Contents of this chapter
125 God is Love, but He is also holy and just
124 In Conclusion
Some may argue that the two main areas I suggest need examination and clarification are not central to the gospel message. However, I would contend that anything other than biblical creation makes nonsense of both science and the gospel, while the eternal destinies of billions of people are a vitally important consideration for both the saved and the unsaved. But most importantly, I propose that accepting long ages and theistic evolution or the doctrines of the immortal soul and eternal torment, slanders the very nature and character of our Father God.
The symmetry of the gospel message is destroyed when we recreate the first Adam in light of our modern, pseudo-scientific notions. Death was introduced into the world through Adam’s rejection of God’s Word. Death was eliminated by God’s Word, when He accepted God’s Way and died in our place. In just the same way the symmetry of the gospel message is destroyed when we redefine the concept of death, repainting it an eternal state of pain and suffering. When Jesus contrasted the gift of eternal life with the alternative, which is to perish, He was contrasting the gift of life with the loss of life.
While most Christians give some form of acquiescence to the idea that God created the universe, many appear to undervalue the importance of Paul’s teachings concerning the first and last Adam, dismissing the first Adam as some sort of archetypal man. Historically, the first and last Adam, and all this concept entails, have been central to the gospel message. The Bible teaches us that Adam had a unique beginning, he was not the product of millions of years of evolution: the product of a long drawn out process of pain and suffering, life and death repeated over and over. Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:38), uniquely created in the image of the Creator on the 6th day of the creation week.
Many Christians have not taken the time to examine the robust science behind the claims made by creation scientists and merely accept the world’s simplistic version of the origin of the universe. As Dr Batten states, this simplistic theory proposes; “hydrogen is a gas, which if left long enough, turns into people.” It is understandable that unbelievers naively accept the stories presented by secular scientists and the world’s media, who almost universally subscribe to humanistic materialism. But Christians, who are truly interested in knowing the truth, should at least examine the alternative interpretations of Bible believing scientists.
Most people, who are taken in by these science fiction stories, would be totally unaware of the myriad of unproven assumptions (based entirely on philosophical bias) that scientists bring to the interpretation of data. However, for believers, blindly accepting the world’s version of origins must surely indicate a ready preparedness to compromise the authority of The Bible, merely for some supposed standing in the eyes of the fallen world. If they are not prepared to carefully examine the work of Bible believing brothers and sisters, who are highly trained and qualified scientists, they will inevitably have only one interpretation of the data to draw from. This is similar to a court of law only looking at the forensic evidence from the prosecution and never considering expert evidence from the defense. The truth can never be arrived at if both views are not carefully examined.
One would need to create an entirely different gospel message to embrace old Earth teachings and theistic evolution. The character of God would also be vastly different if we see Him as using suffering, pain and death as part of His creative process. This god, who presides over cycles of creation and destruction, would be analogous to the gods of the polytheists, whose followers also accept immortality of the soul as a divine truth.
There are Christians who confess they have a problem with the concept of original perfection; it seems they prefer to believe that God created an imperfect universe which He called “good.” How one can reconcile a belief in a god, who created a universe plagued by pain, suffering and death, with their hope for an eternal future of pain free, sinless perfection in this same creator’s kingdom, is difficult to comprehend. Rather than anticipating the glorious restoration (Acts 3:21) of this present world, groaning as it is with its weight of sin, to its original perfect, sinless state, perhaps they believe their god is working towards some earthly, utopian kingdom, as he guides our physical, moral and spiritual evolution. This is hardly biblical Christianity, certainly not the Christianity presented by Jesus and the disciples in the NT.
This understanding of God is much closer to the New Age teachings I abandoned when I met the Lord of Life. Until that time I believed in the Cosmic Christ and was very influenced by The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. From this and similar books I developed the understanding that we were evolving, both physically and spiritually, towards a Golden Age. Like many New Age acolytes I believed that after attaining enlightenment himself, Jesus Christ, as one of the many inspired teachers, gave exceptional guidance to those around him along the Way to a better more enlightened world. At that time I viewed The Bible as one of the many guide books for our spiritual journey towards full self actualisation or enlightenment.
While claiming to be Christian, numerous people today appear to hold to beliefs that are only marginally different from these New Age ideas. If we claim to follow Jesus, then we must follow the biblical Jesus, and not the one we have manufactured from our 21st century perspectives. The biblical Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8), He does not need us to reinvent Him to fit modern, pseudo-scientific dogma or an “all paths lead to Rome” ecumenism. He is the only Way, has given us His Truth in His Word and is the only One who can offer the gift of eternal life. Jesus is not only the same yesterday and today, He will be the same Jesus we share “forever” with (Heb 13:8).
When we turn our attention to the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead we must bring to the discussion only scriptural teachings, as we can justify no other source on which to base our Christian ideas. Church leaders and teachers throughout the centuries have aided in our understanding of God’s Word, but we are instructed by scripture to neither add to, nor take away from The Bible (Rev 22:19).
The church’s traditional teachings have no grounds unless they are based completely on the canon of scripture; and every new revelation must comply with The Bible. We may have new insight, or re-emphasise something that has been overlooked; but we must not add new doctrine – The Bible is the final authority.
It is not difficult to demolish the idea of purification in the Lake of Fire, as this teaching is clearly in conflict with many passages of scripture; but what astounds me is the incredibly confident, apparent misrepresentation of the nature and character of God by a large section of the church, and this often from those who claim to believe The Bible. It would be understandable if there was a substantial body of support from the scriptures for the doctrines of eternal torment or an eternal existence in outer darkness, but a thorough examination reveals an overwhelming lack of support for the concept of an immortal spirit in either the Old or New Testaments. There is also a definite paucity of scriptural support for the idea of human souls or spirits being given immortal status to suffer eternal torment or being confined to outer darkness. Throughout the scriptures a number of writers refer to our lives as fleeting, and compare them to the flowers of the field.
Any attempt to combine a view of a just and merciful Father, who claims to love even the reprobate prodigal son, with a God who condemns unbelievers to eternal torment, is fraught with difficulty. It would mean a total redefinition of the concepts of love, mercy and justice. Many unbelievers see this contradiction, but traditionalists try to cover it up with bizarre explanations of justice. The God who has revealed Himself to us through The Bible is a God of love. He is a very different God to the one revealed in other scriptures such as The Koran. The Koran has numerous references to the eternal torment unbelievers will endure, The Bible has none.
Thankfully there is no doubt that The Bible states:
…God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
After careful consideration of the scriptures, it would appear that the Lake of Fire, which is the second death (Rev 20:14), is literally the place where those who choose to reject God’s Way meet their eternal destiny. It is here that they will perish, just as the Lord Jesus warned. The second death will completely annihilate hell, death and the unbelieving dead, and perhaps, eventually, Satan and his fallen company, when God deals evil its final blow. God will not resile from His eternal purpose, His new creation will exclusively accommodate those made pure by the blood of Christ (Mat 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35,36). There may be no place in eternity for the Lake of Fire, which was prepared for Satan’s punishment to be played out (Mat 25:41).
Jesus warned His listeners that there would be eternal consequences for those who rejected His Way (Mat 25:46). He described this terrifying destiny with strong word pictures of the Lake of Fire, when He talked about Hades and Gehenna. In His final Revelation He revealed this place to be the second death, where those who reject the gift of eternal life will perish (John 3:16).
We understand that Jesus could not reveal the full extent of the mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection before His death or the adversary might not have worked to have Him killed (1 Cor 2:7-8). Consequently, His references to the life to come before the crucifixion were constrained and the full picture was not revealed until after His death. It is through The Revelation and the apostles that we gain a deeper insight into God’s plan to redeem humanity and the potential destiny Jesus bought for us at the cross. When we understand this truth we understand the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ disciples and the fact that Peter and Paul never mentioned eternal torment as they took the gospel message out into the world becomes extremely significant. Peter’s most serious admonitions followed the lines of:
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)
This is hardly the sort of warning one would give to people who are facing a choice between eternal life in the Kingdom of God or suffering perpetual torment or separation into outer darkness for all eternity. Instead Peter warns of God’s swift destruction that will come upon false prophets, false teachers and those who deny God’s work in Christ (2 Peter 2:1).
There is no doubt that total destruction in hell is an awful prospect, it is indeed an eternal punishment, but God will not compel us to live with Him in a sinless state eternally, if we choose not to do so. Ultimately, there will be no existence apart from Him, He will be “all in all,” thus nothing will exist apart from His holy Kingdom. He created the universe and all that is in it out of nothing, and He can bring it to nothing and create a new universe, taking only that which has been prepared by the blood of Christ into His new creation. He has given us an opportunity to make this choice for ourselves; we can accept His offer as it stands or we can reject it and lose our own souls (Mat 16:26), there are no other options on the table.
People who reject Christ may feel that God is cruel to destroy those who refuse His offer, but many people who make this accusation would accept that an unwanted, unborn child can be destroyed if its mother (in their eyes its creator) chooses to do so. By contrast God gives the people He created an opportunity to live life and experience love, family, friends and ideas; He has created them with the ability to think and reason, and given them the information they need to make a wise choice. He will ensure they have a genuine opportunity to accept His gift of eternal life and they then have the right to choose their own destiny – the choice remains theirs – they simply have no way of prescribing what the choices are.
We can’t dictate our terms to the omnipotent Creator of the universe, nor should we want to, we do not have the wisdom to understand all the ramifications of the fulfilling of our own personal desires. God has created everything that exists and any sensible person would accept that He has the right, and the wisdom, to define the parameters of His creation. A modern analogy would be that of an extremely gifted computer programmer creating an overwhelmingly complex computer program and then allowing less able end users to constantly change its coding to suit their own needs. A programmer who acted in this way would have little regard for the ongoing function of the program he had created. God has never stopped watching over, sustaining and maintaining His creation.
We are nothing more than dust formed by Him into miraculously intricate living creatures. As Paul wrote to the Romans:
….. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the One who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t He have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show His anger and His power, He is very patient with those on whom His anger falls, who are destined for destruction. (Rom 9:20-22)
125 God is Love, but He is also holy and just
Our gracious Father wants us to understand the extent of His love. In His Son He came to Earth and limited Himself to the life of a human being, suffering all that we suffer and more so that we might be saved from eternal destruction.
Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
The Lord Jesus Christ did this so that we could understand and (by our access to the forgiveness gained through His death) experience the true extent of the love of God for us. As John reminds us:
God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
God is incredibly patient with us. We are the authors of all human suffering and pain; we are the ones who cheat, lie, murder and hate, but God will not allow these human failings to go on eternally. The holy, eternal Father will bring this sin infected world to an end and create a new heaven and a new Earth. This is the program He has outlined in the only book He carefully ensured is available to us to reveal His plan and purpose. The Bible also reveals that although God is love, He does hate those things that compromise holiness.
In the OT The Bible reveals that God hates cruelty, pride, lies, violence and injustice. Cruelty, lies, violence and injustice are obviously harmful to the human community, but one might ask why God hates pride. Perhaps it is because pride keeps people from seeing their need of His grace and accepting His gift of eternal life.
Jesus said: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Until we can humbly acknowledge our spiritual poverty we are kept from God’s love and grace by our own pride. As John Gill writes of this verse, the poor in spirit:
….. seek after the true riches, both of grace and glory; and frankly acknowledge, that all they have, or hope to have, is owing to the free grace of God. (62)
In the OT God tells us what it is He hates and that He intends to destroy these things:
You must not worship the LORD your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods. (Deu 12:31)
This detestable practice goes on today. Some religions ask their children to become martyrs for their god, while many in the western world abort unwanted, unborn children, and their little corpses are burned with the hospital waste.
The LORD examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence. (Psa 11:5)
While Solomon adds:
There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
The OT gives us a clear picture of the things God hates but in the NT there is no mention of God hating, He is portrayed as a God of longsuffering and love. This does not mean that God has changed. It means that He is being incredibly patient with us. He has given us this time of grace to make our choices for eternity. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the NT saints that those of past times would have been overjoyed to hear the NT message.
I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it. (Matthew 13:17)
He explained to them that God’s actions through the nation of Israel were in preparation for His coming. Matthew records:
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matthew 5:17)
The NT focus moves away from keeping the old law, because Jesus had fulfilled it in ways the religious leaders of His time could only see if they were attending to the God of the OT, and not just the laws He had given them. Some of them treated the law like it was God, just as today some people who claim to know Jesus take parts of The Bible and turn them into excuses for displaying the very opposite behaviours to the ones He commanded, when they assert God sanctions unloving or disrespectful attitudes towards others. The NT instructs Christians to love those who hate them (Mat 5:44) and also explains that the world will hate those who carry the gospel message.
The world can’t help hating the message because it points out that we are all sinners, which is a message that is difficult to hear. Jesus warned: The world can’t hate you, but it does hate Me because I accuse it of doing evil. (John 7:7) As people joined Jesus they also began to share the message of our sinful natures and Jesus warned them that this would attract hate in their lives as well.
This is My command: Love each other. If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. (John 15:17-19)
Throughout history preaching the gospel has attracted hate, and in today’s world it continues to offend unbelievers. Jesus’ message is very black and white, we either accept Him and His message or we reject Him and go the way of the world. This has never been a popular message with unbelievers. There are more Christians being persecuted for their faith in our present time than any other group of people. At times this persecution has come from people who claim to be Christians, but God will be the judge of His true followers. He alone knows the hearts of people and Jesus made it clear that we should leave any sort of retribution to God and continue to love our enemies. Anyone who has initiated violent acts towards another has no biblical mandate for their actions and risks their own eternal destiny.
Eventually God will destroy all that He hates. God hates evil, sin and its consequences. He calls all that is opposed to His holy, righteous rule and reign sin; and it is sin that has brought suffering, pain and death to His world. After His death the Lord Jesus came to John and revealed God’s final answer to the world’s sin problem and John recorded it in The Revelation.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new Earth, for the old heaven and the old Earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then He said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:1-5)
God loves us so much that He wants the very best for us. The new heaven and the new Earth will be just that. Anyone and everyone can be part of this new creation. God longs for us all to come to Him and be reborn so that we can be part of His Eternal Kingdom. But He won’t force anyone to come who chooses the only alternative, that is, complete destruction along with the old creation.
The love of God bookends The Bible. Satan’s carefully constructed, false alternative begins with an aeonian past, as life is formed and brought to its present, observable state, using pain, suffering and death; while at the other end of time he suggests billions of people will endure an appalling future of merciless suffering in eternal torment. The most horrific part of this dual scenario is that God is said to preside over both these eras of drawn out, pointless suffering. As Christians moved out into pagan cultures, Satan infused church tradition with the idea of eternal suffering and torment after death; and now, near the end of the Church Age, he has spawned the great lie, which many church people have thoughtlessly accepted, that God created the universe using incomprehensible ages of pain, suffering and death.
By contrast, we have discovered The Bible’s teaching of a truly loving and holy God, who miraculously formed a stupendously magnificent creation in six days. He then gave humans, the only creatures He made in His own image (Gen 1:26), the gift of free will (Joshua 24:14-15, Luke 13:3; John 7:17; 8:24, 30,31; Acts 2:38; Rom 13:1-3; Gal 5:16; Eph 2:2, 8, 9; 2 Tim 2:21,22;) and the ability to reject His love and grace. Creating humans as far more than just animals, self aware and able to think, plan and make decisions for themselves, and ultimately to take responsibility for their own choices, cost our Father far more than we can ever comprehend, and yet He chose to do it. Despite the fact that His resplendent creation would be grossly stained with sin, He determined to make it possible for His original plan for humanity to be worked out. Those members of the human race, who choose to enter into God’s Kingdom as His children, will live eternally with their free will intact; while death, pain and suffering will have been completely eliminated. These enemies of humanity, that were the gruesome result of sin, will no longer exist; because the sin problem has been conclusively dealt with by God Himself.
God made it possible for every human life to finally reach its zenith by dying for each and every soul who would ever be born, and He gave each one of those souls the right to choose to be part of His new creation eternally. Although two uniquely created people, Adam and Eve, chose to reject God’s original plan, God did not destroy the world. He already knew the choice they would make, and determined from before time began, to make provision for humanity’s ultimate, eternal destiny through His own Son. As Paul told the Ephesians:
According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: (Eph 1:4)
Our Father is a holy and loving Father: His love is not dissimilar to the love of the very best of human fathers.
Jesus used this analogy in the story of the prodigal son to illustrate this point, and yet the traditionalists want us to believe that, unlike a loving human father, God would commit His children to eternal torment for disobedience. God’s final answer is a just but loving answer. Those who reject Him reject their own best potential and ultimately the possibility for eternal life; they will suffer the punishment God told the first humans at the very beginning of time would be the result of disobeying Him; they will die when they are subject to the second and final death.
We don’t have to contort our understanding of love, mercy or justice to accept God’s plan for humanity, which is outlined in a plain reading of The Bible. He has always loved us with a love so great that He was prepared to die for us so that we might live eternally with Him. The caveat on this glorious offer is that we must accept His terms and live according to His original plan, holy and free from sin. Our Father will not force us to make this choice, but He offers His grace freely to all. This is only possible through the righteousness of Christ, He is the only Way. God’s offering is specific, an eternal life that is sinless; without this sinless perfection eternity would be unendurable, with it the future God has in store for each one of us will exceed our wildest dreams.
62 Dr. John Gill (1690-1771). John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, E-Sword edition.
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