One of the great things about being in a regular bible study with thinking adults is that you come across questions and issues that otherwise wouldn’t occur to you. This past week, one of my friends posed what seemed like a simple question, but I think it has a lot of deeper implications.
He basically asked, “Why is Satan so hell-bent on being evil? Why is he so opposed to everything good?”
This is the kind of question that might be overlooked because for so long, we’ve equated Satan with pure evil. But why is that exactly? If you really think about it, it seems almost cartoonish and unrealistic.
To illustrate, imagine a movie villain who is determined to destroy the entire world. He has no redeeming qualities, doesn’t care about anybody else in the world, and everything he does is pure evil. Whatever the “good” choice is, he does the opposite for reasons that are hard to finger.
Sounds kind of outlandish, doesn’t it? In my opinion, such a character would lack the depth and balance to make him seem realistic. Most villains today seem to believe they are doing something good, even if they are misguided or extreme in their measures. Take Magneto from the “X-Men” series, for example. He is one of the main villains, but he earnestly believes that mutants are the future and that homo sapiens are an obsolete species characterized by intolerance and ignorance.
So why is it that Satan is pure evil? How is that believable?
Simply put, it is because he has completely separated himself from God, who is the source of ALL moral good in the universe. Apart from Him, any modicum of good is literally impossible. The reason that human beings are capable of good—even villains—is because they are made in the image of God, which includes morality, dominion over this earth, creativity, etc.
If Satan were to commit even one decent act to the benefit of others, that would mean he is an additional source of good. This is, of course, not the case. In fact, one of his favorite tricks is to turn anything good into some destructive force. Self-assurance turns to haughtiness and pride; serving others becomes an ego boost and a way to feel morally superior; love and acceptance turn into tolerance for things that God explicitly states are wrong. The list goes on and on. You could name anything and chances are, Satan has distorted it in some way. We are all easily fooled if we are not discerning and Spirit-led.
OK, so now that we’ve established that God is the only source of good and that’s why Satan is pure evil…what does that mean for the afterlife? What does that mean for hell?
It means that once people have been eternally separated from God and sent to hell, they are now completely stripped of their godly nature. That means that it’s not going to be a chummy party down there by any stretch of the imagination.
I have actually heard atheists say, “Well, if I’m wrong and I’m going to hell, at least I’ll spend eternity with cool, interesting people! Maybe I’ll see Jimi Hendrix down there!”
Maybe you will see certain “interesting” people down there, but any redeeming qualities they may have had on this earth are going to be completely gone. Whoever you see down there is not going to be someone you enjoy, even if you were to somehow avoid the torment of the flames. You will not be having warm, friendly reunions.
Furthermore, if you are thinking that adopting Satan as your new master might be some consolation (because of his beauty or talents, maybe), then again, you are sadly mistaken. He is not going to be governing hell or setting up some kind of viable alternative to heaven. He is going to be thrown into the lake of fire and burning just the same as everyone else. Remember, God is the ruler of everything, even hell. Any power Satan currently enjoys is temporary, and there will come a time when God no longer permits him to act in rebellion.
Finally, I know a few of my long-time readers may be wondering about my stance on the eternality of hell. I apologize because this is long overdue, and you may have already noticed I took my posts on annihilationism down a while ago.
My view now is that hell is probably eternal torment, as the traditional view presents. I will concede that I’m not 100% sure, but much of the scriptural support for annihilationism came from the Old Testament where it talked about “death” and “being no more.” My knowledge of the Old Testament was far more incomplete at the time, and now I realize that conceptions of the afterlife were not fully developed during that period. Before Jesus came and fully paid for our sins, no one could go to Heaven (or even Hell) yet. Everyone who died went to the same realm, called Sheol, although there were separate places for God-fearing people. Sometimes, this is referred to as “Paradise,” but the terminology can get confusing. Either way, it didn’t make sense for God to talk about the afterlife much when His work of redemption was not yet complete (until Jesus said “it is finished”).
So my current idea of hell is that it is a place of eternal separation from God that probably involves the literal pain of burning flames. As the final humiliating act of defeat, Satan will be suffering there along with everyone else who chose to reject God and separate themselves from Him. There will be degrees of punishment, for sure, but we don’t know exactly what that will entail. In the end, whether you go to heaven to worship Almighty God or go to hell to pay the price for sin, God is glorified to the utmost by praise and justice.
Yes, even the Bible uses hyperbole (and metaphors, analogies, etc.). What’s the point of this, you ask? Well, to make a point clearer or to convey emotion and urgency rather than straight information.
You see it often in the Old Testament prophets whose jobs were not simply to predict the future, but to warn people of their disobedience and to snap them out of their spiritual malaise. They would use very graphic and extreme language to voice the displeasure of God. Otherwise, the Jews wouldn’t have listened with ears perked because of their stubbornness. Saying “Nation of Israel, God is not happy with you right now” simply doesn’t have the same sobering effect of comparing them to “whores” (essentially cheating on God with other false gods).
Jesus uses hyperbole as well. Consider this passage from Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Now, as we saw in Part 2, let’s ABC (assume basic competence) here. Nobody could have possibly thought this was actually telling us to hate our own parents in the traditional sense. Heck, honoring our parents is even one of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:12)! Not only that, but Jesus himself affirms this command in Matthew 15:4.
So what is Jesus saying here? Well, first of all, the word translated as “hate” does not mean to have an intense feeling of dislike as we might assume. In Greek, it means something closer to loving something much less. (There’s a lot of subtle meaning that English apparently doesn’t have that Hebrew and Greek do. This is one of the lingering negative effects of man’s rebellion at the Tower of Babel, I suppose…dealing with translation issues.) For our purposes, “hate” is still a close-enough translation, hyperbole considered.
Basically, if we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, He must come clearly first. If parents are to be honored, as is emphasized multiple times throughout the Bible, but we must “hate” them in following Jesus, how much more must we relegate the lesser things in our lives! Things like social status, money, or pleasure…they need to take an ever further back seat.
Practically speaking, this means that the will of God takes precedence over our parents. If we are clearly called by God to become missionaries, for example, but our parents want us to become doctors or lawyers, we must obey God and ignore our parents’ wishes in this case. If our parents are nonbelievers and want nothing to do with you because of your Christian faith, you must choose your faith over your parents’ unbelief. Better still, you should continue to try to evangelize to them.
Of course, as with everything, we must have a balanced view here. Jesus is not telling us to ignore our parents’ commands completely. We are to love and honor them whenever possible, and importantly, they are still above us in the chain of command. If this life is like a big company, our parents are still our day-to-day, immediate supervisors—but Jesus is the President and CEO. Obviously, if the CEO comes down to ask something of you personally, you do what he says.
Often, our parents’ wishes will function as confirmation of what God wants us to do IF they are continually in prayer and living their lives in accordance with God’s will. If they are worldly parents, then they can still bestow worldly wisdom and experience, which can be helpful, but such advice is ultimately hit-or-miss and contingent upon circumstances.
If you feel led by God to do something, but your godly parents are wholly opposed to it—and have good reasons as well—then God might be telling you, “I don’t know where you felt that leading from, but it certainly wasn’t from me.” If you feel that your prayers have been answered, then confirmation from reliable outside sources should also follow if it is legitimate.
*Update: Another example of hyperbole would be this famous passage:
Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
First, let’s consider this passage at its most basic level. What is Jesus saying? One of the more obvious points he’s making is that sin is very serious—in this context, especially lust. We need to take drastic measures to keep ourselves from continually sinning. Too often, we abuse God’s grace thinking, “We’re forgiven anyway, what’s the big deal?” This mentality simply cannot persist in a true believer.
Also, Jesus is telling us that sin can actually cause a person to go to hell.
Give that a second to sink in. I’m sure a number of objections are popping into your mind at this moment.
“But we’ve all sinned!”
“Sinning can’t make me go to hell if I’ve already accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior!”
I agree wholeheartedly on both counts. What I think Jesus is indicating here is that a person who perpetually sins—and is not already saved—is driving himself away from God, making the likelihood of coming to salvation more and more unlikely. If a person tries to be humble and does not engage in a very sinful lifestyle, he is naturally more receptive to the word of God. If a person is living recklessly, continually indulging in his lust (which is the primary focus of this passage, really) or pride, then they are pushing themselves away from God. Ultimately, they are driving themselves closer and closer to hell.
A person may also presume upon his salvation when he is really not there yet. Many people attend church and think themselves to be saved, but if they continue to live in sin, they are doing two things: 1) indicating that they are not being sanctified and may have not received the Holy Spirit to begin with; and 2) they are not interested in following Jesus Christ with their lives.
There are also some Bible-believing Christians who think that Christians can actually exercise their free will to such an extent as to lose their salvation. While many do not agree with this position, it would be prudent not to completely dismiss it either.
Now, is Jesus literally saying to gouge out your eyes? Maybe. If a pedophile really cannot help himself, gouging out his eyes might be what he needs in order to prevent himself from sinning and harming others. Maybe that’s the only way he can recenter his life and try to focus on God. In extreme cases, it’s possible that such measures would be worth it.
More likely, however, this passage is another example of hyperbole. Jesus is teaching a poignant truth: the extreme seriousness of sin and lust. If this passage were completely literal, there would be Christians with eye patches everywhere. I don’t think that’s what Jesus expected, but like God does in other parts of Scripture, He’s making a point we can remember. He’s shocking us to wake us up from our spiritual and moral slumber. He knows our tendency to ignore soft wording.
Satan’s greatest lie is one that sounds reasonable to most people.
Always remember that Satan is smarter than you. If I had to choose just one of Satan’s many successful lies in this world, it would be this:
I can earn my salvation and go to heaven apart from Christ alone.
Whether it’s through charitable acts or religious rites, most people have their own concept of how to reach heaven (and some don’t even believe in the existence of heaven, so they live it up now). The problem is, not everyone can be right.
Because this topic is so broad and can cover so many divergent views, I’ll cover just two basic and contending ideas: 1) A person can go to heaven if they’re “good,” and 2) the only way to go to heaven is through Jesus Christ and following Him.
First, consider these Bible verses:
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
So clearly, if you call yourself a Christian or believe in the Bible at all, you must concede at this point that no person is good enough to get to heaven. If all righteous acts are worthless apart from the grace of God, then logically there is no way to earn eternal life.
But what about people who don’t believe that the Bible is authoritative? Then let’s turn to some real-life examples and a bit of basic reasoning.
Most people think they are “good people.”
If you happened to see the “180” movie (http://180movie.com/), you may have noticed in the latter parts that most people interviewed would call themselves good or nice people. It may have even occurred to you the irony of a racist, hateful, and fornicating neo-Nazi asking, “Don’t you think it’s funny that God would send a nice guy like me to hell?” Most of us would look at him and say, “THAT guy is definitely not good enough. But thankfully, I am.”
To that I would ask, by what or whose standard are you “good enough”? If it’s not up to God (who clearly articulates in His word that ALL fall short), then who? You? Don’t you think there’s at least a slight danger of personal bias in there somewhere?
Haven’t you lied on many occasions to help yourself? Have you not stolen something that didn’t belong to you, or talked trash behind someone’s back? Are you not a liar, thief, and slanderer? Why then, are you a good person?
Proverbs 21:2: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.”
Consider this. You’re a “nice” person and you generally try to do what’s right. How do you know you’re nice? Because you compare yourself to others, and heck, people have even told you that you’re nice. So far, you’ve been comparing yourself to other sinners who are lost, and other sinners who are lost have told you that you’re a good person. Not too reliable…
You never slept around recklessly in college, nor have you intentionally broken anyone’s heart. Sure, you slept with your boyfriend or girlfriend, but you two were in love at the time. You didn’t cheat while the relationship was still on. “Compared to womanizing perverts out there, I am a very decent human being.”
OK, let’s pretend that the Bible is out of the picture and that fornicating and pre-martial sex is morally acceptable with consenting adults (of course, it’s not). That’s the prevalent American view, anyhow. But people in other countries would look at you and judge you as wicked for not being a virgin on your wedding night. To them, you might be labeled a “whore.” You would in turn label them as backwards, old-fashioned, and intolerant. (Plus, you would probably wave your American diploma in their faces and roll your eyes at their less educated culture.) Who is right in this scenario? Is the default answer always you or America?
Other cultures might look down on you as a woman for not covering your face in public. To them, you seem completely immodest, and that’s before they take a look at the outfit you’re wearing, revealing a “stylish” amount of cleavage. The scandal! Then you would roll your eyes, then point accusingly at them for treating women less equally, and consider their culture chauvinistic. Are you right because you’re an educated American? Or are you wrong morally because you’re also spoiled, materialistic, and living in a sexually charged culture where almost anything goes? Who’s the final judge?
What about the iPad you purchased, knowing full well that hundreds of dollars would feed starving children in other parts of the world? If it didn’t occur to you at the Apple Store, you’re reminded of it now. Are you then going to sell your unnecessary luxury goods to save lives? Why not? To the mother of a dying child in another part of the world, your hesitance to do this—while calling yourself a good-enough person to get to heaven—might seem perplexing. To her, you might not seem like such a great person after all. But again, whose standard is right? (Hint: The answer lies in the simple fact that no one is actually “good.”)
Forget different modern cultures. Let’s just take America, 1950 vs. today. Many of the cherished values of previous generations have gone by the wayside in 2011. But how are we so sure that we are right and they were wrong? Why is “old-fashioned” automatically inferior? There is a huge assumption here of continual forward progress morally, but don’t we know deep inside that this isn’t necessarily true? What’s to say that what we believe today will be looked upon favorably by our great-grandkids’ generation? They will likely look at our societal standards and mock our conservatism. “Can you believe they didn’t allow animal marriage in 2011?” (Ridiculous example, but perhaps not as far-fetched as it seems.)
If standards change from person to person, culture to culture, and decade to decade, how can we be sure we have the right one? Are heaven and God subject to us? If there is such a thing as an afterlife, and there exists a God (which most Americans would agree with), don’t you think His standard would be the right one? I don’t know about you, but if I created the universe—including human beings and their brains—I would feel wholly justified in insisting that my truths are a bit wiser than yours. If you believe in God but disregard what He clearly tells us in the Bible, then you’re being blind and foolish. I know that sounds harsh, but can you honestly say this “I’m a good person” logic makes any sense?
If there is objective moral truth out there, then it is true whether we like it or not. It is true whether it’s 1950, 2011, or 2090. It’s true whether you’re in America or Bangladesh or Korea. Rape is wrong whether you like it or not. Stealing is wrong, even if it’s from a richer person. And trying to get to heaven with acts of charity and being a “good person” doesn’t work whether or not you REALLY FEEL like it’s got to be true. Without an objective truth standard, you’re risking your eternal security on the flimsiest of platforms, and frankly, it doesn’t make any sense—especially since most people who think this way consider themselves to be rational thinking adults.
Put your faith in the Bible and trust what it says. Jesus is the only way, period. You can’t pick and choose the parts you like because what you like is entirely subjective and changes with the tides. A year from now, you might not even agree with yourself! If you want to go by another “holy book” out there, then be objective and explain to yourself (or to me, please) why you think that religion’s book is more reliable than the most tried and tested scriptures of all human history.
Just be real with yourself, that’s all I’m saying.
Heaven or Hell?
Most Christians today believe that children are judged according to a different standard, and I agree. By the same token, so are mentally handicapped people, or even those that haven’t heard the word of God before. The keys to this conclusion center around understanding and accountability.
Throughout the Bible—even the big ol’ bad Old Testament—it’s made clear that we are held accountable for our decisions based on our level of understanding. Children, almost by definition, are not yet capable of making binding, informed, and willful decisions. And of course, the same applies for people with mental disabilities.
Therefore, it is widely believed with scriptural support that children who die go to heaven (up to a certain age, which is undetermined). They have not had a chance to fully grasp the message of the gospel or accept Christ under their own volition yet, so God in his grace allows them to freely enter heaven. The same, by logical extension, applies to those with mental disabilities that hinder them from rational thought and decision-making.
What about those who haven’t heard God’s word? They are judged according to what they know, and there’s really no way for me to know the scale. Even if they will not enter heaven, their punishment will not be as great as those who knew about God and willfully chose to reject Him. Again, I refer to this verse:
Luke 12:47-48: “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
For a more in-depth look at these topics and scriptural support, check out the links below. There’s not much more I can add than that.
So what does this mean to us anyway? Most of us are past the age of accountability and have probably heard of God, so this doesn’t directly apply to us. This is true, but I still think this issue affects us in our minds and hearts.
For example, when we see an infant succumb to fatal birth complications or a young child die in a horrible automobile accident, our natural inclination is to wonder, “Why would God allow this?” Well, part of knowing that God is the greatest possible good is also the realization that his goal is to give the human race as a whole the best chance at heaven without infringing upon free will. God’s ultimate goal is to bring us into a saving knowledge of him. This outweighs the far lesser good of happiness here on earth. The earth is not some terrarium for us to enjoy as his pets.
There are some eminent Christian scholars who espouse the doctrine of middle knowledge, and practically speaking, this might mean that God places us all in the best time period and geography for our personal inclinations.
Perhaps God knows ahead of time that what lies ahead for a certain baby is a horrible life, or that the baby would grow up to do significant damage to his kingdom. Maybe ensuring the eternal destiny of that child is the most merciful solution, and it’s even possible that some good will come out of it for others. Who the heck knows? Like chaos theory or a butterfly flapping its wings, causing a hurricane in another part of the world…it’s really WAY beyond our understanding. It’s a formula with countless variables, and the interplay of all people and factors is something we simply cannot speculate on.
I, for one, am thankful that God placed me in this time and place. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have believed in Jesus if I were a Jew who had lived 2,000 years ago. Maybe I’d look upon him as a simple commoner, and scoff at an uneducated lover of Gentiles trying to teach ME about truth. Maybe I’d be turned off by his appearance or style, who knows? Many people’s hearts were hard to him even when they saw him performing miraculous signs, so why should I assume I would have been different? This is like every guy who watches Saving Private Ryan yelling at the coward who sits there crying instead of saving his fellow soldier. We honestly don’t know what we would have done in that situation, we can only guess. (I, for one, am certain I would have courageously fought and saved my American brother. Just kidding.)
People who have heard about God but choose to be atheists today are probably the ones who wouldn’t have believed in any realistic circumstance. Those in foreign countries without Christian knowledge will be punished far less than they would have endured if they had been born in the USA and still rejected God. So maybe that was part of God’s mercy and goodness, as well, putting them on the path of less punishment in a logically lose-lose situation.
Of course, there’s no way to be 100% sure about any of this, but it’s certainly plausible if middle knowledge is true.
So why doesn’t God just kill everybody from birth whom he knows will reject him later? Wouldn’t that be more merciful? Well, not really. You can’t really call that free will if he precludes the possibility of people rejecting him. Plus, then you’d have even more people here on earth complaining and doubting God’s inability to save their children’s lives. There are just too many factors at play here to come up with a more balanced, feasible solution. I choose to believe that while it may not be pretty from our viewpoint, our current situation may be the best that was possible. In the end, it’s all going to be redeemed anyway.