Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Difficult Truth

Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, has ruffled a few feathers.  I haven't read it so I can only make limited comment.  He has got people wound-up because he has challenged the orthodox position of issues related to the afterlife.

When I was eighteen I started to take my Christian faith more seriously.  As I looked into what the Bible taught I was disturbed by the concept of hell.  But I could not deny that it was there.  Of course I still find it a disturbing.  Who wouldn't, when we think that people we love may end up there?  Yet I agree with the words of C. S. Lewis, in the 'Problem of Pain'
There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this [the doctrine of hell], if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord's own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.
I came across the following in Grudem's Systematic Theology
It is hard - and should be hard - for us to think of this doctrine today.  If our hearts are never moved with deep sorrow when we contemplate this doctrine, then there is a serious deficiency in our spiritual and emotional sensibilities.  When Paul thinks of the lostness of his kinsmen the Jews, he says, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart" (Rom. 9:2).  This is consistent with what God tells us of his own sorrow for the death of the wicked: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11).  And Jesus' agony is evident as he cries out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!  How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate" (Matt. 23:37-38; cf. Luke 19:41-42).
The reason it is hard for us to think of the doctrine of hell is because God has put in our hearts a portion of his own love for people created in his image, even his love for sinners who rebel against him.  As long as we are in this life, and as long as we see and think about others who need to hear the gospel and trust in Christ for salvation, it should cause us great distress and agony of spirit to think about eternal punishment.  Yet we must also realise that whatever God in his wisdom has ordained and taught in Scripture is right.  Therefore we must be careful that we do not hate this doctrine or rebel against it, but rather we should seek, insofar as we are able, to come to the point where we acknowledge that eternal punishment is good and right, because in God there is no unrighteousness at all.


Brian McFarland said...

Hi Paul - I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Grudem a few years ago and presenting him with a Romanian translation of his Systematic Theology. We in SGA had helped fund the translation with his permission. Such an 'easy' book to read.

To whom it may concern said...

It certainly covers a lot of ground. Enjoyed coffee with jason and Denise this afternoon.