Tuesday, December 23, 2008

hell yes

This Chrismahanukwanzakah for Virgin Mobile video reminded me of why I stopped reading some emergent blogs. Not all, but some began leaning toward universalism. Some have even redefined love and then redefined God in light of that. It simply got to be too much of an aberration - perhaps heresy. I opted to find food elsewhere.

Before I go on, here's the video.

The video has nothing to do with hell, it just reminded me that the folks I reference above are on a bad path. They rightly question the nature of hell, atonement, wrath, etc., because there are so abuses of these concepts. But they have some wrong premises so their logic takes them off course. Conversely, Martin Downes confronts some wrong notions about hell but does so in a Scriptural rather than romanticized manner.

Many suggest hell is being by yourself for ever or a separation from God. Downes points us to an R.A. Finlayson's quote.

Hell is spending eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is spending eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator.

The reason we think of hell as separation from God is due to verbiage such as Jesus' "depart from me" (Mt 7.21-23; 25.41). But isn't God omnipresent (1 Ki 8.27; Jer 23.23-24)? We cannot escape God (Psa 139.7-10; Amos 9.1-4; Acts 17.24-28). so how do we reconcile that? Throughout Scripture sinners are sent from God's presence (Gen 4.14, 16; Jer 7.15; 15.1; 23.39; 52.34; 2 Kin 17.18-23). Isaiah clarifies that it is our iniquities that separate us from God (Isa 59.2).

Downes suggests that we should not play these against each other. We need to think about God's spatial and God's relational presence. Certainly we agree that being in His presence is not a matter of geography (John 4:20-24). Why then do we imagine that if we are commanded to depart from God's presence, it is in a spatial manner? It is not. We cannot physically go somewhere He is not. Instead, God hides His face from us (Isa 59:2; cf. Num. 6:25).

The summation Downs presents is powerful. Using the Westminster Larger Catechism Q29.

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever. (emphasis added)

Hell is not spatial separation from God, it cannot be because God is omnipresent. No, Hell is separation from the comfortable presence of God. It is the unshielded experience of the presence of God in his holiness and just wrath, and the absence of his mercy and grace.

Excellent! Thanks be to God that He provided a mediator.

This is where those emergent friends I mentioned earlier get it and yet do not get it. They rightly understood that hell is really not a spatial separation from God. But they somehow wonder if the wrath of God is love. They sadly posit that hell may be a place where people suffer because they are wondering how God could still love them. No, hell is a place where an unrighteous being is being eternally seared without insulation by the presence of The Righteous One. There is no restorative work (as some presume) in hell. It is terminal eternal.


Geoff said...

OK - let me preface what I'm about to say with two important facts: 1) I haven't watched the video (lazy day at work on Christmas Eve, they block flash) and 2) My theology of hell is best summed up in three words: "I don't know".

But I'm not sure I can buy the logic you're using here in defining what hell is. Hell can't be defined as "separation from God", because God is everywhere. So instead Downes suggests that it is the presence of God without his mercy or grace? How do you reconcile that with Romans 8:38,39 (nothing can separate us from the love of God). I don't understand a theology that says you can't be separated from God, but you can be separated from his mercy and grace? So his "holiness and just wrath" are inherent to the character of God, but mercy and grace are just things he chooses to do?

Be gentle - I'm not proposing anything different. I just can't follow what you're describing here.

rick said...

Geoff - pretty straight forward I think, in Romans God is speaking to the elect not to all people. Nothing can separate those.

Regarding "holiness and wrath". Holiness is a part of God's nature. Wrath is not. Wrath is what comes out of His Holiness, Righteousness, etc. to those who end life as rebel sinners.

God wasn't wrathful before the fall. He has always been loving, merciful, holy, just, righteous, etc.. But He didn't change, it is that wrath is what his righteousness required.

All that aside, I thought the key point of the post was that we are not physically separated from God which was a point I thought "both sides" agreed on ... unlike some evangelicals. The point I take issue with is that it cannot be that God's love extends to the lost for eternity. That would be universalism and that is why I suggest some are at least tip toeing up to heresy.

rick said...

And the video was just for silliness ...