Interpreting Jesus and Atonement – Practical Issue #4: What About Hell?

stephen-colbert-interviews-philip-zimbardo

On February 11, 2008, comedian Stephen Colbert had Stanford psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo on his show, and they talked about heaven and hell. http://www.cc.com/video-clips/8sjpoa/the-colbert-report-philip-zimbardo.  It was a rare moment when you could see the ‘real’ Colbert.  Zimbardo argued that God should have apologized to Satan and said, ‘Yes, you were right.  Mortals are corruptible after all.  I should have never asked you angels to serve them.’  But instead, God created hell.  Which shows that He is stubborn and not about reconciliation after all.

Colbert:  Evil exists because of the disobedience of Satan.  God gave Satan, the angels, and man free will.  Satan used his free will and abused it by not obeying authority.  Hell was created by Satan’s disobedience to God and his purposeful removal from God’s love, which is what hell is: removing yourself from God’s love.  You send yourself to hell. God does not send you there.

Zimbardo: Obviously, you learned well in Sunday School.

Colbert: I teach Sunday School, mother****er!

Absolutely delightful.  I agree so much with Colbert there.  The only thing I would change is to say that hell is TRYING to remove yourself from God’s love.  But otherwise, I wholeheartedly agree.

Although Zimbardo takes advantage of a few popular misconceptions, the fact remains that penal substitutionary atonement interprets hell as God’s prison, as I wrote in the last blog post.  People want to get out, but God keeps them in.  But why?  Why is God’s retributive justice-wrath so inexhaustible?  Why is He never done punishing people?  What does this mean about God’s character?

For some, the problem is intensified by believing that humans didn’t have free will to begin with; God designed the situation so that He would get to express His retributive justice infinitely.  Notice how, in the Westminster Confession, God has two faces eternally.  One face is mercy.  The other face is retributive justice.

‘[Judgment] day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.’[1]

A practical implication of thinking that God has two faces is that we make Him sound like any other two-faced human being, only more so.  If I was really nice to you but inexplicably mean to your friend, then I would be two-faced.  How do you relate to me?  Do you think to yourself, ‘I just want to get on Mako’s good side’?  Or do you see the troubling arbitrariness and inconsistency and ask, ‘What kind of person is Mako, anyway?’

That’s what non-Christian folks often ask.  They hear a penal substitution presentation of Jesus:  ‘Jesus died to take the punishment for your sins, so that God forgives you if you believe in Jesus and doesn’t throw you into hell.’  And what they intuitively know is that this makes God sound two-faced, like ordinary human beings.  What they hear is:  ‘Jesus lets you get on God’s good side.’  What they ask is:  ‘Does God have an evil side?  Why?’

That’s why your atonement theory is a very practical matter.  And there is a legitimate alternative to penal substitution – an older alternative – rooted in an older view of Jesus and atonement.  I’m calling it medical substitution and ontological substitution, and exploring it in this series of blog posts.  It is the original teaching of the church.  And in this understanding, hell is the love of God.

What?  The love of God?  How would the medical-ontological substitution paradigm explain hell?  Father Michael Himes, a Jesuit theologian at Boston College, writes:

Of course, the question of punishment, i.e. of hell and damnation will arise in many people’s minds, and quite rightly. But damnation does not mean that God ceases to love the one damned. If that were true, then the sinner would be more powerful than God, since the sinner would have the power to make God, who is love, agape, something less than God. No, God’s love is constant, unchanging and perfect. Damnation means that the sinner refuses finally and absolutely to accept being loved and to love in response. The damned may not love God, but God continues to love the damned. After all, the love of God is what holds us in existence. If God does not love you, you’re not damned.  You simply aren’t.  What supports our existence and holds us in being is God’s love. We exist by the fact that God gives God’s self to us at every moment. Therefore, of course, God loves the damned. God loves everything that exists just because it exists. Indeed, that is what makes it exist: God loves it into being.

Let me give you an image which comes from Gregory of Nyssa at the end of the fourth century. The difference between heaven and hell is described in this story he tells: Picture yourself walking out on a bright sunny day with healthy eyes. You will experience the sunlight as something wonderful and pleasant and beneficent. Now, picture yourself walking out on exactly the same bright sunny day, but with a diseased eye. You will now experience the sunlight as something terrible and painful and awful, something to shy away from. Well, the sun didn’t change. You did.

That is the point about heaven and hell. Heaven and hell are exactly the same thing: the love of God. If you have always wanted the love of God, congratulations, you got heaven. If you don’t want the love of God, too bad, you are stuck for all eternity. God remains God. God makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust, the rain fall on the good and the wicked. If you don’t want rain or sun, too bad, you are still going to get them. The question is not that God changes in response to us. It is that we are judged by our response to the absoluteness of God’s self gift.[2]

I am aware that many Protestants have not heard of hell articulated this way.  Why is there this big difference between the early theologians and Eastern Orthodoxy and some Catholics, on the one hand, and most Protestants on the other?

Biblically, it is because people look at Scripture in a piecemeal fashion.  If we read each book thematically, we would see something else.  Take divine ‘fire’ as a repeated theme.  In Matthew’s Gospel, here is the first mention of divine ‘fire’:

3:10 The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clear his threshing floor; and he will gather his wheat into the barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Mt.3:10 – 12)

Is fire positive or negative for us?  If we are baptized with the divine fire of the Holy Spirit, it’s positive.  This is why at Pentecost, the Spirit’s presence is marked by fire (Acts 2:1 – 13).  The Spirit refines us like precious metal in fire.  If not, if we want to hold on to the corruption of sin which God wants to burn away, then fire is negative.  The fire appears to us as destructive.  But it depends on us.  From that point on in Matthew’s Gospel, fire and light appear in two forms.  We can either take divine fire into ourselves, as purification, becoming ‘the light of the world’ and ‘a lamp on a lampstand’ (Mt.5:14 – 16) or a bearer of lamp-light (Mt.25:1 – 13) as Jesus himself first embodies when he was transfigured in a moment of saturation by the Holy Spirit (Mt.17:1 – 13).  Or we can resist divine fire.  We can try to hold onto the very thing God is trying to purify away from us.  So we experience the fire as destroying (Mt.5:22; 8:12; 13:40 – 42, 49 – 50; 18:8 – 9; 22:13; 24:50 – 51; 25:30, 41, 46).

What’s more, Jesus’ use of ‘fire’ imagery is rooted in the Pentateuch’s use of ‘fire’ imagery.  Jesus’ combined image of ‘fire and darkness’ refers to how God appeared to Israel at Sinai while they refused to meet Him face to face (Ex.19:12; Dt.5:5) and remained outside of him, distant.  By contrast, Moses went up, received the covenant with God, saw God face to face, and had his own face transfigured.[3]  So when Jesus speaks of ‘fire and darkness,’ he is referring back to Sinai when the people refused to meet with God, stayed on the outside of His presence, and rejected the covenant He offered.  This imagery fits now that God’s presence is located in Jesus.  Whether ‘fire and darkness’ is literal or literary, we don’t have to decide.  The issue is that people who refuse to meet with Jesus, and who try to stay on the outside of his presence rather than be ‘in Christ’, are rejecting the covenant he offers.

The book of Revelation portrays Jesus as the fiery one (Rev.1:1 – 20), with fiery eyes (Rev.2:18; 19:12), offering ‘gold refined by fire’ to people (Rev.3:18), bathed in the fiery Holy Spirit (Rev.4:5).  This is because Jesus is now the fiery sword by whom we must pass to return to the original garden (Gen.3:24).  The fact that Revelation applies the fire and sword (which comes out of his mouth) imagery to Jesus from its very first chapter makes perfect sense.  His new humanity purifies our corrupted humanity, and his teaching cuts things away from us.  So it should not surprise us that those who resist Jesus are burned by fire ‘in the presence’ of Jesus, not in his absence (Rev.14:10).  They want to hold onto what Jesus wants to burn away.  The wrath of God is against the corruption of sin.  But the love of God is for the person.  The wrath of God is simply the love of God directed at the sinfulness.

Methodologically, this is because some people start with the question, ‘What is hell?’ before they answer the questions, ‘What is sin?  And what does it do to us?’  For if we start with the question of sin and its effect on us, the matter becomes much clearer.  How did Adam and Eve damage their natures?  By internalizing into themselves the power and desire to define good and evil, which should have remained outside of them within God alone (Gen.3:1 – 7).  They defaced God’s work of art:  themselves.  We became dying beings, alienated from God, the life-source, wanting there to be some moral basis for good and evil yet unwilling to relinquish control of defining it to someone outside ourselves.  We became a contradiction in terms, which is what the third literary section of Genesis (Gen.5:1 – 6:8) narrates:  Each human being is made in the image of God, that is, the living God, and yet dies in an utter contradiction of who and what God meant us to be and how we are to reflect Him.  Thus, the salvation wrought by Jesus is a salvation from our falsified selves, the corruption in our nature, and into the true selves that God always wanted for us.  For example, Jesus said, ‘For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Mt.16:25; Mk.8:35; Lk.9:24).  Jesus’ story of the prodigal son has the son begin to change, and return to his father, when ‘he came to his senses,’ where the Greek literally says, ‘he came to himself’ (Lk.15:17).

Conversely, rejecting Jesus is self-denial, as it is in John’s Gospel.  In John 18 – 19, sin is expressed in terms of self-negation.  Jesus, when he was arrested, boldly stated his identity and said three times, ‘I am’ (John 18:5, 6, 8).  But in John’s tightly woven narrative, Simon Peter, Pilate, and the Jews negate their own identity.  Simon Peter, while trying to follow Jesus into the courtyard of the trial, was confronted by people who suspected him of being a follower of Jesus, and he said three times, ‘I am not’ (John 18:17, 25, and implicitly in v.27).  Pilate, when Jesus was standing right in front of him, should have cared about truth in Roman legal proceedings, but said in abdication of his office, ‘What is truth?’ (John 19:38)  The Jews, who cried out at every Passover that they had ‘no king but God’, said, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:16).  If, in John’s Gospel, the result of negating Jesus is self-negation, then the result of embracing Jesus is discovering one’s true self.  This, too, is consistently portrayed in the narrative (cf. Jn.4:1 – 29; 8:31 – 34).  This is why John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as God, bringing about a new creation and new humanity.  In an echo of God breathing into Adam (Gen.2:7), Jesus breathes into his followers his Holy Spirit (Jn.20:22), constituting them as God’s truly human beings once more.  Jesus healed the corruption in human nature in himself, and now offers himself to us by his Spirit, at the pleasure of the Father.  This is why receiving Jesus is a restoration of true humanity, and rejecting Jesus is the ongoing rejection of one’s true self, which deepens at every turn, making Jesus’ ongoing invitation and call to receive him a living hell.[4]

Did anyone actually believe this?  In the second century, Irenaeus of Lyons, the earliest writing theologian outside of the New Testament, first to give us explicit written approval of the four Gospels, said,

‘For one and the same God [that blesses others] inflicts blindness upon those who do not believe, but who set Him at naught; just as the sun, which is a creature of His, [acts with regard] to those who, by reason of any weakness of the eyes cannot behold his light; but to those who believe in Him and follow Him, He grants a fuller and greater illumination of mind.’[5]

Origen of Alexandria in northern Egypt was another early theologian, in the 3rd century.  He said:

‘…the sun, by one and the same power of its heat, melts wax indeed, but dries up and hardens mud not that its power operates one way upon mud, and in another way upon wax; but that the qualities of mud and wax are different, although according to nature they are one thing, both being from the earth.’[6]

Anthony the Great, in the 3rd to 4th centuries, was an Egyptian monk and founder of monasticism.  He said,

‘God is good, dispassionate, and immutable…Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.’[7]

Athanasius of Alexandria, in the 4th century, agreed, which is significant because he was the tireless champion of the full divinity of Jesus, the architect of the Nicene Creed, and the first church leader to articulate the final form of the twenty-seven book New Testament. He wrote, in the third annual letter which he had sent to the Egyptian and North African churches,

‘For a servant of the Lord should be diligent and careful, yea, moreover, burning like a flame, so that when, by an ardent spirit, he has destroyed all carnal sin, he may be able to draw near to God who, according to the expression of the saints, is called ‘a consuming fire [Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:26; Hebrews 12:29]’  Therefore, the God of all, ‘Who makes His angels [spirits],’ is a spirit, ‘and His ministers a flame of fire [Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 1:7].’ Wherefore, in the departure from Egypt, He forbade the multitude to touch the mountain [Exodus 19:23], where God was appointing them the law, because they were not of this character. But He called blessed Moses to it, as being fervent in spirit, and possessing unquenchable grace, saying, ‘Let Moses alone draw near [Exodus 24:2].’ He entered into the cloud also, and when the mountain was smoking, he was not injured; but rather, through ‘the words of the Lord, which are choice silver purified in the earth [Psalm 12:6],’ he descended purified. Therefore the blessed Paul, when desirous that the grace of the Spirit given to us should not grow cold, exhorts, saying, ‘Quench not the Spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:19].’ For so shall we remain partakers of Christ, if we hold fast to the end the Spirit given at the beginning. For he said, ‘Quench not;’ not because the Spirit is placed in the power of men, and is able to suffer anything from them; but because bad and unthankful men are such as manifestly wish to quench it, since they, like the impure, persecute the Spirit with unholy deeds.’  […] And our Lord Jesus Christ, being good and a lover of men, came that He might cast this upon earth, and said, ‘And what? Would that it were already kindled [Luke 12:49]!’ For He desired, as He testified in Ezekiel, the repentance of a man rather than his death [Ezekiel 18:32]; so that evil should be entirely consumed in all men, that the soul, being purified, might be able to bring forth fruit; for the word which is sown by Him will be productive, some thirty, some sixty, some an hundred. [Mark 4:20] [But] there is no hope for the ungrateful, the last fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, awaits those who have neglected divine light. Such then is the end of the unthankful.’  (Athanasius of Alexandria, Third Festal Letter (of 331 AD), paragraphs 3 – 4)

Ambrose of Milan, a towering figure intellectually and politically in the 4th century, not least because he excommunicated Emperor Theodosius until the Emperor repented of ordering a massacre, said,

‘And Isaiah shows that the Holy Spirit is not only Light but also Fire, saying: And the light of Israel shall be for a fire. [Isaiah 10:17] So the prophets called Him a burning Fire, because in those three points we see more intensely the majesty of the Godhead; since to sanctify is of the Godhead, to illuminate is the property of fire and light, and the Godhead is wont to be pointed out or seen in the appearance of fire: For our God is a consuming Fire, as Moses said. [Deuteronomy 4:24]  For he himself saw the fire in the bush, and had heard God when the voice from the flame of fire came to him saying: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. [Exodus 3:6] The voice came from the fire, and the voice was in the bush, and the fire did no harm. For the bush was burning but was not consumed, because in that mystery the Lord was showing that He would come to illuminate the thorns of our body, and not to consume those who were in misery, but to alleviate their misery; Who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, that He might give grace and destroy sin. [Matthew 3:11] So in the symbol of fire God keeps His intention… What, then, is that fire? Not certainly one made up of common twigs, or roaring with the burning of the reeds of the woods, but that fire which improves good deeds like gold, and consumes sins like stubble. This is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit, Who is called both the fire and light of the countenance of God… And as there is a light of the divine countenance, so, too, does fire shine forth from the countenance of God, for it is written: “A fire shall burn in His sight.” For the grace of the day of judgment shines beforehand, that forgiveness may follow to reward the service of the saints. (Ambrose of Milan, On the Holy Spirit, book 1, chapter 14, paragraphs 164 – 165, 169 – 170)

As Father Himes notes, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius’ younger friend in Cappadocia, modern day Turkey, repeated this illustration of God being like the sun.

Augustine, in Hippo Regius in Roman North Africa during the 4th and 5th centuries, said,

‘O God, you are the consuming fire that can burn away their love for these things and re-create the men in immortal life.’  ‘I have been divided…until I flow together unto You, purged and molten in the fire of Your love.’  ‘Every inordinate affection is its own punishment.’[8]

Maximus the Confessor, a monk and scholar in Constantinople in the sixth century, said:

‘God is the sun of justice, as it is written, who shines rays of goodness on simply everyone.  The soul develops according to its free will into either wax because of its love for God or into mud because of its love for matter.  Thus just as by nature the mud is dried out by the sun and the wax is automatically softened, so also every soul which loves matter and the world and has fixed its mind far from God is hardened as mud according to its free will and by itself advances to its perdition, as did Pharaoh.  However, every soul which loves God is softened as wax, and receiving divine impressions and characters it becomes the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.’[9]

John of Damascus, a Syrian priest who lived in the 7th and 8th centuries under Arab Islamic conquest, said,

‘In eternity God supplies good things to all because He is the source of good things gushing forth goodness to all… After death, there is no means for repentance, not because God does not accept repentance – He cannot deny Himself nor lose His compassion – but the soul does not change anymore… people after death are unchangeable, so that on the one hand the righteous desire God and always have Him to rejoice in, while sinners desire sin though they do not have the material means to sin… they are punished without any consolation.  For what is hell but the deprivation of that which is exceedingly desired by someone?  Therefore, according to the analogy of desire, whoever desires God rejoices and whoever desires sin is punished.’  (Against the Manicheans 94.1569, 1573)

Isaac the Syrian, in the 8th century, said,

‘The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love, is more piercing than any other pain.  It is not right to say that the sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God…But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed.’[10]

The entire Eastern Orthodox tradition – fully one third of the church – articulates the doctrine of hell this way.  This fact cannot be lightly dismissed, along with their critique that Western theologies of the atonement and of hell have been overly shaped by the Latin language (at least) of merit and penance, if not the original Latin ideas and substance indicated by those words.

In the twentieth century, Protestant evangelical theologian Donald Baillie said, ‘God must be inexorable towards our sins…not in spite of his love but because of his love: not because his love is limited but because it is unlimited.’  Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, also in the twentieth century, said:  ‘Crucified love is something that sears and consumes, and its two aspects – redemption and judgment – are inseparable and indistinguishable.’  Catholic spiritualist Thomas Merton said, ‘If we refuse his love and remain in the coldness of sin then will his fire (by our own choice rather than his) become our everlasting enemy, and Love, instead of being our joy, will become our torment and our destruction.’[11]  The renowned writer J.R.R. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic lay theologian and philologist, demonstrates this understanding in his masterful The Lord of the Rings.  Those characters who are corrupted by evil lose their physical substance and find good things hard to bear:  the orcs cannot bear the sun; Gollum cannot bear the light of the sun and moon, the touch of elvish rope, or the taste of elvish lembas bread; the Nazgul have become wraiths and cannot bear running water and Gandalf’s light; etc.  Anglican professor of literature, C.S. Lewis, an expert medievalist who was very familiar with the early theologians, says this very strongly in The Great Divorce.[12]  In the Reformed tradition, Swiss theologian Karl Barth (Church Dogmatics), Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance (Incarnation, Atonement), and American evangelical Donald Bloesch (The Last Things) also describe hell this way.[13]

Along with the earliest Christian theologians for centuries, the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and increasing numbers of Catholics and Protestants rediscovering the full implications of Trinitarian theology, I believe that the Triune God fully reveals Himself in Jesus (Jn.14:8 – 21; Heb.1:4; Col.2:9; etc.), as opposed to revealing just the ‘nice’ part of Himself while He hides the ‘scary’ remainder in mystery.

As I said in my last post, with the medical, or ontological, substitution theory, we can therefore say that the Christian Triune God is completely and wholly opposed to human evil, and not complicit in it at all, for God is incapable of turning us into robots precisely because of His love for us, and this explains why God is not a passive partner-in-crime to human evil:  it is not a choice that is even available to Him.  Jesus said, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you’ (Jn.15:9), which means that just as the Father and Son work in free and loving partnership with one another in the Spirit, without coercion, so God’s character requires, and enables, humanity’s free partnership by His Spirit, even if people abuse their free will to reject God.  Thus, we cannot posit a doctrine of omnipotence whereby God could overstep human free choice but simply chooses to not do so.  Rather, human existence and choice flow from God’s omnipotence.  God’s grace upholds and enables human free choice, even when that choice is abused to reject God Himself.[14]  Still less can we posit a doctrine of divine omnipotence like the Sunni Muslim doctrine of Allah’s omnipotence, such that our God also causes humans to err, to sin, and do evil.  No:  Rather, by calling us all to receive the new human nature that He perfected in Jesus, God is a very active opponent of human evil at its very source, who calls all human beings to come to Jesus.  This Triune God, revealed fully by Jesus as embracing humanity in principle, is wholly good and, while utterly respecting our human free choice, calls us to join Him in healing humanity and the world.

It seems to me that the gravitational pull towards Hinduism is quite strong, because if God reveals Himself through all of history (not just within history, but by it), including the fall of humanity and our ongoing sin, then at best, He would be both good and evil, and at worst, simply evil.  He would be arbitrary.  To the person who ‘wants to experience everything’ and thinks it is ‘close-minded’ to make conclusions about God before experiencing everything in life, I would ask one question:  If you take all of history and human experience as valid data about the character of God, then you invariably include gross human evil and the fallen creation as part of the data, thereby making God both good and evil, or just evil.  This is why the gravitational pull towards the god of Hinduism is so strong, and why, logically, the Muslim God and the high federal Calvinist rendering of the Christian God get pulled back to it.  Only a thoroughly and consistently Trinitarian definition of the Triune God revealed by Jesus alone, through the Spirit, and not by a fallen human history, is a God who is not responsible for any human evil, who is in fact opposed to it, and is thoroughly good.

So how does your atonement theology affect how you talk about hell?  In penal substitution, hell is the infinite retributive justice of God, which makes God two-faced.  I don’t think that’s consistent with God being a Trinity, that is, love.  But in medical-ontological substitution, hell is the infinite love of God.  The purifying love of God.  Yes, that means it is the wrath of God against the corruption of sin.  But the wrath of God is simply the love of God for the person, still calling out for the person’s surrender, even when resistance in the eternal state has hardened, and the person refuses to give up her/his addictions.  Hell is trying to remove yourself from God’s love, when that is just impossible.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 33, paragraph 2

[2] Michael Himes, S.J., Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about Faith, Love, and Service (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995), p.14 – 15.

[3] It is important to point out that every biblical narrative which utilizes the motif of fire (the Pentateuch, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke-Acts, etc.) uses it in this thematic fashion, consistently.  The book of Revelation does as well (http://nagasawafamily.org/john-revelation-theme-fire.sg.pdf).  Malachi, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews use the motif of fire in a purifying sense.  See also my paper, Hell as the Love of God, http://nagasawafamily.org/article-hell-as-the-love-of-god.pdf.  For a much fuller treatment of New Testament passages on hell, and fire and darkness, as well as the Old Testament’s treatment of these motifs, see my paper, Hell as Fire and Darkness:  Remembrance of Sinai as Covenant Rejection in Matthew’s Gospel found here:  http://nagasawafamily.org/matthew-theme-fire-and-darkness-as-hell.pdf.

[4] Paul in Romans also corroborates this point.  Paul’s last mention of the wrath of God (as distinct from the wrath of the state) in Romans is this:  ‘Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom.12:19 – 21)  This ethic provides another example that God’s love can be experienced as burning wrath by someone who is opposed to Him.  But this does not change the fact that from God’s side, it is His love.  Once again, the sequence of our questions determines our results.  When we ask the questions, ‘What is sin?  And what does it do to us?’ before we ask the question, ‘What is hell?’ we come up with clearer and more theologically consistent answers for both.

[5] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.29.1; cf. 4.39.1 – 4

[6] Origen of Alexandria, De Principiis, book 3, chapter 1 ‘On the Freedom of the Will’, paragraph 11

[7] Anthony of Egypt, Philokalia, Vol.1: On the Character of Men, 150

[8] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 5.3; 11.29; 1.19

[9] Maximus Confessor, Selected Writings, Chapters on Knowledge, paragraph 12, Paulist Press, 1985, p.130

[10] Cited in Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p.234; and Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p.181 – 82

[11] Donald Bloesch, The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.220 cites Baillie, von Balthazar, and Merton

[12] See my essay  C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Atonement, http://nagasawafamily.org/article-cslewis-paper-atonement.pdf, to see how Lewis drew from Irenaeus and Athanasius in particular

[13] See also Grace Communion International, http://www.gci.org/media/youre-included for a very good repository of Trinitarian theology including T.F. Torrance, J.B. Torrance, Ian Torrance, Trevor Hart, Elmer Colyer, Ray Anderson, Andrew Purves, etc.

[14] John Cassian’s Conference 13; cf. Owen Chadwick, John Cassian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2008); see footnote #12, above.  See also Jaroslav Pelikan (1974), ch.5, ‘The Vindication of Trinitarian Monotheism’ especially the sections, ‘Evil and the God of Love’ on p.216 – 227 and ‘The One God – And His Prophet’ on p.227 – 242.

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