Bad juju…

When did the church go crazy? I mean, seriously: what happened to teaching from the Bible, and just using God’s word to guide us in our walk with Christ?

 

I have spoken to several people in the last week, who have absolutely no idea how convoluted their theology is. In more than one case, these people were actually claiming the authority to teach the Word. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of statements I heard from these “Christians”:

 

  • –       In a discussion about art and censorship—whether it is appropriate to hang “artwork” with nudity or sexual themes in public buildings (specifically, libraries and city hall)—one person claimed—on “biblical authority”—that Jesus would have condemned censorship, because the Bible doesn’t teach that nudity is sinful, or that sex is something that should be kept private… or, in fact, that sex should even be between a husband and wife exclusively
  • –       A woman who claimed that Jesus changed the Law, and as a result homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle (I guess someone forgot to tell Paul and Peter)
  • –       A woman who claimed that everyone goes to heaven, regardless of their belief system, because the Bible says that God wants that “none shall perish, but that all shall be saved” (in which case, Jesus would have to feel pretty foolish about that whole “scourged and crucified” bit)
  • –       More than one person who claimed that the entire Christian religion is based on ancient pagan religions (based on the “factual” evidence provided by the History Channel)
  • –       A guy in a discussion forum who claimed that the traditional methods of reading the Bible are outdated and dangerous, because the Scripture doesn’t apply to modern issues; instead, we should take a “broader approach” in interpreting Scripture (or, in other words, we should read the entire Bible as a series of parables and morality plays, and if they don’t “fit” modern circumstances, God expects us to jettison them)

 

Disturbing. I have also—in my constant reading—come across denominations that condone—and in some cases, support—abortion, homosexuality (as opposed to homosexuals; these churches actually condone the lifestyle), sex outside the bonds of marriage, and other clearly non-Christian activities. All in the name of inclusiveness, it would seem.

 

Now, I get it, to a point, I really do. We want that everybody should be saved (the alternative is that we just want everybody to get through the doors of the church long enough to wag the offering plate under their noses, but I’m trying to think the best of people). But are we actually saving people, if we water down the Gospel of Christ and the commands of the Lord just to avoid offending someone’s sensibilities? I gotta say, “no.” Jesus wasn’t one to water down His message; I really don’t think we should be doing Him the disservice of watering it down for Him!

 

No, hard as it can be (and I know that it can be very difficult), the Good News is sometimes—usually—Bad News for people that want to embrace Christ in one arm, and the world in the other. Sometimes, we just want to avoid the “sticky bits;” we can’t do that! Now, when we’re evangelizing, the most important thing is that we present the Gospel: Jesus Christ was born; He lived a perfect and sinless life; He taught that the Kingdom of God could be reached only through faith in the Son; He was tortured, crucified, and died on the cross as propitiation for the sins of all people; and that He rose from the grave on the third day. That is the central message: Jesus died for us, you can have faith in Him, and here’s why.

 

Sometimes questions come up, though. And when those questions do arise, we need to be prepared to answer them with love and compassion, but we need also to answer them honestly and directly. Or, if you’re a complete coward, you can just tell people to read the Gospel of John, and then read 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians is a painful wake-up—I know from experience!

 

But to get back to my point: the people I mentioned above actually, wholeheartedly believed what they were saying. I have no doubt that a considerable part of that belief comes from the fact that there are elements of their old, “fleshly” life that are just really, really hard to give up. But somewhere along the line, these folks were just given bad instruction in the faith.

 

This raises a question that has bothered me for a long time, though; instead of trying so hard to get people into church once we have witnessed to them, would it be a better idea to give them some instruction on how to discover more on their own? I was half-joking about John and 1 Corinthians, but the truth is that those two books are probably clearer on the subject of salvation and right living than any other—at least from the point-of-view of a new believer. True, Corinthians might scare off a seeker; there are some pretty tough guidelines in there, and Paul is sometimes not the easiest guy to follow—but is it better for us to have faith in the Spirit to guide that person’s understanding, or to try to get that person into a church right away? Certainly, the ideal would be to do both, but how many times have you invited someone to church, only to have them say, “Um, I’m gonna think about it. No, really, I will! I just need time to figure out if that’s really my thing…”

 

I don’t know; it’s an open question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, have a blessed (and safe!) weekend, and a very happy New Year. God bless all the brothers and sisters, and to Him be the Glory!

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Bethlehem

Bethlehem as it appeared in 1882

Bethlehem as it appeared in 1882

Bethlehem of Judah (to be distinguished from Bethlehem of Galilee) is located approximately 6 miles southwest of Jerusalem, in the southern portion of the Judean Mountains. The name, “Bethlehem,” or in Hebrew, “Bet Lehem,” translates literally to mean, “House of Bread.” It is situated at approximately 2,543 feet above mean sea level.

The climate of Bethlehem is typically Mediterranean, with dry summers with temperatures into the low- to mid-eighties, and cold damp winters, with temperatures getting as low as the mid-thirties. Average annual rainfall is 28 inches.

In 338 C.E., Helena (mother of the Emperor Constantine) had a church built over the grotto that is traditionally held to be the birthplace of Jesus. Christian tradition affirming the site to be the birthplace of Christ goes back to at least the Second Century, when Justin Martyr identified “a cave outside of the town” as the birthplace of Jesus; in the Third Century, Origen of Alexandria claimed that the townspeople had pointed out the specific location of the Nativity.

TSbtfran

Modern view of the grotto traditionally held to be the site of Christ's birth

Modern view of the grotto traditionally held to be the site of Christ’s birth

View of the traditional site within the grotto, where Jesus was born

View of the traditional site within the grotto, where Jesus was born

The town itself was bitterly contested during the period of the Crusades, from its initial capture by Crusaders in 1100, until the final defeat of the Crusaders and their expulsion from Palestine in 1291.

And Rachel died, and was buried in Eph’rath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

Genesis 35:19, 20

As the traditional place of Rachel’s burial (in addition to being the birthplace of Jesus), Bethlehem is also sacred to Jews and Moslems, who make regular pilgrimages to the site of Rachel’s tomb.

In modern times, the traditional claims for Bethlehem of Judah being the place of Christ’s birth has become the subject of scholarly dispute, with some scholars claiming that there is no historical or archaeological case to support the claims. These scholars claim that Scripture is not to be taken literally, but rather that the use of Bethlehem of Judah was used as a sort of literary device in the narrative of Christ’s birth. Others make the claim that the Gospel writers used the location in order to bolster claims of fulfilled prophecy, and yet another school of reasoning holds that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at all, but rather in Nazareth.

However, most of these scholars disavow any scriptural references that contain supernatural implications, such as fulfilled prophecy; it is also worth noting that other claims made by certain groups of historians could not hold up unless the traditional location of Jesus’s birth is disqualified. For instance, there are claims by many of the biographers of Herod, who state that the “Slaughter of the Innocents”—the massacre of all infant males in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth—never actually happened, which would validate the claim that the Gospel authors resorted to some creative license in their record of the Nativity. Given the insignificance of the town in Herod’s day, the fact that there was no method for news to travel quickly, and the general ruthlessness that characterized the reign of Herod (who murdered three of his own sons in a bid to retain power), these claims are at best speculative, and at worst specious.

Proud to be Humble.

I think I’ve noticed a bit of a recurring undercurrent in a number of my threads, lately. Pride seems to be coming up quite often.

It makes sense. I have a real problem with this one; not only is it the root of all other sin, but I actually have a problem with the bald, naked sin of pride itself. My guess is that the Spirit has been leading me to confront it directly; I have to do that from time to time, and I think I’m probably past due.

When I first got straight with Jesus, I spent a lot of time reading commentaries and the like, trying to get every last ounce of meaning that I could from Scripture. I also flailed around, reading different books about various Christian virtues and values and theologies. I hadn’t found a church, yet—or, rather, I hadn’t come home to Bethel, yet—so I was kinda flying blind in a snowstorm. One book that I found helpful, though (there were a lot of books that weren’t helpful at all, and more than one that actually wound up in the round file), was Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney. It’s a quick little read, not at all difficult to understand, but it is definitely an eye-opener.

After reading it, I had a better understanding of how damaging pride is, how insidious it is, and—most importantly—how to get loose of its grip. The following list is adapted from C.J. Mahaney’s.

  1. Start your day by acknowledging your need for and dependence on God. For some of us, it requires an act of divine grace just to roll to the edge of the mattress and slide off the edge feet-first; for everyone else, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to remember to do this.
  2. Start the day by giving thanks to God. I’m usually thankful that the previous maneuver (rolling out of bed) doesn’t culminate in a face plant into the rug. Usually.
  3. Be spiritually disciplined.

    a. Pray! Do it all day long. Have a running conversation with the Lord. He’s right there, all day long—what are you gonna do, ignore Him? That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?

    b. Study His Word! Seeking meaning in Scripture reinforces our recognition of our dependence on God, and helps us in our daily walk-and-talk with Him.

    c. Worship! This goes along with “a” and “b”, but it goes much further, as well. Acknowledge how awesome God is, every chance you get (a good friend of mine is in the habit of saying, “God is wicked awesome, dude. Wicked awesome.”) See a cool cloud formation? Give praise for the artistry of His creation. Enjoying that crisp autumn air? Thank Him for the season. Just washed your car and drove under a flock of pigeons unscathed? Head directly to your nearest house of worship and immediately break into song.

 

If you commute, what are you doing with that time? Are you using it constructively? If not, maybe you could take the opportunity to catch up on God’s Word while you drive into work, or home again (jiggety jig!). I hear that they’re even putting the Bible on CD these days! Technology—who knew?

  1. Quit sweating the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff.

 

“Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:3,4)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6,7; emphasis mine)

  1. Every night before bed, acknowledge all that the Lord has done for you and through you, that day. Give Him the glory for all of your successes, acknowledge your fault in all of your failures, and be reminded that we have and do nothing absent His grace—even the act of breathing is a gift from God!
  2. And finally (and a lot of readers are gonna like this one): sleep! Remember that sleep is one of our most precious and important blessings. It renews and refreshes us (better than Irish Spring, even!), recharges our minds and energizes our bodies. (At least, it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, there may be some lifestyle issues involved. I’m not judging, I’m just sayin’.)

When you lay down to sleep, remember to thank God for this awesome gift that most of us get to experience every day. On warm summer Sundays—if looking around at the congregation is any indicator—sometimes more than once a day. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Summertime is when I have the most eye trouble, so I have to pay special attention to the insides of my eyelids.)

Well, that’s it: the primer on keeping ourselves humble! On a more serious note, I really need to practice what I’m preaching here, because trust me: this stuff takes discipline to do it every single day. But I speak from experience when I say that it is helpful—and effective, as long as you continue to practice it. So I’m going to recommit to doing these things every day. Starting with #6.

(Okay, #5. Yeesh.)

The Gospel and Harold Speed

”… New facts are but the addition of new instruments to the orchestra with which the artist creates his symphonies. They increase the range of possibilities open to him and enlarge the scope of his work. But they immensely increase the difficulties of composition, and… become so intricate and engrossing that they are apt to occupy the whole of his attention… The orchestration becomes the subject of the symphony, instead of its means of expression. The point is reached when the instruments of expression are too difficult to be controlled… and themselves begin to control the work.”

 

~Harold Speed, Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

So today’s article will be mostly targeted at folks that are fairly new to their faith. You should know that what I’m writing about, I write from intimate personal experience; struggling with finding a balance between what God expects me to do, and what I want to do for God, has been a serious and very real challenge for me since I came to Christ.

On the one hand, I want to do everything I can for the Lord. I went through a period in which I tried to do everything that I thought would please Him, with the result that I wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a little bit of time to realize that the Holy Spirit had endowed me with certain spiritual gifts for a reason; that reason was to focus on the specific tasks that God knows I am best suited for. For instance, public speaking is probably not my forte’.

On the other hand, I have these spiritual gifts, and I want to use them constantly. The trick is to find that balance. Jesus, in the parable of the soils, talks about believers who fall into this category. He tells of those who “fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil,” and as a result they immediately sprang up, because they had no “depth of soil.” But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and having “no root, they withered away.” (Matt. 13:5, 6)

My son calls people like this, “try-hards.” What it amounts to is that we get so wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment that we forget to root ourselves before we start trying to branch out. Getting back to the art metaphors, “Do far less with your brush, and much more with your head at first.”

When I first got saved, I remember becoming fascinated with apologetics (I still am). I thought, “Oh, awesome! I can argue and be a good Christian? This is wicked cool!” The only problem with this was that I was learning the arguments before I learned the reason for the arguments. As a result, there were a couple of occasions where I fear that my arguments did more harm, than good; not having a firm foundation in the spirit of the argument, I let the argument itself become the point of the discussion. I regret to say that the two people that I am thinking of in this example have probably become even more entrenched in their resistance to Christ, as a result.

God, in His perfect wisdom, used this as a lesson to me. He has also put people in my life who have an almost eerie tendency to say exactly the right thing at the exact moment that I need to hear it; in this case, the lesson was reinforced when one of these people suggested that sometimes we get so busy doing for God that we forget about God. Yikes.

So, I backed up, and started reading more Scripture. I got into the Word about spiritual gifts, and at just about exactly the moment that I start wondering, “Well, what the heck is my gift? And how do I find out?” Pastor Reggie gave a sermon on—yup—spiritual gifts. Double yikes. Twice in ten days. Like I said—eerie.

Here was the information that I needed! After a couple of false starts—the direction in general was the right one, but it was the wrong path, both times—I finally found a couple of things that I could do for the Lord without having to compromise the quality of my work for Him. One of them, obviously, is this blog; the best part of this for me, in a spiritual sense, is that where I might get lazy about reading Scripture the way I should, writing this forces me to stick my nose in the Word pretty much daily so that I can be sure that what I’m writing is true to Scripture. It works great—I get to work for the Lord, I get to do that work by doing something I enjoy, and it actually forces me to grow spiritually! Awesome!

Of course, I try to do everything with God foremost in my mind. It wouldn’t do if this blog were the only thing that I dedicated to Him, so no matter what I do now I try to do it in a way that I know would be pleasing to Him, and with the knowledge that if it weren’t for His blessing I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. But by just listening to the Spirit, I was led to the right outlet for my gifts—and my weaknesses.

“Everyone stumbles upon some methods that suit his particular temperament.” Experienced painters say that it is more important to focus on the foundational basics of the craft, than to focus on style. The problem is that most beginning painters get wrapped around the axle trying to be unique in their own way, rather than learning how to paint and letting style come about as a natural extension of their growth as artists. As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same mistake. We get a taste of how great it is to be saved, and we want to just run out and start “being saved,” rather than building on that first stone and letting the building take shape as God intended. The result is that we get tired, frustrated and lost—which is what the Devil would love for us to do. “It’s better to burn out, than fade away,” as the song goes (yes, I’m dating myself, hush, you) but as Christians, this isn’t what we want to do. We want to finish the race, and finish strong. Just listen for God’s instruction, and take your time. He knows how best to use us, so stay out of His way, let yourself be attentive to His voice, and realize that what He wants us to do will be to His glory, and to our benefit.

God bless us all, and I’ll talk to you again on Tuesday!

Response to Glenn (annihilationist)

Ah, see, now I’m having fun. Nothing like spending 6 hours manually fact-checking an ancient language. Then again, some folks have accused me of having wayyyyy too much time on my hands.

Sorry I’m late again, though. All this research is time-consuming.

Before I get started: I’ve had some very kind and encouraging comments come in since I closed the “Annihilationism and Universalism” thread to further discussion. I’ve also had some pretty snarky ones. I greatly appreciate the former, and I thank those responsible for the latter (I needed a good giggle– it’s been a long week).

Now, on to the grist…

Glenn

Consider that the verb for “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 is apollumi. That’s what God will do to body and soul in gehenna. Now, consider the fact that every other time the synoptic authors use that word to describe the actions of one person or agent against another, it always refers to literal killing.

Take care of the fallacy of trying to crack open a word’s widest possible semantic range so that you can select a meaning that conforms to your theology. What you need to ask is not “What is this word capable of meaning,” but rather “given the evidence that we have from this author, what is this word’s likely meaning here?” Hope this helps.

This was addressed obliquely in my responses to Tom McLean, but since the question here takes a slightly different tack, I’d like to address it again. McLean’s first mistake was to ignore the word, “death,” as used in ancient Hebrew, until he able to find a use of the word that supported his view of what he argued was “meaning derived from ‘first use’.” He claimed that the “first use” was in Genesis 21:16, whereas the actual “first use” is in Genesis 2:17! As I said of Matthew 10:28 to Mr. McLean:

However, in the original text, Christ uses two different words for “death” within the same verse:  And do not fear those who kill (apokteino) the body, but are unable to kill (apokteino) the soul; but rather fear Him who has the power to destroy (apollumi) both body and soul in hell.” It doesn’t stand that Christ would use the separate words—each of which carries its own connotations—unless He meant to make the distinction.

So while your advice on, “trying to crack open a word’s widest possible meaning,” is spot-on, you fail to take your own advice by either ignoring the context, or by taking it for granted that what someone else told you is correct. In Matthew 10:28, the context mitigates against the annihilationist argument—not for it.

You’re also making a very large mistake by saying that the word, “apollumi,” is only used in reference to literal killing in the synoptics.

The word, “apollumi,” more properly rendered, “perish,” is the middle voice of the Greek “apolo,” which is variously rendered as “destroy (the most frequent usage), “abolish” (as in Matthew 5:17), and “to kill” (Matthew 21:41). The synoptic authors use it to describe amputation (Matthew 5:29, 30), dying (Matthew 8:25, Mark 4:38 Luke 8:24) [metaphorically] of hunger (Luke 15:17); broken wineskins (Matthew 9:17); being lost (Matthew 18:14); being damaged (Luke 21:18) and being killed (Matthew 26:52).

Greek words used in the New Testament to render “destroy” or synonyms of “destroy” include:

–       apolo: destroy, destroyed, destroyeth, destroyest (29 times)

–       apoleia: destruction (4 times)

–       thanatos: death (44 times)

–       nekros (noun) or necroo (verb form): dead (65 times)

–       variations of “die” (13 times):

o      thnesko (to die, be dead)

o      apothnesko (to die off, die out)

o      sunapothnesko (to die with, die together)

o      teleutao (to end [as in one’s life])

o      koimao (to fall asleep)

o      apoginomai (to be away from)

–       Variations on the word, “kill” (55 times):

o      apokteino (to kill)

o      anaireo (to kill, not used metaphorically)

o      thuo (offer firstfruits, sacrifice by slaying a victim)

o      phoreuo (to murder)

o      thanatoo (to put to death)

o      diacheirizo (to lay hands on with intent to kill)

o      sphazo (to slay, slaughter, esp. for sacrificial purposes)

–       variations on “perish” (18 times)

o      apollumi: perish (middle voice of “to destroy”)

o      sunapollumi: to perish together

o      apothnesko: perished

o      aphanizo: make unseen

–       chorizo: to put asunder

–       phoneus: murder (6 times)

–       anthropoktonos: murderer (5 times)

(counts apply only to the Synoptic Gospels, and Acts)

So you see, it isn’t as easy as picking up your handy NIV and counting how many times a word appears, and then applying the same meaning to the word every time it appears in English. Unless you go back and check it in the original Greek (as I did, for every one of these examples), you have no idea what you’re really arguing. So when you say, “What you need to ask is not ‘What is this word capable of meaning,’ but rather ‘given the evidence that we have from this author, what is this word’s likely meaning here?’” it might be a help if (paraphrasing a certain amazing and omniscient Teacher I know) you get the log out of your own eye, before you try to take the speck out of mine.

Be blessed, everyone! See you Monday (ish)!

 

EDIT: I knew there was something I was forgetting to add… in the process of checking all of these various words and phrases, I thought that– in the interest of fairness– I would see how many times the Bible uses the words, “annihilate,” and/or, “annihilation.”

In both the Old and New Testaments, the number was: 0.

 

That is all. See you Monday!

Annihilationism and Universalism

Today we’re going to run through annihilationism and universalism. I had previously intended to do a full evaluation of each of these doctrines, but they are both heretical doctrines that have no founding in Scripture. I think we are all better served as long as I can inform as to what to be on the lookout for.

Annihilationism: Annihilationism (sometimes also called conditional immortality) is the idea that when a non-believer dies, their soul, rather than suffering an eternity of torment in Hell, is simply snuffed out of existence. Most annihilationists believe that there is an actual Hell, but they deny that its punishments are eternal; rather, they say that Hell is a giant incinerator, where the souls of the wicked are consumed and utterly destroyed. Others hold that there is no intermediate state (that of a disembodied soul) after death; the souls of the wicked simply cease to exist when the body dies (similar to the view of death held by atheists).

The annihilationist view has been embraced by such evangelical leaders as John Wenham, John Stott, Basil F.C. Atkinson, and Edward Fudge. (It is also noteworthy that annihilationism is a doctrinal teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness, the Socinian heretics, and materialists.)

Annihilationists use various biblical verses to justify their claims. Rather than list them here, I will simply comment that in reading through the annihilationist’s claims it becomes increasingly clear that their arguments boil down to theological hair-splitting. Even those passages that can be seen as somewhat ambiguous—and therefore supportive of annihilationist views (and they are precious few)– cannot be held up in light of the rest of Scripture as supportive of the doctrine of conditional immortality.

The biggest problem with the annihilationist view, however, is that it attempts to elevate itself to a moral high ground above that upon which sits the Word of God. Take the following quote, from annihilationist supporter Clark Pinnock:

Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die. How is one to worship such a cruel and merciless God?

In response to this comment, Millard J. Erickson said, “… he had better be very certain he is correct. For if he is wrong, he is guilty of blasphemy.”

Universalism: Universalism is the belief that all people—saved and un-saved alike—will be redeemed at some point. The un-saved will spend their intermediate state in Hell, where God will essentially “turn the screws” on them until they finally get the message, repent, and accept Christ. There are other flavors of this doctrine—including one espoused by John Hick—maintaining that “all roads lead to God” (a theology known as religious pluralism).

The foundational belief of universalism is that God’s plan of salvation cannot be completed until all men are saved; as a result, temporal death does not represent the end of a person’s chances to repent. In other words, Hell (if it exists at all) is really nothing more than a dungeon of God’s Divine Inquisition, into which the unrepentant are thrown and tortured (!) until they recant. Again, this belief stems from non-biblical sources and pre-conceived notions of the nature of God, which are then read into the texts, rather than read out of them. Pluralism even goes so far as to incorporate teachings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. These ideas, again, presuppose that the human idea of mercy, love, and God’s Divine Nature are more moral than the clear teachings of Scripture.

The dangers of these teachings (annihilationism and universalism) are many, but it could be argued that the greatest of these dangers (to the human spirit) is that by teaching these false doctrines, many theologians are giving people a “get out of jail free” card to commit sin. In the case of annihilationism, the concept is, ”Well, if I sin too much, and I don’t accept Jesus before I die, then I’ll just take a forever dirt nap.” For universalism, the argument is, “If I sin too much, and I don’t accept Jesus before I die, the Big Guy will give me another chance. I’ll just recant before they get the oven doors opened!”

If we were to ignore all other teachings of the Scripture, Hebrews 9:27 defeats both views: “And inasmuch as it was appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (NASB, emphasis mine).

Those interested in further reading on this subject can find excellent information in the following:

–       Norman Giesler, Systematic Theology, Chapter 81: Annihilationism

–       Cristopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (editors), Hell Under Fire (this is a collection of essays written by leading fundamentalists theologians, defending the orthodox Christian view of Hell)

–       Robert A. Peterson, Hell On Trial

 

And that’s it for today’s post! See you Monday, folks! Have a blessed weekend!

Objections to the Existence of Hell (Part 1)

Hello again, friends! Having discussed the nature of Hell, today we are going to answer some of the objections to the existence of Hell.

A lot of what we talk about today is covered in much greater detail in Norman Giesler’s Systematic Theology, 2011 Edition. I will also be borrowing from H.C. Thiessen (Lectures in Systematic Theology, 1977 Ed.) and various other sources. So let’s jump right in… figuratively speaking, of course!

Objection #1: How can a loving God send people to Hell?

First of all: God does not send anyone to Hell. People choose to go there by rejecting the opportunity to have a relationship with Him through His son, Jesus Christ. Without having a relationship with Christ, we have no justification to live in His Father’s house. Would you let a complete stranger move in with your family?

God knows us all as His creation, but He only knows those that have been born again in Christ as His children. Matthew 7:21 says: “[Jesus said] Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (NIV). And in Ephesians, we are told, “He [God] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,” (Eph. 1:5, NASB).

Second, it doesn’t make sense to suppose that God’s love doesn’t allow for some suffering. It is a fact that this present world is full of suffering, even for the righteous. It is no more reasonable to assume that God is not loving because of Hell, than to assume that a mother does not love her child because she sends him to bed early without television for telling a lie.

Third, God must allow for the wicked to go to Hell. Not to do so would be to allow His Mercy to overcome His Justice; since God is perfect in every way, it follows that none of His aspects can be inconsistent with others.

Fourth: it isn’t like He hasn’t given everyone a chance to avoid Hell, folks. He has loved all of us (John 3:16), He sent His son to die for our sins (1 John 2:2), and sent The Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and guide us into righteousness (John 16:7-11). Without robbing us of our free will, God cannot force us to love and honor Him, and He loves us too much to do that.

Objection #2: How can temporal sin in this life justify eternal punishment in the next?

The only fitting punishment for transgressions against an eternal God is eternal punishment. As Jonathan Edwards said, “the heinousness of any crime must be gauged against the worth of the person it is committed against.” Also, the only alternatives to Hell would contradict God’s Perfect Nature: by robbing people of their free choice to reject Heaven (by rejecting Christ) and forcing them into Heaven, or by snuffing them entirely out of existence. Finally, there’s this: the unsaved didn’t want anything to do with God in this life; what reason do we have to believe that they would want anything to do with Him in the next?

Objection #3: Why send people to Hell? Why not just reform them for Heaven?

God does try to reform people for Heaven. That time of reformation is called, “life.” “[The Lord]… is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and, “Man is destined to die once, and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Objection #4: If all people are born with a sinful nature, isn’t it unjust to send them to Hell for doing what they were pre-programmed to do?

We are not “pre-programmed” to do anything; as Augustine said, man is born with “the propensity to sin, but not the necessity to sin.” We all sin because we choose to sin, not because we have to sin. In addition to that, it’s actually really, really easy to avoid Hell: repent. God has made the invitation as clear as He possibly can. Even the pagan who has never heard the Gospel has no excuse (Romans 2:18-23).

In order to keep this from turning into something that would have Tolstoy rolling over in his grave, I’m going to save the rest of this section for Thursday’s blog. In the meantime, have a blessed week, and do something good for God every day!