2 Thessalonians and Hell: Separation From or Wrath Coming Forth From God?

Is Hell eternal seperation from God or the experience of wrath pouring forth from God for an eternity? Those who argue for the former often appeal to 2 Thessalonians 1:9. In a paper I recently posted on academia.edu, I argue that the best reading of the Greek preposition apo (“away from”) in this verse is “[coming forth] from,” that is, it indicates the point from which something moves away from.  Having argued this, I then expound briefly why the doctrine of Hell as the Thessalonians and the rest of the Bible expounds it matters.

You can download or read it here.

Limited Atonement and the Preaching of the Gospel

“The faith which is enjoined and commanded in the gospel hath divers several acts and different degrees, [this consideration is incredibly useful for addressing the challenge that Particular Redemption impedes preaching of the Gospel; it is false that the first thing that people are to believe is that Christ died for them a particularly and that Christ dying for one is the first doctrine extended to the unbeliever.] For the present I shall only intimate something… concerning the order of exercising the several acts of faith; whereby it will appear that no one in the world is commanded or invited to believe, but that he that a sufficient object to fix the act of faith on, of truth enough for its foundation, and latitude enough for its utmost exercise, which is enjoined him. First, then, The first thing which the gospel enjoineth sinners, and which it persuades and commands them to believe, is, that salvation is not to be had in themselves, inasmuch as all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; nor by the works of the law, by which no flesh living can be justified…. Secondly, The gospel requires faith to this, that there is salvation to be had in the promised seed,–in Him who was before ordained to be a captain of salvation to them that do believe…. Thirdly, That Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Jews, was this Saviour, promised before; and that there is no name under heaven given whereby they may be saved besides his…. Now, before these three acts of faith be performed, in vain is the soul exhorted farther to climb the uppermost steps, and miss all the bottom foundation ones. Fourthly, The gospel requires a resting upon this Christ, so discovered and believed on to be the promised Redeemer, as an all-sufficient Saviour, with whom is plenteous redemption, and who is able to save to the utmost them that come to God by him, and to bear the burden of all weary labouring souls that come by faith to him; in which proposal there is a certain infallible truth, grounded upon the superabundant sufficiency of the oblation of Christ in itself, for whomsoever (fewer or more) it be intended…. The truth is, without the help of God’s Spirit none of those three before, much less this last, can be performed; which worketh freely, when, how, and in whom he pleaseth. Fifthly, These things being firmly seated in the soul (and not before), we are every one called in particular to believe the efficacy of the redemption that is in the blood of Jesus towards our own souls in particular: which every one may assuredly do in whom the free grace of God hath wrought the former acts of faith, and doth work this also, without either doubt or fear of want of a right object to believe if they should so do; for certainly Christ died for every one in whose heart the lord, by his almighty power, works effectually faith to lay hold on him and assent unto him, according to that orderly proposal that is held forth in the gospel.”

– John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, 202-203

Have you been challenged that Limited Atonement (better called Particular Redemption) impedes the spreading of the Gospel? John Owen addresses this challenge by discussing what exactly the free offer of the Gospel looks like in evangelism.

The Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive View of Hell: Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1 – The Historical Development of the Doctrine of Hell

Chapter 2 – The Biblical Development of the Doctrine of Hell

Chapter 3 – The Systematic Doctrine of Hell

Chapter 4 – Defending the Doctrine of Hell

Chapter 5 – Applying the Doctrine of Hell

Conclusion & Bibliography

Glossary

The Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive View of Hell: Conclusion

Here we are now; we have completed the task at hand and reached a conclusion for our theological investigation. In answer to our question as to what the Bible teaches about Hell; our conclusion has been that the Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive view of Hell is the model that most faithfully represents the Bible’s teaching on Hell. This view can be summarized in this manner; Hell is the place where the Devil, his angels, and all the unrighteous throughout the history of the world will be sent after the final judgment. It is characterized by eternal retribution against the sins of man and the pouring out of God’s wrath in a way that is unimaginable; this wrath is meted out in different degrees in accordance with ones deeds in life and is free from the presence of God and the glory of His power. In response to our question of the tenability of this view of Hell in the face of scepticism, the conclusion reached was that the Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive view of Hell remains the most biblical and logical model of Hell. Finally, in response to the question as to the difference this doctrine makes, we saw that there is a multitude of applications across various spheres of our lives: the Doctrine of Hell should affect our piety, in driving us towards praise and holiness; our relationships with unbelievers, in giving us a burning passion for their salvation and a desire to preach the Gospel; and the ministry of our churches, in encouraging the preaching of the whole Gospel and inspiring beautiful and heartfelt praise. The doctrine of Hell is terrifying, it is a doctrine that should not leave us calm and at ease. We have peace because we have been delivered from this fate by the spotless sacrifice made by Christ, because of the perfect life He lived so that we may gain His righteousness and the agonizing death that He died so that we may be free from the wrath of God and forgiven of our crimes against Him. But the whole world does not share this peace; our friends and family need to hear the Gospel. They need to experience the love and joy that comes with a relationship with Christ, but they also need to be delivered from the awful wrath of the holy and righteous God. The doctrine of Hell brings Christ’s salvific work on the Cross into striking focus; this event is at the heart of Christianity and Hell should direct all who hear of it straight to the Cross. What shall we do then in response to this doctrine? We need to take very seriously Jesus’ call for us in Matthew 28:29-20; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV).[1] We need to take up the call to preach the Gospel, the whole Gospel at that, for “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”” (ESV).  Let us be those feet that bring the good news of the Gospel of peace to those who are desperately in need of the truth that they can have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 4-5).

< Table of Contents Glossary >


[1] Crossway Bibles, ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ESV text ed (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008).


Bibliography

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The Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive View of Hell: Chapter 5 – Applying the Doctrine of Hell

So Hell exists, what difference does it make in our lives, why does it matter? If Hell is eternal and conscious punishment consisting of the wrath of God poured out on physical and spiritual beings, then what difference does it make in our lives? Looking at the Biblical evidence for the Doctrine of Hell, systemizing it, and defending it provided the Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive view of Hell as the position that most fully encompasses the various strands of the Bible’s teaching on Hell. We cannot simply leave the doctrine here; in holding an abstract piece of doctrine we can know that we have been faithful to Scripture’s teaching on Hell but we fail to bring it into the sphere of our daily lives and be changed by it. We neglect the very reasons why Jesus and the Apostles preached and wrote about Hell in the first place. To finish our investigation we must proceed with our final task; we must engage in the discipline of Practical Theology. Practical Theology attempts to honour the very reason why God placed a teaching in the Bible, why He has revealed a truth to us; in undertaking the task of Practical Theology one seeks to apply an abstract doctrine to the church and the lives of those who will learn about it; it answers the question “so what?” that accompanies theological inquiry. In the case of the Doctrine of Hell we must ask: If Hell is real, if it is eternal, and if it is the outpouring of the wrath of God on those who do not accept His free offer of salvation; how are we to respond, how do our lives change? Understanding the doctrine of Hell has an effect on three distinctive spheres of life; it calls for application in the life of the individual believer, the life of a believer in relation to the unbeliever, and the life of Church—the ministry, teaching, and mission that characterize the local church.

 

Understanding what Scripture teaches about Hell should have a profound effect on the way we live our lives. A clear understanding of the consequences of God’s wrath, of the reckoning of His justice in Hell, brings the beauty of His grace and mercy into focus. Knowing that Hell is the consequence of our sins should give us a profound understanding of what it truly means to be saved by the blood of Jesus. Without an understanding of the terrible consequences of our sins, without knowing what God’s holiness and righteousness demands in relation to the crimes we have committed against Him, we will never fully understand what it means to be saved from the wrath of God. If our hearts don’t truly understand Hell then the Gospel is not so much good news—good news that Jesus Christ came and died so that we can be saved from the wrath of God—as it is simply news.[1]The truth of Hell should drive us deeper into worship; by understanding the awful severity of our God and the lengths He went so as to display His mercy by saving us from His justice that had to be appeased we should be struck with a profound sense of gratitude for His grace. After writing the book Erasing Hell author Francis Chan experienced a new sense of gratitude for Christ’s work on the cross, one Sunday in worship he found himself belting at the top of his lungs the lyrics to a worship song; “TILL ON THAT CROSS AS JESUS DIED, THE WRATH OF GOD WAS SATISFIED!”[2] This is the effect that the terrible truth of Hell should find in our hearts.

An understanding of the Doctrine of Hell should also drive us to holiness. Repeatedly throughout Scripture there is a call for us to be conformed to Christ, to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16); we do not do this in order to earn our salvation, for we are saved by faith and not works (Romans 4:4-5), but with the knowledge of who God is and what He has done for us we should respond to His grace by pursuing obedience to His commands and actively striving for holiness in our lives. The doctrine of Hell is also used by Jesus to teach His followers that they should take sin seriously and be drastic in their battle with sin; in Matt 5:29-30 Jesus is recorded as saying,

29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.[3]

This is an important application of the doctrine of Hell; having been saved from Hell by Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and with the knowledge that the consequences of sin is death (James 1:12-18)[4] we should strive for obedience to God by fighting sin in our lives.

The applications of the doctrine of Hell to our lives have the potential for abuse, we need to be careful. When we praise God in light of Hell we are not reveling in the eternal damnation of sinful man, we are praising God for saving us from His terrible wrath. In encouraging the knowledge of Hell as a stimulus for righteousness we need to be careful that we are not pursuing obedience to God out of a legalistic idea that God’s wrath is continually burning against us and that any one mistake will put us over the edge and fix our destiny on Hell. We are not to live in continual fear but to know that Christ has once and for all appeased the wrath of God towards us and taken the penalty of our sins; we are to pursue obedience out of gratitude for God’s grace. It is important to be careful in our application, but we cannot neglect it. Understanding Hell drives us to make important changes to our attitudes towards God and sin in our lives, but its application to our lives cannot stop there; it needs to also drive us to change the way we interact with those around us.

 

The terrifying truth of Hell is that all who do not put their faith in Jesus will not be saved from their sins and will face the indignation of God poured out on them for eternity. This has to change something in us; the doctrine of Hell means that some of those we love may face eternal damnation. The apostles and prophets in Scripture understood the doctrine of Hell and felt its impact in their hearts. Paul had great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart over those in Israel who rejected Jesus; he could wish that he was accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of his lost brothers (Rom 9:1-4). So much was his heart broken over those of his kinsmen who refused their savior that he wished that he could take their place that they may know Jesus. Jeremiah, when he witnessed and prophesied of God’s temporal judgment on Israel, wept for the slain of his people (Jer. 9:1). He wept over their physical death in this life, how much more would he weep over the eternal fate of his kinsmen? These men were broken over the reality of God’s judgment, both temporal and eternal, and felt the truth that their people would face this judgment. As a result of the doctrine of Hell we should have a burning passion to reach the lost, those who do not yet know Jesus; both our relatives and the strangers we meet on the streets and at work.[5] Jesus has other sheep which are not yet in His fold, they are not in the church, but he will bring them and they will hear his voice (John 10:13-16). He has chosen to use us as His call to His sheep spread throughout every tribe, tongue, and nation in this world. He has given us the mission of going out into all the world and making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:16-20). The truth of Hell should drive this call home and gives us a powerful motivator for reaching the lost in our homes, communities, and in the rest of the world.

The reality of Hell should also give us a sense of urgency in our proclamation of the Gospel. Christ is coming soon and in life we never know when an accident will happen; we need to have a sense of urgency that the choices we make in this life do matter, that the choices of every man affect their eternal destiny. Because of the uncertainty with human life and the truth that Christ could come at any day we need to have a sense of urgency in our proclamation of the Gospel and in our pursuit of evangelism and outreach.

The doctrine of Hell will also have an effect on the hearts of those that we are preaching to, those that do not yet know Jesus Christ. An understanding of Hell and knowledge of the sinfulness of each man should reveal to those who do not yet believe their need for a savior. Hell is terrifying news, but when paired with the knowledge that Jesus Christ died and paid the consequences of our sins the Gospel becomes the greatest news known to man. Their contemplation of the free offer of God’s grace will be accompanied by the urgency that comes with a choice which determines ones eternal fate.[6]

As with the application of Hell to our relationship with God, the application to our relationships with those around us can also be abused, maybe even more so; we need to be careful. In our evangelism we are not to shove the Gospel down the throats of unbelievers in such a way that turns them forever away from God, but we are to be smart and spread the Gospel in a responsible way that shows true concern for the souls of those in our communities. In our realization of the urgency of the doctrine of Hell we are not to force a decision upon an unbeliever. It is important for someone to choose God without delay but it is more harmful to push them into saying a prayer as fire insurance and leave them with the illusion that they are saved when they really have not trusted their life to God and believed in His Son. The use of the doctrine of Hell to convince unbelievers to be saved has been an area where the application of the doctrine of Hell has witnessed the most abuse. The preaching of Hell has sometimes been all about the wrath of God without the true good news of the Gospel; being saved was an offer of fire insurance to keep you from being burned eternally, it was a way of avoiding the mean God upstairs. It is a good thing to preach the entire Bible and this includes Hell, but when we preach Hell we cannot forget to share why Hell makes the Gospel good news; we cannot forget to share the Truth of God’s love and mercy given to mankind through His Son. One of the most maligned sermons on Hell, Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God, illustrates the proper use of the preaching of Hell quite well. Edward’s was preaching to a congregation of nominal Christians, people who sat through church but were not actually saved. He cared for their souls, for their eternal destinies, so he preached the wrath of God in a vivid way to snap them out of apathy, but he ended his sermon with the truth of God’s grace;

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your soul as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?[7]

When guarded against abuses the doctrine of Hell has a powerful application to our relationships with those around us and to our own lives. Along with these applications, the doctrine of Hell also has powerful application to the life of the local church.

 

The doctrine of Hell can have a profound application to the mission and teaching of a church as well as the individual lives of those who make up the Church. The application of Hell to the Church is much the same as its application to the life of an individual, just on a corporate level. The great commission is a call to the believers that make up the body of Christ, for them to reach the whole world for the name of Jesus. The way this commission is fulfilled is most often through the direct ministry, or through the support of, the local church. It is a powerful thing for the individuals in a church to be filled with a fiery passion for the lost on account of the eternal destiny that awaits them, but it is more so if the very mission of our churches reflects this as well. The doctrine of the Hell needs to imbue our churches with a passion for the lost in their immediate vicinity and in the farthest ends of the earth. The mission and vision of our churches should reflect this passion; should reflect an unquenchable desire to be the ones who bring the free offer of salvation through Jesus to all.

The life of the church should also reflect the urgency that accompanies knowledge of the doctrine of Hell. Knowing that the Mormon’s down the road, many in the high school a few blocks away, and probably a fair amount of people in the local nightclub do not know Jesus and face eternal damnation if they do not believe should drive us to reach out to these people with urgency. The doctrine of Hell should not leave us content to evangelize the community by propping our church doors open on Sunday and letting the sounds of our worship set permeate the community. The urgency given to us by the understanding that Hell is eternal conscious torment against unbelievers should drive us to reach out those in our communities in every possible way.

Lastly, the doctrine of Hell should affect our worship services. Every sermon on a Sunday morning is not going to be about Hell, nor should they be, but we cannot neglect to teach this doctrine. It is common to avoid teaching from the pulpit the reality of Hell because it hurts, because it is not easy. Many preachers don’t want to offend unbelievers or cause painful memories for those with deceased relatives, so they may avoid the preaching of this doctrine. This is not an acceptable position; the Biblical mandate is to preach the whole Gospel, the whole of Scripture, knowing that it will offend many and that there will be seasons when it is the last thing that the church wants to hear (2 Tim. 4:1-4; 1 Cor. 1:18-25). The truth of Hell needs to be preached in such a way that it points straight to the heart of the Gospel, to Christ’s death and resurrection which saves us from the horrendous consequences of being sinful men and women. The doctrine of Hell should affect the teaching in our churches by actually being taught and used to bring the good news of the Gospel into focus, by showing the immensity of what it means for the Gospel to be good news. The doctrine of Hell should affect the praise in our churches by impressing on the congregation the profound work of Christ in saving them and by giving them a sense of gratitude at the free gift of God’s grace by which they have been saved from the horror of Hell; this will consequently be reflected in the passion and intensity of praise as the congregation pours their gratitude out in praise to their sovereign and merciful God.

As with the application of Hell in the lives of individuals, the application of Hell to the life of the church can be abused. These abuses are much the same as what they would be for the lives of an individual, so they have already been looked at; as with applying the doctrine of Hell to our lives, we need to be careful to guard against these abuses when we apply this doctrine to our church.

 

The doctrine of Hell is a hard doctrine to wrestle with; it hurts us and is not something that we would want to think about. But once we have wrestled with it and come to an understanding of what the Bible teaches about Hell, the doctrine yields rich application to our lives and to the lives of our churches. We cannot simply study this doctrine and leave it is as an abstract principle; the reality of Hell demands application in our lives. Hell is a terrifying reality that should shake us to the core and change the ways we think; we must be changed by the truth that those we love, even those we have never met, face an eternity in Hell if they do not turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. Jesus in the Gospels and the Apostles throughout the NT will not allow us leave Hell as an abstract idea. Their use of this doctrine is evangelistic and motivational; they use it to show the lost their need for a savior and to encourage the saved to reach out to those who do not yet know Christ. If Hell is in the Bible for the reason of causing change in the lives of the original audience that read it, how can we not let it change us?

< Table of Contents Glossary >


[1]John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, Updated & Expanded. (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 134.

[2]Francis Chan, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things We Made Up, 1st ed (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2011), 147.

[3] All Scriptures in this chapter are taken from the NASB.

[4] John Owen writes of the application of the danger of Hell to a believer’s mortification of Sin; he argues that God gives many warnings to those who continue in sin and as these warnings against continual sin are given we would do well to heed them. John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin in John Owen, Overcoming Sin & Temptation (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006), 100–101.

[5]Lewis and Demarest, Integrative Theology, 498.

[6]Erickson, Christian Theology, 1248.

[7]Jonathan Edwards, Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson Pub., 2005), 412.

The Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive View of Hell: Chapter 4 – Defending the Doctrine of Hell

Today, holding to any view of hell that accepts eternal conscious punishment will get you labeled a sadist or even a child abuser. Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, writes;

if your whole upbringing, and everything you have ever been told by parents, teachers and priests, has led you to believe, really believe, utterly and completely, that sinners burn in hell… it is entirely plausible that words could have a more long-lasting and damaging effect than deeds. I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.[1]

Even Christians think that this view is untenable; Clark Pinnock writes that even the non-literal view of eternal conscious punishment still results in the conclusion that “God is a sadistic torturer.”[2] At the heart of these accusations is the thought that Hell makes God out to be a vindictive and unjust monster; it is seen as an injustice for God to send people to Hell, let alone for eternity. Are these accusations accurate? Does the belief in an eternal and retributive Hell lead to the conclusion that God is unjust? Is it even biblical to believe in this Hell? We have seen, looking at Systematic Theology, that this is what Scripture teaches; but does it stand up to critique? We can answer this by marshalling an apology[3] for the Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive view of Hell, showing that is the most biblically consistent and logically cohesive view, in contrast with Annihilationism and Universalism, for understanding the Biblical teaching on the nature, duration, and purpose of hell. This is the fourth step in our theological investigation; Apologetics.

Four major challenges have been raised by the opponents of the literal and metaphorical views and each of these challenges address the view presented here as well; as such they need to be answered. Annihilationists and literalists—though differing in their interpretations—challenge the Metaphorical view with watering down or misinterpreting the key language used by the Bible to refer to Hell and Universalism challenges that any view of eternal conscious punishment ignores the various Scriptures that refer to the final reconciliation of man to God. Universalism also suggest this view denies God’s sovereignty by implying that He does not in the end get what he wants, the salvation of all men. Alongside these challenges from the Biblical text it is also suggested that eternal retributive punishment is a punishment far worse than finite sin could ever deserve. Lastly, it is often suggested that the concept of Hell is utterly incompatible with God’s character as revealed in the Bible; because this is by far the lengthiest of all these challenges we will deal with this one last.

 

The literalist critique that the non-literal views water down the biblical picture for the sake of softening the doctrine of Hell[4] misses the point of the non-literal view,[5] as even Annihilationists have seen,[6] but the challenge that a view of eternal consciousness punishment ignores key Scriptures needs to be examined closer. The challenges from Scripture can largely be divided into two groups; those Scriptures that seem to teach a once and for all annihilation of the reprobate and those Scriptures that are said to teach a final reconciliation of all man before God.

Pinnock believes Scripture is so clear in its teaching of annihilation that “the burden of proof [for showing their view] rests with those who refuse to believe and accept this teaching.”[7] While forming a systematic doctrine of Hell we saw that this isn’t as clear as he makes it seem; the evidence in Scripture seems to overwhelmingly teach eternal suffering.[8] Pinnock sees a clear teaching of annihilation in the NT’s use of the words “destruction/destroy,” “perish,” and “ruin” to describe the final state of unbelievers.[9] In English it is possible to arrive at this conclusion, though it is not inevitable, but a closer look at the use of the Greek underlying these words takes away the weight of the Annihilationist challenge. “Ruin” and “destruction” (sometimes perish) are usually translations of the nouns απώλεια (apōleia, Rom. 9:22) and ολεθρος (olethros, 2 Thess 1:9), “destroy” is usually a translation of the verb φθείρω (phtheirō, 1 Cor. 3:17). The suggestion that φθείρω refers to final annihilation does not fit with the use of this word throughout the NT[10] and with its use in the immediate context of 1 Cor. 3:17.[11] The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, under its entry for απώλεια, has this to say; “What is meant here [the eschatological passages using απώλεια] is not a simple extinction of existences…, but an everlasting state of torment and death.”[12] The use of ολεθρος is often very similar to απώλεια, in 1 Tim. 6:9 both words are used as near synonyms; translated “ruin and destruction.” Overall, the uses of these three words, especially in eschatological contexts, “denote spiritual ruin, perdition, or existence in hell rather than extinction.”[13] The passages that speak of “destruction,” “perish,” and “ruin” are not convincing in garnering support for Annihilationism.

The second group of Scriptures that are raised against any view of eternal conscious punishment are those Scriptures that speak of final restoration or reconciliation; of these there are three main ones to look at. In Acts 3:20-21 we read; “20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until theperiod of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”[14] In these verses we are told that Christ must be received into heaven (cf. 17-20) “until the period of restoration”; Universalists see this “restoration” as a time when all things, including sinners will be restored to fellowship with God.[15] These verses do not support their conclusion; what the passage is referring to is the fulfillment of the prophecies made by the OT prophets concerning the establishment of Christ’s kingdom and rule.[16] Verse 23 in this same chapter rules out universalism; Peter tells those he is preaching to that “every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” The other two passages we need to look at are found in the Pauline epistles.

In Philippians 2:10-11 we read that; “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This verse, within the greater context of Philippians and the whole of Scripture, speaks of a day when victory will be won by Jesus and He will reclaim all creation. This passage does not have to refer to the bowing of the knee in willing submission but could, and when seen in the context of the rest of Scripture does, refer to the unwilling submission of a conquered foe before the supreme King of the universe.[17]

The last Scripture to look at from this group is Colossians 1:19-20. Here we are told that through the blood of Christ all things in the heavens and on the earth will be reconciled to God. It would be an unwarranted assumption to assume that this reconciliation is a restoration of all man to celestial bliss; “all things will finally unite to bow in the name of Jesus and to acknowledge him as Lord…, it is not assumed that this will be done gladly by all.”[18] As with bowing the knee in Philippians reconciliation here most likely refers to the final pacification, the final defeat, of those who rebel against God.[19] These Scriptures don’t say that all men will be saved, but what about those Scriptures which talk of God’s desire for all to be saved?

 

In his bestselling book Love wins Rob Bell asks the question; “does God get what He wants?”[20] At first the answer would appear to be a resounding yes! But, upon closer examination, the question is not so simple. Because Scripture teaches that God desires for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9) then it would seem, according to Bell, that all should be saved, because isn’t God sovereign; doesn’t He get what He wants?[21] Essentially this challenge sees any view other than Universalism as rejecting God’s absolute Sovereignty; it would seem that we would have to concede that God saves all, or God is not powerful enough to save all. Is this the only way? On the surface Bell’s argument seems powerful but it results in the negation of all the Scriptures that speak against universalism and it falls apart when exposed to the breadth of God’s revelation. Since the days of Augustine theologians have distinguished between two wills of God;[22] His revealed will (or will of precept) and His secret will (or will of decree). This distinction sheds much light on the challenge proposed by Bell. The secret will of God is His eternal and immutable plan which He may partially reveal to us, but is never fully disclosed; this is His will in the sense of what comes to pass without fail.[23] God’s revealed will is the commands that He gives and the desires He expresses, in spite of whether they come to pass or not.[24] These two wills can be seen in the contemplation of anything in this life that results from the fall, Luther wrote; “Thus, [God] does not will the death of a sinner–that is, in His Word [revealed will]; but He wills it by His inscrutable will [secret will].”[25]

This distinction has been challenged before, and is still challenged today; critics challenge that this dichotomizes God’s will and puts the two sides of His will in opposition to each other.[26] If this distinction is to answer the challenge raised by Love Wins it must first be shown to be actually Scriptural. When we naturally think of God’s will it is usually God’s will of decree—“If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (James 4:15)—but it is also clear that there is another way “will” is used of God in Scripture, for example; “he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt. 7:21).[27] How can this second verse be referring to the will of God in the same sense as the first? For in the first verse what is in sight is God’s immutable sovereign oversight according to which all things transpire, but in this second verse the will of God is either followed, resulting in reward, or disobeyed. These verses, and those like them, reveal the basis of this distinction, but there are other verses that reveal a contradiction if the distinction between two wills does not stand. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers that what they had meant for evil God had worked according to His plan. God’s revealed will tells us that murder, theft, and selling a brother into slavery are sinful acts; they are against His will. But God’s secret will was to use the disobedience and sinful acts of Joseph’s brothers “to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (v.20 ESV).[28] Other examples are found when we contemplate the sinful actions of those men who crucified Jesus and the truth that it was God’s will all along for this to happen (Acts 2:23, Acts 4:27-28). There are countless more examples from Scripture that show this doctrine to be scriptural; but does it make logical sense?

A logical contradiction would only come about if the two wills of God were wills in the same sense, but they are not. God’s revealed will refers to His will according to the immediate and absolute sense of its object; God despises sin and commands us not to murder because it is contrary to His righteous and holy nature. God’s secret will refers to His will according to the universality of its object; God willed for Jesus to be unjustly crucified because it displayed His love and His righteousness in a way that glorified His name, an unjust act brought about God’s good and holy purpose.[29] With this distinction in mind we can now look at the way in which God wills for all to be saved.

According to 1 Timothy 2:4, God wishes all to be saved, but elsewhere in Scripture we see that God’s eternal election is of some to salvation, but of others to damnation.[30] In our biblical and systematic examination of Scripture we also saw that there are many Scriptures which speak of some people not being saved and sentenced to eternal damnation.[31] Given the scriptural teaching on the fate of the wicked, it is best to see 1 Timothy 2:4 and others Scriptures like it as referring to God’s revealed will.[32] God desires for all to be saved, but because of reasons we are not given God’s secret will is that of electing some to salvation and some to damnation. We must echo with Luther that “It is enough simply to know that there is in God an inscrutable will; what, why, and within what limits it wills, it is wholly unlawful to inquire, or wish to know, or be concerned about, or touch upon; we may only fear and adore!”[33]

 

The last two challenges dealt with apparent Scriptural problems thought to be inherent in the doctrine of Hell, but what seems to be the most common challenge—raised by both believers and unbelievers a like—is the challenge of philosophy. How is eternal punishment a just reward for temporal sin? This challenge is often raised by those in secular circles, but it is against the Christian understanding of God; so the Biblical understanding of God’s love, holiness, and justice is what needs to be kept in sight. In raising this challenge, Clark Pinnock asks; “Is it not plain that sins committed in time and space cannot deserve limitless divine retribution?”[34] This question starts with a false presupposition, that the duration of a crime is related to the duration of a punishment, but this is self-evidently false. A rape may only last a few minutes but we expect the punishment to extend exponentially beyond that. The duration and nature of a punishment needs to be measured by the severity of the crime; so we must ask, how severe are our sins, our crimes, against God?

To establish the unfathomable severity of our crime we need to look at both who our crime is against, and the obligation we have to not commit it. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon on the justice of Hell; he explained that guilt rises and falls according to our obligation to do the contrary. For example; “the faultiness of one being hating another, is in proportion to his obligation to love him.”[35] If a being exists who we are infinitely obliged to obey, honor, and love, then we are left with an infinite guilt when fail these obligations. God, because of His infinite holiness and righteousness, requires perfect obedience. Each sin against him is an infringement upon his infinite standard of righteousness. We are also obliged, because of His absolute perfection, to give Him all the love and honor we can. When we fail, which we all do, we are guilty of not fulfilling the infinite obligation we have to keep His precepts.[36] In light of the obligation we all have, it is clear that our finite sins do in fact necessitate an infinite punishment, in accord with the obligation we have failed to keep.

The second point that can be raised to show our infinite guilt is the nature of the being who we have sinned against. It is common sense that a crime against a dog is not worthy of the same level of punishment deserving of a crime against a man. If the difference between these two types of beings necessitates a dramatic difference in the punishment received for a crime, how much more so would a crime against an infinitely holy being necessitate an infinitely greater punishment?[37]

 

That a comprehensive and eternal retributive punishment in Hell is compatible with philosophical understandings of justice removes a large objection to eternal and retributive views of Hell, but one challenge still remains; is Hell compatible with the very nature of God revealed in Scripture? Is God’s nature incompatible with the doctrine of Hell? This is a question that has been raised by many opponents of Christianity, and some Christians, throughout the history of the Church. In a debate with William Lane Craig, philosopher Ray Bradley laid this argument out quite nicely. The assertion is that if God is loving, just, good, and merciful and a Hell consisting of eternal conscious punishment exists; then a logical contradiction ensues and therefore one of the propositions has to be false. This argument is missing a proposition to be complete, there is something presupposed under the first proposition that must lead to a contradiction. In the debate with Craig, Bradley did what few do; he presented the key presuppositions that are believed to cause God’s nature and Hell to be a contradiction. We have already addressed his second proposition,[38] but the other four are; “A perfectly good being would not torture anyone for any period whatever,” “A righteous being would not punish someone eternally for unavoidable lack of belief,” “A merciful being would not be eternally unforgiving to those who have offended it,” and “A loving being would not bring about and perpetuate the suffering of those that it loves.”[39] Out these propositions, the first three prove to be easier to answer than the last.

 

P1 – “A perfectly good being would not torture anyone for any period whatever,”

This first proposition neglects the fact that while God is perfectly good He is also perfectly just and is required by His nature to render justice to those who deserve it. It also neglects the fact that in God’s goodness He has made a way for all to be saved; all they have to do is have faith in Jesus.

 

P3 – “A righteous being would not punish someone eternally for unavoidable lack of belief,”

His second proposition fails to grasp what Scripture says as to why we are sent to Hell. Lack of belief does not garner us a sentence, but it prevents us from receiving that which would remove our already existing sentence. According to Scripture[40] (Rom. 1-3) we are all guilty of disobedience and, as we have seen, our disobedience—our sin—deserves us of eternal punishment.

 

P4 – “A merciful being would not be eternally unforgiving to those who have offended it,”

The third proposition also neglects what Scripture has to say about the nature of God’s mercy. First off, God has made forgiveness available to all who believe; so His mercy, in the senses of His general call, is available to all man. Also, Scripture teaches that in fact God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone. Answering the question of God’s justice in election Paul writes; For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” What does this show? God’s bestowal of mercy, that is His saving grace upon sinners saving them from themselves, is completely dependent on His own sovereign will; it is not necessitated by any human act deserving it, nor is it necessitated by anything in God requiring it to be given to all man.[41] According to Scripture, God’s mercy does not require Him to show mercy to all man; so Bradley’s third proposition does not force a contradiction in Scripture.

 

P5 – “A loving being would not bring about and perpetuate the suffering of those that it loves.”

Why not? If a being is purely love, then this would be true. But if God is more than love; does this have to be true? We must ask, why does God perpetuate the suffering of those He claims to love? The answer of Scripture is because they have rebelled against Him and have not kept their obligation of holiness; therefore they are deserving of eternal punishment. Out of His love for the wicked people of the world He gave His son presenting a free offer of salvation to all who believe (John 3:16-17), because people freely reject this offer they are fully responsible for the punishment they get. God changes the hearts of some of these men and women so that they do accept His offer of salvation; this brings us to the root of this supposed injustice. If God is able to save men, and does save some, is He obligated to save each and every human being? The suggestion is that God, in forbearing from saving all whom He is able to, is unjust. Paul addresses this very challenged of injustice in Romans 9:

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”[42]

Scripturally the answer is no, God is not obligated to save anyone; He has mercy on whom he will have mercy. Logically, can we stand on the answer that God is not obligated to save anyone? In the past the answer to this question has been yes, but for a different reason than Paul defends here. It has oft been said that God does not save all men because of His desire to give them free will (of the Libertarian variety). The argument goes like this: God created man for relationship with Him, to truly have relationship with Him man needs to be able to choose or not choose Him; they need Libertarian free will.[43] God knew that in giving us freedom to choose or not choose Him not all would be saved, but He allowed this to happen for the greater good of freedom and our ability to enjoy relationship with Him.

 

This argument has two problems: It is almost impossible to build a solid Scriptural case for this Libertarian free will (outside of interpreting Scripture through pre-held philosophical presuppositions) and it is on dangerous philosophical ground if God has exhaustive foreknowledge. Libertarian free will does not allow for any sort of determination; it says that if my choice is determined by anything outside of my will then I am not truly free. If this is the case, then I am not truly free if God knows the future.[44] When Pilate released Barabbas and crucified Jesus we would say it was a free (or voluntary) choice, but not according to Libertarian free will. Because God knew that it would, and predestined it to, happen it was determined; because God’s foreknowledge cannot be wrong (or He is neither immutable nor omniscient) Pilate could not have made any other choice but to do what He did; therefore, according to Libertarian free will, Pilate was not free in his choice. The only way to avoid this conclusion is to accept Open Theism or Molinism, both of which are scripturally untenable. Even with these positions you still run into the determinism problem. According to the Libertarian definition of free will every choice we make has to be determined solely by our will. This view struggles with the influence of external forces on decisions and suffers from a problem of causality.

If I am faced with a choice, e.g. to do homework or watch a movie, my will makes a choice. What will determine my choice of one over the other, will it be totally contingent? I think not. When I look to make this choice, my knowledge of God’s call for me to be faithful in my use of my time and the knowledge that I have due dates I need to meet in the next few weeks will weigh my will on the side of choosing homework; this is an external circumstance determining my choice. How can my will be free if it is determined by this external influence?

Libertarian free will also suffers from a problem in causality. Everything, even a choice, has a cause; this brings a problem.[45] If everything, including volition, is determined by a cause, free will enters into an eternal regress. When I am exercising my will, I am choosing by my power of choosing. My will is the power by which I choose; my mind or soul is the determiner of exercising this power to choose. The soul chooses to exercise the will (the power of choice) by exercising the will. It determines its acts by choosing its own acts.[46] “And therefore if the Will determines all its own free acts, then every free act of choice is determined by a preceding act of choice, choosing the act.”[47] Where then does the first act of determining to act come in? If it starts at any time then that initial act is determined by something other than the will, and therefore the whole chain of willing is not actually free because it fails to be self-initialized.

 

What is the alternative? If God giving us Libertarian free will is not the answer, then what is? Can we logically defend God’s free choice to not save every human being? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 9, though it is not an easy answer to swallow. John Piper, in explaining Paul’s argument, writes; “God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or to put it more precisely, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex. 34:7) on whomever he pleases, apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God.”[48] In being God, God must be able to dispense mercy to whomever He wills apart from any influence other than His will. This is how Paul argues for God’s righteousness in defense against the claims of injustice. If God’s righteousness consists of his “unswerving commitment always to preserve the honor of his name and glory“,[49] then Paul’s argument makes sense. God’s righteousness is defended because by being able to choose to have mercy on whomever He wills God’s glory and name are upheld and He acts in righteousness.[50] The answer then, as to whether God is obligated to save all, is that if He were obligated He would no longer be God; for His glory and name (parts of His perfect nature) are tied up in His freedom to render mercy to whomever He wills. This answer brings three challenges that must be answered:

Is God unrighteous for creating a world in which He would destine some men to eternal damnation, even if their choices got them there?

Why does God do what He does in election? Paul tells us that God’s desire was “to show wrath and make known his power…” and even more so “to make known the wealth of his gory on his people, the vessels of mercy.” (Rom. 9:22, 23). If God’s righteousness is to uphold the glory of His name then by destining some to wrath and some to mercy He makes His glory more fully known. “The ultimate aim of God is to show mercy. But to do this he must place it against a backdrop of wrath”.[51] “To show the full range of his glory [and thus be righteous] God prepares beforehand not only vessels of mercy but also vessels of wrath, in order that the riches of his glory in connection with the vessels of mercy might thereby become more clearly manifest.”[52]

What about God’s goodness, wouldn’t it have been better if God had not created those whom He destined for reprobation?

To this we have to answer no, for; “Nonexistence cannot be said to be a better condition than existence, since nonexistence is nothing; to affirm that nothing can be better than something is a colossal category mistake. In order for two things to be comparable, they must have something in common, and there is absolutely nothing in common between being and nonbeing—they are diametrical opposites. Someone may feel like being put out of his misery, but he cannot even consistently think of nonbeing as a better state than being. What has no being cannot be better than what is.”[53]

The last challenge that needs to be answered is this; how can men be held accountable for choices that they have made when God is in sovereign control. To answer this we must look again at the nature human choices, and supposed free will.

In God’s plan for the world the fall did not catch Him by surprise, but He did not cause sin to enter the world. The fall was part of His plan for creation from before He even laid the foundations of the earth (seen in the predestination of the cross even before the foundations of the world were laid; Rev. 13:8, Eph. 1:3-14, Acts 4:27-28). After the fall all man is sinful, they are corrupt from the very center of their being, and are unable to come to God (Romans 1-3, esp. 3:9-10, 18; 7:18; 8:7-9, they cannot even see the kingdom without rebirth (John 3)). The will is bound by a moral inability to choose anything but evil, but this does not restrain their responsibility for sin. This view of human responsibility is called “Compatibilist;” it says that the determination of our choices is compatible with human freedom.[54] From this perspective freedom is defined has having the power of voluntary choice, to choose what we desire most at any time (Edwards 1-4). If I desire most to eat a pizza when I am at Domino’s, then I will without coercion choose to purchase and eat a pizza. My desire is what determined my will, but it was still a voluntary choice. Within this view of human freedom our responsibility is determined by our naturally ability, in contrast with moral ability. Natural ability is our ability to do or not something based on physical or mental ability; a bird has the natural ability to fly, but man does not. Man has the natural ability to walk, but fish do not. A man cannot be held morally accountable for disobeying the command to fly, because he is naturally incapable of performing the act of flying.[55] The more naturally inclined against something we are, the less responsibility we have for performing it. Humans have the natural ability to choose God or to disobey Him; Adam and Eve had the full capacity to do this, and so do we.

Moral ability is our desire to do or not do something. I am morally unable to do something if I am so disinclined towards it that I will never will to do it. For example, if a completely righteous, faithful, wise and prosperous man is tempted to sleep with his secretary, it may be said that he is morally unable to do this act.[56] If he is completely righteous then he will be inclined away from sin and will not choose to commit unrighteousness, if he is completely faithful this man could never choose to be unfaithful against his wife by committing adultery, and if he is prosperous he may be disinclined to risk his job and financial position by committing an act that could result in blackmail, lawsuits, and the loss of position. Scripture is clear that no man is perfect (1 John 1:8), so this is an unreasonable picture. But Scripture teaches us that before the Holy Spirit works in our lives we are naturally unable to choose God; we have a moral inability. Our hearts are so inclined to evil that no matter the circumstance we will always without any coercion will to choose evil and never God. How can a man be held morally responsible for failing to do something that he cannot do, even if it is a moral inability?

It is natural for us to assign moral virtue on the basis of our moral ability. If moral inability makes us less responsible for a crime, then we run ourselves into a corner. Take the most despicable man in the world; he only ever thinks about doing evil, he is so corrupt that he would never do anything inherently good (though he may do something seemingly “good” to further his fame and his despicable purposes). If this man who would never desire to do a good act, who is morally unable to, rapes and murders a teenager; is he held unanswerable for his crime because he could not have chosen to do a righteous act? This would be counter to common sense, to our natural idea of what is right and wrong. This corrupt man is not less accountable because of his moral corruption, but is in fact more despicable because his heart is writhing with loathsome wickedness.[57] This is the state that all man is in, and we only are freed from our moral inability towards righteousness if the Holy Spirit regenerates our heart and gives us new life.

What is the conclusion then? Is man responsible for his actions even though God’s foreknowledge and eternal plan, along with man’s moral inability towards righteousness, has determined his choices? Yes, man is responsible and the penalty for his disobedience is eternal conscious punishment in Hell. Is God required to have created a world where all people are saved? No, because God’s righteousness is His unwavering commitment to upholding His glory and name; to do this He has to be absolutely free in His dispensing of mercy on whomever He wills. Is it better for man to have never been created then to face the wrath of God? No, because nonexistence can never be compared to existence, they are two totally different categories. How can a man truly say that he would take nonexistence, something he could never comprehend, over even a miserable existence? “What has no being cannot be better than what is.[58] God’s justice means that some of those whom he loves[59] are punished for eternity, and even though He has the power to save them He is not obligated to show mercy; it is actually Him being consistent with His nature as God that He is not obligated and shows mercy to those whom He freely chooses to show mercy.

 

What then shall we say to the challenge that Hell is incompatible with God’s nature? It would seem that this challenge does not stand before the testimony of Scripture. What then is made of the challenge that God’s nature and Hell are logically inconsistent? It has here been shown that nothing in the nature of God is inconsistent with Hell. The truth is that His justice, righteousness, and holiness demand its existence. What are we to do then in response to the terrible severity and awfulness of God?[60] We are to bow down and worship Him and accept the free offer of salvation through His Son Jesus, whom He sent to be a propitiation for our sins; taking upon Himself the wrath of God directed against our sins and bearing the brunt of God’s justice directed against our sins which are directed, in the end, against Him. If the God of the Bible exists, then Hell exists; they are not mutually exclusive. But, the good news is that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

 

Those who would see an injustice in eternal punishment rely on a presupposition that temporal crimes could never incur an eternal sentence, but this isn’t true. The challenge that Scripture shows that Annihilationism is true is not nearly as convincing as its proponents would claim it is and Scripture is clear that we cannot stand on God’s desire for all to be saved, or the final reconciliation of all things, as justification for universalism; while God desires all to be saved He has decreed within His secret will to not save all for His purposes. These challenges fail to show that the Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive view of Hell is illogical and counter Scripture, and in light of the evidence shown to support it; it still remains as the most biblically consistent and logically cohesive view for understanding the Biblical teaching on the nature, duration, and purpose of hell. Having formulated and now defended the Comprehensive and Eternal Retributive view of Hell we are in a position to proceed with the fifth, and final, step in our theological investigation; Practical Theology. We have answered the questions as to what the Bible teaches about hell, if it is tenable, and now we are left with the question of why it matters.

 

 

Appendix to Chapter 4: What about His love?

Some would remain adamant in saying that God’s love will not allow anyone to be punished for their sins in Hell; this is less of a Scriptural conclusion than it is a misconception stemming out of the contemporary understanding of God’s love. There have been two major distortions of the love of God in recent Church history, both of which we must avoid. Some have suggested that God does not love anyone other than those He has chosen to save,[61] but this is a position that we cannot scripturally accept, and must not turn to. On the other side is the contemporary view of God. When God is thought of most people see a god who is only love, a mushy god with no wrath, a god that needs human beings to come to Him, that needs our love and faith. This god is impotent; he is a therapeutic god that allows one to go on living their life however they want without interfering; just as long as we worship him. The truth is; this picture of god is not God at all, definitely not the God of the Bible.  What does the Bible truly teach of God’s love? In his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God D.A. Carson identifies 5 ways—4 of which are looked at here—that Scripture speaks of God’s love in the Scriptures.

The first is the Inter-Trinitarian love of God; the love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father. Love is bound up in the very nature of God, 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. From eternity past God’s love has been other-oriented, between the different members of the Trinity.[62] This is the love from which the love of God for man flows out of.

The other four ways Scripture speaks of love involve God’s love in relation to creation. Where many people make a false assumption is in saying that God loves all people in the same way; Scripture teaches that God loves all man, but not all man in the same way. In John 3:16 we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son;”[63] this love is God’s love for all man. The world here is not so much in reference to the size of the world, but to its badness; God so loved the wicked people of the world that He sent His Son.[64] God presents himself to the world as a God who invites and commands all men to repent and be saved, that is His love found in this passage; His love for all man.[65]

God also providentially loves all of His creation; He clothes the flowers, feeds the animals, and in general looks over all His creation.[66] These two ways the Bible looks at God’s love are shared by all men, but there is a third way that God loves mankind that is not directed to all humans.

There is a special sense in which God’s love is directed at those He has elected to save. It needs to be said that this love for the elect is not based on anything in them that makes them more worthy of love than anyone else. He elected them to mercy unconditionally based on His good pleasure and nothing found within them. He foreknew them, that is knew them relationally and loved them, before they were even born (Rom. 8:29). Scripture even teaches that it was in spite of the failings of the elect that God choose to use them;

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

The special love of God for his elect is seen in Eph. 5:25, Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for Her.[67] Throughout Scripture, both in reference to God’s elect people as Israel and later the Church, we see God’s love towards His elect in a stronger sense than His love for all people.[68] His love is a lot more complicated then pop-culture makes it out to be. Scripture does teach that God loves all men but He does not love all men equally, and there is nothing in His love for man that makes it necessary for Him to show mercy to them.

< Table of Contents Glossary >


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2008), 311.

[2] William V. Crockett and Stanley N. Gundry, eds., Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1992), 88.

[3] In the sense of an organized defense of a subject.

[4] Crockett and Gundry, Four Views on Hell, 77–78.

[5] Cf. the body paragraphs of chapter 3 – The Systematic Doctrine of Hell

[6] Crockett and Gundry, Four Views on Hell, 141.

[7] Ibid., 145.

[8] Cf. page 27-29

[9] Crockett and Gundry, Four Views on Hell, 144.

[10] Rom. 2:12; 2 Thess 2:10; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15, 4:3

[11] Gordon Russell Lewis and Bruce A Demarest, Integrative theology : historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic, practical : three volumes in one (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 467.

[12] Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 397.

[13] Lewis and Demarest, Integrative theology, 467.

[14] All Scriptures in this chapter, unless otherwise stated, are from the; New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995). All italics were added by the translators.

[15] Lewis and Demarest, Integrative theology, 464.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Millard J Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 1243.

[18] Peter Thomas O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 44, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982), 57.

[19]  Ibid., 44:56.

[20] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, First Edition (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011), 97.

[21] Ibid., 97–98.

[22] Saint Augustine, City of God, in Saint Augustine, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers: St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, vol. 2, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), sec. iv.XXII.1-2, accessed May 8, 2012, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.html.

[23] Arthur Walkington Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Seaside, Ore.: Watchmaker Pub., 2011), 218.

[24] R. C Sproul, What is Reformed theology? : understanding the basics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2012), 169.

[25] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, ed. J. I Packer and O. R Johnston (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 2003), 170.

[26]Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, vol. 2 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 526.

[27] The emphasis here was not added, but is found in the NASB; it is an indication by the translators that “will enter” is implied in context and not actually a translation of Greek words.

[28] Crossway Bibles, ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ESV text ed (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

[29] Edwards, Works, 2:527–528.

[30] Reprobation is not active in the same sense of Election; while God chooses to actively show mercy to those sinners whom He chooses to show mercy, He passively leaves the reprobate in their sins and will punish them on the final day because of their unrighteousness. The eternal plan of God’s election is found in Romans 9, Romans 8:28-39, Ephesians 1:11, etc.

[31] Cf. pages 26-27

[32] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology : an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 214–215.

[33] Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 171.

[34] Crockett and Gundry, Four Views on Hell, 39.

[35] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson Pub., 2005), 158.

[36] Ibid., 158–159.

[37] Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 294.

[38] That God would be unjust to send someone to Hell for eternity, see the previous paragraph in this chapter.

[39] “Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? The Craig-Bradley Debate | Reasonable Faith,” ReasonableFaith.org, accessed March 7, 2013, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate.

[40] Since Bradley and those with the same arguments are arguing that the Scripture’s view of God is illogical in light of Hell, it is important to clarify what Scripture has to say on these issues.

[41] John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1983), 156–158, 214–218.

[42] All Scripture is from the ESV: Crossway Bibles, ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ESV text ed (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

[43] Libertarian Free Will is also sometimes called the Power of Contrary Choice. Free will means being able to choose between two or more options at any time: I have to be able to choose either A or B, or I am not free. This runs into problems when we realize that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future means that my choices are determined; because God knows what choice I am going to voluntarily make (I am not being coerced) I could never truly choose a choice other than the one He knows I am going to make, therefore I do not possess free will. This conundrum is what has led to the modern Christian false teaching (heresy?) of Open Theism. [42] For a variation of this “no robot” argument see; C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in C. S Lewis, The complete C.S. Lewis Signature classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007), 47–48.

[44] See footnote 122

[45] Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2012), 37–42.

[46] Ibid., 29–30.

[47] Ibid., 30.

[48] Piper, The Justification of God, 218–219.

[49] Ibid., 219.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid., 220.

[52] Daniel fuller, quoted in Ibid.

[53] Norman L Geisler, Systematic theology : in one volume (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2011), 1278.

[54] Some Compatibilists would be uncomfortable with the use of freedom here. Compatibilism sees humans as having the power of “voluntary choice,” but not free will. To have free will would mean that we would be free from God’s providential control of the universe, which is something we do not have. Voluntary choice means that every choice we make is not coerced but is made according to our strongest desires at the time (we do what we want).

[55] Edwards, Freedom of the Will, 18–24.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 188–192.

[58] Geisler, Systematic theology, 1278.

[59] In the sense of his love for all his creation and his free offer of salvation to all, see D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2000), 15–20. All see the appendix to this chapter which provides a quick summary of Carson’s discussion.

[60] These words being used in their original sense.

[61] Arthur Walkington Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Seaside, Ore.: Watchmaker Pub., 2011), 179, 229.

[62] Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 16, 39.

[63] Ibid., 35.

[64] Ibid., 17., cf D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 204–205.

[65] Ibid., 17–18.

[66] Ibid., 16–17.

[67] Cf. John 15:13 and John 10:11

[68] Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 17–18, 73–79.