Is Hell the Refutation of the Love of God?

Aside

I was recently asked the question, “Is the eternal existence of unbelievers in hell a refutation of the love of God?” The first thing I begin to think over is love itself. What is love in the first place? Is love emotion? Human emotion is a powerful thing that sways us up and down. We give it undue authority and allow it to improperly cast us to and fro in our lives. Love cannot be emotion; let me explain my thinking. Like many, perhaps most people, I grew up understanding love as primarily emotion; tethered such that the lack of “the mush” inside was, in fact, the lack of love.

This false concept of love has all kinds of horrible implications temporally. For example, as a child, sometimes discipline “feels” like hate (more on this later). Think also about marriage, which is one of the primary points of attack from the enemy. Typically, when a couple gets married the relationship is teeming with wondrous emotion.[1] This roller coaster rides to a glorious height. But, because we view love as emotion, as soon as the roller coaster crests and begins a descent on the tracks of the circumstances of life, the affection plummets too; the mushy emotion seems to squish through the cracks, jettisoned to beyond our grasp.

All too often, the negative side of the flux of emotion leads to the dreaded words, “I’m not in love with you anymore.” Such is the natural, even logical conclusion derived from a wrong concept of love. You see, love can be looked at in a lot of ways, but it is first a decision. Marriage is a decision that we connect with love, yet, unfortunately we do not see the converse to be true; love is a decision that we should connect with marriage. Commitment to such a definition with a posture to carry it out would dramatically impact our marriages – and our happiness.

This works out in the discipline of children as well. Because we do not want our children to hate us, or to think we hate them, by and large culture has lost its stomach for spanking. But God connects it with love in a powerful way; Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” If emotion is allowed too much sway, we will decide against love! We will “spare the rod” and thereby demonstrate hatred toward our children. This underscores the importance that we grasp the proper understanding of love. Love is a decision that leads to other sub-decisions, that should all hinge on the decision to love in the first place.

One of the most prominent images of relationship to God is marriage. We have been given free will to choose whom we will serve (Josh. 24:15). All mankind is drawn to relationship, but some will leave the love of God unrequited. Not to choose is a choice in the same way that ambivalence and non-action with regard to discipline for our children is hate of them according to the Scriptures.

The offer from God to each individual for marriage is made to all by the One who loves all, so that none have an excuse (Rom. 1:20). The threshold for finding God, and falling in love with Him with our hearts, souls and minds (Matt. 22:37) is simply beholding creation and wanting to know who is behind it (Rom. 1:19-20). We see a tree and ask, “Who can make a tree?” This should lead us to curiousity (again a cognitive not emotional endeavor) and we should remember that Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8; see also Deut. 4:29; Prov. 8:17; Jer. 29:13; and Luke 11:9).

So what does this all have to do with the eternal punishment of unbelievers in hell? Neither the love that gives us all a free choice prior to death, nor the decision to punish should be judged purely with emotions. This question is often answered from emotion rather than rationality. According to the Scriptures, the soul of man never dies, and each individual is given the right to choose whom they will love. In the end, eternity settles everything. Temporally, believers and non-believers all face the same things; the same kinds of pain and hardships, the same decisions, but life is about the courtship, the invitation, it is about the opportunity to eternally remove the roller coaster ride, and justifiably connect emotions with love in a way not possible this side of Glory.

The brute fact is that God made us to live forever; we choose to be with Him or apart from Him. He does punish those that reject Him eternally – irrespective of whether our emotions reject the idea or not. His equal offer to all, and the loving inclusion of freewill is sufficient proof that eternal punishment is not counter to His love. He is perfect and therefore His decisions are perfect. We must reckon that so even when our emotions and flesh want to improperly sway our thinking. But, again, we reduce it to an emotional judgment of fairness.

Viewed objectively and not emotionally, we must grapple with the facts. He is the creator and all mankind has sinned against Him. What justification do we have to become the judge of God? Fairness dictates that crimes (sin) must be punished. How would it be fair in a court of law to imprison and punish one murderer, while on a whim to let another murderer of the same kind go free? – Not to do so would be unfair and ultimately a refutation of His love. As such, we either accept His own payment offered to all, the sacrifice of Jesus, or we pay ourselves – eternally.


[1]Unfortunately this is quickly becoming passé in that the emotional charge experienced at the beginning of relationship happens largely in courtship these days as even many (perhaps most) Christians enjoy the benefits that God reserved for marriage, including sex and cohabitation, prior to the commitment of marriage.

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Ambivalence to Prophecy?

Even as a fellow believer you might remark, “God will take care of the future. I don’t need to know anything about it; I just need to live my life for His glory now.” To that I would ask, “What glorifies God? Does ignoring His Word glorify Him?” I think not!

In speaking of the end times, Peter encourages us to be learning about the end times and looking for the things about which we have learned. He describes a loud and violent end in which the earth and all things in it will be burned up in intense heat (2 Pet. 3:10).

The doctrine of inerrancy is useful. Christ is the fulfillment (already) of so many verifiable, acutely detailed prophecies, such that it can only be supernatural (so statistically improbable that to think otherwise is both humorous and tragic). Given this fact (as well as the other proofs of inerrancy), it follows that Scripture is what it says it is: the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12) – which cannot have error because it is rooted in the nature of God Himself – and it does what it says it does (teaches, reproves, corrects, trains in righteousness, equips for good works, pierces the soul and spirit judging our thoughts and intentions).

Therefore, we should read the prophecies and maintain a posture of anticipation as we gain the knowledge within them for our own benefit (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9-18).

  • Learning and being aware of what is to come promotes holy conduct as we anticipate the wrath that sits on those without the righteousness of Christ.
  • By inference of Peter’s passage, knowing that these things are coming should motivate us to tell others (loved ones first, and others throughout the earth), with a specific sense of urgency because God is being patient wishing that all would come to repentance (cf. verse 9). It is a pressing motivation to carry out the Great Commission.
  • By knowing the doctrines and coming events expounded by God, we equip ourselves and are delivered from the mouths of wolves (false teachers; cf. verse 17).

As if the foregoing is not enough, God even promises us happiness if we study these things. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

Will it be today?

Spiritual Warfare – part 2

Migrating blogs from another site – this was posted in early July.

Threatening Dark Clouds Gather!

Xiamen is a beautiful, beautiful place. It reminds me of Boone, the NC mountain town I grew up in, except much more dramatic as the mountains plunge into the sea along an erratic, jutting coastline. Xiamen proper is an island. As you cross a mammoth bridge and drive inland, this city of 2 million, known even into its ancient history for its stone works, gives way to naked mountainsides stripped of their green garments for the harvesting of bones – the stone taken for the innumerable products that make their way around China and all over the world – including into my own home.

But what struck me was that this place, despite the strength of its stone mountains, seems vulnerable to the sea. I asked if Xiamen is ever hit by powerful and terrible Typhoons (like our hurricanes). “Four to six per year” Vern answered, “but only one or two are really bad.” Suddenly I felt (it would be easier to say “pictured” but that does not tell it), yes I felt the sea swallowing up the skyscrapers, up the mountainsides, then washing everything off; all the cars and the people washed down into the deep sea that provides the perfect circumstances for the two ports that prosperity has necessitated here. Unprompted, Vern continued, “And we have earth quakes a lot here.” Can you say Tsunami? God can use whatever He wants.

At this very moment, I looked ahead and the beautiful, bright-white, cloud pattern had turned ominous (see the only picture I got of the gathering clouds at the top). It was almost as if God was saying to me, “Yes, see this for what it is; look at this land, and these people with their gods.” Scary looking clouds were pouring over the mountaintops reaching down like fingers gripping the jagged slopes, yet we remained under blue as we ascended to higher altitudes toward the wrath. Seemingly God’s script reached its next scene as I looked to the right on a hill – a giant statue of a Chinese man in ancient garb. With my inner stirring on a crescendo, I asked about him. Vern replied, “He is local hero, very famous here. We worship him. This is his temple. Here, I stop so you can take picture.”

See the idol at the top of hundreds of stairs. The insects in the trees were almost deafening.

Helpless people! The enemy has a grip on these people. They are chasing false gods; chasing the increase (prosperity); chasing the things that will wash away. This feeling simmered in my stomach as we arrived at the factory at the mid-day break. In the summer, most factories increase lunchtime from 1 hour to 1.5 hours due to the heat. These people have nowhere to go so most of the workers finish their meal and rest. The running fans that provide some movement of air and relief from the heat as they work become the catalyst for sleep.

Even from my childhood, God gave me deep empathy so I often feel myself in what I’m seeing, which was the case in this factory. What I mean is that I pictured myself as one of them, coming to the end of my meal of noodles and cucumbers wishing I had something more, or at least somewhere I could go. But the mountains are not quickly attained, the industrial park is too remote. I am left wanting, with the sweat dripping, trapped, lonely – missing something that just keeps eluding me. So, I just lay down in defeat and drift hopelessly off to sleep.

Maybe you can image what I was feeling as you see the pictures of these workers. The inner bother spread, and bore deeper, compounding what had already begun in me (see Footnote below). I hurt. Not only from the empathy I felt pour over me, but in some ways like Jesus must have felt, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; see the next verse too).

This was intense. The world needs Jesus; the Chinese people need Jesus; Vern and Mr. Huang need Jesus!

We drove home and the stray thoughts and emotions were all over me. I did not know what to say. I think Vern started to sense something was wrong – like he had said something inappropriate; or that I had somehow decided after looking further “under the hood” that I did not want to do business with him and his company anymore. His questions and conversation seemed a little nervous and searching after that. I certainly was not “playing it” but simply trying to deal with this oppression I was feeling.

After returning to my hotel and up to my room my thoughts got worse. I found myself rebuking the enemy out loud. Zipping through my head was such nonsense as, “What if you fell from this window (my 15th floor room) and crushed your head open? Would anyone really even care?” Trying to escape this battle, I departed my room about 5:00 PM to a restaurant downstairs (5:00 AM back home). I was the only one in the low lit room other than the waiter, whose English was atrocious and frustrating. The garbled mess from my battle raged inside me. There was no escape. I bowed my head and asked yet again for God to step in and stop it.

That very moment my phone went “bing.” One of my dear brothers back home had at that very moment finished praying and sent me a love-filled email to tell me as much. This washed over me. I knew people back home cared – my family, my friends, but this was an exclamation point. I knew God had been hearing my prayers, but He had moved in the heart of a friend to answer this prayer emphatically at the moment I prayed it. He must have allowed this to prepare me for something (Rom. 8:28). It hit me after I read the email, if this dear brother were not a real follower, he would not have been up that early (about 5:00 AM) to be able to pray for me, then send me a note that was the exact thing I needed at the exact time I prayed for it. [If you ever feel nudged to write or reach out to someone – listen to it!]

All of the truth rushed in displacing the fleeing rot. Scripture verses filled my mind as I wept hard, and worshipped harder in that little restaurant, with the Chinese waiter glancing nervously at me. God is sovereign. The words to a familiar song I learned as a child softly entered my heart, “The battle is over; the victory has been won.” It was won 2000 years ago on a cross just outside of Jerusalem by my Lord. Praise His holy name!

Footnote: Lest this be misunderstood, long ago I came to understand an important dynamic after a rebuke by my first contact in China, that I want to share. He said, “If you do not bring them business, some of these people may not have jobs; and if they do not have jobs, some of them may not have food.” He said that by providing business, I am improving their life, not contributing to their misery. From that point, I have not only viewed it as such, but I have tried to contribute to the wellbeing of workers, in some controlled cases financially, but more so by sharing the gospel. Suffering was part of what Christ did and part of what we are called to do. That includes my emotional suffering and desire to steal away all of these people for a better life, a life with a quick mountain to climb in a place not too remote, lived in the light of Christ.

Spiritual Warfare – part 1

Migrating blogs from another site – this was posted in early July.

Vern (pictured) was driving slowly (not a typical Chinese characteristic) along the breathtaking coastline, with the abrupt, blue sky pouring light around bright puffy clouds and into the cab of the SUV. Earth’s beauty almost always brings my mind to God. The Holy Spirit was nudging me to speak up, and after silently praying from the passenger seat, I pierced the silence with, “Do you have a religion?” Vern replied, “Buddhist – almost all Chinese are Buddhist.” While I do not think that is so, it was not important to debate. He then proactively asked, “How about you?” I replied with a dreary feeling forming in my stomach “Definitely Christian.” His reply: “If you like, I take you to a Buddhist Temple when we come back – it is very beautiful.” I did not reply.

This feeling cascading through my gut was not nervousness or fear; it was like an inner oppression – almost like depression – this began a battle in me (Eph. 6:12) that lasted the rest of the day, until I finally collapsed into sleep. Unfortunately I was all too familiar with it from past battles. The intensity carries you along, goading you when necessary to avert your memory from the truth. I was consumed with the onslaught of familiar oppression. God, at a minimum, allows all things to be and this was no different. The tools for such fighting reside within, and we need but stop, remember this fact and the details of truth revealed in Scripture, and use them.

Vern pulled into his “brother’s cabinet factory.” He was not describing a sibling, but he meant “brother” in the sense that this is a guy he trusts, does business with regularly, and hangs with outside of work. Mr. Huang is a tall, slender, young man who is so serious about his business “he and his wife are in the factory every day together.” They are devout Buddhists and as we ascended the four-story factory, the top floor proved it. They had two altars set up before several Buddhist statues with burning incense, ethereal music playing, complete with produce sacrifices sitting before the wooden idols. I immediately realized the power of Satan’s delusion as these otherwise light-hearted, nice people are entrapped (cf. Jer. 10:1-5). Isaiah says,

He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand (Isa. 44:14-18).

The larger Buddhist alter with incense and fruit offering.

Mr. Huang and Vern invited me to join them for a BBQ the next evening to “drink alcohol and eat the food” (perhaps sacrificed to these idols). I spent time praying about it – it would be worth enduring the strained topics and awkward moments if it was a place to really get serious about sharing Jesus to these people. I felt no leading, the setting was not right and I opted not to accept.

The small Buddhist alter with fruit offering.

China on the Prosperity Treadmill

Migrating blogs from another site – this was posted in early July.

Vern (names have been changed), the owner of a granite factory, picked me up from the airport and dropped me at my hotel in Xiamen. The next morning we had an initial conversation about business to begin the day (fruitful time from that perspective). We then set out to visit the first of two of his factories; as we walked out of the hotel, I began to feel troubled. I understood later that welling up inside of me was a deep pain for the blindness of the people. The Holy Spirit was given, in part, so that we can know things that we could not otherwise know. We climbed into his new Volkswagen Mini-SUV that had been given to him by his in-laws who “are very rich.” The tariff on certain vehicles is significant. Vern said the vehicle cost 1 Million RMB (~$150,000 USD).

This city is like every other Chinese city I have seen since about 2000, construction and change are happening at a rate hard to fathom. There is a new skyscraper on every corner (example pictured above), and new highways pouring forth like a new river cut by a flood immediately filling with cars. Vern said that there are 30,000 new cars on the road per month in the Xiamen area alone. I don’t know if that statistic can be believed, (after all, 87.4% of all statistics are made up on the spot) but the congestion is apparent on the roadways everywhere you go.

Every single Chinese person I have conversed with on this trip has said some form of the following statement, “We are changing too fast. Our government does not see it.” The common people contend that the uprooting of people from their homes to be placed into a skyscraper is somehow abandoning something important. The progress and prosperity is creating a middle class at a staggering rate. My factories complain their labor costs rise 10-30% every year, and the younger generation “does not want to work hard; they search for easy jobs but want higher pay so they can have cell phones and cars to go along with their new apartment.” The people I talk to, primarily business leaders, feel their competitive advantage slipping away. The volatility and instability of the other low-labor-cost nations, such as Vietnam, is still prohibitive to a major shift, but the consensus is that if something does not slow down, that major shift will strike suddenly, and something terrible will happen in China.

Changes are stark. We sat for 20 minutes in the drive through of a KFC (a sign of change itself) without moving, at which point Vincent in a rash flash backed up and pulled his SUV onto the sidewalk. We went inside to complete chaos: people everywhere, talking loudly. The line at the counter would make maple sap seem like the Niagara Falls – the folks could not make up their minds as this new cuisine was just too interesting and diverse for a quick decision. The place was full of children yelling, running and acting up. I’m not inferring this does not happen in America, but when your 2-year old is laying on a greasy, nasty floor sprawled out, her hair fanned out into a big radius, all in defiance of her mother, with 300 pushy, hungry Chinese people walking around her head and hair, that begins to cross lines. Vern looked at me embarrassed, lunged down, snatched the girl up and shoved her into her mother’s arms. The mother smiled and cut her eyes at me, realizing that her poor parenting was “shaming her people in front of the westerner.” I just made goo-goo eyes with the little girl in hopes of tempering her angst, happy that Sally actually did not win the “most-contrary-among-the world’s-two-year-olds award!”

What does this have to do with anything spiritual? As I work this out, it seems that a slow-moving epiphany was upon me. The Chinese treadmill is increasing in speed. The age-old “prosperity god” is posturing among the many gods running amuck in this land. As an American who has watched the same carnage in my own country I know, if the Lord tarries this false god wont sit in China as an idol on a shelf or a hill; it will insulate the hearts of these people from hearing and receiving the good news of Jesus!

Little did I know the stirring emotions had not really even begun.

A Closer Walk

Migrating blogs from another site – this was posted in early July.

Emotional Departure

Ty (6) with his fish; Annie (5) joyful for him; Angela, my wife, peeking through

I have been traveling the world, in a sense, from the age of eleven, but this trip has been different. This time, before I left there was a great sense of “missing.” Angela was safely in her bubble of denial (we will call it a “D-bubble”), while I was all mushy (big change huh?), but the kids seemed oblivious. They were fine in the days running up to my departure even having been told I would be as far away from them as you can get on earth, exactly on the other side. Angela and I wondered if they could not grasp to a high enough level the time and distance factor. It was kind of like, “Dad will be gone – wont be long – what could go wrong – so long.”

But, then I got out of the car to walk into the airport – it was the first palpable step in 18 days of being ripped from their lives. Annie was first and then Ty – the tears started to flow. Not sure if this was an anomaly or genetics. If the latter, Ty and Annie have received my genes, while Sally has been constructing a fresh new D-bubble for a fresh new generation.

Sally in the rain – just before her 2nd Birthday

I leaned over to hug and kiss her and it was as if she was in running for the “most-contrary-among-the-world’s-two-year-olds award.” That was okay; I forced it on her anyway. Interestingly, the next morning she made up a song something like this: “Where in the world did daddy go, daddy go, daddy go?; Oh yeah, where in the world did daddy go?” Sally is a trip all her own.

The flight was uneventful. That was a gift from above (James 1:17).

Accepting the Call

The spiritual elements of my past trips to China, the first being in 1995, were largely personal. The genesis of my travel to China was business, with many of the trips exclusively so; and even in a later trip with express spiritual goals, my partner and I largely leaned on a missionary from Alabama to actually share the gospel, who after years of living in the country was fluent to a high degree. But this time, the Lord picked me. That is really not accurate, if I’m honest; this was the first time (for China) I personally stepped to the call on all Christians to make disciples of all peoples. The first step of making a disciple is sharing the good news!

The Good News – Excerpts (with edits) from an email

James (names are changed)

On the advice of those that know, my emails are written with a certain code, attempting to avoid language that would flag them as they pass through Chinese servers.

As many of you know, I have traveled to China for two kinds of business: corporate and other work for my Boss. Communication must be carried on very carefully so no one misunderstands, which is why this email is written with a particular choice of words. I am visiting factories that produce materials for my company and in so doing, I am sharing the Boss’ good news.

I began in Shanghai where I met with two cabinet factories. The first was a gentleman named James (most Chinese choose an English name too) who had “heard some before” but listened to the good news and had some excellent questions that I was able to answer for him. One question that bothered (notice the past tense) him was, “What about those ‘good’ people who never hear the news?” After discussing the Law, we were able to establish that there are no “good” people, including the two of us. This really opened his eyes to just how good the news is. Please remember him regularly (pictured above in the foreground on the left).

The second leader’s name is appropriately, Jeff. He was a man without thoughts of the ultimate future or our Boss. He shared that his main interest is history. So, I was able to give him a copy of the greatest history book of all time, in his own language. I suggested that he read the Book inside written by John. He was grateful and promised to think about the Boss’ economic factors. There was a lot at stake in this business meeting as he has an infant son who, interestingly, he gave the English name “Jeremy” because of Jeremy Lin – an Asian NBA player who happens to know and serve our Boss! Remember Jeff too please.

I am in a new place now called Xiamen for a few days, meeting with granite factories among others. I am excited to again speak of business, but more importantly to share the good news. The names of the leaders are: Vincent, and Peggy. Please do not forget that I am over here in this great land, and that this business is so exciting and can really make life so much better for so many people. My Boss says His economy is the most important. I really, really believe Him. How about you? Without it, my company is worthless, and so is everything else.