Universalism, Annihilationism, Eternal Torment, or what?…

I’ve been all three, a Universalist, an Annihilationist, and a believer in Eternal Torment. Eternal Torment was my favourite to start with, chucking the likes of Hitler into the flames to pay for what he did. The wretched man deserved eternal punishment, so do child abusers and those who pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). Let them suffer in public humiliation forever.

But what good would it do? It satisfied an inner need in me, I suppose, knowing that horrible people got horrible punishment, but now we’d be stuck with these horrible people forever, and stuck with the memory of what they did too. Far better, surely, would be getting rid of them. Burn them up like Sodom and Gomorrah, so all memory of them vanishes. It made a lot more sense to me, and it was less embarrassing too, wishing a person dead forever rather than wishing him flailing in agony forever. So I became an Annihilationist instead.

But I didn’t annihilate my children when they messed up, did I? Instead, my hope sprang eternal that life, the school of hard knocks, and punishment when needed, would translate into lessons learned, wisdom gained, and a real desire in my children to be good people. Punishment wasn’t meant to be final, in other words, it was meant to be corrective resulting in change, and isn’t that what God wants for his children too? Rather than hell being eternal torment or annihilation, therefore, I saw it in the same light as sending my children to their rooms to change their attitudes.

But if that was the purpose of hell instead, then God could save everybody, couldn’t he? He could isolate them in hell to stew in their own juice for as long as was needed to soften up their attitude, and when they were ready they could come out and join the rest of us. And if I’m like that with my children it made perfect sense that God’s like that with his children, so I became a Universalist, believing God could, and would, save everybody in the end.

But then I discovered that scriptures can be found that support or refute all three views, so now what?

Well, there was still Paul, “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16), and look what happened to him. “The grace of our Lord was poured out” on him (verse 14). It was grace, that marvellous mixture of mercy and justice that only God is perfectly capable of, that saved Paul.

So with that in mind I became a Gracist, a believer in “God’s abundant provision of grace” (Romans 5:17) as the only and final solution in every human life.


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