Friday, February 15, 2013

Weeping Shall Be There and the Gnashing of Teeth

I’ve only skimmed Four Views of Hell, a book in which four different authors attempt to decipher Scripture and determine what those consigned to Hell can expect. John F. Walvoord takes a “literal” view of this place described in the Book of Revelations as a “lake of fire.” William V. Crockett takes a “metaphorical” approach. Zachary J. Hayes promotes a “purgatorial” approach, and Chuck H. Pinnock takes a “conditional” view, whatever that is.

The literal view, not surprisingly, is most disturbing, but 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards, who is quoted in a chapter devoted to the metaphysical view, offers one of the most frightening interpretations, and does so rather gleefully: “The body will be full of torment as full as it can hold, and every part of it shall be full of torment. They shall be in extreme pain, every part of ‘em, every nerve shall be full of the wrath of God. Their hearts and their bowels and their heads, their eyes and their tongues, their hands and their feet will be filled with the fierceness of God’s wrath. This is taught in many Scriptures...” (48).

Edwards’ use of a contraction (‘em) gives his remarks an informal quality which adds to the charm. A century later, one of Edwards’ British counterparts, Charles Spurgeon, had his own view of God’s place of punishment:

“ fire exactly like that which we have on earth thy body will be, asbestos-like, forever unconsumed, all thy veins roads for the feet of Pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the Devil shall forever play his diabolical tune of hell’s unutterable lament.”

Hell’s unutterable lament, indeed (and now you know where my blog got its title). Isn’t the hell we endure on earth enough?

Obviously on a "hell kick," I also skimmed Hell Under Fire. The introduction makes clear where the authors stand on the afterlife:

“The contributors to this volume are united in affirming the historic Christian doctrine regarding the final destiny of the unsaved: They will suffer everlasting conscious punishment away from the joyous presence of God.”

The introduction acknowledges that there are still competing theories. Universalism maintains that everyone will enter the pearly gates no matter their relationship or lack thereof with their Creator on earth. Annihilationism counters that view by stating that the unsaved will simply cease to exist once they have been judged and found wanting. This is a view I recall having heard on the radio years ago. The broadcaster argued that it is unlikely that the worms described as living in hell would have eternal life, and neither do the condemned that are found unworthy of heaven. A loving God would not choose to torment one of His creatures forever and ever. The loving and fair sentence for the unsaved would be oblivion.

Annihilationism sounds more credible than Universalism. If everyone goes to heaven, Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa receive the same reward. Who would argue that God is just if the righteous are equal to the wicked? A man who murdered an estimated six million Jews, to say nothing of bearing responsibility for the deaths of other millions killed in World War II, must be punished for wicked barbaric deeds. Otherwise, there is no justice.

Likewise, those who selflessly devote their time on earth to the care and feeding of those less fortunate should be rewarded for their compassion.

Of course, some Bible believers question whether or not Mother Theresa was welcomed into heaven when she died in 1997. One’s good works are like filthy rags, the Bible tells us. We are saved by grace, not works, “lest any man should boast.” Unless Mother Theresa “accepted” Jesus Christ as savior, many Christians say she, too, will be consigned to the flames where she will weep and gnash her teeth side-by-side with the Fuehrer.

Public opinion polls reveal that most people believe in hell. Likewise, they believe they’ll be spared and go to heaven.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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