Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why is Hell Eternal?

Is his book Rob Bell puts forth a few theories about the nature of hell that he hopes evangelicals will adopt. He postulates the idea that hell is being in a condition other than that which God desires. In other words, if you are living in hate, you are living in hell because you are not experiencing the joy of God that comes from living without hate. Nowhere in Scripture is hell described in this way however, but that doesn’t seem to get in Bell’s way of defining it in this fashion. Secondly, Bell contends that everyone will eventually escape this hell. God’s love, in the end, will win out. I say this even though Bell seemingly vacillates on this suggestion at least at one point in his point in his book. Bell contends that all things being reconciled to God means that even the most rancid sinners will always have an opportunity for redemption, if not in this life, but perhaps in the next. Bell does not describe what this after-life of the God-hater looks like. He just contends that it is not how orthodoxy has defined it for the last 2,000 years. It is something different.

Why does Bell think this way? He argues that God is love and that a loving God would never punish temporary faults and sins with eternal torment. That punishment just does seem to fit the crime according to Bell. At first glance, that argument seems to make a whole lot of since. Moreover, I would surmise that a great many young evangelicals are at least, stopped dead in their tracks by this reasoning. Now how did we get here you ask. It all began when we did not take the argument that doctrine doesn’t matter important enough. People who responded vociferously against that position were marginalized and even polarized as being overly negative and highly critical people. Hence, it was their negative personality. That was really causing them to respond this way and not the actual teachings of Scripture. I am sure you have heard it before if you have ever dared to disagree with someone on doctrine. They engage in the worse sort of back-handed manipulation. In other words, in order to manipulate YOU, they begin by accusing you of being a manipulator. If you are a decent, God-fearing Christian, you WILL pause and second-guess your real motives for taking up that position. At any rate, when we bought into the idea that doctrine does not matter, a postmodern suggestion at minimum, we opened the door to the kind of non-sense that is creeping into evangelicalism day after day. This is why movements like the seeker-sensitive movement and the emergent church manage to thrive in the visible Christian community.

I could go through and provide a detailed exegesis of all the passages in Scripture that prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that hell is eternal. However, such an endeavor would risk becoming a dissertation. Having completed a dissertation last year, I am in no hurry to write another one: at least not yet anyways. Rather than do that, I am going to argue that hell must be eternal because of the nature of God. This is exactly what Bell attempts to do. However, I will show that Bell redefines “love” and proceeds from there. It is my aim that you will see that I do not redefine anything and allow the self-revelation of God’s character in Scripture speak for itself. And based on that character alone, it is easy to understand why hell must be eternal.

It misunderstands God’s holiness

What does it mean to be holy? That is one question and it is a good one. I would that our preachers were talking more about holiness these days. I recently read that Rick Warren bragged about teaching a 12-week course on sanctification without using THAT word one time. Well, what is wrong with THAT word anyways? Jesus and the disciples used it. In fact, Jesus prayed that his word would sanctify his disciples. Secondly, what does it mean for God to be holy? That is another interesting question. I noticed that Bell spent no time discussing the holiness of God in his book, “Love Wins.” Maybe I should write a book called, “Holiness Wins,” or “Justice Wins.” Bell’s definition of God’s love wrongly removes that divine love from the context of divine justice. God is not simply love. He is also just! God is not more loving than He is just and He isn’t more just than He is love. He is eternally and infinitely just and loving. Anytime we place one attribute above another attribute of God, we are looking at God like He is a man. What God is, He is infinitely, immeasurably. This means that no one divine attribute is greater in any degree than any other attribute. God’s justice is without end just as much as His love. Hence, Bell’s argument introduces a naïve dualism within God, excluding justice from love and love from justice or by redefining both by failing to understand either one.

What do we mean when we say that God is holy? Robert Reymond says, “God is also ethically distinct from sinful men. And as we have already noted, the Scriptures employ the same word groups that it uses to describe his majestic holiness to attest to his ethical holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).” [Reymond, Robert. Systematic Theology. 195] The liberal thinker has a great tendency to compromise God’s transcendence in an attempt to emphasize His immanence. Both must be kept in proper perspective if one is to avoid injury to the divine nature. When we talk about God’s righteousness or His holiness, we speak of His moral excellence as well as the rectitude of his conduct. We know God is perfectly good in every way. He is morally excellent. He is infinitely good and right. We are not. His moral excellence transcends man in every way. God standards, His laws, His regulations are good, and right and perfect. As Lord, He has perfect right to be obeyed. Everything God does is righteous. His deeds reflect the nature of a being that is infinitely and eternally and immutably pure in every way. When Bell fails to acknowledge God’s righteous character in this way by redefining love on human terms instead of biblical ones, he impugns the righteous nature of a holy God. Moreover, as one will see, he downgrades divine love as well. If there is anything Bell would want to avoid, it is that. Nevertheless, it is unavoidably the case that when you do anything to diminish God’s holiness, you also detract from His love as well. God is holy!

It belittles sin

Bell’s refusal to permit balance between divine holiness and divine love regrettably belittles sin and elevates man. Not only does it ignore the noetic effect of sin on human nature, it belittles sin as an offense to a holy God. After all, if God really isn’t THAT holy, then offending Him is not THAT big of a deal. What happened to Satan when he revolted against God? How long did that revolt take? It was one act of rebellion. And Satan is still paying the price for it. Why didn’t Christ pay the price for the fallen angels? If God is like Bell says he is and love is as Bell defines it, then the fallen angels should get a second chance as well. They should have had their sins expiated at the cross the same way we did. I mean, isn’t that love? Wouldn’t a loving God, the kind of God that Bell describes, extend forgiveness in time to Satan? The hard truth is that none of us understand why God chose to redeem anyone. It is an act of love and grace that exceeds our greatest ability to understand. The proper question is not, “why do people go to hell?” The proper question is, “why does God save anyone?” It is only when we ask that question that we are beginning to understand the gravity of sin. Sin is an act of autonomy on the part of a being that was created and is totally dependent on its creator for everything it is and has. It is the greatest evil that man can engage in and it is at the root of all sin. Every sinful act is an attempt to live independent from God. It is an attempt to break away and serve oneself. It is an attempt, to one degree or another, to be God. There is nothing more evil than to claim, either in your actions or with your mouth, to be God. Every sin is a claim, at that moment in time, for that instance, in that area of your life, to be God. Partial submission to God is not submission at all. Partial acknowledgement of God is not acknowledge of God at all. This is why Jesus called it, “dying to self.” It is why Paul said, “I die daily.” Sin is an act of revolt against a God who is perfectly just, perfectly righteous, and perfectly loving. There is no more horrendous act that one can commit than to sin against God. And we have so marginalized it that it has become one of the things we do with the greatest of ease and in the name of grace, without any remorse or sorrow whatsoever. Jesus said it is better for you to pluck out your eyeball than to sin with it. That is how bad sin is. Bell simply shows no appreciation for the evil that sin really is when committed against the God of Scripture.

It fails to apprehend God’s infinite justice

God is infinitely holy. Sin is the greatest offense that could ever be committed against an infinitely holy God. Since God is infinitely holy, His justice is also infinite. And because of that, sin must be punished. An infinitely holy God must punish sin infinitely. This is unavoidable. How could an infinitely offended God extend punishment on man for his sin in a temporally? In order to satisfy his infinite justice, punishment for sin must continue infinitely. We have no problem with a judge who issues the death penalty for someone guilty of first-degree murder. Conversely, we scream when a rapist gets 6 months. Crimes committed against an eternal God demand eternal punishment. Now, that being said, what does this say about God’s love? That God would extend His love to us, send Christ to pay the infinite price in our place so that we would not have to suffer eternally, can now begin to be appreciated, at least to a small degree. Can you see what happens when you see God’s righteousness in its proper perspective and human sin in its proper light, what happens to divine love? It is elevated beyond the peaks!

Sadly, Bell, by engaging in this gyration of definitions between holiness and love as he does, actually commits a tragic disservice to both. He detracts from God’s righteousness, belittles human sin, and the one thing he wishes to elevate, is tragically downgraded to the lowest levels.

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