Hell, grace, and the secret things of God

hell by bosch

Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516

No one likes to talk about hell any more, although some people have an unhealthy confidence that they know who’s going there.

God reserves that judgment for himself. He deliberately hides all aspects of his plans. Some scriptures make it seem like nearly everyone will be saved. Others make it seem like hardly anyone will be saved.

The Bible speaks with crystal clarity on one point, though. People stand or fall before God as individuals. Not as members of a group. Not because of association with anyone else.

Read the rest

The justice of heaven and hell

hell by bosch

Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516

I recently came across a Christian teenager who posed this theoretical situation: a person who never sinned, did everything perfectly according to the Bible, but didn’t believe in God. Why, he asked, would God want to send anyone to hell just for that?

Once upon a time, churched and unchurched people alike recognized God as the judge of mankind. They recognized that he stood against a category of behavior called “sin.”

Much of discourse within the church centered on how to be good enough to avoid going to hell.

Nowadays, churched and unchurched people alike are more likely to regard God as the defendant who must justify his opposition to sin.… Read the rest

Universal brotherhood?

Interfaith unity?

Interfaith unity?

Many people in the church today simply assume that all humanity is one large family, with God as its Father. They take offense at the thought that maybe some people are not God’s children.

Do they realize that they are taking offense at Jesus himself? Oh well. Religious people have always found Jesus offensive.

Read the rest

The Kingdom of God has come. Now what?

Christ enthroned

Christ Enthroned: West Portal, St. Colman’s Cathedral, (Cobh, Ireland)

The kingdom of God is not like other kingdoms or nations. Since time immemorial, when one nation has invaded another, the invaded nation knows. Eventually so does everyone else who cares at all.

Most of you can probably name the years for the last two or three times Germany invaded France. It doesn’t have to be an invasion with armies, either. Regardless of where you stand on immigration, you have to know that a lot of Latin America has taken residence in the US.

Has there ever been any kind of invasion on earth where it was not clear just who was invading?… Read the rest

The return of Christ and the harrowing of hell

Harrowing of hellAdvent is a time of preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ child. Less often acknowledged, it is a time of preparing our hearts for the return of the triumphant Christ. Are we perhaps too comfortable with the homey images of the baby Jesus? Perhaps we should pay more careful attention to what the uncomfortably supernatural Jesus Christ has already accomplished in his first coming.

He was born of a virgin, as God promised as early as Genesis 3:15. There we read that the “seed of the woman” would crush the devil. He lived as an ordinary human, suffering every temptation any other human has ever faced.… Read the rest

God judges your sin harshly, but not necessarily you


grace and judgementSome people seem to thing sin is a good thing. It means fun, pleasure. Remember when Weight Watcher soft drinks were advertised as “sinfully delicious”?

The sculpture pictured here was taken on the grounds of Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas. It seems more like an enticement than warning. We all know that God hates sin, though. Let’s take a closer look.

Read the rest

The kingdom of God: What does it mean to inherit, or not inherit it

In a recent post, I commented that not inheriting the kingdom of God does not necessarily mean the same thing as going to hell. I was writing about gay marriage and couldn’t follow up on that thought. Many readers may have wondered about it, and one explicitly asked.

In one well-known passage, Jesus spoke of the separation of sheep and goats.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come you how are blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth” (Matthew 25:34).

Then he will also say to those on his left, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Read the rest

Visions of heaven

I’m sure we’ve all wondered what heaven will be like. It’s odd, though, how often people talk about heaven without mentioning God. Maybe that’s why there are so many glimpses of heaven in the Bible—to remind us of whose idea it was in the first place.

Most of us can only imagine a place much like earth, but with no troubles. Even inspired writers had trouble envisioning much more than that. Isaiah’s vision contemplates people having children, planting fields, building houses, and living as long as trees. He tells us heaven will be a new creation. That means it doesn’t exist yet, but what will it be like?… Read the rest