The Very Best Can Only Get Better

(On a beach-head in Kauai 11 years ago…)

Our group settled among an isolated beach strip. About one hundred feet into the cascading water a rock edifice jutted out of the cerulean sea, the perfect height for novice jumpers and divers.

To its immediate left a coral formation had formed underwater, apparently soft and smooth as kids and parents walked knee-deep in water along its roof. I swam out to the reef and found a spot seemingly perfectly formed for my buttocks. In my reef recliner I turned and faced the shoreline.

Brooding green and grey escarpments wrapped along the coast as far as could be seen. Brown sand gave way to dense vegetation almost untouched by humanity. Magnificent mountains whipped with small clouds were seen in the distant inland. The water glittered like diamonds before me and a gentle breeze ruffled the hair I used to enjoy.

My body, surrendered to the water, moved slightly to the rhythm of the gentle waves around me.

A living postcard exploded before my eyes.

It doesn’t get any better than this, I thought.

In that glorious fleeting moment: Complete comfort. Complete safety. Complete satisfaction.

But even in the grandeur of that moment, I was wrong.

It can only get better…for those in Christ.

St. Augustine once wrote after witnessing a North African sunset plunge into the ocean: “If these are the beauties afforded to sinful man, what does God have in store for those who love Him?”

The crystal sea will make the Caribbean look like a mud puddle.

Intimacy with the Bridegroom will make sex feel like an afterthought.

Wine and food at the Lamb’s wedding feast will make a Red Lobster shrimp dinner taste like an expired Hotpocket.

The worst days are no match either. As a slipped disc violently speed bags my sciatic nerve. As nasty flu symptoms begin to ravage my throat and head.

No fleeting moment of satisfaction then. No tramadol/robitussin induced haze then. A “far more eternal weight of glory” awaits His broken and bleeding.

Our worst days,

best days,

average days,

all days;

get better in Christ alone.

Bryan Daniels

Why I Can’t Just Say, “To Hell!” With Hell (Even If I Wanted To)

Hell is the new Nintendo.

At least it is amongst blogging Christendom as of late. Nothing can quite get public dialogue heated (?!) quicker than some good ole’ fire and brimstone-esque debate. In this day many, even those who claim Christianity, want to say, “To hell with hell!”…at least as the Bible plainly teaches it.

Hell is an immensely important doctrinal matter, because if eternal destinies of individuals are at stake then what we believe about hell cannot be taken too seriously or studied too carefully.

I bet John the Revelator believed in a literal hell…

It is no matter whether it offends our modern sensibilities and we feel the notion of a literal place called “hell” is arcane and puritanical. What we “feel” about it has no bearing on the issue. The most pressing concern at hand is this: Is it biblical to posit hell as a place of constant actual torment and eternal spiritual separation from God? Or is hell just self wrought consequences of bad choices which we reap only in the here and now?

Let’s begin the discourse in Revelation 20:10. Admittedly, one can’t deny the heavily symbolic nature of Revelation and the difficulties that flow out of such language, but all symbols symbolize something. Symbols are used to illustrate a greater truth that can’t be wrapped in literal language, not a lesser truth. While symbolic descriptions of hell sound bad enough, we can be assured the reality is even worse than can be imagined (thankfully this works on the flip side with heaven too!). 

The fundamental nature of hell is spiritual separation from God, but this view does not account for all the particulars of hell. Revelation 20:10 verse to help illustrate this point: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet also were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” There are several key inferences to make here: the lake of fire consumes the person, just as waters consume any person thrown into a physical lake; it is a place from which they cannot escape; the imagery of fire and sulphur is intended to show extreme pain and suffering that extends to all the senses. Furthermore, the punishment is obviously eternal, continual, total and conscious (“tormented day and night for ever and ever”) and human beings will be there, for the beast and the false prophet are humans.

It’s clear: “Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:10)

Let’s Not Be Hypocritical About Eternity

Many proponents of a non literal temporal hell claim if we had a more thorough understanding of Jewish historical context we could not hold to the traditional view of hell. This is not corroborated by careful study though. The ancient Jewish belief of humanity includes an immortality of the human soul and human body, which is in direct contrast to the gentile view of a separated body and soul. Daniel 12:1-2 is a confirmation: “ . . but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” If we hold tightly to the view of heaven as conscious eternal bliss, how can we not hold to the view of hell as conscious and eternal torment? Jesus confirms this when he says the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The biblical text is plain and does not change the grammatical meaning of “eternity” when referencing heaven or hell.

I find it hypocritical (and an indictment on human nature) that no one is propagating a “temporal” heaven with the same logic they claim a “temporal” hell. Could it be because we are making our interpretations of Scripture based on our subjective inclinations (eisegesis) and not the objective ordinary meaning of the text (exegesis)?

What can we make of Jesus’ NT exhortation to “Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28)? Hell is the place the body and soul will be eternally destroyed by a Holy loving God. Hell is not just the suicidal and self-inflicted internal propensities of misguided men (though it is that in part), Hell is the external judgment of God being poured out on sinful men (Romans 1:18-21).

Why else would we be charged to “Fear Him”? If all religions end up in the same relativistic celestial melting pot whom is there to fear?

The most heart wrenching display of the nature of hell is Christ’s separation from His Father on the cross. In this tangible portrayal of hell we do see physical suffering, which is only a minute part of this hell, but we see even greater the spiritual suffering of the Son who cried, “Why have you forsaken Me?” In hell, all the goodness and grace of the Father is suspended from the person and they are completely isolated from anything of redeeming value. Self is the wretched cruel king in hell. This Spiritual suffering is the most severe aspect of hell, but this in no way denies the physical suffering of the individual.

Hell has an immensely devastating affect on the whole person. Hell happens to you and in you for eternity.

Hell Is Giving One What They Really Want

When we reject the hell Christ took on the cross for us, we are accepting the hell we deserve for an eternity. God gives us what we truly desire. As CS Lewis once said, “Either people will say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ or God will say to them, ‘Thy will be done.'” The self willed, self absorbed and God-hating soul will continue in that trajectory into eternity. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

Remember who we are rebelling against when we sin. This is no mere Joe Blow off the street, it is the High King and perfect Son we are scorning. This is a high crime with high consequences. When blaspheming the infinitely worthy ONE there are necessarily infinitely dire implications. The punishment (eternal hell) fits the crime (eternal treason).

This is why the love of God and the wrath of God are inextricably linked. “This is love not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and given His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) In an ironic display of gospel ignorance many who claim “Love Wins” apart from God’s wrath, are actually nullifying the love of God. God loves sinners because He poured out His just displeasure on His perfect Son who died as our substitute. Clearly, a denial of God’s wrath is a denial of Christ’s propitiation (wrath bearing sacrifice) which in turn is an outright denial of God’s love.

Universalism, in the end, destroys the very thing it is attempting to uphold.

There is no biblical reason to uphold purgatory or annihilationism as a more sensitive route to hell. Christ was the most loving and sensitive man who ever walked the earth yet He talked more about hell than all other biblical writers combined. It was probably because He was more qualified to speak of such a horrible reality considering He was the creator of it, just as all things were created through Him (Colossians 1:15-17). The domesticated demure Jesus we have constructed in our minds actually declares in the “Rich man and Lazarus” parable that hell is place of personal consciousness, eternal torment, and no second chances (Luke 16:19-31).

Even if we reject the hellfire and brimstone hyper fundamentalist preaching of the traditionalist past, we would do well to give an ear to what Jesus has to say.

If there were no hell then Jesus is a liar.

Our distaste for hell will not make it go away. In reality, that nasty taste is designed by God so that we may shun hell and desire the heavenly kingdom He purchased for us with His own Son’s life. We may very well wish the notion of hell would just go to hell. But we would be consigning the love of God, the blood of Jesus, and all the goodness on heaven and earth to the same slippery fate.

Bryan Daniels

The Intimacy of Eternal Life-You Get Christ!

Eternal life is scary.

At least it was to me as a child. Every time I pondered for any amount of time about being somewhere forever, an incredible aching formed in the pit of my stomach. An aching that would persist to the point of either nausea or panic attack, until I drove all thoughts of immortality out of my mind for the moment. I understood heaven was preferable to hell as far as eternity went, but I couldn’t fathom being anywhere for forever, no matter how celestially blissful it may be. Even Earthworm Jim gets old after you’ve beaten it for the seventeenth time, right? According to my concept of heaven, after a couple of years the monotony would be mind-boggling. We get to run on streets of gold. But then what? We get to swing on gates of pearl. But then what? We get to hang out with our deceased grandparents, Moses, and maybe one of the band members from Creed. But then what? It all seemed a bit…..boring after awhile. As an atheist coworker told me recently, “I don’t want to imagine being anywhere forever. I’d die of boredom being in one place forever. Especially if there are no dogs there.” Nine year old Bryan would have wholeheartedly concurred with that statement (the man who made the statement  is  nearly fifty years old!).

The game that revolutionized the Sega Genesis

This sentiment of fear was held way before I came to the realization that eternal life and the book of Revelation was Christological and God centered; and nothing like anything I knew on earth (Revelation 1:1). In a word, the prospect of eternal life was frightfully boring to me before I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. After that happened, I learned eternal life did not primarily consist of an infinite quantity of time, but an intimate quality of relationship.

It was Jesus Christ Himself who graciously gave me a wholly adequate solution to my childhood dilemma in (John 17:3):

“This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God and the Son whom you have sent”

Here I found Christ never meant for us to be enamored with streets of gold, seas of crystal or gates of pearl; He wanted us to be enamored with Him.  A heaven of harps and cloud loitering satisfies not, but one vision of His grandeur and glories will enrapture us for an eternity.

What Christ says about eternal life in his High Priestly Prayer would be altogether shocking and ludicrous to the passive bystander. This is an average Jewish carpenter with no political clout, no royal entourage, and nowhere to even lay his head. And to his concerned disciples he gives this sure promise hours before He goes to the cross, “You will get to know my Father and me forever.” The Islamic Extremist gets 72 virgins. The Hindu gets a better cultural status next time around. The cultist gets his own world and god-like state. The prosperity propagator gets his best life now and maybe a private jet. But Christ makes all of those false promises burn in the light of this one profoundly simple assurance:

“You get Me.”

“You get to know Me.” Clearly, this is a ridiculously audacious promise if we are talking about a mere Jewish man.

The greek word for “know” here is ginōskō, which is translated in three primary tenses:

1) to learn to know, come to know, get knowledge of perceive, feel

2) to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of

3) Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman

To “know” God, in its fullest biblical sense holds much more weight than an introductory understanding of bible stories or an intellectual assent to a few orthodox doctrines.

We are called to an intimate knowledge of God, so much so the word is used interchangeably in Scripture with the way only a husband could physically “know” his wife.  You know, the way Joseph didn’t know Mary before Jesus was born? (Mat 1:25)  We are given the same type of relational status only it is eternally deeper than that of human marriage. This is a spiritual relational intimacy a holy God has granted us through Christ from the foundation of the world. This union is not only for monks and ministers, it’s for any who belong to the bride of Christ. And it belongs to all who are being washed in the water of God’s word. (Eph 5:25-28)

Paul called the heart of the gospel the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4:4-6) You can find the glory of God in many places: Lightning storms, mountaintops and holding your first-born for the first time. But Paul says the highest point of the glory of God rests in knowing and beholding Christ Himself, His face, His person, and His work at the cross and resurrection.

Paul also called everything else a four letter word (in the original Greek) compared to the surpassing worth of the knowledge of Christ. (Philippians 3:8) That’s because Christ is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:17), who upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3), who sits on an unrivaled  throne as King of the universe (Isaiah 6:1), in charge of angel armies (Heb 1:7), with eyes blazing with fiery holiness (Rev 1:14), a voice that thunders like crashing waterfalls (Rev 1:15), who made all things as all things were made for Him (Col 1:16), and will righteously judge the living and the dead at the end of time (Revelation 19:11). And this all culminates at the cross, where He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world for our sins (Rev 13:8).

Indeed, this is no mere Jewish carpenter. Through Him we are called children and heirs of God (Rom 8:16-17). That means we get God; we are afforded the incomprehensible privilege of knowing this God through Christ. This is what we received when we received the gospel, and it all happened at the point of our conversion. Which means eternal life doesn’t begin when we die, eternal life begins when we come to know Christ. Eternal life isn’t just then and there, but it is a here and now reality for those who are in Christ.

In Christ alone, the glory of God is made manifest to us. In Christ alone, the blazing holiness of God is made tolerable and accessible to us. In Christ alone, the righteous Judge has become a righteous Father. In Christ alone, we can know God and not just know things about Him in a second-hand way.

In the life to come, we will be eagerly chasing down the unsearchable riches of His excellencies; and after an eternity we will not have even reached the foothills of the majesty of King Jesus and His kingdom.

Better than wealth, health, fame, sex, food, relationships, toys, self-esteem and all the glory of the world combined.

You get Christ.

What more do you want?

Bryan Daniels