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Who says God is a torturer?

Timothy Dalrymple over at Patheos has decided to take issue with the doctrine of eternal, conscious torment for those who die outside of Christ:

"Imagine three people in a windowless prison cell. The first is a torturer, the second a prisoner, and the third an observer. The torturer is with the prisoner, doing what torturers do. He puts the prisoner in the most extraordinary agony a human being can experience. Horrendous pain. The prisoner is screaming, writhing, begging for relief — but the torturer keeps going.

"I find it impossible to believe that God would countenance such a thing. I know the horror I feel if I am forced (through a movie, or etc.) to watch even a minute of true torture. I know the deep, black feeling of wrongness that arises in my heart when I see that. So when I really sit down and contemplate what eternal conscious torment would be like, I’ve never been able to believe that the God I’ve come to know through Jesus Christ would permit it."


"I think," "I feel," "I can't imagine" . . .

Hmm, I am seeing a pattern.

Someone will need to show me how it's possible to come to a position other than "eternal conscious torment" if the relevant words of Christ and the Apostles are to be taken seriously. There's just no way "And the smoke of their torment rises up for ever and ever. There is no rest, day or night," or "It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'" can be understood other than some kind of conscious agony for eternity.

That said, it seems obvious to me that Dalrymple is exaggerating and stuffing the "torment" position with straw, maybe to make himself feel better. I don't see where he gets the idea that God or anyone else is supposed to be doing the "torturing." I don't even understand why he has the picture of maleficent torment in his mind to begin with. I have always had the impression -- based on how God "cursed" Adam and Eve (pushing them out of His direct presence) and what Christ endured on the cross ("my God, why hast thou forsaken me?") that the Lake of Fire is nothing more than the complete and final separation from God -- who is life. What could possibly be worse? That, of course, would explain why it's called "the second death." Yet if Milton and Lewis are right, sinners gladly choose such a fate over submission.

Dalrymple says that "fundamentalists" would be surprised by how little scriptural evidence exists of "ECT." If he's reading the New Testament I'm reading, I would say Dalrymple's belief in the Trinity is now in imminent danger. There is no less plain teaching on eternal damnation than any other orthodox doctrine.

It's pretty apparent to me that this willingness to entertain the argument from personal incredulity ("my God wouldn't do that") over vividly explicit revelation and historical consensus is dangerous territory. A Christian who is not willing to accept revealed truths that rub him the wrong way isn't really worth his salt.

Comments:

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One of the books I recently read looked at this topic ("Everything New" by Jeff Cook). It's a pretty good read, and I recommend it as a fine example of accumulative apologetics.

Jeff Cook believes in Annihilationism (or, as he puts it: "it seems to me a better way [than ECT] to understand *both* the language of the Bible and the rationality of damnation is to see hell first and foremost as 'a raging fire that will consume.' (Hebrews 10:27)"). He builds a pretty convincing argument. One scripture he points to as representative is 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ("They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might") where the theme of punishment with consequences that are eternal is outlined. It's interesting to think about Shane, as you yourself mentioned how hell is "nothing more than the complete and final separation from God -- who is life" - and Being, it should be mentioned.

Here's an interesting quote from the book:
"There is nothing more obvious to [modern] human beings than their impending death and the disintegration of everything we see.
Again it seems, the Christian and the Atheist come to the same conclusion about the natural destiny of human beings, and the Christian alone affirms a potential alternative: one in which the God who transcends nature, breathes into us, and turns what is destined for dust into life again."

Of course, that's a snippet of his discussion on the topic. It's a topic worth serious, sustained thinking. Do we focus more on death than on God's redeeming power?
Following up with Fred, Quickly...
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True, Fred, there are some –many now-- who strive to make out that, lo and behold, God Himself actually approves such spectacularly degraded immorality and lawlessness.

But again, I submit this is the outworking of a subconscious desire to substitute another, beastly god –a foul idol-- in place of YHWH; and why? Because at heart they hate YHWH, and wish He could be killed –crucified, maybe-- and replaced by one –i.e. the Devil-- who lets them do pretty much anything they want.

But in order to retain respectability among those (themselves included!) who still might shudder with revulsion if they saw clearly that this is tantamount to outright Satan worship, they attempt –pathetically-- to sanctify and justify their evil by alleging that God Himself approves of it.


P.S. Hooray for Gina and team fixing the page function! This time the squeaky duck got the grease instead of the YOD! Conventionality belongs to yesterday! Grease is the word! It's got groove it's got meaning; grease is the time, is the place is the motion; grease is the way I am feeling!
The comment problem's been fixed! Thanks for your patience!
So God is indifferent to the ECT of millions of the damned, but our dear beloved blog editor is mortified by inconvenience to a handful of us commenters? I'm going to ponder the phrase "economies of scale" today.
I'm sorry, guys. We've had this problem before, and I'm not sure we ever figured it out. But I'll see what I can do.
You're not the only one, Rolley. In fact, in this very thread I was trying to find an earlier post I wanted to refer to, but my experience was as you describe.

Maybe it has to do with the anti-spam measures that Gina and company have had to take. There seem to be some exaggerated comment numbers at times.
You *can* go home again . . .
. . . but then you can't go anywhere else.

Same thing with Firefox on Linux, Rolley.
Am I the Only One...
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...who, when trying to page back to older comments by clicking on the "Next Page" icon, gets the same old page of comments re-presented to him?

I've tried several browsers from Windows; even tried a Mac (Safari) browser. Same result.
Yes, Jason, it is a Satire
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Any you needn't feel bad, as if you are the only one who doesn't follow my often-far-too-arcane drift. I confuse myself a lot of the time – and that's no joke.

My point, basically, is that if we don't understand the love of God we don't really understand much of anything about Christianity. It is that central.

God is love, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we don't see that, then we'll see something quite other – perhaps something like what the characters in the story saw.

Like Lee said, none of us sees it perfectly clearly, but in proportion as we do, things fall into place and our joy is made full, even if our personal circumstances are less than desirable.
Far be it from me to put words in Rolley's incredibly articulate mouth, Jason, so I'll try a different tack for you: Think about the science fiction and fantasy stories you have read. Think about the ones with the most gut-wrenching plots, the ones in which the hero of the story - the guy who, in the unwritten rules of such fiction, absolutely must survive into the next volume of the series - that indispensable hero willingly and knowingly sacrifices himself to save the planet. The kind of story, in short, that moves you so deeply because it's so difficult to read what happens, and you want to yell "NO!!!" at the pages of the book.

Now, imagine "zooming out" to a new perspective of the story, one in which that planet is merely one site in a much larger galactic battle between a good commander and an evil one. But, imagine that the "good" commander had actually worked out the entire battle in advance, using his superhuman intelligence and abilities to foresee the future. Knowing of the heroic, incredible sacrifice of the hero, the commander simply factored it in, like one part of a complex mathematical equation, with cold, calculating logic. And after the battle, the "good" commander told the survivors that there was no need to commemorate the hero; he'd simply done what was needed, and that was that.

So there you are, the reader of this story. On the one hand, you want to agonize over the death of this hero, but on the other hand, you're told that his death was pre-planned, inevitable, and actually nothing to get upset about. In fact, all the deaths of all the soldiers on both sides were planned in meticulous detail, and the whole thing was really just like watching a string of dominos fall.

Now, contrast that with a story in which the "good" commander must send the hero into battle knowing that the hero and many troops will die, but grieving deeply - agonizing - over all of them. Imagine the commander, delighted by the victory but shattered by the cost, ordering that a statue be erected for the hero, that a day of remembrance be set aside by all the people, and that the hero's story be told and re-told in the hopes that it would inspire others to act similarly. In the one case, any good behavior the people adopt is merely a side-effect, while in the other case it's a radical transformation of their spirits.

Finally, imagine that all the stories you could read were either the first kind of story, or the second. Which ones would motivate you to keep reading?

Better yet, tell the story from the perspective of a foot soldier under the command of the hero. Have the soldiers argue around a campfire about what's coming, and whether or not the commander really cares about you and the hero, or doesn't. Take "We who are about to die salute you," and make it personal. And imagine, for both cases of "good" commander, that you could defect and survive. Would you, especially if you suspected that it wouldn't make any difference to the outcome?

As Rolley might put it, "Door Number Two".

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."
-- Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5

'Cuz that's just the way it is. Or, maybe these tales stir us so deeply because Macbeth's wrong. Maybe that story, of the "good" commander who really *is* good because he cares about all, is written on our hearts, believers and unbelievers alike.

And even if unbeknownst to me he's the cold, calculating one, telling us how much he cares about the whole planet simply because it's appropriately motivational and not his real sentiment, I'd still rather give him the benefit of the doubt.
It is hard to admit it, Rolley, but I couldn't get the point of that anecdote. I know that is how a lot of us feel at times but is there more?
I presume that is a satire Rolley.
What's Love Got to do With It?
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Evangelist

They led me into a small room where two men were seated at a wooden table. They pushed me into a third chair and left. I heard the deadbolt fall into place. I exchanged looks with both of the other men. The one on my left looked downcast, sullen; the one on my right appeared bored and impatient. Feeling I had nothing to lose and no one to impress, I asked the bored one if he knew what this was all about.

“Didn’t they tell you?” he asked, his eyes widening with a look of incredulity.

“Tell me what?” I said, annoyed not only at being brought here, but at his insulting tone.

He rolled his eyes up towards a corner of the ceiling. I half expected him to call me an idiot. I clenched my fist. Five seconds passed, sufficient time, presumably, for his irritation with me to sink in. He leaned in my direction and said in an exasperated tone, “Didn’t they tell you this is your Hour of Decision?”

“Hour of Decision”? I put inflection on the last word. “What, pray tell, is my “Hour of Decision”? By now, my own voice was showing some attitude.

He didn’t answer, just shook his head. I heard the other guy clear his throat. He was staring at his hands. They were folded in front of him on the table. “This is your Judgment Day”, he said.

“Judgment Day”, I repeated. More stupid silence.

Finally, Speaker Number One spoke again. “Judgment Day, Hour of Decision; what’s the difference, take your pick. The point is, it’s time for you to make your choice.”

I was trying to make sense of this. “Time for me to make what choice?”

“Where you want to spend eternity.”

Eternity. I got to thinking. Where am I? How did I get here? And who are these guys, anyway? The last thing I remembered was hearing the blast of a horn and the screech of tires as I stepped into the crosswalk on Main Street. Had I been hit by a car? Was I dead?

“We don’t have all day, you know.” It was Number One again. “Go ahead and decide. In case you didn’t know, there’s a long line of other poor souls waiting outside for their turn.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“’Who am I’, he asks. Geez, whatta piece of work. Look, you’re dead, and you’re being judged, and you gotta choose now between one of us.”

I looked at the other fellow. He was still looking down at his hands. “Between one of you?”

“That’s what I said, ‘between one of us’; between God or the Devil.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. Part of me was saying, this is all just a crazy dream. Another part of me was saying, maybe it does make some sense. I must have sat there in silence, trying to take it all in, for longer than Mister Doom and Gloom could endure. He pushed himself back from the table and stood up.

“OK, that’s enough for me. I’ve got better things to do. He’s all yours.” He went to the door and walked right through without so much as touching the knob. I heard his voice in the distance call back, “Good luck.”

I looked at the other man. I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I said, “Was that the Devil”?

For the first time, he looked me in the eye. “Oh, no, that wasn’t the Devil.”

I waited, but it did not appear he was going to elaborate.

“Then you mean…”

He smirked. “No, no, neither of us is God or the Devil. We’re just their ambassadors. Sorry for the confusion.”

“I take it you’re God’s ambassador, and he’s the Devil’s? Man, what a pain in the watusi he was.”

“Quite the contrary. He was God’s ambassador.”

And just when I thought I was beginning to figure things out. I stammered, “But he, he basically just gave up on me. I mean, I didn’t make any choice. He just up and left before I made up my mind.”

“He’s like that.”

“And he’s an ambassador of God?”

“Yes he is.”

I scratched my head, literally and figuratively.

“So… I belong to the Devil. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes I am.”

“But…”

“Sorry, all decisions are final.”

“But I didn’t make any decision.”

“You didn’t have to. As you observed, it was made for you.”

“Wait a minute. This is crazy.”

“I know. He had me worried there for awhile.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought he was going to browbeat you into heaven like he does with most people.” Sensing my perplexity, he explained. “You see, he’s such an obnoxious sort that just about the only way he can get people to choose God is to threaten them with the alleged horrors of the alternative. People wind up choosing heaven as the lesser of two evils.”

I sat there speechless.

“It’s true,” he said. “Just think about it. What’s the number one reason people become Christians?”

“How would I know?”

“Take a guess.”

“I have no idea.”

“Fear.”

“Huh?”

“Fear. The number one reason people turn to God is fear of everlasting conscious torment.”

Pondering this, I said nothing. He continued.

“And yet Christians go on about how God is Love. Hah. More like the Godfather.”

“The Godfather?”

“Yeah. You know, he makes you an ‘offer’ you can’t refuse: ‘Believe in me and love me or I’ll send you to hell.’ Some choice, that.”

I quit scratching my head, but only literally.

He continued. “The reason most Christians believe in God is to save their hides. They don’t love God any more than a galley slave loves the taskmaster who lightens the lash for kissing his brassard. The smart ones figure that by acting like they enjoy being slaves they will get fewer stripes and better food.”

“Well, if that’s just the way it is, what’s so terribly wrong with all that?”

“Nothing’s wrong with it. What’s wrong is saying the master is good and that he loves you. All he loves is himself, and the only thing good about him is that if you stroke him the right way, he’ll spare your miserable keister from the eternal barbecue.”

“But I’ve met people who really do seem to love him, God I mean.”

“Oh yeah, there’s plenty of them.”

“So how do you explain that?”

“Pretty simple, really. They’ve bought into the story about the cross of Christ being a display of the love of God. You’ve heard the drill: God is holy, people are sinful and as a result of their sin are separated from their Creator who, although he threatens them with hell for not believing in him, really does love them and wants them to live with him forever among the harps and clouds. So he sends his son down to earth to take their punishment on the cross so that if they bow the knee and make him their master they can escape hell fire. All very contrived.”

“Contrived? How so?”

“I mean if he really loves them, why not just forgive and forget? Why require them to beat themselves up for being so allegedly wicked? Why require them to grovel at his feet on pain of hell fire? Why not just say, okay, you screwed up, but I, being the God of grace and love that I am, freely forgive you because I really do love you. Seems to me that if he’s really good, if he’s really loving, that’s how things would be handled. All the other is totally unnecessary, insisted on solely to make a point.”

“The point being….?”

“The point being that everyone else is a horrible, undeserving sinner, but God is holy and good and deserves obeisance. And if anybody really wants heaven bad enough they can have it. But only on HIS terms.”

“And ‘his terms’ are, admit you’re a scum ball and bow down before him.”

“You got it.”

“It’s a wonder anyone loves him.”

“Yeah”, he said, casting a furtive eye over his shoulder. “Masters are all alike. Lording it over everyone just to make themselves feel good.”

“I think I see your point. So…just how bad is this hell?”

“Not so bad, after the first few thousand years. You get used to the heat.” He said it casually enough. But I thought I saw his lip tremble. “All I can say is it sure beats the alternative.”

Suddenly, there came dimly from the distance an indescribable shriek of unspeakable horror. I looked at my host. His eyes met mine, briefly, knowingly. In spite of the room’s warmth I felt a sick chill.

He quickly looked down at his wristwatch. “Well, time to get moving.”

As he stood, a bead of perspiration fell from his brow onto my hand. I had a brief urge to put it to my lips. “Kinda hot already,” I said, rising. He seemed not to hear me.

“Hell would be bad”, he said slowly, as if considering it for the first time, “if all that garbage about God loving everyone turned out to be true. That would be pretty bad. But judging from the guy they hired to be God’s ambassador – you know, the guy that stormed out of here a couple of minutes ago; we call him “Evangelist” – I’d say no sweat. Ha ha, get it? ‘No sweat’!”

I felt a knot in my larynx. I swallowed hard and forced myself to speak. “Listen,” I began.

He looked at me with his head tilted sideways, like a dog puzzling over its first snake.

“Is it really… too late for me to, uh…”

“To choose the alternative?”

I shook my head, a little too quickly, I thought.

His eyes, unblinking, were fixed on mine.

“Well.... not if you REALLY want to,” he said slowly. “But remember: all decisions YOU make ARE final.”

I felt a surge of relief even though I vaguely saw myself consigned to an uninterrupted church service where I and all the pretenders around me would feign worship of the egotistical Ruler of the Universe forever just to save our hides. But for the first time in my existence it didn’t seem so bad. Strange, that.

I took a deep breath. “Okay, then,” I stammered. “I choose God.”

He looked at me with what, for all the world, looked like sadness. “Whatever you say, sport. Your wish is my command.” Then, pointing me to a door I had not noticed until that very moment, he said, “But before you go, I just gotta ask: Why?”
And that glimpse, while no picnic, is still a far cry from the kind of thing Dalrymple describes.
Also the idea that hell is the natural result of the refusal of grace seems to make natural sense because we have seen it demonstrated on stage. While getting ones theology from Godfather is questionable, that aspect of it looks suspiciously accurate.

Then too there are some real life descriptions such as witnesses of Eichmann just before his trial.

Perhaps we do after all have enough glimpses of what hell is like. In some cases it starts on Earth.
Sorry to insert another Kevin into this thread.
Jason points out how it is rather inconceivable that many if any people could possibly deserve torment without end. I am inclined to agree.

I'm sure that some folks would view this opinion as no different from those of the people who want a God they can shape into whatever form they want rather than accepting an honest biblical interpretation and illumination of Him. There are differences however.

For one thing, as some here have expressed very well, there's such an incompatibility with what we learn about God through the Bible. If no other act of His demonstrates His love for us, just sending Jesus to live and die here ought to be enough. Sit and contemplate the profound love and compassion displayed in that one act. I mean, really meditate on it. Then tell me the same God would inflict ECT. I could sooner see annihilation or eternal separation than unending torture. The latter is so awful and so disproportionate to anything we could possibly do that I wouldn't wish it on the most heinous monsters in history. And God's compassion is infinitely greater than mine, is it not?

Even so, if there were a clear, consistent picture of ECT throughout the Bible, I would obviously have to more strongly consider the possibility, regardless of my distaste for it. The fact is, however, scholars a lot smarter than I am have found justification for a range of beliefs about this topic. I'm not talking about dishonest wishful thinking, but serious scholarship that is hard to dismiss outright.

(Something else I found interesting: Rolley referenced a passage that seemed to back up an active role by God in the eternal punishment. Reading through to the end of the chapter also brings an apparent implication that the punishment could end once the full penalty is paid.)

Jason recently told me he doesn't believe that our happiness in Heaven will be in the form of a drugged-up euphoria. Let's say that he's right and we still have our wits about us in a familiar way. What kind of heavenly existence would it be if we knew that people we loved were, every minute of every day, undergoing torture? Do we lose all sense of compassion and humaneness in Heaven?

Even if we were made to see the justice in such a punishment, could we really delight in it? I have a hard time believing that part of the Heaven experience is an embrace of our sadistic side. If, in this life, we took pleasure in the horrendous suffering of others, our chances of truly being saved and reaching Heaven would surely be in doubt. Why then would supporting ECT be acceptable in Heaven? Can you see the dissonance?

I know, I know. We can't fully understand God right now, if ever. That being the case, we can only go by the portrayal of Him that we are presented with in the Bible. Yes, He is vengeful as well as loving, and He's been known to wipe out a lot of people. But that isn't completely incompatible with being loving. And justifiably killing people is entirely different from everlasting torture. ECT at the hands--or behest--of God is, for me, decidedly at odds with the overall picture I have of Him.
My point, Kevin, was not that Calvinism claims human reason to be questionable. My point is that it seems to claim

1. Human reason is UTTERLY unreliable due to depravity.

2. Specifically, it claims a perception of justice and mercy so much at odds with human perception that it not just a "mystery" but it's acceptance must needs hold human perceptions in scorn.

3. Once one has done that one must assume that the reliability of scripture is itself arbitrary. Keeping it is like bandaging a wound with duct tape and assuming no skin will peal off when the tape is removed. If our perceptions are utterly unreliable then there is no reason to assume that our reading of scripture is in fact what scripture contains. If double predestination is in fact allowed, there is no reason to assume that God is telling us the the truth in scripture either because making God a tyrant also makes him untrustworthy. Choosing the Calvinist interpretation of scripture and then saying that all other interpretations of reality are wrong because of man's depravity is in fact arbitrary. "Man is depraved" becomes no more then a way to double the syllables in the phrase "so there".

Lee, I actually had a similar experience to what you described. But I knew she wasn't cruel and cold beforehand. As for the point about "drillmaster" that is an example of someone who is in fact being good to you but whose goodness you cannot emotionally perceive at the moment. However with a drillmaster I would theoretically know the purpose of his vocation and why he was pushing me. The reason ECT reacts is because it is irrevocable, and for most people seems disproportionate.

Also it is the fire that burns forever. Fire is a symbol of destruction as well as torment.
Jason, dear friend, you may see God as a drillmaster, but I contend that your knowledge of Him is therefore incomplete. (So is mine, and so is that of all of us. I'd hope you'd continue to help me with my areas of need, in return.) Similarly, if my wife had had to fire you from your job, you might see her as cold and cruel, rather than the warm, loving person she is. You'd have to see her as I do, struggling so mightily to let someone go while still feeling it was best for all concerned, rather than accepting only a flawed picture. And if you saw God as I do, you'd likely see torment in Hell arising from Him sustaining the existence of the tormented, while not giving them the comfort of His presence or of those of us who love Him. Which, paradoxically, is just the way those tormented souls want it - in spite of their pain.

I'm reminded of a radio announcer, back in the days of the Senator Joseph McCarthy inquisitions, who was supposed to refer to a female newspaper writer as "a famous woman columnist," but instead he said "a famous woolen Communist." He said he knew he'd done *something* wrong when suddenly the telephone switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.

Kevin, some may mistake you for the other Kevin, but I believe in your special uniqueness. To me your resemblance to him, or to Kelvin, is . . . zero degrees.

OW!! Dere goeth my udthur lib!
Jason, the Reformers did not think they were breaking with church history. They thought they were restoring the church to what she had originally been, after her leadership had wandered from the path. Both Luther and Calvin quote extensively from the Church Fathers in defense of their positions.

The Anabaptists are a different story. And it is certainly the case that most Protestants these days know little of church history.

Kevin, I'm sure I get called Kevin more often than you get called Kelvin ;-). More substantively, it is certainly true that there are multiple meanings of "love," whether you want to refer to Greek agape/phileo/eros/timaeo/storge or stick within ordinary English usage. Any good dictionary will probably show upwards of 10 definitions. But that doesn't mean the term is infinitely elastic, or that there are opposite meanings. (There are a very few words in English that have two opposite meanings, like "cleave"; I don't think "love" is one of them.) So whatever definition of "love" you want to use, how does that fit ECT (not to mention double predestination)? And "whatever God does is love" is, again, a cop-out.

I'm not sure quite what you mean by Scripture preceding language. Scripture is IN language; it has no being apart from language. Of course human language is insufficient to fully explain God and his workings; it is finite and sin-marred, like its practitioners. Yet we affirm that it is capable of revealing to us what we need to know about God to come into a right relationship with him. Language is capable of representing reality, and in the Bible we find both concrete and spiritual reality represented faithfully, even if necessarily incompletely. And so when God presents truth to us in Scripture, we trust that he chose certain words and not others because they stand for the reality he wants us to know.

To be sure, the purpose of the Bible is to point to Christ, the Incarnate Word, the most perfect revelation of God in earthly space/time. But for those of us who can't meet Christ in the flesh, the words of others are all we have. And if they don't mean something we can understand, what's the point in claiming that Christianity has any meaning at all?

So I continue to maintain that it is important to ask, "What's love got to do with it?"
My Conscious Torment: Too Little Time to Comment
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Kelvin, your situation describes mine exactly (Arminian in a PCA church). I was a Five Pointer for 30 years until honesty (of the Larry Crabb “Inside Out” sort) and better biblical exegesis led me to a mene mene tekel upharsin experience with Calvinism (it actually happened over a period of years – one does not simply replace one’s vast theological worldview overnight; especially when most of the available alternatives have their own serious problems).

As for ECT and church history, there are some notables down through the years who have expressed doubt. I’ve already made allusion to Stott. For those with time and inclination Wikipedia has a good overview on the view of hell Shane calls “mere annihilation”.*

To be fair, very few annihilationists would contend there is anything “mere” about the punishments of hell. Their contention is that, severe as the punishments are, they have an end; they do not go on forever and ever. When hell’s punishments are spoken of as “eternal”, this respects the results rather than the duration of the torments; i.e. the torments result in eternal death, not eternal dying – an important, if debatable, distinction.


Jumping to your other point, that the assertion “God is love” is not reflexive (i.e., we cannot say “Love is God”) – I invite you to consider this:

That if, by “love” John meant love as a phenomenon, then you are right, the formula is not reflexive.

However, if by “love” John meant essence; i.e., “Love Personified”, then the formula absolutely IS reflexive: both statements, “God is Love (Personified)”, and “Love (Personified) is God”, are true.

So the question is, what did John mean?

Some, myself included, contend that love (rightly defined) is the sum of all virtues, and that God’s holiness flows from His being Love (with a capital L) rather than the other way around, or the two (love and holiness) being in some kind of equilibrium to each other.

And so, a person can be holy (morally blameless) without truly loving, but a person cannot be truly loving without being holy; for holiness hates sin precisely because it destroys the beloved.

I don’t know if that makes sense, but I have run out of time.

:(

P.S. Kevin, I think we need a German grammarian to answer the fine point you just raised. And Gina, I believe, is of Italian descent.

--
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilationism
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