Hell for Open Theists

Christians who uphold the orthodox doctrine of hell have become fair game to liberal theologians who delight in putting them on the defensive by conjuring up terrifying images where denizens of hell are tormented by ferocious hell fire. Critics of hell argue that people should not be faulted when they fail to believe an ancient book, much less should they be condemned to hell to be tortured by devices ingeniously conceived by the sadistic imagination of Christians who stubbornly cling to an archaic belief. The scenes of excessive suffering in hell only confirm the suspicion that for all their talk of love, orthodox Christians are really heartless when they are fired up by self-righteousness. Not surprisingly, hell has become repugnant to liberal theologians and only a foolhardy Christian would dare mention hell in his witness to them.

The critics add insult to injury by suggesting that orthodox Christians will be too engrossed with plucking their harps than to notice the suffering in hell below as the heavenly choir drowns the wails of tormented souls. It is evident that dreadful images of hell are intended for emotional blackmail rather than rational argumentation. It is to no avail when orthodox Christians protest that the crude images of hell are caricatures of Scriptures and orthodox doctrine.

But what if the shoe is in the other foot? What if the alternative to the orthodox doctrine of hell, or its equivalent euphemism, is no less problematic? Steve Hay throws down the gauntlet with a provocative parody of what hell is for the Open Theist. His parody of hell will certainly irk the Open Theists, but it appears consistent with the premises of Open Theism. It is logical to conclude that hell becomes an insufferable pandemonium if the god of Open Theism cannot implement specific plans since he cannot know the future with absolute certainty and has to resort to continuous improvisation as he encounters unforeseen contingent events.

To be sure, the Open Theist may dismiss Hay’s parody as misleading and unfair. But we cannot rule out the troubling possibilities captured by the parody if the future is open. The Open Theist may protest, but bite of the parody causing the discomfit is hard to ignore when the shoe is in the other foot.

Celestial Damage Control
by Steve Hay

When Gregory Boyd died, he was expecting to go to heaven. He figured he had a good shot at the second sphere, or the first sphere in a pinch, but was rudely surprised, the moment after death, to find himself in the third circle of hell.* Who assigned him to the third circle of hell? As fate would have it, his bunkmate was Clark Pinnock. Imagine Pinnock’s shock at discovering that hell really existed!

Having preceded Boyd by several years, Pinnock was up on the latest gossip about the Byzantine intricacies of the celestial bureaucracy. Rumor had it that because the God of open theism was fallible, the Book of Life was riddled with typographical errors. God was constantly blindsided by unforeseen events. He changed his mind at the drop of a hat.

As a result, many saints were accidentally consigned to hell while many hellions and demons were accidentally reassigned to heaven. The booking errors got to be so bad that the celestial curia had an office staffed with angelic proofreaders to correct errata in the Book of Life. That, however, demanded utmost diplomacy. The God of open theism was notoriously short-tempered, prone to wild mood swings. Like an omnipotent adolescent.

As a consequence, the celestial proofreaders had to be very discreet about correcting the Book of Life lest the Omnipotent fly off the handle at the insinuation of divine ineptitude. The celestial bureaucracy was backlogged with appeals from disgruntled decedents, complaining that they were assigned to the wrong room, due to typographical errors in the Book of Life. But the appellate process dragged on for centuries or millennia because celestial proofreaders had to be very artful about revising the Book of Life. They had to wait for God to be preoccupied by the latest unforeseen crisis to smuggle in corrections.

Sometimes a well-placed bribe oiled the rusty cogs and wheels of the celestial curia. Borrowing a leaf from Gen 6:2,4, well-connected decedents offered libidinous angelic proofreaders nubile models from the Sport’ Illustrated swimsuit edition in exchange for promotion in the Book of Life. Since, a la open theism, the Book of Life was written in pencil rather than ink, the proofreader with the biggest eraser acquired the largest harem. Postmortem social mobility in the Book of Life became a thriving entrepreneurial opportunity, with Tetzel** supervising the operation. When he wasn’t asleep at the switch, God sometimes skimmed the latest edition of the Book of Life, but the open theist deity was so forgetful that he didn’t notice the emendations.

Notes by NKW
* Being assigned to the third circle of hell must either be due to a typo error or an act of charity. Dante assigns heretics to the sixth circle of hell.
** Johann Tetzel was a Grand Commissioner of indulgences (forgiveness sold for a price) in pre-Reformation Europe.

Postscript: Come to think of it, heaven is no less problematic than hell for Open Theists.

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