What Sort of God Sends People to Hell?!

sodom_011One of the most common arguments (though often fired off as an accusation) that Christians hear against the notion of a good and loving God is that such a God, were he truly good and loving, would not send good and loving people to a realm of eternal punishment. How could such a kind and gracious God possibly damn someone to hell? Doesn’t he love everyone?

And so the line of interrogation goes, scores of skeptics placing God in the dock, wagging their finger at such a ferociously tyrannical deity who demands our affection or else. I mean, who does God think He is anyway? Sure, Stalin ought to be doomed to hell, but not Stephanie. God should certainly punish Hitler, but not Henry.

While much has been said on the subject – books upon books from each side, debates and Facebook tirades ad infinitum – a particular series of events in Genesis provides a helpful center for the compass. In Genesis 12-17 God reveals Himself to Abraham and calls him, famously, to become the father of many generations. Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham…

In Genesis 18, the LORD appears to Abraham (likely one of many Christophanies) accompanied by two angels and declares His intentions to destroy the wicked city of Sodom. What follows is the remarkable discourse in which Abraham bargains with the LORD to spare the city for the sake of 50 righteous people, then 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. Notice, however, Abraham’s original complaint:

“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?'” (Gen. 18:23-25, ESV, emphasis added)

Though Abraham’s trust in the LORD and his intimate relationship with Him has been established (Gen. 15:6, 18:22-23), he still takes it upon himself in interceding for Sodom to question God’s intentions. How could God “sweep away the righteous with the wicked”? How could He allow the “righteous [to] fare as the wicked”? In essence, how could God’s punishment for the bad include the good? How could a loving God allow damnation to come to the innocent? Shall not the Judge do what is just? Shall not the loving God (I John 4:8) do what is loving?

We might very well be tempted to respond like Abraham did: “Far be it from You!”

Yet, God’s response to Abraham is revealing. He yields. He accepts Abraham’s plea to spare 50 righteous from the city, and the story does not stop there. Abraham progressively whittles the number from 50 down to 10, hoping to maintain God’s good favor in sparing the righteous. And God continues to accept. What is the point?

God’s lesson for Abraham – and for us – is the same as His lesson throughout Scripture:

  • There is none righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:23).
  • All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
  • If God should mark iniquities, who could stand? (Ps. 130:3).
  • We are dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:1).
  • Death has spread to all men because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12).
  • All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way (Is. 53:6).

The problem with Abraham’s petition for the LORD to spare the righteous is not in the sincerity of his prayer, or in his trusting in the LORD to do what is right, but strictly in his definition of a righteous man. Apart from God, there is no such thing as a righteous person to be spared. While God’s agreement with Abraham to save the righteous is certain – He will save a remnant from the corrupt city – it will not be because they are righteous. They will become righteous because God has saved them.

We see this played out in the following chapter. In Genesis 19 God’s angels enter Sodom to save Lot and his family from the destruction that is sure to come:

“As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” (Gen. 19:15-16, ESV, emphasis added)

This is the cornerstone of God’s work in salvation. It is not God’s offering to save good people so that they may become great people, nor is it God’s accepting of our good merits and our noble desires to be saved. God resurrects the dead (Eph. 2). God causes light to shine out of darkness (II Cor. 4). God shows His love  for us in that while we were yet sinners, wholeheartedly obsessed with our sinfulness and in utter rebellion toward God, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

God did not save Lot because he desired to be saved. Like all of us before we are saved by grace, Lot lingered in the city. He longed to remain in wickedness, not to escape it. He desired Sodom, even above the pressing urgency of angels. Lot’s salvation, and the salvation of his house, came not by his drawing near to God but by the seizing grip of God’s mercy. God came down to save us; He did not accept us as we climbed to Him. All of the initiative is on God’s side. He must seize us, for without it, we will forever linger.

This story is not one of an arbitrary, capricious God, smiting away with the Louisville slugger of holiness, but one of judgment and mercy, dual characteristics of the Almighty God. Abraham was right: the Judge of all the earth shall do what is just. Sin and rebellion shall be punished. Yet, Abraham also saw the merciful Father, extending a gracious hand to save Lot and his family when they had done nothing to deserve or desire it:

“So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.” (Gen. 19:29, ESV, emphasis added)

God justly destroyed the wickedness of Sodom. God mercifully spared a remnant, not for their righteousness but for His own. God remembered Abraham’s intercessory prayer and set Lot apart from the city of doom.

The question is not how a good and loving God can punish good people; there are none apart from His grace. The question is how a righteous and holy God could save the Lots who linger.

May we rejoice and be glad, filled with the truth that He “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

 

Empires of Dirt by Douglas Wilson

Empires of Dirt: Secularism, Radical Islam, and the Mere Christendom AlternativeEmpires of Dirt: Secularism, Radical Islam, and the Mere Christendom Alternative by Douglas Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read another reviewer who labeled this perhaps the most important book Wilson has written, and I am more than happy to throw my support behind such high praise.

I am an ardent fan of Wilson’s and have read several of his books; Empires of Dirt, however, is one of the greatest, timeliest, and most extraordinary of his expressions to date. His grasp of America’s present ills is sure, and his biblical, postmillennial, optimistic vision of mere Christendom a delicious remedy.

Wilson argues for the engagement of all Christians in reclaiming the world for King Jesus, affirming that, as I once heard Wilson quip, if Christ is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all.

This book is simply magnificent, though if you are new to Wilson’s style, I would recommend you start with Angels in the Architecture or Rules for Reformers first.

View all my reviews

Eden Restored: How Story Will Save Us All

A good friend of mine asked me to write a short post for his blog, and I have included the link here. I hope you all enjoy!

I recently spoke with someone who mentioned that one of her friends does not encourage her children to “play pretend” or involve themselves in any sort of imaginary world. Inviting small children to imagine, she explained, inhibits them from readily acknowledging and confessing what is true. She believed a strong and healthy imagination in her […]

via Guest Post: Eden Restored: How Story Will Save Us All — Chris Weatherly

The Gospel According to Snow White

RevelryA little over a year ago, I wrote a post referencing the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty and how its depiction of dragon-slaying and the victory of goodness over evil is quintessentially biblical, reverberating with the sweet harmonies of Jesus’ grand story. We now must turn to Snow White

I brought home the movie a few weeks ago for my daughters to watch. Toward the end of the film, I was struck by the sheer power and depth of the story in displaying both the dilemma of death and the transcendent beauty of redemption, culminating in the glorious resurrection of all things. Indeed, the Bible teaches that Eden most certainly will be restored, and, to quote T.S. Eliot, “all shall be well, and / All manner of thing shall be well” (The Four Quartets). In his Revelation, John declares with valiant sureness, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (Rev. 21:5).

It should be no surprise that the gospel can appear in the unlikeliest of places with the unlikeliest of transformative power. After all, all truth is God’s truth. Tolkien showed us this in his epic tale of a halfling saving all of Middle-Earth. Who can forget the disbelief, the skepticism many shared that the responsibility for the One Ring should fall to a lowly hobbit? Or that the salvation of all the Jews could rest in the hands of Esther, one who attained her royal position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)?

Even more directly, Chesterton writes in his essay “The Ethics of Elfland” of the glorious beauty and wonder that fairy tales hold in presenting the most dynamic truth in truly astonishing ways:

“…We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales because they find them romantic…This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water…We have all forgotten what we really are”

Chesterton is right; fairy tales jolt us awake to the absolute vibrancy and wonder of God’s True Story. Indeed, these stories we tell are numinous, bathed in sunlight; we merely need eyes to see them. The world and its millions of stories, trickling through every pore of reality, are diaphanous, “charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins). Just as Plato described the awakening of man’s reason to see the light beyond the cave, for these are mere shadows before us, Lewis believed the resurrecting of man’s imagination drew us “further up and further in” toward the dawn of True Reality to see the glory of God’s story in living color. Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “To see the common things of daily life drawn into the bright shadow of the Christ – this is the mark of a well-nourished theological imagination. It is precisely the biblically formed and transformed imagination that helps disciples wake up and stay awake to what is, and will be, in Christ Jesus” (“In Bright Shadow”).

So, we must turn to the truth and beauty of Snow White not to be merely entertained but to equip the eyes of our imagination to see more clearly the truth and beauty of God’s Story.

The Bliss of Eden

DopeyWhen Snow White arrives at the dwarves’ cottage, we see a warm and inviting portrayal of Eden: there are chores and tasks to be done (to the blissful tunes of whistling while you work, of course), there is community and fellowship, and the cottage is alive with song and dance. Merriment abounds. The story presents this way of life as a perfect balance of duty and desire; each person has a role to fill, and he or she fills it gladly. Sneezy is the one who sneezes, Happy is the one who is happy, Grumpy is the one who is grumpy, and so on.

Dwarves

At the center of this pure and enchanting home is the image of Beauty herself, the ideal virtue incarnate in the character of Snow White, the proverbial “fairest of all.” She is undistorted by the seductions of the mirror, and she is elevated to the right position of a bride and mother, for the prince seeks her hand in marriage, and the dwarves seek her loving and affectionate arms in biblical domestic motherhood. She is the mother of all the living, and the eventual bride of the prince. The stage is set for the great Drama.

The Dilemma of Death

AppleEdenic paradise, God’s story tells us, is subject to the rebellion of man. It was only a matter of time before Snow White would face the choice to fall from the warmth and glory of her perfect home. And fall she does as she fills her mouth with the false deliciousness of the Queen’s poisoned apple and succumbs to the deep sleep of death. Yet, this sleeping death is no individual affair; the effects of her sin are not limited to her lifeless body. Indeed, all of nature is bent by her fall, and when the dwarves encase the body of Snow White in the glass coffin, all of creation attends to mourn the death of Beauty. It is a truly eerie scene in the film; Snow White lies beneath the numb sheet of sin and death, quiet and still, as her dwarves weep softly around her and all of the woodland creatures draw near to see and to mourn. In their sorrow, they know that ultimate Beauty has died and their perfect world has been damaged by darkness and evil. All of creation feels the sting.

Funeral

The Kiss of Life

In this bleak moment of despair and sadness, the sleeping bride is powerless to rise from her bed of death. She needs the sweet kiss of a savior, the arrival of her great prince to bring her back to life. She needs resurrection, not only for her but for all the grieving world. Mourning must turn to morning.

And so arrives the great prince, ready to unseal the curse of death with the kiss of life. I challenge anyone to watch this scene and not whisper “amen” at the moment their lips touch, for this is truly our story. This is our greatest need. We are the sleeping Bride of Christ, desperately in need of Christ’s resurrecting power. Hear the old song:

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining,
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth,
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

Kiss

Indeed, our Prince has come to kiss us wide awake. Savor the beauty and the power of the Story.

Tolkien writes it this way:

“‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

Amen. May it be. A great Shadow has departed, and everything sad is coming untrue.

All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

We all live happily ever after.

On Reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”  Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis


I drove home from school that evening,

My bag sprawled against the passenger seat,

Rain raking across the windshield,

And I mulled maddeningly over his opening line.

 

Poor Gregor, I thought,

It’s bad enough to endure

Unsettling dreams,

But to wake up one morning only

To find yourself transformed into a

Monstrous vermin…

What a way to go.

 

Then, as I drifted into my driveway,

I began to question the very nature of change.

The Metamorphosis, it’s called,

He awakes to find he had become

Something else entire.

Clever, but simply fiction.

No early morning spontaneous change for the rest of us in the

Real world.

 

I continued to ponder Gregor’s condition

As I walked through my kitchen,

Kissed my wife,

And knelt to the floor of my living room to tussle with my daughters,

To release the hours of giggling from the depths of their little lungs,

To wage another campaign in the infamous Tickle Wars.

 

I had almost forgotten Kafka’s novella

And Gregor’s plight,

When my oldest had settled her spurs in the floor

To summon her favorite horse for a quick saunter around the house.

 

As I bent to my hands and knees,

Lowering my back to help her saddle up,

I remembered the magic of change, the invisible truth that

Swells within the blood of fathers,

For all my philosophies and empty questions

Faded into shadow as my fingertips hardened to hooves,

Thick as iron,

And my mouth began to dribble the dabbled joy of stallions.

 

It was then,

As the cool carpet sprang forth with grass,

And the dusty wind howled through our TV screen to breeze across

My daughter’s laughing chin,

That I believed again in metamorphosis,

And I neighed loud enough to stay the dawn

And send Gregor back to sleep.

Idolatry

A poem on idolatry and repentance…


I stopped in silence on the corner,

Marveling,

As I watched Superman stumble out of the bar,

His eyes emptied of their stars and stuttering

With six glasses of Kryptonite.

 

He swung his strong arm around the street lamp,

Guffawed a wet vomit on the sidewalk,

Then hacked his spit back through his nose to burn his lungs.

 

Passers by halted as he threw up again,

His x-ray vision malfunctioning, now

A sterile gaze frantic for the trash bin.

 

With his left hand, he clumsily groped for his red cape

To wipe the mealy puke from his lips,

And the ladies on the corner softly covered their own mouths in shame.

 

We noticed his look had lost that Clark Kent cut,

The sharp and dapper face of a hero, and his cheekbones,

Once formed by flight,

Now stubbled lazily as his dingy suit glinted in the moonlight.

 

But as he bent over the trash can to ready himself for more wrenching,

I knew then what I must do,

What we all must do.

 

The crowd stared as I wrapped my arms around his neck,

Hugged our feeble god,

And pulled his cape knot tight against his throat

With all my evening strength.

 

One by one the audience faded away,

Abandoning the suffocating drunkard,

Bearing the startling truth that

We lose the things we idolize

And must choke the things we cherish most.

The God of Great Feasting (The Joy of the Lord Is Our Strength)

full_cropped_LOTR---The-Return-of-the-King-471In an age of rampant cynicism, intense narcissism, and deep defiance toward absolutes such as truth, goodness, and beauty, the ache for passionate and rich festivity must burn ever more feverishly in our hearts. This sour world, lost in the mirrors of its vanity and drowning in the white noise of feeds, posts, snaps, and late-night binges, is in dire need of a good feast, what Tolkien saw as an evening by the fire, filled with boisterous laughter and great dancing. Or, as Lewis saw, what greater way to herald the breaking of winter than the carousing of creatures at the coming of spring? The promise of resurrection is a great promise, full and strong, breaking like the tide against this screen-drunk land.

I am fond of saying Christians, by definition, ought to be the most celebratory, revelrous, festive, merry, jubilant, glorious, and passionate beings on Earth, for we are little Christs, microcosms of the cosmos-Creator. We are followers of the Maker of laughter, the Author of baby-babble, the Sculptor of forestry, and the Inventor of the taste of s’mores. We are disciples of the One who ringed Saturn, spoke light, and lulled the raging seas. We serve the God who made music and poetry, and as we behold His glory, we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (II Cor. 3:18). As we become more and more like our wondrous Creator, the world ought to see us laugh as He laughs, forgive as He forgives, dance and sing and shout. He is the prodigal Father, excessive and exuberant in His splendor. Indeed, as His cup overflowed with His grace, so must our cups overflow with His praise, held high in joyful cheer and strong power.

The psalmist declares, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:7)

—“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

—“Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (Ps. 57:8-9).

In Isaiah, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Is. 55:2)

In Ecclesiastes, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Eccl. 9:7, 9).

In Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

In Thessalonians, “Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16).

And from Nehemiah, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Master of My Peace Calls Me His Masterpiece

I’d like to introduce my guest writer for this post. Will Yancey is a former student of mine, and he revisited our school this week with a powerful zeal and passion for Christ quite visible on his face. This contagious energy for the work of the Lord is a great testimony to Will’s growing faith, but an even greater testimony lies in his even writing this post. Will would be the first to admit that he never really liked to write; yet, here we are. May you be encouraged as you read the Spirit-saturated words of this incredible young man.


A_Painter,_oil_on_mahogany_painting_by_Ernest_Meissonier,_1855The day was cold, dark, and rainy, one of those days that all you want to do is snuggle up with the ones whom your heart adores, build a crackling fire, and press your lips to a hot mug with even hotter joe inside. See, it all seems so perfect, so picturesque, a moment with good friends, good family, beautiful places, and the best memories. You see it on social media all the time, and you desire nothing more than to experience the abundance that you see in others’ lives. All of this is perfect, but then you come to see you are alone. You are not sitting in the Colorado Mountains. You are not gathered around a warm, crackling fire. You do not have friends over, and your family seems more disconnected than ever. No, none of these things are happening. You just sit quietly alone, slowly and mindlessly scrolling through your phone, looking at everyone else’s “perfect” little lives. It hurts. You feel as though your life will never measure up to the standard of the latest Instagram celebrity. You will never go on an adventure quite like theirs. You will never be able to do yoga quite like that girl we all seem to know. And you certainly will never be as beautiful or handsome as that girl or boy who just received 100,000 likes on their latest post. What happens next? You look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself a lie. “I will never be any of these things; therefore, I will never be good.”

Heartbreaking.

So, my question is this: When the world presents a grand horizon of possibilities, why do we feel as though we will never reach any of them? Why do we believe the lies whispered to us everyday? I will tell you why. You and I live in a dark, broken world corrupted by sin and darkness. A world where the deceiver will get you to believe everything except the truth you deserve to hear. As apologist and theologian Ravi Zacharias says, “The truth is the most valuable thing in the world, often so valuable it is guarded by a body of lies.” Like I just said, lies are constantly being fed to you, but in the midst of  the lies, our Lord has already laid right before your eyes an everlasting truth that utterly declares how beautiful you have already been made. In Ephesians 2:10 the Lord announces His glory by laying out exactly how He sees you and how he intends you to see yourself. The verse declares, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus , so we can do good things he planned for us long ago.”

Take a minute.

Breathe.

Rest in that truth and soak it all in.

No matter what you have been told in the past, you are a masterpiece. How relieving is that truth? That we do not have to carry around the burden and the question of “Am I good enough?” We just get to live in the truth that my Father told me: “I’m a masterpiece.” There is no longer a question, but only a truth. So, here is my challenge to you. Live in that freedom every single day for the rest of your life, even if you have to sit and constantly remind yourself of the truth moment after moment after moment after moment. Though the enemy may feed you lies, the best defense against lies is telling them the truth. The truth will set you free. Truth abounds, and it will always be victorious because our Creator is truth.

Just as a boy has to pursue the heart of a damsel who longs to have her heart fought for, so is the way of the Lord in the pursuit of your love towards Him. Unlike the damsel, who shows strength and beauty when she does not quickly give her heart, the Lord desires we give our whole being away for His name sake. What a beautiful picture of love. Our Father will pursue our hearts for all of eternity purely so we can drown ourselves in His fullness. I beg you, live in His freedom today. Do not wait one moment longer to cry out to Him and give yourself away for His name. Oh, and about Instagram, that lie that your life will never add up to those things. Well, you hold the destiny for the quality of life you live in your hands. Go outside. Build a fire. Call everyone you know. Brew some coffee. Tell your family to put their phones away and challenge them to gather together before the Lord. Make memories. Who’s stopping you other than yourself? Adventure awaits you everywhere you go when living life with the Lord. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air and praise the Lord for his goodness, even if you are in the most worthless part of town. You do not have to hike the Appalachian trail with a GoPro to experience adventure. It is in your back yard. It is the closest river or the tree at Grandma’s. Learn yoga and laugh at yourself when you fall over! Who cares if you cannot look like a scorpion. YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING, NOT A SCORPION! Oh, and next time you see that picture of the Instagram celebrity, you look at the picture and you say, “Wow what a beautiful person. God, thank you for making me in Your image just like You did this person.” Then, you go to Him in praise that you are a masterpiece. Never, ever forget the truth. It will change your life.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” -John 8:31-32