Posts tagged ‘Paul’

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Six

In this brief, penultimate chapter, Francis Chan addresses Romans 9, a passage he claims has caused him more confusion than any other. In this passage, he says, “Paul asks a necessary question: What if?”

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory? (Romans 9:22-23)

Chan identifies Paul’s “What if?” as a probing question —

“forcing us to face our inflated view of our own logic. It’s another way of asking: Just how high is my view of God?”

What Chan wants his readers to consider here is how deep their loyalty to God actually runs. If this is correct, if God has indeed created “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” for the purposes of showing his wrath and making His power known … then it means He is showing those He saves just how magnificent his glory and mercy are. This forces each of us to answer the question of “what if?” with another question: what shall I do? Do we refuse to believe in Him, or refuse to be a vessel of mercy, asks Chan. And would it be wise to refuse to follow Him?

THE POTTER AND THE CLAY

Chan uses the Romans 9 passage to return to the question regarding Hell that he initially raised in Chapter One: could you believe these things, if in fact God says they are true? He points out that Paul doesn’t categorically state that God destroys sinners in order to show how mighty He is, but that the apostle does raise it as a valid possibility. The importance of acknowledging this possibility, in Chan’s view, is that it allows us to allow God to be who He is.

“We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people. Because He’s the Potter and we’re the clay. This, in fact, is the analogy that Paul gives earlier in Romans 9.”

That these are difficult statements Chan acknowledges, especially in light of Paul’s earlier statements in Romans 9 that God will have mercy on whom He wills, and harden whomever He chooses. Chan submits that all of this leads one to ask that if all of need mercy and God grants that to some but not to others, then who is truly responsible — you and I, or God?

It’s an excellent question, and one that Chan answers using the same passage. Paul’s declaration is that the Potter has the right to do whatever He wills with the clay.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:20-21 )

Chan appeals as well to Isaiah 55:8-9, where God Himself declares his own Otherness, His essential differentness from you and I.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 )

When it comes to the subject of Hell, Chan implores that people recall that we think differently than God thinks, and that God hasn’t asked any man or woman to figure out why He does what He does. More pointedly, Chan opines that we can’t — because our very way of thinking is inferior to God’s!  Rather, Chan argues, the gap between our thoughts and His is so immeasurable that our energy is better spent in submitting to Him than in overanalysis of His ways.

I WOULDN’T HAVE DONE THAT

Chan points out that sending people to Hell isn’t the only thing God does that is impossible to figure out. He notes that there are many acts of God that don’t make sense by Man’s logic.

  • God regrets that he created men and women, due to their evil, and with the exception of 8 people, He drowns them all with a flood. (Genesis 6-8)
  • Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, and God commands the Levites to sharpen their swords and slaughter everyone worshipping the idol — some three thousand people. Once the massacre is finished, God blesses the Levites for their obedience. (Exodus 32:27)
  • God commands the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, and child inhabitating the land of Canaan. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)
  • When the Israelites are conquering Jericho, Achan disobeys the command of God and retains some loot. When challenged, he lies, then discloses his sin and returns the treasure. Despite his confession, Achan and all his family are stoned to death. (Joshua 7)

To all of these, Chan declares, “If I were God, I wouldn’t have allowed that, let alone commanded it.” I have to agree with him.  That is precisely the point he is trying to make here; there are divine actions and commands throughout Scripture that don’t mesh with our standards of morality or even logic. Chan reminds the reader that we are the clay, while God is the Potter. Yet Chan also points out that the God whose logic in sending sinners to Hell confounds is also the God who thought to send his Son to take on human flesh. He is the same God who entered creation through the womb of a young Jewish woman, and was born in a feeding trough. He is the same God who thought to allow His created beings to torture His Son, lacerate His flesh with whips, and the drive nails through His hands and feet.

“I’m almost sure I would not have done that if I were God. Aren’t you glad I’m not God? It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption, even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for clay to do.”

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Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Four

Having delved into exactly what Jesus himself had to say on the subject, Chan and Sprinkle turn their attention to what Jesus’ followers said about Hell. Chapter Four of Erasing Hell is a short but pithy exploration of what the writers of the New Testament wrote about Hell.

HELL IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, PETER, AND JUDE

Chan throws out the rather startling fact that in all thirteen letters of the Apostle Paul, the word hell is not used once, nor does Paul give any descriptive details of the place. Paul did, observes Chan,

… speak of “death” as the result of sin, whereby the wicked would “perish” or “be destroyed” by the “wrath” of God. The sinner, according to Paul, stands “condemned” and will be “judged” by God on account of his sin. And unless the sinner repents and turns to Christ, he will be “punished” by God when Christ returns. Paul described the fate of the wicked with words such as “perish, destroy, wrath, punish,” and others more than eighty times in his thirteen letters. To put this in perspective, Paul made reference to the fate of the wicked more times in his letters than he mentioned God’s forgiveness, mercy or heaven combined … he assuredly believed that the wicked will face a horrific fate if they remain in their sin.”

Chan reflects on how much creative effort would have to go into dismissing the idea of God’s wrath and the punishment of the wicked from Paul’s letters, and asks if what drove Paul’s efforts to reach the lost might have been that the apostle from Tarsus spent much time pondering the fate of those who had not heard or responded to the Gospel? He also clarifies that although Paul might never have gone into details regarding hell, he certainly,

comes pretty close–a passage blistering with passion and urgency about Christ’s second coming and the wrath that follows:

“since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  (2 Thess. 1:6-9)

Notice that this passage reflects wrath that is retributive, not corrective — an issue that Chan addressed earlier, in Chapter Three. It is not an expression of correction or salvation, but one of vengeance. One of the finer points of Chan as an author is that he continues to come back to the points of the argument, not to endlessly and pointlessly hammer them into the reader, but so that the reader might see that there are many passages that support the Biblical case he is building.

Chan closes this section of Chapter Four with a rather cogent observation regarding Christians and the Church today: we don’t like the terminology that Paul uses when he uses words such as “wrath” and “vengeance”. In fact, we think it is–as Chan labels it–“toxic and unloving.” Yet Paul might well have insisted that such terms, when used to warn people of what was to come, was as loving as it gets. Chan makes the confession that as a pastor he has deliberately distanced himself from such language so as not to be associated with Christians who might revel in the idea of wrath and punishment. And yet, he also is bold enough to state this:

“I believe it’s time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself.”

HELL IN 2 PETER AND JUDE

Chan skims the surface of two other epistles that speak of wrath and judgment on an extensive level. Chan compares 2 Peter 2 to a chapter from Dante’s Inferno, while he says the book of Jude reads “like a medieval tract written to scare peasants into unwavering church attendance and a steady tithe.” Chan notes the following uses of language or descriptions regarding Hell in these two letters:

  • “destruction” (2 Peter 2:1, 3, 12; 3:7, 9; Jude 5, 10, 11)
  • “punishment” (2 Peter 2:9; Jude 7)
  • “judgment” (2 Peter 2:4, 9; Jude 9)
  • “condemnation” (2 Peter 2:3; Jude 4)
  • “hell” (2 Peter 2:)
  • retributive suffering (2 Peter 2:13)
  • “the gloom of utter darkness” (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13)
  • “punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7, 23)

Chan affirms these two books as capturing “an important part of the Christian message: God will severely punish those who don’t bow the knee to King Jesus.”

HELL IN REVELATION

Chan concludes this chapter by examining what the final chapter of the Bible has to say about Hell. Immediately, he notes that even 2 Peter 2 and Jude can’t come close to the description of Hell in the book of Revelation. He quotes Revelation 14:9-11 to illustrate an important theme in Revelation: God’s wrath is terrifying.

“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

Chan points out the physical description of fire and sulfur here, but more importantly notes the nature of that punishment as ongoing, with no end in sight. He observes that the author John describes the people being “tormented with fire” rather than being destroyed, and that the smoke of their torment goes up “forever and ever,” with “no rest, day or night.” Chan goes on to cite another passage from Revelation, demonstrating the fate of all those who do not follow Jesus–and showing that they share that fate with the Devil and his servants.

… and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10-15)

As he notes that the lake of fire is the final destiny for the Devil and unbelievers, Chan very pointedly reminds the reader that the phrase “forever and ever” used to describe never-ending punishment for the wicked is the same “forever and ever” in Revelation 22:5, describing the reign of God’s people which will never end. Chan asserts,

“given that this terminology points to something that has no end in sight … it seems best to understand the word death not in terms of total annihilation but as a description of those who will be separated from God forever in an ongoing state of punishment.”

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