The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (14B)

As stated in the previous article, God never ceases to love anyone. God loves those who turn away from Him and hate him. However, this love can seem painful to those who hate God. After all, if one hates God’s presence then His presence will make such a person uncomfortable, to say the least.

But how can this be? Why would God’s presence make someone uncomfortable? Let us consider an analogy (not original with this author).  Let’s imagine we love some kind of classical music, say Bach’s piano concerti. We listen to them at home and in the car. We go to concerts as often as we can. We may even read books about them. At some point we get tickets to a live performance by a world famous pianist. We are overjoyed and we sit there enraptured listening to the performance. This is somewhat similar to the way those who love God feel in His presence.

But imagine we hate classical music, maybe we have no interest in music at all. We like to be outdoors, to play sports, etc. In that case, two hours at a Bach concert would seem like a punishment. It would be painful for us. This is the way sinners feel in the presence of God. The music is the same – it acts on people in different ways. God’s love is always present but it acts on people in different ways. As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes,

“The doctrine of eternal hell, therefore, does not mean that God actively tortures people by some unloving and perverse means. It does not mean that god takes delight in the punishing and pain of His people whom He loves. Neither does it mean that God separates Himself from His people, thus causing them anguish in this separation. It means, rather, that God continues to allow all people, saints and sinners alike, to exist forever. For those who loved God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be paradise. For those who hate God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be hell.”

When we think of the punishment of sinners, we sometimes wonder whether hell is eternal. Does it come to an end? There are some passages in the Bible that seem to imply that it does. For example, St. Peter’s speech in Acts 3:21:

“ ….. whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.

Or St. Paul’s letter to Timothy which states the following:

“… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

There was an early Christian theologian, Origen (184-259AD) who taught that everyone would be saved, including the devil. However, the teaching was condemned at a local synod in Constantinople in 543 AD. The condemnation was repeated at the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553 AD. So Origen was condemned as a heretic for holding this idea of universal salvation (among other things). However, another early Christian writer also taught this. St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD). St. Gregory is one of the greatest theologians in Church history and he was never condemned as a heretic, although later Fathers of the church did not accept his position on the restoration of all things. So scripture teaches that hell will be eternal and there will be no universal salvation. However, in the 20th century several important theologians taught that punishment would eventually cease and all will be saved. They include Paul Evdokimus, Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, among others. So there have been modern theologians who expressed the hope that punishment will not be eternal and all would be saved. These theologians have not been condemned for holding these views, so we can certainly hope and pray that all, in accordance with God’s will, be saved.

Fr. John