Christ’s death saves humanity from hell as a place of eternal torment, but many people don’t realize it and live apart from God. When they cross over in death, I believe all deception will be removed, and they will know the truth. But they can still have the option to accept the gift or not. Then the purification begins. Is that generally right?
I would personally tweak these thoughts a little bit:
1. You said, “Christ’s death saved all humanity from hell as a place of eternal torment.”
I don’t believe Christ saved us from a non-existence place conceived in human imaginations by literalizing biblical imagery into a fiery lake of eternal conscious torment.
What Christ saved us from, as I understand the gospel, is (1) satan, (2) sin, and (3) death.
2. You said, “…all deception will be removed, and they will know the truth. But they can still have the option to accept the gift or not.”
As I see it (following Maximos the Confessor), Christ came to save ALL of who we are, including the human will, when in the Garden of Gethsemene, he vicariously aligned his human will completely to his Father’s will. Whenever the gospel penetrates our hearts and minds with the command, “Let there be light!” the veil over our eyes is removed, and we are freed to see the truth and believe what we see:
- 1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
Some seem never to be given this opportunity in this life, in which case condemning their unbelief would be eminently unjust. You cannot punish a blind person for not seeing. Or at least God won’t. “Love could not bear it” (Isaac of Syria). This is what makes Jesus’ conquest of death so necessary and powerful and central to our gospel. At some point, Jesus cites the prophet,
- “Every eye shall see him… even those who pierced him,
- And all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him…”
- (Revelation 1:7)
- “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”(Revelation 7:17)
- “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
When we all see Christ face to face, the truth of his love will at last completely heal our spiritual eyes. His radiant face will heal what theologians call ‘the natural will,’ which was first created always to desire the Good (i.e., the perfect Love of God). With healed eyes and a freed will, perfect Love (Jesus Christ) will expose not choosing the Good as a delusion and a dysfunction. That is, if our eyes were never to glaze over again with the deception of the world, flesh, or devil, we would forever recognize the ‘choice’ to turn away from Love as bondage rather than freedom. We would see ‘the option,’ not as freedom but as a ludicrous and lethal temptation. This is why, in the End, when “God is all in all,” there will never be another fall.
In other words, salvation extends to the redemption of the human will from every spiritual cataract, blinder, and distraction that opposes God’s love, light, and life.
Thus, our YES to divine grace will be evidence of our freedom, rather than deterministic or coercive. Love never forces itself or violates consent, even while Christ confidently promises, “If I am lifted up, I WILL draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32). This seems like a fine line in stories like Paul’s conversion, but the Light that struck him blind also opened his eyes and freed him from his fantasies of violent, religious faithfulness.
In the End, our faith must and truly will be a ‘willing faith response,’ rather than the hostage video confession of captives with the threat of an eternal flame-thrower held to their heads. That’s not freedom, so it can’t be faith.
Now, C.S. Lewis, who I adore, seems to me to have stumbled at this point. He once said, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.” He was trying to point out that the experience of salvation or damnation are somehow contingent on human freedom. To this I would respond:
- a. Human freedom from damnation is entirely contingent on salvation. Jesus sets us free to believe.
- b. “The gates of hell” have been broken and lay cross-shaped beneath Christ’s feet. This is the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that, just as Moses plundered Egypt of its slaves, so too he would bind the strongman, enter his house, and plunder his goods. (Mark 3:27)
- c. “Locked”?? Has not Jesus said,
- 17 “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
- It’s impossible to lock oneself in a prison when you don’t hold the keys.
- d. Locking oneself in hell is not freedom. It is self-inflicted imprisonment, possible only to a fearful and deluded mind. That is a common aspect of the human condition now, but when “perfect Love drives out fear” and our eyes are opened to see the glorious love of Jesus Christ, self-harm will no longer even be part of our nature.
3. You said, “Then the purification begins. Is that generally right?”
I need to beware of stating as doctrine the mysteries I can only hold as convictions. But it seems to me that our face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ IS the purification and what I have described IS the purification (or part of it), where our eyes are cleansed, our wills are healed, our hearts are loved, our minds are cleared, and every chain, hindrance, or attachment that prevents us from responding to Christ is removed.
As George MacDonald (Lewis’s ‘master’) envisioned it, the fire of divine love will consume only AND everything in us that is ‘not of love’s kind.’ All by grace. And our part–willing surrender to divine love–is precisely what the fire of love restores in us. That is, at the very least, the good news that the New Testament calls us to hope, pray, and preach for everyone. For God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).