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.


Which Christian view of the afterlife is correct?

Christians have at least three major views of the afterlife, which is disturbing, because how can Christians differ on a subject as important as what happens to us after we die? But we do.

The first view is that we go to heaven after we die and that’s where we stay forever. It’s our ultimate hope, that one day “Jesus takes us home” – as so many hymns and funeral services state. The second view is that we go to heaven (or paradise, Luke 23:43) immediately after we die, but only until the resurrection. Our stay in heaven or paradise is only temporary. The resurrection then occurs and we are given new bodies and back to the earth we come again. The third view is that we go to the grave when we die where we remain unconscious until the resurrection. at which point we receive new bodies and come back to the earth. At no point in this third view are we conscious in either heaven or paradise.

So which, if any, of these three radically different views is correct?

All three views find their support in Scripture, of course. The first view uses Philippians 3:20, for instance, which says “our citizenship is in heaven,” and Hebrews 11:16, which talks of us “longing for a better country – a heavenly one.”

The second view has no trouble with either of those verses, or all the other verses that talk of us being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6), being raised with Christ to sit with him at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1), or Jesus preparing a place for us in his Father’s house (John 14:2) – but – Christ then returns to the earth at the last day (John 11:23-24) and transforms our bodies into the likeness of his body, and we live and rule with him on the earth (Colossians 3:3-4, Revelation 5:9-10).

The third view, meanwhile, quotes John 3:13, which says, “No one has ever gone into heaven” (including King David, Acts 2:34), so there’s no way any of us go to heaven at any time after we die. Instead we stay in our graves unconscious until Jesus returns to raise us from the dead to live and rule with him on the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

So which of those three views correctly describes what happens to us after we die? Is it escaping off to heaven after we die to live with Jesus forever? Is it spending time in paradise awaiting the resurrection and then living with Jesus on the earth forever? Or is it staying unconscious in the grave until the resurrection and living with Jesus on the earth forever?

It can’t be all three, so which is it?