By Norman S. Edwards
From SVM – Fall 2015 – 3
November 9, 2014
To Ask Norm!
Christ tells us if we wish to be the children of our Father in Heaven then we are to “Love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, forgive—even unto seventy times seven!” “Let not the sun go down on your wrath.” “Overcome evil with good,” says Paul the Apostle. Yet, when we come to the horrific punishments reserved for the “baddies” in the final “round-up”: “Eternal damnation, blackness of darkness forever, fire that shall never be quenched where their worm does not die, and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever” (take your pick), we find that our Father is unable or unwilling to “walk the talk” or “practice what He preaches, “in spite of what He expects of us, as His children.”
Matthew 26:24 is a tricky one—suggest you do some research on it via Rotherham—Luther’s version or even Douay version of Catholicism.J. Nicklin, QLD, Australia
Dear Mr. Nicklin,
These are very good questions. Thank you for asking them. I would not bring them up to a new believer, but if a person has the question, then a mature believer should seek to answer it by the Spirit of God.
Let me put this in perspective by asking a couple of questions:
- Is a parent being hypocritical by commanding his or her children not to strike each other, but then occasionally spanking them as a punishment?
- Is our legal system being hypocritical when it charges a man with kidnapping when he locked a woman in a room, against her will, but then goes on to punish him by locking him in a prison cell for some legally specified number of years?
God is asking the same thing of us that parents would ask of our children. Parents want them to dwell in peace with each other; when necessary, parents will take care of the punishments. In the Old Testament, God authorized men to carry out the death penalty against people who worshipped idols and blasphemed God (Leviticus 20:2, 27; 24:14-16; Deuteronomy 13). But when one reads the history of what the Old Testament kings did, one sees that they punished true believers more than idolaters. Similarly, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day executed him for blasphemy, and the big organized churches of the last two thousand years have frequently persecuted faith-filled, Bible- believers for “heresy”—which meant any doctrine that differed from theirs, even if it was clearly taught in the Bible. Mankind has not done well at all when it comes to handing out justice—especially in religious matters (Isaiah 10:1-2; Ezekiel 22:29; Amos2:6-7; 5:12; Acts 7:52)
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30).
There are dozens of other scriptures that show God is a righteous judge, and that He will judge each person righteously (Genesis 18:25; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 11:5-7; 98:8-9; Isaiah 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5; Revelation 16:7; 19:2, etc.). God asks us to deal in love because he will judge the evil ones for us. Jesus Christ “walked the talk”. He set us the example of love without vengeance (Matthew 12:18-20). He died a miserable death that He did not deserve. Because of this, the Father has committed all judgment to his Son (John 5:22, 27; Romans 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:1). Jesus goes on to promise that those who have suffered with Him—loving their enemies rather than avenging themselves—will reign and judge with Him at His return (Psalm 149:5- 9; Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:12; Jude 1:14; Revelation 2:26; 3:21; 20:4).
God is a God of love. Jesus laid down his life for the sins of mankind, and many Christians have laid down their lives taking His Gospel to the world. But God does not intend to continue laying down lives forever to those who persist in evil.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).
About the “baddies”: Firstly, many evil people need massive correction. After working with homeless people for five years, I have met a few who have knowingly killed and injured innocent people—with their government’s blessing. I have met children who were sold as slaves and tortured for someone’s perverted pleasure. You can study history or today’s media and find thousands of other evil people. These are “baddies” who need judgment!
But if these people exuded evil for 10, 50 or 100 years, is God going to torture them for trillions of years? Is that justice? The words “eternal” and “forever” and “ever” in your Bible quotes come from the Greek aion, which is where we get our word “eon”. It does not mean an infinite length of time, but till the end of an age. We can see this in Jude 1:7 which says that Sodom and Gomorrah were “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”, yet we all know their fire is no longer burning—it burned out at the end of “the age of Sodom and Gomorrah”—when they were completely destroyed physically. Even so, they will be raised from the dead, and there will be others judged worse than they (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:12; 17:29).
Similarly, the “unquenchable” fire mentioned in your “baddie” verses are from the Greek asbestos which can also come to an end. The fires burning in Gehenna (a garbage dump near Jerusalem—translated “hell” in some older Bibles) have now burned out— and the worms that ate the bodies are now dead and gone. Josephus uses the same Greek word for the “unquenchable” flame that burned in the temple—which went out when the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
The numerous punishments in the Old Testament were designed to correct the sinner, not just make him suffer. A thief was to restore two, four, five or seven times as much as he stole, depending on the circumstances—so he would learn that “crime does not pay. Similarly, when God talks about punishing nations, he frequently has a specific multiplier, between two and seven, that He will punish them compared to what they did—not infinite (Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, 28; Isaiah 40:2 Jeremiah 16:18; 17:18). Even Babylon, whose smoke of her torment goes up “forever and ever” (Revelation 14:8-11) will not receive an unending punishment, but double the trouble she dished out to others (Revelation 18:2-6). God, like a father, is raising his family. He does not want to lose His children any more than any good human parent does.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, NIV)
There are these and many other verses that indicate that eventually God intends to bring nearly all mankind to salvation. That is a longer subject than can be covered in this short answer. I do not understand all that God is going to do and how, but I know that He is just and righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4 and dozens more), so I am not worried about the eternal destiny of myself, you or anyone else. If anyone yields him or herself to God, there is a reward in the first resurrection (Luke 14:14). For those who are not ready, God has other resurrections and judgments right for them.
Is it possible that some people will never be saved? That seems to be the case with Judas, as you cited Matthew 26:24, which says, “it would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” It seems that if Judas is to inherit eternal life someday, then it would seem his physical birth was a good thing, even though his life was troubled. My best guess is that Judas will not receive eternal life. Just as every crop usually has a few plants that do not bear fruit, maybe there are a few people who are so far from God that they will never receive eternal life. I do not know for sure, but I am confident that God does and that it will be the best thing for everybody. I really do not want to condemn anyone to eternal death, because I might be wrong and the Bible teaches “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
In our ministry to homeless people, we sometimes have to send people off of our property not knowing where they can or will go. We do it because they are a danger to themselves and/or others and because they are not learning from our gentle teaching. We hope that they will learn that their actions have caused them to lose this resource and that they will learn from the hardship we are imposing. God does this on a much grander scale—and He does it perfectly!
Mr. Nicklin, I would highly encourage you to read the book of Job and realize that we as humans really do not have the capacity to judge God. Your statement, “our Father is unable or unwilling to ‘walk the talk’” does sound like a judgment on Him. Yes, there have been times when I have felt angry at God, but I was wrong every time. I should have been asking Him for peace and understanding, rather than telling Him He was wrong.
If we are sure that God is wrong, we should consider creating our own universe and life-forms, implementing our own improved set of laws and judgments. But we really cannot do that, can we? Because God is God and we are His creation. So I think our time is better spent learning to understand why He is right, rather than trying to prove Him wrong.
Even so, thank you for this letter! I am sure there have been others with the same questions.