One Helluva Problem

Part 3: Embodiment, Ending Evil + Final Remarks

4. Are people embodied in Hell?

(1) Yes — they are embodied

(2) No — they are disembodied

5. How does evil come to an end?

(1) It doesn’t — humans keep on rebelling and being punished

  • As we noted in our previous article, evil is something absurd, not existing substantially but as a privation of goodness. In other words, it can only exist if there is some goodness to corrupt in the first place. And if there is some goodness — in this case, a human created by God, through Christ and for Christ (Col 1:16), in the image of God, with mental faculties, etc.— all this goodness flows from God who is Goodness himself. This further implies that all this human goodness is teleologically oriented toward God, the Good, so that, when it is delivered from evil, it inevitably flows back to God. When God eradicates evil, humans cannot but find themselves drawn into eternal joyful communion with God, which was their destiny all along.
  • In addition, sin (in this case rebellion) is intrinsically destructive — relationally, rationally, etc. — and thus naturally leads to death, which is at the same time its (gracious) termination. [1] (This is not to say that death has the last word, as annihilationists would; God is able to overcome any destruction wrought by sin and death through resurrection.) So, it is intrinsically impossible to sin forever — unless people are given the special ability of destroying themselves forever, but again, such a suggestion has no biblical basis. (One gets the idea by now that such ‘special abilities’ fill some rather deep holes in the argument.)

(2) It does — humans repent but keep on being punished

(3) It does — humans are annihilated

  • Destroying humans could only be a good thing if humans have become evil, rather than just having been corrupted by evil; it implies that evil has become substantial instead of privative (see above, and part 2). This would be a massive win on the side of evil! It has hijacked things that were created good by God and turned it into evil. (This also creates the ‘happiness’ problem for God and humans as noted in part 1.)
  • Moreover, humans that are annihilated have ultimately been created for no good purpose at all (unless they temporarily displayed God’s power, etc.). This makes God as Creator a failure — or simply malicious.

(4) It does — humans are redeemed

Final remarks

  1. ‘But what about the biblical texts? They are clear about Hell.’ Well, they aren’t, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. For now, I would refer people to the following, clearly universalist texts: Romans 5:12–21; Romans 11:25–36; 1 Corinthians 8:5–7; Ephesians 1:8b-10; Philippians 2:9–11; Colossians 1:15–20. (Inserting a condition of faith into such texts is basically a move of Sachkritik, thinking you know better than Paul what he meant — and I would not disagree with such Kritik as such, but with the Sache.) Also, some texts may seem to espouse annihilationism, further contributing to an ‘unclear’ exegetical situation. So, throwing around ‘proof texts’ does not solve the debate. [6]
  2. ‘But it is a mystery! We should not try to figure it out rationally.’ This is a smart rhetorical move, because, under the guise of humility (however sincere!), it presumes a particular interpretation of Scripture (that is, by chance, quite irrational), and precludes discussion about it by essentially sacralising it and freezing it as ‘the’ orthodox position — all the while (indirectly or directly) hereticising the opponent. This goes against sound academic and theological method. More often than not, mystery is not inherent in the biblical text but the result of an incoherent interpretive system. Tensions often turn out to be simply contradictions. [7]

Endnotes

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