Reviewing Lee Salisbury’s “Eternal Punishment – Is It Really of God?”: God’s Nature Is Maligned

It is an easy thing for me to admit an absence of an original thought. I have not had one in several years, perhaps I’ve never had one.

I ask God to put me in places that will help me learn about His Truth. There are literally hundreds, even thousands of documents, essays and books written by men with serious theological backgrounds. There are doctors of theology from schools with the highest credentials who have written dissertations proving clearly that God does not intend any of His creation to be punished in hell for eternity. There are Laymen who have spent years in study to prove there is no such thing as eternal punishment.

By the grace of God I have been saved. By His grace I am led to tell anyone who will take the time to listen for God’s still voice that His love for His creation is wholly complete.

I will not attempt to reinvent the wheel in these chapters. Rather I’ll comment and editorialize on some of the many resources available as they pertain to eternal punishment, the concept of an eternal hell, God’s all encompassing love, His mercy and more. I’ll give credit and Internet links for the information used.

I have met none of these men face to face. Many are deceased and their spirits are in heaven experiencing the love they write about. Some appear to have turned away from their first love and now advocate a worldly lifestyle. All have written long expressions of God’s intent to reconcile all of His creation with Himself.

Lee Salisbury wrote an article he titled “Eternal Punishment: Is It Really of God?” I do not know much about Mr. Salisbury. His article can be found here.

Mr. Salisbury examines five points challenging the concept of eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is a doctrine held by most orthodox Christian churches and seminaries. Many orthodox Pastors, preachers, elders and teachers reveal their interpretation of God’s righteous judgment for the unbeliever as an eternal torturous agony.

Mr. Salisbury writes:

THE CONCEPT OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT though considered by many to be orthodox Christian doctrine, must be Challenged and indeed refuted. Some of its destructive implications are:

  • The character of God is maligned.
  • The devil is exalted and Jesus Christ is made a failure.
  • Numerous plain statements of scripture are contradicted.
  • Teachings of some of the most respected church fathers are contradicted.
  • Like a corrupt tree, it brings forth evil fruit

It is my hope that when you, dear reader, have completed your review of Mr. Salisbury’s work and my editorial comments your personal theology, if not changed, will recognize the eternal punishment of the unbeliever is not a doctrine you can fully support.

God’s Nature Maligned

In this first essay I’ll examine Mr. Salisbury’s contention that traditional orthodoxy regarding eternal punishment maligns the character of God.

I believe there is common agreement that God’s nature is first and foremost love.

1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, we should be loving one another, for love is of God, and everyone who is loving God is begotten of God, and knows God.  He who is not loving knew not God, for God is love.  In this was manifested the love of God among us, that God has dispatched His only-begotten Son into the world that we should be living through Him.  In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loves us, and dispatches His son, a propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins.

Beloved, if thus God loves us, we also ought to be loving one another.  No one has ever gazed upon God. If we should be loving one another, God is remaining in us, and His love is perfected in us.  In this we know that we are remaining in Him, and He in us, for He has given us of His spirit.  And we have gazed upon Him, and are testifying that the Father has dispatched the Son, the Saviour of the world.  Whoever should be avowing that Jesus is the Son of God, God is remaining in him, and he in God.

And we know and believe the love which God has in us. God is love, and he who is remaining in love is remaining in God, and God is remaining in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judging, seeing that, according as He is, so are we also in this world.

We are loving God, for He first loves us. If anyone should be saying that “I am loving God,” and should be hating his brother, he is a liar; for he who is not loving his brother whom he has seen can not be loving God Whom he has not seen. And this precept have we from Him, that he who is loving God may be loving his brother also.

There is much that can be made of this chapter from God’s Holy Word. First without doubt is the precept that God is love. We, as believers, should at minimum love all other believers with the kind of love that the Father has for us. His love is an agape love. We should always pray for others, even those who may not know Him. We should always have their interests above our own. After all the Father set aside His best interest when He first created each of us and when He gave the life of His Son, Christ Jesus, for the atonement for the sins of the world.

Scholars often conclude from verses of this chapter that God only loves those who believe in Christ Jesus. But is that the truth?

God’s love is pure. His love is not tainted with fleshly concerns.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, is kind. Love is not jealous. Love is not bragging, is not puffed up,  is not indecent, is not self-seeking, is not incensed, is not taking account of evil,  is not rejoicing in injustice, yet is rejoicing together with the truth,  is forgoing all, is believing all, is expecting all, is enduring all.  Love is never lapsing: yet, whether prophecies, they will be discarded, or languages, they will cease, or knowledge, it will be discarded.

Paul, by the hand of God’s Spirit, provides us the definition of love. Is this definition of love for mankind alone? Does God put upon His creation expectations that He does not fulfill? I believe this definition is the nature of God’s love for His creation.

Please do not be too quick to eschew my reasoning. God knew when He created each of us that we would fall from His expectation for us.

1 Peter 1:17-25
And if you are invoking the Father, Who is judging impartially according to each one’s work, you may behave, for the time of your sojourn, with fear, being aware that not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, were you ransomed from your vain behavior, handed down by tradition from the fathers,  but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a flawless and unspotted lamb, foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world, yet manifested in the last times because of you, who through Him are believing in God, Who rouses Him from among the dead and is giving Him glory, so that your faith and expectation is to be in God.

God judges each of us because we are fallen. The Father knew that each of us would be unable to meet His expectation of righteous love. It was known to the Father and to the Son that the Son’s lifeblood would be the only way to restore His creation to Himself. God knew you and I would fail Him. He knew Adam and every other man since him would fail Him.

It is alarming to me that we know that the Father knows we will fail, yet we build doctrines that include only us and not another. Augustinians (Calvinists) are convinced and are steadily convincing others that God has chosen them, but by default He does not choose others. Fundamentalist evangelicals teach that God chose them to receive eternal life and that God chose others for eternal torment.  Arminians argue they have by their will chosen to believe the Gospel of Christ and only they are spared eternal punishment.

Mr. Salisbury writes:

Statisticians tell us that over the past 6,000 years approximately 160 billion people have lived on the earth. The doctrine of “eternal punishment” declares that all who do not believe on Jesus Christ while in their mortal bodies spend eternity in an inescapable, unending hell. If 10% of the earth’s people believed on Jesus Christ then the remaining 144 billion must consequently spend eternity being punished. This would mean that God’s purpose in creation was eternal punishment for some 144 billion people! Apart from any knowledge of the grace and mercy of God we could hardly say this reflects a God of justice. Having a higher revelation of God’s “agape” love, can we now accept this doctrine as being consistent with a God of love?

Gary Beauchemin, Hope Beyond Hell, introduces this concept in this way:

Picture yourself as a missionary to the Muslim nation of Senegal, West Africa. The date? September 26, 2002. About a year prior, you befriended your neighbor, Abdou Ndieye, a Muslim merchant. Only a few weeks ago, he graciously accepted your invitation to study the Bible with you. You are thrilled. Abdou is the first Muslim with whom you have begun sharing the Good News.

Today you prepare to explore another portion of God‘s Word with him, but something terrible has happened. You cannot believe what you are hearing and seeing on the news. The Joola, a Senegalese ferry, has capsized killing almost 2,000 people. You remember that Abdou‘s wife, Astou, and his 14-year-old daughter, Fatou, are on that ship. You are in shock and cannot believe what you are seeing—a ship‘s underside sticking up out of the sea with helicopters hovering overhead. You hurry next door. As you knock on the door, you hear deep groans and wailing. You slowly enter. Abdou is prostrate on the floor. He pleads before Yalla (Wolof for Allah), ―Why? Why? How could you let this happen?‖ He goes into spasms of weeping, beating his hands against the floor.

Feeling utterly helpless, you pray, ―God help me comfort my friend.

Abdou lifts his eyes, hardly able to recognize you for the tears. ―My wife and daughter have died a terrible death! Tell me I will see them again; tell me they are safe in God‘s arms! Has your Jesus taken them to His heaven? You are lost for words. The silence is deafening.

“―Answer me, Christian, will I see them again? Are they in a better place? Tell me!”

You remain speechless. What can you say? Where is the ―Good News when you need it most?

This is a true story. When I first read the testimony my heart sank. On one hand God is working with a Christian man to persuade an unbeliever of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Then tragedy strikes and the unbeliever’s beloved are lost to an accident. “Oh Father!” my heart cried. “If the man only had a little more time he might have led his friend, his wife and their child to believe in Your Son.”

It’s striking that we can believe God is so loving that He will reach out to one man to save Him and deliberately ignore another. This is the doctrine of predestination espoused by those who follow Augustine and Calvin. This kind of theology strikes me as cruel.

It is this kind of testimony that leads me to challenge eternal punishment and to take up the doctrine of universal reconciliation.

In his book, Hope Beyond Hell, Mr. Beauchemin cites a testimony from Gary Amirault. Mr. Amirault is a studied and learned man who has dedicated much time and energy to demonstrate God’s unending love and His immeasurable mercy. Mr. Amirault’s testimony is introduced by Mr. Beauchemin:

A STORY OF ANGUISH, STRUGGLE, AND HOPE

I would like to introduce you to my dear friends, Gary and Michelle Amirault. They have known the Blessed Hope for many years. They call it the ―Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ!‖

I remember when living in Africa how their website greatly helped me. Their faith, love, and commitment to Christ inspire me. A couple of months ago I called Gary and stumbled into a very critical and heart wrenching moment in their lives. Michelle and Gary had just received news of their son‘s death. I was shocked and lost for words. It was totally unexpected. Gary wept on the phone. All I could do was pray from the depth of my heart. I asked Gary to share his testimony:

―As Gerry (Beauchemin) shared with you, I have just recently lost my son. The grief of losing a son at only 35 cut much deeper than I ever would have imagined – even knowing he is in a better place.

Gerry shared with me an email he received from a mother who had just lost her son to suicide. She was so thankful that she knew the God of the Blessed Hope. Otherwise, she would have tried to drown her agony in drugs and alcohol.

I cannot begin to imagine what our grief would be like if we believed Scott was being tormented forever in some hell because he failed God. It would be unbearable. We are also so grateful to know that our deceased parents are secure in Christ‘s love. They were not ‘born again‘ when they died. Nothing, not even death, can stop Jesus from drawing people to Himself!

―Please take a moment to think about this: What would life be like if you thought your child was in agony and suffering for all eternity with no possible hope of escape? How would you cope? How many millions have known such anguish? According to many churches Scott would be in hell right now. How could we remain sane if we believed this? His death has given us much more compassion for the billions who have lost loved ones.

―I came to understand God‘s unfailing love for all in a rather unusual manner. God showed me that Jesus was the Savior of all at the beginning of my conversion. He did so in three ways:

1. He let me walk in perfect love for three days. I couldn‘t hate anyone on earth; this was His love, not mine.

2. He showed me a vision of all people dipped into darkness for a season but eventually restored to Him after learning valuable lessons.

3. I had a deep hunger for studying the Bible.

―The Holy Spirit illuminated many texts revealing that all humanity would be saved through the Cross of Christ. It was so easy to share Christ in those days! The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out like rivers of living water. Sharing the gospel was as natural as breathing.

―When one pastor learned I was teaching God‘s unfailing love for all, He rebuked me. He said God hated sin and those who committed it, for God was Holy; only those born again and living a holy life escaped hell. So I went to several other pastors to get their opinion. They were all in basic agreement. Those not ‘born again‘ go to hell forever. Some said it was a place of conscious separation from God and the fire is not literal. Others said the fire was literal and that God does not send people there; they send themselves by rejecting Christ. I was told that to disagree with the majority view would be a sign of a rebellious spirit, so I yielded. Little did I know that in that decision I submitted to the ‘traditions of men which made God‘s word of no effect.’ This snuffed out the love, light, and liberty I had in Christ.

―I lived like this for several years until I got fed up with the hypocrisy of it all. I saw atheists as better off than ‘hell fire‘ believing Christians. I finally prayed, ‘God, take my life.’ On that same day, He put in my hands a series of booklets by J. Preston Eby. Eby explained how hell crept into the church and Bible translations. He quoted early church fathers who taught the salvation of all and showed how the mistranslation of a few Hebrew and Greek words distorted God‘s character and plan to redeem the world. I soon found Bible translations that did not have the word ‘hell’ in them. I also found reference works confirming that the original languages of the Bible did not contain the concept of everlasting punishment. During that time, the Holy Spirit reminded me how He had showed me this at the very beginning.

―How powerful and blinding are man‘s traditions which Jesus warned about. They make the word of God of no effect (Matt. 15:6-9). I was living proof! It has taken me many years to break off tradition‘s chains. I am not completely free yet, but the light of the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ is shining brighter in my heart.

―Paul wrote: What if some [like my parents] did not believe and were without faith? Do their lack of faith and their faithlessness nullify and make ineffective and void the faithfulness of God and His fidelity [to His Word]? By no means!‘ (Ro. 3:3, 4, Amplified). God is faithful towards everyone, including His faithless chosen and elect who do not believe His redemptive promises for all people (such as their enemies)!

―Thank you, Father, for giving me the assurance that my parents will be drawn to Jesus – that Scott is now at rest with You, and I can once again give hope to every person I meet. Jesus is indeed the Savior of all humanity! That‘s news good enough to tell everyone! – Gary Amirault.

Mr. Amirault’s testimony is inspiring to be sure. There are millions upon millions of mothers and fathers who believe, yet raised children who have died in unbelief. Mr. Amirault’s testimony about the unfailing love of the Father for His creation gives them a blessed hope.

Mr. Salisbury reports:

Yes, our holy and just God does require accountability of man to Himself and does punish man for his sin and rebellion. But, if the punishment is unending then what purpose does it serve? Such behavior by an earthly father would be considered sadism. Is our heavenly Father’s love and punishment to be degraded to the level of such an earthly father? No, for though man may fail, God’s love never fails. (For if) It did, He would deny Himself.

I have been introduced to hundreds of good people in the course of a ministry the Lord has given to me. Almost all believe that unbelievers will be eternally tormented. The strong majority of those, if not all, will declare that God is love and His mercies are limitless. Sadly, they will also declare that God will torment the majority of His creation in a fiery pit. Some of these good people have family members; fathers, mothers, or children who have died without confessing Christ Jesus as their Savior. I cannot imagine their sorrow.

God is love. He commands us to love even, especially, those who hate us. Would He do less than He has commanded of us?

About Jim Barnes

A man seeking to please the Lord. A man striving to abide in Christ Jesus. A man whose hope is to see just one more come into the fold.
This entry was posted in Lee Salisbury - Eternal Punishment: Is It Really Of God, Reconciliation Of All. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reviewing Lee Salisbury’s “Eternal Punishment – Is It Really of God?”: God’s Nature Is Maligned

  1. Does this mean the that heaven is not eternal either?

    Like

    • Jim Barnes says:

      We have every reason to believe in a life forever with the King. I believe I am living in the Kingdom of God now.

      I only argue the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment” is not reasonable. It is a doctrine that deserves the greatest scrutiny.

      Thank you so much for reading the essay.

      Like

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