Hell-The New Nintendo, The Old Biblical Truth

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 call themselves Christian, 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 Baptist 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 physical 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)

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.

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 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 (hell) fits the crime (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 (cough*Rob Bell*cough), 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 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 Jesus there would be no hell. Or to say it differently, the only way there could be no hell is if there were no Jesus.

Our distaste for hell will not make it go away. In reality, that 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 fate.

Bryan Daniels

Rob Bell: Does Universalism Really “Win” In The End?

Rob Bell is an excellent communicator.

I read Velvet Elvis, and was charmed by the wit and creativity of the man and his unique approach to Jewish history and culture. I viewed a large portion of the NOOMA video series and was drawn in by the quality of the production and the calm winsomeness of it’s creator. Yet I had my quiet reservations with both of these works, and lack of a clear biblical gospel presentation was the heaviest one (that was my qualm with Purpose Driven Life).

I’m afraid these same reservations are manifesting with the upcoming release (March 29th) of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” The video released to promote the book (above) may be an overly provocative PR gag to sell books….if that’s case, Bell has issues of a different order. And before some opine here, “You haven’t even read the book! Why don’t you wait for it to come out and….”* Well, if Bell is saying what he actually seems to be plainly saying then Justin Taylor is not jumping the gun with his assessment. And if his publisher’s teaser honestly contains the content of the book then it is better to be proactive in our discernment than reactive: 

…in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

Bell reaches a large impressionable world every time he speaks or writes, and the masses sometimes get blown by every wind of doctrine when they are drawn to human magnetism and a “cooler, fresher” brand of Christianity. Truth matters. Truth eternally matters no matter how bristled our human nature is with that fact.

Here’s some biblical issues with the primer video released by Bell to promote the book:

1. Bell has an issue with the anonymous note-writer who condemned Gandhi at his art exhibit. So do I. We shouldn’t presume absolutely that we know the fate of those who die. God will judge them rightly (Genesis 18:25). But this works both ways. It is equally presumptuous to assume they are saved and consign them to heaven so we may be soothed with a false comfort. Bell seems to be doing just that in order to appear nice, but not completely forthcoming.

2. Bell asks, “Is there really only a few saved?” and seems to answer his question with a resounding negative. If that’s the case Bell is diametrically opposed to the clear teaching of Jesus: “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). And “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

Bell is forcing his listener’s to a clear impasse: You can take the ordinary meaning of the Son of God’s words, or you can take the vague modern interpretation of a man with a wildly popular ministry.

3. Bell then groups a list of absurd and valid “conditions” to eternal life according to the strawman he is attempting to pummel. I don’t know why he pairs up being “born again” with the likes of “taking a class.” Within the context of the video it seems like a simple attempt to make the whole list absurd.

Fortunately for us, when answering these questions Jesus is not as ambiguous as Bell is: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3)

And regarding eternal life, it does matter who you know: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)  

4. Bell says what is “subtly” taught is that “Jesus rescues us from God…What kind of God is that?” The concerns with this last part are manifold. Scripture does not just subtly teach the propitiatory (wrath bearing) atonement of Christ, rather it overtly teaches it. If pastors are only “subtly” teaching it, then it is because they are ashamed of the gospel “which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Apparently, even the “belief” part of the gospel is another rub to Rob Bell’s modern sensibilities.

And what of those who don’t believe? “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18)

Bell seems to create a false dichotomy between God’s love and God’s wrath. But for God to love He must also hate. This is evident in the very fabric of our human relationships. For me to love my wife I must also hate committing adultery against her. If I licentiously sleep with other women with no regard to the woman I’m married to then I do not love my wife. If you love children then you must also hate sexual abuse against children. If you say you love the Jewish people yet you’re neutral about the Holocaust I would have to call you on your inconsistency. In order for God to express justice, mercy, grace and righteousness he must also express His rightful displeasure against everything that opposes those attributes.

Scripture makes it clear: God hates sin. In a perfect Godly way, he even hates those who commit sin (Psalm 5). Because God hates sin He was compelled to send His Son as a decisive act of love to deal with it on our behalf (John 3:16). “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) The love of God is forever linked to the wrath bearing sacrifice of His Son on the cross. What God has joined let no man tear asunder. Thank God for his holy hatred. Otherwise, we would be lost in our sins with no hope (Proverbs 24:20).

5. Bell says, “This (the God who judges people for their sin) is why many people want nothing to do with the Christian faith.” Well, yeah, that’s true. And it’s nothing new either. It’s one of the primary reasons Jesus promised that the world would hate His disciples (John 15:18).

It is the primary reason Paul guaranteed the message of cross of Christ would seem foolishness to the contemporary philosophy of the day:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

 I sincerely hope this passage doesn’t apply to Rob Bell. I hope he really apprehends and proclaims the full message of the biblical gospel no matter what popular opinion would lead him to believe. Any other gospel that neglects the beautiful heaven-born truth of God’s holiness and love on the cross, is only a gospel of false hope. 

In two thousand years, nothing has changed. There is no other gospel than the one Jesus and Paul preached, and the one the host of saints and sinners throughout the history of world have fled to again and again. Treasure it, cling to it, and share it.

In the end be sure of this, the biblical hope of the gospel will ultimately win over the false hope of universalism.

Bryan Daniels

*If Bell does an about face and the book is the exact opposite of what he seems to be promoting, with a biblically rich theology of salvation through Christ alone, I will be the first to give him a public apology…

The Perfect Bloody Antidote for Valentine’s Day

[This is an oldie but goodie, a remix, a regurgitation, a….just read the intro to this]

The more I study the scriptures I have had memorized since VBS, the more I am convinced of my ignorance of them. In my adult life I have often been guilty of neglecting the Sunday school stories of old: Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Red Sea, Jonah and the Whale, etc. This apathetic attitude overflows into the New Testament Scriptures too. My neglect is displayed specifically in what is probably the most celebrated verse in modern time: John 3:16. I can quote it frontwards and backwards and say all the doctrinally correct things about it, but rarely does this verse resonate deep within me anymore. 

You may feel the same way. But there is a multifaceted jewel here that we need to pick back up and dust off. We should not approach it lightly, as Spurgeon said, “like children, playing marbles with God’s diamonds.”

“For God so loved….”

We can never get over that truth. We can never “get past it” and on to deeper more substantial matters. If we believe we can God have mercy on our souls. There is still an untouched uncharted ocean that still dwells within John 3:16. This love that God loves with is an “agapao” love, or the highest form of love. It is the most emphatic love one can express. It’s not just that God loved the world, it is that he intensely loved the world. And the force of the word is coupled with way he loved (so loved), literally meaning, “God intensely loved the world in this way….”

God is a God who loves. That means He feels. He knows devotion. He knows affection. He knows heartache. He has emotions. Turn the computer off and let that settle within you. The transcendent One is an emotional being. Though human emotional makeup is so twisted with sin and prone to instability, we have emotions only because our gracious Originator had them first. And it is He who has granted them to us.

The Father is neither stoic nor unstable with His emotions. God’s emotions are perfect. His love is a perfect love (1 John 4:18). His hatred is a perfect hatred (Psalm 5:5). He even possesses a perfect jealousy (Exodus 34:14). When He loves, He does it with a precise intensity and purpose. He’s not a distant watchmaker or some general taskmaster living in a cloud of unknowing. He burns with perfect passion. He delights to love; and He delights to manifest this love to the world.

“For God so loved the world…”

This love was meant for the world. Not for Jews only, or Americans only, or the Reformed only. There are some intriguing ways to break down the word “world” here, which in the Greek is “Kosmon.” It could mean just the elect from all over the world (particular view), or it may mean every man, woman or child who ever lived on earth (most common view). A compelling article on the biblical usage of “Kosmon” can be found here. For now, lets take “world” in its most ordinary sense. That would mean the world God loves with such intensity is the great totality of fallen mankind. It’s incredibly provocative that a holy God would love such ones. It’s compelling because the great totality of fallen mankind is one mired and twisted mass of unlovables. If we seriously doubt this then just glance at the evening news, supermarket tabloids, or bathroom mirror sometime.

“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son….”

This is a love grounded in action. For an infinitely less significant analogy imagine this: You are a powerful King and you beckon your only son and heir of your throne for a mission. You tell him this:

 “There is something I want you to do for me: I have some enemies that deserve to die, and I want you to go and die in their place, so that they can have eternal life and inherit my kingdom.”

That’s what the Father and Son did at the cross; and incalculably more than that times a million millions.

We dwell too little on how undeserving we are of such a divine arrangement. My son would stay home safely in my arms forever before I would ever imagine sending him to die for even a thousand martyrs or missionaries. But the Father’s love was too great. God sends his son to die not for the righteous, but the blatantly unrighteous. His love is altogether not like any we have experienced. There is no category for this love in the human realm of categorizing.

This is one reason of many that universalism is a fatal and foolish heresy. A god who saves everyone regardless of unrepentant rebellion doesn’t need to send His own Son to atone for sins. If you are an atheist, Muslim, cultist, or open blasphemer of God it matters not to the universalist. This god saves all regardless of righteousness. But it cost this god nothing to save hell deserving sinners. As a result, this god is worse than worthless. He not only fails to give anything real in grace he also fails to judge anyone in righteousness.  It costs the false god of universalism/sentimentalism nothing to love humans. But the true God’s love is grounded in a decisive sacrificial act, not just a thoughtful feeling.

The love of God is not some theoretical sentimental feeling like butterflies, twinkling eyes, and fluttering heartbeats. God the Father looked at his perfect, precious Son in one hand, and the mass of wretched wicked unredeemed humanity in the other, and he literally crushed the blessed Son with His hand of wrath meant for us (Isaiah 53:10). This was the blessed eternally begotten Son, ripped from the bosom of the Father to endure an agonizing hell for mankind. This was a Father giving. But this was also a Father sending (John 3:17). The giving was not a giving over to, but a sending with a specific mission granted in eternity past. The Son came to die. And He laid down His life on His own accord (John 10:18).
 
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

All the groups and categories we place people in on earth are futile in eternity. It may be red state or blue state, black or white, male or female, or any other temporary niche one may find themselves in. In reality, there are essentially only two enduring groups: Those who will eternally perish and those who will eternally live. Namely, those who acquire God’s deserving wrath and those who acquire God’s undeserving mercy.  Where we fall between those two groups is the only question that will matter in one hundred years.
 
We are not left to our own devices. God graciously provides a means for us to accomplish His eternally good end. The God who loves and gave lavishly out of that love says, “Believe in Me. Trust in me. Put your faith in Me.”

There is much that the word “believe” entails.  It is a type of believing that perseveres for Christ. It is a type of trusting that exalts in Christ. It is a type of faith that knows the dead heart can only be raised with Christ. And part of that believing is a repenting before Christ.

Maybe repentance is the gift you and I really need this Valentine’s Day. Repenting of chasing lesser lovers because I believe Christ is not sufficient for all my needs. Repenting of allowing a fallen culture to tell me singleness is the same as aloneness. Repenting of my part in contributing to the commercialization and plundering of the word “love” in society. Repenting of believing God’s love is a reflection of human love and not the other way around. Repenting because the love of God set forth in John 3:16 has been memorized by me, but has not yet been realized in me.

The best gift we can get this Valentine’s Day is not cards, roses, fancy dinners, kisses or even companionship. The world says love looks like a good-looking young couple, dressed to the hilt, holding hands, giggling, and exchanging flirtatious glances with one another. God says love looks like a single Jewish man, stripped and forsaken, beaten beyond recognition, and scorned by all, even by his own Father. Do we desire the former love over the latter? May God grant us the gift of repentance if we do (2 Timothy 2:25).

And may we begin to return to the precious stones of our childhood, where the lost can become found all over again. 

Bryan Daniels