Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never

Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never

Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never

If you’ve never read the story of Joseph, you really ought to do so.  It’s just as fascinating and dramatic as anything Hollywood might produce.  In a nutshell: Joseph, as a child, is his father’s favorite son, and his brothers are jealous of the special treatment he receives.  To make matters worse, Joseph has two dreams in which his brothers are bowing down to him, and for some reason I can’t imagine, he tells his brothers about the dreams.  They plot to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talks them out of it by suggesting they sell him into slavery instead.  They take Joseph’s “many colored” coat, put animal blood on it, and tell their father that Joseph is dead.  Meanwhile, Joseph is actually put in a pretty decent position in society under a guy named Potiphar, and Potiphar makes him the superintendent of everything.  But just as things are looking up, Joseph is wrongly accused of attempted rape (by Potiphar’s wife) and thrown in prison.  While he is in prison, he becomes known as someone who is able to interpret dreams.  The leader of Egypt, Pharaoh, has two disturbing dreams, finds out about Joseph, and asks Joseph to interpret the dreams.  Joseph tells the Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams, that there will be seven years of abundant crops and seven years of famine.  Pharaoh not only believes Joseph but puts Joseph in charge of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Consequently, when Joseph’s father sends his brothers to Egypt for groceries, they find themselves at his mercy, just as they were in Joseph’s dreams all those years ago.  Joseph is eventually reunited with his father, and he forgives his brothers for what they did to him.  There’s much more to the story than this, but for the purpose of this blog, this recap will suffice.

Now, let’s suppose that you were an eyewitness to Joseph’s being sold as a slave.  You see how Joseph’s brothers hate him.  Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”  You know that God does not want people to hate, yet here is Joseph, nearly hated to death by his own siblings.  How do you answer this?  You admit, no, God doesn’t get what God wants.  You see Joseph thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit.  Yet, you know that God hates injustice.  Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”.  Sadly, you reply, no.

Joseph eventually stands face to face with his brothers.  Here is part of the account in Genesis:

And Joseph saith unto his brethren, “Come nigh unto me, I pray you,” and they come nigh; and he saith, “I [am] Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt; and now, be not grieved, nor let it be displeasing in your eyes that ye sold me hither, for to preserve life hath God sent me before you. Because these two years the famine [is] in the heart of the land, and yet [are] five years, [in] which there is neither ploughing nor harvest; and God sendeth me before you, to place of you a remnant in the land, and to give life to you by a great escape; and now, ye – ye have not sent me hither, but God, and He doth set me for a father to Pharaoh, and for lord to all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Notice how Joseph explains the situation, that “God sent”, “God sendeth”, “ye have not sent, but God”, and “He doth set me”.  So now that we have the end result, shouldn’t we revisit the question, “Does God get what God wants?”  Yes, God does not want people to hate, and yes, God hates injustice, but God used that hate and injustice to get what He wanted, that is, “to preserve life”.  If God uses actions that are against His will as part of His plan to accomplish His will, then we can answer the question, “Does God get what God wants” with a confident, “YES!”

The reason I began this blog with the story of Joseph is to demonstrate that God accomplishes His will in His own time and His own way.  The scriptures are crammed full of examples just like this, in which God accomplishes His will through the disobedience of His creation.  In fact, we could say the same thing of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Jesus plainly told His disciples that he would die, yet, after he died and before his resurrection, his disciples were an emotional mess.  If someone had asked them during this time, “Does God get what God wants?”, they might not have been able to say “YES!”  They certainly were not acting like people who had confidence in the sovereignty of God.

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, Chan asks, “Does God get what God wants?” in reference to 1 Timothy 2:4 in the NIV translation:

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Chan’s argument goes like this:

Paul, who said that God wants all people to be saved, also said that God “wants” all Christians to be sexually pure (1 Thes. 4:3).  Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure?  Does this mean that God is not getting what He wants?

Chan then goes on to talk about God’s moral will (values that please Him) and His decreed will (events that He causes to happen), explaining that God allows His moral will to be resisted in order to carry out His decreed will.  What it really boils down to is the sovereignty of God over the human will.  This is a huge debate in Christianity that has been going on for a long time, in Calvinism and Arminianism.  I actually wrote a lengthy blog series, based on R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe, which examines these concepts  thoroughly.  Here are the links if you would like to read them: Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?, A Great Chess Player, Volunteer for Slavery, Picking the Petals Off of TULIPs, and Amazed Exceedingly.

Chan’s argument seems to make sense on the surface – God doesn’t want Christians to cheat on their spouses, but Christians cheat on their spouses, therefore God doesn’t get what God wants.  However, we need to consider this idea further, take it to its conclusion.  Will the Christian who cheats on his/her spouse ALWAYS cheat on his/her spouse?  No, of course not.  At some point, God will intervene, whether it be through grace or discipline, because He disciplines those He loves, He loves everyone, and everyone is disciplined eventually (Heb. 12:7-8, Rom. 5:6-8).  Just because we don’t see the cheating spouse repent RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean that it will NEVER happen.

Why is it that I can see the question, “Does God get what God wants?”, and I can answer it affirmatively, while Chan goes the opposite direction? Because Chan is answering a different question than the one he asks!  Yes, that’s right, Chan asks one question and then poses an answer for a different question.  Let’s look closely again at what he writes:

Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure?  Does this mean that God is not getting what God wants?

Notice the change in verb tense between the question Chan proposes and the answer He gives in his illustration, namely “does” and “is”.  This may seem insignificant, but it is actually what makes or breaks Chan’s argument.  The statement (I restructured the interrogative into a declarative to make it easier to see how Chan shifts the verb tense), “God does not get what He wants” distinctly contrasts the statement, “God is not getting what He wants.”  The first statement communicates the idea that God NEVER gets what He wants.  The second statement communicates the idea that God is not getting what He wants right now.  Does Chan honestly believe that this Christian man will continue in sin forever?  I doubt that he does.  Yet, he uses this “now” example as a way of convincing his readers to negate the idea that God gets what He wants “never”.  It is so important to know the difference.  Plus, even if God is not getting what He wants right now, in a way, He is getting what He wants, because nothing happens outside of His permission.  He could strike a sinner dead in an instant to prevent the sin if He wanted, but He won’t if it is not part of His sovereign plan which takes into account the fact that we are all sinners.

I don’t think that Chan intentionally did this, but this technique of switching the question has a name.  It is a “Fallacy of Distraction” with the subheading “Complex Question”, defined as:

Two unrelated points are conjoined by a single proposition.

My point is that Chan did a wonderful job of proving what we already know to be true.  God doesn’t want us to sin.  We sin.  There you have it.  That is the full substance of his argument which has very little to do with the question of God’s ultimate sovereignty.  God has a purpose in everything that happens.  Everything, including our sin.  How did God send Joseph to Egypt “to preserve life”?  Through the sin of his brothers.  How did Jesus redeem the world?  Through the sin of the religious leaders.

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (in a guest Q&A on Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul) says,

“The faith that unites us to Christ brings us really into a new order of reality altogether in which the dominion of sin over our lives has once and for all been broken.  Why we need to keep hearing the gospel is because we actually doubt what the gospel says.  When we look in, we see all kinds of evidence that the presence of sin is still very, very real.  We need to learn to distinguish between the fact that the dominion of sin has been broken although the presence of sin remains until the day when the presence of sin is finally banished from our lives.”

God does get what God wants, in His own time and His own way.


The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.

(Psalm 135:6)

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins


  • Sisterlisa October 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Excellent article, Alice. Well done!

  • admin October 18, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Thanks! and thanks for reading. Good to see your smiling face. When I get a break from school, I’m going to spend like three days straight on facebook and blogs getting caught up. I miss everyone!

  • Mary Vanderplas October 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    I like what you say by way of refuting Chan’s contention that God doesn’t get what he wants. I think you’re right on in asserting that “not now” doesn’t mean “never” when it comes to God’s purposes being accomplished, that God’s purposes cannot be finally or ultimately thwarted. And I agree that the Bible gives powerful witness to God’s ability to use even the bad that people (and powers) do to achieve his good ends and that the stories of Joseph and of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are particularly poignant examples of God’s working to transform evil to good. (From our limited perspective, the truth that God is working to redeem the evil in our lives and in the world, to turn it so that good may result, is a matter of faith, not something we can know by observing.) I would add here that I don’t think that God’s getting what he wants entails any kind of coercion on God’s part, any violation of our freedom and responsibility as human beings. Still, that human actions, even heinous ones, cannot finally frustrate God’s purposes is, I agree, well attested biblically.

    I like, too, your point that insofar as everything that happens must pass God’s scrutiny, it can be said that in some sense even now he is getting what he wants. The truth of God’s sovereignty is twofold: that nothing is outside of God’s control and that nothing can finally frustrate his plan.

    I agree that God’s purpose is fulfilled through everything that happens, though I would be careful not to say or imply that God wills the bad that we do – a notion that, in my view, violates the biblical witness to who God is and what God does. Still, that God’s gets what he wants in the end is hard to dispute; and I agree that Chan’s argument against it is specious.

    Thanks for a great blog. I still wonder, though, whether assenting to God’s absolute sovereignty, as you rightly do, necessarily means embracing the truth of universal salvation. In light of the 1 Timothy 2 text, along with the other universalist texts in scripture, ‘yes’ would seem to be the answer. But there are other texts that speak of judgment; and there is the paradoxical (in relation to the absolute sovereignty of God) teaching concerning human freedom and responsibility.

    • admin October 19, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      If there is a paradox, and I err, then I err on the side of God’s mercy which is said to “triumph over judgment”.

      • Mary Vanderplas October 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm

        There are riskier things to bet on than God’s mercy being the final word on each and every human life, as through your blogs I have been helped to see. I owe you a debt. Thank you.

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    The Lake of Fire populated and without remedy at the end of Revelation – is that your answer for everything? admin asks: October 18, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Do you NOW understand 22: 15 those “without” are those 21: 8 in the Lake of Fire and 15 is the LAST apocalyptic heavenly scene referenced in the TRANSITION of the vision from heaven to back to earth that began in 8 and finishes on earth in 16? Do you NOW understand the invitation in 17 is the Gospel invitation of today given in fundamental churches around the world?

    Are you ABLE to see this transition, Alice?

    The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to Him to show unto His servants does indeed end with a populated Lake of Fire with NO exit, NO remedy.

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Perhaps my scene change question isn’t quite clear. In the Revelation chapter one John is 1: 9 “in the isle that is called Patmos” and 1: 10 “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet” and 1: 12 “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me.” This is the scene at the beginning of the Revelation and continues through the end of chapter three with the instructions, “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches.” Then the scene makes a change in 4: 1 “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” John was called to “come up hither” and was transported into heaven into the throne room of God from which he is taken throughtout chapters four through twenty-two verse seven, at which point he is brought back to the isle that is called Patmos with this instruction, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.” John is what Jesus called “mine angel,” that is, My messenger, and he begins his testimony “unto you” in the churches with “the Spirit and the bride say, Come.”

    If you are a “thirsty” one and a “whosoever will” one, then you may come to a fundamentalist church, that is, one of its members, who alone are able to give you this “water of life freely.” If you do NOT see the scene change and the invitation 22: 17 as only applicable to today’s fundamentalist churches, then you are NOT a thirst one and a whosoever will one; and you will surely perish in the Lake of Fire. You could still see the change, but still perish if you haven’t been regenerated, born again the Biblical way. You see, there are many who have claimed to be born again, but are not, because they came the wrong way.

    “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” 2 Corinthians 13: 5

    • admin October 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      It would be much easier to be receptive to discussion with you if you didn’t damn me to the lake of fire every other time you post a comment. Regarding 2 Cor – Examine YOURSELVES means Lanny examines Lanny, and Alice examines Alice. It doesn’t mean Lanny examine Alice whether she be in the faith.

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    NO scene change can you see, Alice, after how many college English classes? It is just simple English. Is it there, Alice, but you refuse to acknowledge it due to your stance against eternal punishment? What is keeping you from seeing the 22: 17 invitation is for today ever since Jesus rose from the dead? Would you blame the institutional church for your rebellious unbelief? The bottom line has always been this matter is between you and the Holy Bible; and it is as serious as burning in eternal fire. No one’s to blame for you getting this wrong, but you, yourself.

  • Daniel October 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Revelation 21:23-26

    And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

    Aha so there is something past Revelation 21:8! Read about the nations and the kings of the earth is other parts of Revelation. Notice something? Oh yeah they are always the enemies of God! Yet here we see that those OUTSIDE the new Jerusalem are allowed entrance into it, but only once they have washed their robes. Inside is heaven, outside is the lake of fire. There is no other place to be. If the final fate of humanity is determined, why then are the gates to the New Jerusalem never closed?!

    • Lanny A. Eichert October 25, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      7: 14 are Great Tribulation saints not those “without” 22:15
      Your references don’t match.
      The nations 21: 24 are Gentiles who have already been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life 21: 27 before the New Jerusalem even descended from God.
      I suggest you study better; in fact, first you need to be born again before you will even be able to understand spiritual things.

      • Daniel November 17, 2011 at 1:27 am

        Wow your condescension is beyond words. Those verses you quote are about people FROM every nation. The actual nations are enemies of God, and so are the kings of the earth. Learn how to keep a civil tongue serpent, then maybe we’ll talk.

        • Lanny A. Eichert November 17, 2011 at 4:42 am

          Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, since they are already having authority to bring their glory into it as per verse 26: see “the nations of them which are saved” means they are already redeemed in this scene and as redeemed ones their names are already in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Whatever is so hard about that? There is NOBODY surrounding the city or inside the city that are NOT saints. Everybody walking in the light of the city are saints.

          That’s why I wonder if you’re not still blind being unsaved and unregenerate.

          Where ever are you getting ἔθνος ethnos means enemies, since God calls from the nations people to be His saints? Of the nobles 1 Corinthians 1: 26 not many noble it says, but doesn’t say not any noble. So God will have kings saved as well. They are saved by one letter in the English: the inclusion of the “m.” See Revelation 15: 4 “for all nations shall come and worship before thee” and since worship can only be done in spirit, the nations are saints of every ethnic background meaning simply Gentiles who have believed. Context, my dear boy, context, let it dictate.

          The lost are imprisoned in the Lake of Fire 21: 8 & 22:15 not meaning they are just outside the city walls. They are a long, long way away: there’s no reference to them seeing the city. In fact, the place of the lost although burning is described as blackness and darkness, a place of vastness because they wander without ever contacting any one, solitary confinement without spacial limits. See 2 Peter and Jude. They are adrift in the darkness of (space) emptiness, black infinite burning emptiness. They’ll yell and scream without anybody to hear them, no response from anyone, not even God. They didn’t want God in this life, so God gives them just that in the after life: no God for conversation ever again.

          Do you see why they cannot be redeemed in the after life? There’s no conversation with God: He gave them over to their own desire: no God. The fool says in his heart, there is no God, so God removes Himself from them according to their desires. Any one who believes the wrong thing says in his heart there is no God and that’s what he gets for all of eternity: no God.

          Psalm 106: 15 And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.

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