The morality and logic of hell

Question 118, from RF, Australia

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I have a question about hell. What do you think of a God who says (to paraphrase Brian McLaren), ‘If you don’t love me, I’ll torture you forever in hell’? If the lake of fire scenario is right, then the vast bulk of humanity are going to be eternally tortured in ways that make Guantanamo seem tame. I want to be faithful to the Scriptures, and to God, so what do you think? Is annihilation-ism an unscriptural cop-out, or a better rendering of the biblical evidence?

One of the big issues of Western theology since the Enlightenment has been the application of moral judgements on theological statements. Frequently the debate about hell descends into a moral debate: is it right for people to suffer eternally, regardless of what they have done? Can Christianity assert on the one hand that God is loving, and yet equally willing to condemn people to hell?

This contradiction is a common criticism of Christianity. The cartoonist Scott Adams sums this up in one of his earlier books when he illustrates (more…)

Comprehending the Trinity

Question 116, from DW

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As best you can, could you give me a good analogy of the trinity?

The Trinity is one of the most difficult Christian doctrines to grasp, simply because it is actually very hard to define how one God can exist in three persons. The tendency is either to stress the one-ness of God, or to place the accent on the plurality of God. Unfortunately to swing too far either way can lead to denying the reality of the Trinity (saying God only appears to be three persons), or towards a version of polytheism.

Certainly the Trinity is possibly the one doctrine that marked an irrevocable break with monotheistic Judaism. For Christians, the difficulty initially centred on (more…)

Post-Conversion Sin

Question 116, from JG, United Kingdom

This answer is sponsored by Adam Harbinson, author of Savage Shepherds.

I recently read Hebrews where it says if we sin willfully after salvation there is no forgiveness but only judgement to look forward to. Jesus said, “if you love me keep my commandments”. Why do Christians sin after salvation, and will this sin cause us to lose our salvation?

This particular question has been an issue within Christianity since New Testament times. Sin, it seems, was still a problem post-conversion in the earliest church. The apostle Paul famously struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 7-8) and asked, “why do I do the things I don’t want to do?” (Romans chapter 7, verses 18ff). The New Testament letters to churches are full of admonitions against ‘sinful’ behaviour, and encouragement towards living righteously.

One of the big issues within Christianity as it developed was whether sins committed after baptism could be forgiven. In particular, apostasy under persecution was considered an unforgivable sin, and the debate (more…)