Studying the Truths of the Old Testament | 07

AUTHOR: Holy Scripture

READ:

Read or listen to Psalm 16.

Protect me, God, for I take refuge in you.
I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have nothing good besides you.”
As for the holy people who are in the land,
they are the noble ones.
All my delight is in them.
The sorrows of those who take another god
for themselves will multiply;
I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood,
and I will not speak their names with my lips.

Lord, you are my portion
and my cup of blessing;
you hold my future.
The boundary lines have fallen for me
in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I will bless the Lord who counsels me—
even at night when my thoughts trouble me.
I always let the Lord guide me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad
and my whole being rejoices;
my body also rests securely.
For you will not abandon me to Sheol;
you will not allow your faithful one to see decay.
You reveal the path of life to me;
in your presence is abundant joy;
at your right hand are eternal pleasures.

To whom does David look to for rescue? What is God rescuing David from?

The written Scripture is CSB, however, the audio Scripture is ESV.

FOCUS:

Read or listen to the blog. What is one thing you learned about the character of God?

What About Hell?

By Brent Nelsen

 

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t terribly excited when I was asked to write a blog about hell. I don’t really like thinking about hell, and I suspect that’s true for most of us. It brings up questions about God’s goodness and his justice that can make us uncomfortable.

Some of us have scar tissue because someone used the idea of hell  to try to  scare us into believing the gospel. The implications are that God is angry and you had better get on his good side while there’s still time, and that God is not particularly attractive in his own right, but you should choose him because the alternative is far worse.

When it comes to hell, there are at least two major topics that we could consider: (1) the reality of hell —does hell exist, and (2) the nature of hell—what is hell like. Both topics raise questions about the nature of God and how we interpret a number of key texts in the Bible.

 

The Reality of Hell

There is no way to treat either topic comprehensively in a blog post. Check out a theology textbook for that. Instead, I want to summarize a few ideas from the book that has been most helpful to me on this topic: C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

I won’t try to explain the book here. It’s important to understand that Lewis is not suggesting that his fictional story is an accurate depiction of heaven and hell. Lewis writes: “I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy” and that the imaginative world in his book is “not even a guess or speculation at what may actually await us.”

The book may be best summarized in a conversation that the main character (the narrator) has with his spiritual guide. The whole book demonstrates in story form what the guide says: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

The point Lewis is making is that God is not some angry tyrant just waiting for you to make a wrong move so that he can condemn you to eternal punishment. He’s more like a good parent who has pointed their children down the right path, but ultimately has to let them grow up and make their own choices. And God loves us enough to respect our choices, even if our choice is to reject his offer of eternal life with him.

In the Bible, God’s judgment is often executed by handing people over to the consequences of their decisions. God will not stop us from making bad choices. He calls us to himself and desires that we turn to him. But he will respect our choices. Hell is the eternal consequence of rejecting his offer of eternal life with him. 

 

The Nature of Hell

The Great Divorce pictures hell as a dreary town that keeps expanding for ever and ever as people quarrel with one another and move farther and farther away from each other. Their self-absorption drives them apart. Those who have chosen to be apart from God get what they desire: a world in which each individual is the center of their own universe. And the natural consequence is that any two people who are the center of their own universe will drive each other crazy. And the result is an eternity of increasing isolation—away from God and away from the kind of community in which God designed his human creatures to live.

The ever expanding town of The Great Divorce is God’s punishment. It’s not the punishment of an angry, vengeful God who delights in torturing his creatures. It’s the punishment of a loving God who has handed those who have rejected his offer of life over to the natural consequences of their choice to be apart from him. 

Whether the nature of hell is more like the dreary town of The Great Divorce or the flaming inferno that it is sometimes depicted, I do not know. But I do believe that to be apart from God’s grace and mercy would be eternally miserable.

 

Hell and Christian Mission

I want to conclude with a quick thought about hell and Christian mission, particularly because some of us have experienced the use of hell as a coercive weapon.

I do not think the church should use hell as a scare tactic. If our motivation to accept the gospel is self-preservation, then we’re still thinking primarily about ourselves, and not about God. While we should not ignore the sobering reality of hell, our mission should be to point people toward God, not away from punishment. We do not find Christ by seeking our safety, but by seeking him.

PRAY:

Lord, we thank you that you have not abandoned us to decay but that through you we may have life eternal in your presence because of the finished work of your Son.

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Week 7 of 7 Study

2 Comments

  1. Mitzi Hellyer

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog on hell, Brent. We have such a loving God, and I am so grateful that He does not want me in hell. It pains me greatly that even some of my family will not be with me in heaven. I am going to spend the time I have left and “Speak the Truth in Love.”

    Reply
  2. Bruce Barrett

    Hi Brent! Have you read George MacDonald’s fantasies Phantastes and Lilith? These are brilliant works that greatly influenced Lewis. MacDonald was a universalist, which seems an untenable philosophy in light of Jesus’ words about Hell, but nonetheless his writing is insightful, and always transports the reader into other worlds.

    Bruce

    Reply

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