Monday, February 25, 2013

Hell In The Presence Of A Loving God

            One of the most difficult questions for me to answer is, “Why God has put me in a predicament of having to see my loved ones in hell because of their unbelief in Christ?” This is an honest question of any Christian whose friends or relatives are yet to believe in Christ. A variant of this question is “why would God not reveal Himself in a way that people believe in Christ?” The ball seems to be in God’s court!

            When asked why he remained an atheist, Bertrand Russell claimed God did not give him adequate evidence to be a theist. Is this a fact? Has God not given adequate evidence to many? The Holy Bible refutes this claim by emphasizing that men suppress truth, which God has made plain to all (Romans 1:19-20; Cf John 3:16-21). The Bible unapologetically places the ball in man’s court!

            To grasp and accept the concept of hell is indeed difficult. How often do we read or view news related to brokenness and death to feel miserable and nauseated? Are we not immeasurably broken when someone close to us is ill or when our loved one dies? We so love our near and dear that we do not want to see them hurt in any way. This is possibly one of the many reasons why we find the concept of hell difficult to digest, and sometimes we even refuse to accept its reality. We so LOVE our friends and relatives that we do not want any harm upon them. 

            If we cannot bear to see our loved ones suffer now for a certain period of time, then it is legitimate for us to suffer more while imagining the possibility of them suffering in hell unto eternity. At the core of our pain is our deep love for our near and dear. Our love and concern for our loved ones’ eternal destiny seems legitimate! However, the dilemma begins now.

            Our dilemma is to comprehend the painful reality of hell under the overarching umbrella of God’s love. We believe a loving God would not send HIS children, even under the pretext of unbelief, to eternal torment. How would a loving parent gift his child with prolonged suffering? Would the parent not do all within his means to prevent this horrendous occurrence? This is our painful dilemma. In other words, we question the credibility of God’s love with respect to hell.

            True love respects and educates, but never enslaves. A parent who truly loves his child will educate him of good and evil. A parent will do “everything” within his power and will to stop the child from pursuing evil, but that “everything” excludes enslaving his child. If a child is bent on pursuing the path of evil, the parent will choose preventive actions, but will never imprison the child into solitary confinement. The circumstantially handicapped parent may opt to allow the child to have his way; this is the respect the parent shows to the disobedient child’s cognizant volition. A defeated and emotionally fatigued parent will allow the child to continue in willful disobedience. Nevertheless, the parents’ love for the child will never diminish even if the child willfully rebels to disobey.

            The father of the prodigal son not only heeds to the property share request of the son, but he goes a step further by not preventing his son from departing to a distant country with his share of wealth (Luke 15:12-13). The son willfully disobeys the loving father, and departs. The loving father expectantly longs for his son’s return and when he does return, the father rushes to welcome the son even before he repents. This is father’s love. A parent’s love will never cease and always hope for the best, but at the same time, a parent’s love will respect the child’s conscious decision. 

            Was it not C.S Lewis who opined that there are two groups of people in this world of which one group would acknowledge and believe in Christ, bend their knees to HIM and say ‘Your will be done,’ and God would have this group living with HIM unto eternity (in heaven). To the other group who refuse to acknowledge and believe in Christ and bend their knees to God, HE will say ‘your will be done’ and grant them their wish to be away from HIM (in hell). God keeps those who desire to be with HIM, but respects and allows those who reject HIM to be away from HIM. This is true love – a love that provides all, but refuses to enslave. (Please remember the Bible’s proclamation that God has given mankind enough evidence to believe in HIM.)

            Let’s travel back to the creation account in Genesis. God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of it (Genesis 2:9, 16-17). Even though it was a command, Adam and Eve were given the freedom to accept or reject God’s command. Thus God exhibited true love, and HE desires mankind to love HIM. True love can only exist in the conscious reality of freedom. Freedom to accept or reject the lover is intrinsic in true love. Therefore, God’s love for mankind warrants the presence of heaven and hell.

            God’s justice can also be questioned with respect to hell. How can a just God eternally punish HIS children for the sin of unbelief committed during the specific period of time of their existence in this world? Isn’t the eternal punishment disproportionate to the sin committed in time? This is another painful predicament we struggle with.

            Human life was designed to be with God unto eternity through mutual love. Sin separated man and God. God, in HIS foreknowledge, designed a way out of this predicament through the one time sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. HE has also done everything for mankind to believe in HIM, so mankind will be without excuse against God. When man refuses to believe in Christ and thereby rejects God, God simply allows man to be away from HIM unto eternity. In other words, the creational intent is an eternal fellowship with God or an eternal banishment from God. Mankind makes the choice, and God honors that choice. This is Justice. Therefore, God’s justice warrants heaven and hell.

P.S: One can always argue that God in HIS perfection, omniscience and omnipotence, could have created a better world where none go to hell. But eminent philosophers have debated the concept of the “best of all possible worlds,” so if you are interested in indulging in heavy reading, then please visit these links and dig deep thereafter ( and's_free_will_defense). 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Do All People Go To heaven?

            In the movie “Life of Pi,” the young man ‘Pi’ though raised a Hindu, follows Christianity and Islam as well, in an endeavor to comprehend God amidst the diverse proclamations. In the end, the viewer is given the latitude to subjectively interpret the statement, “and so it goes with God.” I consider this as a classic case in point that enables one to soak in the various comforting or positive facets from each faith system to arrive at a dogma that supposedly satisfies ones inner longing for peace and wellness. But does one always introspect and examine these dogmas for its internal coherencies and truth claims?

            Having commented on the topic of sin, judgment, heaven, and hell, I find a need to digress and visit the dogma of “Universalism.” The main tenet of universalism is that all people will eventually be with God in heaven. In other words, one’s religion or world-view does not matter. One can believe in anything and do anything, but ultimately, along with everyone else, he too will be with God.

            On the periphery, universalism sounds very noble, just, tolerant, loving, and hence, acceptable. Volumes have been written and spoken ‘for’ and ‘against’ this view by eminent scholars. You can dig deep into this persuasion if this be your interest. But my specific concerns with the espousal of universalism are two-fold: (1) Validity of its truth claim, and (2) Interpretation of the various verses of the Holy Bible that are contrary to the tenets of Universalism (I will refrain from digging deep into this concern for now).

            This subject will be kept to a domain of introduction. The allied subject(s) such as “Annihilationism” (the belief that the unbelievers of the Lord Jesus will be annihilated or cease to exist post their death) will not be mentioned, even though a topic such as this should be of interest to a Christian, since this view of hell was supported by an eminent and well respected Christian pastor, scholar and theologian, Rev. John Stott. My one cent view is that annihilationism is contrary to the Biblical teaching. I wholeheartedly subscribe to a literal hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Holy Bible, hence my concerns are an outcome of this hermeneutic.

            If everyone goes to heaven irrespective of their religious worldview, then universalism implies that all religious worldviews are the same, or that these don’t contradict each other, or even that these don’t matter. But reality states that the essence of all religions is in contradiction with each other. For example, an atheist negates the presence of God, a Christian worships a Trinitarian monotheistic God, a Muslim worships one God (monotheism), and a Hindu worships a pantheon of gods (pantheism) etc. If the central figure of every religion is different, then how can one conclude that all these religions are speaking the truth? In other words, who rules this heaven – ‘No god (godless)’ or ‘One Trinitarian God’ or ‘One God’ or a ‘Pantheon of gods’? All these religions cannot claim to speak the truth while mutually contradicting each other. Truth in its nature excludes (contradictions).

            From within the Biblical perspective, if universalism is to be affirmed, then hell should cease to be a literal presence. But the Holy Bible categorically affirms the presence of a literal hell. So the universalists subscribe to a non-literal interpretation (E.g. allegorical) of the Holy Bible to dilute the literal interpretation of hell and the verses that are in contradiction to the universalistic tenets. Often, verses are pulled out of context and interpreted so to agree with universalism. The interpretative methods of a universalist is a serious concern.

            How does a universalist define sin? John Piper, a Christian Pastor, echoes the Bible when he states that sin is ultimately an assault on God. If all go heavenward, then is sin unpunished? Does universalism posit another dogma of sin – a sin that does not offend God but delights HIM, and a sin that does not offend a fellow human? Or does universalism posit an absolute forgiveness of all sins, irrespective of repentance, confession, and a desire to reject the sin in the future? Now this dogma would produce a plethora of painful complexities for a universalist to unravel (notions of sin, morality etc.).

            How should one comprehend evil from within the universalistic persuasion? If a young girl is raped and killed brutally, and if the universalist screams that the perpetrators of this horrendous evil go to heaven, then should the universalist even bother to punish the perpetrators of evil? Well, the problem compounds if the person raped and killed happens to be from within the close circle of the universalist. Would this universalist still agree and accept the actions of the rapists and killers given the fact that they are all going to heaven? But then the universalist may state that justice will be rendered on this earth. This still does not solve the problem for there is a good possibility that perpetrators of evil walk away scot-free, so in this case there is no justice rendered on earth or in heaven. What then is the stand of the universalist?

            To escape the clutches of this complexity, a universalist may refer to a “mild psychological view” of hell (the resident of hell can enter heaven upon genuine repentance), but then there is no substantiation for this view from within the Holy Bible. The Catholic Bible offers the concept of purgatory as a variant flavor of this dogma. This still does not solve all moral and ethical problems of this world. One can still choose to live a life perpetrating all evil possible knowing that his time in hell is only temporary. So is the universalist subscribing to an immoral world? The plot thickens!

            Finally, how does a universalist define God? Let me pour a torrent of questions. It appears to me that the god of the universalist is not offended by sins, so does this mean that his god is pleased by sins? Is a universalist worshipping an evil god? Or is he worshipping a weak god who is unable to stop evil? Is a universalist worshiping an unjust god? Or is this god an imperfect god? If this god is an imperfect god, then why give him the place of God, for this god is only equal to an imperfect man? An embarrassment of painful complexities and the plot thickens greatly!!

            Universalism, as an independent worldview, is acceptable within the parameters of freedom of thought and expression. But universalistic belief from within the Judeo-Christian worldview is untenable. One seems to gain much surface level peace, comfort, satisfaction and contentment to claim that all people will go to heaven. But this dogma lacks foundation and stability, and opens up numerous painful complexities that beg for true answers. I certainly believe that universalism does not find a place within the Judeo-Christian worldview.

            In the pursuit of meaning in this life, we should endeavor to protect ourselves from falsehood. Truth alone gives peace and meaning to life. I reckon it was Sir Winston Churchill who said that truth is attended by a bodyguard of lies. We could be like ‘Pi’ and explore truth from the various worldviews available today, but we should sieve away the lies that confront us. Our belief should withstand the test for truth and coherency. I seriously believe that dependence on the one true God and the diligent understanding of the Holy Bible will alone give us meaning to life and the ability to protect ourselves.

            Please enlighten me if you desire to contradict.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Way to Heaven? Not by Works!

          Once we learn from the Bible that God’s grace is firmly imprinted in our salvation (new birth a.k.a born again experience), we could move over to see how we (believers in Christ) are judged. We are fundamentally examining both ends of our Christian life – our new birth and death (i.e. what happens after our death). Let me clarify that the judgment I am referring to is our post-death judgment.

            Judgment is a reality, for it is explicitly stated in the Bible. First, it is God who judges man (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:5, 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:5). Second and more specifically, the second person of the blessed Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, will judge the living and the dead (Matt 25:31-46; Acts 10:42, 17:31). Third, the believer in Christ will be judged as it is mentioned in Romans 14:10-12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 (these are letters Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and Corinth). The unbelievers of the Lord Jesus will also be judged (Romans 2:5-11; Revelation 20:12). Finally, those who believe in Christ will be judged on the basis of their earthly deeds – whether good or bad (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).

            The Bible states that believers in Christ are created to do good works, which should be a natural outcome of their life in Christ (Cf. Ephesians 2:10, John 15 et al.). It is imperative to affirm that those who believe in Christ will not be eternally condemned (John 5:24; Romans 8:1) but will indeed live unto eternity. Believers in Christ are only saved by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus, and not by works they do in this world. The believer’s judgment will not relegate a believer in Christ to hell, but this judgment evaluates and bestows various degrees of rewards in heaven (Matthew 5:19, 46, 6:2-6, 16-18; Luke 6:22-23, 35, 12:42-48, 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 3:8, 12-15, 13:3, 15:58; Hebrews 11:35; 2 John 8; Revelation 22:12).

            So, the believers are saved ONLY by grace, but are created to do good works, hence we conclude that doing good works bears no role in our salvation. Permit me to illustrate this now, and for the sake of illustration we will consider the first act of sinful nature – sexual immorality (Galatians 5:19, NIV).

            If a believer falls into temptation and unfortunately dies while in adultery, many Christians would tend to think he is hell-bound. This man did not even have an opportunity to repent, so that lends credence to this doctrine. However, I think differently! I do not think this person is hell-bound, but in fact he is heaven-bound. A believer’s unconfessed sins do not transport him to hell. If believers are saved by grace, then they are saved by grace. Period. Good deeds or bad deeds of a believer in Christ will not relegate him to hell. Please remember that when a person accepts the Lord Jesus as his God and Savior, he is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. He is forgiven of all his sins.

            Well, I hope another illustration will reinforce my point. Let us again consider sexual immorality. I share this illustration that I read sometime ago. Let us assume a believer living an adulterous life. Let us also assume that his church elders approach him and advise him to quit his adultery, repent, and live clean. This person refuses to listen to them and continues with his adulterous lifestyle. The church elders now approach him for the second time and warn him that he is hell-bound, if he refuses to repent of his sin (adultery) and live clean. Stop and think. According to the doctrine of the church elders, this believer will go to heaven if he stops his adulterous life. Now, where did the grace of God disappear? Are we not saved by grace? Isn't this doctrine promoting salvation by works – that if we live clean we go to heaven, else we go to hell?

            If only sinless people can go to heaven, then God alone would inhabit heaven. Please permit me to stretch the illustration further. The Lord said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV). The Bible categorically states that even a lustful look is adultery, and anger equivalent to murder and deserving hellfire (Matthew 5:21-22)! How many of us are absolutely immune to sensuality and anger of various forms and sizes?

            Let us continue to travel within this thought. The second act of the sinful nature is “impurity.” What is impurity? One approach to understand impurity is to gain knowledge on purity. Purity lacks imperfection and even potency for imperfection. Impurity, on the other hand, is an embodiment of imperfection. The Bible teaches that God alone is pure and perfect. None of us are pure, for we are all sinners. If my work of good or bad deeds is going to determine my eternal status, then none will go to heaven, for we are all impure (sinners). In other words, no amount of good works will fetch a believer in Christ a ticket to heaven.

            We are created to do good works, and a believer in Christ will do good works. This is how Christians should live. The doctrine of our salvation (grace through faith) does not promote sin in our lives. Instead, the one saved by grace should realize his unworthiness to be in the presence of a Holy God, and live a life that pleases the Holy God, in utter gratitude, until his last breath. Anyone who teaches that grace of God is a license to sin will experience a severe judgment (Cf. Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2, NIV).

            It is God’s will that we live to believe and please our Triune God through our thoughts, words and deeds, so may we do just that. Amen. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Heart of Salvation: Grace of God

God supernaturally regenerates a man’s heart (John 3:6), and some naturally degenerate the regenerated hearts (Matt 23:15). The malady and the parody of superior religiosity are wonderfully portrayed in the Bible. 

This is a classic case of infighting, which in our context is the spiritually proud fighting God Himself. What is the solution then? The solution is brutally presented in these verses “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12 NASB).

Is it not interesting that Paul appeals to the “grace” that God has given him to exhort believers not to think too high of ourselves, but with sober judgment? “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3, NIV). 

If we do not think too high of ourselves, we will not look down or even condemn others. If ‘humility’ should be our constant attitude, then assimilating God’s grace is the foundation. If we integrate God’s grace, then we will not possess a superior attitude of ourselves. This is how the equation works. 

To summarize, if we integrate God’s grace, we will be humble and gracious; hence we will not look down or condemn others.

The major stumbling block for one to integrate God’s grace is our delight in our “spiritual successes.” This delight infuses into us a spirit of achievement. This feeling of achievement results in a superior thought of oneself. But the fact of life is rather simple; nothing is possible outside of God. 

What we are is because of HIM. When we delight in ourselves, we become bigger than God, and in the process we violate this verse, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30, NIV). So, our objective in our Christian life and ministry is to become more and more invisible and let God be more and more visible through our lives.

Having emphasized on the need to dwell in the grace of God, please allow me to recapture the process of our salvation:

1. When a sinner believes in Christ, he is “born again,” and he becomes a “new creation” (Matthew 19:28; John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:5; Titus 3:5).

2. His sins are forgiven (Acts 10:43; 1 John 1:9).

3. He is redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross (1 Peter 1:18-19).

4. God’s righteousness is credited to him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

5. Since God’s righteousness is credited to him, he is now reconciled to God. His position changes from being God’s enemy to God’s friend (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:19-20).

6. He is now adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:15).

7. He begins a process of spiritual growth called “sanctification” or “growing in holiness” (Romans 8:3-4; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Hebrews 10:10; 1 John 3:2-3).

8. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes again (2nd coming), he will either be resurrected (if he is dead) or he will be transformed (if he is still alive) - (John 6:40; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

9. Finally, he receives a new physical body which he (all who believe in Christ) will possess throughout eternity (Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 2 Thessalonians 1:10).

I see nothing but grace firmly imprinted in our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith.

Having been born by the grace of God, how now do we live?