My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Review: Holy Hell: A Case against Eternal Damnation

Holy Hell: A Case against Eternal Damnation Holy Hell: A Case against Eternal Damnation by Derek Ryan Kubilus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book that I have read recently that tries to present the case for universalism (all are saved). Unlike the first, which seemed to be drive more by frustration, anger and anxiety … this one was well reasoned and calm … primarily focused on the Love of God and what that should mean for us. So let’s get this out of the way first …

1) I am not a universalist.
2) I would love to be wrong.

The author makes some compelling points about the incompatibility of a loving God and the eternal torment of Hell … an idea that could be has never set easily with me. To make these points, the author combs through scripture to highlight where exegesis/interpretation was perhaps more ambiguous that commonly believed … and that approaching them from the viewpoint of the universal love of The Father should coach us more toward a universal concept than an exclusive or selective interpretation … including an in depth look at the nuances of the Kone Greek that helps support a position of universal salvation. The author also discusses why this can be difficult for people to accept … imagine salvation for the likes of Hitler or other historical monsters. We just seem to have this internal need to see evil punished simply for the sake of justice … and this is actually not very Christ like. All told, this is a book that I will need to continually come back to and reflect on each point … and hopefully continue to deepen my own understanding and faith even if I can’t always [completely] accept some of what I find here. After all … one of the guiding principles about funeral homilies that I was taught is that we (the Church), should never place the departed in either Heaven or Hell … but to trust in the mercy of our loving God to hold our loved ones as dearly as we do ourselves.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Chapter 1 - Haunted by Hell
Chapter 2 - What We Talk About When We Talk About Hell
Chapter 3 - A Hell By Any Other Name
Chapter 4 - A Paddle In The Hands Of An Angry God
Chapter 5 - Breaking Out Of Baby Jail
Chapter 6 - The Bureaucracy Of The Afterlife
Chapter 7 - The Great Work
Chapter 8 - Protestant Purgatory
Chapter 9 - The Circles We Draw
Chapter 10 - Kicking And Screaming
Chapter 11 - A Generous Heresy

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

It seems that ever since her founding, the church in every age and place has secretly relied on a pernicious, unstated, but almost universal fallacy: the idea that the authority of our leaders is directly proportional to the amount of certainty they can project.

By definition, an everlasting hell neither heals nor teaches. That’s actually the express purpose of this version of hell: that no reform is possible, that the debt can never be repaid. The pain of hell is specifically unredemptive. Rather, the pain exists for its own sake; its only intended purpose is to be felt by the one who is suffering forever and ever.

Whenever we pick up the Bible, read it, put it down and say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble.—Ellen F. Davis, The Art of Reading Scripture

It has become so common and overused that few of us really know what it means anymore. Yet any goldsmith or metallurgist worth their salt would know immediately what the term means and why it has nothing to do with eternal torture. “Fire and brimstone” is an idiom that refers to purification. To be exact, it references the refinement of gold or other precious metals.

A harrow is a heavy rake that is used to “distress” a field. A farmer drags it over their soil to break up the dirt and remove any rocks or roots that might get in the way of the plow. Some people use harrows to glean, to pick up any produce that the harvest left behind. “Harrow” is also an idiom. To “harrow” a person is to distress them, to shake them up. To “harrow” a city or a region is to lay siege to it, to invade with an overwhelming force. Likewise, the Harrowing of Hell was said to be when Christ laid siege to hell itself, shaking its gates, terrifying its devils, and gleaning lost souls.

“When you hear of sepulchres, do not think only of visible ones; your own heart is a sepulchre and a tomb. . . . Are you, yourself, not a Hell, a tomb, a sepulchre, a dead man toward God? . . . Well, then, the Lord comes into souls that seek after him, into the depths of the heart-Hell, and there he lays his command upon death, saying, ‘Bring out the imprisoned souls that are seeking after me!’”

If you read other Greek literature of the time, it becomes clear that aiōnios has never meant “eternal” as in “the forward advancement of time into infinity.”2 In its most literal sense, the word means “of the age” or “of the eon.”3 (We can still hear the shadows of this original meaning in some traditional Christian prayers that end with the line “unto the ages of ages. Amen.”) There is another Greek word, aidios, that really does mean eternal as we think of it, but that is not the word that is used here or anyplace else in the New Testament where punishment in the afterlife is concerned.

Kolasis, the Greek word for “punishment,” is primarily a horticultural term used in gardening, orchard keeping, and vine dressing. The most fundamental translation of the word is “pruning,” and it was only used by way of analogy to represent the punishment of a person. Just as a tree or a vine must be pruned in order to produce fruit more efficiently, so a person must suffer a kind of pruning for the sake of their own fruit.

However, there are two mistakes we can make here. The first is to imagine that the people who are outside of our circle don’t deserve our love, care, or attention, whether it’s because of something they’ve done, someplace they’re from, or just who they are. The second is to imagine that they don’t deserve God’s love, or that they are outside of God’s circle, for those same reasons.

Apokatastasis isn’t just about putting something back where it was; it’s about putting something back where it’s supposed to be. It’s not just a return to a previous state but a return to a rightful state, the state that it was supposed to have been in all along.

To be fair, the Greek word that is usually translated as “tormented,” basanizō, is used elsewhere as a synonym for torture or torment, as one might do to extract information from an enemy, but even that is a kind of linguistic analogy. The most fundamental meaning of the word is, again, metallurgical. It is the word for testing a substance against a touchstone to see whether it is gold.

To be a Christian universalist is not merely to believe that we are saved from hell itself—indeed, we all may experience something of the purgative flames of Gehenna—but it is also to believe that we are saved from the dread of hell, the dread we might feel on our own behalf and, indeed, the dread we might feel for the whole human race.

The first thing that clergy and other leaders can do immediately is to stop using hell as the default translation for words like Gehenna, Sheol, and Hades. By swapping in the original Greek or Hebrew word, we can introduce nuance to our sermons and Bible studies and elicit questions for further discussion.

We wonder why the reputation of our religion is so bad while we bend ourselves over backward trying to find ways to make the case that either (a) God hates some people so much that God tortures them forever and ever or (b) God is somehow so disinterested in humanity that God would allow us to stumble into hell the same way a child might stumble into traffic.

For us, the salvation of an individual soul will never be an emergency. That means we will never be tempted to compromise the ethics of Christ for the goal of creating more Christ followers. It means that we would rather allow someone to pass through this life rejecting Jesus than become the reason that they reject him.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#HolyHell #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.