The last thing any of us want to think about is eternal torment. And yet there we find it….smack dab in the middle of God‘s Word, and regularly mentioned by the very One who suffered on the cross for our sins. As much as we would like to ignore it completely….or pretend it doesn’t exist….we find ourselves compelled to honestly accept everything God has placed in His Word….even when it has such extreme consequences.
Nothing could be further from our natural way of thinking than the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell….and the Son of God suffering on a cross….and a land of inexpressible joy as the alternative to eternal torment. Who could come up with this stuff? That is, if it wasn’t true.
Oh wait. I forgot. God and his eternal declarations will only be fulfilled if we understand them….and if we give the go ahead….and if we find them acceptable. It all boils down to our approval, right? We are the masters of the universe….and the ones who get to call the shots on eternity. Yea right.
Speaking of “right,” N.T. Wright was an Anglican bishop in the Church of England from 2003 until his retirement in 2010. In recent years, he has written some questionable opinions and made some provocative statements concerning heaven and hell. Wright is very direct when talking about the resurrection of the body….especially for those who will spend all of eternity with Christ. But he becomes quite vague when asked about hell. He tends to view hell more as a “progressive shrinking of human life” in this world, rather than as a literal “lake of fire” in the next world. (see Rev. 20:14,15)
Wright doesn’t, however, completely rule out any judgment in the next life for some people. In an interview a few years ago he stated, “My description is neither an annihilationist view nor an eternal conscious torment view.” And so he lands somewhere in the middle. He has adopted a theory that makes sense to him. Frankly, I don’t think any definition of hell makes much sense when funneled through our human reason. Other than God….and those who are in hell right now….who can truly grasp the reasoning behind the doctrine of hell?
N.T. Wright has asked on various occasions, “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” On a subject of this magnitude, he is asking the wrong question. The question he should be asking is simply, “Why did Jesus talk so much about hell?” And why did our Lord spend more time talking about that subject than most Americans ever talk about it? (see Matt. 5:22; Matt. 5:29,30; Matt. 7:13,14; Matt. 8:12; Matt. 10:28; Matt. 11:23,24; Matt. 13:49,50; Matt. 16:18; Matt. 18:8,9; Matt. 18:34,35; Matt. 22:13; Matt. 23:15,33; Matt. 25:30; Matt. 25:41; Matt. 25:46; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 10:15; Luke 12:5; Luke 16:22-24)
Jesus talked about many things, and hell is just one of the topics he discussed. But when he addressed it, he gave us a glimpse behind the veil. Hell is so horrible that our words and thoughts can barely begin to express the torment which takes place there. It is the second toughest thing that Spirit-filled Christians think about, or talk about….the toughest thing is the painful ordeal which our Lord suffered on the day of His crucifixion.
Let’s face it. God hates sin a lot more than you or I do…..and He punishes it far more severely than you or I would punish it. The cross proves it. And so does the reality of hell, which by the way, was originally prepared for the devil and his angels. (see Matt. 25:41) It’s above our pay grade to fully comprehend it, but that doesn’t make hell any less real. When you interpret the Bible with honesty and integrity, you end up with both heaven and hell….sin and grace….law and gospel….forgiveness and punishment….eternal joy and eternal torment.
N.T. Wright has said that Americans seem “really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on.” Really? Not in my experience. Wright’s comment speaks volumes concerning the cavalier manner in which he tends to address this somber issue. I wonder how many Christians he hangs around who are filled with compassion for anyone who is on the highway to hell.
The Lord has provided a way for man to escape hell and make it into heaven. But there is only one way. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Just as there was only one door on the ark of Noah at the time of the great flood, so also, there is only one door that leads to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9)
The Bible reveals to us that God wants people on the road to heaven rather than the road to hell. “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) “The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Just as God’s punishment is far greater than we would ever hand out, so also His love is far greater than we would ever demonstrate. And yet amazingly, we often speak and act as if heaven and hell should make sense to us….being the all-wise ones that we pretend to be. When we attempt to pontificate on heaven and hell using our own wisdom, we don’t have a clue what we are really talking about.
And then there are the Lord’s words on the matter. Jesus is God. He knows everything. He chose to give man serious warnings about the reality of hell….and the eternal nature of it. Many Christians in America rightly believe His words about both heaven and hell. That doesn’t mean most Christians in America are glad about it….and rejoice in it. That is unthinkable. Again I must ask, “Who has N.T. Wright been hanging around?” It sounds like he needs to get out more….and meet plenty of Spirit-filled believers who shudder at the thought of people suffering in hell.
N.T. Wright seems to pick out the parts of the Bible he likes….and he trusts that those things will come to pass. But when it comes to hell, he takes the easy way out….and the dangerous way. He relies upon his human reason rather than the words of the King. Will he eventually attempt to alter the “eternal” aspect of heaven as well? I guess he could just publish his own version of the Bible (the “Wright” Bible) and define heaven and hell according to his own preferences and opinions. But don’t tamper with God’s Word and attempt to pass it off as anything more than wishful thinking. The clear teaching of the New Testament….and the clear teaching of Christ Himself….is that the Son of God suffered for awhile, in order to rescue men from suffering forever.
If that were not actually the case, would Jesus have left heaven and come here to suffer the way He did? No. The truth is that Christ’s suffering points as much to the reality of hell as it does to the reality of heaven. If you take N.T. Wright’s comments a step further, perhaps Christians in America spend too much time thinking and talking about the suffering of Christ on the cross. Wright’s opinion concerning eternal torment seems to me to be the equivalent of saying, “Jesus Christ may not have actually suffered that much physical torment for that long on the cross.”
You see my point. It is futile to live in a fantasy world where we pick and choose those parts of the Bible that are pleasing to us. The words of our Lord are either entirely true, or entirely false. When you tamper with God’s inerrant Word and call the “hard stuff” into question, you are being misled….and you are also misleading others on those difficult doctrines.
So let’s see….N.T. Wright seems convinced that when our Lord referred to “everlasting life” for believers, He meant forever. But when he talked about hell, He didn’t really mean what he said about it being a place of eternal torment. So did the Holy Spirit teach that progressive interpretation to this former bishop, or was it simply wishful thinking on the part of this biblical theorist from Scotland?
If I could snap my fingers and make N.T. Wright’s version of hell become the real one, I would do it. Who wouldn’t, in our natural understanding, desire less punishment for sinners rather than more punishment? But is it up to us? Did we create the world….and man….and give him boundaries not to cross? Is it up to us to hand out the punishment to lawbreakers….and the free gift of eternal life to sinners who repent and believe the good news? All of this is beyond us, and outside of our human understanding. Apart from biblical revelation, who knows anything about heaven and hell?
Oh but man assumes that he does. We are so smart. After all, we made it to the moon….and we created computers….so why wouldn’t we know what we are talking about when it comes to eternal joy in heaven….wherever that is….and eternal torment (or not) in hell….wherever that is. Yea….we got this one nailed, just like everything else we have discovered through scientific research and development. Yea right.
If that’s what you want to tell yourself, I suppose you will just keep on believing it. Not me.
If Jesus was telling the truth about eternal torment for those who reject Him, then N.T. Wright is wrong to cast aspersions upon our Lord’s words regarding eternal punishment. They can’t both be right. So was Jesus telling the truth, or wasn’t He?
Students at a high school in Western Pennsylvania will be allowed to remain anonymous in their lawsuit against a monument of the Ten Commandments in front of the school, a judge has ruled.
The anonymous plaintiffs of the case against the New Kensington-Arnold School District are students from Valley High School, The Post-Gazette reported. They had expressed concerns that if their identities were revealed they would face danger, and presented as evidence Facebook posts and emails sent to their lawyers containing threats.
“The plaintiffs presently designated as ‘Doe’ may continue to proceed anonymously with the use of pseudonyms,” U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled, it was announced earlier this week. The case in question is titled The Freedom From Religion Foundation v. New Kensington-Arnold School District.
The FFRF, the nonprofit organization representing the plaintiffs, has said that the Ten Commandments monument promotes religion and is in violation of the separation of church and state.
“This is not something we can let stay. This isn’t a minor violation. The law is totally clear. There really should be no need to sue,” the FFRF has said.
The statue in question is a six-foot-high monument that sits on the school grounds outside of the entrance to the gymnasium at Valley High School, displaying the Ten Commandments as found in the Old Testament of the Bible. It was given in 1957 as a gift to the school by the New Kensington Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nonprofit community group.
Valley High School officials have defended the monument, however, and have said that they have no plans of taking down the Ten Commandments.
“We’re not happy with them asking us to take down the Ten Commandments,” said Dr. George Batterson, Valley High School Superintendent. “The one thing that’s very very important that people realize is that there is no way that our school district is trying to promote or impose religion on our students. This is just a monument that was donated by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, way back in 1957 and we see this having more historical significance than religious.”
The plaintiffs in the case are arguing for an injunction that will require the school to move the monument, and that they had a “reasonable fear” of harm if they were identified.
One threat that they presented to the court posted on Facebook read: “Have the families involved in the lawsuit been identified? I cannot believe anyone living in the community would participate in such a worthless cause. Someone needs to send that group back to Wisconsin with several black eyes!”
The poster later added: “It was not a threat of violence, but a figure of speech.”
So many religions….so little time. With all the choices that are available, how can a person even begin to figure out which religion is the correct one? Or are they all right? No….that can’t be….they have conflicting doctrines with different deities and various approaches to attaining salvation. If only we could narrow down the search.
Wait a minute. Maybe there is a way. What if we could find a religion that seems to match the kind of unconditional love that mothers have for their children? At least most mothers anyway. That would show a vital connection between us and our Creator. And besides, what greater characteristic could God have than love? Hey….I might be on to something here.
As I look out into the world, I see a common thread in humanity. It transcends race and religion….and it has to do with mothers. Most mothers have an undying and unconditional love for their children. That’s not to say that many fathers don’t as well, but the love of a mother is truly something beautiful to behold.
It is in the mother/child relationship that I see a universal clue. What if the universal theme of love among mothers from diverse backgrounds became the insight that helped me to decipher religion….and discover the love that my heart longs for not only from my mother, but also from my Creator?
If religion is going be legit, it has to present a God who loves people at least as much as mothers love their children. There has to be something to the fact that moms around the world experience and exhibit this same trait. I think I can narrow down my search for the true religion by looking for those religions where “God” is filled with love for all people….and not just one who make demands, or threats, or pronouncements.
Let’s see….why don’t I start with those religions that present a God of incredible love….and narrow the list down from there.
Maybe the god of Buddhism is loving and….wait….their religion does not believe in a personal God or a divine being. I better scratch that one off my list. No unconditional love from God in that system….only moral and ethical pursuits.
Perhaps Islam is the ticket. Let’s see….does Allah love all people unconditionally, including the unbelievers? No, I guess not. That is not part of their religion, or their god.
I better keep looking. I find in Hinduism that there is one supreme impersonal reality named “Brahman.” Hmm. Doesn’t sound too loving. And then there are those 330 million deities that are extensions of Brahman. Too many….too impersonal….next.
The Baha’i religion perhaps? Oh wait….they say God is unknowable and that he is “the most Exalted, the Inaccessible.” I am glad moms are not inaccessible, like the Baha’i god. Certainly there has to be at least one match among these major religions.
What about New Age religion? “You are God….I am God….the trees are God….we are all God.” Hmm. I am glad children are not raised by trees. Moving on.
There has got to be a religion that can match the love of mothers. I don’t want to follow a god who doesn’t love people at least that much. Where can I find such a God? Where can I find such love? Is there anything out there that can decipher religion for me, and connect me to God’s love? Or is there no such God in any religion?
What’s that you say? The Christian God? How so?
Well….He loves everyone. In fact, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Try and find that in any other religion.
I have tried, and come up short. Tell me more about this God of love.
Well….He loves you whether you believe in Him or not….and whether you obey Him or not. That’s why He sent His only Son to die for your sins. And if you accept His Son as your Savior, you will suddenly begin to love Him back….and obey Him….not because of threats, but because He will put His love in your heart for Him and for others. You will be regenerated on the inside by His love and forgiveness.
I am interested….tell me more.
His love for you is even greater than your mother’s love for you….and that is saying something. He is a personal God….and He desires a personal relationship with you. You can know Him….and you can trust Him. He created you and all people….and He designed mothers and fathers to love their children dearly….just like God loves people dearly.
So you see….the unconditional love of mothers does indeed point to the answer. It deciphers religion, and breaks it down for us. Jesus Christ truly is the relational and loving friend and Savior of sinners, and a God of incredible patience and mercy.
You won’t find another like Him. That’s because all the others are just pretenders. They lack the love to be the true God. In actuality, they are just myths. If you pray to them, you are not praying to God. The only way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus. It is a beautiful message of good news which many mothers have taught their children over the years.
Moms just have a way of knowing what their kids really need. They never stop loving their children no matter what. It’s great to know that God is the same way, only better. His love is deeper, and wider, and without stain or blemish. If only everyone would consider the unconditional love of moms as a way of seeing how our Designer made us in His image.
What other god has come even close to loving us so much that he sent his only son to die for us? This almost makes it too easy. There is obviously only one God who fits the bill….and loves even unbelievers….and comes after us in order to save us rather than harm us.
In the words of the song, “Amazing Love,” we find this reality expressed so well: “I’m forgiven….because You were forsaken….I’m accepted….You were condemned….I am alive and well, Your Spirit is within me….because You died and rose again. Amazing love….how can it be? That You, my King, should die for me? Amazing love….I know it’s true. It’s my joy to honor You….in all I do, I honor You.”
Wow! This search has been more than worth it. I wish I had considered the unconditional love of mothers a lot sooner as a means to decipher religion. I could have saved myself a lot of time and religious rigmarole. Religion gets complicated and confusing when we fail to discover the relational connection….and when we stop looking for love, and just settle for moralism or religious fantasy instead.
I hope you have been blessed with unconditional love from your mother. But even if you haven’t, you can receive God’s unconditional love for you right now in the Person of Jesus Christ. That is, if you follow the clues and come close enough to your Creator to know Him through faith. Start looking for love in all the right places. You will be glad you did!
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Daddy, can I help you?” It was my four-year-old son, Matt, who was watching me carry cartons of empty pop bottles to the car. Back then you could return them for a dime apiece, so after months of stacking them up in the garage, I was off to collect the cash bonanza.
I said, “Sure, Matt,” and he picked up a carton of bottles and put them in the car. When we got to the store, he grabbed his carton of bottles and shuffled along next to me across the big parking lot. About half way to the store, obviously exhausted, he looked up and said, “Dad, I can’t carry this anymore.”
Count on it, I didn’t say, “Listen, Kid, you started this, so pick up that carton right now and finish what you started!” Of course not!
I took the carton out of his hands, because I knew it was too heavy for him to handle. As his earthly father, I understood what his limits were and helped him carry the load.
Thankfully, our heavenly Father understands our load limit and comes alongside to help. It’s hard to stick it out during difficult times when the trouble in our lives seems far too heavy and there is no end in sight. It’s in times like these that we feel like giving up—like we can’t go on. But God’s Word reminds us that “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). It’s important to note that this verse is talking about more than just bearing up under temptation. In the original Greek, the word temptation actually means “all kinds of trials.”
Ever feel like you’re in the middle of all kinds of trials? The problem with problems is that they have a tendency to drain us of our strength—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that’s when our adversary likes to launch his attack. When we’re weak, he haunts us with thoughts like: How could a loving God allow this to happen? and God has brought you to this place and has just left you here. Or, You’re beyond help—God can’t help you now. But when you start thinking these thoughts, you need to know that they are flat out lies from the pit. You can be sure that they don’t reflect God’s heart for you during difficult times.
In the Old Testament, one of God’s names is Jehovah Jireh—our provider—and He always lives up to His name. He stands ready to provide abundant grace so that we can bear up until He has finished His work in the trial (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). He gives us a peace that passes understanding as we trust and rely on Him with a grateful heart (Philippians 4:6-7). He gives wisdom to see our tough times from His point of view (James 1:5). He gives us the assurance that He will stick it out with us and not leave or forsake us, so that we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What man can do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).
So, chin up! Our troubles and trials have not escaped the notice of the One who comes alongside to help when it seems like the load is too much to bear.
The One who knows your load limit promises to limit your load!
- Think back to a time when God helped you “bear up” under the pressure of difficult circumstances. Write a paragraph in your journal about how God’s power helped you through.
- What promises of God can you claim to find strength in your time of trouble? Pray them back to God with a thankful heart until you sense His peace and presence in the midst of your pain.
- Write a prayer of thanksgiving for a specific event that God helped you through. Read the following Scriptures for examples of Moses and Hannah who did this: Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
- Find someone who needs help “bearing up.” Use Scripture to encourage that person through a written note or a phone call.
I should never say, “I will wait until I get into difficult circumstances and then I’ll put God to the test.” Trying to do that will not work. I must first get the issue settled between God and myself in the secret places of my soul, where no one else can interfere. Then I can go ahead, knowing with certainty that the battle is won. Lose it there, and calamity, disaster, and defeat before the world are as sure as the laws of God. The reason the battle is lost is that I fight it first in the external world. Get alone with God, do battle before Him, and settle the matter once and for all.
In dealing with other people, our stance should always be to drive them toward making a decision of their will. That is how surrendering to God begins. Not often, but every once in a while, God brings us to a major turning point— a great crossroads in our life. From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest— our best for His glory.