Monday, September 09, 2019

Anonymous Asks (57)

“Isn’t hell an unreasonable punishment for not believing in a specific set of truth claims?”

If not believing a specific set of truth claims is all there is to it, perhaps our questioner has a point. But is that really what the Bible teaches: that the ‘idealogically unsound’ will be banished from the presence of God for eternity?

Let’s consider ...

Two Sets of Verses

There are two quite different sets of verses we could quote about hell and those who are destined to spend eternity there. Here are some from the set to which our questioner is referring, which may be taken to suggest that God’s eternal anger is aroused by a refusal to believe:
“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

“Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
So yes, from such texts it appears men and women who will spend eternity in hell have something in common, and that common thing is a failure to believe — though note that it is not so much a failure to believe in a “specific set of truth claims” as in the person who is making them. It is more than rejection of facts; it is rejection of Christ and the Father who sent him.

Belief and Behavior

What becomes clear from Romans 1 is that men and women who reject the knowledge of God (“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them”) have other things in common than the rejection of certain propositions. Rejecting the knowledge of God leads inevitably to behaviors God detests:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Note that it is “those who practice such things” who deserve to die. It is not about ideology at all.

The Basis for the Final Judgment

This leads us to the basis for the final judgment, and here is where that second set of verses about the hell-bound comes in:
“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.”

“On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

“For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
In scripture, failure to believe what God has said about his Son is inextricably tied together with living a life chock-full of thoughts, words and actions that are subject to God’s eternal judgment.

A Judgment Already Handed Down

Now, note that the righteous are not judged on this basis. Their evil thoughts, words and actions have already been forgiven; they were laid on Christ, who “by a single offering ... has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” People who have been “perfected for all time” in the eyes of the judge are, very sensibly, not subject to his judgment.

However, men and women who reject Christ as the means of salvation are not excused from final judgment on the basis of his sacrifice. Their works are to be scrupulously examined under the eyes of the One who understands every motive and whose comprehensive knowledge exposes every excuse, false argument and sophist defense. They have elected to come into the presence of God on the basis of their own righteousness, and they will be judged accordingly.

Some who appear before the Great White Throne will certainly have lived better lives than others, and some will experience a better fate than others, but all will be found guilty, and all will be hell-bound on the basis of the lives they have lived and the basis upon which they elected to present themselves to God, not on the basis of being ideologically unsound.

Mind you, even if hell actually were a thoroughly unreasonable punishment for not believing in a specific set of truth claims, I’m mildly curious how anyone might propose to contest it.

1 comment :

  1. I think that one thing needs to be additionally mentioned and stressed. Namely that what is suggested here is also a matter of duration. The biblical passages here indirectly imply that the attitudes and behavior leading to perdition are of permanent duration in a person's life. In other words, you can almost guarantee that like some people who we see and hear about so strongly in the News these days, expounding their distorted non-Biblical value systems, will bear those negative consequences because they, in their thoughtlessness, stubbornness, and self-righteousness, would eternally (in earth time) refuse to change and recant (something that Christ came to ask us to consider). Now, why would anyone want to have someone like that over for dinner, never mind having them hang around forever. Very unpleasant indeed and perfectly understandable on God's part I would think. Would you invite such a "friend" over for dinner?