Full Salvation offers an alternative vision of postmortem hell as a kind of purification or penal education so that persons are made capable of entering the kingdom of God. Universalists find biblical grounds for arguing that God’s judgment is itself salvific (Isa. 48:9-11; Jer. 9:25; 30:11-17; 31:10-37; Ezek. 16; Hos. 6:1; 11:-13; Rom. 14:10-12). As K.F. Keil writes, “Judgments of the Old Testament must not be viewed as eternal punishments; they leave the possibility for future salvation.”
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the fire. (1 Cor. 3: 10-15)
The word translated for “torment” is basanidzo. As the lexicon image shows, this word’s primary meaning had to do with testing precious metals by use of a touchstone so that the metals could be purified. This does not rule out additional meanings, but it is interesting to consider what meaning it has in conjunction with theion. To give you an alternate reading allow me to paraphrase 14:10b as follows: “They will be tested and purified by a divine fire while in the presence of the Lamb.”
By no means do these two words provide conclusive evidence that the lake of fire and brimstone is God’s means for purifying sinners. It is nevertheless fascinating to explore. After all, God is referred to as a “consuming fire” on more than one occasion. Could Jesus be the divine fire or the touchstone that purifies? The author of Revelation describes him as having eyes like fire. And isn’t it interesting that the lake of fire and brimstone in 14:10 is in the presence of the Lamb? Perhaps it is not all that far-fetched to imagine that the unsaved will, in fact, be saved – “even though only as one escaping through fire,” (1 Cor. 3:15).
“What could be more serious than standing in front of your Creator – the Creator of the universe – and finding out that you had wasted your life, squandered your inheritance, caused others pain and sorrow, worked against the good plans and desires of God? What could be more serious than that? To have to face the real, eternal, unavoidable, absolute, naked truth about yourself, what you’ve done, what you’ve become?” (Last Word, 110)
At this point I want to insert a very important caveat to what has been said about hell as purification. There is a tendency among Christians to hold discussions about hell as if we were only talking about “them” and not “us.” I want to include myself in the category of those who will be judged and purified by God. Although I have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, I am not outside the judgment of the Lord. In fact, it is precisely the judgment of Jesus, the merciful one, that I am under. If this entails a kind of hell as purification, I know that I certainly need it in order to participate fully in the Trinitarian love of God.
The “second death” is another concept used to oppose universal salvation, particularly in the form of annihilationism. There really isn’t room enough to discuss it here, but I do want to offer an alternative interpretation simply for the sake of exploration. Remember, this series is not to “prove” Full Salvation, but to allow the reader to explore it.
In Rev. 20:14 John sees a vision in which “death and Hades [are] thrown in to the lake of fire,” as well as those “whose name was not found written in the book of life.” This “second death” has traditionally been understood as the final annihilation of the damned. However, a universalist interpretation argues that the text itself explains the nature of the second death. In 20:14 we read, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” Then, in 21:8, we read again that the wicked will be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone and “THIS is the second death.” What, then, is the second death? Being thrown into the lake of fire. What is the lake of fire? We already discussed this above, it is the divine fire of purification.
Why this “second death” is necessary is because not all have died with Christ (as in baptism, see Romans 6:6). Thus explains Andrew Jukes:
The “second death” (Rev. xx. 14.) therefore, so far from being, as some think, the hopeless shutting up of man for ever in the curse of disobedience, will, if I err not, be God’s way to free those who in no other way than by such a death can be delivered out of the dark world, whose life they live in. The saints have died with Christ, not only “to the elements of this world,” (Col. ii. 20.) but also “to sin,” (Rom. vi. 10.) that is, the dark spirit-world. By the first they are freed from the bondage of sense; by the second, from the bondage of sin, in all its forms of wrath, pride, envy, and selfishness.
The ungodly have not so died to sin. At the death of the body therefore, and still more when they are raised to judgment, because their spirit yet lives, they are still within the limits of that dark and fiery world, the life of which has been and is the life of their spirit. To get out of this world there is but one way, death; not the first, for that has passed, but the second death.
Furthermore, not only is the second death the fire of purification, the second death is the death ofdeath itself! As Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:26, “The last enemy to be defeated is death.”
Do We Need Hell for Justice’s Sake?
As you may have guessed, not all agree with the view of hell as purification. In a rather simplistic analogy, N.T. Wright suggests that life is more than a “game of chess” in which we are free to play however we like and afterward God will put all the pieces back in order. Full Salvation, he argues, trivializes the consequences of choices in this life. But what is Wright really saying here? Is he saying that God’s universal forgiveness toward those who have wasted their earthly life trivializes the consequences of their choices or somehow minimizes “divine justice”? Once again I think we are witnessing traces of ‘original ungrace.’
This topic is unbelievably complex and much more could be said. If you want to research more on this topic, I highly recommend David Powys’ book Hell: A Hard Look at a Hard Question. At this point, let us summarize what I have put forth in today’s post:
- Full Salvation does not necessarily jettison the concept of hell.
- Hell, according to Full Salvation, is a transitional phase for the lost to be purified for life in the Trinitarian Love of God
- There is biblical support for the idea that the unsaved shall be saved through fire.
- The second death is literally the death of death.
- Full Salvation does not trivialize consequences.
In conclusion, I’d like to offer two concise statements to recapitulate what has been put forth in this two-part post on hell.
Whatever you mean when you use the word “hell,” know this:
1. The God of the Bible detests hell.
2. The God of the Bible will bring an end to hell.