ‘The Last Things’ he writes; “Hell may be expounded in a way which makes God morally “obnoxious and repellant” and the theologian’s path is perilous; but we must avoid distortions, confusions, and reductionism”.

Further on, quoting from St Augustine who writes:

The death of the soul that takes place when God forsakes it, the soul is tormented. For in that penal and everlasting punishment the soul is justly said to die, because it does not live in connection with God. It could not otherwise feel the bodily torments which are to follow the resurrection. In the last damnation, though man does not cease to feel, this feeling is painfully penal, it is called death rather than life”.

The opposite of Hell or Damnation is eternal life, which, properly speaking, belongs to God and is a gift belonging to salvation and we share in it by being united to and belonging to God. Notice that I haven’t at all mentioned duration. Time is a creaturely category that came into being just as the cosmos came into being and we exist in time as creatures. “Once upon a time, there was no Time” or as Augustine put it, “God created the universe with time, not in time” and therefore is not bound by it like creatures. When the Bible speaks of Time in relation to God it speaks of the ‘Eternal’ attribute of God which might mean any of these three.

  1. A termination of time. Some speak of the “eternally timeless God”
  2. To an indefinite time or interminable.
  3. Simultaneity (Boethius): Past, Present, and Future are experienced by God as a simultaneous present.

All of these ideas are, however, just philosophical speculation. Whatever the eternality of God means it is both something we share in Salvation with God (now and Post-resurrection) and an attribute we cannot partake in. As creatures even after final judgment, I don’t think we cease to exist outside of time in the same way God does but we do get to enjoy time as a quality of existence rather than merely quantity (as in ‘world without end). Those in Hell get to live forever as well, except the disjointedness and banality of time we feel right here on earth continues for them. For more on this read Ecclesiastes and how the writer describes time after “the fall” as incoherent, we do not know or discern a trajectory to life, the past remains there and the present is also precarious.

One thing I wish you’ll do as you read this is to think on how the death of Christ resolves all of the problems we face in this. I suggest, follow Paul’s argument in Romans, camp out on chapter 3 especially.



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