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Saturday, April 28, 2012



To many people, the doctrine of hell seems inconsistent with the idea of a loving and merciful God.  And when we think of hell, scary scenes of people burning in a fiery furnace come to mind with a red devil with horns running around torturing them with his pitchfork.  Is that what hell is like? Would God, our loving Father, create a place called hell where people would burn forever? 

But whatever hell is like, we believe in hell because Jesus often spoke about hell - a place of judgment and a place of “outer darkness.” And the Bible also has much to say about hell, calling it a place “where the worm dies not” (Mark 9:47-48) and a place “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42)  If we believe what the Bible says, we have to believe that there is a place of judgment – a place called hell.  And if we take Jesus’ words seriously we cannot dismiss the idea of judgment.

Adam Hamilton in his book, “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White” p. 115-116 writes: “I would encourage you to take the time to study what Jesus says about who is going to hell.  Those who are going to hell, according to Jesus, are those who call their neighbor a “fool” (Matthew 5:22b);those who lust after women in their hearts (Matthew 5:27-30): religious leaders who are hypocritical (Matthew 23:1-36): those who are not good stewards of the gifts God has given them (Matthew 25:14-30); and religious people who refuse to help those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).  …most of what Jesus says about hell seems reserved for those who are religious.  …I think Jesus uses hell as a way of warning us to take our sin seriously,…” 

Most of us have done the deeds that Jesus said would put us in hell!  But of course even though we have sinned, Jesus has washed away our sin and paid our way into heaven.  Is Adam Hamilton correct when he suggests that Jesus perhaps is using hell as a way of warning us to take our sin seriously? 

In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) Jesus prays: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Scripture always portrays heaven as a place where God’s rules and where His will is obeyed. Adam Hamilton in “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White” p. 116-117 writes:  “If heaven is a place where God’s reign is complete, where God’s will is always done, where people no longer hate, kill, steal, mistreat, go to war, or inflict pain on others, then those who enter must either have their freedom removed, or they agree to submit to God’s reign and will.

But what if someone is unwilling to live according to Gods’ will?  Would that person be forced to dwell in the heavenly kingdom?  I don’t think so.  Such an existence would be a hell for them, and heaven would no longer be a place where Gods’ will would be done.  Hell, it seems to me, is the place for all of those who do not wish to live according to God’s will and submit their lives to God’s reign.  God wishes all to join Him and to live as His children and His subjects. He is a good King, a benevolent King, a loving King.  But He will not force persons to be His subjects.  He beckons all of us to choose, and to willingly follow Him.  If one does not wish to do this, there is a place, a kind of dark kingdom, reserved for all who wish to do things their own way.” 

If hell is indeed populated by people who refuse to submit to God and want to do things their own way then it is probably filled with folks who are selfish – narcissistic and willing to take advantage of others in order to meet their own needs.  So hell might be a place where selfish people feed on other selfish people.  A place where most goodness has been removed, the restraints from following God have been removed, and God’s presence is either dim, or totally absent.  (Psalm 139 suggests that God is in the hell.)

Adam Hamilton writes on page 118: “What’s important to note in this concept is that hell is a nightmare, and the nightmare is not the result of something God has created, but the result of the exercise of freedom on the part of inhabitants who have chosen to reject God’s rule and reign.”  In other words hell is the nightmare of people being free from God to “do their own thing.”  Being free to do our own thing sounds good doesn’t it?  But apart from God this freedom is lawlessness.  This freedom is a nightmare. 

A few months ago a shocking tragedy occurred in Sudan, Africa –Sword wielding men on camels were swooping down on the local villages, burning the homes, raping the women and  brutally murdering anyone they could find. Thousands of men, women and children who escaped the bloodshed were forced to run for their lives across an inhospitable desert. And tragically, many of the babies and small children starved in the burning desert. These young men, swinging their swords, seemed to get sadistic pleasure out of torturing and killing the terrified villagers.

 Do we believe that such depraved blood thirsty men would change their ways,  submit to the rule of God and enter heaven?  Could the horrors in Sudan created by the actions of these lawless men give us a picture of what hell may be like?

C.S. Lewis in his book “The Great Divorce” writes: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end: that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”  Lewis also says, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

Let’s make sure that we are the ones who always say to God, “Thy will be done.”


Notes: Many of the thoughts in this blog were taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.”  Chapter 13- The Logic of Hell


Monday, April 23, 2012

Are The Heathen Really Lost?

Are the Heathen Really Lost?

Will there be any Hindus or Muslims or non-Christians in heaven?  Many conservative Christians would say that the answer to this question is “no”.  Many Bible passages tell us that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. (John 14:6)   One passage reads: “He who has the Son (Jesus) has life, and he who does not have the Son does not have life” (John 3:18) This central truth - that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only Savior - is at the very heart of the Christian faith.  It is the Rock on which the church is built.  So doesn’t that mean that if a person hasn’t accepted Jesus as Savior that he will be lost?  Isn’t that what these Scriptures are saying?

Many moderate Christians read the same Scriptures and also believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to eternal life.  But these Christians also believe that maybe God can give salvation to the non Christian who follows his conscience - or the light that he has.  How can this be? The reasoning goes that some people have never had a fair chance at hearing the gospel -that Jesus is Savior.  Or if these unbelievers have heard that Jesus died for them, they have been scared away perhaps by hate groups that call themselves “Christian” or by Christians who were a poor representation of what a Christian should be.    

 Since these unbelievers did not really hear the gospel, could God judge these ones based upon how they responded to the light that they did have?  Scripture says that Jesus is the Light of the world.  (John 8:12)  If an unbeliever says “yes” to the light that she has, is she not saying “yes” to Jesus?  If an unbeliever is kind and merciful and loving,  if she tries to do what her conscience tells her is the right thing to do, and if she follows the light that she has, is she following Jesus, even though she doesn’t know that she is?  She may not call Him by name or understand that the truth and the light that she is following is actually Jesus. So is she following the “hidden Jesus”?

Romans 2:14-15 says:  “Indeed when Gentiles (unbelievers), who do not have the law (light), do by nature things required by the law (light), they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”   And Luke 2:42-48 also seems to be saying that God judges people by how they responded to the knowledge or light that they have. 

There are a host of other clues in Scripture regarding God’s interest in those who have never heard.  Romans 1:20 seems to indicate that all human beings have access to a general knowledge of God.  In his book, “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White” p. 103, Adam Hamilton writes: “The closing verses of the Bible, in Revelation, give us a vision of the river of life flowing from the throne of God, with trees on either side, whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations”.  (Rev. 22:2)  We are told of the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God, that “the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” (Rev. 21:24)  …Generally, the term “nations” also means non-believers.”  

Also in his book, “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White” Adam Hamilton writes: “There are hundreds of millions of people who long to know God, who follow Him according to what they know of His will, who pray daily to Him – often putting most Christians to shame when it comes to their prayer life- and who earnestly seek to please God by doing what is just and right.  We say that God forms such persons in their mothers’ womb, knows them by name, loves them, sees and hears their prayers, and surely sees their attempts to do what is right as they understand it.  Is it really the gospel truth that God then stands by and watches as they perish?”…  “This image of these hundreds of millions who have earnestly sought God being tormented for eternity, whether God directly sends them to hell, or simply allows them to perish, seems neither loving nor just.”  (Pg. 98.)

Many conservative Christians believe that children of believers who die before reaching the “age of accountability” will be granted God’s mercy through Christ and will be welcomed into heaven.  We also believe that God saved His chosen people, the Jewish faithful who worshipped and followed Him long before Jesus their Messiah came to earth.  These never believed in Jesus as their Savior since they lived before He came.  But we know that they are part of Gods’ kingdom, and we know that Jesus’ atoning work is the means by which God saves.    

Adam Hamilton writes in “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White,” p.106 “We know in the New Testament, that the ordinary means of receiving the gift of salvation is simply trusting in Christ as your Savior.  But if you are unable to do that, as in the case of the small child, is it possible for God to give that gift to you based on some other criteria?” 

 Could this same mercy be granted to unbelievers everywhere who have worshipped God and followed the light they had?  We have all know non Christians who lived moral, loving and caring lives.  And unfortunately we have also known people who called themselves Christians but who were hateful and judgmental.  Only God can judge.

But what about all of the people who all their lives rejected the light that God gave them?  Again, Adam Hamilton writes in “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White,” p. 98, “On the converse side, there are hundreds of millions of people who have, their entire lives, resisted God’s will, who have not lived lives of love, who have not valued justice or mercy, and who lived lives in which they were the center of their existence.  If heaven is a place where God’s will is perfectly done, and where all yield to the divine will, where people naturally put others first, and where they always do what is right, such a place would be hell for all who resisted God.  The only way they could enter heaven would be if God removed their freedom to choose or reject Him.  This I don’t see God doing.  And if God does not do this, and they enter heaven, heaven ceases to be heaven.”

The love of God is absolute. His love caused Him to give us His Son.  I believe that He loves all of His children regardless of what label they have.  We read in the good Book that He is kind and merciful, full of grace and not willing that any should perish.  So when we wonder- will Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people be in heaven, we must remember -those are decisions only God can make.  Only God can judge.  But there will be a kindness in His judgments and mercy in His justice.  Scripture says that His judgments are more than we can understand.  Because the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Because I Live You Shall Live Also

Because I Live You Shall Live Also

Jesus gives his followers a promise: “Because I live you shall live also.” ( John 14:19) We will have life after death because He had life after death. We celebrate Easter because Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)  “Scripture says that Jesus is the first to conquer death and through Him we will all follow.  “In Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own turn: Christ the first fruits: and then when He comes (through death), those who belong to Him will come.”  (1 Corinthians 15: 22b)

I used to teach Sunday school to forth graders and I had a picture book to help illustrate the concept that Jesus was the way to eternal life.   In this book there was a picture of two countries divided by a deep river.  The shore of one of the countries was named “earth”.   And across the dangerous river, the distant shore was called “heaven”.  And the treacherous river that ran between these two lands was called “death”.

Each person living on the earthly side eventually had to come to the banks of the wide river.  And when it was their time to cross over, each person would try to bring along a plank long enough to reach to the other side.  Many arrived at the river with construction workers and supplies in an effort to build bridges strong enough to withstand the tumultuous waters and long enough to reach across.  But each person and every group that tried to conquer the river, only tried in vain. They all failed and when their time came, they were all carried away in the rushing waters or pulled down beneath the waves by the undertow.     

Some of the bridges constructed along the river were named “good works” or “church attendance” or “religious pilgrimages”.   Other bridges were named “charitable giving”, “denying oneself” or “religious legalism”.  Nations joined forces with other nations to span the river with a bridge. And over the centuries billions were spent to get the job done.  But all to no avail!

 Wars were fought and institutions sprung up - all working on finding a way to conquer the dark river of death.  But all human efforts failed. No manmade bridge could reach across the rushing waters.  Every bridge would eventually crumble and the humans crossing on it would be swept away in the torrents.        

But just as all seemed hopeless, help was offered from the other side (heaven).  A Bridge like no other bridge in history was provided at a very great expense and everyone on earth was invited to use it.  Finally every body could cross the deep river safely if they wanted to.  And now anyone could travel to the Promised Land if they chose. This bridge was strong enough to withstand the turbulent waters and long enough to span the great distance. And the name of the bridge was “Jesus”.  This was the first and only bridge to make it all the way across the river. The only bridge to withstand the undercurrents and storms out on the river.  The only way over the river of death.  Scripture says: “I (Jesus) am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by Me.”  (John 14:6)

We celebrate Easter because Jesus is the first and only way- or bridge- over the river of death.  And because of Him we are invited to follow.  But how can we conceive of such mysteries as life after death? 

Paul describes life after death and what happens to us and to our bodies when we die.  He says that we shall be changed after death and he compares our death and resurrection to a seed that is planted in the ground and afterwards sprouts and grows into a plant or tree.  The plant or tree that grows doesn’t resemble the seed that was planted. And so it will be with us when we die.  Our resurrected bodies will be different from our earthly physical bodies. Let’s listen to what Paul says in Scripture. 

“But someone may ask, how are the dead raised?  With what kind of body will they come?  How foolish!  What we plant does not come to life unless it dies.  When we plant, we do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else … So it will be with the resurrection of the dead.”  (1 Corinthians 15:35-37,42)

Scripture goes on to say, “The body that is planted is perishable, but it will be raised imperishable…it is sown (planted) a natural body, and will be raised a spiritual body”  -“the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  When our perishable body has been clothed with the imperishable, and our mortal body with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true.  ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where O Death is your victory: and Where, O Death is your sting?”   (1 Cor. 15:42,44, 52b, 53b-55) 

We celebrate Easter because Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death.  He has conquered death for us and is our bridge over the dark waters of death.  “Because He lives, we shall live also.”  (John 14:19)