Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hell and the character of God

Interviewer: "Is it important for the average Christian to know what happens in hell, or is this more for theologians?"

Edward Fudge: "It matters for the following reason. I’ll give you two, maybe three reasons.

First of all, it matters because when we say we are teaching the word of God, it is important for us to say what the word of God says. So just like any other subject that we teach on, if we purport to speak for God, we need to be careful and be accurate in what we are representing God as saying.

And the second place, this is particularly important for everybody because this has to do very much with the character of God, and the way people view God’s character. The big question here is that we have to ask ourselves are we supposed to think that the God who loves the world so much that he gave his only son so believers would not perish but have eternal life is going to then turn around and throw billions of them into something resembling a lake of volcanic lava and make it so they cannot die, so they will have to endure this forever. That doesn’t sound like the God that I know and see in Jesus Christ. So I believe the traditional view is a horrible scandal against the character of God himself."

This excerpt comes from a great interview with Mr. Fudge on his views about hell and conditional immortality. I will be posting the transcript under the "Edward William Fudge" column to the right in the future. He is an intellectual man that loves the Lord. He is able to make years of in-depth Bible study understandable and concise.

As for why Christians should know what the BIble says about final punishment, I'd like to add a couple ideas to the ones I heartily agree with above.

Atheists, evangelism and a rant

I have had many conversations with agnostics and atheists alike. The one argument they never fail to bring up is this idea of forever torment in hell for those who decide not to believe in God. Way back when, before I studied the subject in the Bible, I would do my best to defend the doctrine and water it down like everyone does these days. I would say, "God doesn't send anyone to hell - they choose to go there themselves." You know, those kind of cop-out statements.

Another example of this soft-pedaling arrived in my inbox from "Focus on the Family". They wrote: "At its core, hell is about being in a wrong relationship to the Source of all Love, Goodness and Life... As the writer of Hebrews puts it, "Our God is a consuming fire". We can be warmed and comforted, or we can be scorched and burned." Lord Jesus forgive me, but that is the one of the most stupid things I have ever read! I can't tell you how that makes my blood pressure rise.

What you mean is your loving Father will throw multitudes of people into a torturous lake of fire and keep them alive - without end - so that they can suffer and be conscious of their suffering for eternity - while the folks at Focus on the Family live in the eternal comfort and joy of heaven! Warmed and comforted... Scorched and burned! What a joke. They believe in this fiery torment and they can't even say it. They are embarrassed and ashamed of the traditional doctrine of hell - and they should be.

The truth is if they just look at the Bible verses they use to teach others, they will learn the nature of God's wrath and final punishment. "God is a consuming fire." Consuming. He is not a tormenting fire - His Judgment will either refine or consume.
"...Your enemies...Your foes... You will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and His fire will consume them..." - Psalm 21:8-9
"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  - Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17 (remember that 'unquenchable' means that no one can put out or resist the fire, it does not mean that the chaff will be burning forever.)
 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned." - Jesus (John 15:6)
"... a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies."  - Hebrews 10:27
Still, the wrath of God is not a pretty picture. It is heart-breaking and frightening and final. Final = eternal. However, in my opinion it is a far cry from painting our Creator as an everlasting tormentor. Complete destruction of evil and God's enemies lines up with a righteous and just Judge who will not dwell with sin.

I would venture that even the atheists could recognize the justice of the Owner cleaning His own house.

1 comment:

  1. Robert West comments on the traditional doctrine of hell:

    "God has been made so cruel, and this doctrine is so unthinkable that it has probably created more atheists, and caused more weak believers to fall away than any other false teaching. The dread of Hell has caused misery and mental anguish to countless millions and instead of the horror of hell turning many to God....many millions have been turned away from such an unjust God."

    (The Resurrection and Immortality, William Robert West, Xulon Press, 2006, p. 313. See for more info.)


I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!