In this week’s theological meat-and-potatoes sermon on Hell and Salvation, Greg explores the fallacy of relativism, the singular truth of Jesus as the light of and way to the father, and whether this means that those who do not believe in him are doomed to an eternity of suffering in Hell.
In our pluralistic world, it is common to hear that it sounds intolerant or narrow-minded to declare that Jesus is the one and only way to God. It sounds so much more open-minded to say that “all roads lead to God” and everyone’s way is valid. “My truth is my truth and your truth is yours” (aka relativism). But the problem is that if Jesus is who he said he is, this cannot be true.
In John 14:5-9, Jesus makes the claim that he is THE way and the truth and the life, not simply “a” way. He stated this in several places in unequivocal terms. He is either right (and is Lord), or he is wrong (and was an insane megalomaniac). We call ourselves Christian because we have done the work and have well-founded reasons to conclude that he is right and he is who he says he is. Therefore, then based on his own words we no longer have the option to say that all views are equally true.
The question that this brings up, is what does that mean for all of the people who believe other views? Are they going to Hell?
The first thing to look at is what exactly do we mean when we speak about Hell? Traditional teaching tells us that Hell is where people endure eternal torment and suffering. It is an “eternal punishment” that is never-ending. This is based on 6 main verses, one of which is 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, which says that unbelievers “will be punished with everlasting destruction.” Though at Woodland Hills we do not have an official doctrine on Hell, Greg presents 4 primary reasons why he does not think this definition of Hell is accurate.
First, this picture describes a God who keeps people in existence for the sole purpose of torturing them. There is no more chance of redemption, it is just punishment for punishment’s sake and torture for torture’s sake — eternally. This is starkly inconsistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who had such love and compassion that he suffered and died for us. It is more descriptive of a God who is sadistic.
Second, these verses do not specify that the suffering is *experienced* eternally, but just that the consequences are eternal. Once you are damned, the decision is irrevocable and its effects are eternal. (Heb 9:12) Just as Jesus died once and it had eternal effects for all. The moment of death was not eternal, just the consequences are.
Third, the Bible does not say that humans are inherently immortal (which would need to be the case in order to suffer eternally). 1 Tim 6:15-16 teaches that God alone is immortal. And in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve ate the apple, the warning God gave them was that “they would surely die.” And John 10:27-28 says that eternal life is given to us as a gift. Therefore if we cannot live forever then it would follow that we cannot suffer forever.
Fourth, the way both the Old and New Testaments usually speak about the damned is as non-existence. 2 peter 2:6 says that the cities of cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were made into an example by “burning them to ashes.” (Also see Psalms 1:4-6; Ps 69:28; Deut 29:20; Ps 37:9-10, 20; Ps 37:34, 38; Obadiah 10,16; Matt 3:12.) The 4 most common biblical metaphors for damnation are “consumed”, “destroyed,” “perish,” and “death.” All of these indicate an eternal result but a definitive ending, not an eternal experience.
But even if the suffering is not eternal, does that mean that all non-Christians are going to be destroyed?
100 years ago, the mainstream belief was indeed that all non-Christians were doomed to hell. But this was not always the view, it only became popular in the early 20th century with the rise of fundamentalism.
There are, in fact, many convincing and scripturally-sound reasons for believing that non-Christians are not necessarily destroyed. To begin with, the fact that Jesus is THE way the truth and the light means that if someone is saved, it is and has always been through Jesus. Whether they realize it or not, and whether they call him by the same name or not, ALL are saved through Jesus. This is how it’s possible that people in the OT are declared as being in the kingdom even though they did not know Jesus yet.
Secondly, God loves ALL that he created. His love is intended to be all-inclusive to all creeds and cultures. The judgment to be excluded from Heaven is based not on the content of one’s mind or theology (which are largely influenced by the culture in which we were born/raised), but the disposition of their heart. (See Jn 3:15-16; 2 Cor 2:15; Romans 6:21; James 1:15, 5:19; 1 Tim 1:10) We still have free will to actively choose against him, but his hope is that we will all accept and have eternal life through him.
And finally, Jesus’ act on the cross was not just for his believers. He is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (Jn 1:9) and he acts in the world such that we will seek him, for “we are his offspring” and “he is not far from any of us” (Acts 17:27-29). His death was not just for believers, but for ALL people, all things and ALL creation. (Matt 11:27, 19:28; Romans 5:18, 8:32, 11:36; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:15)
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