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 Ellul - Did God Create Hell?

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PostSubject: Ellul - Did God Create Hell?   Ellul - Did God Create Hell? EmptyThu 17 Nov 2011, 10:18 pm

Did God Create Hell?

Jacques Ellul

The following is a a quotation from a book by the late French theologian, Jacques Ellul,
What I Believe (Eerdmans, 1989, pp.188-192).

I am taking up here a basic theme that I have dealt with elsewhere
but which is so essential that I have no hesitation in repeating myself.
It is the recognition that all people from the beginning of time are
saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of his
grace no matter what they have done.

This is a scandalous proposition. It shocks our spontaneous sense of
justice. The guilty ought to be punished. How can Hitler and Stalin be
among the saved? The just ought to be recognized as such and the wicked

But in my view this is purely human logic which simply shows that
there is no understanding of salvation by grace or of the meaning of the
death of Jesus Christ. The proposition also runs counter to the almost
unanimous view of theology. Some early theologians proclaimed universal
salvation but almost all the rest finally rejected it. Great debates
have taken place about foreknowledge and predestination, but in all of
them it has been taken for granted that reprobation is normal.

A third and the most serious objection to the thesis is posed by the
biblical texts themselves. Many of these talk about condemnation, hell,
banishment into outer darkness, and the punishment of robbers,
fornicators, idolaters, etc. As we proceed we must overcome these
obstacles and examine the theological reasons which lead me to believe
in universal salvation, the texts that seem to be against it, and a
possible solution.

But I want to stress that I am speaking about belief in universal
salvation. This is for me a matter of faith. I am not making a dogma or a
principle of it. I can say only what I believe, not pretending to teach
it doctrinally as the truth.

1. God Is love

My first simple thesis is that if God is God, the Almighty, the
Creator of all things, the Omnipresent, then we can think of no place or
being whatever outside him. If there were a place out side him, God
would not be all in all, the Creator of all things. How can we think of
him creating a place or being where he is not present? What, then, about
hell? Either it is in God, in which case he is not universally good, or
it is outside him, hell having often been defined as the place where
God is not. But the latter is completely unthinkable. One might simply
say that hell is merely nothingness. The damned are those who are
annihilated. But there is a difficulty here too. Nothingness does not
exist in the Bible. It is a philosophical and mathematical concept. We
can represent it only by a mathematical sign. God did not create ex
nihilo, out of nothing. Genesis 1:2 speaks of tohu wabohu ("desert and
wasteland" RSV "formless and void') or of tehom ("the deep'). This is
not nothing.

Furthermore, the closest thing to nothingness seems to be death. But
the Bible speaks about enemies, that is, the great serpent, death, and
the abyss, which are aggressors against God's creation and are seeking
to destroy it. These are enemies against which God protects his
creation. He cannot allow that which he has created and called good to
be destroyed, disorganized, swallowed up, and slain. This creation of
God cannot revert to nothing. Death cannot issue in nothingness. This
would be a negation of God himself, and this is why the first aspect
seems to me to be decisive. Creation is under constant threat and is
constantly upheld.

How could God himself surrender to nothingness and to the enemy that
which he upholds in face and in spite of everything? How could he allow a
power of destruction and annihilation in his creation? If he cannot
withstand the force of nothingness, then we have to resort to dualism (a
good God and a bad God in conflict and equal), to Zoroastrianism. Many
are tempted to dualism today. But if God is unique, if he alone has life
in himself, he cannot permit this threat to the object of his love.

But it is necessary that "the times be accomplished," the times when
we are driven into a corner and have to serve either the impotence of
the God of love or the power of the forces of destruction and
annihilation. We have to wait until humanity has completed its history
and creation, and every possibility has been explored. This does not
merely imply, however, that at the end of time the powers of
destruction, death, the great serpent, Satan, the devil, will be
annihilated, but much more. How can we talk about nothingness when we
receive the revelation of this God who will be all in all? When
all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself also will be
subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in
(1 Cor. 15:28).

If God is, he is all in all. There is no more place for nothingness.
The word is an empty one. For Christians it is just as empty as what it
is supposed to denote. Philosophers speak in vain about something that
they can only imagine or use as a building block, but which has no
reality of any kind. ( 1 )

The second and equally essential factor is that after Jesus Christ we
know that God is love. This is the central revelation. How can we
conceive of him who is love ceasing to love one of his creatures? How
can we think that God can cease to love the creation that he has made in
his own image? This would be a contradiction in terms. God cannot cease
to be love.

If we combine the two theses we see at once that nothing can exist
outside God's love, for God is all in all. It is unthinkable that there
should exist a place of suffering, of torment, of the domination of
evil, of beings that merely hate since their only function is to
torture. It is astounding that Christian theology should not have seen
at a glance how impossible this idea is. Being love, God cannot send to
hell the creation which he so loved that he gave his only Son for it. He
cannot reject it because it is his creation. This would be to cut off

A whole theological trend advances the convenient solution that God
is love but also justice. He saves the elect to manifest his love and
condemns the reprobate to manifest his justice. My immediate fear is
that this solution does not even correspond to our idea of justice and
that we are merely satisfying our desire that people we regard as
terrible should be punished in the next world. This view is part of the
mistaken theology which declares that the good are unhappy on earth but
will be happy in heaven, whereas the wicked are successful on earth but
will be punished in the next world. Unbelievers have every reason to
denounce this explanation as a subterfuge designed to make people accept
what happens on earth. The kingdom of God is not compensation for this

Another difficulty is that we are asked to see God with two faces as
though he were a kind of Janus facing two ways. Such a God could not be
the God of Jesus Christ, who has only one face. Crucial texts strongly
condemn two-faced people who go two different ways. These are the ones
that Jesus Christ calls hypocrites. If God is double-minded, there is
duplicity in him. He is a hypocrite. We have to choose: He is either
love or he is justice. He is not both. If he is the just judge, the
pitiless Justiciar, he is not the God that Jesus Christ has taught us to
love. Furthermore, this conception is a pure and simple denial of Jesus
Christ. For the doctrine is firm that Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
died and was willing to die for human sin to redeem us all: I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself
(John 12:32), satisfying divine justice. All the evil done on earth
from Adam's break with God undoubtedly has to be judged and punished.
But all our teaching about Jesus is there to remind us that the wrath of
God fell entirely on him, on God in the person of the Son. God directs
his justice upon himself; he has taken upon himself the condemnation of
our wickedness. What would be the point, then, of a second condemnation
of individuals?

Was the judgment passed on Jesus insufficient? Was the price that was
paid-the punishment of the Son of God-too low to meet the demands of
God's justice? This justice is satisfied in God and by God for us. From
this point on, then, we know only the face of the love of God.

This love is not sentimental acquiescence. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God
(Heb. 10:31). God's love is demanding, "jealous," total, and
indivisible. Love has a stern face, not a soft one. Nevertheless, it is
love. And in any case this love excludes double predestination, some to
salvation and others to perdition. It is inconceivable that the God of
Jesus Christ, who gives himself in his Son to save us, should have
created some people ordained to evil and damnation.

There is indeed a predestination, but it can be only the one
predestination to salvation. In and through Jesus Christ all people are
predestined to be saved. Our free choice is ruled out in this regard. We
have often said that God wants free people. He undoubtedly does, except
in relation to this last and definitive decision. We are not free to
decide and choose to be damned. To say that God presents us with the
good news of the gospel and then leaves the final issue to our free
choice either to accept it and be saved or to reject it and be lost is
foolish. To take this point of view is to make us arbiters of the
situation. In this case it is we who finally decide our own salvation.

This view reverses a well-known thesis and would have it that God
proposes and man disposes. Without question we all know of innumerable
cases in which people reject revelation. Swarms are doing so today. But
have they any real knowledge of revelation? If I look at countless
presentations of the Word of God by the churches, I can say that the
churches have presented many ideas and commandments that have nothing
whatever to do with God's revelation. Rejecting these things, human
commandments, is not the same as rejecting the truth. And even if the
declaration or proclamation of the gospel is faithful, it does not
itself force a choice upon us.

If people are to recognize the truth, they must also have the inner
witness of the Holy Spirit. These two things are indispensable, the
faithful declaration of the gospel, the good news, by a human being and
the inner witness in the hearer of the Holy Spirit, who conveys the
assurance that it is the truth of God. The one does not suffice without
the other. Thus when those who hear refuse our message, we can never say
that they have chosen to disobey God.

The human and divine acts are one and the same only in the Word of
Jesus. When he told his hearers not to be unbelieving but to believe, if
they refused then they were rejected. In our case, however, we cannot
say that there is an act of the Holy Spirit simultaneously with our
proclamation. This may well be the point of the well-known text about
the one sin that cannot be pardoned, the sin against the Holy Spirit
(cf. Matt. 12:31-32). But we can never know whether anyone has committed
it. However that may be, it is certain that being saved or lost does
not depend on our own free decision.

I believe that all people are included in the grace of God. I believe
that all the theologies that have made a large place for damnation and
hell are unfaithful to a theology of grace. For if there is
predestination to perdition, there is no salvation by grace. Salvation
by grace is granted precisely to those who without grace would have been
lost. Jesus did not come to seek the righteous and the saints, but
sinners. He came to seek those who in strict justice ought to have been

A theology of grace implies universal salvation. What could grace
mean if it were granted only to some sinners and not to others according
to an arbitrary decree that is totally contrary to the nature of our
God? If grace is granted according to the greater or lesser number of
sins, it is no longer grace-it is just the opposite because of this
accountancy. Paul is the very one who reminds us that the enormity of
the sin is no obstacle to grace: Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more
(Rom. 5:20). This is the key statement. The greater the sin, the more
God's love reveals itself to be far beyond any judgment or evaluation of
ours. This grace covers all things. It is thus effectively universal.

I do not think that in regard to this grace we can make the
Scholastic distinctions between prevenient grace, expectant grace,
conditional grace, etc. Such adjectives weaken the thrust of the free
grace of the absolute sovereign, and they result only from our great
difficulty in believing that God has done everything. But this means
that nothing in his creation is excluded or lost.

( 1 ) This is why books like Satre's Being und Nothingness and H. Carre's Point d'appui pris sur le neant are so feeble.

"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root."
David Thoreau (1817-1862)
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