I recently taught a class on unconditional election. In the course of my preparation, an unavoidable question sprang up:
Why would God create a universe that he knows will one day be inhabited by unrepentant, sinful people who he must justly throw into hell?
It is possible to have a biblical view of God’s relation to evil and ask this question with full sincerity. That is, we can ask the question above without denying any of the following truths:
1) God is not the author of evil
2) Evil cannot operate outside the boundaries of God’s permission
3) God is good and sovereign and cannot be frustrated by evil.
More often than not, this question is answered with some appeal to free will. For example, for us to ‘truly’ love God, God had to create beings with free will, beings who could sin. But I do not believe that this is a satisfying answer, given that this conception of free will is sub-biblical.
I think that the right way to think about this question can be found in Revelation 13:8 – “…everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” There is a book that is called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain”. There are names written in this book. And these names were written before the foundation of the world. Don’t overlook the timing here. This can only mean that the book also existed before the foundation of the world. Otherwise, there would be no book for the names to be written in.
So here lies the key truth: before the foundation of the world, there was a book called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain”. That means that there existed a Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. And so a helpful way forward in exploring the question I posed at the start is with another question:
Why would God create a universe that he knows will one day be inhabited by repentant, sinful people whose sin can only be paid for by the death of a sacrificial Lamb – namely, his Son?
Or to put it simply:
Why would God create a universe in which his Son would have to die?
This is an excellent post by Kevin DeYoung.
He explains that the increasingly popular new gospel generally has 4 parts to it:
1) It starts with an apology
2) It appeals to God as love (the sentimental sort)
3) It invites people to join God in his global mission to make the world a better place
4) It is ambivalent about eternity
In explaining why it is gaining in popularity, he offers 6 reasons:
1) It is partially true
2) It deals with strawmen
3) It is manageable
4) It is inspirational
5) It is inoffensive
6) Its distortions are not explicitly stated
Please do read the whole thing. This issue has troubled me for years, and I think Kevin has written a brilliant piece explaining why a gospel as distorted as this can gain so much ground in the church, and more importantly, why it shouldn’t.
1. Deeper does not equal more esoteric. Deeper bible study would be a fuller grasp of the gospel. All doctrines ultimately lead to this one truth: Christ came into the world to save sinners.
2. We are too quick to place a text in our present context, not reading the Bible in the context it was written. In this way, many distorted and peripheral doctrines have come to the core. A classic example would be to read about the prosperity of the Israelites during the time of David and Solomon and assume that this should be the norm for the church today.
3. No eye for God. The Bible is first and foremost revelation from God about himself. All things are ultimately of him, through him and for him, including us. The Bible would make no sense if we only tried to look for what it says about man, without seeing what it says about man under God and God himself.
4. We read our own interpretations into the text. We don’t bother to work with the text and see what it’s true context and content is, but instead pick out nice phrases and words and then use them to teach our own philosophies. A similar variant would be to pick-and-choose favourite passages with no regard to their context.
5. We assume a pluralistic interpretation. Biblical truth is singular. Yes, there are debated doctrines, but the reason for debate is simply the result of each party believing that truth is singular. On the other hand, debates over matters of secondary importance should not divide churches. (Of course, there’s the matter of determining what is primary and what is secondary. Simple rule: we’re united by the gospel)
6. The chasm between doctrine and deed. Some are prone to jump to applications, some are content with knowing doctrine. Both will not do. We must take the time to work out what a text means, and then painstakingly work out whether there are any applications.
7. That being said, not all truths have a direct practical application. Some are there to increase our praise of God. It is vital to realise this, that oftentimes God is content for us to stand amazed at his glory, knowing that such worship cannot fail to work itself out in evangelism and mission and holy living.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
This video gives flesh to the stark warning of the apostle Paul.
Why are so many people in the thralls of the prosperity gospel? I might consider thinking through this at some point in the future. In regard to the previous series, I will post the last two soon. There have been some personal issues to work through on the bit regarding ‘making the best use of the time’, and I’ll try to work that one out as soon as possible.
I’ve been pretty busy lately, and quite worn-out at the moment to polish up the next entry for the series. So I offer you this article as an apology.
Prayerlessness is Unbelief
I want to try to make the case for adding Kevin DeYoung’s blog to your RSS feed (or list of bookmarks), but I can barely string together my thoughts, let alone write grammatically comprehensible sentences at the moment. So in no particular order – he has a nice to read writing style, he is very insightful, offers a lot of biblical wisdom in many relevant areas, and is a great model of what it means to teach and exhort and encourage and rebuke. If none of that convinces you, just add him for a week and decide for yourself.
I’ll pause briefly in my series to post this poem. It’s a beautiful and clear portrait of the gospel.
“Mercy triumphs over Judgment”
Glory in this truth revealed!
Love Incarnate stood the torment;
Adam’s punishment repealed!
“Mercy triumphs over Judgment”
Hope for mankind, once secured.
He who knew no sinful nature,
Wrath for sinners full endured.
O the range of mankind’s offense!
Gross his sins, and sentence sure;
Holiness required the verdict-
Death forever; justice pure.
Yet a Perfect Love responded,
Purposing an ancient plan,
Fully meeting wrath’s requirement,
While compassion off’ring man.
There from on the Mercy Seat, the
Son of Righteousness arose;
Cursed ‘came He whose Name is Holy;
On Him fell our rightful blows.
“Mercy triumphs over Judgment”
Mankind’s sentence now appealed;
From the holy God offended,
Righteousness has been revealed!
Glory to the Justifier!
Praise His great and gracious plan;
Bless the holy love of God,
Who gave His Son to ransom Man!
Kevin Hartnett, Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment (1998)
In my previous post, I stated: No one goes to hell willingly. They are thrown into the lake of fire. This statement I think contradicts the prevailing sentiment of the day, which states that “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.” Or, everyone who goes to hell chooses to do so.
Today’s blog post will be one where I redirect you to this article: How Willingly Do People Go to Hell?
For those without the patience to read through the article, I offer you this excerpt:
…when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination…
…What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer…
Lastly, I wish to point out that, as far as Jesus is concerned, hell is not a point of intellectual debate, but it is a reality we must tremble before. We tremble because the Bible is explicit that hell is not a human choice. Sin is the unwilling choice we make, of which hell is the natural consequence. But the Bible is also explicit that God makes a conscious choice with regard to hell, not as some sadistic dictator, but as a loving king. The choice he made was this: to send his Son to take our place that we may escape the judgment to come. And by choosing to do so, we are given a real choice in life – Christ.