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.