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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The revelation of eschatological wrath at Calvary

I was thinking this week about something that those with differing views on hell (traditionalists, annihilationists, and evangelical universalists) agree on—that any doctrine of hell must be worked out in the light of the cross. The cross of Christ is the end-time wrath of God against sin experienced by Christ within the present age.

So what do we learn about hell?

My thought was actually pretty simple: Jesus was neither annihilated nor suffered eternal conscious torment.

Traditionalists make much of the problems with the claim that Jesus was annihilated. The problems are essentially that if Jesus ceased to exist between his death and resurrection then there is either a problem with the Trinity (which temporarily becomes a Binity) or, if only Christ's human nature ceased to exist, a problem with the incarnation ( for "the man Christ Jesus" would be disincarnated and then re-incarneted again).

One also has a problem with the Bible and the tradition in that both indicate that Jesus did not cease to exist (nor to be human) during Holy Saturday.

But if Jesus was not annihilated then he did not experience the fullness of our hell (if hell is annihilation).

Annihilationists make much of the fact that Jesus did not suffer everlasting torment but really died. Indeed so.

Now traditionalists have a reply to this: Jesus was the God-man and, having an infinite divine nature, he could experience an infinite punishment in a finite period of time.

I am not convinced that this solves the problem for traditionalists. Aside from the fact that such considerations seem a million miles away from the theology of the NT two other issues niggle away at me.

1. Jesus the God-man could experience an infinite punishment in the smallest divisible segment of time—a nanosecond. So Jesus' sufferings did not need to last for more than a fraction of the blink of an eye. Anything more than that was simply for show. Was the cross mostly just for show? Or, if God decided to spread the infinte punishment across the time-period of Jesus' sufferings why that time period and not a shorter one, or a longer one? It seems arbitrary.

2. More worrying is that I would have thought that Jesus would have had to have experienced the infinite punishment in his human nature for it was as our human representative that he suffered. But the human nature of Christ could not experience an infinite, eternal punishment in a finite amount of time (unless one is Luther and thinks that Christ's humanity comes to share all the properties of his divine nature . . . an idea that I always thought to be mistaken).

To be honest, I don't know exactly what I think the cross reveals about hell. If anything, it lends support to the view that the eschatological wrath Jesus spoke of was a coming military destruction of Jerusalem by Rome (the view of N. T. Wright and Andrew Perriman). But the NT texts clearly look beyond such a divine judgement to a deeper, fuller one.

What I am wondering though is this: if hell is either annihilation or eternal torment then it does not look like Jesus suffered our hell.

If we sought to reconstruct a theology of hell around the revelation of the cross what would it look like?

I am not really sure but if you have thoughts do add them.

12 comments:

Alex Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Smith said...

Blogger so needs to allow editing of comments!

Anyway, that's a very interesting angle that I haven't thought about before. I agree with your reasons why an infinite divine nature, experiencing an infinite punishment in a finite period of time, seems unconvincing.

Would you like to post this on the forum to gather some thoughts/comments, or would you like me to?

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,

You said, "What I am wondering though is this: if hell is either annihilation or eternal torment then it does not look like Jesus suffered our hell."

Jesus did not go to hell. Whatever gave you the idea that He did?

Robin Parry said...

Anonymous,

Jesus could not "go to" hell (as a location) because in NT terms hell does not yet exist.

Nevertheless, in NT theology the escaton breaks into the present age in Jesus. His life, death, resurrection, ascension are all conceived of in terms of the breaking-in of the end of the age.

The cross is the eschatological wrath of God poured upon Jesus (our representative).

Christ embraced the extremity of the curse of sin to liberate creation from that curse. (And what was not assumed is not healed, so if Christ did not embrace our hell he could not liberate us from our hell)

So, in a very real sense, the cross was "hell"—the future breaking into the present.

All this is pretty standard stuff—not an idea I came up with.

Jason Pratt said...

I've written quite a bit elsewhere (especially at the EU forum) about not accepting standard versions of substitutionary atonement theory; but I've also said at least a couple of times that if I did, then I would be even more sure of universalism than I currently am (if that was possible. {wry g} ) I've also said that it would be a big conceptual point in favor of one or another kind of ultra-universalism--a point made quite ably by some of our ultra-u members.

But yes there's a big conceptual problem for any kind of non-universalism, Arm or Calv, anni or ECT, insofar as the Son suffers any "wrath of God"--which by the way I actually accept and believe, though not in the standard substitutionary soteriology fashions that have been so prevalent and popular.

Robin nails that big conceptual problem very succinctly well: "Jesus was neither annihilated nor suffered eternal conscious torment."

Nor was the Son abandoned by the Father (which, as I have occasionally pointed out, would be a drastic problem for even unitarians but would be literally nonsense for trinitarian or modalistic theology.) Either that or Jesus was flat wrong (or the report was falsified after the fact) about comforting His disciples in GosJohn's Final Discourse concerning the coming crucifixion, that the Father was always with Him. And also about quoting Psalm 22 in circumstances directly reminiscent of Psalm 22.

Whether the Son (trinitarian or otherwise) shares punishment with sinners (being reckoned with the transgressors) or suffers punishment instead of sinners, it's with cursed sinners. And the suffering the Son suffers with-or-instead-of cursed sinners, is not ECT or annihilation. There would have been no resurrection, at the very least, had that been so!

I actually am quite prepared to agree that the Son (and the other Persons, through the Son) voluntarily suffers along with all punished sinners from the standpoint of eternity. An omniscient entity couldn't avoid intimately knowing such suffering, even the entity wanted to! (Meaning the Father at least would know suffering intimately and infinitely more than any sinner, even if the Son is not also God; so there is no escape from this via unitarianism.) But the experiencing of such suffering fits in very well with the many other multiple expressions of the self-abdication of the Son, especially in regard to the Son's relation to creation at all.

Obviously it isn't a hopeless suffering, though; it is a suffering of voluntary compassion, of love (and not only love for the innocent victims of sin but for sinners themselves), that does not schism the Persons substantially from one another in any way. The Son does not rebel against the Father, and the Father does not abandon the Son; not in the Incarnation, much moreso not at the level of God's own fundamental reality!

Any non-universalism, ironically, would actually and necessarily require that any voluntary suffering of the Son be completely unrelated to the suffering of sinners (even if perhaps still related to the suffering of the innocent as victims of sin.) Any non-universalism, consequently, would itself be the strongest conceptual argument against 'substitutionary atonement' theories.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Note: "ultra-universalism" is a description among universalists for the notion that, at the least, there will be no hell at all for anyone after death; and maybe even that there is no wrath of God anymore. Or at all, although ultra-u's who also accept substitutionary atonement would necessarily agree that there was wrath of God. But not all ultra-u's go that far, nor do they all go as far as denying any wrath of God at all. Even those ultra-u's who accept substitutionary theory may still agree that God may do wrath to people pre-mortem after the cross.

Anyway, I am not an ultra-u. I'm a purgatorial universalist: I accept and believe post-mortem punishment for impenitent sinners, even out to indeterminate eons of the eons for at least some sinners, until or unless God succeeds in leading them to repent of their sins. (Theoretically I could accept a never-ending stalemate, but I believe the scriptures reveal God's ultimate salvational victory sooner or later. Apparently later. {lopsided g} But even with a never-ending stalemate, I would still believe in God's persistence in saving all sinners from sin, which would still be different from either Calvinistic or Arminianistic soteriologies. Robin knows this, but I thought I should mention it for readers unfamiliar with me. {g})

JRP

James Goetz said...

Hey Robin, I'm unsure if I'll answer your exact question, but I'll at least hit some tangent points. First, Christ on the cross said, "It is finished/Paid in full." And I hold, at the cross, all then past, present, and future sin had been paid in full. (Jason, I suppose we disagree.:) Second, most if not all of the early church believed that Christ after his death and before his resurrection descended to hades. The big debate as far as I know was whether he preached only to the Old Testament righteous or to everybody including the wicked. I see no eschatological judgment in Christ's descent to hades, but a preaching of the gospel. Anyway, all then past, present, and future sin paid in full at the cross has eschatological dimensions beyond what I've contemplated.

Also, the RC tradition says Christ descended to hades and delivered only the Old Testament righteous to paradise/heaven. And the Eastern Church (EC) divides between Christ descended to hades and delivered only the Old Testament righteous to paradise/heaven and Christ descended to hades to preach the gospel to everybody. Also, the RC says Christ descended to hades only as spirit while the EC says that Christ descended with human body to hades. Okay, I don't know who says Christ was temporarily annihilated. Robin, if you have any sources, please tell me who says that? Regardless, I find it terrible theology, but I still want to know.

Jason Pratt said...

James,

I think we disagree on what was paid (or rather on what it means for our sin to be paid), and on when delivery is made. {g} Not on it being paid in full.

I didn't catch Robin saying that anyone actually teaches Christ was annihilated; only that the precepts of annihilationism + sub-atone logically and theologically lead to that as a conclusion (the point being that despite this no one believes it, and for very good reasons.)


I'm not sure anyone has replied to Anon that 1 Peter talks directly of Christ's descent into hades to preach the gospel to the spirits of those slain in the flood, still in imprisonment.

This is what "gives people the idea" that Christ has "gone to hell"; though there are many variants throughout church history as to what that does (or even could) mean.

It's worth pointing out that unless Christ's full divinity is totally denied, the Son must be omnipresent in "hell" (whatever that means, which could shift around according to God's actions--a Gehenna/hades mix giving way to a resurrection to a Gehenna of fire for example). To deny the omnipresence of God is to no longer even be promoting supernaturalistic theism, much less trinitarian theism.

The more pertinent issue is whether the Son suffers "hell" (in one or more flavors {wry g}). I don't know how much direct scriptural testimony there is for that, but other testimony may add up to it by corollary.

And I would argue once again that the voluntary self-sacrifice of the Son + God's omniscence = voluntary suffering with sinners including in whatever "hell" may exist. Not involuntary suffering!--which is the main point to various charges of heresy on the topic of God's suffering (though sometimes the point is to avoid modalism.)

JRP

James Goetz said...

Jason said, I didn't catch Robin saying that anyone actually teaches Christ was annihilated; only that the precepts of annihilationism + sub-atone logically and theologically lead to that as a conclusion (the point being that despite this no one believes it, and for very good reasons.)

Okay, that makes more sense to me. Also, as you indicated, trinitarianism would also not allow any real separation of the Father and Son.

Jason said, This is what "gives people the idea" that Christ has "gone to hell"; though there are many variants throughout church history as to what that does (or even could) mean.

Interpretations of this have multiplied, but as far as I've seen, there were only two main interpretations of this in the early church.

Anonymous said...

part 1
Robin Parry said

"The cross of Christ is the end-time wrath of God against sin experienced by Christ within the present age."

and

"To be honest, I don't know exactly what I think the cross reveals about hell..."

and

"What I am wondering though is this: if hell is either annihilation or eternal torment then it does not look like Jesus suffered our hell.

If we sought to reconstruct a theology of hell around the revelation of the cross what would it look like?"

X X X
 
Personally I guess I'm not sure it's necessary to even assign oneself a task like this at all Robin. When one insists on equating Jesus' experience with what was purportedly to be our experience one gets nothing but problems it seems to me. This is for at least 2 reasons: first, Jesus was also God which totally wrecks any coherent idea of Trinity and second, Jesus was sinless. This strongly suggests that something else entirely was going on at the cross.
 
Further, it is deeply ingrained in our psyche that sin needs/deserves punishment; that sin must be punished or else it somehow remains floating about as some kind of entity not-yet-dealt-with. But this is clearly not some sort of quid pro quo arrangement at all. When we "punish" a crime X by assigning punishment Y (say 20-life in prison) we say that "justice" has been done. But in reality, this is a horribly limited justice and not even remotely satisfying for any victims involved. It's quite a distortion to suggest that for God "justice" operates along these lines.
 
This allows (or compels?) one to then consider that the point of punishment (and wrath, and justice) is nothing less than the transformation of the guilty. The "making right" of all that is wrong about the entire drama. Is this an astonishingly ambitious endeavor on God's part? Absolutely. Does it seem at times, to us at least, an impossible task? Sure. But it seems to me that the bible is clear that God certainly believes (sounds odd to speak of God "believing"!) in the success of Christ's mission at the cross. And this could mean, if I'm correct that punishment's goal is restoration and transformation, all really are eventually saved. Places like Is 19 certainly suggest this idea. ("striking, but healing"!)
 
However, it should be obvious that Christ certainly doesn't need transformation which simply means I'm going to have to look elsewhere (beyond punishment as either quid pro quo or as transformative) for the crosses meaning...
 
Given that, for me at least, the cross cannot be explained legally (no system of "justice" allows, let alone demands, transfer of either guilt or punishment: therefore it is not "legal") or logically (transferring guilt/punishment to an innocent third party solves nothing; besides, guilt is simply not something that can be transferred. If I did it, I did it. To say otherwise is to speak fiction.) under the traditional penal substitution formula, I am compelled to look elsewhere for the meaning of the Cross.
 
The problem which necessitated both hell (whatever that is) and the cross (however that works) can be portrayed in terms of a darkness or misconception about God. Truths about God, His nature and His character, have been distorted. (talk here about Satan or the serpent, be they literal or metaphoric, or whatever it was that caused Eve - be she literal or a metaphor - to mistrust God if one wants to) What God needed therefore was a True witness to and of Himself. So He sends His own Son. And Jesus testified to the success of His mission before He died, even while knowing what was about to happen to Him.

end part 1 
TotalVictory
(my EU handle)

Anonymous said...

part 2


We might think then of "hell" (or any of those other words which birthed the idea of "hell") as that experience which reveals and demonstrates the Truth about God and His nature and character; that place or experience necessitated by our own sin and whose purpose is to reveal the truth about reality. (the reality of the true nature of how horrible is the life apart from God) And to the rebellious, it is experienced as "wrath". But it's punishment with a purpose (our rehabilitation) and has nothing to do with punitive or quid pro quo punishment. Hell can be said to be what the Truths about God look like from the perspective of evil but were just as valid and real apart from evil. (That is, I don’t see evil as somehow “necessary” to make the Truth of God real and relevant)

In the Cross then can't we say that Jesus partook of hell in that He too experienced the full consequences of evil excepting that He experienced it as sinless God? And the experience was to the same purpose and effect; a revelatory demonstration of the Truth about God. Our “hell” experience is allowed by God to demonstrate/clarify for us the precise nature of our condition and depravity while Christ’s “hell” (the Cross) was allowed, in part, for the same reason.

For me it’s critically important to construct a theology of the Cross that treats the event for what it was; a monumentally horrific crime. When Jesus says in John that “he who turns me over to the authorities commits the greater sin” that, for me, must mean that the Cross was in no way willed by God. God’s “wrath” then is God’s act of letting the river of evil have it’s way (temporarily at least) so that there can never be a question as to it’s reality and it’s horror. For Jesus, that took the form of the Cross. For us, it takes the form of “hell”. Jesus’ “hell” has the task of informing an entire Universe the reality of God’s nature while our own “hell” has “only” the task of informing (convicting) us as individuals.

So I guess we could say that hell for Christ on the Cross was something of a prototype of the hell for us in that it is God’s allowing the flowering of evil to an ultimately good purpose. Both hell’s serve to unmask the utter and complete stark nakedness of sin and evil. And because the Cross also unmasked the complete impotence of evil (Resurrection Sunday! evil’s triumph - death - is no match against the Creator and Life giver!) so too does that give us hope that our own “hell” can and will end the same way.

But this dynamic is not really allowed if one insists on seeing the Cross and hell as punitive and quid pro quo (this for that) punishment…

TotalVictory
end part 2 of 2

Jason Pratt said...

Good comments, TV. I'm a big believer in the notion that any theology of the cross has to keep the notion that somehow Jesus is still being the express revelation of the Father and indeed still doing only what the Father does.

A soteriology where that stops happening on the cross, while affirming that it happens beforehand, has jumped the shark into incoherency.

JRP