Responses to “Hell and Ministry”–And an encouragement to those ministering to people who are wrestling with God

A few days ago I posted about a recent conversation I had with someone who is passionately wrestling with God about His choice to punish humankind via the eternal punishment of hell. I reached out to some wise, believers I know to help me process my subsequent thoughts after the conversation. Here is what some of them said:

  • Here are a couple thoughts about your question on the eternality of hell and ministry. First, a rather blunt response: You have no hope of being “amazing in ministry” if you disagree with Jesus, who clearly believed in the eternality of hell. See Mark 9:48 and Matthew 25:46. You could also add Revelation 14:9-11 to this list. Is Revelation as directly from Jesus as the Gospels? Perhaps! That text is quite clear. Luke 16:26 speaks to the idea of moving from hell to heaven, and it is impossible. There is a great chasm “fixed” between them. Second – and perhaps more gently – I am concerned about what lies beneath this move away from the eternality of hell. It is sobering to remember, but the reason hell is eternal is because God is so holy, and sin is so awful. Hell’s eternality also tells us why the cross is so wonderful. I would like to gently ask your friend with doubts about these things. To diminish hell is to diminish God’s holiness, sin’s awfulness, and the cross’s wonder. Here is why: sin is terrible rebellion against the infinite God. The measure of its vile nature can only be truly seen when we compare it to the holiness and beauty of God. Rebellion against such a Lord can only be justly punished by infinite punishment. God is that infinitely good, and sin is that bad. Sin’s terrible rebellion can only be satisfied by an infinite sacrifice – which is why Jesus himself is the only Savior qualified to redeem us. It has to be the God-man who goes to the cross. That is the only way God-sized justice can be satisfied. This is why Paul calls us to worship in Romans 5 when he reminds us of the incredible love of God: “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When we confront the temptation to shorten hell, we do so believing we are elevating God’s love and compassion. In reality, we are diminishing his holiness, and the love he showed us when he sent his son to be our Savior. It is only on the cross where God’s perfect justice and love meet. I hope that helps!
  • Great question. I would def affirm the struggle. It’s a doctrine I don’t like at all, yet clearly laid out in scripture. Why doesn’t this individual think it should be eternal? I would ask if you haven’t already. Asking a ton of questions is great too. The short answer is that a finite being sinning against or rebelling against an eternal God equals an infinite offense. Since God is eternal, then an offense against Him is as well. Since He is completely just, it must be punished. If would be gross if He didn’t punish it in such a way. But ultimately this magnifies the gospel and Jesus sucking dry the wrath of God. There is no more offense, ever, for those in Christ. Amen!! The struggle is on the human side. Simply put, we just don’t understand holiness or the gravity of sin. I know I don’t!! I say all that to say, the grace of God is immense, even for jokers and fakers like me who don’t get it, question it, and get frustrated by it. And I’m so freakin thankful!!! He has an “along the way” kind of grace that is very much for our wrestling through it. I would encourage this person to begin by agreeing with God and His Word, confessing ignorance and the struggle, and asking Him to help them see the reality of this doctrine, to help them believe what is true. And then to celebrate God’s scandalous grace for blind sheep like us. I’d be glad to dialogue w this person too (not that I have any answers or know it all, but I def struggle w such doctrines, yet am learning to trust scripture over my broken feelings and shady perceptions). Good stuff!!
  • Betty, thanks for asking. To be brief, I think it can safely be said that if Scripture teaches the doctrine of eternal hell so clearly, that we should in a sense cover our mouths (like Job) and not give our minds to wonder whether this is one of God’s lesser attributes, his “dark side”, or something that Christians should be embarrassed or confused about. God’s wrath is an action that flows from his profound and eternal love. To the degree that he is glorious and that the Father loves his Son, so must he act in accordance with that love with jealous vengeance on any who should oppose whom He loves most. Any of us can understand this emotion (to a much lesser degree!) when a loved one is attacked. The problem with hell is not that God is out of line and overly severe with his punishments, rather it is our human tendency to think more highly of ourselves (and our race)- that we deserve better and that our sinful state really isn’t that bad. I do not believe any one who is confused about this doctrine can rightly preach the gospel in view of all that Christ endured for us on the cross. It wasn’t just a six-hour ordeal in the flesh that Jesus took upon himself, it was our eternal damnation that he swallowed whole! Concerning what this young man should do, if he desires ministry, I would not hesitate to tell him (if I were with him, after hearing him out, and trying to understand his heart and desire for ministry, and his struggle with the doctrine of hell) that to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus, one must not be discomforted by the concept of eternal damnation, as the Savior who loves and died for us in the gospel is the very Savior who taught us about this very place of eternal torment. He should not enter into ministry if this critical doctrine is not understood, embraced, and yes, that God should even be worshipped as the God of justice and wrath. When someone struggles with this idea of eternal torment, I generally find that they are in the end minimizing the love and graciousness of God by lessening his justice and wrath. One cannot shrink one attribute without doing the same to all the others. More could be said, for sure. Let me know if you need clarification to what I’ve shared. Blessings
  •  Betty, there are varieties of ministry, so a placement in some form of ministry isn’t out of the question. The concern of the day is in how we seem to have opened ourselves to interpretations of clear and straightforward doctrines of Scripture which have been contrived to mean something other than what they say. Is this person inclined toward that type of hermeneutical approach in other areas as well? Again, whether this person is directed toward the pursuit of full-time ministry hinges on the type of ministry and their inclinations with other topics biblically. We both probably know people who are wonderful and winsome and loving who would be great at ministry except that their theology is antithetical, so be careful getting caught up with the persona
  • my first gut reply would be to focus on the work of Jesus Christ. If God is going to swoop down into hell and rescue everyone after all is said and done, what is the point of Christ’s sacrifice? Wouldn’t that diminish the glory of the Cross? Also, the very character of God would be challenged in this – His faithfulness, holiness, justice, etc
  •  I resonate with everything you said, and I would love to entertain the thought that perhaps God has a really sweet way to end the story. However: if we all end up in heaven. What’s the point? What’s the point of the gospel, and Jesus telling people to make disciples and God promising to take care of those who love Him. This is different than the argument of “what’s the point of choosing God if you believe He chose you” sort of thing. This about a consequence to sin.
  • Thanks for the post. It is a very real question for many. I do think you are right in much of what you say — faith is the bottom line, but there are a couple of other things that also factor in. We just visited Korazim, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Jesus said it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than these because of their lack of faith. That suggests to me that there are degrees of punishment in hell, though it is not clear what that means. Second, to choose to reject God means rejecting life and all that is life. God does not force anyone to choose, but absence of God will include death. In fact, the goodness of God requires that he does not force his presence on anyone…. Just a few thoughts. Ultimately we really do not know what “hell” means in real terms, but we know it is just and necessary. 
  • I have struggled very much with this exact thing. I think you’re exactly, right Betty, in that the answer is prayer. It’s not just the short answer though. It’s THE answer. Prayer for God to allow his perfect peace to set in and let the issue rest. I’d still love to see God one day storm the gates of hell and redeem all of creation in his unending love, but he has given me the peace in my heart so that I can understand and be at rest with the existence of an eternal hell.
  • The externality of hell has been a long time discussion in the Christian community. However, when it is all said and done it comes down to our trusting in the character of God. We hate to see injustice and unnecessary pain in the lives of those we love and know, but what position are we in to call into question the heart of God?  We don’t like the sound of an eternal hell because we can’t comprehend eternity or understand a perfect God. A person seeking to go into ministry must be in a complete place of trusting the heart of God no matter how much they don’t like or understand pain and suffering.  Ministry is being an ambassador of the Gospel and God’s word. We can not be an effective ambassador of someone we do not trust to be perfect and holy and just regardless of our ability to fully understand the purpose behind the decisions they make.  No one really knows the reality of what hell looks like, but I have to trust that God would not condemn anyone to a place that is beyond the bounds of his perfect character.

I have wonderful and wise friends 🙂

But I then I thought to myself, I’m sure he does too! He told me how deeply he has thought through this! I am sure he has been told these same sorts of things by similar people! I’m sure he has thought through perhaps each of these points, and read articles and blogs and listened to sermons and had long conversations over dining room tables. It was almost discouraging. Almost discouraging to think that I may offer no new insight, or compelling argument. Almost discouraging to think that he has heard all of these things before, and his heart will continue to hurt and question despite my efforts to help and encourage.

Almost discouraging. But not quite.

Because Sunday morning during our Acts sermon series my Pastor, Joel DeVinney, preached on God sovereignly opening unbelieving hearts. He spoke of how eyes were blind, hearts were stone, and minds were closed prior to God giving faith. He encouraged us to speak/share/plead/preach etc., because that is the venue that God often uses to open hearts in His perfect timing and mercy.

So speak and trust God’s sovereignty!

Well, if that is true with unbelievers—is it not also true with us?

Is it not then my responsibility and privilege to speak truth to believers (and to myself) and with prayer trust God’s sovereignty to graciously open their eyes to see truth?

I need not be discouraged even if he has heard and been dissatisfied with these truths A HUNDRED times, because God in his mercy will reveal truth to him perhaps at the one hundred and first time-and I want to be faithful if the Lord chooses to use me in that way.

So even though he has perhaps heard of/thought of all these things before, I will share. I will share them trusting that God is giving me the opportunity to pile truth on top of his wrestling heart. And at just the right moment, in His grace, God will open up his heart and mind to receive and trust these difficult realities. Then all the truths that have been piling up will fall into his heart and by God’s grace he will move forward in peace, trust, and joy to make a GLORIOUS impact for the Kingdom.

Feeling Lost?

 

Imagine you are hiking through the woods trying to get to the nearest town. But you are lost and confused and you feel like you are walking in circles. It’s been weeks, and you are just as deep in the woods today as you were when you thought of your first brilliant game plan to get out of there asap!

Fortunately for you, you meet a guide in the woods. He explains that if you take this trail, it’ll lead you to a crossroads in a clearing where there will be a sign explaining which direction to go next to get to town. He hands you a backpack full of things you need to survive and thrive during this journey. A compass, a canteen with fresh water, a flashlight, bug spray, matches, and even a walkie talkie! He assures you that he knows these woods well, and he’ll always have his walkie talkie on him if you ever have any questions. You are overjoyed at his help!  You are feeling awesome about this journey and confident that you will get to the next clearing soon. Off you go.

The first few days you do pretty well. The trail is as clear as the sky and you barely break a sweat. You gleefully use your compass, and even walkie talkie your guide to see if the berries you’ve stumbled across are safe to eat (you’ve seen Hunger Games-you aren’t taking any chances). A short time passes and you stop using the contents in your backpack-you think you know the drill pretty well by now! But shortly after, the way starts to get more difficult. You are constantly swarmed by six legged pests, trapped in prickly thickets, covered in mud and blood, and oh so weary. Day after day you continue on, wondering if you are lost, confused why the way is so treacherous, and losing hope that you’ll ever get to that clearing. The nearest town feels farther away now than it ever has.

And then, one moment while lapping up muddy stream water for a drink, scratching a bug bite the size of a melon on your leg, and trying to find the best rock flint to start a fire with later tonight, you remember the backpack you’ve been given. You feel like an idiot. You have all these resources to help the journey, and you have been ignoring them! The trail would still have been difficult, but if you would have used what was given to you, much pain, discomfort, and discouragement could have been avoided.

I feel like I am on a pretty difficult journey right now. I look forward with hopeful expectation to one day getting out of the woods, but for now I am just looking for the next clearing-a crossroads that will show me the next step. I have a Guide who is brilliant, and loving, and perfect, and always accessible. He has given me tools while journeying to best survive-His Word-a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path, the precious gift of communication with God through prayer, the joy and comfort of worshipping  the giver of the stream of living water that will never run dry, godly counsel– who through knowing and loving the Guide well for years can impart wisdom and comfort that will help protect me from all kinds of harm, and so much more.

Yet I far too often journey with a backpack full of items not being used. I keep the fresh canteen in my bag and drink the dirty water the world offers.

As believers we must use the tools the Lord has given us. They are for our own good, and yet we ignore them? The ramifications of doing so are personal and foolish yes, but also what does it say to our fellow travelers who don’t have a “backpack”? It says that they are pointless and they are worthless, and no wonder they don’t ask where it came from-they don’t see us value what’s inside!

So friend, passionately use the tools God has given you to get through this life. It may still be very difficult, but He has graciously given us exactly what we need to navigate every step, every day. And maybe, as you obediently depend on the graces that God has given you, He will bring other travelers in your life who need the see the blessings that knowing the Guide brings-what a joy that is!

Is Salvation Beautiful to You?

diamond

 

“Just as a jeweler in a store will always use a black velvet background to display the splendor of an exquisite diamond, so the intricate, dazzling beauty of the gospel is only fully seen when we understand what the Bible says about man’s radical condition outside of Christ. It’s a bleak and dark picture to be sure. Yet only when we understand the immensity of the problem can we find the right solution – and see the futility of all other man made remedies. We need far more than a moral pep talk; more than some medical first aid for our gaping wounds; and even more than even an oxygen mask to help us breathe more easily. What we need is a miracle! What we need is a resurrection!” – John Samson

The moments when I am not as impressed by the work and wonder of Christ on the cross, just so happens to be the exact same moments when I am numb to my sin and or mesmerized by my own “virtues” and the fleeting pleasures of this world. Sometimes, I don’t see the beauty of my own salvation, because I’m being entertained and blinded by this life. The happy triune God of the universe and His gift of salvation is ever before me.  Beautiful. Stunning. Entrancing. It is right before my eyes and under my nose, but somehow I miss its brilliance and I’m not seeing it’s beauty.  Are you with me? Has the work that Christ did on our behalf lost it’s luster? Is it not so shiny? Not so sparkly?

Oh gee.

We often need a reality check.

We often need to see ourselves more clearly.

We often need to be reminded of the ephemeral nature of this life.

We often need to be reminded of what life apart from Him would be like.

We often need to be reminded of His gracious, unmerited, magnificent love.

Pray for your affections and understanding of God to be increased. Prayerfully read Scripture-even if you don’t feel like it! Especially if you don’t feel like it! Look at who He is and what He has done. Look at who you are and all that you have done. Each salvation story is a jaw-dropping, praise-evoking,  joy-bringing, undeserved, irrevocable miracle! Whether you were a 4 year old growing up in a solid, christian home, or a thief hanging on a cross-your salvation is a miraculous gift. What blessings come when we see God’s grace, and glory, and goodness against the backdrop of who we are apart from Him! How much more beautiful and treasured is my salvation when I remember where I should and could be without it! Peace and God-centered adoration and delight will flow through our spirit when we intentionally work to put the radiance of the gospel in front of our radical condition outside of Christ.

I’m not showing you a pebble and asking you to be in awe of it. I am showing you the most rare, precious, valuable gem in existence asking you to marvel at its worth. Jesus Christ and his gospel is the only exhilarating, essential, life-giving, fulfilling, captivating truth in the universe! Look at it and be amazed!

Keep Moving Forward!

Perhaps you’ve heard this little quote by Grace Murray Hopper, an admiral in the United States Navy:

And I love this quote because so often we are fearful of the unknown and tempted to stay where we are comfortable and safe. We want to leave the harbor, but we don’t know where we should be going! Should we steer to starboard or to port? One thing is for sure, you can not steer to either if your boat is no in motion.

It is totally okay if are not sure about where God is leading you right now! But that doesn’t mean you can just idly sit in the harbor; you need to move forward. Because often times He does what He did with the Israelites after they escaped from Egypt. He could have parted the Red Sea DAYS before they got to it. They could have seen in the distance, “Look guys! The sea is parted! That is how God is going to deliver us from Pharaoh’s army! He’s done it! Hooray! Woopie! Ye-Haw!” (they, of course,  do a little dance of merriment) But no.

But that is not what He did.

He waited until they got right the edge of the water. He waited until they could taste the salt in the air and hear the sound of the beating hooves of the chariots, waited so they had no other option but to completely rely on God and trust Him wholeheartedly, and then, THEN he parted the Red Sea and they walked across on dry ground.

This might be that time for you. You might be waiting, walking, knowing that God has told you to take a next step, but you are not sure where to! You know what He is saying? He’s saying “Trust me, daughter. Keep moving forward. I will shut doors no one can open and open doors that no one can shut (Rev. 3:8)! I want you to glorify me with your life, and I WILL direct you to the best place for you to do that. Just seek me.”

As you move forward, the Holy Spirit will be sure to grant you peace if that is where our amazing Triune God wants you to be. He is the giver of peace! I love Proverbs 3:5-7 -“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.” The Lord’s timing is perfect, and though the path may not be EASY, He will make it straight. And because He is good and trustworthy and beautiful, you will grow to love and trust Him more because of this experience, of this I am sure!