Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: hell

This game is rigged!

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We want to prosper in life, we want to have fun, we want to taste all the good things that are available to us. But we don’t find satisfaction in the things that promised pleasure, other people disappoint us, there never seems to be enough money to do all that we want, there is too much hurt and pain, sometimes it seems like life itself is conspiring against us.

Well, it’s true. This game is rigged. There is one right way to live this game of life and an endless variety of wrong ways. People tell to you try this, try that, this is where you can really find the thrill in life. Stop and take a close look at the people who make those promises. Do they seem happy, contented, at peace with themselves?

You have convinced yourself that only weak-minded people believe this God stuff. The soul, judgment, hell and heaven are just old wives tales to scare little children. This life is all there is and when it becomes unbearable the best thing is to stop living.

What if that idea was really just a tale to comfort weak-minded people? What if the death of the body is not the end of life, the soul lives on and there really will be a judgment? As much as you may try to block those thoughts from your mind, to drown them in loud music and furious activity, doesn’t that question pop into your mind at unguarded moments?

The soul is not some mythical add-on in your body; the soul is you, all that makes you who you are. The body is temporary, it will die but the soul will live on. The purpose of the game of life is to prepare us for everlasting joy. But if you decide that the only joy in life is what you can grasp for yourself right now, you are preparing yourself for endless misery and torment.

The rules of the game of life are simple. God revealed them many years ago to the prophet Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (This is found in the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8.)

You will find these rules often in the Holy Bible, in more detail and different phrasing, but this is the complete summary of what you need to know to win the game of life. Do what is right, be compassionate to others, and let God guide you. There is no way that you can outsmart the rules of the game of life. The game is rigged so that only those who accept the rules that God has given will experience true and lasting joy, peace and happiness, in this life and forever.

Slaying the beast within

A year and a half ago, a young man who had served a sentence for armed robbery appeared in court to explain that he had learned his lesson. He said that he had learned that he needed to stop and think before doing something and consider the consequences. “I have learned to tell the difference between good and evil,” he testified.

Two weeks ago, the fiancee of this young man, mother of his two young children, went missing. A few days later a sack containing her dismembered body was found under a bridge. The young man who had supposedly learned to tell the difference between good and evil has been charged with murder. What happened?

There is a beast within each one of us that cannot learn, cannot be tamed. Most often it shows itself in words, but sometimes far more horrible things happen. James writes:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  James 3:6-10

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). No  anger management course, no behaviour modification therapy, can ever fully master this beast. It has to die.

That is why Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). That is, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must daily renounce the inclinations of that inner beast and nail it to the cross. Paul is saying the same thing when he writes: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). “Mortify” is used here in its original French sense of “make to die.”

The new birth is the result of the death of this inner beast, to be replaced by a new life, one that is not animated, or in harmony with, the forces of hell, but one that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the powers of heaven. Here are the words of Paul again: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

The beast within does not want to stay dead. That is why Jesus spoke of the daily need for self-denial and cross bearing. That does not mean a daily new birth; the Holy Spirit does not leave us so easily. A Christian may do and say things at times that indicate the influence of the inner beast; if someone else has been hurt the Holy Spirit will prompt him to make amends for the hurt he has caused. No one should ever have to wonder who has control of the life of someone who calls himself a Christian.

Is it hot?

My wife and I went away for the day, leaving our four-year-old daughter with Grandma. When Grandma started to make dinner, our daughter saw the electric element on the stove glowing red hot, asked “Grandma, is it hot?” and placed the palm of her hand on the element.

I guess she really never understood what hot was until that moment. Her hand didn’t stay in contact with the element very long so the burn wasn’t deep and healed without leaving any scars. Grandma did what grandmas do so well in caring for the wound and comforting a little girl, but we wished that we could somehow have made it more clear what hot meant so she didn’t need to find out in such a painful way.

How can we make it clear to others how hot hell will be? The Biblical image of a lake of fire and brimstone seems to have lost its impact over the years. Cartoonists have had fun portraying how certain individuals or groups of people might be tormented in hell, but they are not really intended to be taken seriously. Nothing much about hell is taken seriously anymore, not even by Christians. Perhaps we have been talking about the torments of a lake of molten sulphur for so long that we don’t really believe it ourselves?

What the Bible is really telling us is that we live in a world polluted by sin. If heaven is to be a place of beauty and happiness, another place had to be prepared for all that would pollute the purity of heaven.

Think of hell as the toxic waste dump for all that is evil in this world, and for all the people who have willingly polluted themselves with that evil. Heaven will be a place of peace, joy and love, unmixed with sorrow or pain. Hell will be a place characterized by hatred, envy, anger, lust and fear. All the spirits that have so long tormented this world will be there and all the people who thought to find some advantage or self-justification in yielding to those spirits. It will be a place of sheer, unmitigated terror.

Is that hot enough? Consider this also: everyone in hell will remember clearly the moment they made the choice that sealed their doom. No one will accidentally find himself or herself in hell.

There will be people in heaven who never lived long enough to make a choice. It is the great mercy of God to welcome all those who never reached a level of maturity where they could know what their choices were. The innocent will be in heaven. No one in hell will be able to claim innocence.

Where is Paradise?

The first paradise was the Garden of Eden. In the Septuagint “garden” in Genesis 2:8 appears as “paradise,” the paradise of Eden. The Hebrew word in the original refers to a walled garden of pleasure and delight, where sin cannot enter. It appears that all peoples of the earth have in their traditions a memory of a time when the original inhabitants of the earth lived in some such earthly paradise. There is a longing in all of us to return to this paradise.

When Jesus told the dying thief “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” was He speaking of heaven? Where then would be the judgment of which the Scriptures speak? “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10); “for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). This judgment comes at the end of time, after the bodily resurrection. In another place, the apostle Paul warns about those “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18).

The sequence in the Scriptures is the bodily resurrection, then the final judgment and then the final separation to eternal torment or eternal joy. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:31-46).

It would appear then that when Jesus spoke of paradise He meant the abode of the spirits of the dead before the resurrection. Paradise and “Abraham’s bosom” were both terms used by the Jews to describe the abode of the departed spirits of the righteous. Revelation 6:9 uses the term “under the altar” to describe this place. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:20-25) demonstrates that even here there is a division between the saved and the lost. Yet here it appears that communication is possible between the two parts of the abode of the dead, even though the conditions are quite different. I believe we can infer from the Scripture that in heaven the separation will be of such a magnitude that those in one place will not be aware of those in the other.

Those that have died are thus in an intermediate state and place, awaiting the resurrection and final judgment. Some are in a place of beauty and joy, some in a very unpleasant place, yet not the torments of eternal fire. It would appear from this that those in Matthew 7:22 who came before the judgment throne complaining: “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” would be those who found themselves shut out of paradise and felt that a horrible injustice had been done. Jesus’ answer is horrible to contemplate: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (verse 23).

If we are to enter paradise, and eventually heaven, our works must be the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not works that are done in an attempt to earn the favour of God or our fellow men.

Did Jesus descend into hell?

The Apostles’ Creed says: “He descended into hell.” Or does it? This short little confession of the essentials of the faith is thought to have begun as questions that were asked of applicants for baptism: “Do you believe . . . ?” It was soon compiled into the form we have today – except for the clause “He descended into hell.” This clause was not added until the fourth century.

The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant churches use the version containing this clause. Anabaptists have never accepted the “descended into hell” clause.

Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus was in hell after His death on the cross? There are a few verses that might seem to give this idea, but does that impression stand up to a close examination?

Psalm 16:10 says “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Peter quotes this verse in Acts 2:27, referring to it again in verse 31, and applies it to Christ. The original words translated as hell are sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek, both words refer to the place of the departed spirits after death, where they wait for the resurrection of the body. The basic sense of the passage is that Jesus’ body would not lie in the tomb long enough to suffer decomposition.

1 Peter 3:19 is often cited as a basis for the descent into hell. Here is the whole passage from verse 18 to verse 20: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

The Roman Catholic Church bases its doctrine of purgatory on verse 19, teaching that there will be a second chance for the lost after death. This verse does not offer any hint that the “spirits in prison” repented, nor does any other part of Scripture speak of a second chance after death. What then would have been the purpose of Jesus descending to the spirits of the lost to speak specifically to those who perished in the flood?

A simpler explanation is that Christ, “by the Spirit,” preached to them through Noah before the flood. The fact that Peter refers to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), lends considerable weight to this interpretation. The term “spirits in prison” is not used elsewhere to refer to souls in hades, the place of departed spirits, but to those who are bound in unbelief, as in Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

Whatever our interpretation of these verses, we dare not take them as referring to a descent of Jesus into the place of eternal torment, for on the cross He promised the dying thief: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” These are Jesus’ own words, testifying that He himself would be in Paradise after His death.

Heaven and hell

Atheists consider the teaching in the Bible about a place called hell to be a conclusive argument against Christianity and its belief in a loving God.  As a Christian, I consider hell to be part of the good news.  I don’t any vindictive feelings against other people, but if heaven is to be a good place, there must also be a place for all the bad things in this world.

And the world is full of bad things: hatred; envy; jealousy; greed; lust; terror; anger; bitterness; and the pain. suffering, sorrow and grief that they cause.  We understand from the Bible that these things have their origin in Satan, who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven, along with the host of angels who followed him.  It was for them that the everlasting fire of hell was prepared.

The hatred of Satan and his demon angels for God and all that is good drives them to attempt to destroy all the works of God.  But they do not present themselves to us as enemies, but rather as our most reasonable friends.  “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

Atheists have no explanation for the existence of evil.  Nor do they have any explanation for good.  Since man is purely an accident of natural forces, there can be no objective moral basis for right and wrong.  All is rationalized as man’s instinct for self-preservation.  Thus it would be perfectly natural for me to try to preserve myself at the expense of someone else.  Societies therefore must make laws to create order and protect the weak, but their is no objective moral foundation for those laws.

Thus our world becomes more and more chaotic, with numberless special interest groups shrieking out their demands for recognition of their rights and for protection from everyone else.  The Bible’s claim that all this is happening because the devil knows that his days are numbered and has sent out his spirits to deceive the whole world begins to seem the best explanation for what is happening.

Hope is offered to us in a most paradoxical way.  God sent His Son into this world who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; therefore Satan stirred up so much hatred against Him that He was nailed to a cross and left to die.  Yet it was precisely by His death on the cross that Jesus won the victory over Satan and his powers.

“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;  And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15).

This is the source of the hope of heaven for a Christian who has repented of his allegiance to the forces of evil and turned with all his heart to follow Christ.  However, in order for heaven to be a place that is holy and pure, free from all the toxic effects of Satan’s realm, there must also be another place for all these spirits that have had such a toxic effect on mankind.  Unfortunately, this means that in order to maintain the purity of heaven, all people who have willingly contaminated themselves by their allegiance to these toxic forces must also be sent to hell.

This is not vindictiveness on God’s part.  He has made a way for all mankind to avoid such a doom, He is calling all men, everywhere and not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  The most horrible part of the eternal torment of hell will be the knowledge that one is there by his own choice.  The memory of the time, or times, that the way of escape was offered in this life will be forever engraved upon the memory of the damned.

Yet this terrible reality is not the reason that most people turn to God for salvation.  It is not the fear of hell, but the longing for something better than this world has to offer that leads us to search for answers to the troubles of this life.  And the only answer that makes any sense is that we are made in the likeness of God and there is something within us that continually searches to be reunited with our Creator.  To attempt to deny this leads to alienation from anything that would give life meaning and purpose.

 

Do the saved go to heaven when they die?

I used to think that when a Christian died he or she was ushered straight through the pearly gates into heaven.  I guess I got that from the popular cultural perception of how Christians believed.  Ten years ago, the picture that I had was challenged on Scriptural grounds, and my thinking has changed.

Today I believe the answer to the question posed above is “Yes, but not right away.”  Let me explain.

In Matthew 25, verses 31 to 46, Jesus explains how it will be on the great day of judgement at the end of time.  All nations (people) will be gathered before Him and He will separate the sheep from the goats.  Those classed as sheep will enter heaven and those classed as goats will be cast into hell.  This picture makes no sense if the saved were already in heaven before this time.

The Bible is more concerned that we should have a genuine saving relationship with God in this life than in telling us exactly how things will be in heaven.  But we are told that in heaven we will have resurrected bodies, much like the body of Jesus after he rose from the dead.  In 2 Timothy 2:18 the apostle Paul writes a strongly worded condemnation of those who would teach that the resurrection is past already.  That bodily resurrection will not occur until the return of Christ in glory for the final judgement.  Revelations 6:9 speaks of souls under the altar, waiting for the resurrection day.

Two Bible passages are often misinterpreted, giving rise to the thought of an immediate entrance into heaven.  One is in Luke 23:43, where Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The other is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here the rich man awakes in “hell” and Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom”.

It helps to understand that “Paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom” were terms commonly used by the Jews to describe the place where the righteous would await the end of the world and the bodily resurrection.  It was pictured as a beautiful and delightful garden, where nothing would disturb their peace.  The “hell” mentioned in Luke 16:23 is actually Hades, the place where sinners await the final judgement.  It is not the lake of fire and brimstone, yet appears to be a thoroughly unpleasant place.

Another clue that this is only a temporary arrangement is found in the possibility of communication between Hades and Abraham’s bosom, though the finality of the separation is already established.  It is hard to imagine that the saints in heaven will be in such proximity to the lake of fire and brimstone.

It appears from the protestations in Matthew 7:22-23 that there will be those in Hades who are convinced that a great injustice has been done to them.  They will say, “ Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?”  And Jesus will reply that they had not done those works at His bidding, by His Spirit or by His power, and deny ever having known them.

I now believe that this picture of a temporary wait in Paradise or Hades before the resurrection is what the Bible teaches.  This in no way detracts from the promise of heaven.  In fact it makes it more real.

I never did find the popular image of wraithlike saints floating on clouds and strumming harps really that attractive as a long term future.  This old body and this old earth will pass away, but the Bible promises a bodily existence in a place described as a new earth.  The heaven sketched in the Bible appears to have some resemblance to our present existence, with the absence of all that now causes pain and sorrow, and in the presence of our Lord and all the holy saints and angels.

I dreamed there was no God

Another post from When I Was Thirteen by Christina Young, the followup from yesterday’s post.

June 1, 1897
This is Sunday morning, and also the first day of June.  Everyone else is sleeping still, as the sun is just coming up over the trees at the ditch.  I got up early like this, because I had a bad dream, and couldn’t sleep any more, and I thought maybe if I would go out into the beautiful morning, I could crawl back up out of the slough of despond that had swallowed me up in my dream.

I will write down my dream pretty soon, but first I want to get happy again, and feeling that God is close by, as it was a most desolate feeling, to feel shut away from Him.

So I am sitting out here on the stoop watching the sun rising up, and smelling the sweet morning smells that the night sprinkles over the earth to make it sweet for the people when they get up in the morning.  It is a great pity the children in town can never have country mornings.

The little lost lambs have all found their own mother now.  I can see them frisking around along the sides of the road.  You would never think that they were such sorrowful lambs last night, and the happy old mother sheep seem to have clean forgotten their worry for fear they had lost their lambs.

Out in the orchards the birds are holding a service of song, and are nearly bursting their throats trying to make the world understand how happy they feel for this lovely June morning.  And back there in the pasture, the horses and cows are just getting up for another good day in the grass.  Old Nell looks quite a fine lady.

Somewhere in the Bible there is a verse which says “They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountains, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”  And that is the way the world looks this morning.  No one with a soul locked up in their body, and looking out of their eyes, could see the earth on a morning like this, and not be sure that God made it and loved the people upon it.

But I dreamed last night that there was no God.  And, though it was only a dream and I am awake again now and sure that He is closer to me than the morning air I am breathing, I am sad to think that there must be millions of people and sorrowful little children, away in the heathen lands, who have all the time the unhappy feeling I had while I was dreaming my dream.  For they don’t know about God.

In my dream, the children would not obey their parents, but did as they wanted to do themselves, and nobody wanted to bother themselves with children anyway, and they had to look out for themselves.  The parents found fault with each other, and with the ones higher up, and they wouldn’t stick to each other, and kept stirring up ugly feelings, and the ones higher up did just as they pleased and didn’t care who suffered for it, but were always living in fear of someone conquering them.  Everyone was afraid of everyone else and there was no faith in the world.

I was even afraid of Ma, as the thing that held us together, seemed not to be there anymore, and where love and tenderness once had been, fear and distrust were now.

Each one walked alone, and had no friend.

I was sleeping out on the road, trying to keep myself hid, and had huddled up in the dark beside one of the sheep, as that was the kindest thing I could find, and I wasn’t afraid of it.  I thought that Ma didn’t care for me anymore, but had told me to shift for myself, and there was no use praying to God for there wasn’t any God there.

I was wishing with all my heart that I had never been born, and hoping I would soon die.  I was planning, as soon as the daylight came, to try to sneak down to the creek and be drowned.  I would have to keep out of sight of a man, as they were all cruel to children.  I thought it would be all right to drown myself because if there was no God, neither would there be any Heaven, and if there wasn’t a Heaven, not likely there’d be any Hell, and being so miserable as I was, I would rather be nothing at all.

Just then a sheep bleated a little, and I woke up.  Of all the bad dreams I have ever had, that was the very worst.  There wasn’t any thrill in it, but just a heavy despair, as there was no chance to escape, and nowhere to turn for help.
I was never so glad to wake up before, and find it was just a bad dream.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Hell should turn out just to be shut out forever from under the care of God.

I know there are some in the world who say they do not believe in Him, although they are living in safety and peace, because others’ believe and act that way, but I think they must have a feeling that there is a God taking care of us, although maybe they don’t know that they have it.  Because if they really didn’t believe, and felt as I felt in my dream, I think they’d all kill themselves and so end up the misery.

I think, when God gives life to a child, He plants in its soul the feeling that there is a God.  They say even the worst of the heathens have the instinct that there is some such Presence, and are always searching to find it and seeking to know its will, though so doubtfully and so darkly that they never know any real peace, being so full of the terrors that live in their minds.  I expect the children all feel as I felt last night in my dream.

Pa is up now, and was surprised to see me sitting out here on the stoop.  It was good to see his face, with only kindness on it, and to know that he is a good man and walks in the way of God, and it is good to know that Ma is still Ma, and we can be sure of her love for us and can all be together still, and sure of the love of God, and that He is right here watching out for us all, and none of us need be afraid.  I guess I had better start setting the table for breakfast now.  Pa has the fire going.

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