Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Kind of God Would Condemn People to Eternal Torment?

I came across an interesting article by Pastor Tim Challies last week. He deals with what I think is one of the toughest questions that skeptics ask. "How could God send people to hell forever?" Pastor Challies starts off by turning the question on it's head:

"How can you believe in a God who would condemn people to suffer the torments of hell eternally? I reply with a question of my own: 'How can you believe in a God who would not?'

"To ask the first question is to fundamentally misunderstand the very nature of God; it is to re-form God in the image of man, because here’s the thing: If you want a God who is good—truly good—and if you want a God who is just and holy, then you must have this God, this God who condemns people to suffer the eternal torments of hell. You cannot have the God you want unless there is a hell.

"You cannot have a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful and so very good. God’s goodness doesn’t negate eternal punishment in hell; it demands it."

He then goes on to explain why this punishment needs to be eternal, torment and conscious. I don't like his assessment even though I agree theologically with it. The doctrine of Hell is one of the hardest and most disheartening aspects of Christianity. It is probably the first thing that I would change about Christianity if it were up to me. But it is not.

Pastor Challies goes on to explain that we want a God that is good and treats people with justice and grace but that in order to have that type of God we must also have a holy God. God's goodness is an extension of his holiness. And I think that this is not just something that is a theological point but is also intuitive. Could we expect a God that was not holy to be good? Do we expect good things from bad people? No. This means that ultimate goodness can only come from ultimate holiness.

"The holiness of God demands that He remain separate from sin, that those who commit sin must be kept out of His presence. How could such holiness mingle with such impurity? Holiness flees from sin. They are incompatible, irreconcilable. And so sinners must be cast out, and they must be kept out of God’s presence."

The final point that Pastor Challies makes is to explain exactly what we are protesting against when we protest God sending people to hell:

"When you cry out against a God who punishes people in a place like hell, you cry out against the God who has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture. You cry out against His goodness, holiness, and justice; and all the while you minimize your own sinfulness or the sinfulness of others. Those who understand hell best, those who grasp it most deeply, are those with the greatest sense that they deserve to be there. They marvel at the grace that has called them from that place to a place that is far, far better—infinitely better!

"To wish away eternity in hell is to wish away eternity in heaven. It is not that they exist in some kind of mutual dependence so that one can only exist alongside the other. But sin demands eternal punishment, while grace calls for eternal love and joy, the re-establishment of the good and holy relationship that our Creator intended to enjoy with us forever. How can I believe in a God who condemns people to hell? I must believe in this God, for He poured out the punishment of hell on Jesus Christ through whom I have hope."

The doctrine of Hell is not a pleasant one but it is a necessary one that we cannot avoid thinking about.

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