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Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:1-6 ESV)

Are all religions essentially the same? Aren’t they just superficially different? As the Beatles have said in song, “Love is all you need.” Yet love seems to be in short supply! It is not as easy as they make it seem, because Love for God is the only command God has given us and yet how many of us have loved God with all our heart a single day of our lives? Jesus taught that the love of many will grow cold and people will be judged for their evil thoughts and activities unless they believe Jesus was the real deal. And our text today shows that the original preachers did not consider their message of “first importance” to be “love is all you need.” Rather they preached that Jesus physically resurrected and that his innocent death on the cross paid for the problem many refuse to admit, that we love ourselves more than God.

At least love seems to matter to us, but does the truth about reality matter to us? Should we not love truth as well? Everyone seems to have an opinion, but does our Great Designer have His say in the matter? Christianity is essentially based on what Jesus said and did. And He didn’t come preaching about kindness and love. He came preaching forgiveness from a Holy God who has promised wrath and judgement for the loveless sins you and I have committed. He came offering himself as a substitute “ransom” to pay for the sins of many who will trust and believe him. Sin is a debt. Sin is misplaced love. Sin is an evil crime. Sin is setting our own purposes for our life above and against God’s purposes for us. In short, sin is a refusal to love the truth.

What is God’s purpose for us? We exist to worship him and to enjoy him forever. How do we accomplish that? It can only start by trusting that Jesus told the truth that he came from God to fix us and that all others who claimed the same were “thieves and robbers.” All religious founders cannot all be correct about God and eternal life because all religions fundamentally contradict each other. How does one begin to sort through all that confusion? Ideas and theories are abstract and hard to test. But the story of Christianity has, from the beginning, been a story that tangibly enters into human history for us to test.

God offers us Jesus as a test for truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father but by me.” How do we know that Jesus was telling the truth? The whole religion stands or falls, according to Paul if we continue reading this chapter, on whether Jesus really did rise from the dead or not. If so, then God has given us proof about who he is and how to relate to him and proof that Jesus’ warning of hell is not just some fear tactic to gain converts. If not, then the search goes on into ever foggier territory, but I have found that Jesus’ claims and the original Christians’ claims about Jesus are all true. Whether we know it or want to admit it or not, all the historical evidence points to the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, and in this hope, we are saved from our pride, from the devil, from death itself, and from God’s eternal punishment for our otherwise unquenchably rebellious spirit. Would you begin to consider Jesus and his resurrection? And consider the Word of God. These have been given as accessible proof, not only of our desperate condition and the frightful punishment for evil, but also for the good news about Jesus and his cross and resurrection which saves us from it.

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You might have heard a Christian complain that other Christians share a “gospel” of bad news rather than good news, but that criticism (though well intended) could be like telling an ambassador not to talk about the war but only of terms for its resolution. It is not an either-or issue, but an issue of overall emphasis. It is also a moral issue of whether we are true to sharing with rebels God’s terms of peace.

Throughout history many nations have thought that the moral high ground was to kill those labeled morally inferior. Today we think the high ground is not to kill anyone at all for any immorality, and even the concept of moral high ground is sometimes offensive. We have hit the opposite extreme, so that talk of judging this or that person for this or that action can be considered “hate speech” or “harmful talk.” But what does God’s Word say about how we should think of immorality and his judgements? Is God a pacifist? Or, on the other extreme, does he always seek justice by punishing sins with plagues? Isn’t the answer somewhere in between? When discussing sin and God’s judgements (the bad news), we have to remember one thing: it is the Creator’s prerogative to kill or not to kill. Only God gets to play God. Scripture says God judges and puts people to death, but it also says that often the judgement a person might receive for sin is that God might just hand us over to the wicked desires which we crave. In the end, that judgement is far more frightening than a disaster, because there may be no opportunity for turning back to God. At least, that ought to frighten us.

Sin earns us death (Rom 6:23), but the Way to eternal life is forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ, the coming king and judge (Acts 14:38-43; 17:30-31). While Jesus did not approve of followers who would do violence for his sake, Jesus also never asserted pacifism as the only way to live. He wasn’t against judgement (John 7:24). He was against judging hypocritically. Jesus asserted that having faith in him, and in his death on the cross for sin, was the only way to live. God the Father killed his willing Son as a substitute for the judgement on our sin (Isa 53:10-12). Jesus taught that the wages of sin—death and hell—would be paid in full to the disobedient, and that by his hands (Luke 19:27). Then he rose again on the third day.

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Jesus-Heaven-and-Hell
Upon watching a forceful, honest, passionate display of emotion and straight-talking Bible teaching from pastor Mark Driscoll as he was answering a question on hell (56:50), I accidentally glanced at the comments section on Youtube, where I was watching it, and saw a familiar objection that went something like this:

“I could never believe in a God who is angry at us and/or sends people to hell for their sins.”

The comment was stated more forcefully and more passionately than my bare bones version above and added a current population figure. Mark was discussing his view based on the Bible, a Christian view about a Christian teaching. If Christianity isn’t true, the question would have no force at all because the Christian view then wouldn’t matter. But what was the commenter’s response based on? Was it based on the teachings of Jesus for a question about the teachings of Jesus? Based on principles of justice or mercy? Was it even based on a search for truth about the way reality is? None as far as I could tell, but simply based on what the commenter would not like to believe. For what does one’s preferences in the matter have to do with how reality is? He didn’t even consider all the people in history, just the population of today. Without saying it directly, he’s describing God as being unfair, but without offering up why any of us should think that his unoffered standard is better than God’s.

In answering this objection, I think my friend said it well: “I find it interesting how people can seemingly decide what kind of God they can believe in. It’s not like God can be determined by our beliefs.”

But perhaps this overlooks another side of the skeptic’s objection. Perhaps they “could never believe” not because they have an intellectual problem with it but rather a genuine emotional reaction to hearing that their unsaved family members and friends who have died are now . . . It’s understandably and unspeakably tragic. Christians too have friends and family members who have died without taking hold of the pardon God has offered. We too have to face whether there’s good enough reason to believe that Jesus was who he said he was and whether we should believe he historically resurrected to prove it. I don’t like hell, but in light of his qualifications I also believe Jesus really knew what he was talking about—which is why he went through the crucifixion to get me out of it or else I too would die in my sin and rebellion against God.

I’ll leave you with these last thoughts. Heaven is not a right that God owes anyone or else it wouldn’t be amazing grace to being with. What if instead he chooses to show his righteousness by punishing evil rather than forgiving it?

“But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?”
(Romans 3:5-6 ESV)

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Helen Tasker: Have you ever killed anyone?
Harry Tasker: Yeah, but they were all bad.
True Lies (1994)

I have often wrestled with the concepts of a loving God poring out wrath so I don’t want to make light of the issue, nor do I want to make it seem like small potatoes, but I do want to point out that I think we really do understand loving nature having a just wrathful side when it comes down to how we ourselves live day by day. The struggle perhaps comes only because of preconceived, wrong notions and because I haven’t connected what I know as a human (a moral being) with what we know about God (having the essence of goodness). If we think about it for just a while, we can sense for example the “righteous indignation” we feel at “moral repugnance.” We know what it is to feel rage against anything coming against or corrupting that which we have painstakingly made or how it feels to be moved to protect that which we highly value. A raging, wrathful God pictured without the context of how passionate about justice He is, will lead to banging on strawgods. It’s no wonder bad teachers and misconceptions in this vein abound, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It takes care in holding more than one concept in our hands at once and mulling them over in our hearts and minds. I have made the mistake of forgetting attributes of God that had been established for me (e.g. loving and merciful) in light of learning something new (e.g. meting out just rewards of sin) instead of fitting both pieces of the puzzle together. Putting yourself in God’s shoes, as it were, I think that it would be impossible to truly be loving toward what you’ve made and not also be concerned about justice—and injustice always invokes anger in the just.

We experience these emotions and right feelings in our movie theaters and concert halls all the time. When we watch the Joker manipulating people into making horrendous choices and calling it natural, we can almost taste Batman’s hate for the situation and join with him in hoping he can reveal Joker’s twisted schemes for what they are and rescue those who are in danger. We want desperately for the bad guy to get what he deserves and may even wince when a film maker over does it. Instead of poetic justice the hero’s escalating vengefulness heaps injustice upon injustice. When The Punisher took out his frustrations on Travolta’s character, I didn’t care anymore how much of a terrible figure he was. I just wanted him to stop! There are lines to be held and not crossed—lines set by God engraved into each of our moral compasses. We join protestors with just causes (in spirit at least) and say along with them, “Yeah, hey! They can’t do that!” Heavy metal music and rap can bring even its peace loving listeners to frenzied inspiration, raging against injustice. But we rage about even the littlest things and think it just to feel so—like when we see cigarette butts stuffed en masse in public flower pots, when students or children blatantly disobey perfectly reasonable orders, or how about when someone cuts us off on the freeway?

If we (loving and caring individuals that we think we are) feel this way about even the little things, how much more for really important things should we be wrathful (yet just) in our anger because we love so much what has come under attack? How much more would trusting our anger to a perfectly just God be rather than keeping it all in our hands (and mouths!) which are so prone to take vengeance in our own escalating way? How much more should a God who made everything good, fight back everything that is tearing it apart? And why not “allow” God the emotions and actions which we think perfectly natural and right for ourselves? God simply protects what he loves.

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Is God a megalo-maniac who, once they have died and see their predicament, sends even souls who say “I’m sorry. I didn’t know” to hell? Is he only concerned with sinners refusing to read and believe his bestseller and worship him? Isn’t hell just an outrageous fantasy dreamed up to scare people into staying in line? That’s what some Youtubers apparently got from their understanding of Christianity. Then there’s the famous stand-up act where George Carlin characterizes God as a capricious tyrant who says he loves us but because he sends people to hell is really just a cruel superstition that people invented to get money. Anyone clever enough can bring even the wonderful down to the level of ridicule and scorn, but is any of it untrue? While it makes for interesting entertainment, it’s still just a straw-man image of the real teachings about God, sin, forgiveness, and hell. A familiar likeness, yes, a caricature would hardly work if it didn’t resemble closely the real deal, but it’s still a poor substitute. So what did they get wrong?

When discussing finer points of basic teachings (i.e. doctrine) about what God has made known about himself (so that we can know about it otherwise we’d be stuck guessing), I’ve often found it helpful to remember to hold onto many interlaced pieces at once. Then with a complete picture we can decide if it communicates the ideas coherently. For example, if we learn the biblical view of God is that he is ultimate goodness and therefore perfectly fair and just, then when we next learn that Jesus taught that this same God will punish sinners who never turned to him, we ought not to jump back to “Well, that means he’s cruel and unfair.” Rather than dismissing it or accusing God or mocking the Bible as being hard to understand, I search for an explanation that the Bible might express. Since “God is love” and “God is just” are not contradictory, I want to know how do they fit together? Does it make God unjust to punish sin? No, that’s precisely what a just God might do. Does it make him unloving to hate whatever strives against the highest good? Again no, but the problem isn’t solved. I certainly do sense a rebel yell within when I think God might judge us worthy of eternal hell in spite of our homeless shelter volunteer work and functional family. There are more pieces to analyze to get the bigger picture before declaring a revolution against my maker. Questions like “How might hell be just?” or “How bad is my sin actually?” might be a next step.

At this point, some Christian leaders wiggle and hair-split with a variety of opinions to avoid the conclusion that hell is eternal torment for the punishment of sin, but the Bible is pretty plain about it in no uncertain terms. Jesus said, “It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matt 18:8b). In addition, if God is just then he wouldn’t give unearned or disproportionate punishments. Jesus also tells us this, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27).

So keeping all the pieces together, that God is just, he is loving, he does forgive repentant people (by entering into a covenant relationship with them), that going to hell is for eternity, and that he judges each sin according to its “value.” Then we read that we must imagine hell as a place of various torments for a variety of sins which includes every kind of sinner. It’s not a one-size fits all punishment but a one place for all punishments. We might ask, if Jesus is so forgiving, wouldn’t he just rather forgive us all? Not necessarily, especially considering what we just read about him saying some will receive punishments. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are even more specific still.

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). This implies there are those to whom God will not show mercy.

“Do you suppose, O man . . . that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.” (Romans 2:3-5)

In describing the aftermath of the future judgement day as the new heaven and new earth are established when the Messiah comes, Isaiah writes that God said: “And [the redeemed of the Lord] shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24) Later Jesus used this passage to describe hell.

Jesus also said: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41, 46)

It’s safe to say none of us are perfectly righteous, but that is the claim made about Jesus’ life, that he lived perfectly sinless. Salvation, in fact, is the vicarious receiving of his righteousness in place of our own unrighteousness and then his ignoble punishment stands in place of ours… thus many are forgiven and justice (for them) is satisfied all in one moment in history. Forgiveness isn’t earned by good behavior, as if good behavior could make up for all of the bad behavior, because this forgiveness is grace to start with. Grace is an unearned thing by definition, “so that no one may boast” for “what [ransom/bail] can man give in return for his [convicted] soul?” Or put another way, which expresses there’s a condition for our forgiveness, “What must one do to receive eternal life?”

That leaves us the question of our perceptions of sin, assuming we all realize that we are sinful. Is my sin or that of my good neighbors’ so bad as to warrant eternal anguish (proportionate to his sin or not) simply for getting the facts wrong about Jesus? People generally like me and I really like my neighbors. They’re funny people and very enjoyable. But are we really understanding sin and can we really accurately examine another’s heart? Given human pride, we definitely cannot even examine our own hearts well. Can’t God? “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) And

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV)
. . . for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. (Jeremiah 17:13).

That last image can be compared to an astronaut seeing his tether to his spacecraft as a nuisance and so cuts it, liberating himself to a drifting death in space. That’s how “desperately sick” we are. The Bible teaches that it’s so bad that I don’t even understand how bad it is, but you don’t have to read the Bible to see that humanity is desperately sick. Daily we live with the reality that people are in need of help and yet we don’t give it. Failing as we in the West do to even grasp the direness of the situation is a grave evil of its own. Even when we try to comprehend the full scope of injustices such as the Holocaust—something even its own victims might be hard pressed to digest as its effects are still being felt today—we find ourselves limited. How much more so a limitation in comprehending the full scope of our own sins against a holy God?

I’ll admit I’m not perfect, most people see that about themselves, but few think they’re really bad enough for hell because they relate their moral standing to the standings of “really evil” people like the Taliban or the Spanish Inquisitors. I’ll be honest, I never would’ve admitted my place if it hadn’t been for the graceful conviction of the Holy Spirit. Even now I have a hard time seeing my sin well and even harder time seeing it as bad as it must be (measured against God’s standard not our subjective cultural ones). There are rare moments of clarity however, so I hope to transmit that by the grace of God with this reflection on the terribly unpopular teachings of hell because I think they are reasonable and true, but it might take an effort at stepping out of our comfortable cultural biases in order to grasp. I know it does for me anyway. Most of the people who don’t think their sin is so bad don’t appreciate that their worst sins blind them from being seen. Pride, idolatry, greed, lust; these are all justified, ignored, or hidden by us somehow. But worse is the rebellion against God himself which is exhibited by every sin. Sin equates to open hatred of God to varying degrees sometimes made even worse by giving mere lip service to God. The devil is indeed in the details, so I should probably give a specific example.

King David is chastised by the prophet Nathan for “despising” God by committing adultery (and possibly by way of rape) and then killing the woman’s husband to cover it up. Hundreds of years later during the famous sermon on the mount, the Son of David called Jesus proclaimed hate and lust are equal to murder and adultery in God’s eyes (Matt 5:22, 28). How many of us have murdered or cheated, raped or stolen by Jesus’ standard? Therefore we all have despised God. God despisers are prescribed hell. They don’t want God and that’s the alternative to wanting him. They won’t want hell either once they’re there, but there’s no middle ground after the judgement. The middle ground is now. We’re in it. That’s why the psalmist says,

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
(Psalm 95:7-11)

Another example that helps me see how bad my sin is: When standing in line and someone absolutely rudely cuts in front of us, our first reaction whether restrained or not, is more often than not an evil one in need of restraining… To repay evil for evil. My friend’s dad once explained that if someone were to rape his daughter, what murderous plans he would carry out on the perpetrator. If a disaster were to wipe out the government’s control and the police were no where to be found, would every neighbor of yours be helpful? I could trust some of them, but for how long? As Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). So no one’s going to hell for a mere belief discrepancy. Belief obviously has something to do with it, which is where the caricature got it’s satire, but hell isn’t for checking the wrong box on a registration form. We’re talkin whole heart problem here. Sin—our sin, yours, mine, and our predecessors’—is the reason the world is as screwed up as it is. And yet we blame God!

With these pieces together it becomes easier (though still not easy) to see why Jesus will send people to hell for even what we now call “little” sins. It’s not a small thing to forgive and small things do not comprise our total debt of sin. Everyone has their own individual debt of sin, but what we do share in common is that our debts are huge. The big picture considered, it is foolish to protest God as a nit picky stickler, especially when he’s the only one seeing Reality the way it is (sociologically speaking)—especially when we redefine sin in order to look better and he sacrificed so much to overcome that total debt of ours. Our day-in and day-out sinfulness gets us in a mess the stink of which we’ve long since become accustomed to, and Jesus still provides a way out of the coming just and fair judgement—the judgement that will be part of making all things new so that they will be as they ought to and righting all injustices in a way human courts have always been impotent to do. This is why we call him Savior. In other words, he’s the hero of history.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [And] “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:4-6, 8 )

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Scriptural glimpses of “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38 and Matt 16:22)

Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.
[For the prophet Daniel wrote of the future victorious coming of the Messiah,]
“Behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days (God)
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages 
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one 
that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

[And Peter wrote much later about the rebuilding of the temple. “Believers such as] yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
[God said,] ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, . . .” (1 Peter 2:5-8)

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.’ Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matt 21:42-43) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by [his own people], the builders. (Acts 4:11) [They just couldn’t believe the prophecies about how the messiah must first suffer and had set in mind only the things of man.]

The Cross: The Messiah must suffer many things . . .
God [presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement to satisfy His just wrath against our rebellion] to be received by faith in his blood. (Romans 3:25)

[The Hebrew prophets declared these things long before Jesus’ time.]
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” (Zechariah 13:7)

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . .
We esteemed him stricken,
[killed] by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
The righteous one, my servant,
[will] make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Because he poured out his soul to death
and was [considered one of the sinners];
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the [sinners]. (excerpts from Isaiah 53)

[We saw that he cried out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” These are the first words of Psalm 22, a description of suffering quite remarkably matching Jesus’ crucifixion but written hundreds of years before the first crucifixion had even been dreamed up.]
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14-18)

[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24) [Thanks be to God!] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14, 21)

But that was not the end.
Two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. . . .” (Luke 24:13-27)

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them [previously, having arranged for a meeting of all his “brothers”]. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11)

Now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)

God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. . . . [since] the wrath of God remains on him. (1 John 5:11-12, John 3:36)

[John said of his vision of the end time,] I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:1-5) Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

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There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Mark 13:3b-8)

It might need to be said that this is the first blog post over which I have shed tears and struggled emotionally the longest to write and continue to shed many tears for the predicament in Haiti as I try to get closer to the events through video and hearing individuals’ reports on what has been happening there for the sake of informed prayer. Spiritual questions have popped up all over the place, perhaps more so with this earthquake than others for whatever reason. There’s so many avenues to chase down so I’m only going to deal with the ones that have to do with this one question: Does God ever use earthquakes and disaster to judge sin? This complex question written in such a deceptively simple form requires a far more adequate answer than a simple yes or no or a sound-bite-sized reply can afford. Perhaps the simplest theologically correct answer is “it depends,” but it would be shallow to leave it at that. I think of the short-short answers to the question, I like my Dad’s answer best when I asked him what he thought about the recent comments of Haiti being under the judgement of God: He gave a poignant two syllable answer of which the folks on Sesame Street might describe as being brought to you by the letters “B” and “S.”

As usual though, we can’t stay in the vague generality of this topic, but have to investigate from the general abstract toward the specific in hopes to discover applied truths involved. Now God judges the heart and though Pat Robertson’s comments seemed trite and out-of-the-blue, it’s clear that on one hand Robertson can hardly be blamed for believing in a God that holds us responsible to our sin corporately and individually—in a God who, at times, judges us through disaster and war. Why? Because Robertson claims that Jesus was right when he claimed messiahship and equality with God. If Christianity is right, then there’s nothing wrong with characterizing God the way he himself is recorded as characterizing himself. That’s just being consistent. In that way, Robertson appears to be following the logical outcome of his faith, but the God of the Bible is also characterized as an enemy of tyrants and as the epitome of justice and fairness. So how could such a God allow such tragedy?

Many of the victims were faithful church goers, choir members, Bible teachers, wives and children of pastors not Satan worshippers. Doesn’t God protect his own and claim to watch over children? Why didn’t the prison that crumbled open letting five to six thousand of Haiti’s worst criminals loose fall on its depraved inmates instead like the church which fell on its choir? The questions and accusations that have been flying back and forth about whether God or Satan or nobody in particular caused the earthquake are boiling up even to the secular mass media level. After hearing the snipet about Pat Robertson’s comments and some people’s responses, I considered my own questions (at least fourteen of them in fact) and hope to bring some level-headed theology (out of the Bible plainly, in other words) to the fore since so many pastors in the news seem to conflict in their answers or even claim ignorance of a matter which stands black and white on many of the pages of Scripture. When the news reporters start expressing themselves in religiously fervent terms on whether a pact with Satan has or hasn’t doomed Haiti for the last few hundred years, then you know you’ve got a hot topic on your hands. I’ll try to be unbiased by saying I don’t share the same hot reaction to Robertson’s comments, but nor do I think his comments were especially well-informed nor helpful nor verifiable (resembling Job’s friends’ bad theology toward his suffering, in fact), however, I do owe Rev Robertson a debt of gratitude for instigating a great discussion topic of weight and significance to more than just the Haitians and calling attention to the real and impending Judgement Day. To those of you reading this from a peaceful chair far from catastrophe, I challenge you to consider not only the head-knowledge regarding this topic but also the existential reality being faced by those enduring the full weight of it. Seek their words on it not just mine (also produced from a peaceful chair). It’s one thing to consider the truths and tragedy on a mental level and quite another thing to live through them. One man’s own abbreviated expression of his predicament is embedded in this music video on the condition of Port-au-Prince. (Warning: be prepared for a few striking images of death and violence. The orange peels in one guy’s nose was to keep from smelling the stench of the week-old dead.)

First of all, there is a historicalish story about Haitian rebel leaders “making a pact with Satan”. I haven’t yet heard a journalist tackle whether this story is true or not (that might be edging too close to taking sides against Satan?), but this pastor who grew up in Haiti took it on. He couldn’t find any historical evidence to convince him of it. Anyway, even if it is just folklore one must admit it’s folklore with a bite to it as it is no secret that Haiti is a major location for voodoo practitioners, violence associated with the drug trade, and even sex slave trafficking, but we ought not to stop there because we can also see that the earthquake didn’t. Did the “good” side of the community deserve to die or suffer in the calamity along with the violent gangsters and thoughtless water thieves? Or is taking sides with “who deserves what” even the right viewpoint? On what grounds can we say that any of us deserve (in the strictest sense of the word) a better life? Isn’t that instead edging toward a thankless, spoiled viewpoint? What comforts have we become so accustomed to that we think others who don’t have them are impoverished or that our recent modern comforts are suddenly, after thousands of years without them, a human right to jealously guard? What sin are we covering up which would warrant a terrible disaster-judgement or perhaps one worse than an earthquake? The punishment should fit the crime (“An eye for an eye” in Biblical terms) is easy to trumpet when talking of another’s crimes, but our own are not so easily criticized. The child rarely thinks the parent’s administering of justice is either fair or necessary. Perhaps we are living with an adult version of the same denial?

On an article about God and Haiti on TheResurgence.com, the insight was offered that maybe many are stopping too soon with too few questions. Perhaps we should be asking not only “how can God let this happen” but also “will God ever end suffering and make that ‘Magical World’ which we all implicitly desire?” or “am I putting too much trust in my own intellect alone?” or another way “Do I think I am smarter and holier than God?” After all, we can see that we are not all good, but have a dark side. But then even given that we’re deserving of some sort of punishment, isn’t an earthquake (or by extension, hell) overkill for people who are not murderers and molesters? How do we conceive the depth of our sins so that we comprehend the disaster which we so richly deserve? We so rebel at the gut level from the thought of God’s just punishment on us that to our mind we can somehow make him out to be our debtor rather than the other way round. I know this in my own experience, have heard of it in others, and it is confirmed through Scripture that this is the inescapable human condition. We deserve the judgement of God for our strident rebellion and mockery of him yet somehow, similar to Jesus’ friends, the brothers James and John (Mark 10:35-38), we ask for (and even demand!) what we don’t understand. We get it into our heads that God owes both mercy and heaven to us, just as long as the “good outweighs the bad” I suppose. Karma is, however, a concept foreign to Christianity and doesn’t fit reality either beyond a general sense. If we did more good than bad, that still leaves bad things to pay for. They aren’t erased from history by other action! That’s not justice, that’s just conveniently hiding and ignoring our evil.

It is admittedly both hard to see to what extent our darkness abides in us and sometimes easy to see that our dark side looms over and corrupts what little good side there is in us. We call it part of being human that we fail morally even while we’re trying to be moral, but we somehow blind ourselves to the reality of the consequences of that. We can know what’s moral and we want to be responsible, mature humans to uphold it (the general), but we become blind to the fact that we’re so unwilling and inept at achieving even at some of our low standards (the specific). I don’t know the answer for a grand removal of that blindness other than to request that the Spirit remove it for me by covering me in Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness: saved by God’s loving mercy from the just penalty of my sins. At times I’m acutely aware of what I had always overlooked and yet most of the time, even after having had my nose rubbed in it, am still numb to it. Thank God for his mercy!

The Bible is clear that disaster (of both natural and human causes) is something God sometimes uses to judge nations, but why? It is a sign of the falleness of the world and Jesus calls them “birth pains” (Mark 13:8) leading up to the end of the world because there will be a new “birth” for the world and a resurrection for us. Were the Haitian earthquakes specifically judgements of God? Who can know the mind of God unless he tells us? I don’t even know my own mind at times! We do know the general will of God in this case, as Jesus told us in advance to expect wars and earthquakes and plagues and famine before the end, and that they will increase (and they have). But as to judgement, what good does it do to decide if this or that disaster was a judgement of God when I sit in my cushy chair pointing the finger? Shouldn’t we take Jesus’ warning as well as his encouragements if he told the truth? He said instead of figuring out who is a worse sinner than I am, I should be concerned about repenting from my own rebellious, selfish, murderous, perverted thoughts, actions, and hate. Then head out warning people to repent of theirs. Yes, we can judge with right judgement with a humble, broken heart. Haiti was far from innocent as a whole (but some who died were covered in the forgiveness of Jesus), but it is also oppressed as one of the poorest nations in the world, and the proper Christian response to oppression, poverty, and even judgement (whenever it comes) is offering the ambassador’s hand of grace and reconciliation with God. Christians should not be like the reluctant or even spiteful prophet Jonah who was told to preach warnings of judgement on an evil nation (and enemies of the Hebrews). Instead, we should be full of joy at receiving what we did not deserve and handing it out as equals to others who don’t deserve it either, adding even more to our joy whenever they receive it!

To sum up:

Yes, God uses disaster to judge, but it’s not always clear that every bad thing that happens is a judgement in particular (as innocents also suffer), but that every bad thing is a sign of the falleness of our world and of the right judgement to come, so we should take it as an opportunity to repent or offer mercy to those feeling the Holy Spirit’s prick of conscience. The first purpose of judgement in the Bible is expressly to bring people to repentance and a right relationship with God (Hosea 6:1, Isa 30:15, Eze 18:29-32. 2 Peter 3:9-10 and Rev 9:20-21). Therefore it is a blessing “in disguise”. The second is the more obvious, to rightly punish those who persist in their hatred of God and love of themselves. (2 Thess 1:6-12 and John 8:42-47)

In all fairness to Robertson, there is a story about Haiti serving the devil and Pat could easily have heard it from a Haitian. Just goes to show it is important to look carefully before the leap. It’s not hate speech. It’s just carelessness at worst.

Christians of all people should not waste time delivering unqualified words of doom to a people they have never even met. Instead they ought to offer practical help such as the folks who started churcheshelpingchurches.com have and are offering, and above all they ought to offer the grace of God which was extended to them in the same undeserving manner. Judgement has happened, is coming, and happens (more ironically, dramatically, and specifically in my estimation than the one in Haiti), but we know the way out. That ought to be our main concern: to draw people out of it rather than point out to them the brick that fell on their face and leave them there.

We deserve hell. We all deserve earthquakes and worse for our God-despising attitudes and actions. God doesn’t owe us a peaceful, happy life. The Maker doesn’t owe us anything. We owe him everything. We live on borrowed breath.

There is a proper place for mystery. Some answers are just beyond knowing precisely, and that’s OK. I don’t know your mind unless you tell me your thoughts, and even then you could be leaving something out. How much more mysterious ought God’s mind be to us? This isn’t a cop-out. This is the proper place of mystery. We can know God’s mind only as he’s revealed it to us, and thankfully his character comes through quite colorfully in much detail in the Bible. We are not left guessing about every vital issue. And the problem of pain is not at all one of the lacking details. The important thing is: we can trust God. Reasons for this abound yet are easily forgotten in the midst of trouble. At least they are forgotten by those of us in our cushy chairs. The ones in the trouble often comfort us with remembrances of how trustworthy God is.

Questions that came to mind:

1) “Does God cause calamity to judge?” (Bible says emphatically “yes.”)

2) “Is God fair, trustworthy, and unbiased enough to judge perfectly?” (again, “yes.”)

3) “Could a pact with Satan not result in curses deserving of judgement?” (Was Pat really referring to a single event causing it all? Wouldn’t there be more to look at? Isn’t it even an oversimplification of the story?)

4) “Isn’t violence poetic justice for violence (as the punishment should fit the crime)?”

5) “Can a person fairly judge/discern/call attention to error/sin of a person or culture whom/which they know little about? (Probably not.)

6) “What is the Christian response to a judged city/nation?” (A compassionate Jonah to Ninevah, Jesus’ ministry to Jerusalem and Judea, Driscoll in Haiti)

7) “What does Jesus say when people ask him if a group of victims were judged for sin?” (Luke 13:1-5)

8. “Does the Bible in fact say that we ‘can’t know the will of God’?” (No, it says we can. It says we can’t know the infinitude of the mind of God.)

9) “What role does pain play?” (John 9:1-3 and Among other roles it plays the role of the ugliness of sin to a world numb to it.)

10) “Does every calamity amount to a judgement of God?”

“Are we always superstitious for saying one is?”

“What influence might the church have absorbed that causes us to forget the role of

God in the mundane?” (scientific naturalism/Newtonian World-Machine deism)

11) “Do we (sinners), in fact, deserve blessings, grace, peace, or freedom from pain?”

12) “Does the lawlessness in Haiti reveal something about the human heart?” (2nd Thess 2: The Man of Lawlessness. Riots & lawlessness in Haiti are but shadows of things to come.)

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