In the previous post, I posted on a sermon from my church. As I’m blogging through my church’s sermons, I should make a note that I don’t necessarily agree with everything that the speaker says. In this week’s sermon, there were a few things that I took issue with. I have no doubt that preacher was sincere and loving in his intentions and I am in no way questioning his study or integrity. He said nothing heretical by any means, and of course, you can only say so much in a 35-minute sermon. I hope to be gracious to him, but I do want to share my thoughts on some things I disagreed with.
In the sermon, the pastor made the point that “hell is ultimately the separation of people from the presence of God (Point 1.3). The passage he quoted was 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10. This is true, but not all the way true. I think that more explanation is needed because the word “presence” communicates an awful lot. I disagree with the flat statement that hell is the “separation of people from God’s presence” for this simple reason: God is omnipresent, he cannot not be somewhere. That includes hell. Instead of just saying that hell is “separation of people from the presence of the Lord,” we should widen our view. More than that, hell is the “separation of people from the majestic, glorious presence of the Lord.” Hell is, in fact, “an eternity of suffering the destructive, wrathful, fiery presence of the Lord, experiencing the presence of the darkness of his judgment.” Satan is not the one tormenting people in hell since he himself is being tormented (Rev. 20:10). So hell is not ultimately about being separated from God, but more about experiencing God’s wrath because of unrepentance. When Christ died on the cross he took on the concentrated wrath of God, which we were deserving of, so that we might not have to experience that wrath in hell. (Check out Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 2:5, 8; 5:9; Col. 3:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9; Rev. 19:15.) For more on this, see R.C. Sproul’s comments on the subject.
The pastor also quotes C.S. Lewis saying, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” I don’t think that Lewis is a reliable source when it comes to hell. He’s not so orthodox there. Piper has said it a lot better than I can, but in short, I don’t think anyone chooses hell. Just because you don’t choose God doesn’t mean you, by default, choose hell. When I think of someone “choosing” something, I think of something they want. Certainly no person would ever want the hell that Jesus describes. They might chose their own hell or something that is preferable to the “borningness of heaven” (though heaven won’t be boring), but they aren’t choosing the literal hell of the Bible that unregenerate people go to after death. Piper put it this way: “What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want — certainly not what they ‘most want.’ Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.”
Finally, as he closed, the pastor said that John 3:16 (i.e. the “so loved” part of the verse) communicates how much God loves the world. This is not the correct translation of “so loved.” God does love the world more than you or I ever could, but that is not what Jesus is telling Nicodemus in John 3. What Jesus is telling Nicodemus is this: “God loved the world this way.” What way? “Namely, that God sent his Son Jesus Christ that whoever believes in him will not experience the death of hell.” Jesus coming to earth is a tangible, real illustration of what kind of love God has for the world he created.
So there are some thoughts. Please feel free to interact with them and offer your thoughts as well.
How Should I Be Thinking About Hell? Series: Debated: Answering Hard Questions About Christianity Pastor Jeff Dart
What does the Bible say about hell?
Matthew 5:22 is a key text. Jesus talks about Gehenna. Gehenna (Gk.) was a valley (“Valley of Hinnom” in English) that was used by pagan kings and Hebrew kings to make sacrifices. The most popular sacrifices were child sacrifices to Molech. King Josiah eventually tore down the pagan altars and turned this valley into a large, burning garbage dump (see 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31-32; 19:2-6; 11-14; 32:35).
Heaven and hell are about relationship. People go to hell because they do not know Jesus (Matt. 7:22; cf. John 17:3).
Hell is ultimately the separation of people from the presence of God (see 2 Thes. 1:8-10).
There are two choices people people: heaven or hell. Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that the righteous will enter into eternal life and the wicked into eternal punishment.
Hell is for people who chose it. C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”
God’s final word on hell is the cross (see Rom. 5:8-11). God has offered to us his Son because his desire is not for anyone to go to hell (2 Peter 3:9). John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world.” This shows us God’s great love for us, how much he loved us.
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Update: Make sure to see my follow-up post on some of my thoughts about hell and this sermon.
As the past year closed, Listverse gave some interesting facts about what America was like 100 years ago. From their website:
In 1909 none of these things had been invented: zippers, band-aids, traffic lights, bubble gum, penicillin, sunglasses, ballpoint pens, shopping carts, nylon stockings, kitty litter, and milk cartons. In the US there were about 230 reported murders and the average life expectancy was 47. An accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year and a dentist $2,500. The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year, but sugar only cost four cents a pound and eggs were just fourteen cents a dozen. Most women washed their hair only once a month and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo. The six leading causes of death were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke. From 1909 to 2009 the world population grew from 1.7 billion to 6.4 billion.
Is there another way to talk about abortion? Series: Debated: Answering Hard Questions About Christianity Guest Preacher Ed Noble, Journey Community Church, San Diego
At our church, we are unashamedly pro-life, but we are not angrily or condemningly pro-life. This is not a political issue.”
God 101: Unpacking God’s Heart for Life
God as Creator. He has directly created everyone everywhere. He did not just get the world rolling so that people just “happen.” He fashioned us specifically and carefully (cf. Pr. 22:2; Acts 17:26).
God as Owner (Ezek. 18:4).
God as “Holi-izer” (sanctifier) of all life (Gen. 1:27).
Our situation: When it comes to abortion we are all polarized and in pain.
Is there a new way to talk about abortion?
We must live the Imago Dei (the “Image of God”). This implies that the strong are responsible for the weak (Acts 20:35). Who is weaker than a helpless, unborn baby?
Live the Jesus Shema. The shema is found in Mark 12:28:31. “Shema Yisrael” is the Hebrew phrase for “Hear, O Israel,” found in the Torah, which is the centerpiece for Hebrew worship. It calls Jews to remember that God is one and they are to worship him only. But Jesus goes a step further. He gives the greatest commandment (love God) and tells us another commandment (love our neighbor). This was a huge paradigm shift for Jews. We are to love every person.
When it comes to abortion:
Our hearts should break for all the victims. The victims are also the perpetrators. Our hearts should break for the doctors performing the abortions.
We (the church) should become a safe place to be broken and find healing.
We need to remember that love is patient. And we must wait for God’s timing. Saint Ephraim said, “Remember that every person you meet is fighting a great [spiritual] battle.”
Everyone can be forgiven. But remember that Jesus just didn’t come to forgive us. He came to restore us into his image.