Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The Commentariat Speaks (15)

From Doug Wilson’s comment section at Blog & Mablog. S writes:

“Why is there not an option to fully bow out? Neither Heaven or Hell, just non-existence?”

Doug’s own response is brief and related to the need for God’s holy justice to be displayed. I agree, and I’m not sure I can offer anything more profound in terms of an answer, but I was sufficiently taken with the question that I felt the need to explore it a little here.

It’s my observation that the sorts of questions we ask about God often say more about us than they say about him.

Let’s be clear what S is asking for here. He’s asking for an option where, despite being a created being with no independent ability to maintain his own life for even a millisecond apart from the gracious providence of God, he should be allowed to avoid submitting his will to that of his Creator; and further, to be allowed to evade the consequences of his life-long rejection of God’s love and rebellion against Heaven by simply winking out of existence.

When we put it that way, it is difficult to see why God should accommodate.

Justice is Served

Moreover, if God did indulge him and simply willed S into oblivion, what would S’s victims have to say about it? Hell is not just the place God sends people so they can do no further damage to others, although that is a good thing. It is also the place where justice is served.

Now, I don’t have any special knowledge about the person asking the question. I don’t imagine he is any better or worse than most. Perhaps he is a good deal nicer than Yours Truly. That would not be difficult. But S most certainly has hurt people in his lifetime. Like all of us, he has sinned against others, and the debt such behavior creates demands to be settled. Even if S is not particularly conscious of having sinned actively against others, it is certain he has not done all he could or should for those in need. Many of the benefits he has enjoyed throughout his lifetime have come at the expense of others, whether he knew it or not. There’s a tab there that demands payment.

In the word of God, the demand for justice often comes not from God himself, but from aggrieved third parties.

The Cries of the Victims

We don’t have to read far to find examples. God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” A few chapters later, we read that the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” was great. To Moses, God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.” In the book of Revelation, the souls of the slain cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

From one end to the other, our Bibles are full of injured parties crying to God that they have been unfairly treated, and that nothing has been done to pay back those who oppressed them. Sure, delivering the modern-day Israelites from Egypt is a nice gesture, but what of the Egyptian taskmasters who afflicted the Israelite fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers? Are these to escape punishment for their evil deeds because they are dead and buried under the Egyptian sand? How would that be fair to the men and women whose lives they effectively ruined? Those people cannot get their time on earth back now. It’s gone forever.

Now, it may be argued that the sins and injuries we are talking about are significant: slavery, sodomy, murder. Surely, compared to a Hitler or a Pharaoh, your trespasses and mine must hardly rate a mention.

But how can we know our personal assessment of the gravity or triviality of our offences is the standard by which we will be judged? We have neither the power to enforce our opinion, nor even the logic to argue our side before God convincingly. It should be obvious that the Creator better understands what offends him than we do. Moreover, he has already declared his standards to mankind in his word. Romans 1, for instance, speaks of gossip, slander, insolence and boastfulness as things for which men and women deserve to die. Are you or I going to have much luck explaining to God that they are comparatively inconsequential matters he should not be permitted to register against us? I suspect not.

Crime and Punishment

Hey, perhaps S is a gentle soul, and fully prepared to forgive every misdeed that has ever been done to him and wish his tormentors well in the bargain. I sincerely doubt it, but let’s say it’s true for the sake of argument. Notwithstanding S’s reluctance to bring charges against others, it remains the case that others will surely bring charges against him. It is inevitable. Perhaps they are doing so already. Even if God were to forgive every offense committed against him personally, how could he fail to hear and respond to the outcry of his creation against the men and women who have inflicted varying degrees of suffering and misery on others throughout history?

Now, thankfully, God has provided a way by which I may escape the punishment rightfully due to me for the things done in the body. It’s not some kind of cheat, whereby the parties I have injured will have cause to complain that I am being unfairly let off the hook. No, the penalty for every single evil thing I have ever done and will ever do has already been exacted from the Son of God on my behalf. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” All I have to do is accept the sacrifice he offered for me. That means acknowledging that I am a sinner, that my sins have condemned me, and that there’s nothing I can do to atone for them. Only Jesus Christ can do that.

Right and Wrong

That’s a great big sticking point for some. It involves the admission that my offenses actually matter. They are not trivial. They cannot merely be overlooked. Moreover, it involves the admission that God’s right and I’m wrong. Some people just cannot bring themselves to accept that.

But the sacrifice of Christ complicates the equation further. Imagine if we could simply bow out. What statement would that make to the universe? Well, it would tell heaven and earth that the sacrifice of Christ did not matter. God’s only Son suffered, bled and died pointlessly, because God could simply have overlooked your sins for eternity and let you skate off into oblivion untouched. It would tell men and angels that the cross of Christ, the centerpiece of history, was meaningless, and that the most valuable gift ever given is actually worth nothing at all.

How do you think his Father would feel about that?

So no, we do not get to “fully bow out”, and thank God we do not. I would not want to live in a universe where sin remained unpunished. Not S’s sins, and definitely not my own.


  1. Well, obviously I have no idea about S but, concerning your own sins - the way you always make it sound - good luck with that ;-).

    Never mind, but I have often thought, listening to all the mess in the daily news and the circle of our acquaintances that there are probably people for whom life is simply such a burden that they would have preferred not even having to come into existence to start with. It's sad but it forces us to check if we perhaps sometimes also contribute to a climate contributing to that type of dejection.

  2. "concerning your own sins - the way you always make it sound - good luck with that ;-)."

    I figure honesty is the best policy. It's not like the Lord is fooled if I pretend to have been consistently wonderful, right? If it matters, I'm hoping to finish strong ...

    Your last point is a fair comment. I'm thinking 'S' is not in that category though. People genuinely in despair rarely have the energy to spend much time questioning the way God does business.