Sunday, October 19, 2014

Atheists, evangelism and a rant

(Excerpt from the post "The Character of God")

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 thoroughly in the Bible, I would do my best to defend the doctrine and water it down like everyone does these days. I would say, "Well, 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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I'm not a Universalist...

but maybe God is.

- unknown author

And maybe you are not a conditionalist, but maybe God is.

Let us be careful of the idol of certainty!

Friday, October 17, 2014

What if God wasn't good?

"No one is good except God alone."  - Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19

"For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You."       - Psalm 86:5

"We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love..."  - 1 John 4:16

I don't know about you, but I am so thankful that God is good!  We may declare, "God is good!" in word or song; we may even think to ourselves, "Of course God is good! What else?"

What else. Well, I actually stopped recently to think that very thought. I asked myself: what if God WASN'T good. (Scary right?) What would that be like? What would He do?

This line of thinking is a bit disturbing, and I'm sure there are those who will really think I'm over-the-top here (or heretical), but it seemed like a valid question. Ask yourself: If God wasn't good, what would that look like? What evil could you imagine that an all-powerful Creator would inflict? What is the worst He could do, if he were to create beings as ourselves?

I know, it's hard to go there. I don't suggest staying 'there' for long. It's not really healthy thinking, but it may give some perspective to our idea of GOOD. When you consider the alternative to God being good, then you really begin to grasp how thankful we ought to be for His love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, comfort and fatherly care. The list could go on and on. What a relief that we are not created by an unloving, sadistic tyrant.

So, what have you thought of? If God wasn't good He would... 

_____________________________________________________________________ .

I'm curious what you would come up with. If it isn't too detailed (or inappropriate for all audiences), I would like to hear your answers.

I actually thought of somehow doing a survey of folks and asking them what they thought would be the worst thing an all-powerful 'bad' God would do to them. I decided against it, as that probably wouldn't go over very well! So, I asked myself.

Perhaps I lack imagination, but as I thought this over, I kept coming back to different forms of torture that such a One could inflict (even mental torture, for example, those you love being hurt mercilessly). And of course the person couldn't escape, either through unconsciousness or even death. It would be this suffering (with no purpose but to inflict pain and anguish) but the person couldn't escape and couldn't die because the all-powerful One is able to keep them alive even against their own will. This torture would go on and on, maybe even forever because that is the worst possible thing that could happen, right?

And that scenario sounds very familiar. Very familiar.

Don't think for a moment that I am saying God isn't good. He is good. If that thought crossed your mind it is because of what you believe about God, not what I believe. I don't believe that He will torment His fearfully and wonderfully made creations for eternity. (However, beyond me and my beliefs, whatever God does is righteous and just and His ways will prevail. "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar." Rom. 3:4)

So, there it is. Something to ponder, to wonder, to consider.

I told my husband I was a bit reluctant to post these thoughts because of their offensive and controversial nature. He read it and said, "Post it now" so I did. God's word has nothing to do with people-pleasing, but with Spirit and truth. So, go to God's word and learn who He is, through the Spirit, and reject traditions of men and doctrines of demons.

The God I know is Jesus revealed in His word, the Holy Scriptures. He is good.

What else?

Monday, October 13, 2014

See whether these things are so

The teaching of eternal torment in hell has been a subject that has burdened me throughout my Christian walk. Other biblical questions were slowly answered through the years concerning various aspects of Christian life and teachings. However, this one topic... one year, five years, ten years... it would not be settled.

I was diligent to speak to the wise and learned Christians that I thought could shed light on the difficult subject. I would be pacified for a time, but the explanations did not satisfy the heart of the matter. Does God really intend to torment (with unspeakable pain) masses of His 'fearfully and wonderfully made" created beings for ever and ever without end? I mean, really - without EVER stopping the apparent physical and mental torment and pain?

I considered it from every possible biblical position. It was unbelievable. I could not believe it.

It is not that I wanted to get rid of judgment. Judgment was clearly taught in the Bible, along with God's wrath. However, was a life (as fleeting as a puff of smoke) full of sin and rebellion on earth to end in a 'life' of eternal suffering?

If you are conscious and feeling pain then you are experiencing a 'life' of some kind - it just happens to be a nightmarish existence. However, I thought the Bible said that sin leads to death! (And only the blood of Jesus and the saving grace of the Father would allow us to escape that sentence.)

When I studied through the Bible about this subject, I was astounded. There are SO many verses about final punishment. Most describe the end of the wicked as 'death', 'destruction' or 'perishing'. (That is New Testament as well as Old) My prayers for some understanding were being answered!

Naturally, I wanted to share my study and the very clear teachings from the Scriptures about final punishment and what we call 'hell'. My husband listened and responded with great interest; he concurred that indeed the Bible taught something different than the church has been teaching. I was encouraged to continue to share. I fully expected to be sharing with 'Bereans' - those who were eager to search the Scriptures to see if these things were so.

"Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."  Acts 17:11

My point with the above Scripture is to focus on the attitude to search out a matter to see if it is true. I am not implying that I am bringing a word as the Apostle Paul did. However, I am convinced that the doctrine I understand from Scripture is the same as what Paul believed and taught. Search his teachings and see if you find him teaching eternal conscious torment anywhere. [See "We all trust Paul"] Please let me know if you search and find something!

Many comment that Revelation says that Satan will be tormented day and night forever, and that is the end of their search. Throw in Lazarus and the Rich Man plus the worms and the case is closed. I say, make a thorough search and exhaust the whole of God's word. You will find more. [For springboards for study, see "The Adversaries", "The Parable about Hell - or not" and "The Worm that Never dies".]

Consider those that were so convinced that Jesus was not the Messiah (the "Prophet"). They had a verse or two from their Scriptures that proved Jesus was not their Man. When the people were arguing over whether he was the Christ, the Pharisees defended their rejection of Him with their 'biblical' proof:

“Search [the Scriptures], and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.”  John 7:52

They were technically correct (that He was from Galilee) but missed all the other Scripture about Jesus and failed to recognize His authority. They were also missing the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They were 'right' in the detail but wrong in their conclusions. Sincerely wrong.

Let us be Bereans in our search for truth. When we meet a teaching, let it be scrutinized by Scripture. 

And see whether these things be so.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In the Presence of the Lamb

"Tender Shepherd" by Theresa Gomes

There are some sobering realities associated with final punishment. The wrath of God is a frightening future outpouring that is described throughout Scripture (Ps. 59:13, Rom. 1:18). There is punishment - including torment, retribution (God repaying for what we have done, Heb. 10:30) and death. Some will suffer greater condemnation (Matt. 11:24, Luke 20:47) and therefore have more severe consequences (more lashes, Luke 12:47-48). Some will not be released from their punishment and suffering until they have 'paid the last cent' (Matt. 5:26, Luke 12:59).

I believe Revelation describes an unremitting (day and night), extended period of torment specifically for Satan, his angels, the beast and the false prophet. In the end, however, I believe the lake of fire will consume them also (Rev. 17:8,11) and God's unstoppable fire will succeed in burning up all the chaff and all the refuse. The Lord's creation will be clean! Free from sin and evil. (Rev. 21:27)

One verse I would like to take a closer look at is Rev. 14:9-10. It describes some really harsh consequences for those that receive the mark (note the very specific group description) in the last days: 

"Then another angel,… saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:9-11)

There is so much information that we could explore in there. For example, the phrase "…with fire and brimstone" deserves a whole study on its own and I plan to do that (along with studies on weeping, gnashing teeth, and smoke rising). But for now, I would like to zero in on the statement that anyone who worships the beast "will be tormented… in the presence of the Lamb." Yikes, that is really scary. What a paradox! Kind of like "…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Rom. 16:20). 

The question I am asking is: does this describe people in hell who will be there eternally or is it a provisory punishment (eventually having an end)?

So let's start with first things first.

We know the Lamb is Jesus (John 1:36, Acts 8:32, 1 Pet. 1:19, Rev. 5:12). The tormented are specifically people on earth who are deceived by the false prophet and worship the beast and his image. We also read descriptions of this group suffering in Rev. 16:2 and 10 in various judgments - and possibly in Rev. 9:4-6.

There is one problem for the traditionalists saying this is the everlasting suffering of hell - the torment is happening in Jesus' presence. We know 2 Thess.1:9 says clearly about final punishment:

"These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power."

Three times Jesus also declared that as Judge he will say to the condemned, "…depart from Me." (Matt. 7:23, 25:41, Luke 13:27)

We understand that final punishment includes being 'thrown out' (Matt. 22:13, 25:30, Luke 13:28) of His presence. So why does John say the beast worshippers are tormented in the presence of the Lord?

Remember the promises of God to repay according to His justice:

"According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies… He will make recompense."  -  Isaiah 59:18 

"For the LORD is a God of recompense, He will fully repay."  -  Jer. 51:56 

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS."  -  Matt. 16:27 

"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord."  -  Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30 

"For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you."  2 Thess. 1:6 (see also Rev. 6:9-11)

This principle is illustrated in Deut. 25:2* as the judge in court finds a man guilty: "…then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt."  It sounds harsh, but no different than being punished in Jesus' presence.

We should also touch on the other 'hell-sounding' part of the verses we are considering: "…the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast…"

Smoke rising forever

Scripture uses the image of smoke rising as a recurring symbol of destruction. It comes from Genesis 19 where we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham got up early the next morning and looked out over the valley, he saw, "…the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace." (19:28) We know that these cities were completely destroyed (Gen. 19:13,29, Deut. 29:23, Is. 1:9, Jer. 50:40, Lam. 4:6, Luke 17:29).

The destruction of Sodom is an illustration (example) of the coming wrath of God:

“...the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe... just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, ... are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." (See Jude) 

"… in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them allIt will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”  (Luke 17:26-30) 

“He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.”  2 Peter 2:6

Talk about unambiguous. It doesn't get any more clear-cut than that!

Sodom's destruction is the most well-known example, but the illustrative principle of smoke rising from a destroyed city is repeated through the Bible (see Joshua 8:20-21, Judges 20:40, Isaiah 34:9-10 and Rev. 19:3).

God so often describes His judgments on wickedness with the picture of burning up with fire (Ps. 21:9, Is. 29:6, 66:24, Matt. 3:12, John 15:6 ).

"Upon the wicked He will rain coals of fire; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup."  (Psalm 11:6)

One of the most graphic descriptions of judgment executed by the Lord is found in Isaiah chapter 34. I recommend reading the whole context. It speaks of His anger toward all nations and that "He will totally destroy them." (34:2) The text goes on to describe God's judgment on "Edom, the people I have totally destroyed." (34:5)

"Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch.It will not be quenched night or day; Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever."  - Isaiah 34:10

So, the destruction is complete and the smoke still rises. It symbolizes the finality and the complete end of those destroyed. It announces God's triumph over His enemies and that they are destroyed forever. John borrows the imagery from Genesis and Isaiah to illustrate the destructive and complete end of 'the great harlot', also called 'the great city':

Again, we see the same picture of the Lord in His judgment, tormenting and destroying this 'harlot': "…and she will be burned up with fire…" (18:8) The kings of the earth will lament  "…when they see the smoke of her burning."  (18:9)  "…and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city? …in one hour she has been laid waste!’ (18:18-19) "…the great city, …thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer." (18:21)

So, now we can read the following verses with a context to the smoke rising forever and ever. It does not mean that 'the harlot' will be judged continually into eternity, but that her destruction is accomplished forever.

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” Rev. 19:1-3

Whew. So now we can again apply the smoke-rising-forever imagery on our verse at-hand. Let's look at it again: "…and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image…" (14:10-11) Just like the great harlot, these will be tormented and done away with in the lake of fire. Their torment is continual while it lasts (no rest day and night). I wonder if this event corresponds to the non-stop torment by the 'scorpions' where the victims are unable to die for five months, even though they wish for it (Rev. 9:5-6)?

Also, why does it say immediately, in the same paragraph: "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints…" (14:12)? Why would the saints need to endure and have patience during this event, if the final judgment had taken place and they were experiencing eternal life? We haven't even gotten to the Bowl Judgments yet (chapter 16). We appear to be in the middle of the tribulation with these tragic events taking place on earth. Jesus' second coming to earth happens in chapter 19 where "He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." (19:15) This demonstrates why context is so important - the context of the chapter, the book and the entire Bible.

Revelation is a very difficult book. It is full of allegorical language and symbolic images. I don't pretend to understand it all. However, there are many clues as to the meaning of much of the text. If the whole counsel of the Word is taken into account, the concept of human souls being tormented forever begins to lose its footing.

One thing we know: the BIble is always true. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31) "…fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

[If you actually read through this study (also posted under 'studies') please leave a quick comment and let me know your thoughts - critical or otherwise. Thank you!]

*[If you are wondering that a law from the Torah illustrates a truth for Christians today just look a few verses down to Deut. 25:4 - “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." You will find the principle spelled out in the New Testament: For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written…" 1 Cor. 9:10-11]