Posts tagged ‘Hell’

They Need Someone To Tell Them – How About You?

This past weekend, we finished our series at Concordia titled “Heaven.”  For the final Sunday of this series, Pastor Tucker and I answered some of the most common questions people have about heaven, hell, and eternity.  One of the questions I tackled was, “What about people who have never heard about Jesus?  What happens to them?”  This question is not a new one.  Indeed, questions about how God can consign certain people in certain circumstances to hell or judge them in His wrath are as old as Scripture itself.  Already in Paul’s day, people were asking, “Why does God still blame us” (Romans 9:19)?  Some people cannot fathom a God who will call to account every sin in every situation.  Surely there are instances, these people clamor, where God will just let sin slide.  Surely God will not blame us for our sins – at least not all of them.

As I explained this past Sunday, the truth of God’s judgment is this:  God will hold someone accountable for every sin in every situation – either you or Jesus.  Those are the only two options.  There are no others.  Thus, one cannot be saved apart from Jesus even if one has never heard of Jesus.  For apart from Christ, you will be held accountable for your own sin in hell.

This being said, we also learn that God does not want to hold us accountable for our own sin in hell.  He does not want us to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).  This is why the task of evangelism is of inestimable importance.  For it is through people preaching the Word to other people that God normally reaches out with His love in Christ.  As the apostle Paul says, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them” (Romans 10:13-14)?  People need someone to tell them about Jesus so they have the opportunity to believe in Jesus!  This is where you come in.

The other day, I stumbled across an article by the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, Thom Rainer, titled, “Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians.”[1]  The last of the seven comments jumped off my computer screen at me:  “I really would like to visit a church, but I’m not particularly comfortable going by myself. What is weird is that I am 32-years old, and I’ve never had a Christian invite me to church in my entire life.”  Here is a comment from a person who wants to learn more about Jesus – who wants to hear from His Word.  All he needs is an invitation to a place where that Word is preached…maybe your invitation.

Thom Rainer concludes:

Non-Christians want to interact with Christians…It’s time to stop believing the lies we have been told.  Jesus said it clearly: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke10:2).

Satan is the author of excuses.  There is no reason to wait to reach those who don’t know Jesus Christ.  We must go now.  The harvest is waiting.  And the Lord of the harvest has prepared the way.

I couldn’t agree more.


[1] Thom Rainer, “Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians,” www.thomrainer.com (9.15.2012).

October 8, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Theological Look At Suicide

It’s never easy to lose a loved one.  Whether it’s an illness when someone is middle aged, a tragedy when someone is young, or even a so-called “natural” passing when someone is old, death brings tears and mourning.  People may sometimes quaintly call a funeral a “celebration,” but if it is, what a strange way to celebrate – with lowered heads and furrowed brows and muffled sobs.  Truth be told, death is sad.  And death is heartbreaking.

Death becomes especially heartbreaking when it is the result of suicide.  We will often speak of “preventable deaths” – those that could have been avoided if only he wouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel when he was drunk, or if only she would have gone to the doctor sooner after feeling a lump.  But suicide seems to be the ultimate example of a “preventable death.”  After all, the person who lost his life is the same person who took his life…voluntarily.  He held in his own hands the power to choose life or the power to choose death.  And he chose the unthinkable.

When suicide strikes, many questions inevitably arise.  People ask everything from, “How could he be so selfish?” to “Is killing oneself the unforgivable sin?”  Because of the many questions connected to suicide, I thought it would be worth it to take a look at suicide broadly from a theological perspective and seek to clear up some of the persistent misperceptions that surround this heartbreaking act.

In order to understand the Bible’s estimation suicide, we must begin a fundamental observation:  suicide is tragic.  Though this may seem self-evident to many, the reason this observation is necessary is because not everyone has believed this, nor does everyone now believe this.

The most famous suicide of the ancient world is that of Socrates.  After being convicted of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens by criticizing the city’s democratic government, the town’s officials sentenced Socrates to death by poisonous hemlock.  Plato, his close friend and pupil, recounts Socrates drinking the lethal cocktail:

[Socrates] took it, and very gently…without trembling or changing color or expression…Said Socrates, “But I may and must pray to the gods that my departure hence be a fortunate one; so I offer this prayer, and may it be granted.” With these words he raised the cup to his lips and very cheerfully and quietly drained it.[1]

Notice how nobly, stoically, and even, as Plato says, “cheerfully,” Socrates drinks his poison, more in control of his life – and death – than those who handed down his capital sentence.  It is this stately picture of Socrates’ suicide that gave rise to the opinion of the ancients that it is perfectly acceptable to take one’s own life.  Seneca, a well-known Stoic philosopher, says of suicide, “The best thing which eternal law ever ordained was that it allowed to us one entrance in life, but many exits…This is one reason why we cannot complain of life; it keeps no one against his will….Live, if you so desire; if not, you may return to the place from whence you came.”[2]  More recently, suicide has made headlines because of those who support “Death with Dignity,” a movement which maintains that doctor assisted suicide, in cases of grave and terminal illness, is justified and, yes, even dignified.[3]  For some, suicide is moral and noble.  The Bible, however, paints a starkly different picture of suicide.  Suicide, according to the Bible, is unambiguously proscribed.  Consider the reasons why below.

The Bible prohibits suicide because it results in death.  Death is deeply evil.  Indeed, the apostle Paul calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), ultimately to be defeated at Christ’s Second Coming.  Death is so evil because it is utterly incompatible with God’s original creative intent.  As we confess in the Nicene Creed, our God is “the Lord and giver of life.”  God is in the business of life, not death!  However, sin introduced what God never intended.  Therefore, we are to hate death rather than embracing it as suicide does.

The Bible prohibits suicide because it results in murder.  Most famously, murder is prohibited by the Fifth Commandment:  “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).  But long before Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to Israel, murder was outlawed as a heinous ill.  Immediately following the great flood of Noah’s day, God commands, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6).  Notice the general nature of both of these prohibitions.  Moses’ prohibition against murder is a blanket one without so much as a direct object to specify who should not be murdered.  God’s prohibition to Noah does contain a direct object – “man” – but this direct object is a general one, referring to mankind.  The killing of humans by other humans, then, is clearly and consistently forbidden in the Scriptures.  Thus, even the killing of oneself breaks the command of God.

The Bible prohibits suicide because it results in abuse.  It is difficult to think of a more dire abuse of one’s body than the taking of one’s life.  Because God created our bodies, redeems our bodies through His Son Jesus Christ, and will raise our bodies on the Last Day, our bodies – and what we do with them – matter to God!  As Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Killing one’s body can hardly be considered an honorable way to treat one’s body.

It is important to note that honoring God with one’s body precludes not only suicide, but anything that damages the body.  There are many people who refuse to honor God with their bodies in countless ways and for countless reasons.  Some do not eat well.  Some do not exercise.  Some do not visit their physicians.  When these people sometimes die prematurely, they do so to everyone’s sorrow, but not necessarily to everyone’s shock.  After all, we know that abuse can eventually result in death.  So often, we confine our definition of “suicide” to a one-time act that ends in the loss of life.  But far too many people are willing to commit what I call “slow-motion suicide” by abusing their bodies over months, years, and decades.  This too is prohibited by Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 6.

Though the Bible flatly condemns suicide, even something as seemingly final as the taking of one’s life is not unsalvageable for the Christian.  People will sometimes refer to suicide as “the unforgivable sin.”  The thinking goes like this:  because a person who commits suicide cannot repent of his sin, he cannot be forgiven and will therefore be eternally damned.  This thinking, however, is flawed on two counts.  First, this thinking does not take into account the extenuating circumstances that often accompany suicide, for a person who takes his own life often does so during a moment of deep despair, depression, or even insanity.  This can hardly be considered to be a belligerent and unrepentant sin against God.  Rather, the person who takes his life in this kind of an instance may not even understand what he is doing.  Second, the thinking that calls suicide “unforgivable” assumes repentance is a cognitive act of sorrow that feels remorse over a specific sin and that this remorse is necessary to offset a sin’s damnable effect.  This, however, is not a true picture of biblical repentance.  For if a person had to feel cognitive remorse for every sin specifically, none could be saved, for we all commit sins that we either do not remember or do not even notice in the first place.  This is why the Psalmist pleads with God, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13).  Notice that the Psalmist makes a distinction between “hidden faults” and “willful sins.”  The “hidden faults” are those sins unknown to the Psalmist whereas the “willful sins” are those sins which the Psalmist has intentionally and knowingly committed.  The Psalmist believes that God will forgive both types of sins – both his known and unknown sins.

Martin Luther says of repentance, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Repent, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”[4]  Like the Psalmist, Luther believes that repentance is more than just specific remorse over a specific sin; rather, repentance is part and parcel of the posture of a Christian’s heart, for a repentant Christian continually believes that he is a person who continually sins and is thereby continually in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Thus, just because a person does not express remorse for committing suicide specifically does not mean that he is not living a life of repentance generally.

Some people may still ask, “But what about Judas?  Didn’t Judas commit suicide and didn’t he go to hell?”  Though it is true that Scripture implies Judas’ ultimate eternal damnation (cf. Acts 1:25), we must understand that Judas did not go to hell because he committed suicide, but because he refused to trust in Jesus to forgive his sin.  Matthew tells us, “When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse” (Matthew 27:3).  The Greek word for “remorse” is metamelomai. Though there is some semantic overlap, this word is nevertheless distinct from the Greek word for “repentance,” which is metanoia.  Thus, even though Judas seems to experience some level of remorse over his terrible wickedness, he does not seem to repent of his sin and turn to Christ for forgiveness.  Tragically, Judas’ remorse leads only to despair which leads only to his eventual suicide.  The stain of human sin cannot be absolved by feeling bad about oneself through remorse.  It can only be absolved by turning to Jesus in repentance.

Finally, it is important that we support and encourage those who have lost loved ones to suicide and seek immediate help for those who may be considering suicide.  As Christians, we are called to remind everyone that, through faith in Christ, despair and death do not need to have the final say.  God’s plan of eternal, joyous life for us can ultimately prevail.  As the apostle Paul exclaims:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)

Despair and death are no match for the victory and life that Jesus brings.  Of this we can be sure!  And in this we can take comfort.


[1] Plato, Phaedo 117b-117c.

[2] Seneca, Epistulae Morales 70.

[3] In 1994, Measure 16 established the state of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act.”  This allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives by means of a doctor-assisted suicide.

[4] Martin Luther, “95 Thesis,” Thesis 1.

August 13, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Adult Bible Class – God in the Gap

What is hell?  Is it a real place?  Do real people go there?  Find out in this Adult Bible Class from Concordia Lutheran Church.

April 13, 2011 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

Some Thoughts On Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

I was curious, so I checked.  It’s number one in Amazon’s “Religion and Spirituality” section and number three in Amazon’s overall list of the top 100 books.  To say Rob Bell’s newest opus, Love Wins, has made a splash is like saying our recent recession was an economic hiccup.  Both are understated.  Because of its meteoric rise to the top of national book sales, the pastors at Concordia feel it is important to address what Rob teaches in this book.  Here is what you need to know upfront:  Concordia’s pastors do not believe that Love Wins presents true biblical or Christ-centered doctrine.  In fact, we believe it presents false doctrine that is dangerous and confusing, leading people away from Christ rather than toward Him.  If this is all you want or need to know, there is no need to read the balance of this blog.  If you want to know why we believe this book presents false doctrine, read on.

The blogs and reviews of Rob’s new book are legion, and so my goal in this blog is not to try to break through the cacophony of clamor surrounding the book’s release.  That’s a far too ambitious – and, I might add, unrealistic – goal.  But neither do I intend my review to simply be another voice added to the many shouts either celebrating or decrying Rob’s book.  Instead, my review is more of a personal sort.  I am a pastor.  And already, I am receiving questions from people I know and love about Rob’s book.  And I am concerned.  I am concerned about Rob.  I remember him in his earlier years.  To this day, I have never heard a finer sermon on Leviticus 16 than the one he preached.  And the picture he painted of Ephesus, the Roman emperor Domitian, and John’s Revelation still grips me – and gives me hope – every time I think about it.  In fact, I still have a copy of that sermon…on cassette tape!   I’m having a hard time understanding what happened to Rob theologically.  I am concerned about him.  But I am also concerned about the people with whom I am talking.  The people who are questioning.  The people who are confused.  The people who are wondering, “Is this book true?”  If this is you, then I mean this blog for you.  And though my words may be pointed, they are not meant to be vicious.  Rather, they are written in love and a concern for the truth, for “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  And I believe that, finally, the truth will carry the day.  For I, like Rob Bell, believe that love wins.

Deconstructing theology is dangerous business.  And yet, it’s something people – especially so-called “postmodern” thinkers – love to do.  After all, it’s fun to pile on top of certain theological presuppositions and assertions and expose the discontinuities in them, especially if these presuppositions and assertions are widely regarded as traditional and orthodox.  And it is this is this deconstructionist method that Rob employs in Love Wins. Consider this quote:

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell.  God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever.  A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.

If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.  If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we could contact child protective services immediately.

If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good. (pages 173-174)

The logic seems, well, logical enough.  If God loves us and wants salvation for us, how could He abandon his pursuit of us upon our deaths and consign us to eternal torment?  That’s not a loving God!   Therefore, goes Rob’s argument, God must allow people the opportunity to repent (though he never uses the word) even, perhaps, after death.  Or at least that’s what he tantalizingly infers!

But let’s apply Rob’s same deconstructionist enterprise to his own argument.  Rob solves the difficulty of the God who pursues us in the life and judges us in the next by appealing to God’s generous love – a love generous enough to allow for our free will, now on earth and then in eternity:

To reject God’s grace, to turn from God’s love, to resist God’s telling, will lead to misery.  It is a form of punishment, all on its own.

This is an important distinction, because in talking about what God is like, we cannot avoid the realities of God’s very essence, which is love.  It can be resisted and rejected and denied and avoided, and that will bring another reality.  Now and then.

We are that free. (page 176)

So, Rob says I am free – free to “trust God’s retelling of my story” (page 173), as he puts it, and free to reject it.  And not only am I free to trust and reject now on earth, but “now and then,” even into eternity.  On the one hand, this is quite an enticing prospect because it allows me to trust in God’s retelling of my story even after I die.  So if I mess it up here, I need not worry.  I get another shot at trusting God on the flipside.  It is important to note that Rob’s concern here is fundamentally a therapeutic utilitarianism.  The kind of God who would do something as psychologically stressful as consigning people to an eternal hell simply won’t work!  Indeed, Rob states this explicitly: “This is the problem with some Gods – you don’t know if they’re good, so why tell others a story that isn’t working for you” (page 181)?  The problem is that Rob’s version of God and the gospel doesn’t work either!  After all, what happens if I mess up on the flipside?  What happens if I trust God’s retelling of my story in this age, but then use the generous freedom that Rob claims love requires to reject God’s retelling of my story in the age to come?  Do I slip the surly bonds of heaven and wind up in a hell of my own making?  And what if I trust in God’s retelling again?  Is it back to heavenly bliss?  And then what if I reject it…again?  And then trust it…again?  Am I stuck in a vicious volley between heaven and hell for all eternity?  That certainly doesn’t sound very “heavenly.”  In fact, that sounds like what I struggle with right now!  That sounds like Paul’s exposition on every Christian’s age old struggle:  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  Where’s the hope in that?

The freedom that love brings is only good if it is exercised with the sovereign prerogative that God has.  In other words, love without God’s sovereign prerogative is impotent.  It cannot do what it desires.  It cannot, to use Rob’s book title, “win.”  And indeed, love that allows this kind of freedom isn’t even really love.  For it simply allows us to do what we please.  Who actually loves like this – even here, even now?  Love demands that when you see a child chasing his ball onto the interstate, you curb his freedom and tug him back.  Love demands that heaven is an age when we are not only free to live with God, but have also been tugged, or, more biblically, “chosen” by God (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14).  Love and freedom are not synonymous nor are they inextricable concomitants of each other.  That is why God does away with people who persistently demand their freedom.  For they cannot demand their freedom to God without demanding their freedom from God.  These are the people who go to hell.

To allow me the eternal freedom to trust or reject God’s retelling of my story is only to allow me the eternal opportunity to make myself unspeakably miserable.  And I’m not sure that’s a good opportunity. Because I already know what I’d choose…again and again and again.  For I’m not truly free.  I’m a slave to sin.  And so I will always choose wrongly.  As the Reformers put it, “We are unable to stop sinning.”  I will always fall for the illusion that freedom from God presents rather than the joy that freedom in Christ brings.  This is why God coopted my slavery to sin and set me free, only to make me a slave again, this time to righteousness – not out of some sort of sinister divinely wrought determinism, but for the sake of Christ:  “Having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).  This is the good news – that God does not leave things up to us.  No, He loves us far too much to do that.  And so He conquers sin, death, and the devil, and gives us His righteousness, apart from and in spite of our terrible choices.

Whatever so-called “problems” and questions Rob Bell may try to solve and answer in his book, he only succeeds in creating more problems and begging more questions.  Not only that, but he finally replaces the good news with something that is neither good, for it leaves us in an eternal state of struggling against our own wills, nor is it news, for this struggle is much older than any twenty-four news cycle.  So, whatever supposed “problems” my “traditional” story of the gospel may have (which I am not convinced there are problems, just paradoxes), this I know:  When it comes to a love that is broad enough to allow me my own, dangerous freedom, “the good news is better than that” (page 191).

March 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm 6 comments


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