THE QUESTIONS PROJECT: God, are you out there??

 

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For all the questions we could explore, none of them mean a thing until we come to an honest answer to this one.  Does God exist- true or untrue?

The ironic thing about this question is, it is often approached as a preference and not truth.  People would prefer there was no God, or, they’d prefer God was “not like this” or He was “like that.”  The thing is; perception can be mere preference, but truth cannot.  Truth is what is real, like it or not.

A foundational qualification for God to be God is that He is the designer and sustainer of creation.  That being said, here are some realities to consider:

  • The complexity and uniformity of the cosmos.

We have developed theories of what holds the universe together, and how and why it is expanding.  But what’s behind our theories?  The ageless predictability of basic physics.  Science claims that our solar system is 4.6 billion years old.  And since its formation, our planet has been following the same orbit around the sun.  As far as consistent laws, that’s a pretty solid track record.

The universe is said to be 13.7 billion solar years, and it too, has followed the same laws of physics.  Even as we look into theoretical physics, and alternate laws, we can only consider the alternate because the consistent has remained so consistent.  If we ever discover an alternate reality where 1+1 doesn’t equal 2, it’s only because we have known that in our physical experience, 1+1 has always equaled 2.

Speaking of the universe, with the growing convictions on dark matter and dark energy, we are beginning to understand how the universe as a whole, is connected.  The fact that our planet is at just the right, miniscule distance from the sun, isn’t just a consequence of our solar system.  It is an effect of the entire galaxy, which in turn is the consequence of all the galaxies neighboring our galaxy.  How humbling to think that a thousand, thousand stars are just where they need to be so we can be here!

  • The phenomenon of life.

And life itself consists of thousands of lines of genetic code that work by producing their own energy source as they produce bio-code and pump out the right sequencing over and over.  Not only that, they have a built-in time clock dictating when it is time for life to stop.  The chance of that happening randomly, is about the same as the computer code of your device just falling into place to produce the software you are now using.  As we so painfully know; get a few lines of code wrong and nothing works!    …The cosmos operates in systems.  Systems point to a design.  Design points to a designer.

  • God Himself, we ourselves!

But perhaps the greatest evidence of God, is ourselves.  From the dawn of humanity we haven’t been able to abandon the idea of God.  The atheist turned God-seeker, Marilyn Adamson puts her personal experience like this:

“I didn’t realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, ‘Ok, you win…’ It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.”

It makes sense that if an entity so far beyond us remains a constant question, it’s not because we have reached up and formed the question; it’s that He has reached down and placed the question in us.  Of course, that’s no new revelation.  Some 5,000 years ago, a very wise king wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Eccl. 3:11.

~Anyway, it is certainly food for thought to a very important question.

QUESTIONS PROJECT: Would a loving God cast people into Hell? (part 2)

Hell_2

In our previous article, we explored the nature of God.  The underlying quality of God is that He is perfect.  He isn’t simply loving, but perfect in His love.  He isn’t simply wise, but perfect in His understanding.  He isn’t simply fair, but perfect in His justice.  How does such a being restore a fallen humanity while remaining in harmony with His perfect nature?

Let’s start with this disturbing Bible passage on hell:

Revelation 20:14-15
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Let’s quickly give a Biblical context to a few words: Death is the absence of life.  Hades is basically, the grave, and the lake of fire is “hell.”  But have you ever asked yourself, why a lake of fire?

That involves a little history.  In one of the darkest periods of Old Testament Israel, the Hebrews erected a statue of the bull-god, Moloch.  The statue was actually a furnace set up in the Kidron Valley to the southwest of Jerusalem.  The fires below heated the metal statue and children were placed as a sacrifice on its red hot arms.  The screams of the children would be drowned out by the singing of the crowd.

After the reform of Israel, the valley was seen as a cursed place.  For centuries, it was only used as a trash dump.  The smell and the smoke of the smoldering refuse rose day and night.  The name of the place was “Gehenna” which is also the ancient name for hell.  The New Testament imagery of hell is based on this; the vilest period of Jewish history.

To be cast into Gehenna is to be removed from the presence of God.  Since God is life, it is to exist in a type of “non-life.” (The second death Rev. 2:18)   So the bottom line is this; hell is hell because God is completely absent.

As for the torture of hell; Scripture says that ultimately “every knee shall bow” (Phil. 2:10-11, Ro. 14:11).  That’s to say, believer and atheist alike, will see God fully.  They shall see Him as He really is.

There is a lot of discussion about this, but it seems reasonable to say that the torture of hell will not be fueled by our guilt or by literal flames.  The real flames of hell will be the burning remorse of experiencing the direct glory of God only to see it gone forever.  Worst of all, it will be a tragedy of our own making.  Hell is hell because God is not there.

On the other hand, the throne of God is the central theme of “heaven.”  There is not even any need for a sun, since God Himself is light. (Rev. 21:23)  Heaven is heaven because God is there; His presence being fully manifested.

The gates of hell are where perfect love and perfect justice merge.  We are all fallen, and twisted.  So how is it that just God, loving as He is, can allow any of us into His perfect Kingdom?

There’s a simple verse we teach our children, “John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  We are given the opportunity to substitute God’s own perfect innocence for our guilt.  …But there is another side to it, “John 3:19- This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light.” We are saved or lost by what we choose.

Could a loving God cast people into hell?  If it is true that God’s Kingdom is a state of perfect innocence and that God wishes to restore creation to Himself- how could He possibly do anything else?  Keep in mind: He is only casting people into the ultimate end they’ve already chosen for themselves; God’s absence.  It is certainly food for thought.

Questions Project: Would a loving God cast people into hell? (Part 1)

Hell_1Our question for this article is: Would a loving God cast people into hell? (Part 1)

This is a very large question.  To answer it thoroughly would involve a good deal of history, theology, and Scripture.  Even a decent short response entails more than a short article can hold, so we’ll divide it into two articles.

In PART 1 this week, let’s just qualify a few concepts that the question demands:

  1. Who/ what is the God of the Bible, and what is His deepest desire?
  2. Who/ what is humanity, and what’s our part?
  3. What is the most foundational element that makes hell, hell and heaven, heaven?

There are additional questions we could ask, but let’s limit ourselves to these.

Since God is at the center of the question, let’s start there.  How does the Bible describe God?  In a nutshell, here are a few truths the Bible claims about God: He is spirit, He is called the designer, creator and sustainer of all creation.  He is light and life.  He is perfect; He is perfect in understanding, love, and justice.  He cannot become imperfect in one virtue in order to satisfy another.  That raises an interesting dilemma, doesn’t it?  What happens if perfect love and perfect justice come into conflict?

Is that possible?  Let’s take a look at God’s deepest desire according to Scripture.  The entire Bible is a love story.  It is the story of creation’s fall from God’s design because of man, and God’s plan to restore both.  From the first page to the last, Scripture is God’s story of restoration.  In a restoration to perfect innocence, love and justice are in such opposition that only God can resolve them.

 

So what does the Bible say about humanity?  We were made in the image of God.  That is to say, we are self-aware, able to create, to love, commune, and to exert our will.  The Bible says humanity fell from God’s design.  The divine image wasn’t totally lost but distorted by the fall.  We are ALL distorted images of our intended selves.  That is the essence of sin.  Sin is to be distanced from God, and since God is life, there can be only one outcome to sin, all things remaining the same- the final outcome will be the absence of life. (“The wages of sin is death.” Ro. 6:23, Gen. 2:17; Prov. 10:16; Eze 18:4)

Man is a three-fold being; body, mind, and spirit (or soul).  Our destiny is set by all three.  We are mortal, yet we have an eternal destiny.  The soul is the seat of conscience and human will.  We know our willpower can’t control everything, but we have enough free-will to choose.  We don’t know everything, yet we know enough to be held accountable for our choices.

And finally, since God is spirit and we are spirit, there is a means by which we can connect with God… if we so choose.

If we can process these realities about God and about ourselves, we’ll be in a place we can appreciate the most basic realities of hell and heaven which we’ll cover next week.  But I will share this spoiler; the most basic essence of hell and heaven is not punishment and reward, it is something far more profound.

In part 2, the perfection of God meets the imperfection of us all.  That’s where we’ll resolve this question of a loving God and a horrific hell.  Hope to see you then as we complete this food for thought.

WHAT WAS AMERICA’S “FIRST LOVE”?

Flag_AmericanThere is a lot of revisionism going on about where this nation came from.  For example, Bishop Paul O’Brien of the Universal Life Church claims:

The United States was started by men we today would call pagans.  They wrote a constitution without one word about God or Jesus in it.  And in the amendments they said there should be no laws respecting the establishment of religion.  This too is excluding God…Jefferson, Madison, Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Pain, Patrick Henry and most of our Found Fathers were deists. Continue reading “WHAT WAS AMERICA’S “FIRST LOVE”?”

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO “SHAME”?

Cake_Divorced_s3Browsing through internet images, I noticed a new product in the bakery world; it’s “Just Divorced” cakes.  There are a couple of classic lines to celebrate one’s cake day.  “I do, I did, I’m done!”  or a ball and broken chain that says “Free At last!”  There was one practical cake, showing the ex-spouse pushed over the side as it exclaims, “Problem Solved.”

I have no doubt that there are legitimate reasons for divorce, such as abuse.  But until recently, we have not seen divorce as something to celebrate. Continue reading “WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO “SHAME”?”