Sunday, January 11, 2015

Christian Views of Hell - Part 2

Another Look Away Sunday Post
(If this topic is of no interest, feel free to look away.
Polite and gracious discussion always welcome.)

Here’s the outline of the sermon I’m preaching today. Well, not so much a sermon as a bible study from the pulpit. Of course, the scriptures listed aren’t exhaustive, and there’s obviously more to say. But this might be a helpful start to some discussion. Last week’s outline is here. Next week, we’ll go into more depth as to the various views

Sermon Series: Christian Views of Hell
Part 2 – Understanding Heaven

Today’s Premise: A biblical understanding of hell rests upon a biblical understanding of the nature of God, God’s ultimate plan, and the reality of ‘heaven’ (or more properly, a restored creation).

Quick Review, Part A: God’s nature is Spirit, Light, Love. (See John 4.24; 1 John 1.5; 1 John 4.8) That is, God is eternal (not physical or subject to decay), holy and righteous (pure/without ‘darkness’), and the very definition of self-giving love.

Quick Review, Part B: God’s plan and desire is to reconcile all creation to himself. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. (See Col 1.19-20; 2 Cor 5.18-19; 2 Peter 3.9; 1 Timothy 2.1-4; John 3.16) Point: If the salvation of the lost is at the center of God’s heart, it should be in our heart as well.

Big Ideas to Consider
1. The bible affirms the reality of both heaven and hell. (Note: These terms are shorthand for weighty matters and are not very helpful as shorthand descriptors, imo.)
2. It’s the nature of these realities that prompts discussion and disagreement; and should point us back to the scripture utilizing legitimate exegetical and hermeneutical principles.
3. The nature of the human spirit (or soul) is also something to consider.

Understanding Heaven – “Eternity together with God”
a) Eternal Life – which is both now (John 3.36; 17.3) and future (Matthew 25.46)
b) God’s Reign – that is, the Kingdom of God (Mark, Luke) or Heaven (Matthew)
c) New Heavens and New Earth – Isaiah 65.17; 2 Peter 3.13; Revelation 21.1
d) With the Lord – Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:8
e) Great Banquet, Paradise, New Jerusalem, Marriage Supper of the Lamb, etc.

Understanding Hell – “Eternity separated from God”
a) OT: Sheol = place of the dead or departed spirits; the grave
b) NT-1: Hades = place of the dead, underworld (Greek translation of Sheol, used 10x)
c) NT-2: Tartarus = place of punishment for rebellious angels (used once in 2 Peter 2.4)
d) NT-3: Gehenna = Greek for ge Hinnom, the ravine of Hinnom, valley near Jerusalem. Used 12x: Matt.5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mk 9:43,45,47; Lk 12:5; James 3:6. (The real issue here is what Jesus means when he refers to Gehenna. Next week.)
e) Also: Outer darkness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30)
f) Also: Day of the Lord, destruction, wrath (1 Thessalonians 5.1-11)
g) Also: Lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:10-14)

Sermonette from Luke 16.19-31: The Parable of the Rich Man, Lazarus, and Abraham’s Bosom
What seems pretty clear: The bible offers us heaven and warns against hell. The stakes are high.

Note Romans 6.23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The question, then, is what is the nature of hell; or better, the nature of death?

Five Basic Views on Hell
1. Literal View – eternal, conscious punishment in literal flames of fire
2. Metaphorical View – eternal, conscious punishment symbolized by flames of fire
3. Purgatorial View – that the fires of hell are both punitive and remedial/cleansing
4. Universal Redemption View – that the fires of hell are symbolic of a refining fire
5. Conditional Immortality View – that the soul is conditionally immortal and thus dependent upon God for eternal life, otherwise humans die and cease to exist.

Questions to consider: Are the biblical descriptions of hell literal, metaphorical, or cautionary? What does the bible mean by eternal? Is the human soul or spirit automatically immortal or only conditionally immortal? And, related to this, is the human experience of suffering in hell temporary or eternal? That is, could ‘death’ in Romans 6.23 be literal?

Two Cautions
1. On the one hand: Beware of the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” mentality. That is, just because we were taught something growing up, doesn’t make it biblical. Could it be that we were taught incorrectly? When questioning our beliefs, we should examine the scriptures for answers. (Acts 17.11)
2. On the other: Beware of the “A loving God would never…” mentality. Assuming the bible is wrong on a topic just because we deem it unpalatable says more about us than God. Could it be that God knows more than us? Think about the arrogance of this “If I were God” position. It means that we, as limited, contingent beings are viewing the universe from an omniscient perspective. This is just not possible.

The Good News: What Awaits Us in the Heavenly Realms – Ephesians 1.3-10
Consider these current and future blessings that the Apostle Paul can’t help singing about!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
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