Podcast Transcript. To listen to the audio version click HERE
We have all experienced it. That moment when we realize the person we believed in and respected is not the person we thought they were.
Sometimes the news is leaked like a scandal and publicized all over the internet, but more often than not it comes from a personal revelation, a personal experience where we saw the person acting out of harmony with their perceived character.
It is right then that we begin experiencing what is known as cognitive dissonance.
And of course in those moments we have to make a decision. Either we change our beliefs to match the facts and confront the individual or we redefine the facts to match our belief and excuse him.
If the relationship is important to us, fear of losing it will make it much easier to excuse then confront – but one way or another the cognitive dissonance has to be resolved in order for there to be integrity in the relationship.
This experience is difficult enough when it involves a parent, spouse, close friend, or even public figure whom we have admired, but what if our cognitive dissonance is with God himself.
What if what we have believed about Him is contradicting the facts laid out right in front of us?
Do we embrace integrity and confront God or do we embrace fear and excuse Him?
So, in this podcast every episode has been acting on the premise of one fact: God is love.
From creation to revelation, love is at the center of God’s character and commandments.
When Jesus was asked which is the great commandment in the Law? He answered,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:36–40 ESV)
In other words, not only is God love, but everything written in the word off God is a reflection of that love.
Therefore, everything we believe about God must be reconciled with love or else we will automatically experience cognitive dissonance in our relationship with him.
… Even the doctrine of hell.
However, it is here that many Christians have given God a pass.
God is love with just this one exception…
So how do we reconcile a God of love with a God who burns people alive and keeps them alive for the sole purpose of torturing them throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity?
Should we turn to plato? Saint Augustine? Dante?
Much has been written on this topic over the centuries, but lets begin by going back to the year 1741, to the small American town of Enfield, Massachusetts where a revivalist preacher named Jonathan Edwards has just stood up and begun preaching what would become one of the most famous sermons ever recorded. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
Imagine yourself sitting in a church pew as you listen to the picture he is painting about God with these words:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over a fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. . . .
“There will be no end to [your] exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever of boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all.
No modern day horror movie could match the misery and terror of what is described in that sermon.
And, yet almost 300 years later many churches have literally turned that sermon into a haunted house alternative during the Halloween season.
I don’t know about you, but as I contemplate those words and images I immediately start experiencing cognitive dissonance.
So many questions go through my mind.
Is the same God who gave his life for me going to turn around make an endless art out of my torture if I dont repent?
Is more fear in my life the answer to motivating me stay on the straight and narrow path on my journey to heaven?
But then I start to wonder…
If all we needed was fear to be saved, then why didn’t God just destroy the devil at the beginning of his rebellion?
Not only would he have saved the fallen angels, but it also would have prevented the devil from tempting Eve in the first place – thus saving himself and human race from thousands of years of misery.
Now of course the consequence is that we would have all begun serving God out of fear, but if the way Christians have traditionally taught the doctrine of hell is true, is it really that much different?
If God is using a pit of never-ending fiery torture as a metaphorical gun being stuck to our head as a consequence for disobedience, it is pretty hard to argue he is not using fear tactics to gain our submission.
So how do we reconcile this conundrum?
Thankfully through the prophet Isiah God tells us, “Come let us reason together…”
In other words, God is telling us, “If you are experiencing cognitive dissonance about my character and exactly who I am then let’s talk about it.”
What do we ask him then?
What would you ask him?
I know what I would ask? God, do you believe in hell?
Before answering through, I am sure he would point me to the scriptures in the same we Jesus did when we was walking on the Road to Emmaus with the two disciples after his resurrection. Interestingly enough instead of telling them right away that he was risen from the dead – he hid his identity from them and reasoned from the scriptures how everything that had happened to him was prophesied in the word of God – only after establishing the authority of the Word of God – did he then reveal himself to them as the Risen Lord.
I believe if Jesus were here with us today he would do the same thing with us regarding the doctrine of hell.
Does the Bible really teach that sinners will burn forever?
Let’s begin by looking at one of the most well known verses in the Bible: John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)
So here we have a simple distinction between those who are saved and those who are lost.
Those who are saved receive everlasting life and those are lost perish (they die).
The juxtaposition of the wording makes it clear the everlasting life is the exact opposite of death (which by its very nature is everlasting since afterward you cease to exist.)
However, If the doctrine of hellfire is true, then Jesus is not stating the truth in the one verse above all others we use to share the gospel with the world.
Everlasting life in hell is by no means a good life, but it is still everlasting life.
Those who teach and preach sermons like sinners in the hand of an angry God are essentially saying that no one actually dies in the end. The geography may be different, but existence is not.
But remember, God tells us to come and reason with him
Let’s do that for a moment.
If the wages of sin is not, as the Bible teaches, death, but instead everlasting life in hell, then how could Jesus have paid the price for our sins on the cross?
If the doctrine of hell is true then his death on the cross would only been the beginning of suffering. To fully pay the price he would still have to be suffering for us in the pits of hell today.
But the fact that he paid the penalty of sin and rose on the 3rd day is proof that the penalty of sin does not take eternity to pay off.
Now dont get me wrong.
The penalty is still hefty
Death is still a high price to pay for our sins, especially when we have a Savior who has taken that penalty upon him and has offered us eternal life in its place.
Death is the absence of life
No more thoughts, no more feelings, no more memory.
Death is still a dark end to our existence, even if you take everlasting hellfire out of the picture.
But it stays true to God’s character of valuing freedom over control (see episode 2)
But doesn’t the Bible teach that the wicked will be cast into a lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgment?
Yes it does.
But let us just consider that for a moment.
The traditional doctrine of hell teaches that when you die you go straight to heaven or hell.
That of course would mean that Hell fire is burning today?
My response to that would be, where?
Where are these people burning and suffering?
In another world?
You see the problem is simplified if we would just read the Bible as it is written.
Thus the purpose of Hell is not torture, but judgment.
Jesus said it like this,
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:25–27 NKJV)
Notice again how he contrasts life with death.
If you lose your life now – you will gain it in the judgment.
If you try to save your life now – you will lose it in the judgment.
Then he answers when the judgment is executed: Each person who has ever lived will be rewarded (paid their wages) according to their works – what they have done with their life. When they die? No – When Jesus comes.
All will be resurrected from the dead to face this judgment: (as discussed in episode 009)
Jesus explained this when he said,
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28–29 NKJV)
One judgment pronounces life and the other pronounces death.
But even the judgment of death varies from person to person.
Remember all those who are saved are saved not by their own works – but because they trusted in the works of Jesus. That is why they all receive the same reward. Eternal life.
However the wicked all have to face the consequences of their life of sin.
While all the wicked are guilty, they are not guilty equally.
If the traditional doctrine of hell is true then the wicked all face the same punishment no matter how they lived their lives. The drunkard and the prostitute receive the same penalty as Hitler and Stalin. Those born earlier in history suffer longer.
Again this kind of justice is even foreign to our corrupt earthly justice system and yet we teach that God is incapable of recognizing the nuance of guilt amongst those who reject him?
It is an insult to the reasoning mind to believe this and it is the reason many intelligent men and women have turned away from God and the church.
But if men would read the scriptures they would discover the nuance that even human judgment is capable of recognizing.
Jesus also said,
“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:47–48 NKJV)
In other words, in the judgment, even among those who are lost, their punishment will be weighted by their knowledge.
The more light they rejected the worse punishment they will receive.
But in the end – while justice will be served – it will be served with the purpose of destroying or eradicating sin and sinners from the universe.
The prophet Malachi wrote:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” (Malachi 4:1 ESV)
The purpose of the lake of fire should now be clear.
In order for the meek to inherit the earth sin must be eradicated. Both the wicked angels and the wicked men will be destroyed by fire.
They will be no more. Consumed by the all consuming fire.
At this point you may be wondering. I am can see that God doesn’t torture the wicked for eternity and that they are punished justly in the end according to their works, but I still can’t get over the fact that a God of love destroys his own creation.
It is at this point that we must reconsider what it will be like to live with God.
One of my favorite books, Steps to Christ says.
“The sinner could not be happy in God’s presence; he would shrink from companionship with holy beings. Could he be permitted to enter heaven, it would have no joy for him. The spirit of unselfish love that reigns there – every heart responding to the heart of infinite love – would touch no answering chord in his soul. His thoughts, his interests, his motives, would be alien to those that actuate the sinless dwellers there. He would be a discordant note in the melody of heaven. Heaven would be to him a place of torture.” (Steps to Christ, 17-18)
Heaven would be torture?
Let that sink in your mind for a moment.
Would a God of love want to torture his creation by forcing the wicked to live where they didn’t want to be and didn’t belong?
You see in allowing the wicked to perish in the end – justly because of their own choices – God is also sparing them from a life they would hate in the end.
So does God believe in Hell?
Not in the way it is taught today
God is love.
He gave his life for us all so that none need perish in the end.
But he is also a god of freedom.
Right now you still have a choice.
The choice to believe the truth about God.
The devil has told a lie about God that reflects his own character not God’s
God is asking you to come and reason with him today about your eternal destiny.
““Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 ESV)
The only thing you need to be ready for Jesus is the washing of your sins away in the blood of the only begotten son of God.
He who has the son has life. He who does not have the son does not have life.