Get Out of Hell Free

The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday among the Orthodox, and they celebrate Christ raising him from the dead just prior to His entrance into Jerusalem (gospel of John). It is a feast that offers something of a preview of Christ’s resurrection, and a foretaste of the General Resurrection at the End of the Age. Some years back I sat in a cave that is purported to be the grave of Lazarus. I could not help but think of him – but of him in Hades rather than the tomb. It is said in the Fathers that when Christ raised him from the dead, it was necessary for Him to say, “Lazarus, come forth!” For had He only said, “Come forth!” all of the dead would have risen before their time. It’s a thought that I like a lot.

 It is also, however, a thought that has occurred to Hades itself, at least in the hymnody of the Church:

 I implore you, Lazarus, said Hell, Rise up, depart quickly from my bonds and be gone. It is better for me to lament bitterly for the loss of one, rather than of all those whom I swallowed in my hunger.

 Why do you delay, Lazarus? cried Hell. Your Friend stands calling to you: ‘Come out.’ Go, then, and I too shall feel relief. For since I swallowed you, all other food is loathsome to me.

 O Lazarus, why do you not rise up swiftly? cried Hell below, lamenting. Why do you not run immediately from this place? Lest Christ take prisoner the others, after raising you. (From the Canon of Lazarus Saturday)

 It is as if when Christ says, “Come forth!” Hell cries, “Get out!”

 Most of the Orthodox hymns surrounding Christ’s death and resurrection (and Lazarus’ as well) center on the notion of the “Harrowing of Hell.” The object of the Cross is not the wrath of God, but the death and confinement of man. It is the virtual non-existence that holds us in death that is trampled down by the death of Christ.

The punishment theories of the atonement have a way of mixing moral themes into Christ’s death and resurrection. They are about Christ’s payment for the moral debt of our sins. Somehow, something is terribly askew in such meditations. The utter graciousness and even gratuitous character of Christ’s victory is overlooked.

I am aware of the Biblical passages that speak of the resurrection to damnation as well as the coming judgment. But I always have the sense that those who dwell on such things are somehow afraid that Christ might accidentally forgive someone who should not have been forgiven. Be careful! Someone might get away with something!

When I ponder the atonement, the work accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection, I tend to think of the imagery of a prison break – a really BIG prison break. When the doors are opened every fellow-prisoner is your friend. You make a run for it because it’s your chance and the sudden generosity that has found you is likely to spill over to everyone and everything. It is like the childhood cry that ends the game of Hide and Seek: “Olly, Olly, Oxen free!”

In truth, despite all of our responsibility for sin, we are largely its victims. We do not begin our lives in Paradise, but in a world in which everyone is broken and distorted. Those who carry out crimes are most likely to have been victims first. We do to others what has been done to us. And sometimes it goes to horrendous extremes. We are psychopaths and sociopaths, addicts and sinners, the children of a world gone wrong.

And though there is help, even salvation for us in this life, many never seem to find it, or being found by it, fail to understand its significance. And now they lie among the dead, bound in their sins, brought down to Hades for their crimes.

It is this fellowship of criminals and sinners that the good bishop, Melito of Sardis, seems to have had in mind when he penned a Paschal homily around the year 160 ad. It is wonderfully primitive in its vision, speaking with a concern that continues to echo in the language of the Orthodox faith. It is hopeful and bold, though perhaps discouraging for those who fear that someone might get off too lightly. He says of Christ in Hades:

[Christ] rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: “Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent?”

“I,” He says, “am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven.

“I,” he says, “am the Christ.”

“Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness. I am the passover of your salvation. I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you. I am your ransom. I am your light. I am your saviour. I am your resurrection. I am your king. I am leading you up to the heights of heaven. I will show you the eternal Father. I will raise you up by my right hand.”

This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human through the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age.

This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

Amen. Indeed.





About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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34 responses to “Get Out of Hell Free”

  1. Byron Avatar

    Glorious, Father! It drew to my mind the thought of whether I would rejoice if the grace and power of God in Christ brought even Hitler to heaven. It is certainly enough to do so but I fear my own answer only shows how far I am from God’s Will in these matters…. I am overjoyed for His mercy as well as his glory! Pray for me and thank you for these words.

  2. Margaret Avatar

    Great title! And thank you so much for the words contained here in the blog post! Glory to God for All Things!

  3. Dino Avatar

    Thank you Father for this!!

  4. DimBulb Avatar

    If Hitler were in Heaven, or Stalin, or Ted Bundy, or Klebold and Harris, or even Ronald Reagan or Ted Kennedy, it appears to me that it couldn’t be Heaven for me if I still harbored a grudge against them and wanted to see “justice” extracted from them.

  5. Nancy Chiasson Avatar
    Nancy Chiasson

    Reading this and weeping with joy! Here comes Holy Week – Glory to God!

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It raises the possibility of what would happen if folks don’t hear His voice. Would they leave simply by the urging of the evil one? He can’t compel us either after all.

    Jesus Christ calls, do I respond? Is my fallen will strong enough to resist always and at all times? Can my heart be so hardened as to never be able to respond even if there is some small desire to? Is a quark sized piece of goodness sufficient? If so, why Lent or concern about my salvation?

    All those who tend toward some form of universalism have to address these questions it seem to me.

  7. Laurie E Avatar
    Laurie E

    All I can say is wow. Very powerful stuff.

    I refuse, for this moment, to worry about who might respond to Him and slip into the Kingdom that I’d prefer not to. How can we not be as generous (a poor word to describe it) as He?

    Well, I don’t think anyone “slips” into the Kingdom but you know what I mean.

  8. Christopher Avatar

    “…it appears to me that it couldn’t be Heaven for me if I still harbored a grudge against them and wanted to see “justice” extracted from them.”

    I sometimes think (this is purely my own thought – could be very very wrong) that this is the blessing of the Dread Judgement. When we are Judged, we will receive the “justice” that we deserve, and we will see that all others also have received what they deserve, and thus Heaven will be perfect because perfect justice is received by all. This justice will be something incomprehensable – it will after all be the result and have the character of perfect Love. Thus, if Stalin (or even The Gipper 😉 ) is seen in heaven by the Saints then it will make perfect sense, because Love always gives us what we deserve – and at the very same time never gives us what we deserve, choosing instead to cover us with what we have never ever deserved….

  9. Byron Avatar

    My initial post was simply to point out that, if God chose mercy, do I love Him enough to rejoice in His mercy? Or would I still be so self-centered as to want justice, even knowing that justice in my own case would doom me?

    I am thankful for His mercy–in whatever form He chooses to give it–and I pray He brings me to rejoice in it.

  10. pablo Avatar

    Fr. Stephen
    Could you please explain atonement and judgment from an Orthodox perspective?
    I am a pentecostal but have read considerably of the Fathers and Orthodox theology, and am a friend not a foe. 😉 Our own theories of the above leave me unconvinced but my reads of the EO perspective seem to leave big gaps and a lot of questions.
    If you don’t have time to write on the subject please recommend a source.


    pablo– susanville Ca

  11. MrsMutton Avatar

    An aside on this excellent post, from someone who remembers the ending of Hide and Seek: It’s actually, “Allie, allie, outs in free,” meaning, “Everyone who is Out, gets to come In free now.” I know, I always thought it was “Ali, Ali, oxen free,” and wondered what Arabs had to do with oxen. 😉

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In my neighborhood we said, “Olly, Olly, in come free.” If you read the wikipedia article, you’ll see the vast range of the phrase in popular usage, and even some interesting suggestions as to its origin.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father have you ever written on the salvific element of work in light of Genesis 3 and the Incarnation and Eucharist?

    It seems to me it might fit in this series some where.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll work on it. 🙂

  15. Cyranorox Avatar

    Very good. In response to comments: if anything might damn a man – as if it could be so – then refusing to accept some famous sinner, or some personally resented fellow, in Heaven might be it. A fair test of forgiveness is to imagine finding that person in Heaven, honored above oneself.

  16. Joshua Avatar

    When one thinks of the mystery of the resurrection, a person could write volumes on all the miracles and possibilities in Christ’s resurrection and when He returns to resurrect mankind. I for one, believe that I am no better than the man spending life in prison for murder. We are both sinners and have disobeyed God. It is only in our view that we see one sin being worse than another. Only Christ knows what is in our heart and soul and He will judge us accordingly. Just as Jesus loved Lazarus, He loves all of us and He wants us all to join Him in His kingdom.

  17. BL Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    This isn’t really a comment on your post (which I also appreciate), but I wanted to say that yesterday during the Lazarus Saturday Liturgy I was received into the Church by chrismation. I am not a frequent commentator, but I have been reading your posts and their comment threads regularly since shortly after I was enrolled as a catechumen last Pentecost.

    Your posts have helped me a lot in understanding Orthodox ways of thinking about and approaching a variety of things, and in beginning to internalize them. They’ve played a significant role in getting me from a baby catechumen to newly Orthodox, so I wanted to express my appreciation and say thank you—and glory to God! I have also appreciated many of the commentators (especially Dino’s translations of Greek sources), so thank you too. If you could, please pray for me as I begin my Orthodox life.

    I’ve taken as my patron St. Maria of Paris, so I suppose I’ll sign this,

    Maria (BL)

  18. Dimitra Dwelley Avatar
    Dimitra Dwelley

    Fr. Stephen wrote: “And though there is help, even salvation for us in this life, many never seem to find it, or being found by it, fail to understand its significance. And now they lie among the dead, bound in their sins, brought down to Hades for their crimes.

    It is this fellowship of criminals and sinners that the good bishop, Melito of Sardis, *seems to have had in mind* [emphasis mine] when he penned a Paschal homily around the year 160 ad. It is wonderfully primitive in its vision, speaking with a concern that continues to echo in the language of the Orthodox faith. It is hopeful and bold, though perhaps *discouraging for those who fear that someone might get off too lightly.* He says of Christ in Hades:

    [Christ] rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: “Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; ”

    Is Fr. Stephen here stating that those who have been found by salvation i.e. who have heard the Gospel, but as in the Parable of the Sower, do not understand or listen, and are now lying dead in the bonds of hades/hell, will nevertheless “get out” free because of Christ’s sacrifice? And do they who warn against sin just “fear that someone might get off too lightly”?!

    Before Christ’s death on the Cross, *all* the dead – even the righteous – were held in hell. His sacrifice enabled the righteous to enter Heaven, but it does not mean that those who reject Him will enter – it is not in this sense a gratuitous carte blanche for all. It gives all the means to be saved, but will not save those who do not accept the means. The Saviour Himself warned us: “Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven (Mat. 7:21).”

    The Holy Church now repeats this warning in the Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week:

    Troparion , tone 8
    “Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep, lest thou be given over to death and shut out from the Kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: “Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God; through the Birthgiver of God have mercy on us.”


  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When we consider the goodness, kindness, and mercy of God, we wonder how any could be lost. When we consider the human heart and its darkness and perversions, it’s hard to see how more than only a few could be saved.

    But Melito of Sardis’ words are also words of the Church. We can think on them and consider the goodness of God – Melito is not alone among the Fathers in preaching Pascha in a manner that sounds quite universal in the message of salvation. Even St. John’s Chrysostom’s great Paschal homily says, “And not one dead is left in the grave.”

    But you correctly cite the Church’s warning to us all…that we struggle not to be “shut out of the kingdom.”

    I suggest Met. Hilarion Alfeyev’s book on Christ the Conqueror of Hell. The whole matter is not nearly as cut and dried as some relatively modern Orthodox writings might make it seem.

    We always do well to heed the Lord’s warnings.

    The Fathers counsel us the believe that all will be saved except ourselves. This is not to be taken as a literal account of heaven and hell, but a matter of the heart.

    I find it interesting that we often get this backwards, feeling more confident of our own salvation than of others.

    I do not write propounding a theory of universalism. It is not the teaching of the Church. But it is important to me to proclaim the boundless mercy of God. If any are lost, it will be their own doing and refusal of love. May God have mercy on us all.

  20. Mark Pendleton Avatar
    Mark Pendleton

    I’m a fairly recent convert from modern evangelicalism. During this Lenten season, I’ve been faced with the question, “Is there anyone I would like to see go to Hell?” -whatever the reality of Hell turns out to be. It’s somewhat of a spiritual litmus test, I suppose. I recall hearing of a modern-day monk somewhere in the Middle East who was asked how he dealt with his enemies. His response, “I’m a monk, I have no enemies”, staggered me.

    Forgive a slight deviation. I had always considered that the words in Hebrews 4, “the Word of God….is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart…” to be almost an exclusively negative thing-that the intentions referred to were evil. I really can’t blame my Evangelical “education” for such a notion, but it didn’t dissuade me from it either. But recently another thought has begun to creep into my mind, like light breaking into the shadows, that it could be that the Father knows the things we “wished” we could have done (“the spirit is willing”), but were, for an endless variety of reasons, unable to carry out (“but the flesh is weak”) and further that those things matter to Him. It’s our adversary who desires to “sift us like wheat” looking for some fault or flaw not our Father. Now I try to pray the Father be mindful of the good intentions, first of those who were and are close to me – parents, siblings, friends, and then others, living and asleep, in a hopefully widening circle.

    The Father tells us through Ezekiel that He takes no pleasure in the death of the ungodly. I’m beginning to realize that it’s only through my own brokenness that I have taken any pleasure in the thought of the condemnation of anyone. In fact, if Hell were to be less populated with human souls, could I not honestly rejoice and say, “Glory to God?”

  21. Boyd Avatar

    Right on Brother!

  22. Fr. David Wey Avatar
    Fr. David Wey


    You’ve reminded me of the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” (attributed to a specifically U.S. origin, as far as I can tell, which figures); and then, of a much more encouraging indicator from a prayer found in the priest’s “Book of Needs” for someone “when sickness increases” (indicating that the time of death may be approaching):

    “O Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour: for our sakes you were born; for our sakes you were hungry and thirsted; for our sakes you suffered and gave your life over to death. As you have caused your servant to share in your sufferings, so too cause him to share in your Grace. May your precious Blood wash away the stains of his sins; may your righteousness wash away his unrighteousness. Instead, look upon his faith in you, rather than upon his works when he shall stand before you the Judge. As his sickness increases, so also let your plenteous Grace increase on him; do not let his faith waver, nor his hope fail, nor his love grow cold; do not let the fear of death cause him to cast away his trust in you, or to place it anywhere except on you. But looking steadfastly to you to the end, let him say: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” and so enter into your everlasting Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

    I fervently hope someone will pray that for me when my time comes – I have plenty of “good intentions,” as well as many failed attempts to act on them.

  23. Mike Avatar


    A response to your article from a friend:

    This writer says, “I am aware of the Biblical passages that speak of the resurrection to damnation as well as the coming judgment. But I always have the sense that those who dwell on such things are somehow afraid that Christ might accidentally forgive someone who should not have been forgiven.”

    Do you agree with him that believing those “Biblical passages” should cause us to doubt Christ’s judgment?

    How would you answer?

    Thank you.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m curious about which meaning to answer for “doubt Christ’s judgment.”

    But I trust in Christ’s Judgment and hold it as my only hope. As should we all.

    My observation, however, is born out of the experience that every time I push the edges of condemnation with the Lord’s mercy – either in an article or elsewhere – it always provokes reactions concerned with universalism, etc. I think that certain aspects of Orthodox thought tend towards a certain nuanced universalism and that this tendency is held in check by certain passages of Scripture as well as the conciliar condemnation of Origenism.

    But there is indeed an inner sense within Orthodoxy towards it nonetheless. You can see it especially in Paschal sermons of the Fathers – and the whole tone of the Paschal service.

    An early confessor of mine once told me that we could not embrace or teach universalism – it is not the teaching of the Church – but that if I did not want it to be true – there would be something wrong with my heart.

    I think there is a lot of ambience in that. Again, I should consider everyone saved except for myself.

  25. Brian Avatar

    I would certainly be open to correction, but it seems to me that the word “judgment” is much misunderstood – as is, for example, the word “worthy.” It is, I think, yet another aspect of seeing God’s dealings with mankind through a legal/forensic lens.

    The Scriptures and the Fathers teach that God is judge not primarily because of what He does, but because of who He is. “Our God is a consuming fire,” says the Epistle to the Hebrews. Likewise St. Paul writes such words as, “and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work….” and …“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the BRIGHTNESS OF HIS COMING” [emphasis obviously mine]. This is not a picture of courtroom with a judge seated making decisions about the fate of those before Him. It is an image of the ‘judgment’ of direct encounter with the Living God. That which is ‘worthy’ of such an encounter is purified, as gold is purified by fire. That which is ‘unworthy’ is consumed and brought to naught – not by a decision rendered, but by the encounter itself.

    This is every bit as fearful, if not more so, than the image of a judge in a courtroom. But it places the focus where, I think, it properly belongs, on desire for union with God, on sharing in His virtue (the wedding garment) by the Grace of union with Him.

    It helps me, at least, to see things in this way when singing/praying the self-admonishments of Bridegroom Matins…

    “Behold the bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom he shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given over to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”

    “Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.”

    “How shall I, the unworthy one, appear in the splendor of Thy saints? For if I dare enter Thy bridal chamber with them my garments will betray me: they are unfit for a wedding. The angels will cast me out in chains. Cleanse the filth of my soul, O Lord, and save me in Thy love for mankind.”

    “O Christ the Bridegroom, my soul has slumbered in laziness. I have no lamp aflame with virtues. Like the foolish virgins I wander aimlessly when it is time for work. But do not close Thy compassionate heart to me, O Master. Rouse me, shake off my heavy sleep. Lead me with the wise virgins into the bridal chamber, that I may hear the pure voice of those that feast and cry unceasingly: O Lord, glory to Thee!”

  26. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Brian, amen! Well said.

  27. Cassiane Avatar

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    I’m a friend of BL and introduced her to your blog. I’ve seen how much your posts and comments have helped her come to understand things Orthodoxly, and I’ve also really appreciated them for myself – they help me understand things more and more too, bit by bit. So I too would like to say thank you for your blog.

    Also, I know that BL would be glad to know that you’ve seen her comment, and that it hasn’t slipped unnoticed between other comments.


  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    bL, (Maria)
    What a blessing to hear of your journey! It is a joy to be a part of it! A good Pascha!

  29. BL Avatar

    Thanks, Father. A good Pascha to you as well!

  30. drewster2000 Avatar

    Concerning universalism the best quote I ever saw was in an article by Met. Anthony Bloom on the topic. The quote was from Pietist theologian Christian Gottlieb Barth:

    “Anyone who does not believe in the universal restoration is an ox, but anyone who teaches it is an ass.”

    My translation is that everything seems to point to the conclusion of universalism but it is not our place to draw that conclusion. Again from that article:

    “When I am waiting at Oxford Station for the train to London, sometimes I walk up to the northernmost stretch of the long platform until I reach a notice: “Passengers must not proceed beyond this point. Penalty:£50.” In discussion of the future hope, we need a similar notice: “Theologians must not proceed beyond this point”—Let my readers devise a suitable penalty. Doubtless, Origen’s mistake was that he tried to say too much. It is a fault that I admire rather than execrate, but it was a mistake nonetheless.”

  31. Art Montgomery Avatar

    Could God be a loving God and not have created a eternal hell? Could I be called a good father if out of my compassion for sexual perverts if I allowed them to live in my house with my children? No! Everyone would agreed that a loving father is number one duty is to protect his children. Although he may love those others He still must keep them out of his kingdom. He already went through a rebellion in heaven? Lucifer has never repented or will. Notice in Luke 16 the rich man in hell never repented. However Satan and us are eternal beings and powerful, if Satan and his army is not controlled that they will always plot evil. The bible says before Christ that we were Children of the devil, 1Jn 3:10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: Why torture then? The only reason I can think of is that if he is always in pain, then he can not think or plan his evil schemes. It was not just sin that got him cast out of heaven but his INIQUITY or evil ways. It is his nature. He became evil. A government without prisons to let evil men kill and rob the righteous citizens would be a evil government. Although we may think eternal hell is hard, but I believe we look at it from our twisted prescriptive of the enemy that has infected our thinking. It is not from God, the father’s. It is like when Saint Peter said to Jesus “Do not go to the cross”. Jesus said to him “Get behind me, Satan”. I can guarantee that Satan does not want hell to last for eternity. He still wants the opportunity to lead another rebellion there. God is not that stupid in my opinion. I do not want anyone punished in hell, but I trust God that His good and just. He would never do anything unjust. But justice according God is according to His word not our reasoning.Blessings.

  32. Dino Avatar


    Take note of the elder brother of the prodigal, he himself does not want to enter paradise, it is not that the Father prohibits it.
    The freedom to choose between God and my self (as my God) is what creates hell and all it’s ‘punishments’ – not God. We are therefore locked in there from the inside with the key in our own pocket. God is heaven, and hell is simply the wrong interpretation of God (and therefore of heaven) which inevitably happens when my god is me.
    The addictive proclivities of a sexual pervert (intensely though they may be felt), are far more harmless than many other selfishnesses, as for instance, man’s inclination to ingratitude. ..

  33. Karen Avatar

    Art, you are right that God, our Father, who is perfect in His goodness limits the possibility of the wicked to perpetrate evil by eventually bringing it to an end. On earth, this limiting of evil occurs through physical death of the perpetrators if not before (i.e., through their repentance or through their imprisonment). No one will be able to perpetrate evil in heaven (or perhaps we would say, by definition, no one will want or choose to perpetrate evil in heaven).

    Those Scriptures, hymn texts, or Church Fathers which would seem to hint or suggest Hades/hell might have an end do not thereby teach that God releases those who are bent on evil into heaven with their evil desires intact so they may perpetrate evil again. Perish the thought! Even to think of “heaven” and “hell” as having separate geographical locations, rather than to see them as different states of the soul after physical death, is perhaps to misunderstand their true nature. In Acts 17:38, the Apostle Paul tells Greek pagan philosophers that “in Him [the Lord] we live and move and have our being”. It is a defining attribute of orthodox Christian belief about God that He is omnipresent (exists everywhere), and Psalm 139:7-8 speaks of God’s Spirit as being present both in “heaven” and in “hell.” Scripture also speaks of God as being both the “water of life” and “a consuming fire”–the Source of Life and the Source of Judgment/Destruction of sin and death.) For these reasons, it seems more likely that the torment of hell and the joy of heaven are in a certain sense the same “place,” i.e., in the presence of God, but as experienced by the wicked or the righteous respectively.

    Those who are hopeful hell might have an end, believe hell will only end if those imprisoned in this state (as Dino says, this is by their own will/sinful desires, not by some extrinsic force or by God’s desire “who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9) are transformed from wickedness to repentance by the profound suffering and regret hell produces. There are (at least) two ways to understand the nature of the “destruction” of the wicked in hell: 1) that the wicked (who are deemed in this first view incapable of repentance) are imprisoned and there rendered impotent to realize their wicked desires forever, or 2) that the sinful inclinations of the wicked are destroyed by hell’s suffering such that eventually all of the wicked are transformed into repentant sinners by that experience and saved (though, “as through fire” 1 Corinthians 3:15).

  34. Melanie M Statom Avatar
    Melanie M Statom

    I had a young child proclaim to me, as we pondered about the Good Shepherd and wondered how long he might look for the lost sheep, proclaim, ” As long as it takes.” Such knowledge of the ” Mercy, upon mercy, upon mercy” is shared with even the little ones.

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