SPIRITUAL TERRORISM: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb
Many thinking persons ask this question, "How can one worship God who tortures people forever for failing to keep all of His commandments or even for rejecting Him?" I totally agree with the late, great Christian writer, the "master" of C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, that there is only one thing worse than to believe the lie of eternal punishment about God; it is to worship God about whom that lie is believed. The word "Gospel" means "Good News." Robert Short, the author of The Parables of Peanuts, said that the Gospel is not both Good News and bad news—just Good News. If relatively few people are saved and the rest are burned in literal hell fire forever, that would be mostly bad news. But some say that the Good News of everyone being saved by grace is too good to be true. To that objection MacDonald replied that it is "so good it must be true" because it perfectly balances the love and justice of God. Universal salvation was orthodox Christian doctrine until Origen's posthumous (299 years after his death) condemnation in 553!
I could not disagree more strongly with theologians, preachers, and teachers who contend that people need to recognize that the horrific concept of inescapable torture in hell comes from the New Testament itself. The idea of eternal torture has been graphicaly portrayed in paganism, but the symbolism of hell in the New Testament stands in sharp contrast to that terrible conception of God as the cosmic sadist. The cover of my book depicts the problem of literal vs. symbolic interpretation of fire. MacDonald (1824-1905), as well as some of the greatest theologians, scholars, and writers in the history of the Christian Church (e.g., Clement of Alexandria [150-215], Origen [185-254], Gregory of Nyssa [335-395], C.S. Lewis [1898-1963], etc.) insightfully stated that some things which the Bible teaches and Jesus taught, on the surface, appear to be harsh and even cruel but underneath the surface actually reveal the full extent of God's unconditional love in action. What? How can that be true in something, such as the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20 KJV) which, on the surface, appears to be both horrific and sadistic?
"Brimstone" is an outdated word for sulfur. As explained in, Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb, sulfur was widely known in the ancient world for its medicinal use and fumigation properties. Sulfur was an all-purpose medication. People disinfected their homes by burning sulfur after a person died of an infectious disease. They likewise burned sulfur to purify and preserve produce. They also burned sulfur to disinfest their homes of mice and various insects. Saints burned sulfur to symbolize prayers of purification. Every way sulfur was used had a beneficial meaning.
When I have asked dying hospice patients, terrified of hell, what a lake of burning sulfur (as translated by the New International Version) would symbolize, they have thoughtfully responded that it would symbolize divine healing or purification from one's sins. Just as Jesus said, the truth set them free of fear (John 8:32). Another truth which frees people from morbid fear of hell is Jesus' "final answer" on the purpose of hell, "For everyone will be salted with fire" (Mark 9:49). This is a uniquely symbolic statement mixing the metaphors of salt and fire both of which, individually and jointly, symbolize purification. The best translation is in the Good News Bible, "Everyone will be purified by fire."
Universal salvation is implicit in the symbolism and explicit in the declarations: Christ drawing all to himself (John 12:32), all die in Adam/all live in Christ (I Cor. 15:22), universal confession (Phil. 2:9-11), God becoming "All in All" which means God being Everything to Everyone (I Cor. 15:28 RSV), and universal worship which is eternal (Rev. 5:13).
Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D., Author
Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse
from the Womb to the Tomb
Copyright, All Rights Reserved, 6-11-08