Conscious torment in hell will end when each man has been punished
in proportion to his sins, and all men will be saved.
Universalism teaches that all men will be saved based upon passages like Tit 2:11. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men" Titus 2:11. Of course this passage is not teaching that all men will go to heaven, just that all men are given the opportunity to go to heaven. An paraphrase of Tit 2:11 would be: "For the grace of God has appeared, making salvation available to all men" or "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to the doorway of choices that is now available to all men" or "God's grace provided the blood of Christ which has been brought to the door of every man who, if they open the door, and get baptized, can be saved."
Since all Universalists believe all men will be saved, this directly impacts on the doctrine of hell in one of two ways: Some Universalists reject hell altogether, while others believe hell is a place of temporary conscious torment.
This discussion focuses on those who believe hell is a place of temporary conscious torment.
A. A place of temporary conscious torment:
Among those Universalists who view hell as a place of temporary conscious torment, they are divided into two groups.
First there are those who believe all men will spend the same amount of time in hell being "spanked by God" and then all get out at the same time and enter heaven with the saved who never spent any time in hell.
Second, there are those who believe each man will spend an amount of time in hell that is proportional to the amount of sin they committed.
The second group uses verses like: ""And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." Luke 12:47-48
The problem is that this verse is that although it clearly teaches degrees of punishment in hell, it doesn't definitively prove varying lengths of time. We believe the length of time is the same, but that some get "hotter heat" and others get "cooler heat". So the passage could refer to either varying lengths or varying "temperatures". Please remember that hell is a metaphor and there is no literal fire in hell since it exists entirely in the spirit world.
B. Duration of hell is the same as heaven: Dan 12:2 and Mt 25:46
- The primary argument proposed against Universalism is that although the word "olam" clearly means "age lasting" not eternal or unending. For example, the word olam is applied to the present earth which will be uncreated at the second coming: 2 Peter 3:10.
- Dan 12:2 and Mt 25:46 define the duration of hell the same length of time as heaven. So although the actual time length of olam varies with the context, these two passages really are a problem for those who view the duration of hell shorter than heaven.
- The challenge has gone unanswered for Universalists to find a single passage in the Bible that uses the word "olam" for two different periods of time.
C. Olam used in one passage for 2 different durations: Hab 3:6
"He stood and surveyed the earth; He looked and startled the nations. Yes, the perpetual [ad] mountains were shattered, The ancient [olam] hills collapsed. His ways are everlasting [olam]." Habakkuk 3:6
- Universalists quote Hab 3:6 as an example of the word olam being used in the same passage for two different times.
- But as we will see, this is not true. The word olam is used in Hab 3:6 for the identical period of time.
- Universalists argue that olam is first applied to "non eternal created things like a mountain" and "eternal God". For them, this is a clear way of answering the challenge to find a single verse that uses olam for two different periods of time.
- They reason that Hab 3:6 sets a precedent for explaining why Dan 12:2 and Mt 25:46 cannot be used against them as proof that the duration of heaven and hell are identical.
D. Hab 3:6 uses olam for the identical period of time:
Two different Hebrew words were applied to the mountains that will be destroyed: ad and olam. Then olam is applied to God.
and so it was not nearly as simplistic as the tension in Dan 12:2 and Mt 25:46. "He stood and surveyed the earth; He looked and startled the nations. Yes, the perpetual [ad] mountains were shattered, The ancient [olam] hills collapsed. His ways are everlasting [olam]." Habakkuk 3:6
The larger context has God's mountain (v 3 Paran) lasting forever, but Edom's and Midian's mountains being destroyed.
So the first major problem is explaining how two physical mountains will be destroyed, but one physical mountain will endure forever.
The mountains are in fact metaphoric for kingdoms.
The Edomites viewed their kingdoms as strong, everlasting, eternal "olam" but God takes the words out of their mouth and in a kind of mockery, contradicts this: "You Edomites say your mountain (kingdom) will last forever and be eternal, but I, God, tell you that your "eternal mountain will collapse and be shattered". The Edomites thought that their mountains would exist as long as God exists, but God corrects this misunderstanding.
Therefore the way the word "olam" is used in Hab 3:6 is not an example of two different time lengths because the Edomites viewed their mountain lasting the same length of time as God himself.
For all these reasons, Hab 3:6 is not an example of a single passage using the word "olam" for two different time lengths.
In the universalist debate, there are no other passages that use "olam" for two different duration of time. Heb 3:6 cannot be used as an example of this.
E. A loving God wouldn't do it:
There is a philosophical reason that underpins all universalism, those who believe in extinction (man does not consciously survive death) or annihilation (hell comes to an end and we are destroyed in non-existence): A loving, just God would not do this kind of thing.
Some reason, "We all know what we think of spanking our children for a few weeks... this proves hell has to come to an end."
The problem with all these reasonings is that they are HUMAN reasoning.
Just as we cannot understand how the saved get to spend eternity with God when we do not deserve it, so too we cannot understand why God would "forever spank" the wicked.
We utterly reject this line of reasoning. What matters is if the Bible teaches it.
Since it does, we therefore that eternal conscious torment is what a just loving God does.
There are many other aspects of Universalism that directly contradict the Bible like " "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-14
The doctrine of limited duration of hell has no scriptural foundation and is wholly based upon the human reasoning that "a loving God wouldn't do it". Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians are not Universalists, but they all reject hell based on this human reasoning, not what the Bible says.
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