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Choosing Hell:

Bible Questions about Salvation and the Love of God

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Question #1:  One question that has always been on my mind and have been asked by unbelievers and even Christians is, how can God allow someone to be tormented eternally? I looked up the Greek meaning of the word "tormented" (basanizo) in Rev.20:10 and it seems to imply extreme torture or Great Torment. I've experienced some extremely severe pain and torment in my life to the point where I literally wanted to die rather than experience the pain that I was enduring. I cannot imagine in all my being a worse torment than that this would last to eternity. Pastors and Bible teachers have told me that God is just and that He must punish sin just as an earthly judge must punish lawbreakers (murderers, bank robbers, etc.). I understand this, but an earthly judge doesn't sentence a criminal to an eternity in prison for their crime/s, but rather gives them either a sentence of certain amount of years in prison (25 to life, etc.). On the other hand, God would sentence someone to the most drastic of torment for even committing one lie. This to anyone who hasn't read the bible would seem unfair, or that the earthly judge would have more mercy than God who is mentioned in the Bible to have more mercy than anyone because the judge does not sentence the criminal to an eternity for his crime/s. When I was in the darkest moment in my life suffering both physical and mental anguish, I couldn't imagine suffering like this for eternity. Just the thought of that such torment seemed far more beyond what I could ever comprehend. How can God do this? I'm not disagreeing with the Bible or God's righteous judgment, I just want to know in my heart of hearts how this is possible from such a loving God?

I have a relationship with God and He has been so loving-kind and super-merciful to me that I cry because of this. I've never known someone so dear and precious to my heart and has been so faithful and reaching His loving arms to me when I was in the darkest hours of my life. Even when He chastises me I can feel the love that comes from it and it is beyond measure. In my years that I have had a relationship with God, I feel that I have got to know Him quite well and know His will in my life and how He operates to a certain degree. What doesn't seem to fit is how He can send a finite being who is only able to commit a finite amount of sins in their life to an eternity in hell especially when the Bible says in Job 11:6, "Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth."

Some have told me that we can never comprehend how God can send someone to an eternity to hell just as how we can never comprehend how someone can grant eternal life, but this doesn't quite give an answer. Another answer which was given to me was that since God is eternal, so His punishment towards sinners must also be eternal since He is eternal in nature. However, He is eternal in nature, but humans who are capable of sinning aren't eternal in nature but are punished eternally for their sins. I apologize if this letter seems as if I'm attacking God, but I just want to know how this is possible.

I'm sure that most, if not all Christians, have thought in their mind about how God can send someone to an eternity in hell even though the bible clearly says it.

Response #1:  As you suggest, this is not an uncommon question for people to ask, even for Christians to ask. My old pastor used to hypothesis that this question was the basis for the devil's defense against condemnation, i.e., "how can a truly loving God condemn His own creatures to the lake of fire?", and that the creation of man and human history are essentially an appeals process whereby God refutes this blasphemy wrapped in such a deceitful question. I have dealt with the scriptural mechanics of this quite a bit in the past, but usually from the point of view of refuting those who vehemently pronounce universal salvation (see the links: "Against Universalism I", and "Against Universalism II"). But as you clearly accept the truth of the biblical position and since your question concerns more the theological rationale of the issue, it deserves its own answer.

First of all, it is true that God loves us. He loves us so much, in fact, that "He gave [up] His only Son, [with the purpose] that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost [forever], but have eternal life [instead]" (Jn.3:16). So not only does God love us, but He wants us to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). And He wants us to be saved so badly that He did the most that we might be saved, sacrificing His one and only beloved Son in our place to die so that we might not die. He poured out all our sins on the body of Jesus and made Him pay the penalty for them so that we never have to do so. He made it possible for us to live eternally and never see death or torment, doing all the work Himself, paying all the price Himself, a price in the sacrifice of Jesus and in Jesus' dying for us that we can really not even scarcely imagine this side of eternity (please see the link in BB 4A: Christology "The Spiritual Death of Christ").

God not only loves us this much, in fact God is love. However, God is also holy and just. He is incapable of doing anything wrong, anything tainted, anything even questionable to the smallest degree. He will never do anything to compromise His character, His justice. This is clear from the fact that in order for us to be saved, Jesus had to die in our place. We see the perfect justice of God demanding propitiation of sin in the horrendous suffering of Christ in dying for sin; we see the unfathomable love of God in His willingness to sacrifice the One He loved with a perfect love before the world began ....... all for us, miserable us!

The better question therefore is "how in the world can God's own creatures reject Him, especially after all He's done for them?" People know they are mortal (or should); they know they are sinful (or should); they know there is a God who will call them to account (or should). All these truths are made clear from the very fabric of the world as God created it and are deep set in every human heart; these are fundamental truths of life that are only obscured or blotted out by personal effort, complete spiritual blindness that is not original but is always the result of a life-time of bad and wicked decisions (about what to think, what to believe, what to say, and what to do). One would think that a creature who knows he/she has limited time before life comes to end, who knows that he/she is far from the standard of perfection necessary to come before a truly holy and righteous God, who knows that he/she is going to be called to account and have nothing to even venture in defense, one would think, I say, that any such creature would make it their top priority of life to find God and beg for His help, even if it were necessary to climb up to heaven or even down to the Abyss to do so. But as Moses tells us and as Paul affirms, God has not made the solution to our mortality and sinfulness difficult at all! The word of salvation is as near as our own mouth and the decision to believe lies in our own heart. Having done the most to save us, willing us all to be saved, God has made the sweet knowledge of salvation in Jesus Christ universally available, and as One who knows the minds of every single person on earth better than they know themselves, God has never allowed the thirst for the water of life in the gospel of Jesus Christ to go un-quenched.

One would think that every human being would run to Christ! I know I did, at a very early age. One of my earliest memories, and I couldn't have been more than four, was of being tormented by dreams of graveyards and by the fear of death. And then, I don't know exactly how or when, I had peace and comfort and confidence, no doubt from hearing about Jesus and the passage my late father loved to quote when he gave communion: "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. " (Jn.14:1-3). I had become a Christian and God had relieved me of the pressing fear that ought to be the prime concern of everyone who is not saved. But most people don't run to Christ (or even walk or crawl). Most people, despite knowing all these things just like we know them, are not interested in God or His solution. In addition to giving the world the chance to be saved through no effort of their own, merely by accepting the work and the sacrifice of His dear Son our Lord, God also gave us all the ability to refuse it. The ability to choose for Christ necessarily includes the ability to refuse to do so, and sadly, incomprehensibly to me, that is the choice most people make.

People choose not accept Jesus. It is not a mistake. It is not a question of a "lack of information". It is not an issue of environment or of genetics. It is strictly and purely and entirely a free-will decision to refuse to exercise faith in Jesus Christ. People reject Him because they can. And, consequently, people go to hell of their own free will. More than that, people choose hell. Everyone who ends up in the lake of fire does so because that is what they wanted, not torment per se, but they would rather accept condemnation than bend their will to God's will even in this smallest of faith decisions to come to Jesus – small as a mustard seed. It is not a question of skepticism. It is a question of preferring their own will in hell to God's will in heaven, even when He requires so very little of us.

It says in the Psalms that we are all "gods" with a small "g" (Ps.82:6), and Jesus tells us that this is because the Word of God has come to us (Jn.10:34). We have been given the ability to respond to God's Word and God's will, and the doing of this is what human life and our time here is all about. The fundamental and "entry level" question is indeed what do we think about Him and are we willing to respond to Him? If we are, the means for salvation has been provided in Jesus Christ, and our life forward from the point of our accepting the truth of gospel, responding to His Will by our own non-meritorious free-will-faith in Jesus, consists of growth and production for the One who bought us, the basis, depending upon our "track record", of our rewards in eternity. Everything else in this world of rust and decay is mere smoke and mirrors. But those who choose not to respond have placed a higher value upon their own will than on God's Will. They refuse His offer because they can, being made in the image of God, that is, possessing a small but very significant corresponding will, and choosing to use it to their own condemnation.

We human beings have very large egos indeed. Though we are infinitesimal specks on this earth (which is itself an infinitesimal speck in the universe, which is itself infinitesimal compared to infinite God), we imagine ourselves to be quite large and capable of all manner of things. With our thoughts and with our mouths we lay claim to heaven, even when our bodily strength does not suffice to effect the smallest of things here on earth. If it were not for our mortality, our evil imaginations would run riot beyond even what we see. Yet if we respond to that ultimate cold shower of reality in the realization of our mortality and do seek the Lord, He is easily found. If we come to Him, He will take us in every time, and the glories to come as a result of what Jesus has done in buying out of sin's bondage through His work on the cross on our behalf cannot even be dimly comprehended at present. But if we stubbornly and willfully and arrogantly refuse the gracious offer of Jesus Christ, what does God owe further? Indeed, He did not owe us the precious blood of His Son in the first place, the penalty for our sins which our Lord bore on the cross, atoning for every one of them in the fire of hell. And if that is not good enough for us, would even a merciful God continue to be merciful? Could He do so and still be a just God?

Indeed, if it were merely a question of mercy, I would still have some hope for those who tread the sacrifice of Christ under foot as something unclean. But it is also a matter of justice. God who could not allow our sins to go unpunished but had to lay them all on His own beloved Son and put Him to death in our place in order for us to be saved – because of the demands of His perfect justice – certainly cannot now overlook the fact of rejecting that substitute He has so graciously offered after having procured it at such an astounding price. Nor can He go back on His word in telling us that Jesus is the only way to be saved. If the truth did not matter, then perhaps those who reject Jesus could be saved. And if justice did not matter, then perhaps they could be saved without standing on Jesus' work instead of their own. But if justice did not matter, then Christ would not have had to die. And if the truth did not matter, then God would never have provided us with His Word of truth in the first place.

The truth is that the consequences of creating a universe wherein creatures have their own free will and are able to respond, or, as a necessary consequence, not respond as they see fit are stunning and dumbfounding. The truth is that we are all here in life for the primary purpose of facing "the Jesus-test", that is, whether or not we are going to be willing to accept the Father's will so as to be saved or not. The truth is that people know and understand a lot more about the real dynamics of what it means to be a human being than most are willing to allow. And the truth is that those who end up in the lake of fire will do so of their own free will, of their own choice, of their own choosing.

No doubt, like the rich man in torments, once actually in the lake of fire, all would wish to be released. But how can God be God and release them? To do so would be to totally disregard the work of His own dear Son, saying, in effect, that it was unnecessary. To do so would be to allow sin and sinners back into what will be on that glorious future day a perfect and perfectly holy universe. To do so would be to disrespect the suffering and the sacrifices of all who did respond to Him, and of all who did prize Jesus and His work more than their own will, and more than their own lives, and of all who did believe God's words and believe that what He said was the truth (which it is).

So I too have sympathy for all who will end up in the lake of fire. But the more I learn about God and His Word, the more convinced I become not only that this is the truth, that it is just, and that it is necessary, but also that everyone of these creatures, men and angels both, have made this decision with plenty of information, have freely substituted their own will for God's will, and would do so again, if they had a thousand life-times to live and re-live – even if released from the lake of fire first, would they truly be penitent thereafter, or just glad to be out and quick to rebel with the pressure off again? I am convinced that the latter is the case (and the God provides plenty of "near misses" in everyone's life in order to test and to demonstrate the true mettle of their spirits).

Those condemned did not merely make "a mistake" or somehow just "misunderstand" the ground-rules of life, nor will they end up in hell "by accident". They arrogantly, and willfully, and in self-centered disregard for God chose to be where they will be. I regret it. I don't completely understand it (their decision-making, that is). But I praise the Lord for His great mercy that this has not turned out to be my own approach, I praise Him and thank Him for all my brothers and sisters in Christ who have likewise run to Him, and I especially sink to my knees and glad praise and thanksgiving for the sacrifice which has replaced condemnation with salvation for us all in the Person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord – for all who are willing to accept Him as their Lord in place of their own pathetic, egotistical, and otherwise self-destructive will. This life is all about choosing, and the right choice could not be more clear. God has allowed His creatures to "self-select" their eternal futures. This truth fills me with humility and awe. Would that it filled those who are insolently refusing Him with dread, that they might never know condemnation, but might instead rejoice with us always in the presence of the Lamb!

In anticipation of that great day of days when we shall know all these things even as we ourselves are known in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Hi Doc!

Some people quote John 3:16 to prove that God loves everyone, even sinners. But how is that verse reconciled with these verses?

Psalms 5:4-6
4For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
5The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
6Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

Psa 11:5
5The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Romans 9:13
As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Deut 32:19
19And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.

Lev 20:23
23And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.

Lev 26:30
30And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

Psa 10:3
3For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.

Psa 78:58,59
58For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
59When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:

Psa 106:39-41
39Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.
40Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.
41And he gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them.

Proverbs 22:14
The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.

Thanks in advance!

Response #2: 

I think what you imply is exactly correct, namely that while God is love itself, and while He did indeed love the entire world, everyone, to such a great degree that He sacrificed His one and only beloved Son that all might have eternal life, that does not mean that He does not judge sin and rebellion. How would we think God would feel about people rejecting that precious sacrifice of His Son, throwing it back in His face? It is undeniable that most of humanity will end up in the lake of fire, a place of judgment, not of love. In fact, God is just as well as loving, and in His perfection these two attributes, seemingly contradictory to many of us mere human beings, are actually complementary and never in opposition. Indeed, if He did not deal with unbelievers and sinners in just judgment, it would compromise the love and grace He wishes to bestow on believers who do respond to His love in Jesus Christ. God's love and God's grace are available in full to everyone who wants them, who is willing to accept them, and that is true to an absolutely unlimited degree. It says in 1st John 4:19 "We love God because He Himself loved us first." I would say that the reverse is true as well, namely, if instead of requiting God's universal and unconditional love with a proper faith response, a person instead responds to Him in hate, that person should not expect God to behave towards him in love, but in judgment (and that is essentially what is happening in all of the passages you quote).

There is more on all of this at the following link:

In BB 1: Theology, "The Essence of God"

In our dear Lord whom though we have not seen we love with all our hearts, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


Question #3:
 

Hi again Doc!

I'm having difficulty reconciling these verses with the passages stating that God hates sinners. I know that the bible has no contradictions, but I can't seem to understand how to put these passages into place regarding God's hatred towards sinners. I've received these passages from a Christian friend of mine:

Any person who has never been saved is a sinner, ungodly and an enemy of God. The Bible says there is none righteous, no not one. The rich young ruler was righteous in his own eyes, but in God's eyes, it was as filthy rags. Jesus knew that. If the rich yung ruler never got saved, he is burning in Hell right now. That's how angry God is about sin. But even in that state, the Bible says Jesus loved him.

Rom 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

Rom 5:7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

Rom 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Rom 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Rom 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his

Once again, the Bible says God loved him. I'm persuaded that He loved Hitler.

What do you think? Thanks in advance!


Response #3:
 

Well, it's a good thing that God does love sinners "of whom I am the worst", or none of us could be saved! I would answer along the lines of the previous e-mail. I think the true issue here is that of the "unpardonable sin": Christ could die for every sin in the world – except the sin of rejecting Him. In terms of love and hate as we human beings experience it, these are extremely intense emotions. It is safe to say that in His divinity God does not "hate" in the way we imagine hate – but He is just and does not and will not hesitate to levy on each and every person what justice demands, in spite of what love would prefer, and this will result in all unbelievers being cast into the lake of fire. God would have everyone saved (Jn.3:16 and Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9); and not only that, He sent His dear Son to die on the cross for their sins so that they might partake of that salvation which He in His great love desires for them. However as we all know well from scripture, the saved are in fact few – not because of any limitation in God or from God, but because of the unbeliever's own self-imposed limitation wherein he insists on denying the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In human beings, love and hate are not necessarily mutually exclusive either. It is certainly possible to love someone and be angry as fire at them too at the same time, believe me. In fact, sometimes the more we love, the more angry we can get. I think part of the problem is the word "hate" which has the connotation in English today of some implacable deep (and maybe evil) state as the only manifestation, whereas miseo in Greek (Rom.9:13 "Esau I have hated") and sana' in Hebrew (Mal.1:2-3, the passage quoted by Paul), while expressing revulsion and antipathy, do not necessarily have the precise connotations of the English word "hate". I have trouble thinking of God as even being capable of "hate", especially in the English sense of malevolence, and I think that has a lot to do with the questions here. However we know for certain that God does have deep antipathy to sin and to those who willfully reject Him, His will, and His Son, that He has a revulsion for them that is absolutely just. So that while He may love everyone (and does), His justice will be expressed in righteous indignation against all who have deigned to trample underfoot the precious sacrifice of His dear Son our Lord (whom He has always loved with a love beyond our ken). God is a gracious and merciful, and forgiving God – but that is precisely why He is to be feared (Ps.130:4)! Having done so much for mankind to save them from death, the proper attitude towards Him and our Savior is one of reverence and respect. If His love, grace, and mercy is met instead with arrogant rejection and disregard, the result should not be surprising to anyone, call it what you will. It is a great trap to believe that the love of God excuses evil; for those who reject His mercy, God's justice is inevitable.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation."
Exodus 34:5-7 NIV

In the Name of the One by whose grace and mercy we stand firm in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


Question #4:
 

How does one know for sure if they're saved? I believe that I am saved because of what the scriptures say and the promises found within. What bothers me is when some of my friends try to make me feel condemned by saying "well, some people feel that they're saved but are really not" and Jesus said "many will say Lord, Lord on that day...." And this really bothers me.


Response #4:

From our e-mail conversations, if you are not a believer, then I despair of ever having any idea who is or is not a believer. Your faith in Jesus comes through in everything you say and write: no one would have such a thirst to know God's truth who was not a believer in Jesus Christ.

So, as I often say at such times, if you are asking this question, you almost certainly have nothing to worry about. Just as the people in Matt.7:23 (the passage alluded to by your "friends") assume they will be ushered into heaven for all the wrong reasons, in reality it is precisely these people who are the ones who need to worry because they have not become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. God, who did the most for us in sending His one and only Son to die for us on the cross is most certainly not looking for ways to disown us – quite the contrary, He wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.3:16; 12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). And what is that truth? No One else but Jesus – it is He who is the truth. Salvation is plentifully available for those who want it – but God has to be approached in the right way, the only Way: through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Matthew 7:23 statement is made by our Lord in the context of those who falsely think that they will be "saved by merit of association", i.e., because they are Jewish, because they saw Jesus, because miracles happened in their towns – rather than being saved by grace through faith. But our Lord says that only those who "do the will of My Father" will be saved. We know from countless passages that the Father's will and purpose is for us to put our faith in Jesus, to accept Him, believe in Him and follow Him in faith (e.g., Jn.3:16; 6:29, etc.). If we believe in Jesus, if we have faith in Him, then we are in Him and He is in us and nothing can snatch us out of His hands, neither death nor life nor things above nor things below can separate us from the love of our Master who bought us as long as we keep the faith with Him. Scripture tells us this in no uncertain terms, and it is in God's Word that we believe, not the doubts of others. It doesn't matter how we feel. Feeling good does not guarantee salvation and feeling bad does not have anything to do with it either. As long as we have a living faith in our Lord, His perfect Person and His sacrificial death for us on the cross, as long as we are truly following Him, then we are safe and secure with the everlasting arms cradling us as we wait in joyous anticipation of that great day of our Master's return, when we shall be with the One we love so much forever.

In confident expectation of that great day of days.

Bob L.


Question #5:
 

It states in 1st John 5:16 that if we know someone that has sinned we can pray and that person can be given eternal life, BUT the sin must not be one that is deadly. Is this referring to the seven deadly sins and what are they?

Thank you,


Response #5:

The "sin unto death" mentioned in 1st John 5:16 is not any particular sin. Rather, it is a pattern of sinfulness (Greek: "sees a brother sinning a sin"). All sin is sinful, although very clearly some sins are "worse" than others (murder for example being worse than an angry thought). The "sin unto death" is that condition wherein a believer has so given him/herself over to a sinful lifestyle and pattern of continual sinning to the degree that God's discipline reaches the point of removing that person from this life. The process whereby a believer comes to this point is very similar to the process of apostasy, with the distinction being that while the apostate's journey down the broad and destructive path of sinfulness results in the erosion of and eventual loss of faith (so that the person is no longer a believer), in the case of the sin unto death, the person clings to his/her faith but refuses, even in the face of ever increasing divine discipline, to relent and repent. Obviously, the Lord is not willing to let such believers live indefinitely under such circumstances (the bad reputation they give the faith and the dangers they pose to themselves and other believers being only two of the reasons why). For this reason no doubt the Bible does not delineate "deadly sins" (that is medieval theological construct), since all sin, taken to an extreme, may result in the death of the unrepentant, recalcitrant sinner. You will find much more about this subject including more information on the passage you ask about at the following links:

In Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin; section IV.6 "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death".

The "Sin unto Death" in 1st John 5:16.

What is the unpardonable sin?

Have I committed the unforgiveable sin?

Does exceptionally sinful behavior indicate that a Christian has lost salvation?

Does Hebrews 10:26-35 ("deliberate sinning" etc.) mean that a believer can lose his or her salvation?

In the Lord who died for all of our sins, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

 

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