Pond Scum Theology
“Pond-scum theology makes even less sense in the context of
the Gospels. To believe that people are inherently worthless to God strips the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of all their meaning and power. It makes Jesus look like a fool for dying for us, and it leaves behind his followers with little incentive to seek out and celebrate the good in one another.”
—Rachel Held Evans
Are people inherently worthless? Some Christians believe so; others do not. I would like to suggest that if ECT is true, people must be inherently worthless. Otherwise, God would never abandon those who are inherently priceless. If we are of no value outside of Christ, why would God bother giving us a conscience or a system of moral laws for which we are accountable? Inherently worthless creatures are no less worthless if they know the difference between good and evil and choose the former. If we are only of value to God if we are in Christ, what motivated him to send his Son to lay down his life for the world in the first place? We cannot be loved and worthless at the same time because love evidences inherent worth; so, too, does grace and mercy.
One of the primary doctrines of the Christian faith, or so we have been told, says that Jesus had to die in our place in order to appease the vindictive nature of the Father. We are taught that if we die before we repent of our sins and commit our lives to Jesus, then we will have to “pay” the penalty for our sins, which entails, according to prevalent presuppositions, everlasting torment with no hope of grace, mercy, or love—with a little less emphasis on a lack of love, for some reason.
Since there is apparent tension between the all-encompassing love of God and ECT’s notion of justice, many have been forced to admit that God somehow expresses love there. When I accepted this doctrine, I was never forced to wrestle with this conundrum. Until recently, many Christians could relate. However, the average churchgoer is now being held accountable much more consistently by other Christians and unbelievers alike for their theological convictions—as they should.
Many who are aware of the tension between the love of God and ECT’s portrayal of justice have been forced to claim that God expresses his love to the lost by sending them to hell, even though it is not for their better good. Since some claim that God does not send anyone to hell, but that people “choose” to go there by rejecting Jesus, I will rephrase this statement using accepted terminology: “Many who are aware of the tension between the love of God and ECT’s portrayal of justice have been forced to claim that God expresses his love to the lost by casting them into a place where they will experience unbearable agony for ever and ever and ever.”
The only means by which one can acknowledge that God expresses his love to those in hell is by claiming that he expresses his love for them by “giving them what they want,” which is, in this case, “nothing to do with him.” This suggests, however, that those who die unrepentant will never want anything to do with God even when their misconceptions are out of the way and that they prefer to suffer forever over being comforted; not to mention that postmortem judgment is, theoretically, designed to harden their hearts rather than to soften them.
Have you ever wondered how Jesus “paid” for our sins if our debt requires ECT or annihilation? He did not suffer endlessly in hell; neither was he annihilated. He was only dead for three days, after all. Did he get out on parole because of good behavior? Was endless conscious torment or annihilation not required because of his innocence? The fact of the matter is that he was guilty because he actually took on the sins of the entire world—he actually “became sin for us.”
I have often asked myself, “Why was the death of Jesus required for the remission of my sins?” I have been told a number of things. The primary evangelical response to this question pertains to our inability to pay our own sin-debt before God, regardless of the length and magnitude of the consequences. The problem with this answer is that it assumes that our worth and acceptability before God depends on whether or not we are in Christ, even though intrinsic worth is not dependent on relative conditions of the heart. In the same breath, we are told that grace has nothing to do with what we do or do not owe God. Salvation is about resting in his unmerited favor, we are told. Yet if we are unable to appease God regardless of what we experience in postmortem dungeons, what’s the point of it all? Is God chomping at the bit to exact revenge?
Christians assume that God’s “vengeance” corresponds with their particular view of postmortem judgment. The prevalent opinion on the matter presupposes ECT is indisputable since most Christians assume that it is simply what the Bible teaches. “Who are you, O man, to question God? His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.” Indeed, God’s ways and thoughts are not our ways or thoughts. They are, by far, much better. His ways and thoughts are much more loving, merciful, graceful, and just than the best of our intentions. They are altogether holier.
Skeptics are not able to buy into the popular evangelical explanation of the gospel because it is difficult to follow leaps in logic. Why would God punish us if the punishment could never suffice—for mere justice? Moreover, why would he sovereignly will any number of conscious souls into suffering of any kind if their discomfort does not redirect their ways, as is its purpose in life (disregarding the life/death sentence)?
Are we supposed to blindly accept the claim that Jesus came to temporarily suffer a permanent punishment in our place? Why was the death of Jesus required for the remission of our sins? Was it? I cannot say with certainty that it was “required,” but, as a Christian, I cannot deny that it was necessary. Why was it necessary? Now, that is the question.
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