Thursday, May 19, 2011

God Loves You Enough to Hurt You | Pastor Jake Magee

6 "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths. 7 "She will pursue her lovers, but she will not overtake them; And she will seek them, but will not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go back to my first husband, For it was better for me then than now’” (Hosea 2:6-7)

God loves you enough to hurt you. That sounds odd doesn’t it? Our experience is that those who cause harm to us desire our ruin, and those who cause pleasure desire our good. We don’t have a lot of precedent for concluding that love will cause terrible discomfort and pain. Typically, discipline becomes a mask for abuse; justice is the veneer of malice and hatred. As such, we naturally assume that to inflict or allow pain and suffering is an expression of hate and not love.

In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis argues God loves us so much that he hurts us; if God doesn’t allow and use pain in some way to touch our lives, he would not truly love us. Why does he think this? His thinking is something like this:

The great problem to be remedied isn’t pain, but evil. The worst thing for a person is to be evil. The best thing for a person is to be good. One form of false-love is one that doesn’t really care all that much about whether a person is good or bad, so long as they don’t suffer. A true love, however, has as its ultimate goal the goodness of a person-gone bad. And a true love will use the tool of pain to get that person good. A true love recognizes that pain is inevitable in making bad people good, just as pain is inevitable in re-breaking and re-setting a bone. God breaks bones in salvation, and for good reason...

“We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are…rebels who must lay down our arms…[and] surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death” (88-89).

Since God is love and desires our restoration, and our restoration is bound essentially to the surrender of self bent in on itself (like a tree that grows abnormally), we must expect the untwisting of salvation to be excruciating.

“To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us lovable” (41).

Paradoxically, to ask God for less pain may be to ask him for less love, not more. To be loved is to be hurt. His affection for us is so great as almost to be “intolerable.” He demands the perfection of the beloved. The good news is that he will fulfill his own demands for us, for he doesn't expect clay to make itself into pottery. The "bad news" is that he will not compromise in making us lovely, leaving no tool untouched that will serve his glory and our good.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bell and Six Tragic Truths About Hell | Jake Magee

Recently hell has become...well…a hot topic. With the release of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins in which he affirms (in his own elusive way) that no one will stay in hell forever, there has been a much-deserved response and backlash to Bell and others who appear to be quite comfortable living on the fringe of error. I can't help but to think of the countless unmarried Christian couples who attempt to live on the border of sexual purity and impurity. “How far can we go and it not be considered impurity”? This premarital enterprise usually comes with many creative alternatives to the act of intercourse, as well as many reaching redefinitions of what counts as sex (this is not original to Bill C.), love, commitment, holiness, etc.

Similarly, we find in Bell and others the attempt to live on or just beyond the border of error (yet claiming to be within the border of truth). Accompanying this attempt are creatively devised alternatives to what Scripture seems to plainly teach, as well as various unimpressive and uninformed redefinitions to justify their position (e.g., "eternal" doesn’t mean…"eternal"). One gets the sense that agenda is informing interpretation rather than interpretation informing agenda. And yet as Bible-believers, we are bound by the later. As R.C. Sproul once said, “You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true.”

With that said, here are six tragic truths about hell that are relevant to this controversy; truths that are tragic enough to compel us to hold the line on orthodoxy, as well as to take seriously the call of every believer to labor in prayer and mission for our lost neighbors.

What is Hell?

Hell is God’s response to creaturely rebellion just as earthly prisons are a response to criminals and their crimes. The Bible teaches that although hell was the initial response to angelic rebellion, yet it also becomes the way God responds to human rebellion (Matt. 25:41). Hell is a place (or a “where” -Mark 9:48, Luke 13:28) in which a human being will experience eternal (Dan. 12:2; Matt.25: 46) and conscious suffering (Luke 16:23) in both body and soul (Matthew 5:29; John 5:29) in the presence of God (Rev.14:10) as a result of his or her sin against God’s infinitely valuable person. Our sin is so egregious that it requires nothing less than hell and the death of the Son of God as a response: hell for the sinner who doesn’t repent and trust in Jesus’ work of bearing God’s wrath for them (i.e. hell); heaven for those who do. The gospel of Jesus is God’s way of dealing with our sin without sending us to hell. Hell is the only other way that God can deal with our sin when we opt out of believing and trusting the person and work of Jesus.

Is Hell Overkill?

Hell is overkill only if God isn't infinitely valuable. Attack a possum and you may get fined. Attack a child and you’ll be thrown in prison. Attack a president and you’ll be water-boarded. Assault a butterfly and you’ll get strange looks. The idea is that punishment will fit the crime when it appropriately reflects the value of the person or thing that has been assaulted. To merely give strange looks or to fine someone who has assaulted a child is injustice. On the flipside, to water-board someone for assaulting a possum is injustice. God is infinite in value. To assault him requires nothing less than that which approaches infinite punishment. To appease him require nothing less than the death of the infinitely valuable Son of God, God the Son, God himself enfleshed as our substitute. For God to do anything less is to commit injustice.

There (Calvary) the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;

There thy infinite attributes were magnified, and infinite atonement was made;

There infinite punishment was due, and infinite punishment was endured.

Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,

cast off that I might be brought in,

trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,

surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,

stripped that I might be clothed,

wounded that I might be healed,

athirst that I might drink,

tormented that I might be comforted,

made a shame that I might inherit glory,

entered darkness that I might have eternal light

-Valley of Vision

Why Doesn’t God Just Annihilate People in Hell?

The above considerations also partly address those who think that God ought to take people out of existence who are consigned to hell (also known as Annihilationism). The Bible is clear however that just as life is eternal for believers, destruction is eternal for unbelievers (Dan.12:2; Matt.25:46). God sustains the existence of people in hell eternally, for this is the only way to secure the most justice for crimes committed by creatures against the infinitely valuable God. To snuff people out before hand is to undermine his righteousness.

Why Must Hell Be Painful?

C.S. Lewis argues that the suffering of hell is the most merciful thing God can do for a creature that persists in his opposition to him. Put differently, a man in a painless hell is worse off than in a hell with pain. Why? I think his first step is to insist that it is better for sinner in hell to be conscious of his guilt rather than forgetful. I tend to agree.

“It is better for the creature itself, even if it never becomes good, that it should know itself a failure, a mistake. Even mercy can hardly wish to such a man his eternal, contented continuance in such a ghastly illusion.”

The second step, which Lewis doesn’t spell out, would have to be this: such a man, due to a spiritual condition of absolute alienation from God in hell and complete ruin of God’s image in him, will with the greatest ease forget all about his sin, his crime, God’s person and glory. The most holy are the most conscious of God’s holiness and their own inadequacy. The least holy are oblivious to God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. For this damned man without pain, his hell would be a God-less heaven. And yet this man’s true and best possible good in this horrible state is to have some consciousness of God. Pain is the delivery system...“the megaphone.” “Pain plants the flag of truth within a rebel fortress.” Perpetual pain perpetually brings such a man to some level of true self-understanding and God-understanding. It is far better that a person to be in pain and know he is a sinner before God, then to be painless and forget his sin and his God.

Are There Really Flames and Worms in Hell?

Hell is described as being a place of outer darkness (Matthew 8:12), a lake of fire with fire that is not quenched and gnawing worms that do not die (Mark 9:39; Rev. 20:15). People’s torment creates smoke that arises from the pit forever before God. They weep and gnash their teeth (Matt.13:42). It is a place of eternal destruction and abandonment (2 Thess 1:9; Matt 25:11-12).

It is likely that these descriptions are metaphors in the same way that “God is a consuming fire” is a metaphor, or Jesus returning with a sword coming out of his mouth is a metaphor. One thing that tips us of this is the tension found with the metaphors. A lake of fire doesn’t fit well with outer darkness. Another consideration seems makes the case clear. Jesus used the word “Gehenna” as a description of “hell” or eternal damnation (e.g., Matthew 5:22,29,30). “Gehenna” literally means “valley of Hinnom” which was located just south of Jerusalem. The Jews would come to stigmatize this place due to the rank idolatry that occurred in this region in the past. Specifically, the Jews worshipped the god Molech and sacrificed children as an expression of that devotion (2 Chronicles 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31). The great reformer Josiah converted the area into a trash heap for the city into which carcasses and the bodies of criminals were disposed to illustration his repulsion for the area. To deal with the putrefying flesh, maggots, and refuse, a fire was kept burning perpetually. The smoke from these flames were a constant reminder to all in the area of the Jew’s past idolatry and God’s judgment. One can begin to see how this area served to vividly portray God’s final judgment (ultimate and eternal deportation from God’s kingdom) for sin.

Some might feel that to maintain that these various descriptions are metaphoric is to downplay the anguish and severity of hell. I think it’s quite the opposite. Does the imagery of a sword exhaust the reality of Jesus’ vengeance, or does it begin to point us to the severity? His vengeance is much more than a person wielding a sword against his enemies. When God describes himself as a mother bird that covers her young under his wings (Ps.91:4), did God mean to communicate that his care for us is no more than a bird? Or course, it is much more. Similarly, unquenchable fires and gnawing worms and outer darkness point to realties far more severe than these imperfect but informative descriptions.

Why Won’t God Give People Second Chances After Death?

Firstly, Scripture declares there to be more than enough compelling evidence for people before death to respond to. People don’t experience 2nd chances, but millions of chances before death. All men are said to be without excuse (Romans 1:20) in light of creation, and especially with the hearing of Scripture. In the later case, the testimony of Scripture is of such weight that people will actually add to their suffering in the afterlife as they disregard them in this life (Romans 2:1-6). Secondly, it is likely that any conversion after death would be a false one: people who are sorry for the punishment and not the crime. As was argued earlier, without pain people in the afterlife will likely forget and disregard God. And with pain, though they are aware of God and their sin at some level (and no doubt want desperately to escape hell), in reality they don’t want this escape for the right reasons, and certainly don't want to make the very basic steps of true repentance and worship of God. Deep down they want a godless existence. Hell is not merely a choice made in this life, it's a post-mortem choice as well. Hell is eternally self-chosen.

J.I.Packer writes,

"Scripture sees hell as self-chosen . . . [H]ell appears as God's gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshipping him, or without God forever, worshipping themselves." (J.I.Packer, Concise Theology p.262-263.)