I must die to self
(selfishness) and live for God. The dying
process is painful and will continue to be painful while I am in the process of
dying. It will be painful until it is over. The old Bradley will cease
to exist and the new Bradley will be like Christ (brave, kind, honest and fun). I will no longer be selfish.
This is necessary because I will not, in fact
cannot, enjoy the kind of heart felt unbroken intimacy that Jesus enjoys with God until I am eternally dead (Once I am dead I will remain dead
forever). This is one sinner who will be destroyed forever so that the new
Bradley can reign with Christ. The old man must perish.
Strange as it may sound, every man, woman and child who enters Heaven will have died an eternal death.
Old things will pass
away and ALL things will be made new. But what does God mean when He says
"All things"? Consider the following footnote in Isaiah
and the words of the wise
woman to King David. These verses seem to suggest a future hope for those
who go to Hell. Could that be possible? C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce writes as if those in Hell don't want to be in
Heaven because they think it is some kind of trick, but not according to Jesus.
According to Jesus those in Hell want to be in Heaven, but no matter how hard
an unrepentant sinner tries, they cannot
enter the Kingdom of God. Not only can they not enter, no one else can cross
that chasm for them.
It is true that
those who die without turning and following Jesus have no hope of avoiding Hell; that is a terrible
prospect. The issue we are really considering here is is God's love really
eternal and unconditional or does God give up on some people?
So what does this word eternal, as used in the New Testament really mean?
William Barclay writes:
... Simply to take
[it] as meaning lasting for ever is not enough. In all these passages we must
remember the essential meaning of the word aionios. Aionios is the word of
eternity as opposed to and contrasted with time.
It is the word of
deity as opposed to and contrasted with humanity. It is the word which can only
really be applied to God. If we remember that, we are left with one tremendous
truth--both the blessings which the faithful shall inherit and the punishment
which the unfaithful shall receive are such as befits God to give and to
Beyond that we
cannot go. Simply to take the word aionios, when it refers to blessings and
punishment, to mean lasting for ever is to oversimplify, and indeed to
misunderstand, the word altogether. It means far more than that.
It means that that [sic] which the faithful will receive and that which the unfaithful will suffer is that which it befits God's nature and character to bestow and to inflict--and beyond that we who are men cannot go, except to remember that that nature and character are holy love. (New Testament Words, Westminster John Know Press, 1974, p.36-37.)
So before we can understand what the word "eternity" means in the New Testament we have to understand what God is like. Those who read the text, without understanding the character of God will misunderstand the meaning of the word.
This is very important because we must not misrepresent God to others. Recently I heard a man say that God hates sinners and that is why it will give him great pleasure to make some people suffer forever in hell. I would not like to be that man on judgement day. If a person misrepresents God, and so makes him look like an ogre, that person will not be held guiltless. Not only that, but what we are willing to believe about God's character will determine what doctrines we are willing to consider.
It seems to me that the hellishness of Hell is that people want to be in Heaven but are unable to enter. They can see the splendour of the new Heaven and Earth but are unable to get in because "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful...." (Rev 21:27). But isn't it odd that the gates are open considering who is outside? (Rev 22:14,15) Why would you want the gates to be open? Jesus said, "Unless you forgive you will not be forgiven." What might that mean in light of the passage in Isaiah referred to above?
God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future. (Martin Luther's letter to Hanseu Von Rechenberg, 1522.)
Martin Luther was willing to consider the possibility, are you? (See The Bible on punishment and hell)
Now at this point you might like to read how the New Testament uses the word ALL when talking about salvation. (Keith DeRose, a professor of philosophy at Yale University, makes a very strong Biblical argument regarding the way the word "all" is used in the New Testament. The point professor DeRose raises is very important. If the widely accepted usage of the word eternal is the correct usage of the word then Bible believers have to accept every verse which mentions the word "all" or they can accept every verse which talks about "eternity", but under no circumstance can they accept as true all the verses which mention eternity and all the verses which mention the word "all". This is because there is an internal and irreconcilable contradiction between the modern churches usage of the words "eternity" and "all" throughout the New Testament. However, if the word which is commonly translated eternal can have the meaning eternal or "an age" then the problem is solved. See also what William Barclay has to say about the word "all.")
If this definition of eternal is true then it is possible that those who go to hell will one day love Jesus and be free from their sins. (Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead so the old man would not have to perish in Hell. But if a person refuses to confess that they have done wrong and follow Jesus ,God will send them to Hell to open their eyes to the true horror of their sin and the true goodness of God. In Hell people will see things as God sees them, that is as they actually are.)
Now some would say that if it is true that those in Hell can die the kind of eternal death that I have described it robs them of their free will. Is that true? If a person goes to prison, on this earth, they are not free to get drunk or take drugs. Does that mean they no longer have a free will? Of course not. All it means is they are not free to do certain things. They are free to hate or love. They can choose to be bitter or choose to forgive. God is always using circumstances to influence our wills; just as a parent puts limits on a child God puts limits on us. The difference between hell and this earth is hell is far more intense because those in hell want to be in heaven. Jesus parables indicate this. Jesus parables also indicate that those in hell can think and feel. If a person can think they can choose. (Those in hell will not be able to enter God's Kingdom unless they forgive. But they will find that they are unable to forgive merely by trying. Their only hope is to realize that Jesus died for them and so turn and follow the King of Kings who enables us to love God and forgive our neighbour. A person in hell will have no hope of escape while they desire to be free from pain more than they desire to be like Jesus and bring glory to God.) Be warned, a time will come when no one will be able to escape their responsibility toward God and their neighbour through the pleasures of sin. Dying to selfishness by putting God and others first is a painful process (regarding any issue) until we lay down our rights and trust Jesus. Don't wait to find out why hell is called hell. Jesus died so that those who turn and follow Him can avoid that place. Don't force God's hand, His will will be done. Every knee will gladly bow and every heart will gladly say, "Jesus is Lord." He wants our hearts and He will have them. If you call yourself a Christian you might think this is strange, but why should you be surprised? If He touched you He can touch anyone. God will not fail (1 Tim 4:10).
Hell is obviously a horrible place, but some people seem determined to go over board when talking about Hell. No doubt they think they are being true to scripture and helping people to avoid that place. But they are actually making people think God is other than He is, which does not honour Him at all. (How Satan must love it when atheists attack such misrepresentations of God and zealous Churchmen respond by not defending God, but their image of Him. Satan truly is brilliant.) These same men, in their zeal to defend the horror of Hell, claim that the pain suffered there will do those in Hell no good, those in heaven no good, and could not possibly be pleasing to God. Even though it does no one any good they defend the doctrine because they claim that "the Bible tells them so!" I think they need to take a closer look at the Bible and try and interpret the verses about Hell and eternal death in light of God's character. (See also The Meaning of Meaning by Dr Michael Bauman for more on interpretation). God is love and his love is unending. Those who are not willing to think the highest thoughts of God's character misunderstand what is written about his nature and the nature of His punishment. (Recently I heard a man make the following argument. He said, "Didn't Jesus say that it would have been better if the one who betrayed him did not exist? If Judas is eventually going to be in heaven then it would be good for him to exist because he is eventually going to make it to heaven. Therefore, hell is a place from which there is no escape." Matthew 26:24 says it would have been better if Judas had not been born. This could mean it would be better if he did not exist or it could mean that it would have been better for Judas if he died in his mother's womb. Matt 26:24 should not be used to support either view as it lends no support to either view. Note carefully, I am not denying that many will die an eternal death in the lake of fire and that dying process will be painful.)
Jesus said that it would be better for some than for others in Hell (See Luke 12:46-48). God is not unreasonable. Luke 12:46-48 talks about some receiving few blows while others many. In other words the punishment is limited and not endless (Jesus parables seem to confirm this view). As mentioned, there are those who claim to think highly of God and yet are quick to make out that He will do the worst of things. They say that God will cause all of those in Hell to suffer as much as is possible, all the time, without any purpose. That does not sound reasonable. The strongest argument they have is to suggest that Hell is a necessary quarantine to separate incurable sinners from those in heaven. But punishing those in Hell for a limited time and then causing them to completely cease to exist would also serve the purpose of quarantine. It is not necessary that their pain be unending. God can do anything which is logically consistent and in accordance with His character. It is therefore possible for Him to cause souls to cease to exist (though the Bible never says that He will cause any soul to cease to exist). Causing sinners to die an eternal death so that they can truly live would also serve the purpose of quarantine. So those who use quarantine to justify never ending punishment really do not have a case. It seems to me that some defend the doctrine of unending pain because they have come to love their ideas about God more than God. Why are they so keen to defend the doctrines of men? Why is it so hard for these people to consider that maybe, just maybe, they have misinterpreted the Bible because they were too quick to make judgements on the most important of issues? (Issues which ultimately reflect what God is like. ) Fortunately, the real God is other than they imagine.
Through parables Jesus constantly appealed to our imaginations to think of God as better than any man, woman or child. No one can imagine God to be better than He actually is. If a good earthly father only punishes his son because of love, how much more will God only punish because of love? God's punishment is never more than is absolutely necessary (no matter how it may seem, nor is it any less than is necessary). God loves everyone and His love is eternal (See also Heb 12:5-7. It is also important to note what the Old Testament says about hell. There is an interesting article in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible entitled "Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, the Abyss and Tartarus: Images of Hell.")
Could it be true that
Blows and wounds cleanse away evil,
and beatings purge the inmost being (Prov 20:30). [?]
(Note: It is not for us to take the law into our own hands. See Rom 12:19)
God obviously believes Proverbs 20:30 is true.
But if everyone is eventual going to make it why would you bother sharing the Gospel at all? If you knew that your husband, wife, son or daughter was going to be locked up and suffer terribly if they kept going on their present path, what would it say about you if you did nothing to help them but simply said, "They'll eventually get out. It'll be OK." It would mean you didn't truly love them. We are to be motivated by love. If you care you don't want anyone to suffer unnecessarily. Jesus died so that people might not have to go to hell. He does not want people to suffer unnecessarily. How can you claim to be His follower if you are indifferent to the plight of others?
Is Jesus still the only way? Yes. Has the Trinity been rejected? No. Would God be satisfied if all sinners were destroyed by becoming new creations? Yes. Would that fulfill God's justice? Yes. Has free will been violated? No. Is hell still a horrible place where unrepentant sinners will go? Yes. Does this view make sin less terrible? No, God hates sin so much He will destroy it. No sinner will go on living (existing) forever. Does this view make God out to be weak when it comes to sin? No. His wrath burns because of His love. He will destroy the sin that destroys us because He loves us. To reject this view does one have to accept strained interpretations of scripture? Yes (for example, some claim that Israel in the New Testament does not mean the same as Israel in the Old Testament. But I think when God says ALL Israel will be saved He means it literally. God doesn't give up on anyone. See Rom 11:25-26 & 1 Peter 3:18-21; consider also what Keith DeRose has to say about the New Testaments teaching on God's eternal love). Would you be disappointed if you discovered that the above view was the correct view of God's punishment? Does this view contradict what we know of God's character? (Judge for yourself. John 7:24).
How many verses support this doctrine? Every verse in the Bible which refers to God's character lends weight to this view.
So here is the challenge.
We are told that we are saved by faith, but then the word faith is twisted to mean something it does not mean nor ever intended to mean. We are told we only have to believe in Jesus, but then the word believe is made to mean something different to what Jesus and the apostles meant when they used the word. But this raises a very serious issue. If there is doubt over what it means to believe in Jesus, if there is doubt about what it means to have faith in Him, then the whole issue of salvation is thrown into doubt. (See Faith for what genuine faith is.)
"Those with true hearts are ever willing to leave behind old dogmas and preconceptions for new revelations of deeper truth." - George MacDonald (1824-1905)
A Muslim man asked, "If God can do everything why doesn't he just forgive? Why did Jesus have to die?" He has a good point. Listen to this man on the following link and read the response.
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