Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Is God a Bully for Sending People to Hell?

Atheists are irrational.  Besides staking out a position which requires them to prove a negative even regarding things that are beyond this universe, they alternately accuse God of being unjust for allowing Hitler to go on a twelve year rampage before he reaped what he sowed, to accusing God of being a "bully" for sending people to Hell for refusing to trust Him.    

Obviously if one is displeased with God failing to act against evil on the one hand, and then displeased with Him for acting against evil on the other, your real problem with God is that you are not Him!    God is not punishing, or with-holding punishment based on your preferences, but His.  Perhaps the lesson is that you should endeavor to learn and adapt to His standards rather than demand the reverse, but this would require trust, which I think is really the point here.

But let us examine the idea that God is a bully, and unjust, for sending people to Hell who refuse to trust Him.   Obviously people got this idea about God from scripture.  But I am convinced that they are getting it wrong.  Let's see what the scripture itself has to say about Hell.

Mark chapter nine says, "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:" This chapter goes into a bit of detail and describes hell as a place where "their worm does not die, and the fire shall not be quenched."

First let's talk about the worm that dies not.   Here men's appetite for sin is shown as its own entity, a split-personality in the form of a parasite driving them on even separate and apart from their own best interests.   Notice that this entity, whatever it represents, is personal to the hell-bound. I would say that it is not the sins a person struggles with, but the ones they make peace with.  It is their worm.   I would say that this represents a personification of the sin nature described in the last half of Romans Chapter 7.  We are born with a sin nature, but also a choice on whether we wish to resist it or make peace with it.  For those who repent, we leave aside our carnal natures, our struggles with them are over.  Apparently those who don't wish to part with their sin nature are left with it.

No hint is given that God inflicts this punishment.   If you are a person who craves some hurtful activity (either to yourself or others), that is not pain God is putting on you, it is pain you put on yourself for the choice to hold onto some craven thing or attitude.   Or rather, it is your "worm", your desire to sin which you put over God's desire for you to repent, which has become a thing of its own, operating within you but definitely not for you.

While in this world we can choose or not choose.  But there comes a point when our minds are made up, where our choices are our choices, and if God did not respect them, then those who accuse Him of being a bully would be among the first to shake their fist and condemn Him for it.  

But what of the fire?   While having sinful cravings that go forever unfulfilled might be uncomfortable, the big objection to Hell has to be the fire within it.  In Matthew 13 two parables are given which end with the wicked being cast into a furnace, "and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  Is God tormenting them with fire for the "crime" of not trusting Him?

As an aside, there are actually more than one Greek words which get translated into "Hell".  "Hell" or "Hades" is more like a place of the unsaved dead to await eternal judgement.    Revelation describes the last judgment, where the wicked are cast into a lake which burns with fire and brimstone.  To emphasize that what most people think of as "Hell" is actually the lake which burns with fire and brimstone in Revelation, that book tells us that "hell and death" were also thrown into the lake of fire.   So it seems that anything that caused the righteous pain and suffering is to be cast into the lake of fire.  Everything that was a cause for offense, including the devil and the wicked, are to be confined there.

 On Judgement Day, those unsaved souls are, according to the book of Revelation "cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone."  This was the fire Jesus said in Matthew 25, was "prepared for the Devil and his angels".  Though it was prepared for them, the wicked are told that they will share his fate.   All souls which rebel against God are given their wish- separation from Him.

You may say, "well the separation is one thing, the burning with fire is another."   The interesting thing is that I don't see a lot of scriptural evidence that this fire is God's fire.   I see that the fire was "prepared" by God.   The word has two meanings.  One is about what it means in English, to "get ready" much like one would "prepare" a chicken for dinner.  But that does not say anything about whose chicken it is that is coming home to roost!  The other meaning is "ordained".   That is, this fire was meant by God for the Devil and His angels, but unbelieving souls will also experience this fire.  While it may have been ordained by God, there is a strong case to be made that He is not the source of this fire.  Read on to see what I mean.... 

Do a word search on "wrath" in the Bible.   I think you will find that God is frequently threatening to pour out His wrath on people on earth if they misbehave, and it frequently records that He carried out many of those threats, and Revelation in particular says that He will pour out His wrath on men on this earth.   But what seems to be missing in the Bible is God pouring out His wrath on people in the afterlife.  Indeed Revelation 15 hints that at the end God's wrath will be finished..."And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous  seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God."  

The point of God's wrath is always to correct an imbalance.  It is to reset the culture and give people a chance to reboot with things set aright.  The usual cycle in scripture is that God blesses people, then they use that prosperity to pursue wickedness, then God has to take them down a peg or ten, then they repent and He starts blessing them again.   

Pouring out wrath on a sinful culture is the first step in the healing cycle of history. The final time, it won't work.  Men will not repent, they will not respond to the rebukes, except with more anger at God.  That appears to be when God calls an end to the age of man and Judgement Day comes.    

Once the final judgments are made, God does not seem to have any further use for pouring out wrath on any soul.  Sure, they are punished.   God would not be just if the wicked were not punished, but it seems to me that the punishment is that they are left to the consequences of their own deeds.   They stew in their own juices.  They get what they want, separation from God with others who also want nothing to do with God.  The result is what one might expect in a bubble universe, a void in the cosmos, with all of the love of God taken out of it.

I started this by citing the Gospel According to Mark Chapter nine, where it is recorded "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."   It is hard to tell in the Greek whether this fire is some fire belonging to them, like the worm, or if it is external fire from God.   But this phrase is used previously in the Bible, in Isaiah 66: 22-24.   There it is clear that both the worm and the fire belong to the individual.  "Their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched."   God will not be around to rage at anymore, but they will still rage.  They will still lust.  Indeed there will no longer be any restraint upon their lusts, nor any satisfaction of them.  

They will still burn with lust, be it greed, envy, power, sex, or what have you, but it may be that they will have no form with which to carry out these desires. As bad off as that puts them, it would be worse for them if they did.  If they could tear each other to pieces to satisfy their desires or vent their rage at their inability to satisfy them then they would do so.  

I would say that I see no evidence in scripture that God is the source of the fires in Hell.   

If God is great in His mercy, then He will not give them new bodies, as He does with the faithful.  If He shows mercy, He will leave them dis-embodied spirits.  They will then have no hands to tear with and no body to be torn.  Their ability to harm and torment one another will be restricted by that final act of compassion.  Only then, after doing for them all that He can do given their choices and their will, will a Holy and Loving God turn His loving gaze from them for the last time ever.  Truly their fire will never be quenched.



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