A Conversation about Hell

These are some Tweets that I posted on my Twitter account a month or so ago together with some comments made by someone who believes in Islam.  I also added my own discussion at the end.
1.  Hell is simply living eternally in the presence of God without the protection of the cross or the providence of the Father.
2.  Hell is relational. It is a final, terrible rejection of sin and evil within us which is who we are without God in our very natures. Alone. Isolated from life and love and the source of ultimate reality.
Ahmed:  There is a philosophy about punishment in the hereafter which is not set forth perfectly by any religion except Islam.
Bert:  Perfect philosophy is not of interest to those who believe in the reality of forgiveness through the cross.
Ahmed:  Islam is the only religion which says there is hope: Hell Is Not Everlasting.
Bert:  Actually, Christianity is the religion of hope not by denying hell but by overcoming it through the cross.
Ahmed:  ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ why was Jesus so unwilling on thiscross!
Bert:  because the cross was separation from God and he loved God with all his heart, so it was difficult… but he did it anyway.
Ahmed:  My father if it is possible, may this cup (of death) be taken from me… is this the unwilling Sacrifice u refer 2 for forgiveness
Bert:  He became sin for us, of course he hated it, but he did it out of obedience to his father. He trusted him completely.
Ahmed:  As far as the effect of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in relation to the punishment of sin is concerned…..all human mothers still bear their kids with the pains of labour and it is still with labour that man earns his bread….. so question is what did attonement change if christians continue to suffer like the non christians?
Bert:  If we have special priviledges, no pain or suffering, people would turn to God for the benefits not the relationship.
Bert:  Our suffering now has a purpose…..to show the power and character of God in our lives even without benefits in this life.
3.  Only in this life can we turn to God in faith, hope and love.  Once we see God´s terrible majesty, there is only fear which is not enough for God (or any other relationship).
4.  Who can dwell with the consuming fire?  Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?  Isaiah 33:14b
5.  Hell is a necessary evil which is the direct result of the nature of God.  To sin and evil, He is a consuming fire always and forever (as He should be).
6.  The cross is not love overcoming justice but rather fulfilling it.  Justice matters.  The cross was, and is hell for sin and evil.
7.  Hell is not torture but rather justice.  Without it, as the ultimate necessary justice of God on sin and evil, the cross was unnecessary.
8.  Hell reminds us that sin and evil are more terrible in their very nature than we are inclined to believe.
9.  This in-between place that we call life is a great, but necessary, deception.  A truce of sorts, but a dangerous one.  The great delusion.
10.  We believe that sin and evil are about morality rather than about our necessary and conscious relationship with our Creator God in faith.
11.  We get away with sin and evil for the most part in this world.  It begs the question whether there is ultimate justice for good and evil.
12.  The centrality, value and necessity of the cross is established by the justice of God.  Only His sacrificial love can fulfill that justice.
Every rejection is a picture of Hell but the rejection only becomes permanent once we die.  After death, there is only fearful judgment, not love, faith or hope.  There is no possibility of protection although there is an awareness of God that will burn and continue to burn because we reject and continue to reject (i.e. not love) the God who cannot deny who and what He is (thank God).
So Hell is eternal rejection not of the truth of His existence but of a relationship of love through the cross precisely because fear cannot become love.  After all, even the devil´s believe (and know) that God exists….and tremble as the Bible says.  Agustine makes the point that we will be confirmed in our evil or righteousness like the angels or demons because they live in the reality of God´s presence.  There is no room for faith and/or transformation.
So Hell is eternal rejection rather than the destruction of the soul or some sort of annihilation because of the nature of God (His justice cannot allow sin and rebellion to go unchallenged), because of the nature of the relationship (fear leaves no room  for the development of love), because of the nature of the soul (for everyone) as immortal, because of the nature of human existence as a body-soul entity (and therefore a resurrected body for everyone).
Hell exists if the God of the Bible exists.  If His nature is what the Bible says it is.  If we are the way the Bible says that He created us.  If not, no problem.  But if so, then we have a big problem.
Will there be flames and burning in Hell?  The Bible tells us that there will be eternal pain and suffering.  How could it be otherwise?  If joy and beauty and happiness are gifts from God, then their opposities would be the necessary result of not having a relationship with God.  Even if you want to “spiritualize” the pain and suffering and talk about eternal “burning” as the eternal awareness of rejection by God, how is that better than physical pain and suffering.  The psychic suffering in this world is often much worse and much more difficult to bear than physical suffering.  In any case, both of them together would seem to be the case since we recieve from God both “creational – physical” benefits as well as “redemptive – psychic – relational” ones.  For me, at least, the eternal burning of rejection by God would be much worse than anything physical.
Will Christians in Heaven say that Hell is just?  Yes.  They will.  In fact, everyone in Hell will also admit that Hell is just (for them, not just for others).  No one will be happy about hell and the majority of people who will end up there.  In fact, it was, is and continues to be a source of great sorrow to God.  It is a necessary evil.  No one will rejoice in the fate of others but everyone will admit that it is just and necessary once we finally realize the truth of the nature of God and the truth about the nature of our rebellion.
Hell is a fearful reality that puts the lie to all of our pretensions about human moral goodness.  The Last Judgment will clearly demonstrate the myth of human morality much less the myth of human moral autonomy and self-authority.  There is no escape for any of us from the reality of hell except through the cross.
Those in heaven will also admit that they do not deserve heaven and that the only reason that they are there at all is because , on earth, they came to the realization that they are full of evil and deserve only the justice of God and threw themselves on the merecy of God in the cross as their only hope and dedicated their lives to following Christ at any cost.  It was a relationship started on earth and dependent on the cross expressed through complete identification with Christ.
The point of the Last Judgment is to show each one of us that none of us can stand before God based on our own merits or morality.  It is only a new relationship with God through Christ   empowered by the Holy Spirit started in this life and expressed through faith, hope and love that will save us from what we deserve.
Will Christians in heaven be happy that God is who He is and that His justice and love – his goodness – were clearly demonstrated in the Last Judgment both in terms of heaven as well as hell?  Yes.  Will Christians in heaven rejoice that God´s glory and nature and character won the war against evil and rebellion and sin?  Of course.  Will Christians in heaven be relieved that they are in heaven and not in hell?  Of course.  But will they be “happy” about those who went to hell?  Not at all.  There but for the grace of God, go I – will be their attitude.  It is rooted in humility, not pride, and no one, in that sense, will be happy about hell, including God.  It may be necessary.  It may be right in an ultimate sense.  But no one will be happy about it.
Will Christians in heaven be eternally aware of those who are in hell, especially if they are loved ones?  I don´t know.  I hope not.  The Bible promises us that God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  I hope that it includes wiping out the memory of our loved ones in hell.  On the other hand, those who are in hell will be eternally aware of the rejection of God and they will suffer the knowing.  The real question is whether or not we will live in the reality of heaven and hell for ourself and our loved ones in this life when it matters, when something can still be done about it.
The truth is that, at the end of the day, everyone believes that Hell is overkill, it is unfair, it is unjust, it even makes God look bad.  And the reason we believe that is because we are NOT convinced that our own evil (in terms of our behaviour, intentions and motivations) in this life, is worthy of eternal punishment.
That is because we are still thinking in terms of behaviour, in terms of morality and NOT in terms of the relationship.  Morality cannot create a relationship with God.  A relationship with God creates morality.  We are not condemned to hell simply by our behaviour (or lack of behaviour) but because of our lack of a relationship of loving obedience to our God (expressed in our behaviour).  That relationship cannot begin or flourish in the context of the reality of fear but only in the reality of faith, hope and love.  That is the nature of the case.  It is the nature of God.  The nature of man.  The nature of relationships.
Perhaps we need to take Hell (and sin and a lack of relationship with Him) far more seriously than we generally do.  In fact, all of God´s work in sanctification in the lives of His people is dedicated to deepening and sharpening our understanding and realization of the sin and rebellion in our hearts.
God will show us the depths of our rebellion and willfulness and drive us to the cross in desperate need until we learn that without Him we are nothing but that in Him we are all that we can be.
Our desire for moral authonomy and self-authority is so deep and strong that God can only cast down every idol in our lives by destroying us with the conviction of His Spirit as we see ourselves in the mirror of His Word.
And I, for one, hate the process even though I know it is absolutely necessary.  I hate the realization that I am polluted with sin and that it has such power over me.  But I love the realization, so difficult for me to accept, that despite my sin and rebellion, God loves me in Christ and has a wonderful life and future planned for me.
The result of those two truths is love and gratitude and the indwelling Holy Spirit who is training me to live by faith, hope and love as I count on His providence and protection in the context of His promises to me.  The more I walk with Him, the more I realize how deep and strong the sin within me really is and how much deeper and stronger is His love for me in Christ.
Like any addict, I need to learn to hate my life when I wallow in my addictive behaviour and love my life when I am free from the addiction.  That is the reality of life in this in-between place.  God is creating a new type of person and this radical surgery is necessary precisely because the cancer of sin is much more dangerous and devastating to our relationship with God than we realize.
We are weak in our awareness of the horror of sin and the glory of the character and righteousness of God.  That is the truth from God´s perspective.  Living in denial may be part of the grieving process but that only shows us that we feel that we are losing something when, in fact, God has a cure for our cancer and we should be giddy with happiness rather than grieving for what we have lost.
That perspective will change everything.  Hell is real.  Sin is real.  God is real.  If it were not so, why did God think that the problem of sin and rebellion was so bad as to motivate Him to send His only begotten son to die on the cross.  At the end of the day, the horror and hell of the cross, the necessity of the cross is the clearest indication that Hell exists and that it is an eternal rejection by God in every way.  It is the reality of Hell that makes the cross necessary.  The centrality and value of the cross is because of who died there but the necessity of the cross is established on the basis of the reality of hell and sin and rebellion.
The cross proves the existence of Hell and the resurrection proves that God has a cure but the solution does not avoid the reality of Hell and sin and rebellion it looks Hell in the eye and overcomes it by fulfilling the justice of God and thereby making Hell unnecessary for those who are in Christ.
That is the ultimate reality of the cross which triumphs over that reality of Hell.  Hell is a necessary evil which is the direct result of the nature of God and the horror of our rebellion.  The cross is good overcoming evil and is also a direct result of the nature of God.  God is both just and loving.  His love does not excuse our rebellion or violates His justice but rather fulfills it.  Hell makes the cross necessary.  The cross makes hell unnecessary.  In this purgatory of life, this in-between place, we must embrace the cross to avoid hell rather than to avoid the humiliation and the shame of the cross and embrace the moral autonomy and self-authority of hell.
The Desert Warrior
Reflections by Bert A. Amsing
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