On pages 319-322 of TGD Richard Dawkins tells stories of people who either have been raised on the fear of hell, or preach hell in the secure knowledge they are not going there. It reminds me of a minister who having finished the graveside service he became rather fearful for the spouse who had got too near the edge of the grave for her safety. But she wasn’t thinking of jumping into the grave. As she leaned over he heard her say her goodbye, and that she would not be going where he was going! She obviously had two afterlife destinations in mind; I guess heaven and hell.
Going back to my previous post there are two problems I have with the ‘hell’ teaching. The first is the idea that a person has an immortal soul that goes on to live elsewhere after the death of the body, to heaven or to hell, or purgatory; Genesis 2:7 dismisses that idea for me. Genesis 2:7 informs the reader that it is the combination of the physical body with the breath of life, that God provides, that becomes a ‘living soul’ or ‘living being’. Separate those two elements and life ceases to be (Ecclesiastes 12:7). (‘Spirit’ equals breath and not a ‘soul’)
God said to our first parents that should they eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would surely die (Genesis 2:17). There was nothing wrong with the tree itself. It was purely a test of their free will to be loyal to their Creator. The tree was there to remind them that while they were children of God, they were also tenants in this world, not the owner and provider (Psalm 24:1). Their residence was to be forever, depending on their obedience. Their disobedience, or sin, resulted in death, for them and the rest of the human race (Romans 6:23; cf. 5.12-21). It would take Someone else’s obedience to give us the eternal life and immortality originally intended for us (Philippians 2:5-8; John 3:16;1 John 5:12).
This is where the best of Christian belief comes in, it is our complete trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord that gives us eternal life now (John 3: 5-8, 6:40, 17:3), and immortality to come at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 51-57). The basis of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Because He is raised from the dead, we may be raised too at the Second Advent of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:16-23).
When the Bible says death is the consequence of sin (whether disobedience to God or open rebellion against him), it does not mean we go to live somewhere else. At funerals it is sometimes remarked that the loved one is looking down on us, I have never heard it said that the departed are now ‘looking up at us’, suggesting he or she is deserving of the hot place! We try to remember the positive aspects of someone’s life at a funeral service and leave all judgment to Jesus Christ. Going by human judgment ‘hell’ has a lot of vacancies despite what Jesus said about the wide and narrow gates (Matthew 7:13-14).
But no, the word death is the opposite of life. Death is death, although death in the Bible is also referred to as ‘sleep’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). There will be a time of judgment to come; that follows the Second Advent of Jesus and the resurrection (Daniel 12:2, 13; John 5: 28-29; Hebrews 9:27-28). And those scriptures deal with my second problem with the idea of an immortal soul and hell. In that scenario judgment immediately follows death, and precedes the Second Coming of Jesus and the resurrection, contrary to what we read in the previous scriptures and here in Revelation 22: 12-17.
My third problem with the immortal soul teaching and a continuing eternal burning hell for those rejected by Jesus (Matthew 7:21-23) is that I share Richard Dawkins concern on the subject of hell. How can God who is supposed to be a God of love, contemplate burning up ‘souls’ for eternity because they chose to be disobedient, whether by just being indifferent to Him or because they chose to be downright inhumane like the Hitler’s of this world?
We would still hope there would be justice meted out as well as mercy at the end of things, but we find it difficult to live with the idea of eternal, endless torment. How can one imagine a God of love keeping one’s unbelieving friends and relatives alive to suffer eternally in the fires of hell?
It is that concept that the late Dr John Stott found intolerable. He could not understand how people could live with it “without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.” It is worth remembering that God’s concern is for everyone to choose to be saved in His eternal kingdom. (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9), including you and me. The Apostle Peter addresses the subject of the Second Advent because of those who scoff at the idea because of the passing of time. For the Apostle Peter “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3: 8). God is not limited by time, and there is no time in the grave. The next moment of consciousness will be at the resurrection when Jesus will keep his promise he made to his followers 2,000 years ago (John 14:1-3). Just as sure as His First Advent took place in God’s own time scale (Galatians 4:4), so will the Second Advent. Because of the promise of the First Advent was fulfilled, we can be sure His promise of the Second Advent will happen too. This is what the followers of Jesus are told to look forward to. That is why they call themselves, ‘Adventists’.
More in the next post.