John Lennon's 1971 song "Imagine" encouraged a generation to imagine there is no heaven or hell, and to instead embrace "living for today." Over 40 years later, many evangelicals are following Lennon's advice.
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We look forward to the day of judgement because as Christians it will be a day of celebration, not a day of wrath. For as Christians, if we hold true to the faith until death we are guaranteed a place in Heaven. We will not rejoice in the reality that many will be consigned to the lake of fire, but we will take solace that our God, while a God of mercy, is also a God of justice.
The correct biblical understanding of judgment is not the display of God's wrath towards sinful men, but rather God moving forward in order to set things right. In other words, it doesn't necessarily mean "punishment", especially for true believers. It may mean just the opposite, which means giving us a new body and a new world fit for the "new" us!
One thing that can really help us see this better is to recognize the terms of the New Covenant found in Heb 10:16-18, which is a direct quote from Jeremiah 31:33-34: "Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more." This particular term of the New Covenant should clearly reveal to us that God is not as much interested in counting our sins as much as we are.
On the other hand, the wrath of God must always be seen through covenant eyes and is always directed towards those who are outside of the covenant.
Lastly, Calvary should put all believers at ease because it is the place where God dealt with sin and death once and for all.
Thanks for your comments, Rick. I guess none of us truly know what will happen after death. I grew up with the "you must be saved" mentality and it's difficult to reject an idea that's been ingrained since childhood. I think of the abused, homeless or mentally ill who are not "saved" waking up to even more torment. But, we cannot comprehend the mysteries of life and the creator and so I pray that ALL will be made well. Again, thank you.
Shannon, we must be careful to only say what the Bible says and not go beyond. There is no scripture that I know of that says all who are not Christians will go to hell. David does say, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." Psalm 9:16-18. That is also Jesus constant warning. A warning against the wicked, not those who got their theology wrong. The Pharisees had their theology correct and their heart wrong. If you can somehow construe Anne Frank as wicked then she qualifies for hell, but I can't. Nor can I view the victims in Aushwitz as wicked. Paul says in Romans that those that have never had a fair presentation of the gospel are responsible to their conscience. Hell was prepared for the implaccable, unredeemable, unremittingly evil creatures; the devil and his angels. If humans transform themselves into one of the devil's angels (messenger) then this fate is awaiting too. But even then, God judges the lost by the relative evil of their deeds.
Yes, I want all to be made well. Most humans feel the same. And most humans would do anything to relieve the suffering of an individual who is writhing in physical and mental agony. And yet, this is the plan of a creator who made this magnificent world... to allow the beings that he created to languish forever and ever and ever? Yes, I want to "imagine" that Grandpa is not in hell. I also want to "imagine" that no one is in hell. Rejoice? I find no comfort in this doctrine. I find complete and utter despair.
... "In Sunday school, they always make hell out to be a place for people like Hitler, not a place for his victims. But if my Sunday school teachers and college professors were right, then hell will be populated not only by people like Hitler and Stalin, Hussein and Milosevic but by the people they persecuted. If only born-again Christians go to heaven, the piles of suitcases and bags of human hair displayed at the Holocaust Museum represents thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children suffering eternal agony at the hands of an angry God. If salvation is available only to Christians, then the gospel isn’t good news at all. For most of the human race, it is terrible news."
From Rachel Held Evans' book, "Evolving in Monkey Town."
After we finished the last pages of The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school, Mrs. Kelly informed the class that Anne and her sister died of typhus in a prison camp, thanks to Adolf Hitler. I was horrified, not just because of the prison camp but because everything I’d be taught as a girl told me that because Anne was Jewish, because she had not accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior, she and the rest of her family were burning in hell. I remember staring at the black-and-white picture of Anne on the cover of my paperback, privately begging God to let her out of the lake of fire. For weeks, I prayed diligently for her departed soul, even though I’d heard that only Catholics did such a thing. I was a pretty intense kid, actually…
It appears that some posters think the Bible is a cafeteria where it's OK to eat the dessert and leave the broccoli.
"Unfortunately, when we downplay or deny judgment, we lose one of the reasons to share our faith in the first place. Our desire to remove the obstacle actually removes the urgency." Some flavors of Christianity are primarily fear based. It is not the only option.
I only half believe in hell, so I didn't teach my children about it, but they still got that message so somebody's emphasizing it. I got a way heavy dose of it growing up and didn't want to do that to my children. Jesus didn't emphasize it, although he does talk about it. I'm an energetic Christian, but hell is much for me. So I emphasize God's love, mercy and grace; Jesus' teaching on how to live and treat people; Micah 6:8 (Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly w/God); and leave hell -- whatever that turns out to mean-- to an all loving, all knowing, just, merciful God. (Because we understand it as eternal torture doesn't mean that what it is.)
But I must say, churches that emphasize hell, and being saved from it, grow. People are motivated to get converts to save them from hell. Churches that emphasize Christian discipleship via love, justice and mercy are losing members by attrition. Converts have to be won over by love alone. Hell seems to help close the deal. Just saying.
God could save ALL humans IF they wanted to be saved. All God asks is for all humans to accept the gift of forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. Humans were created to be with God. It's just that some don't want to.
My thoughts are anyone who has the potential to cry out from the heart, 'Lord, creator of the universe, be merciful to me, a sinner,' will be given the chance to say so before death and thereby receive salvation.
Regarding the length of 'hell' as punishment for rejecting God's offer of forgiveness - time as we know it, as I understand, will be swallowed up in timelessness. CS Lewis seems to think 'hell' is a continuation of a person's earthly life but separated from everyone and everything that is bright, good and beautiful. So the use of such metaphors as burning, darkness, worms, gnashing of teeth. Imagine living on your own in a deep, dark chasm in a timeless state. You could almost ask for fire and brimstone. Or there's timelessness spent with God almighty.
" That's why the idea of Christ's return in judgment brings comfort." Comfort? People have always been like this. Can you think of a word that means "take pleasure in other's misery "? In the Olivet Discourse did Jesus tell his disciples to be comforted by the coming judgement? I feel sorrow not comfort. And about Jesus substitutionary work on the cross, this seems to be under-valued. Am I supposed to flip back and forth between "eternal conscious torment for you" and then "oh, you got saved and now you're on team heaven, hooray ". What if I actually do love the sinner? Judgement doesn't give me comfort for them. This article seems like a sanctimonious justification of schadenfreude.
Good post. To Vin, I would point out that the late John Stott, voted by some the outstanding evangelical of the 20th century, believed in annihilation of the heathen as opposed to eternal torment. Most scholars feel this is a heretical position taken by Stott and probably more his personal desire than analyzing scriptural evidence. IMHO, there are many more biblical references to eternal punishment than obliteration. But that is still man's opinion of judgement deserved than God's.
I would think most of us should be less concerned about the murderer who might be set free and more concerned about the righteous who will be startled to find they are not so fortunate.
Nice balance of truth regarding judgment. Yes, we need to put more emphasis on final judgment. But I believe God judges nations today much as he did in the OT. War is the wrath of God against both sides. We may see ourselves as being on the righteous side, but the mere fact that we are caught up in war is proof of God's judgment.
Also, God judges nations economically. As formerly Christian nations have abandoned Him they have become more socialist and suffered enormously. The former USSR, communist nations of Eastern Europe, China, N. Korea, and Cuba are examples. Other nations never developed economically. It's difficult for us to understand this judgment because it is built into human nature. God doesn't have to do anything; we bring it on ourselves. God's judgment is to let us have our own way. At the same time, God's judgment is based on how much spiritual light we have. To whom much is given, much is required.
Without a final verdict by the infinite, omniscient God, I would become a hopeless cynic. I have learned to rejoice in the reality of God's Judgment. Once when I exposed proven fraud in my boss's conduct, he was vindicated because he had allies in high places. Trust was broken, I resigned. Later, driving home one day, I had a flash reminder "Judgement Day is Coming" and I felt at peace. Remarkably, my wife had the same flash-reminder, and we were both comforted by this Romans 2:16 Gospel truth. 11 years later my ex-boss wrote to me apologising for all that happened. Forgiveness flowed from Jesus' heart and mine, and because of Golgotha, both of us can face Judgement Day Justified. Thank you for this powerful article.
Perhaps there's something to your article, but two things are worth considering.
First, God's Justice is fulfilled in Jesus Christ ... so like God, let us not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. We should hope for the salvation of all ... that every knee, above, on and under the earth, will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (sound familiar?).
Second, let us recall that Jesus' strongest message of judgment was directed not at the lost sheep but rather at the Pharisees and Teachers of the law ... people with good, conservative theology who didn't realize (or politically couldn't bring themselves to admit) that love means fellowship--feasting and drinking adult beverages--with anyone and everyone ... with "sinners and publicans," not with fellow conservatives.
The article makes the mistake of assuming that the human idea of justice and God's justice are the same. Since humans cannot expect to comprehend God fully, they cannot know what God's justice really is. The concept of an afterlife in which sinners are forever tortured for their sins is a human concept and badly flawed in my opinion. We assume that justice is what would satisfy us personally. It is not.
The article portrays the biblical view of God's judgment and mercy in its proper balance. Offensive though it may be to many such as Vin, yet the follower of Christ must proclaim that message in truth and love and without compromise.
Two other components to blindness of judgement -- the flesh and the devil. We can discern Paul's angst describing the conflict between the two natures -- flesh and spirit, in Romans 7:14--25. By inference, the flesh, in and of itself, would not be so antagonistic to God were it not for the curse. However everything in this creation, since the fall, is saturated with sin. Thus, rebellion against the Lord's mandates include blindness the the truth; desensitization to His still small voice. Despite John's brilliance, when turned within himself all that was left was his ego to praise.
The devil is far more insidious and manipulative, despite the Spirit's warning to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil." (Eph. 6:11) Rarely do Christians realize just how subtle and penetrating the devil is; even with the indwelling Spirit within us. If that were not so, mature Christians wouldn't fall pray to elementary weaknesses. So our's is a life of prayer, fasting, study, and giving.
Humans are eternal beings whose spirits continue to eternity. Hell is a state of being characterized by the absence of God’s felt presence. Jesus uses many analogies to describe this state of being. It is like being relegated to Jerusalem’s city refuse heap (Gehenna). There is an unrelieved sense of loss and pain that Jesus compares to fire. It is lonely. Hell is arrived at only by conscious choice. God pleads with every person but some simply resist acknowledging any god but themselves. If were just a matter of pleading, God may be accused of being half-hearted. But He died on our behalf, paying the price of admission to Heaven for every human. Roman’s tells us that those that have not heard the pleas of Jesus are responsible to their conscience, so I am puzzled how you arrive at a 90% rejection rate. There is often not justice in this world, a belief in justice demands an afterlife. But I also know that God is love. So I warn against hell but trust the final determination to God.
That is sort of a straw man argument. You know very well the world is not horrified by God's judgement in general or that the world is against justice. No, what they don't understand the concept of a God who creates 90% of the human race simply to torture them for eternity, even though he COULD save all or most of them.
If Roman Catholicism turned out to be true, and there really WAS a visible church, you know very well you'd be pleading with God to not punish you because you didn't know it was true. You would not be thinking, at that point, "wow, what awesome justice!". You only write that believing that you are one of the saved, which you very well may be. But I digress... the repulsiveness of the Christian hell doctrine is not the existence of it but the length of it. You MUST know that, right?
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