Below is an email (edited) that I received recently. How would you respond? Please speak directly to John Doe.

“Dear Michael,

Right now I am in a crisis of faith and am in great need of your advice.

[He then talks about the abusive and legalistic Christian environment he grew up in]

Right now, intellectually I believe in double predestination but emotionally I am a Universalist. If I allow my emotions to bleed into my intellect then I will become a heretic and if I allow my intellect to bleed into my emotions I will become suicidal. In other words, I can’t handle the truth, so I lie to myself.

In an attempt to become consistent I read some of Jonathan Edwards. His view seems to be that because God hates the damned, the saints in heaven will also hate the damned and will rejoice over their misery. I thought that maybe we as Christians should do likewise, so I watched a bunch of YouTube videos by Fred Phelps (the “God-hates-fags”, funeral picketing guy). He argues that God hates the reprobate more than Satan hates the elect and that therefore we should hate non-Christians. I grew up with a lot of abusive, unstable, racist, paranoid relatives so I have seen what hate looks like. It’s a very ugly thing, but what’s really scary is that there’s a part of me that enjoys watching Fred Phelps; that enjoys the adrenaline that comes with stomping on another human being with your mind. I watched Fred Phelps the other morning, and for the rest of the day I felt like I wanted to fight somebody, so I decided to not watch him anymore.

My question that I desperately need answering is: **How do you believe in hell without becoming a suicidal psychopath?** All my life I have struggled with mental illness and my main goal has been peace of mind. I have sought peace in religion but many a time it has been an aggravator and not a soother. I am in a part of my life where I’m going through religious change and am afraid that I may abandon orthodoxy for the sake of the emotional stability that I have so desperately sought all my life.

I realize that such is dangerous because even benign quirks in theology will lead to illogical patters in life. Right now I’m very close to deciding to never have children because they’ll probably go to hell (there’s a part of me that suspects that the vast majority humans do) and it is cruel and evil to bring souls into existence that are probably doomed to damnation. They’ll probably grow up in a world ruled by homosexuals and Muslims. I have become so bitter that I have come to often feel that God hates humanity; that He delights in our misery. I still love God, but I’m starting to love Him in a Stockholm-Syndrome, Battered-Woman, masochistic kind of way. There’s a part of me that feels like I should never get married because my wife will probably go to hell, in fact, it may just be better if I become super reclusive and not have any relationships because everybody’s going to go to hell. There have even been times when I felt like I would probably go to hell and that I should torture myself in order to prepare myself for the afterlife. Michael, I think I’m losing my mind.

People have told me that this should motivate me to evangelize but every time I have tried to I make myself look like an absolute nut and push people away from the faith. I think my mental health makes this very difficult and I have come to think that maybe I have no purpose in life. Maybe God just created me to suffer.”


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    63 replies to "How Do I Stay Sane and Believe in Hell?"

    • Spencer Barfuss

      Michael, I would direct him to this website that talks about the benefits of taking Niacin to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders. Studies in the 50s and 60s showed that about 80% of mental health patients taking Niacin were cured of their mental health problems, which showed it was a vitamin deficiency. http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/how-to-take-niacin-vitamin-b3-for-depression-and-anxiety. He could also go to Andrew Saul’s website called http://doctoryourself.com, which discusses more in depth the benefits of taking Niacin.

    • David Lovi

      Hi John Doe, as I am sure you know, the Bible says that God so Loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son…Jesus loved his enemies and he calls us to also. It is twisted logic to think that God wants you to hate unbelievers. No, you are to LOVE them, and you are to do good to them (Romans 12). As for double predestination or not, that still does NOT affect how we are to treat unbelievers, because we have no idea who the elect are! You cannot look at a person in the street and know whether or not they will eventually come to faith and be saved. That is why it is ridiculous what the Phelps’s teach about hating people. It is easy to hate people, the natural man is great at that, it is MUCH harder to exhibit love and forgiveness…that should be one proof that hate toward others is not from God, but love is. I can’t tell you whether or not to have kids, but God does command us to multiply, and I think you need to see the Lord as far more Good and Just and Loving than you do, leave the final judgement of people in His hands.

    • Jeremy

      I would direct Mr. Doe to some resources on Christian Universalism. As a former believer in double predestination, I’ve found my home in a universalist view of Christ’s saving purpose. A fair number of church fathers held this view (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, et. al.), so charges of unorthodoxy are a bit suspect.

      Here is a GREAT place to start: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2006/11/why-i-am-universalist-summing-up-and.html

    • Fr Aidan Kimel

      Dear John Doe,

      I write to you as a brother in Christ, but as one who belongs to a different ecclesial tradition. I am a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

      There is only one solution for the terrible anguish you are now experiencing: reject your belief in double predestination. It is not biblical. It is not the faith of the ancient Church, at least not until St Augustine was led by his speculative logic to draw the terrible predestinarian conclusion. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of absolute and unconditional love. He loves every human being. He died on the cross for every human being. He rose from the dead for every human being. He wills the salvation of every human being. This is the gospel!

      Do not be afraid to reject the double predestinarianism that is making you sick. The true God will not reject you. How could he? He became Man to crucify your sins and bear them away. You have died in Christ and are destined, by grace, to everlasting life. Put aside your fears and terrors and trust in the triumphant love and mercy of our heavenly Father.

      May you hope for the eternal salvation of all? Absolutely! One of the great saints of the Eastern Church is St Isaac the Syrian. No saint of the Church has spoken more eloquently of the absolute love of God. “In love did God bring the world into existence,” St Isaac declares; “in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised” (http://goo.gl/mbVZdJ). I commend to you a series of articles on St Isaac that I published earlier in the year: http://goo.gl/eDDQt.

      Double predestinarianism is making you sick, John Doe. That this is so show demonstrates that it is not of God, for God desires your healing and transformation in grace…

    • Myself as a hospital chaplain, I have seen and heard much of this sadly too often. And I have come to the conclusion that both poor mental health and simply bad doctrine and theology, are a very ill mix! However, the first must be sought with the best of medical and clinical psychology, and of course the latter must also too be sought and taught in proper and good pastoral theology! And I can say this for myself, I am glad I have touched and studied, at least some.. of both Freud and Jung, though I think for the most part that psychotherapy & psychotherapeutics have been a failure. But man in a fallen world is a great mystery, and we can only cast ourselves upon God’s great grace and mercy, which in the Face & Person of Christ are always both sufficient & efficient! As Staupitz told Luther, self-scrutiny is simply not the value or source of consolation, but only the faith and trust in the mercy of God, In Christ! And the Pauline doctrine is that sinners are made pleasing to God through election and then given the gift of love which makes their faith living and active, (Staupitz, Libellus 36, 152). Though Staupitz does not use the metaphysical language of act and habit to stress the bond of love and charity as a personal union of Christ with the Christian! And for Paul, “for the sake of His own name God dignifies the unworthy. He reckons righteousness to those to whom he does not impute sin.” (Luther, Romans 4) And this is the possession of the Elect, in ‘faith, hope and love’!

    • Luke

      God’s pleading with Israel in passages like Ezekiel 18 blow the Fred Phelpses out of the water. It ends this way:

      “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

      God has no pleasure in the death of anyone!

      Or consider John 3:16 and the verse which follows it:

      “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

      It sounds like you have had too much experience with those who use God to justify their hatred—hatred which is probably of themselves, FYI. I read an article a while ago that Phelps beat his children before he stopped that and started taking his rage out on homosexuals and slain US military. It may be that Phelps is truly “Loving others as he loves himself.”—he could be acting consistently!

      The best way I have to think of Hell is that God applies the standards people have applied to others hypocritically, to themselves. “I will judge… each according to his ways” could mean that God will judge them by God’s standard, but as far as I know (I’m not a theologian), it could also mean that God will apply people’s standards to themselves. This would make sense of James 2:12-13.

      So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

    • Paul Olson

      John Doe; I recommend you watch the video entitled “Hellbound?” The question mark is a part of the title and it distinguishes it from some other videos. It portrays a fair assessment of Calvinism verses Universalism with interviews of experts from both camps. You can get it online.

    • Irene

      Dear John Doe,

      I “second” those who say double predestination is making you sick. Should you really stake your sanity and your salvation on the theology of a man named Calvin? Calvin is just a little stray thread on the tapestry that is Christianity.
      From the book, “Wisdom of Solomon”, which was considered inspired Scripture long before Calvin ever lived: (chapter 11, verse 22 and following)

      ***Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
      or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
      But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
      and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.
      For you love all things that are
      and loathe nothing that you have made;
      for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
      And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
      or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
      But you spare all things, because they are yours,
      O LORD and lover of souls,
      for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
      Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
      warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
      that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!***

      God WANTS you! He died with the desire that you would freely return his love. He LOVES you!

    • Btw, so-called “double predestination” is not really the issue here, as good mental health, even in a fallen, sinful world! To declare double predestination the great-ill here.. must then produce the same problems in all Christians who hold or believe it! And this is certainly NOT true!

      How about the ill of the so-called Sacrament of Penance, used as a sort of potty-chair for sin! I’ve seen it, so don’t tell me it does not exist! There are plenty of doctrines used in an ill manner!

    • Btw, sadly the so-called doctrine of Apocatastasis (Gr. for reestablishment or return to a former place or condition, i.e. used for Universalism), seems to come from the East, not only in Origen, but Clement of Alexandria, and too, Gregory of Nyssa. But the doctrine was surely condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 543 in the first anathema against Origenism. And too in so-called modern times was taught by Schleiermacher. Not to mention it is the creed of the Unitarian Universalists.

    • Layman Bryant

      Dear John Doe,

      Whatever you do, don’t read the comments to this post.

      A brother praying for you,
      -Bryant

    • “Augustine of Hippo said that the suffering of hell is compounded because God continues to love the sinner who is not able to return the love. According to the Church, whatever is the nature of the sufferings, “they are not imposed by a vindictive judge”.

      “Concerning the detailed specific nature of hell … the Catholic Church has defined nothing. … It is useless to speculate about its true nature, and more sensible to confess our ignorance in a question that evidently exceeds human understanding.”

      Man in eternity and without God In Christ, is surely Hell!

      (Quoted my own blog.)

      Indeed Roman Catholicism has always stood for the biblical and revelatory Doctrine of Hell!

    • Fr Aidan Kimel

      Fr Robert, I need to dispute your claim that apocatastasis, in all forms, was condemned by the 5th Ecumenical Council. First, it’s questionable that the anti-Origen anathemas were formally promulgated by the council. Second, it’s doubtful that the council fathers intended to anathematize all forms of the teaching (e.g., St Gregory Nyssen’s). See my article “What is Orthodox Hell?” (http://goo.gl/Z5KgT).

    • @Fr. Kimel: It all depends upon our historical sources and authority! But the formal anathema is historical (but I will dig up the quote) here as to Apocstastasis in the Council of Chalcedon, against Origenism!

    • 9…(Council of Chalcedon, Against Origenism)

      ‘If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.

      Anathema to Origen and to that Adamantius, who set forth these opinions together with his nefarious and execrable and wicked doctrine and to whomsoever there is who thinks thus, or defends these opinions, or in any way hereafter at any time shall presume to protect them.’

    • Fr Aidan Kimel

      Fr Robert, the anathema you have cited is from the local Synod of Constantinople (443). As such it does not enjoy conciliar authority either in the East or the West. In any case, it still needs to be properly interpreted. It is unlikely that the synod bishops thought they were anathematizing St Gregory of Nyssa, for example.

    • http://ldysinger.stjohnsem.edu/@magist/0543-53_an-orig/01_introd.htm

      Indeed there is almost no difference for # 9 of The Anathemas of the Emperor Justinian Against Origen, in any of the so-called differences of this Council, and dating, etc. And the interpretation is really quite obvious.

      And directly, this is not an attack on Gregory of Nyssa, but theologically it is still evident that the subject is very problematic for Gregory, and orthodoxy!

    • Fr Aidan Kimel

      Fr Robert, as interesting as the Justinian anathemas may be, they do not possess the authority of an Ecumenical Council. That is the historical point.

    • And to my mind at least, Augustine is one of the most constant thinkers and theolog’s the Western Church at least has seen! His influence in the Reformation and the Augustinians therein.. and that followed is still being felt! I would even place Barth here to some degree, and his doctrine of “nein” in natural theology!

    • But Fr. Kimel, they are closely attached for sure!

    • Dave Z

      Dear John Doe,

      I would make a couple of observations. The article says you grew up in an abusive, legalistic version of Christianity. I think it’s true that people are often products of their education, but we have the option of furthering our own education. I suspect you were taught a specific and very limited view of hell, one that many people from many Christian traditions would reject.

      The fact is that the Bible really doesn’t say all that much about hell, and when it does, it’s using human experience and understandings to explain a spiritual reality. In other words, the common image of hell may not be entirely accurate. Scripture uses several descriptions to communicate the reality of hell, but often times, people can see only the image popularized in medieval art.

      I’d encourage you to investigate other ideas, beginning with C.S. Lewis’ short novel The Great Divorce, in which he describes a different (and admittedly speculative) view of hell. The primary object of the book, however, is to address the reasons people might end up in hell – the conscious rejection of God and unending focus on self.

      My point is that perhaps the view of hell that is causing you such pain is an inaccurate view, one that should be rejected. You have identified as false some of the ideas from your “abusive, unstable, racist and paranoid” upbringing. I’d suggest the possibility that the view of hell that you were taught is also wrong.

      I’d also advise a healthy skepticism of your own theological understandings (which I call spiritual humility). It could be that double-predestination is not the only, or even the best, description of the nature of redemption. There is still much we do not know for certain. Take comfort in that.

    • Brother Stumblefoot

      John Doe, I hear you! And of course, inner conflict can be really difficult, especially inner conflicts that appear to have eternal consequences. Take comfort, you are not the first to reach a point of “crisis of faith” when the teaching of an eternal hell is thought through to it’s logical conclusion.

      And it becomes even more troubling, dealing with all this from a double predestination mindset.

      And of course your emotions are Universalistic. What sensitive person would not be Universalistic in emotions
      when they think through the implications of God choosing, or even allowing, men to go to an eternal Hell?

      There is much reason for believing in an ultimate reconciliation of all, (through the Atonement) and it is not heretical to believe such. I consider myself an EVANGELICAL Universalist.

      If God has created men purposefully to spend eternity in Hell, i.e., double predestination, would that not make Him mankind’s greatest enemy? We love our children perhaps
      more we love ourselves; how could we ever be reconciled to the thought that God would purposefully send them to such an eternal fate?

      There is a strong Biblical case for an ultimate reconciliation;
      religious tradition should never take precedence over Scripture.

    • theoldadam

      Were it not for Christ, the notion of hell would not bother us.

      Lost people are not worried about going to hell.

    • stevez

      Wow, dueling Fathers. Mr. Doe, i was once in the same place as you – i didnt even want to witness anymore and introduce people to this horrible God. But I found great illumination @ http://growrag.wordpress.com/category/predestination/
      and would encourage you to read some articles there as well. Don’t give up, God really does love the world, Jesus really did die for sinners – but Hell is reality that must be faced. Lotta good stuff on this page as well

      http://growrag.wordpress.com/category/universalism/

      Hang in there God IS good!

    • Karen C

      Dear John Doe, I have discovered over many years that my attitudes and happiness in this life in this world are heavily dependent on my perception of God’s Love toward me. Some people talk about rewards in Heaven and crowns, but all I want is to know that Jesus loves me. Thereby, I have found that I need to trust Jesus and trust what He said in the Bible. Not only does the Bible confirm that He indeed does love us, but He shows His Love to me in various ways. I have found also, that when I am among certain people where it is so easy to be at a spiritual low, I have prayed and said to the Lord, I trust You. And I watched how the Lord opened so many doors of opportunity in those very low places, I stood in awe.
      I too have my doctrinal quirks that have me feeling awfully sinful to argue or have an axe to grind. I think all this searching is a distraction and my life is going by. Distractions can be in many forms for me too. Resting and trusting in Jesus bring me peace. Sometimes I can’t remember the last time I read a verse without trying to connect it to my axe to grind doctrines, but when I bask in just simply reading the Psalms, I feel peace. Sometimes we need to go out and look at the sunset or sky and consider Who made it. Sometimes for me a good Christian movie will get my head back on straight. Sometimes we just need to forgive each and every day. And like Paul says about a focus on Jesus and Him crucified. The Lord told me to focus on that Himself. Now that is Love. God dying in our place to fulfill the law and Blood Covenant. And consider this, The Law Contract/Blood Covenant was not grace. Was God pleased that animals atoned for sin…each atonement was like people shouting to God that they sinned over & over! Our current Blood Covenant that Jesus established is Mercy and Grace…so how can it be as you say? If Jesus took our sin upon Him on the cross, how does God view us? Saved. Adopted. Loved. Justified by faith.

    • David

      John

      God is love and He revealed His deep love for you and all of the world on the cross. He died for everyone and simply wants you to fully experience His love. His wrath is on sin, but he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance 2Pet3:9. Stop living in fear and confusion and trust in His grace and love, while not denying His wrath against sin. Christ loves His enemies and commanded us to love them. He is a God of peace and wants you to think on that which is good and He gives peace of mind Phil4:1-10. If you are in Christ, He is interceding for you and wants to use you to see the lost reconciled unto Him. I am praying for you.

    • jim menzies

      Dear John,

      Your letter both saddens and confuses me. It saddens me because I hear the anguish of heart. My prayer for you is that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).

      But it also confuses me. First, because you talk about things you believe are in the word of God without ever referring to the word of God. You never quote a passage. And second, you only see harsh things in the word, you never refer to any of the kind things.

      Since I have to be brief (too brief for a letter like yours) let me say this. Pray God will bring someone into your life who can help you during this difficult time. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov. 27:9). Next, spend less time reading Jonathan Edwards and more time reading the word of God, specifically sections that extol “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior” (Titus 3:4). And finally, realize that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). While you no doubt feel alone and the only person to experience these doubts, fears, and questions, this is not the case. All of us at one time or another pass through the slough of despondency. What you must do is pass through. I pray you do.

    • a.

      Dear John Doe,

      praying unceasingly for you, for steadfastness of mind to keep you in perfect peace because you trust in Him, and that the Lord grant return of reason to you to know that all His works are true and His ways just.

      the LORD is your shepherd, you shall not want. He makes you lie down in green pastures; He leads you beside quiet waters. He restores your soul; He guides you in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you fear no evil, for He is with you; His rod and His staff, they comfort you. He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies; He has anointed your head with oil; your cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow you all the days of my life, and you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

      Though you are a timid, fearful, easily panicked, vulnerable, helpless sheep with little or no means of self-defense against predators, your Shepherd is most perfect with a determined plan for you His sheep, to rest and feed and lie down with no one to make them tremble.

      Trust in the LORD forever, for in God the Lord, you have an everlasting Rock. In peace you will both lie down and sleep, for He alone, the Lord, makes you to dwell in safety.

      Proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.

    • Manuardo

      Easy response.

      God makes the rules. We don’t.
      You don’t tell your boss what to do. He tells you what to do.

      Tell this sensitive daisy to grow up and WORSHIP God rather than sit around crying about how unfair and “illogical” it is. Sin has clouded our brother’s mind.

    • Todd H. McCauley

      Dear John Doe, thank you for sharing I’m sure a very difficult time in your life. Im sure your story is more complex than what you’ve shared. Be that as it may I can only respond to what you’ve wrote and based on what you’ve written I must ask you, “Are you a Christian? “Are you truly in the faith? Do you have a conversion relationship with Jesus? To be honest your struggles sound like the struggles of an unbeliever. JD you will NEVER find peace in religion (I.e. man’s efforts to make sense out of life).True peace comes only through relationship with Christ. You asked, “How do you believe in Hell without becoming a suicidal Psychopath? Concepts like Hell make no sense and are impossible to comprehend apart from relationship with Christ. JD, Micheal Patton has a series of articles entitled ” Anatomy of faith” which are very helpful. It appears that the CONTENTof your faith is Double predestination while the CONVICTION of your faith is Universalism. But what you’re missing which raises red flags for me is the CONSENT of your faith. You ‘ve never stated what or whom you’re trusting. JD, I invite you to repent of your sin and place your total trust in Christ as Lord.

    • Jason Pratt

      Dear John,

      I agree with the first commenter that chronic depression is usually a medical problem, which should be treated by a psychiatrist (someone who can prescribe the proper kind of anti-depressants, or for a vitamin or mineral deficiency, not merely someone who tries to talk you out of your depression — possibly on atheistic grounds! But there are Christian psychologists, too.) Don’t neglect this important avenue of treatment; give thanks to God, and to many scientists and doctors in different fields, that we have options today which weren’t available even a hundred years ago.

      As to the doctrines, I myself am a trinitarian Christian universalist, as were a couple dozen notable trinitarian Fathers, who attacked pagan and non-trinitarian theologies with the superiority of what trinitarian Christianity means (if true) for the gospel assurances of God’s original and continuing saving love for all sinners, and of God’s potent certainty of reconciling all sinners to Himself so that all rebellion against Him will cease (while still respecting the free will of the sinner, which was a strong point of emphasis for such Fathers over-against the determinism of their opponents).

      I certainly recommend you believe what you find to be the most logical conclusion from what you find to be the most accurate and sufficiently full evidence, including the scriptural witness — even if that means you must conclude against Christian universalism! Truth is more important than our beliefs, including my beliefs. By the same token, don’t let anyone (including universalists) bully you with inscrutable mysteries to protect their positions.

      But get treatment first. Trying to do any strenuous mental activity, theology included, while in a chronic depression is like trying to climb the Empire State Building with bungie cords sunk into your flesh and nailed to the ground. I don’t recommend it!

      Many Christians suffering depression have found contemplation of the Lord’s Supper helps, too.

    • Ken

      It may help a little to compare hell with a prison sentence. The judge is neither a bully, nor unloving, to sentence a man for doing wrong, for breaking the law. Not only this, but the criminal has chosen his life of crime, and justice must be done.

      The biblical God has said he will by no means clear the guilty. The same God has, however, offered an amnesty for all men, all of whom have broken his law. He himself provided a way out, paid the penalty, though no-one deserves it or can claim it as a ‘right’.

      If you have ever spoken with militant atheists, it is quite clear that underneath they hate God, and so if God were to ‘force’ them into eternal life with himself, they would hate it, it would be torture for them. They want their personal autonomy. If hell is separation from God, this is what unbelievers ultimately want, and so God gives it to them. In no sense is he unloving, rather desires them to change their mind and be reconciled to himself.

      God does all things well, and no-one at the end of the age will ever say of him he treated them unlovingly or unfairly, of that I am quite sure. He will give and be seen to give perfect justice based on perfect knowledge, nothing unloving will be done.

      Can you imagine a heaven populated by people who hate the very thought of loving their neighbour rather than themselves? Who love darkness rather than light.

      I can imagine one where men have given up their selfishness, been changed so they do love others, where love and righteousness are the order of the day. Everything is good.

      It is beyond imagination the good things God has lined up for those who love him, but you don’t have to have them if you don’t want them. There is no unwillingness on God’s part to give such a life though.

    • ruben

      I think this is what happens when there is an absence of mystery in one’s faith, we draw conclusions about God from theology or specific verses that paint Him in ways that are not true. In this way we take His name in vain. There are so many verses that says that God is love, that He desires no one to perish, that He gave up what is most precious to Him to save our world, that he will leave the sheep behind to seek the one lost sheep. These reveal His heart, God is good. Yet not all will be saved, not all are chosen, God is sovereign – this is made clear by scripture as well. How this works no human knows, probabaly no angel either. We just cannot understand, but should not let doctrines blur the clear image of God presented by Christ (especially election which is probably the most mysterious doctrine of all!)

    • Jeff Ayers

      Indisputable facts:

      Hell is cast into the lake of fire
      Death is cast into the lake of fire

      The lake of fire where PEOPLE are cast into is NEVER stated to be everlasting, unending or eternal in nature.
      The LAST enemy to be destroyed is death.

      The lake of fire is called the second DEATH.
      The enemy of the death (second) WILL be destroyed.

      behold I make ALL THINGS NEW. i CREATE A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH. Hell is located in many passages as in the EARTH WHICH IS DISSOLVED AND THE ELEMENTS MELT WITH FERVENT HEAT.

    • Ken

      John – there were a couple of things I wished I said above but didn’t.

      Sin is what unbelievers love. Me first, who cares what damage I do to others. God treats us as responsible adults, and if he loves us cannot be indifferent to the very real wrong we do to each other. He can and does hand us over to the consequences of our bad decisions. Our sinfulness before God ought to make us uncomfortable, though all to often even as Christians it doesn’t, and we make light of it.

      Predestination, however, shouldn’t make us uncomfortable. I’ve been there with the struggle over this. I cannot believe it is in the bible as something to spend 400 years arguing about, to be the subject of over-intellectual speculation based on nuances in the Greek, group think, and it certainly shouldn’t be something that tortures Christians. It surely must be a positive thing, and to me it is that God decided in the past (pre-) that despite our sinfulness, he would freely give us in Christ the unimaginable joy of eternal life in his presence, a Revelation 21type future (destination). It’s a positive doctrine, we are adopted in the family now, just as God always wanted.

      It may seem logical that if God predestined believers for heaven, he must have predestined unbelievers for hell, but I don’t believe in double-predestination. Those in heaven will only be there because of God’s grace, and those in hell will only be there because they chose wickedness rather than truth. They are not victims of injustice – it’s vital to see that. They don’t want God. The bible doesn’t say God has predestined the lost to stay lost, and neither should we.

      Jesus himself said hell is prepared for Satan and his angels, not men. Jesus said it, that’s good enough for me.

      Finally, God is with you John and not against you. That will be true of any children you have. I don’t know what sort of a God has been presented to you in your church environment, but I’m sure God isn’t like that.

    • Cindy Skillman

      Dear John Doe, my brother

      If the idea of double predestination throws you into conflict, that is, imo, a sign that you have a better imagination than many. It’s not that people who are okay with this are evil (though perhaps they are deceived as to what ‘good’ is) Rather, I think most of them cannot empathize with unknown people, and don’t seriously attach the idea of ‘hell’ to their beloved ones. But maybe I’m mistaken.

      Karl Barth, famed Calvinist theologian, is believed by many to have been a universalist. In reading his work, he does seem to have been pointed in that direction, though he denied it. Barth is among my heroes.

      If God is love and God so loved the world and God will do the best He can for those He loves and the best God can do is infinite (as He is omnipotent), then it makes sense to believe that the set of those God intends to save includes (eventually) all people.

      What if the set of reprobate is ultimately empty? What if the Book of Life contains only one name: Jesus? As people are moved into the “set” that is “Jesus,” they are moved into the BoL. Scripture doesn’t tell us that names cannot be added or erased from the BoL. Rather, it implies that they can be.

      It is, imo, possible to be both a good Calvinist and a universalist. God can do whatever He chooses to do. Scripture doesn’t teach that God cannot or will not save some after death, and the words used for “eternity” and “forever and ever” and similar are highly controversial as to translation and/or mistranslation. Don’t despair, my dear brother John. God is good and His mercies endure forever. He would not cast off forever but would find a way for the lost one to be reconciled. Jesus is the savior of all people and especially those who believe (that is, the elect). We are among the FIRST fruits, but the whole harvest is the Lord’s, including not only the barley (spring) but also the wheat and the grapes (fall and late fall).

      REJOICE!!! God has saved all…

    • Geoff

      Hi John Doe,
      There is absolutely nothing about Universalism that is not Orthodox. In fact, it is the prevailing belief of the church for the first 500 years (see here: http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/5centsum.html and here: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html). I grew up Calvinist myself, and it is because of many of the same feelings you are expressing that I eventually left the church for a number of years. When I finally came back to a church, I felt I needed to resolve some questions, and this led me to Universalism. I have given my own defense of this position here:
      http://fatherlearningtolove.blogspot.com/2013/09/checkmate-for-hell-part-1-moves-1-3.html

      I would encourage you not to run from this idea, but to engage it and wrestle with the Lord as Jacob did – this led to his blessing! Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss.
      In Christ our hen,
      Geoff

    • Kevin

      I can completely relate to John Doe’s issues with God and hell and the depression it can induce. I pray that he finds peace with it. It’s sad that so-called Christians are so hell-bent to argue people to the God of all comfort with their great intellectual knowledge but completely ignore the heart of the one that is struggling. If God is so loving then why do church leaders like Fr Robert seek destroy the weak and hurting by playing my theologian can beat up your theologian? Fr Robert, you’re comments miss the point entirely and I hope no mentally ill, suicidal or depressed person ever comes to your hospital chaplains office to be counseled and encounters such heartless, careless and reckless comments. We get it, you are smart and you know a lot of big important sounding words, so did the Pharisees! Get over yourself and realize that it is exactly this kind of treatment of people in the church today that is driving them away from the church. It’s hard to encounter the love of God in the church from know-it-all dogmatic bullies.

    • Btw, which theological doctrine is going to win out with fallen human beings… Augustinianism (the best in Catholicism, as some Lutherans), Calvinism, or Universalism? The answer is quite obvious, and is most recorded here too (this blog), i.e. Universalism! But that hardly makes it correct!

    • I quite wonder sometimes how many Christians have had their own personal and real Job experience, and thus have read and understand the Book of Job, at least to degree? Rather than modern (modernity/postmodernity) psychobabble!

    • And speaking personally, it is often much harder to watch someone you love suffer physically, and thus somewhat emotionally, than keying in on one’s self, and the old pity-party! Indeed we must get over ourselves daily, not easy.. but it is quite the real Cross of Christ, in the Christian life! (2 Cor. 4: 7-18)

    • EricW

      I’m sure glad! Fr. Robert (Anglican) is here to make sure John Doe’s theology is correct! before he goes insane or commits suicide!

    • I am not a clinical psychiatrist, nor are you EricW! So we must leave that end to the doctors and professionals! But, theology, I have two doctorates, therein. And over 30 years of pastoral ministry. You?

      PS..And btw mate, that pic of yours speaks volumes itself! It would have to go in my world! 😉

    • Btw, here’s a blog-post I shared on another P&P blog, perhaps it might be helpful for our so-called Mr. John Doe? The spirit, mind and soul are certainly connected!

      http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/04/the-gospel-the-intellectual-life.html

    • Ken

      Kevin – “It’s hard to encounter the love of God in the church from know-it-all dogmatic bullies.”

      Regrettably that is so true. I hope John can get peace of mind from the prince of peace, and find those who speak the truth in love, a vital combination!

      If he has gained his idea of sin and hell from Fred Phelps, no wonder it would make anyone depressed. I am not Phelps’ judge, but if God is love as well as righteous and Fred is full of hate, he is of all men (whose name is legendary amongst unbelievers) in the most danger of hell himself. Even more than the prostitutes.

    • Wow! People also need to lighten-up some on the blogs! We Irish Brits enjoy life, and for the most part also enjoy the great mystery/mysteries of God! (1 Cor. 4: 1) There is a great difference between being serious-minded, and being too overt/morose almost in everything! The blog does not always distinguish this spirit! I may be a convinced Augustinian and Neo-Calvinist, but I am NOT morose! Rock-on! 😉

    • Also lets not forget that CMP’s blogs are often very ad hoc, and this is an “edited” question and version! Michael does like to play devils advocate quite often it appears! So cool down everyone, be serious.. but also be real, but down to earth! 🙂 If ya don’t like me? Who cares, this is always quite the nature too of the blogs! Such an imperfect medium!

    • Michael T.

      @ Fr. Robert

      I agree that in our modern age Universalism is going to win out. However, it is also only recently that tolerance (in the postmodern sense – really acceptance) has become the overriding moral of Western society. There were times, not too long ago, where many rather relished the idea that those who did not believe as they did would suffer for eternity. Heck, they even tried to speed up the process a bit by either bringing a bit of hell to Earth or sending people to Hell en masse (i.e. executing them). I am no universalist, however I am worried that your argument that universalism will certainly win out in todays culture could be turned on its head to argue that the culture of long ago is why universalism was not accepted in the first place.

    • Jason Pratt

      I certainly wish the majority of fallen persons would believe that God can and will save all fallen persons from their sins, reconciling all sinners through the blood of the cross, and saving them into the life of Christ.

      Christian universalists wouldn’t be correct by being a majority, but it would be nice to be a majority for a change. 🙂

      But I seriously doubt (short of Christ’s second coming, and maybe not even for a long time after) that the idea of all sinners (including their own worst enemies) being saved from their sins into being righteous persons, will ever naturally appeal to a majority of sinners; much less that this can and will be done through Christ alone.

      The ideas of no authoritative judgment, of no discipline at all for sin, or even of no sin at all, are always going to be more naturally appealing to one kind of sinner; and the idea that one’s worst enemies will never cease being punished, much less will ever be led to righteousness, will always be more naturally appealing to another kind of sinner. (Leaving aside the question of whether it is most accurate and proper for a righteous person to believe that Righteousness Himself will never choose, or will ultimately fail, to lead all unrighteous persons to righteousness.)

      So I don’t think Fr. Robert has much to worry about Christian universalism ever being a majority belief for a while. 😉

      Would John Doe be reassured out of his depression if he came to believe that Righteousness Himself will successfully lead all sinners back to righteousness, instead of choosing (or being forced) to leave them in final unrighteousness? Maybe, maybe not. He might instead become suicidally paranoid he had misunderstood, and that his reassurance was going to be taken away again. If there are other underlying problems, those still have to be addressed and dealt with, too, very possibly by medical treatment. Doctrine doesn’t work miracles; and God demonstrably often prefers to work through medical doctors.

    • I have myself never seen a sound biblical case for Universalism! But, I mean really, who would not rather have it humanly speaking? As close as some Calvinists have come is a version of Annihilationism, see old Philip Edgcumbe Hughes book: The True Image, The Origin And Destiny Of Man In Christ, (1989, IVP/Eerdmans) Hughes was an Aussie born Anglican rector, who lived and died in America, (1990, as I remember?) But even the old pagan Plato did not believe in the annihilation of the soul! See his teaching of the “Monad”, the souls unique reality! See also Plotinus, who so affected Augustine also.

      But indeed today, with “emergents” like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, etc., Universalism.. is the new thing in so-called evangelicalism. And of course too, todays version of Molinism, old Clark Pinnock, etc. But, thank God for John Frame’s book: No Other God, A Response To Open Theism, (P&R, 2001)…this book is a hammer blow against such!

      So ‘nothing new under the sun’!

    • cherylu

      Since this seems to be a very active thread, I am interrupting here for just a moment.

      If any of you have looked at Michael Patton’s Facebook page that is linked above, you will know that his father passed away this morning.

      May God be with Michael and his family at this time.

    • Btw, here’s a piece my friend and Western EO brother, Michael Frost wrote on my own blog…

      “It would be interesting to put together a list of all those “Christian” groups and theologians who, before say 1963 (Vatican II), rejected an eternal Hell. I suspect we’d have no trouble determining that they were outside historic Christendom and were heretical on more grounds than just Hell.

      The heresy rears its ugly head today along with all sorts of other fuzzy and weak teaching. Thus we have groups ordaining women, rejecting infant baptism, promoting homosexuality & accepting homosexual “marriage”, refusing to speak the Truth about abortion, suicide, or euthanasia, acceptance of pre- and post-marital sexuality, the prosperity gospel, a lack of understanding about the Trinity, Christology, Ecclesiology, etc.

      Just look at something like ECUSA, PCUSA, MCUSA, or the ELCA? They have moved so far away from historic Christendom, their own founders, and their foundational statements. Cranmer, Bullinger/Bucer/Calvin, Wesley, and Luther/Melanchthon wouldn’t recognize as “christians” so many in these groups.

      Try discussing the 16 century thinkers and statements with so many today. They either don’t know or don’t care. They are disconnected from their own roots. And end up following the culture and whatever hip theological trend(s) they like. Sin, suffering, repentance, redemption, sacrifice, etc. get short shrift indeed!”

    • Indeed our thoughts and prayers for CMP and family at this time!

    • Btw, I don’t have “Facebook” and so don’t move around there, but thanks to “Cherylu” for letting people like me know!

    • Irene

      Yes, I don’t do Facebook either, so thanks Cherylu, and I’ll say here,
      I’m sorry to hear this news, and my prayers are certainly with him and the family. +

    • Btw, this tread might be of some interest to our historical friends? D.G. Hart is a younger than me Calvinist historical writer! And something our Universalist friends should perhaps read?

      http://oldlife.org/2013/11/reformed-modify/

    • Btw, I am not uncritical of our “Calvinist” church historian, D.G. Hart, but he is quite worth the read!

    • Btw, moving along! But thinking and again praying for CMP and family! Both of my dear parents are before the Throne, RIP…all!

    • Jason Pratt

      God’s grace to CMP (who has also had his own crushing physical illness over the past several months), and to his family, strengthening them in their loss. May his father be being welcomed home by others who love him — most of all God!

    • John Doe

      Thank you all for your comments. It has really meant a lot to me that Michael posted this. As much as I would like to, I don’t think I’m going to turn into a Universalist. I suspect that in my faith I have put emphasis on knowing things about God at the expense of loving God. Although they never did so explicitly, my legalistic upbringing would at times imply that knowledge of God (and not necessarily love) is what determines one’s salvation. This has caused me at times to obsessively pursue knowledge to the point that I believe I have trusted in my own knowledge more than Christ.

      Also, I am saddened by the passing of Michael’s father. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Pattons.

    • Geoff

      Hi John Doe,
      There is absolutely nothing about Universalism that is not Orthodox. In fact, it is the prevailing belief of the church for the first 500 years (see here: http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/5centsum.html and here: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html). I grew up Calvinist myself, and it is because of many of the same feelings you are expressing that I eventually left the church for a number of years. When I finally came back to a church, I felt I needed to resolve some questions, and this led me to Universalism. I have given my own defense of this position here:
      http://fatherlearningtolove.blogspot.com/2013/09/checkmate-for-hell-part-1-moves-1-3.html

      I would encourage you not to run from this idea, but to engage it and wrestle with the Lord as Jacob did – this led to his blessing! Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss.
      In Christ our hen,
      Geoff

    • Randal Romero

      These hellish fire is unlike the fire on earth. It’s extremely hot, many times hotter than the fire we know. These fire can melt the flesh of the hell bound souls, but the flesh would grow back, and the process would repeat over and over.

    • Clark Coleman

      Randal Romero: Those are vivid details about the exact events in hell. Would you care to share your sources?

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