Questions Concerning Eternity
Questions Concerning Eternity
One of the questions that a person might have is, “Could not God, with whom all things are possible find a way to eliminate the need for hell, or, if hell does need to exist, then couldn’t it be turned into something that rehabilitates the lost?” In this lesson I want to explore such questions.
The Consistent Nature of God
When we speak of the immutability of God what we mean is that God is unchanging, and that He remains the same in His divine nature and purposes, such is seen a statement like, “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent” (Numbers 23:19). Other passages equally speak of God’s inward moral consistency:
- Titus 1:2 “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie”.
- James 1:17 “With whom there is no variation or shifting shadow”.
- 1 John 1:5 “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all”.
What this means is that God cannot just change, ignore or set aside the rules, that He is bound by His own moral nature and that being God never did mean that He can do evil, or redefine it and call it good.
What Really Is Hell?
- 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power”.
- Matthew 7:23 “Depart from Me”.
In both of the above passages one idea that is emphasized is that hell is away from the presence of the Lord. Hell is an existence that is apart from God’s presence and thus the blessings that come with His presence. Yet there are severe consequences for opting for an existence apart from God (even in this life). Without God, such qualities as light, life, joy, peace and love do not exist. This is an aspect of hell that most people never consider. Somehow they think that they can have happiness, peace, love and joy and yet have it all without God. The only reason that an unbeliever can experience some peace, joy and love in this life, is because this is God’s world (Psalm 24:1), and in this world His physical blessings fall upon all (Luke 6:35). In addition, in this world there are enough believers present (salt and light) to enable the existence of some happiness, even for non-Christians. Yet in eternity, one is completely cut off from not only all believers, but from God as well.
What about Conversion After Death?
Could not God have created a plan of salvation which enabled a person to change their lives, even after they had died? Why not use hell as a kind of reform school to get people back on track?
- First of all, it would be inaccurate to believe that mere suffering is the path to change. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), rather than suffering. The Bible (and real life) is filled with people who suffered greatly and yet never changed. The man in Proverbs 23:29-35 is suffering and yet is still wanting another drink. Pharaoh and the Egyptians suffered greatly during the plagues and yet remain unchanged (Exodus 14:5) The book of Revelation repeatedly speaks of people suffering because of their sins and yet refusing to repent (Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9,11).
- So we must not be under any false illusions. It is easy to believe that if people just saw a miracle or heard God speak to them directly that they would change. Yet the Bible is filled with entire generations of people who both heard God speak from heaven and saw miracle after miracle and yet remained stubborn, unbelieving and defiant. In like manner, we might think if God just dipped a sinner in hell for five seconds and then brought him or her back that such would fix them. Yet we know that is not true.
- In Luke chapter 16 we find a man who died outside of Christ. As a result he is suffering in torment, torment of such an extent that he believes that one mere drop of water would make difference. Observe that he is not given any second chances, but rather the text is clear, his fate is sealed (16:26). While he is concerned about the salvation of his living brothers, this man remains unchanged by both death and torment. For he refuses to accept the answer given to him by Abraham. Basically, he is still telling God, “No You are wrong about that, I have a better idea” (16:30). There is a great lesson here about the nature of faith. This man sees Abraham, he is experiencing the realities of the after-life first hand. It is clear that God is real and the Bible is true, yet he does not trust what God says. So when the lost finally do see God, this does not mean that they will believe Him.
- This means that death does not magically change a person from being unbelieving and resistant to believing and humble.
- Suffering for doing what is right can bring growth (James 1:2-4), yet this is not the suffering experienced by those who die lost.
This verse speaks of a time when all will bow before Jesus. Now, this does not mean that at the judgment day all will be humble and compliant, or truly repentant and ready to obey. What it means that is everyone will be forced to acknowledge that Jesus is indeed Lord, but it does not mean that all will want to submit.
- Consider what the Bible says about the demons. The demons are spiritual beings who obviously have a freewill. They do believe in God and they tremble when they consider His judgment (James 2:19). When the demons encountered Jesus, they immediately acknowledged Him as the Son of God and yet their overriding concern was a reprive from torment (Luke 8:28). There is no desire to serve Him and no desire to change. I never find a demon coming to Jesus and asking for spiritual help or deliverance from evil.
This passage speaks of heaven and that God will not allow any defilement to enter the heavenly city. This text only makes sense if people remain defiled, that is remain selfish, prideful, arrogant, etc… even after death. In addition, the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. What makes a person arrogant is not the body, rather the body is a neutral tool that can be used for evil or good (Romans 6:13,16). What makes you arrogant or selfish is an evil unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12). And that is your spirit, that is the real you.
As noted before, what really changes a person is the gospel, encountering the fact that Jesus died for you (John 3:16). The warning is that if that message does not break you in a good way, then nothing else will, including hell. There are many false ideas about hell, including the foolish idea that it does not exist. Another silly idea is that hell is going to be a place where the party is happening, or hell is a rundown neighborhood that can experience gentrification when all the talented people arrive and transform it. Finally, some people have the idea that if they actually do end up lost they will just make the best of it. By contrast, Jesus was emphatic. This not a place that you want to experience; avoid it at all cost (Matthew 5:29-30; Mark 9:43ff). Nothing else gets better there – including you. So the idea that there will be people in hell who will maintain a good attitude (“I am here and I deserve it”), be whistling or just making the best of it (“you know after a while you kind of get used to the torment”) is not supported by any Bible passages that I can remember.
Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth: Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 25:51
This is an expression that Jesus used frequently when referring to hell. Weeping at times can be linked with sorrow, such as the sorrow over lost opportunities. But gnashing of teeth seems to be linked with both the response to intense pain and anger. No one is whistling a happy tune. No one is rolling up their sleeves and seeing if they can spruce the place up. There appear to be no meetings or gatherings. In fact, all the passages on this topic picture it also as a place of outer darkness. In Luke 16 there are obviously other people in torment but none of them surface in the account with Abraham and the rich man. As if, while surrounded by millions, you are simply alone in your misery.
In light of the fact that we are created in God’s image and capable of such goodness (Genesis 1:26), that we live in God’s world (Psalm 24:1), surrounded by clear evidences of His existence and generosity (Psalm 19:1; 1 Timothy 4:4), that Jesus died for all of us (John 3:16) and the gospel is sent to all (Mark 16:16), and we can all obey it… it is so inexcusable and unnecessary to die outside of Christ. One nagging thought of those who die lost must be, “How easy it would have been to obey the gospel, to live the Christian life – I could have done that”. And, “How unnecessary was every sin I committed”. And, “To be truthful, no sin was so overpowering that I could not have resisted it with some effort and trust in God”.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017