Saturday, June 15, 2013

What The Hell Am I Saved From? What I Believe About Hell & Why (Complete Post)

This is the post about hell in its entirety. I would highly encourage you to read this straight through, it will take a couple minutes, and there are a few extra paragraphs that were not included in the other posts. At the end is also a personal note, one that kept me studying and kept me writing while being tired of reading and thinking and writing about hell - it was hellish to allow my mind to be consumed by thoughts of this terrible reality.

I pray this post will be helpful to all who read it. That in considering hell it will spur you on to love, both of God and of man. To not spurn the gospel of grace offered freely to us who justly deserve eternal hell - to both believe with all our heart, strength, and mind the reality of God's love for us in the gospel. That indeed Jesus has made peace between God and us rebels by the blood of his cross. 

Therefore read with an eye on the cross for your own sake and an eye on your friends and family and remember Jesus' words on his way to the cross and know he bore this in your place for your sins, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matt. 26:39

Last week I wrote a couple posts about an interesting topic that I apparently jumped fully into, that is the topic of annihilationism. This is the idea that hell will end for those condemned there after a time – that rather than suffering for eternity those damned will be annihilated, that they’ll cease to be.

It seems there are four parts to the annihilationist’s argument (of the more than one hundred comments on my facebook post you’d think there are at least four hundred arguments for it and just as many against it), these are:

1) The biblical references for the ‘destruction’ of the wicked,
2) The inconsistency of an eternal hell with the love of God,
3) The injustice or unfairness of the disparity between sins committed in this life and the punishment of eternal torment, and
4) That allowing evil to continue in hell would mess with the perfection of the universe God will create after the Judgment Day. (Order taken from Wayne Grudem)

Over the next series of posts I hope to respond to this doctrine, not only to respond to it but also to make clear both the biblical stance as well as my stance on this topic of the eternality of hell.
            However before we begin to look more deeply at this topic I want to make one thing absolutely crystal clear and this one thing should be at the front of our minds whenever we are discussing or thinking about the topic of hell, namely that we are thinking about the outcome for millions of real people. 

            Hell is real, whether one believes in annihilationism or eternal hell, it’s still real and will still be awful and real people will go there. Friends, family, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, children will inhabit this terrible place where God justly pours out his wrath on those who are not saved by the blood of Jesus. This MUST be at the forefront of our minds as we think about this topic. The wrath of God is real, and it will be – and is - unimaginable.

Let’s begin our talk of hell with the wrath of God. It is appropriate to think about this at the beginning because it is precisely what we are dealing with when we are talking about hell – for it is the wrath of God that comprises hell and therefore it is primarily the wrath of God that we are dealing with when we reflect on hell.

The wrath of God is one of the perfections of God, in other words it’s one of his attributes, one of his characteristics. We should study it because it gives us a fuller picture of who God is (if we didn’t it would be like getting to know your friends without letting them talk about themselves).

“The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine Character on which we need to meditate frequently, “ for three reasons, “First, that our hearts may be impressed by God’s detestation of sin… Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God (Heb 12:28-29)… Third, to draw our souls in frequent praise to Jesus Christ for having delivered us from, ‘the wrath to come,’ (I Thess 1:10)(A.W. Pink).”

It would seem that the wrath of God is a rather unfashionable thing to talk about; it’s not often that folks preach sermons about how amazing and terrible is the God we worship and use texts about the utter destruction and torment of the wicked in hell as their preaching passage. However we must talk about the terribleness of which hell is comprised. And quite frankly I think Jonathan Edwards expounding on I Thess. 2:16 are much better words than mine here (don’t be intimidated that it’s Edwards I modernized it),

“How dreadful the wrath of God is, when it is executed to the uttermost. To make you in some measure sensible of that. I desire you to consider whose wrath it is. The wrath of a king is a roaring lion; but this is the wrath of Jehovah, the LORD God Omnipotent. Let us consider what we can rationally think of it? How dreadful must the wrath of such a Being be when it comes upon a person to the uttermost, without any pity, or moderation, or merciful circumstances! What must be the uttermost of his wrath who made heaven and earth by the word of his power; who spoke and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast! What must his wrath be, who commanded the sun and it doesn’t rise, and seals up the stars! What must his wrath be who shakes the earth out of its place and causes the pillars of heaven to tremble! What must his wrath be who rebukes the sea and makes it dry? Who removes mountains out of their place and overturns them in his anger! What must his wrath be whose majesty is so awful that no man could live in the sight of it! What must the wrath of such a Being be when it comes to the uttermost, when he makes his majesty appear and shine bright in the misery of wicked men! And what is a worm of the dust before the fury and under the weight of this wrath, which the stoutest devils cannot bear but utterly sink and are crushed under it. Consider how dreadful the wrath of God is sometimes in this world only in a little view or taste of it. Sometimes when God only enlightens consciences to have some sense of his wrath it causes the stout-hearted to cry out; nature us ready to sink under it when indeed it is but a little glimpse of divine wrath that is seen…. But if a slight taste and comprehension of wrath be so dreadful and intolerable what must it be when it comes upon a person to the uttermost! When a few drops or a little sprinkling of his wrath is so dreadful and overbearing to the soul, how must it be when God opens the flood-gates and lets the mighty deluge of his wrath come pouring down upon men’s guilty heads and brings all his wrath to sink them! ‘When his wrath is kindled but a little, blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Ps. 2:12)’”

(It’s a long quote I know) We must be aware that the wrath of God is terrible and a part of his divine perfections and as such we must not think to small of our God to imagine that his wrath will not be or is not utterly horrifying. While it may not be the cool thing to talk about it is indeed part and portion of the God we worship and therefore must be considered. But while considering it we cannot think that his wrath is mixed with the same limitations or imperfections that we have in our ‘wrath.’ Surely we are justly angry at times be we are also imperfect and ignoble in our anger – but God is not.

In studying God’s wrath we will see exactly what we are saved from through the propitiatory death of Jesus who stood, “Between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath… (J.I. Packer).”

Passages to look up on the wrath of God:
Ex. 22:18-24; 32:10-12
Deut. 29:23-28; 11:16-27
Ezra 8:22
Ps. 2:5-9
Nahum 1:2-3, 6-8, 14
Amos 5:18-20
Matt 16:24-26
Mark 9:47
Lk. 12:47-48; 21:22-24
Rom. 1:18; 2:5; 3:5-8, 24-25; 12:19; 13:4-5
Acts 17:30-31
Eph 2:3
I Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9
II Thess 1:7-10
Heb. 10:28-31
I John 2:2
Rev. 6:16; 16:19

Now let’s get the brunt of what these posts are about. We’ve seen that the wrath of God no matter where one stands on the spectrum of hell, that God’s wrath is indeed terrible and should cause us to fear Him. We’ve also seen that God’s wrath isn’t mixed with imperfections like our, that it is a perfect wrath.

So how does this wrath play out in hell? It’s real, hell. We need to know that above all else hell is a real place and real people go there (remember, keep that at the forefront of your mind).

Edwards makes a good case in the last post that if a little of God’s wrath is intolerable what must it be to experience God’s wrath to the uttermost? But what is the term on God’s wrath, is there a limit, does it end?

No, God’s wrath against sin does not end. Biblically God’s wrath against sin does not end (This should be enough). Logically God’s wrath against sin does not end. Temporally God’s wrath against sin does not end. In terms of glory God’s wrath against sin does not end. In terms of perfection God’s wrath does not end.

I want to present this in two ways, first in terms of a rebuttal to the four main arguments for annihilationism (a necessarily negative light) and second in terms of why one must believe that hell is unending (a necessarily positive light).

In the first post I listed the main arguments of annihilationism as this:

1) The biblical references for the ‘destruction’ of the wicked,
2) The inconsistency of an eternal hell with the love of God,
3) The injustice or unfairness of the disparity between sins committed in this life and the punishment of eternal torment, and
4) That allowing evil to continue in hell would mess with the perfection of the universe God will create after the Judgment Day. (Order taken from Wayne Grudem)

In this post I hope to offer a rebuttal to these arguments. Mind you this debate has been going on for years and I do not expect to change their minds in this one post, in fact I fully expect more arguments will come to show. (Some good resource to read are: Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology page 1146 about Hell, J.I. Packer Knowing God chapter on The Wrath of God, James Boice The Foundations of the Christian Faith chapter on The Wrath of God, Jonathan Edwards sermons Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, Of Eternal Punishment and many others.) Many of my arguments here are taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

First the biblical references for the ‘destruction’ of the wicked. References like Phil. 3:9; I Thess 5:3; II Thess 1:9; II Peter 3:7. “In response it must be said that the passages of destruction do not necessarily imply the cessation of existence.” (Hold on to your hats this part is a little detailed and I’m no Greek scholar.)

In Phil. 3:9 and II Peter 3:7, “‘destruction’ is apoleia which is the same as in Matt 26:8 to speak of ‘waste’ of the ointment. Now the ointment did not cease to be, to exist; it was very evident on Jesus’ head. But was ‘destroyed’ in the sense it no longer was able to be used on someone else or sold.” This destruction is the type seen in these verses, not imply annihilation but the simplicity of unable to be redeemed. Those who are in hell are unredeemable; they did not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and are bearing the just eternal punishment of their sins.

In I Thess 5:3 and II Thess 1:9, “’destruction’ is olethros, used also in I Cor 5:5 of delivering a man to Satan (putting him out of the church) for destruction of the flesh – but his flesh did not certainly cease to be when he was put out of the church…” So destruction is once again not seen as ceasing to exist it is seen as being done away with in a permanent since.

Verses about the eternality of hell:
Matt 25:30-41, 46 see also Isa 66:4
Mark 9:43, 48
Luke 16:22-24, 28
Rev 14:9-11; 19:3; 20:10-15

I would highly recommend you look these verses up, especially the ones in Revelation, which say things like “forever and ever.” All the verses are linked for your viewing ease.

In the last post we looked at the first argument for the biblical texts ‘supporting’ annihilationism. In this post we’ll look at the last three.

The second is that of the inconsistency that an eternal hell is to the love of God. That For God to be truly loving then he would not damn any person to an eternity in hell. However the same problem arises for the annihilationists. In other words this is really a non-argument. It would be unloving for God to damn anyone to hell forever, but it would be loving for God to damn anyone to hell for a set time in such a way so as to annihilate them. Do you see? On one hand it’s unloving to damn and on the other hand it’s loving to damn is essentially the argument. (There is also another type of annihilationism, called annihilationism proper or immediate annihilationism, that is that upon death those unsaved completely cease to be and do not enter hell at all. But this cannot properly be called punishment. Therefore it’s not right because there would be no ultimate justice in the universe.)

Third is the inconsistency between the punishment and the grievance, the sin committed. “The argument that eternal punishment is unfair wrongly assumes that we know the extent of the evil done when sinners rebel against God. (Grudem)”, “Sin against the Creator is heinous to a degree utterly beyond our sin warped imaginations to conceive of….Who would have the temerity to suggest to God what the punishment … should be. (Kingdon).”

Along this point it should be asked of the annihilationist if once a person has entered hell and has served its ‘time’ is it then justified to be annihilated? If the sin that was committed by this person is now dealt with in their ‘time’ in hell, then why not let that person go to heaven? What is the reason or point of annihilationism whatsoever if that person’s sins have been dealt with fully in hell? (Grudem)

Fourth, that allowing evil to persist would be a corruption in God’s perfect universe he creates after the Judgment Day. That hell exists in eternity does not detract from the perfections of God’s universe, in fact it enhances it. It forces us to realize that God has triumphed over sin perfectly and, as Edwards said, to the uttermost revealing the glory of his justice and the perfection of his wrath. That for all time his people will behold God’s triumph over all evil.

On a side note before I end this particular post Grudem brought up an interesting thing, one which I’ll post here as a warning – a shot across the bow, if you will – of where, the dangers of fighting against the eternality of hell could lead. “Because the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment is so foreign to the thought patterns of our culture, and, on a deeper level, to our instinctive and God-given sense of love and desire for redemption for ever human being created in God’s image, this doctrine is emotionally one of the most difficult doctrines for Christians to affirm today. It also tends to be one of the first doctrines given up by those who are moving away from commitment to the Bible as absolutely truthful in all that it affirms…”

We must believe that eternal punishment is true and just even though it does hurt us to believe that there is a place that offers eternal punishment. Even though the prospects of people going there is devastating. This doctrine gives literal fire to our message of redemption.

Here I want to propose the arguments for the eternality of hell in a positive light.

First it is biblical:
Matt 25:30-41, 46 see also Isa 66:4
Mark 9:43, 48
Luke 16:22-24, 28
Rev 14:9-11; 19:3; 20:10-15…

Second it’s reasonable:
If God is an eternal being and we have sinned against that eternal being than it stands to reason that the just punishment for such a grievance is an eternal punishment. We however are guilty of more than one sin, indeed we are sinners are through and through. There is indeed justice for God in the eternal damnation of sinners.

If God commands that we as his creation do not murder, that we do not snuff out life in this reality, then how can God, who created the law, not be subject to his own law and utterly destroy – annihilate, murder in completeness of the word – people? It would seem that in so acting God must be unjust and disobey his own decreed command and therefore not be perfect. In other words it would mean that God is in fact not God and therefore not worthy of glory, honor, praise, and eternal dominion.

If God’s wrath against sin terminates in the annihilation of a person then what happened with Jesus? If Jesus bore the same wrath of God for sin for Christians, as a non-Christian will bear to their annihilation then why was Jesus not annihilated?

Third it’s traditional orthodoxy:
I’ll be the first to tell that just because something is traditional that doesn’t mean it should be believed, you all know I’m a huge fan of the reformation. But when it comes to orthodoxy these are areas, which must be believed in order to have the gospel in its full potency. It is a good practice to ask, “If this is doctrine is different or changed in any way does it change the gospel? And if so how?” If the gospel is changed than the new doctrine or changed doctrine should not be believed. Here, if hell is ending we loose much of the potency of the powerful redemptive work of Jesus. Rather than saving us from for all times from the wrath of God on sin, he only saves from the wrath of God until the end of hell then after that… well that’s part of the question, what does happen to those in heaven after hell is over? Is Jesus’ death still effective? What happens to justification? What happens to redemption? What happens to salvation after hell has ended? Are we still the redeemed and if so what are we the redeemed from? Like the title of this post says, what the hell am I saved from?

On this note is good to look at those who have believed this same doctrine, has history vindicated their names against those who have been proponents for other doctrines, names like St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Peter and Paul. It is good to be in good company when believing certain difficult doctrines. Here, if one were to believe that hell has an end they would be in the company of Seventh Day Adventist or Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are both commonly, referred to as cults.

In the last post I want to point out what believing in the eternality of hell does for one’s Christian faith.

It seems odd to have a section that only highlights the benefits of why one should believe in the eternality of hell. It’s crazy to think there are pluses to this immense minus. But there are many.

First I would put this doctrine in my category of  “Devastatingly Beautiful.” This is where I put the doctrines that are so dangerous and devastating but also afford and allow for such worship as cannot be brought by any song I’ve heard or sung.

The eternality of hell is devastating because real people go to a real hell – forever. There are no second chances after death. In fact this life we live has second chances every second. After death there is one place for those who have spurned God’s call and shunned his righteousness and aimed to live their own life without God. God mercifully gives them what they desire – an eternity without his closeness. We cannot come to this dry-eyed or bushy-tailed. This ought to take the wind out of our sails and crush us on the rocks of devastation. People will die and they will suffer forever…

Think about that, people you know will die and they will suffer endlessly. Think about their screams; try to imagine their pain. Now think there’s away way out of that torment – that terrible suffering – a way has been made to release you and them from your and their just damnation and his name is Jesus! He bore that incomprehensible wrath in your place for your sins! Do you love your friends? Of course, now tell them to be saved, redeemed by Jesus! At the heart of the arguments on the limitations of hell is a dangerous plot to lose the urgency of missions. Our dying world must be saved from the just torment of eternity. And only God can save them from his own wrath through Jesus’ atoning death.

Now think about the beauty of salvation! See the storm clouds of God’s divinely just wrath poured out completely on Jesus – you see the only way that Jesus could bear the eternal wrath of God is because he himself is a part of the eternal Being. The only possible way for God’s entire eternal wrath to be cleared from your name is if Jesus being fully God and full man stood and took that wrath for you – it’s the doctrine of propitiation.
We cannot lull our friends or family into a false sense of security by allow them to think hell is ending or that it is not going to be terrible. To allow them to think such things would be like leading them there yourself. Spurgeon said in Lectures to My Students something that has stuck with me for years essentially it is this: Do not be a blind pastor leading you people blindly to hell; an unredeemed pastor is like a blind man making claims about beautiful paintings or a deaf man telling the world of Mozart, he cannot tell the world of what he does not know. Therefore make sure you know and believe the gospel lest you lead your congregation to hell and be greeted there by their screams of torment, “You lead us here!” This will be the screams of those we love if we do not tell them urgency and dangerousness of hell and the beauty of the salvation of Jesus.

Ask yourselves what makes missions seem more urgent hell that is ending or hell that is eternal? Ask yourself what makes God’s hatred against sin more perfect hell that is ending or hell that is eternal? Ask yourself what makes God’s salvation more inescapably beautiful hell that is ending or hell that is eternal? Ask yourself what makes God’s glory so vast as to truly show us that what we know of God is limited and finite hell that is ending or hell that is eternal? Finally ask yourself what shows God’s way to be far higher than our ways, hell that is ending or hell that is eternal?

As an end to this post, this post of hell, I want to add a personal note (I really hope you watched the video). The glory of God is displayed clearly in the death of Jesus - God in the flesh - that he stood in our place and bore an eternity of punishment in his eternal Being. We are free because he has freed us. Hell, this eternal suffering and torment that we should get for the rest of forever has passed from us on to Jesus. Therefore the personal note that I want to add here is simply this: BELIEVE! 

Believe that God has and does love you personally! Believe that God does love you unconditionally! Believe that God loves you irresistibly! Believe that God loves us perseveringly! Believe that it is Jesus who has done all the work you could never do and saved you from all that you deserve to bear – He literally bore it in himself for you because of the deep, deep love of God!

If you do believe the gospel then believe it more and still and deeper! After reading about hell it ought to stir your mind and pluck your heartstrings to know that this damnable eternity is some people’s forever… Be broken! Be devastated, but also turn to the cross of Jesus Christ and realize the full gorgeous beauty of the gospel! That you are free from this proper damnation because of Jesus and only Jesus!

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26

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