[This essay of mine was published in the Allentown Morning Call on Friday, August 12, 2011.]
I invite you to look at--
My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.
My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Hell Is a Hot Topic--Again
Hell is a hot topic again. The recent book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell suggests that eventually all people will be saved. This would not be surprising if it came from a liberal theologian who opines that the Bible is a collection of myths. Bell, however, believes in the divinity, virgin birth, miracles and resurrection of Christ. What shall we make of his proposal?
(1) Bell has apparently been troubled by a sense that eternal torment is incompatible with God’s love. We ought to be disturbed by the biblical images of hell, but that does not mean we should cast them aside. As I point out in The Beauty of God for a Broken World, God Himself weeps over the doom of the lost. If Bell were right—that all will eventually be saved—I suspect God would not grieve so much at the necessity of judgment.
(2) Bell is standing in a lonely spot. Apart from a few individuals throughout church history, he doesn’t have much company. The major branches of the Christian church—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant—have historically taught that some people will suffer torment in hell forever. Most defections from this consensus have been among people who think that the Bible is bunk, not among those who take it seriously. The smaller number, who believe the Bible yet deny the classic doctrine of hell, usually opt for annihilationism, the doctrine that the unsaved will simply cease to exist, either after death or after an appropriate period of punishment.
Bell’s proposal implies that the vast majority of the great theologians of the church have completely misunderstood one of the major doctrines of the Bible for the past 2,000 years. That in itself ought to give us pause.
(3) The Biblical evidence for eternal punishment in hell is clear. Those who worship the beast “will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:10-11). When Jesus divides the “sheep” from the “goats” at the judgment, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
It does no good to note that the Greek word translated “eternal” may mean “age-long.” In the first place, that is a rare usage. In the second place, the meaning of a word depends on its context. Everyone agrees that “eternal life” means life that goes on forever. Therefore, “eternal punishment” must mean punishment that goes on forever.
(4) While it is true that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11) and that “he is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), we must not conclude that the doom of the lost represents a defeat for God’s love and power.
God’s plan for the world encompasses all that takes place throughout history, including His decision to permit certain sinful actions that grieve Him, and His decision to punish such behavior. God’s plan is a victory for His love because by allowing human beings to rebel, He opens a way for Himself to express His infinite, saving love toward unworthy, but believing sinners.“God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). God’s love does not fail of its purpose. His love does indeed win.