I was given a gift I totally didn’t deserve, that is, “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the recognition of him, the eyes of [my] understanding being enlightened, for [my] knowing what is the hope of His calling, [...] riches of the glory” in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the whole world, but since I was given that gift a few years ago, I’ve noticed how people react differently when I share my (our) Amazing Hope. Some people just think I’m super-religious, even though I’ve become rather anti-religious, and write off whatever I say as nonsense. Others hope it’s true, but are not really ready to talk about it. Some people are curious, ask questions, and engage in lively discussion. They don’t feel the pressure to decide one way or another until they are sure. Every once in a while, someone is deeply affected, in a good way, and they will never be the same. But when I discuss our Amazing Hope with church-attending people, they inevitably react in one of the following ways: They become very defensive or even aggressive, they shut down the conversation, or they want to postpone the conversation until later. I can literally count on one hand the number of regular church attenders who have been willing to compare ideas and engage in substantive dialogue on a regular basis, and of these, none of them are people with whom I attended church. Of those who become defensive and aggressive, these are people in leadership positions who stand to lose the most should this Amazing Hope spread into the Christian mainstream. (Although I view it less as a mainstream and more as a stagnant, foul-smelling pool of water.) Of those who shut down the conversation, they want to be friendly and kind, which I appreciate, but they are also afraid of heresy or the spiritual police or whatever. They really would just rather act as if no one ever challenged the idea of eternal torment – it is a form of emotional denial. Of those who want to postpone the conversation until later, there are mixed feelings.
Francis Chan, a preacher and author, who seems like a level-headed, sensible guy, likely is (or was, at least – I’ll find out when I read his book) one of those I-have-mixed-feelings-let’s-talk-later kind of people. This approach is healthy, smart, and Berean. Taking time to think, pray, listen to God’s voice, do some research and study, etc is wise. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to stay in that quiet, contemplative place long enough to hear from God. For me, hearing from God concerning the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment took years, not months. Chan gave God three months, from what I understand, before he started writing his response. I’ve made a list of observations about what it looks like when someone is a believer, yet lacks “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the recognition of him, the eyes of [their] understanding being enlightened, for [their] knowing what is the hope of His calling, [...] riches of the glory” in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the whole world. They know they have a calling, but they have no idea “what is the hope of His calling.” They recognize Jesus Christ as their Savior, but not as the Savior. This list is not an indictment, just observations. I also recognize that this is, for some people, a long journey. I could check back with them in a year or two and find these observations no longer ring true. In a panel discussion held at Cornerstone Church with Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle called Erasing Hell, Chan explains his initial thoughts in the months following his reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Chan’s book is also called Erasing Hell. I have not read the book yet. All the numbered statements are mine and the quotes are Chan’s:
1. They hope there is no such thing as eternal torment. They get excited about the possibility of all things being reconciled to God. But this hope is too quickly dismissed. Their excitement is snuffed out.
I hope he’s right, because I have friends that have died that don’t believe in Jesus, that totally rebelled against God. [...] So, when it comes to Hell, man, I’d ditch that in a moment if I could. You know, Biblically, if I could. [...] Look, I don’t want you believing in Hell if it doesn’t exist, because that kind of ruins your life, doesn’t it?
2. They rely on erroneous translations of scripture.
I try to just think to myself, OK if I’m on an island and I read this book over and over and over again, what would I leave there thinking and believing about Christ? What would I believe about the church? What would I believe about the Holy Spirit? And so with this topic of Hell, what would I believe about it? Would I believe that… you know… basically, what would I believe? And I thought, no, if I walked away, I’d go, no. I mean, all through this book those who follow God, there’s this amazing blessing, and then those who choose to rebel against Him, there’s this, it’s just a very tough… it’s just bad consequences. And then the ending, I mean you get to Revelation, and it’s about this amazing life and eternity with God, and then on the flip-side, for those who reject Him or take the mark of the beast, is this suffering, day and night, forever and ever. And I’m like, how would I ever get that, well, it doesn’t really mean that? [...] And so, yes, I wanted to go through the scriptures the way I normally do, simply, and reading it over and over and going, ok, what does it say, praying, fasting, saying God, I’ve got to know the truth.
3. They rely on orthodox opinion too much.
You know, there’s part of me that’s going, wow [Love Wins] is cool, but then the more I read, I go wait a second. [...] That’s not what I’ve ever known. [...] And yet at the same time I understand there’s some limitations, like my mind only goes to a certain point, you know. I go, let me get some thoughts from some guys that think maybe at a deeper level, a more intellectual level. And then even after we wrote [Erasing Hell], I was like, let’s send it off to other guys and get their thoughts and make sure we get this right, because this is just too big of an issue.
4. They are troubled or restless in their spirits.
You know, you start thinking, wait, I hope, maybe he’s right, and I’m teaching the wrong thing and just going back to the way I study scripture. [...] I didn’t want to write about this; I just believe that God specifically asked me to and wanted me to do this, to where I couldn’t even sleep about it. And yet, I didn’t want to be wrong [...] Look, I don’t want you believing in Hell if it doesn’t exist, because that kind of ruins your life, doesn’t it? I mean isn’t there like this awful burden in you, like [sound effect like a person in pain], and I don’t want you to live that way if [eternal torment] is not there.
5. They retreat to a position of fear, as if God has placed the eternal destiny of everyone in their circle of influence in the hands of other fallible human beings, namely them.
That’s what I was concerned about with this book, was like, man, you’ve thrown out some nice ideas, but if you’re wrong, if I’m wrong about this, there’s some serious consequences. [...] I don’t want to say [eternal torment]is not there if it is, because that’s even worse, because then you come to the end of your life and you realize, oh, I don’t get another chance and this really is forever. So, you understand how we can’t… I can be wrong with a lot of things and make mistakes in life, but this one I didn’t want to mess up on.
And now for some final observations, not general ones as the list of five above, but more specific ones, based on Chan’s comments. First, Chan makes a great point about Hell ruining your life. Eternal torment is literally the most horrible idea that the human mind can entertain. In fact, it is so terrifying, that people have committed suicide or murder, driven to madness by the concept. Second, I sure would like to ask Chan about what translation he is reading over and over again on his island. It is important to remember the Spirit of God is our Teacher, and the word of God is a useful tool with which He teaches us. Reading the Bible over and over again is something anyone can do; some atheists can recite whole chapters at a time, but only those who hear His voice have the opportunity to be taught by Him. Sometimes, when you hear His voice, you open the book and read in it what you would have never seen otherwise, even though you read it many times previously. If you are not hearing His voice, then you can read until your eyeballs fall out without gaining any understanding. In closing, Chan’s take on do-good-get-blessed/do-bad-get-cursed is an approach to scripture which disregards the idea that the law kills:
2 Corinthians 3:7-18 The Law of Moses brought only the promise of death, even though it was carved on stones and given in a wonderful way. [...] So won’t the agreement that the Spirit brings to us be even more wonderful? If something that brings the death sentence is glorious, won’t something that makes us acceptable to God be even more glorious? In fact, the new agreement is so wonderful that the Law is no longer glorious at all. The Law was given with a glory that faded away. But the glory of the new agreement is much greater, because it will never fade away.This wonderful hope makes us feel like speaking freely. [...] The people were stubborn, and something still keeps them from seeing the truth when the Law is read. Only Christ can take away the covering that keeps them from seeing. [...] they have their minds covered over with a covering that is removed only for those who turn to the Lord. [...] Lord’s Spirit sets us free. So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord.
The law was only useful for pointing out our need for a Savior. It is a means to an end and not the end in itself. The entire Hebrew scriptures are written from a law/works perspective. Jesus lived the perfect life, died, and rose again for a reason. What is the reason? Because we can’t measure up. We can’t meet God’s standards. That is the whole point of the gospel! Any believer who reads the Bible and merely sees good people getting rewarded and bad people getting tormented for eternity is missing the point of it. The central theme is redemption through the Messiah, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. May Christ remove “the covering that keeps them from seeing.”