Increase Not Decrease: Examining John 3:30

Some years ago, I was at a house blessing with several Christians, an atheistic Buddhist, some agnostics, and some Hindus. The focus, said the Hindu priest was to realize that we were all part of the same faith. We were blessing the house by emptying ourselves and embracing what unifies us all, that which welcomes us all: God.

This upset me. I didn’t know what to say. I wish I had responded better than angry tears.

I couldn’t articulate what was wrong with what was going on (on multiple levels). The Holy Man was being exceedingly spiritual, saying a whole mess of spiritual things to embolden our human selves to yearn for the spiritual; it was all tremendously dehumanizing—making one less than human.

Dehumanizing how?

Unfortunately in a way that Christians today have no problem with.

We look at a passage like John 3:30 and see a perfect quote that is often used to depict that we are to become less as Christ becomes more. The Physical, is taught, doesn’t matter: the Spiritual is what continues. But how does this differ from the Holy Man who called this “God” the “Spirit of Christ”? The only difference is that one has been Christianized.

Note John’s words occur when he is baptizing in Aenon, near Salim (John 3:22). This event, John the Evangelist reminds us, happened before John was arrested. Now of course we know that John wouldn’t have been arrested if he was out baptizing but it is likely because he knew about the accounts of the other Gospels which remind us very early in their text that John was arrested. (Mark 1:14; Matt 4:12-21; mentioned in Luke 3:19).

This John, after the heyday of his ministry, but before being arrested, is faithfully continuing his work. He’s already baptized Jesus (John 1). He’s already pointed him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But John is waiting while he is working.

A discussion gets kicked up about purification and there’s some spill-over. Apparently it had something to do with baptism since the disciple points out that Jesus’ group is baptizing people and all are coming to Jesus rather than to John. Indeed, in the next chapter, the evangelist records that Jesus was baptizing more than John even though Jesus wasn’t personally baptizing anyone (John 4:1).

John’s response is in three parts:

  1. Man Receives From God
  2. God grants the role
  3. Joy is Found in God-Given Vocation

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Philosophy Fridays: ANA Culture In Hindsight

The Late 20th and Early 21st Century Ancient North American (ANA) Peoples had interesting set of beliefs though all with some unifying factors. Each area of belief was fraught with disagreement yet a strong cohesive unity which indicated their shared identity. This being so, no generation in human history has proven as united as this one and thus easily able to be examined.


ANA Land

The ANA View Of The Cosmos

Regarding their scientific advancements of the ANA, their opinions varied but it seemed that they were grounded more on pragmatics and beliefs rather than empirical data. For instance, although they would teach in their classrooms that the Earth revolved around the Sun, they continued to believe otherwise.  They would refer to “Sunrise” and “Sunset” without a quibble reflecting the true mindset of the culture as a whole.

ANA believed in a tiered cosmology where sky was “up” and where rain “Fell” down—obviously not a clue of the forces of gravity or the three dimensional nature of the world.  But more interesting (and disturbing) is how the culture would speak about location. They would drive “down” to Georgia or tell others to come “up” to their house thus indicating that they believed the world was both flat and vertically held and were completely confused about the actual location of the sky (which for some reason, they thought was “blue”). Was it Up There or Out There—no opinion was solidified.

As to what they believed was below the vertical world, we don’t know but based on some segments of the society saying “It smells like hell down here” and “keep it on the down low” and the like, we can only assume that there was a belief in either hell or an abyss.


The Rising Divine Market

Their religious ideals seem to be varied enough to fight for though they had a unifying set of rituals which indicates some sort of meta-belief system that they all adhered to.  Some would rise in the morning to pray or to read their holy book but almost all of them rose to listen or read the prophetic utterances  of the “Forecaster” who would dictate to them how they were to dress and when the Sun would “rise” and “set”; and even when rain would “fall”. Without nary of a thought of how this information was acquired, they would structure their day to day activity around such prophetic utterances of the “Forecaster” even in light of repeated failure.

Indeed, they would couple this activity of listening to the “predictions” with baptisms of the body (by sprinkling, not often by immersion which was a practice normally practiced by Mothers during the evening) and of the face. Some of the peoples, obviously offering their bodies as a sweet smelling aroma, would cap this process off by anointing themselves with various perfumes and fragrances.

Apparently the well off in the society worshipped a sort of heavenly shopping district (here depicted as a rising city) because they would start the day by reviewing how this Market would act, and then spend the day worrying about it falling or rising. Idols were attached to these processes (the Bull depicting the ascending City and the Bear depicting the descent).The Idols of the Divine Market

Apparently, these beliefs trickled throughout the culture as they would refer to their leaders or slave-masters as “being on top” indicating a divine connection to The Market.

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Satire Series

The internet is chockfull of both the good and the bad. The good being that I am on it and the bad being that so is everyone else. In light of my extreme humility, here’s a collection of satire: since most people today don’t know what that is, I have provided a link to the internet’s inerrant repository of knowledge. No, not my site: Wikipedia.

This post will function as a series holding page for all other satire I’ve posted on the site. These things, after all, need a place to live without seeming legitimate.

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We Can Be Angels Today

Angels are awesome. They stand in the throne room of God. They have the ability to slay armies. They can appear at the flash of light, fight demons, and even be a comfort to people when the Lord sends them.

But people have an incorrect view of angels.

They think that angels are some special beings, and though it’s true that there are a special category of well known angels, it is something that is attainable for us all. Indeed, I think that not only are angels around today—but we can be angels right now.

I want to make my argument based on four points:

  1. The word Angel
  2. Angels in the New Testament.
  3. Objections to us being Angels today.
  4. What is an angel.

First the word for angel is angelos (two g’s make the ng sound). It is found almost two hundred times in the new testament—underscoring its Biblical importance. Sometimes the word is translated messenger but it also means an Angel of God.

Second, we see the word in many places underscoring that it is not a class of special beings. In Luke 7:24, the Divine Author calls the men from John his angels. In Gal 4:4, Paul is received as an angel. The list goes on and on!

Third, the only objections to us being angels today are vapid. Some people presuppose that humans can’t have angelic powers but the fact is that Scripture doesn’t record angels using their power all the time. Sometimes we merely see them speaking. At other times we see them talking. At other times they’re rescuing. Just because we can’t see the angelic ability doesn’t mean it isn’t going on.

Other people make the mistake of saying that since we’re men and women who get married we are currently not living according to the order of Angels (as Christ says that in the future we will be like the angels who are not given in marriage).

But the fact is that we have a foretaste of that future already in the fact that there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus—we’re already living in the expectation of being angels, though not yet since we get married. That being the case we should live out our angelic ministry by rescuing people, fighting armies, speaking out the message of God, standing in front of the throne room of God (into which we can boldly approach), slay thousands, move faster than light and cover our faces with wings  while singing Holy, Holy, Holy.

Fourth, an angel is just a messenger. So those beings in the Bible weren’t really any special category at all, just something that we have labeled as being special because we haven’t afforded ourselves the ability to do these sort of things.

So in conclusion, not only do we see angels in Scripture, especially angels who are people, but we should expect angels today, in our situation, in our fellow believers. Unveil your true shining selves and start living out your future ministry as an angel of God.

I’ll call myself Michael.


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Spontaneous, Natural, Physical Resurrection

Oh the universe is full of amazing and wonderful things and very few subjects have been the source of more fiery debates than the topic of evolution. But in all the hubbub of debates about creation, or intelligent design, or cosmological origins one major facet of the Christian faith goes unnoticed: the explanation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Though the evidence for evolution is vast and far reaching and applied to origins, none of the same thinking has been weighed and married to this oft-neglected field.  If we as Christians are failing in our embracing evolutionary models in regard to Creation, we have been woefully neglectful in explaining the resurrection of Jesus Christ in terms of modern science.

In this post, I wish to posit a few possible reasons why the resurrection was not a miracle, but actually quite natural, spontaneous, and purely physical and why the Church must embrace this explanation to prepare for the future, especially in light of the overwhelming amount of data in support of biological evolution.

The proof I can offer is not as nebulous as it may seem. We Christians often supply a few proofs that the resurrection happened so we don’t have to belabor the point. He was seen among witnesses. His grave was indeed empty. His death was sure. And the actual resurrection accounts for the apostolic beliefs.

But this in no way implies that God couldn’t have used spontaneous and natural processes to ensure that this resurrection would happen. We must not allow magic or miracles to discredit the very reasonable faith that we Christians embrace!

First we have to admit that Jesus was fully man so he was limited by the knowledge of his day. He didn’t have a clue how he would live again or even if he would live again. He was under the impression that the “glory” was the process of dying (read the entire book of John) and then he cried about it when he was going to die. That’s not the reaction of a person who knew that they would die and come back.

Second, the disciples were surprised by the resurrection. They didn’t have a clue he would do what he did and that would only make sense if it was in fact spontaneous and natural.

Third, we have perfectly good explanations for a physical, random, non-miraculous resurrection. For example, we know that there are an infinite amount of Earths. Given an infinite amount of Earths, there are an infinite amount of circumstances. Just like our Universe came into being because in an infinite number, the chances of something happening are sure to happen, then the chance of a person dying and coming back from the grave most definitely would happen. In fact, I’d bet in this infinite series of worlds, there’s a good chance that each of us get our chance at resurrecting randomly.

Even if we didn’t posit infinite Christs, we can posit infinite physical universes where the laws of death and life are different.  With science firmly in our grip we can conclude that God used processes—like an infinite multiverse or infinite Christs—to arrive at a natural, spontaneous , physical and non-miraculous resurrection from the dead.

We haven’t even looked at Quantum particles which can be in two quantum states at the same time until observed. So Christ, while observed, w as in an alive state (a binary position of 1) and then he was in a two simultaneous states of dead and alive (0 and 1). If the quantum vacuum can bring something in from nothing, then the chance for Christ going from one binary state to a second one is infinitely possible. Heck, this could be a midichlorian process for all we know.

Fourth, we Christians need to stop being afraid of scientific explanations especially since Science is God’s hands. The very smart people (who incidentally are much smarter than us) have told us that the impossible is just that and if it’s physically possible it’s infinitely more probable than the impossible. We need to stop being unscientific, embrace the sciences which are also God’s revelation, his second Bible as it were, and teach that Christ’s resurrection was natural, spontaneous, physical even if ultimately belonging to God.

In conclusion, we must embrace this lest Science, and the world, moves on in their Copernican revolution leaving us behind mumbling about our magical myths. If we truly want to engage the world and not be relegated to a position of non-importance, we must employ robust scientific thinking with the defense of our faith proving that God is not only reasonable, he is constant. We cannot allow Christianity to become a cult—but this is what will happen if the Church continues to turn its head from scientific explanations!


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Christ Didn’t Die For All: He Died For Paul

It is patently obvious that we have gotten the atonement wrong this whole time. We keep saying things like Christ died for all but the fact is that this is completely unscriptural and dangerous. Scripture is clear about the extent of the atonement: one man.

Note that Paul explicitly points out the particularity of the atonement (Gal 2:20):

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Now, after thousands of years of Church History (in this post-enlightenment era influenced by the individualism of people like Schleiermacher) we wind up getting this exceedingly unbiblical idea that Christ died for Me since I am part of the world. But that’s just wrongheaded. The fact is that Christ died for one man alone and that was Paul.

Now, I can hear the responses like John saying that Christ gave himself as a propitiation for us and the entire world—yes, I hear the simple proof texting already. But in context, John is referring to several things. Propitiation is the sating of God’s wrath in regard to a specific problem. That specific problem is made evident by understanding that John was Jewish and the Us being mentioned is Israel. The term “the whole world” then refers to breaking the boundary of Israel and expanding the proclamation of the Gospel (that it is for one person) to the entire wicked system espoused by the Gentiles.

At this point the proof-texters will point out that how can Paul be both an Israelite and a Gentile—I admit, there is a fair amount of tension and mystery here but we can’t throw out other parts of Scripture just because a doctrine isn’t palatable!

First, note what Paul outright says in Romans 9:6—it’s not like all Israel is Israel! This is an important point in his entire treatise. He argues that Israel was hardened but only a remnant was saved—who are the elect, who have been covered by the definite atoning work of Christ. He then makes this important statement in Rom 11:1: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. You see, Paul knew that the rest of Israel was not saved because God chose that they were not to be saved. His wishing is hypothetical (I wish I could be cut off and accursed for them) but he knew that was an impossibility. Christ’s death was sufficient for all but definitely applied to only one: Paul, who was chosen before he was born (Gal 1:15).

Secondly, note that Paul’s Israeliteness was able to be subsumed in Gentile-ness. After all, Gentiles (Pharaoh) and Israel (Jews) were both of the same lump of clay. In that same way, Paul argues that he became a Jew for the Jews and a Gentile for the Gentiles—he became all things to all men so that he might save a few. Of course, he knew that they wouldn’t be saved (just like he knew the rest of Israel wouldn’t be saved) but he was speaking hypothetically because his mission was to preach the good news that he was saved!

Of course, the proof-texters will point out passages like John 3:16 but in all honesty, this has nothing to do with the atoning work of Christ with every individual. The way some people read it is that God loved everyone in this way: that he gave his son to die for them—but that’s just wrong. Calvinists do better by offering that the World there is limited to all believers. And that is true in some cases (for example, Romans 5 is referring to the Many and All but it is in fact speaking about Paul who is a representative of every nation, tongue or tribe by his malleability in the proclamation and the fact that he speaks more tongues than any (1 Cor 14:18).

The fact is that John 3:16 supports my point. The passage is saying that God loved the Antithetical System of Sin which persists under the heading of World (remember, in 1 John he says that the World and Satan are enemies!). As God is light and good the World has the qualities of being dark and sinful. The fact is that Christ Himself says that men loved darkness rather than light so God just left them in their situation while the Elect One (Paul) was Chosen. Indeed, Paul underscores this point when he says he is the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)!

Yes, I know there are some tensions and mystery since Paul uses sinners plural or the fact that Peter says that Christ purchased the reprobate false teachers (2 Pet 2:1) or places where Christ mentions many members in one body (and frankly, he’s just speaking about all of the parts of his body and the way people confess Christ as Lord with no hope of being saved) but that’s just the nature of God: he’s above our understanding and some of these things are hard to understand. One thing we can’t do is expand the boundaries of the atonement to cover everyone—even in the Church—because that will deny the particularity of the atonement (that it was for Paul), overturn total depravity and unconditional election, and ultimately prove that sinful man just wants to rebel.

So prayerfully, consider this an invitation to Paulinism whereby all of us hear the message, understand the message, believe in some sense, can hope to be saved, but really are rejecting God in our rebellious sinful nature because the truth is Christ died for Paul. And, if you’re going to complain, realize that this questioning came up to Paul and his response was “who art thou o’ man to respond to God?” If he chose one lump (the entire world) for dishonor and another lump (Paul) for glory, who has the right to question the Potter?

Not I. I humbly, prayerfully, acknowledge my worthlessness and God’s right to send Christ to die only for Paul.


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Ah, Gehenna: Rey Didn’t Start The Fire

In my post on Gehenna (part of my Hellish Week) I made a statement that I had read in several places and which needs to be retracted because it is historical dubious. Here is what I said:

What they forget to mention is that the site wasn’t merely for garbage; it was a place for burning. The place wasn’t only a dump, it was a crematorium. The bodies of dead criminals were thrown and consumed there.

And you’ll find this elsewhere. For example, Hagner (WBC) states (117):

The name Gehenna is from the Aramaic words גֵּי חִנָּם, gê ḥinnām, for the “valley of Hinnom” (cf. Josh 15:8; 18:16), a despised place to the southwest of Jerusalem where at one time human sacrifices were offered to the god Molech (cf. 2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 7:31) and where in later times the city’s refuse was burned. The constant burning there made the valley a particularly suitable metaphor for eternal punishment

Or in the NET it reads:

This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31; 19:5–6; 32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned.

And the Analytical Lexicon of the New Testament’s article on Gehenna states that it is

…literally valley of Hinnom, a ravine south of Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to consume the dead bodies of animals, criminals, and refuse; figuratively in the Gospels and James for hell, a fiery place of eternal punishment for the ungodly dead

The problem is that this seems to lack historical evidence. From a footnote (Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (Jan.-Mar. 1998) 324-37) conveniently found here:

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom
south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to
Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that
in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and
cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither
archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck,1922-56], 4:2:1030).

I quickly consulted more of my sources for example Davies & Allison (ICC, p515):

The standard view, namely, that the valley was where the city’s garbage was incinerated and that the constantly rising smoke and smell of corruption conjured up the fiery torments of the damned, is without ancient support, although it could be correct.

…but I could find only a few that committed to saying the same thing. They almost all say that it is a place of continually burning garbage, some (like the dictionary article above) add the cadavers.

Keith Keyser brought this all to my attention (via email) by linking to an article over at the Bible Places blog which went back to a post by McBride.

Now, this wasn’t a fundamental point to my post (that the place had burning garbage and corpses) since I based most of my conclusions based on what Christ was saying about Gehenna. So all my previous points, I think, still stand: Gehenna is a bad place that is to be shunned. If this corpse and garbage burning is non-historical then I actually think it makes Jesus’ usage all the harder to refute—but we don’t know, so I retract it for honesty’s sake. It sounds pretty good, it might very well be true, but as of right now, based on my scanning, we only have evidence from some twelve hundred years later.

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What About Hell I Don’t Know

Textually, as I covered in a couple of posts before this, I must affirm a literal hell which consists of judgment, separation from God, punishment, eternality and should be rightfully shunned. I think it is dangerous to say the place doesn’t exist when the volume of Scripture teeters with the weight of the matter. I also gave some responses to the nay-hellsayers and some broad theological reasons why we should affirm a hell. This was all consistent with the broad philosophical reasons I gave earlier which allow the doctrine of hell.

But in this last post, I wanted to touch on the fact that although we know certain things from the text, there are certain things we don’t know and can’t even really be sure. We might be able to posit careful answers but even then, those answers might need a lot of nuancing or niggling when we’re not forced to appeal to mystery. So if you wish, these are questions that may or may not have answers but I may not be as confident on them as the textual basis already listed.

Is Hell the same as Sheol? I know that Sheol has a semantic range that goes all the way from the place of righteous rest down to the place of the wicked. I know that Christ uses the metaphor of Gehenna and the New Testament uses Hades or Tartarus or even the Lake of Fire. So surely, Hell lies on the semantic range of Sheol but that doesn’t help me understand the mechanics of the Grave. Indeed, Hades seems to have more of the semantic range of Sheol than Hell. This gets into questions of geography and so forth but even then we still wind up with Hades being thrown into the Lake of Fire. So maybe Hell is specifically the Lake of Fire but Hades is something else? It seems to contain some similar elements but can we be sure?

Is the intermediate state all the same place? I doubt Dante was right but we have Jesus’ parable where the Rich Man looks across a chasm. I understand the point (there’s no crossing over from one side to another) but is this merely hyperbolic language or is it a detail? Is it possible that the Wicked Part gets thrown into the Lake of Fire but the Other Part isn’t?

Do I think that every presentation of the Gospel needs an explanation of hell? No. But I do think that every Christian should be concerned with the people that are heading there. If there is some random child on a train track while the 6:35 Shuttle barrels down in his direction, all of us would be horrified and quick to act—but what about this Thing that is currently reaching up and out?

Why don’t we have more details? Sheol occurs some 65 times in the Old Testament. Gehenna is found in 12 verses. Hades is found eleven times in the New Testament. Tartarus is used once. Lake of Fire occurs 4 times. Just counting that, we have to admit that it’s not that much. But then again, we have more verses here than we do about a literal Adam, about Adam’s Sin causing death, and several other things we believe. But the fact is that we do have quite a bit here but even so, it’s never as much as we would like. But maybe God is using these details as a means to motivate us to warn others?

Should we be happy about hell? I think that it may be okay to hope that there is no hell. I think it is okay to hope that God saves everyone pulling them from the very edge of the fire. I think it is even okay to hope that one day, all sinners will repent and that God has allowed a way for them to be saved. But I think we need to be careful about not trying to be more moral than God. We don’t know everything that’s going on. On the other hand, I think it’s proper to not be gleeful with this doctrine. I remember getting into a conversation with a Christian who planned to be standing by the lake of fire cheering as the unregenerate, the Devil, his cohorts, and me were being tossed in screaming—horrifying thought. I think that sometimes we Christians can get a bit too hell-happy. Christ took the place seriously and painted some graphic images of people sawing off their arms to ensure that they don’t head there but then we get the book of Revelation showing that same Christ squishing bodies and the blood reaching up to the side of a horse and filling the valley. As my last post noted, hell is predicated on several attributes and actions of God and yet we see there is an equal amount of saying the place should be shunned.

Can we go to Hell? I know people die and go Somewhere but, it looks like people don’t necessarily have to die to go to that Somewhere (ala Enoch). We get location information from Scripture (it is down) but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s below our feet. What if that means sub-dimension? What if that means something else altogether like a black hole? A blackhole would end in a singularity whereby the closer you approach the singularity the closer you approach that single point into infinite. Or not. But if hell is like that, we’d have an eternal testimony while the people in it are eternally going but not reaching. But that’s complete speculation. In fact, some theologians have argued that hell is a state…a position absent God…and I think that sounds partly right while it ignores that there is a spatial element but, what do I know.

Is hell barred from the inside? A Catholic theologian (cited here) has a hope for universalism while allowing for hell because people are basically free to reject God. CS Lewis, knowing that God judges, looks at free individuals who reject God as rebels. We also know that people stand condemned because they haven’t believed Christ. I find it hard to imagine a place where the rebels can push out God (especially when Scripture has God even in Sheol, in some sense) but I also find it hard to imagine that these people are there against their choice. And here I don’t mean the Calvinistic pseudo-choice. I mean that these people have really made a mad decision by rebelling against God. So yes and no?

Does the grave finally win by sheer numbers? If the scenario was based on quality vs. quantity (if one finds a piece of gold that is better than all the fools gold others have) I guess it could change things. But I personally think that more people will be in a state of eternal life. I think God saves children (babies, miscarriages, kids who don’t know wrong or right) and the mentally handicapped but I don’t have much to base that on. A few scant passages and lots of hope. But in this way, I think that it will wind up that the quantity (and the quality) is all the greater. I don’t think that means we should go out killing children. To me it means God made provision.

Is all hell equally horrid? There are passages in Scripture speaking about more culpability to those who know more. So you’ll have Christ wailing for Jerusalem and saying it would go better at the judgment for some other cities than for Jerusalem during the time of her visitation. To my mind that sounds like hell is in general bad but not equally torturous for everyone. I don’t think that means that people should be fine going there. It might be that it’s bearable for reasons we don’t even know.

Is the torture of hell eternal? Scripture says that the place seems to be eternal, the punishment seems to be eternal, the flames seem to be eternal—but I don’t know if that means that the people being in the situation of torture is eternal. What if the eternality of the tears is the fact that they are there, want to be there, and knowingly hate it? I don’t know.

Like I said, a lot of these I don’t know. I believe some of the things without knowing but I think I’ve explained why. Some of it is predicated on God’s dealings with people throughout history. Some of it is sheer imagination. I don’t think believing these things makes a person an heretic though it may make them an uncareful teacher. What’s important here is that we don’t take our questions and make them overrule the information we do have.  Be honest having the questions but be equally honest with what God has said.

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Hell? Yeah.

I’ve touched on lots of Scripture (in both Testaments) but I needed to bring up some broad theological points. I didn’t want to make this a book, I just wanted to put up a few posts that pointed out that the Scriptures are fraught with the doctrine of hell and Christians should believe it. This second to last post is to affirm that the answer to the question “Do you seriously believe in hell?” should not be no, but yes (for all the reasons I’ve already stated but also) because:

God really is saving people from Something. It’s strange to posit that God’s salvation is merely a matter of everyone Going to be with Him. If annihilation was true, then one can still argue that God is saving people from Something but with the preponderance of texts, and some of the further reasons I give in this post, that solution is just as wrong as universalism.

God is love. Yes God is sovereign. Yes, he’s not willing that any should perish. But people are still going there because they have rejected God. This isn’t merely the ruin of poor choices. This is people in active rebellion against a loving God.  Like CS Lewis, I like to think that Hell is barred from the inside.

God is consistent. Folk might also want to say is that this doctrine is inconsistent with a loving God who has been revealed by Christ. I encourage these folk to read the Gospel accounts again to see Christ on his own terms. Clearing a temple with a whip. Calling people white-washed tombs and vipers. I encourage reading of the Revelation of Christ to see a Christ who is stamping his enemies down. As CS Lewis said in the Chronicles of Narnia about the gentle, loving, and kind Aslan: he is not a tame lion. He is powerful. He acts how he wants. You take him on his own terms. And one must be careful with telling him he must act a certain way.

Justice Demands It. Folk might raise a charge that we wouldn’t punish our own children forever—why would God do worse? Look, the concept that is more predominant throughout the entire book of Psalms is the idea of justice. The righting of scales. The setting things back in order. The fact is that God stands ultimately against all sin. If you get rid of hell, and the eternality of judgment, you wind up with disbarred justice.

God is right. The people who haven’t heard of Christ have already rejected God. They don’t only reject him upon hearing the Gospel. They reject the very revelation of God wherever they are. Romans 1 gives a long explanation of people who have been exposed to God’s illumination and who reject it forthwith experiencing God’s wrath in the present. This is why Christ can say that the folk who don’t believe him are condemned already (John 3:18).

Scripture is fraught with the Seriousness. Scripture is fraught with the fact that there is a condemnation in the now and the hereafter. Saying things like Heaven and Hell are here on earth reaching outwards is fine, but that shouldn’t blur the line that there is in fact a Heaven and a Hell—even if this series didn’t bother drawing out what we hear about Heaven. The book of Proverbs goes as far as having a person beat a fool with a rod so as to save him from Sheol and that wasn’t even with all the information that Christ decided to reveal.

Jesus took it seriously. Jesus  took the place seriously and painted some graphic images of people sawing off their arms to ensure that they don’t head there.  If he thought it was this serious, so should those who follow him.

God Knows what He’s talking About. Folk might want to say is that Scripture and Christ are both wrong on this point. I don’t know how someone would go about proving that since we don’t have many hell-travelers coming back and letting us know that “it was all a mess of bunk. Not even there.”

We take God on His terms. I didn’t go over the numerous texts that establish that God is both holy and loving but they’re there. How we put those things together in our mind can raise some questions, but the fact is that Scripture presents it as fact. We shouldn’t shy away from that. The same God that was concerned with how the Egyptians were treating Hebrew children is the God who wound up pouring plague after plague on the Egyptians. We can’t just throw out the Biblical Concept of God into the purifying flames of reason and pull out whatever is right in our own eyes and call it “The God that Saved Us.”

So when asked “Do you seriously believe a loving God, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, will send people to Hell? The answer will have to be: unabashedly Yes.

In the next (and last) post, I’ll post some questions and misgivings that I think are justified but shouldn’t detract from preaching the doctrine of hell.

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Hell? No?

At this point, naysayers are quick to say that I’m building a theology off a metaphor. He was using the term Gehenna—which is the burning the trash heap outside of Jerusalem; he was not using the term Sheol. To which the response is, obviously longer in the last post that Christ added details that had nothing to do with Gehenna and usually with the point that this was something to be avoided because of where it resided and its duration. Plus, Christ was using a metaphor that was already being used by Isaiah 30:33. And one must be careful. The word Hades winds up being used in the New Testament (for example, in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man) and the word Sheol in the LXX is translated to that word. Does that mean that Abraham’s Bosom is in Hades? Like I said in the post on Sheol, the word has a semantic range but it definitely has a negative part and a positive part. The fact that Christ gives further details helps us understand what is going on, even if the details are sparse.

The Naysayers would point out that Isaiah was using a metaphor too: for a funeral pyre. The wicked king was dead and was about to be burned. But the point of that passage is not only that the king is dead but that the pyre is prepared by the Lord. Each time that fire comes out from the Lord in Scripture it is to consume. Sometimes it’s to consume an offering. But the rest of the times it is a sign of divine judgment (1 Kgs 18:38). The Lord is deciding something. So why is the Lord setting fire to a lifeless corpse? If the man is dead, hasn’t the point been made? Why is this pyre long prepared? Why does the Lord’s breath come out to ignite it? Simply saying it’s a degrading death doesn’t do justice to what’s going on: God is doing something that he prepared before to a wicked person who deserved it—after they are dead.

Skipping from that the naysayer would point out that my use of Revelation 20 ignores the fact that death, hell and Satan were all thrown into the lake of fire: the second death. This indicates that hell isn’t eternal but that it ends when consumed by the Lake of Fire and the second death. I can’t make that claim. The preponderance of passages point to hell being eternal, the smoke of the judgment of God going up before him as an eternal testimonial, as the duration being unending (Rev 14:11)—then we get a picture of something else happening. There’s no indication that this is an ending to hell. For all we know it’s a change of location pushing things further away so that they don’t see the saints in glory. We don’t know. But what we can’t say is because it happens it automatically means hell is destroyed.

The Nay-Hellsayers would point out that God is not willing that any will perish and that he offers a chance to repent after death. Here they might cite 1 Peter 3:18-20 or 1 Peter 4:6 where Christ preaches to the dead spirits who are imprisoned.

But we hear in the book of Hebrews that it is appointed for men once to die and then comes judgment (Heb 9:27). The judging of the living and the dead is of works that they have done in the past—not what they have done now that they’ve been dead (Matt 25:31-46). It seems like death is the end-line for division. Plus we also have the problem of Jesus’ own understanding. When He spoke the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man he explained that it was impossible for those on one side of the chasm to cross to the other side (Luke 16:24-26). Sure, it’s a parable (maybe…it’s debatable) but even so it affirmed certain things that couldn’t happen within the story. What was the point of that?

We also forget that Christ also had a very hard line as to what constituted condemnation. He says he didn’t come into the world to condemn it but to save it but people are condemned already because they don’t believe (John 3:18). So although they haven’t arrived at the final judgment, unbelievers stand in a state of having—in Old Testament language—Sheol under their feet already gripping them.

Other folk say that the fires of hell are purifying fires.  But the image is never solely fire. It is also a place  of darkness, undying worms, a place to be rejected, a place that has no ending, a place reserved for the Devil, his angels and the wicked. Merely corrective purification?

Lastly, some Christians are just embarrassed by this doctrine. Here we have the world’s greatest message: God, condescension to save fallen humans—and then we have this bit of eternal separation and sorrow that sounds strange to the modern mind. Angels? Demons? Spirits? Possessions? All of it can be very strange to us but Scripture steps forward believing it no problem.

But we have to be careful with cultural bigotry. Just because they were back then and we are now, in the Age of Computers, doesn’t make what they believed less real. It might just mean that what is real is less believable to us who try to explain things away. We need to be careful with this.

The amount of Scripture, the explanation by the prophets, the revelation of the Incarnate God just point out with no doubt that there is a hell to be avoided and that it’s condemnation there is permanent. The naysayers really have to reach around to try to make passages say something else, but the evidence is just too weighty.

Hell is serious, found in both Testaments (with further details in the New) and we should be careful about giving folk a false sense of hope when we don’t have any reason to encourage it.

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