The Purpose of Life: A Biblical Narrative

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  (John 1:1-3)

From everlasting to everlasting, the perfect love that we call God existed in three persons.  Fullness of love, joy, peace, harmony and beauty exists only in them and they exist eternally.  Desiring to share love, joy, peace, beauty and harmony with others, they created the angels as sons made in their image.

The angelic creation was perfect and none of the angels ever knew sickness, disease or death and they were perfectly aware of God’s existence and nature from the time they were created.  Being finite beings who were not perfect in their love nor self-existent, however, the angels could only be perfectly loving by choosing obedience to the guidance of God.  For an age that had a duration that human beings cannot quantify or understand, the angels lived in obedience to God and all was well.  At some point, however, the foremost of the angels chose not to walk in obedience to perfect love and fell.

This angelic being, who the Word of God tells us is the Father of Lies and a Murderer from the beginning, seized the power of death and began to terrorize the angelic creation.  Deliberately choosing to perform actions that were not consistent with perfect love, this angelic being began to magnify himself and accomplish his own ends at the expense of others.  When those injured by imperfect love petitioned God for protection and redress, this angelic being became Satan the accuser.  Wielding the perfect holiness of God as a weapon, Satan would answer any accusation with counter-accusations.  “I find it deeply disturbing that my brother should accuse me in this way, oh God.  We all know that if you were to start judging us, all would be found unworthy of your gift of life and we all alike would be sentenced to the death and unbeing that we all deserve.   Can not my brother be like you and forgive and turn the other cheek that we all might live?”  Using the power of death in this way, Satan sought to usurp the throne of God and rule over creation in accordance with God’s will.

Though God’s infinite love, patience and mercy would have allowed this situation to continue in perpetuity, those angels who chose obedience to perfect love did not have infinite love, patience and mercy.  They began to petition God to end Satan’s usurpation and release them from the power of death.  At long last, God heard their cries and initiated the plan to overcome the power of death and bring in everlasting righteousness.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone–while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  (Job 38:4-7)

He began by creating this Universe, where the nature and even the existence of God are veiled from the sight of those who live among the stars and are made from the dust.  From the unimaginably vast number of stars and galaxies, God chose a small planet around a seemingly unexceptional star and created life.  Over billions of years, God sequentially created bacteria, plants, fish and other creatures culminating in creatures that had a divine spark named Adam and Eve.  After Satan demonstrated that human beings were not capable of perfect love by tempting these new creatures with the knowledge of good and evil, humanity began its journey to accomplish God’s purpose and release creation from the power of death.

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6)

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

In stark contrast to the angelic sons of God, the descendants of Adam and Eve cannot know God’s existence except by faith.  Living lives of toil that are constantly punctuated by pain, disease and death, humanity does not directly see the infinite love, patience and kindness of God.  When a being who has known such pain, suffering, disease and death trusts in God and believes in His existence and His goodness, God considers that person to be perfect before Him regardless of what that person has actually done.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103: 11-12)

If God is for us, who can be against us?  . . . Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  (Romans 8:33)

This miracle of declaring those who have faith as righteous was accomplished by the second person of the Trinity, the finite manifestation of perfect love  on the cross at Calvary.  By living a life of perfect love and obedience even to the point of being tortured to death on the cross, Jesus Christ pleased God the Father and made it possible for all who believe in Him to be declared righteous before God by faith.  Because those who believe in Jesus Christ are righteous by faith and not by works of the law, they cannot be accused of violating the law and death has no power over them.

Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!  (1 Corinthians 6:3)

Once human beings have been declared righteous by faith, they are appointed as judges over the angels.  Because those whom God has declared righteous by faith are heirs to throne of God, they can judge angelic disputes without imposing the penalty of death required by God’s holiness for any transgression.  Because the power of death has been broken in this way, Satan can no longer use it to enslave creation and God’s conquest of evil is complete.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  (1 Corinthians 15:54)

Answering Questions

The Bible speaks of Satan’s power of death, but there is little discussion of what it is or why it is important in the church.  What is the power of death?  How did Satan come to have it?  Why should it be that Satan has the power of death when God is the author of life? Answering these questions as above allows us to answer other questions that are seemingly unrelated and have been an obstacle to faith for many generations.

What is the purpose and meaning of life?

God created us to know eternal love, joy, peace, beauty and harmony.  In order to experience the joy that God has for us, we must learn to depend on Him and accept His guidance.  Without the guidance and assistance of God, perfect love and joy is impossible for us.

Why did God create evil?

God created finite beings who did not have a perfectly loving, kind and generous nature in order to share joy with them.  Because created beings are finite and do not have a perfectly loving nature, they must choose obedience to perfect love in order to avoid injuring one another.  If created beings do not choose to submit to perfect love, an unlimited amount of evil inevitably results from a catastrophic feedback loop of unforgiven sin.

Why does pain, suffering, disease and death exist in the world?

The essential purpose of this creation was to create sons of God who would be righteous by faith and not by sight.  This purpose required that God veil His existence and His nature.  After the fall, God accomplished this purpose by allowing human beings to experience an environment which was not governed by benevolent principles where belief in an omnipotent and beneficent God is extremely difficult.

Why did Jesus Christ have to die on the cross for God to forgive sins?

Jesus Christ did not have to die on the cross so that God could allow us to live.  God’s infinite patience and mercy was sufficient to grant us eternal life.  Jesus Christ had to die on the cross in order to declare those who believe righteous by faith and break the power of death.  This was done that the rule of Satan might be broken and the rule of the Son of God might be established on the day the Bible calls  the “Great and Terrible Day of the LORD”.

Why does a human being have to believe in Jesus Christ in order to get into heaven?

As finite human beings, we tend to think of paradise as a pleasant place.  Perhaps a white sandy beach with crystal clear blue waters and a cool tropical breeze with great food.  Paradise, however, is determined by the love that you experience from those around you.  In order to be capable of the perfect love that paradise requires, we have to accept the guidance and assistance of God through Jesus Christ.  Without this guidance and assistance, the world must inevitably become the world we see around us.  A world of violence, envy, bitterness, hatred, strife and unforgiveness caused by human small mindedness and self-centered thinking.   Only by accepting that your love has fallen short of God’s perfect standard and accepting His forgiveness and assistance is paradise possible.

For other posts on this topic see:

Posted in Atheist Arguments, Biblical Difficulties | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Purpose of Life: The Biblical Case

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

So that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– (Hebrews 2:14)

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right (until it) is liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.(Romans 8:21,19).

These three verses paint a remarkable picture. They paint the picture of creation groaning in bondage to a rogue archangel called Satan (or the accuser) who was the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning and wields the power of death. After human beings are created, this Accuser meets them in the Garden of Eden and tempts them to violate God’s command. How does God deal with this rogue archangel?

Perhaps God can deal with this rogue archangel by judging him?

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” . (Romans 3:23)

“The wages of sin is death” . (Romans 6:23)

For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:11)

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3)

From these verses, we see that God cannot simply judge Satan. Since God is Holy, Holy, Holy and there is no partiality with him and He is no respect of persons, He cannot judge Satan without judging the other angels as well. Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, this results in everyone getting what they deserve from God. What do all sinners deserve from God? Death. If God judges Satan, all of creation is destroyed. This is Satan’s power of death.

Jesus even says that he does not come to judge.

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  (John 12:47)

Maybe the way to reign in a rogue archangel is with another archangel?

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)

Michael cannot judge Satan because he knows that even he falls short of the glory of God.

How does God deal with a rogue archangel who is called the accuser, the Father of lies, a murderer from the first and holds all creation in bondage using the power of death?

The Bible seems to suggest that the church may play a role.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:17-18)

Do you not know that we will judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3)

When Jesus Christ sees that by faith in Him his disciples have the power to overcome the demonic, he prophesies the fall of Satan “like lightning from heaven”. The Bible seems to be saying that God’s children have a role in overcoming Satan. How could this be?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)

The children of God are not righteous by works of the law, we are righteous by faith. For this reason, we cannot be accused of anything. Full stop, case closed, accusations and death have no power over those of us who are righteous by faith.

So Satan knows that his time is short, he knows that the children of God are coming and they are going to be given authority over angels. What does he do? He resorts to open insurrection.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. (Revelation 12:7,8)

In this way, faith overcomes the power of the evil one.

If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies . . . in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8: 31-37)

Posted in Atheist Arguments | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Nature of the Cross

One of the greatest difficulties involved in believing in the Christian faith is the idea that Jesus Christ had to die on the cross at Calvary in order for God the Father to forgive sins.  This idea does not seem to make any sense.  Is God the Father so savage that the only way he can feel better about a crime is to commit a worse one against an innocent?  How does the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ work?

The response to these questions that I got from my reading was that Jesus Christ had to die on the cross to meet the righteous requirements of God’s law.  This is, however, only half of the story.  Imagine you were going to arrange a special birthday party for your child where you wanted to make everything perfect.  It was going to take a lot of time and cost a good deal of money, but you really wanted it to be a once-in-a-lifetime day.  Though you put in an unbelievable amount of work, everything goes wrong.  Some of your child’s friends have family members who are rude and obnoxious and the entire event goes completely haywire with verbal and physical abuse.  Would all the work you had done for the party have been worthwhile?  Would you do it again?  Or would you just have a quiet family get together on the next birthday and forget the grandiose and lavish plans?

God does an enormous amount of work to create and sustain human beings in the world.  When he looks out at the results, he is extremely angry.  Countless acts of petty bickering, selfish manipulation, lies, rape, murder, unkindness and all manner of evil and rotten behavior.  Is there nothing in the world that is worth his time and attention?  Is there nothing of beauty to be had from all the work that he has put in?  Looking at the world, God comes to a sad conclusion.  There is nothing worthwhile and the world needs to be shutdown.  Everyone deserves to die.

And then something amazing happens.  An act of love so great, so pure, so beautiful, so perfect that it outshines all the “good” acts of this world like the sun outshines a candle.  After this one act of surpassing beauty, God the Father looks upon the world in an entirely different way.  All of the work that has gone into creating and sustaining countless billions of stars and people is worthwhile! He is pleased by his creation and takes great pleasure in it forevermore.

There are two equal and opposite sides to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  One side is the evil side.  On this side we see the tremendous evil that was heaped upon our Lord.  The other side is the side of love.  On that side is the love that it took for our Lord to take all the evil that was heaped upon him for our sake.  The two sides are equal and opposite.  Had the evil that had been heaped upon him merely been a slap, then only a slap’s amount of love is demonstrated by taking that for us.  Had the evil that had been heaped upon him been a scourging, then only a scourging’s amount of love is demonstrated by his obedience.  When one fully realizes all the horrible things that happened to our Lord on that great and terrible day, then one realizes the impossible love that he demonstrated by taking that evil upon himself.

Because of the blackness of the human heart, Christians have for two thousand years focused exclusively on the dark side of the cross.  We thought the Father was pleased because of all the evil that was done to his Son.  In fact, we could not have been more wrong.  The Father was pleased by the incredibly pure act of love that his Son demonstrated in taking that evil for us.  In short, the Father was pleased by what Christ did for man and not with what man did to Christ.

This, therefore, is the missing half of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross at Calvary.  When God the Father looked at the world before the sacrifice of his Son, he was angry.  The human race was condemned to death because God the Father took no joy in our selfish and self-centered acts and was simply not willing to continue to do the enormous amount of work required for us to live.  Then his innocent and pure and spotless Son was tortured to death for the sins of the world and that singular act of beauty made it all worthwhile.  God the Father gave all judgment to the Son and was reconciled to the world for the sake of this glorious act of divine love.

If you focus exclusively on the dark side of the cross, you see a gross distortion of the character of God.  From that perspective, God is the ultimate Pharisee looking for even the tiniest excuse to pronounce someone worthy of death and burn them in fire for all eternity.  He only relents from his terrible retribution when an innocent has been tortured to death sating the divine blood lust.

When you look at the atonement through the lens of the teachings of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, everything changes.  God’s deepest desire for us is that we love him and each other.  Selfish and self-centered human beings, however, constantly fail to uphold even the most minimal standard of not injuring one another and not blatantly disrespecting him.  When he considers all that he has done for us, he comes to the completely reasonable conclusion that we are not worth his time and attention.  Without his time and attention, of course, we would instantly cease to exist so he pronounces us worthy of death.  Only looking at the world through the blood of the Son and remembering his beautiful sacrifice makes all the time and effort worthwhile.  Only through association with Christ’s work on the cross can we deserve to live.  How can one see a candle when it is close to the sun?

The only way to solve the difficulties of the doctrine of Atonement, then, is to keep a balanced view of the cross.  On the one hand, Jesus died to meet the requirements of the law and of the covenants in order to obtain the blessings promised to the descendants of Abraham.  We see this truth illustrated in Revelation chapter 5 when only the lamb is able to open the scroll that bestows our everlasting inheritance.  On the other hand, Jesus had to die to meet the impossible requirements of a higher standard.  Only through a perfect act of love could God be reconciled to human evil.  A balanced view of the Atonement and the cross, therefore, is a key to a rational faith.

Posted in Atheist Arguments, Biblical Difficulties | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Testament in One Diagram

So I am a big believer in simplicity and I was thinking of the simplest way to explain my interpretation of the Old Testament.  I did this once before with my “Reformed Christian Quiz“, but I didn’t think it was simple enough.  As I thought about it, it seemed to me that a picture is worth a thousand words so I decided that the easiest way is to just use a picture with a brief explanation.  First the picture and then the brief explanation:


So in this diagram we show Mount Goodness which is just a visual representation of morality.  At the pinnacle of Mount Goodness is the cross representing the teachings of Jesus Christ, the example that He gave for us in His life and the example of His apostles in the New Testament.  Far below the summit we see Modern Israel which is the pinnacle of the morality obtained by Western civilization.  Below that we have Moses representing himself, the other Old Testament prophets, the Law and the teachings of the Old Testament.  Notice that Modern Israel and the morality of Western civilization surpasses that of Moses and the Old Testament Law.  This is a very critical point.  Next we see Ancient Israel which, in my opinion, represents the absolute nadir of human morality.  God chose those Ancient Israelites, in the midst of the most vicious and barbarous human beings in all of history, to demonstrate the transforming power of his love.  The Old Testament, therefore, is the story of the human journey up Mount Goodness from the valley when many human societies were more savage than ISIS.

To see specific examples of how Mount Goodness informs our understanding of the Old Testament, see my posts “The Greatest Sins in Human History“,  “The Great Sin of Elisha” and “Throwing Moses Under the Bus Part 1“.


Posted in Biblical Difficulties | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Triangulating on the Truth

Oftentimes when I am arguing with an atheist, I will abandon one line of reasoning and try to demonstrate the truth of what I believe using another line of reasoning.  When I do this, it is often interpreted as, “Aha!  I proved that you are being irrational with that previous line of reasoning and that it does not demonstrate support for your Christian beliefs.”  From my point of view, however, I switch tactics when I realize that an atheist has closed his mind to a certain line of evidence.  If an atheist cannot see that the evidence does not support the idea that the information in the biosphere was produced by random mutation and natural selection, for example, then maybe they will respond to a philosophical argument?

While switching tactics like this seems like an admission of defeat to an atheist, this actually represents my basic philosophy on determining truth. Since human reasoners are fallible, the more  independent lines of reasoning that point to the same conclusion the more confidence we can have in that conclusion as reliable.  Independent lines of reasoning allow us to triangulate on the truth and live a life of confident faith. What independent lines of reasoning do we have for belief in Jesus Christ?  Let us first list and then discuss the basic lines of argument.

  • The historical argument
    • Truth of the Resurrection
    • Fulfilled prophecy
  • The design argument
    • biological
    • non-biological
  • Philosophical arguments
    • First principles
    • Intelligence, morality and free will
  • The argument from the uniqueness of the Bible
  • Subjective experience

Historical Arguments

When I read what the early church believed in the New Testament and then go to the historical record and see that these early Christians were tortured to death and yet would not deny Jesus Christ, this is powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity.  Given the historical record, the only alternative to believing in the truth of the gospel is to believe that large numbers of people died without violent resistance for a belief system they knew to be false.  That Christianity originally spread without violence and against the headwind of Roman persecution is surely one of the most powerful reasons to believe it.  If those who met John, Paul and Peter and the other disciples of Christ were persuaded enough to die for the faith by torture, then that is good enough for me.

Another powerful argument for the truth of Christianity comes out of the Book of Daniel.  As elucidated in the book The Coming Prince by Scotland Yard investigator Robert Anderson, the Book of Daniel predicts the coming of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey hundreds of years before the actual event to the very day.  The only way to get out of this conclusion is to believe that early Christians falsified all the copies of the Book of Daniel that have come down to us from Jewish sources.  Given the historical context of conflict between the Jews and Christians at that time, however, this seems incredibly implausible.  Imagine a Christian going into a Jewish synagogue and saying, “Excuse me?  Do you guys mind if I alter your scrolls in order to insert a false prediction about Jesus entering Jerusalem 69 weeks of years after the decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem?  I know you think he was a false messiah and everything, but it will really help us deceive 20th century Americans into believing in the gospel.  Thanks.”

Design Arguments

When I consider the problem of the origin of life, I am blown away that atheists can so easily dismiss arguments from biological design.  Before random mutation and natural selection can even begin to work their magic, the enormously sophisticated constituents of the simplest cell have to come about by pure chance.   Even as a person who believes that God’s creation of the living world was done with a “hidden hand” through naturalistic evolution so that faith would be essential, God’s design is obvious if we honestly consider the astonishing complexity and information found in  the artifacts of the biological world.

Even more powerful than the argument from biology is the design argument that comes from physics and cosmology.  Stars, galaxies, carbon chemistry and life as we know it would not be possible if it were not for the finely-tuned values of the various constants of physics.  These highly precise values look like the product of design and the only way to avoid this conclusion is belief in a “Multiverse” where the vast majority of universes are devoid of life.  This takes a great deal of anti-faith in that we can have no evidence for these other universes and no evidence that the constants of physics are malleable.

Philosophical Arguments

As I have argued elsewhere,  it is possible to derive a system very close to Biblical Christianity with nothing but a few assumptions concerning the nature of God and an honest evaluation of who we are as human beings.  This is the argument for Christianity from first principles and it is one of the most powerful reasons to believe in Jesus Christ as far as I am concerned. As powerful as this argument is, however, it represents only a small fraction of the power of the philosophical arguments that have been put forward for Christianity over the years.

How is it possible that a scientist can write down a series of elegant mathematical equations on a 3  x 5 card and those equations will describe the behaviour of quasars, planets, cannon balls, light, magnets and all kinds of physical phenomena to 20 places of the decimal?  Why do human beings experience consciousness?  Why do human beings have such a powerful conscious awareness of choice and morality?  What was the first cause in the universe?  The philosophical arguments concerning the truth of theism and Christianity are extremely powerful and require educated atheists to dismiss most human experience (free will, morality, love, intelligence) as delusion.

Biblical Arguments

In addition to the arguments from fulfilled prophecy, the arguments from the uniqueness of the Bible are tremendously compelling.  If one looks at the history and the accomplishments of the Jewish people, they look for all the world like a people specially chosen by the divine.  From chastity and sobriety to forgiveness, honesty and generosity the New Testament requires the highest standards of conduct of any religion in the world.  At the same time, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross uniquely provides for grace and compassion to those of us who fall short of this standard on a daily basis.  Additionally, the Bible uniquely predicted the expansion of spacetime discovered by Edwin Hubble and is uniquely consistent with what science tells us of the history of the natural world.  (See my post “Jesus Christ the One and Only” for more on these ideas.)

Subjective Experience

While atheists typically dismiss the value of personal experience as evidence, the reality is that we cannot know any truth at all except by trusting our own experience to some extent.  While it is true that subjective experience can be tremendously unreliable, what can I know if I cannot know myself?  Personal experience is the most powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity for a Christian and correctly so.

When I examined myself honestly before I became a Christian, I found that I was a selfish and self-centered person who had done things I was ashamed of and was capable of horrific evil.  This need of God’s love and forgiveness is the primary reason that I am a Christian.  If I am correct in my evaluation that life without the love and forgiveness offered in the Bible is unlivable, then how can it be rational to do anything but believe in the only hope that I have?

Though I am still far from perfect, I have also experienced improvements in enough areas of life that my belief that I am on the right track has been greatly strengthened.  If the Bible tells me that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and I am able to overcome lust and anger issues through prayer and perseverance, this serves as a powerful confirmation of the truths of the Bible.  This is especially true when victory in these areas was so hard that I never thought I would make it.  The miraculous nature of these victories is doubly confirmed by the arguments of a neuroscientist like Sam Harris who denies that human beings can improve their behaviour through our conscious choices.

Of course, if my experience of God working within my heart is valid, then the testimonies of countless other Christians are likely to be equally valid.  This tidal wave of evidence can only be dismissed by the most specious arguments where atheists argue that similar claims made by the adherents of other religions invalidate the Christian claims.  Even the most cursory comparison of the Koran and other religious texts to the New Testament, however, will reveal them to be vastly inferior to any honest investigator. What is more likely to lead to inner peace and a genuine  love for others?  The teachings of Jesus Christ or the teachings of the Prophet of Islam?  Do the comparison for yourself.

Independent Paths

All of the arguments listed above are powerful and independent arguments for the truth of Christianity.  Cumulatively, these arguments make a confident faith in the truth of Christianity possible for the Christian who is seeking to love God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind.

Posted in A Case for Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Worm and the Fire

And if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye offend you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.

For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.  (Mark 9:42-49)

As one of the biggest stumbling blocks for belief in Jesus Christ, the concept of hell is one of the most important concepts in the New Testament.  In this passage, Jesus is teaching us about the nature of hell and this teaching is so important that he emphasizes it by giving us multiple different illustrations of the same basic truth.  What do these verses teach us about hell?

The first thing to notice about hell is that it is characterized by a worm and a fire.  Some ancient scribes evidently thought that the repetition of the phrase “Where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched” was so unimportant that they omitted the first two instances and only kept the final occurrence.  Many modern translators have agreed with these ancient scribes and “improved” the Word of God by omitting the repetition.  In other places in the Scripture, however, God emphasizes important concepts through repetition.  For this reason, I would argue that the worm and the fire teach us what hell is like and that this teaching was so important that Jesus emphasized it by repeating it three times.  What are the worm and the fire?

A vital clue as to the nature of the worm and the fire is given to us in the text. We note that the worm “dieth not” and the fire is “not quenched”.  This implies that we as human beings living in this world already experience the worm and the fire that characterize hell.  Why warn people of a worm that “dieth not” if they did not already have the worm?  Why warn people of a fire that is “not quenched” if they do not already experience the fire?  This implication is strengthened by the fact that “everyone is salted with fire”.  Even believers, therefore, experience the worm and the fire and this experience acts as “salt”.   So what could the worm and the fire be and how could they serve as “salt” that preserves believers from corruption?

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.  (Jonah 4:7)

In this verse, there is a worm that is prepared by God.  This worm causes Jonah discomfort by killing a plant that was providing shade to the prophet as he watched the city of Nineveh from his vantage point in the desert.  The worm, therefore, is a symbol of disease, decay and discomfort.  So one of the characteristics of hell is that it is a place where disease and decay are never ending and this stands in stark contrast to the promises made to believers that we shall be given the gift of a body that does not experience disease or decay.

If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  (1 Corinthians 3:15-17)

Like the worm, fire in Scripture is a destroyer.  Unlike the worm, fire purifies by destroying that which is corrupt or  unworthy.  Every human being has experienced the frustration of having the work of our hands destroyed by weather, malice or accidental destruction.  Another characteristic of hell, therefore, is the continuation of the principle of entropy by which the works of our hands are continually destroyed.  This perpetual destruction entails an enormous amount of labour and frustration and is referenced in other portions of Scripture.

“May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”  (Romans 11:10)


But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.  (Revelation 21:8)

but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.  (Genesis 2:17)

In Revelation, the fire is described as the second death.  The first death occurred when Adam and Eve severed their relationship with God through disobedience in the Garden of Eden.  Since the first death and the second death are of the same kind, we see that fire is used to describe the state of being eternally separated from the love of God.  That this torment is real and unbearable is clearly evident in the world around us.

Surely every human being has experienced the pain of loneliness?  That feeling that nobody else in the world understands you, that nobody else in the world cares for you, that other people only spend time with you for some ulterior motive?  This torment is the byproduct of the desire that every human being shares for love.  The love of God and of other human beings is essential for human happiness, but it only exists as the byproduct of the willing submission of the will to the self-sacrificial requirements of love.   If you reject Christ, you have rejected God’s love and the fire of being tormented by that loneliness will never end.  Your desire for perfect love will never be satisfied and the fire that is the byproduct of that desire will never be quenched.

So if the worm that does not die speaks of unending physical illness and the fire speaks of the eternal destruction of the works of our hands and the torment of eternal loneliness, how do these things “salt” believers?  It seems to me that believers are “salted” by our experiences of the worm and the fire down here on Earth through an appreciation of what it is like to live life without God.  Faced with a temptation to do that which is displeasing to God in eternity, a Christian believer will say, “No thanks.  I have lived life in a world without God’s gifts, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace and God’s guidance.  I did not like it at all and I do not want to go back.”  In eternity, this appreciation of the benefits of following God will preserve our relationship with God through every temptation.

Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits (Psalm 103:2)

In the “Nature of Hell” and other essays on this site, I have attempted to address questions concerning hell from a philosophical perspective.  This is because the ultimate target of this site are not Christians who know the Bible but those outside the church who have questions.  As we have seen above, however, a careful examination of the Scriptures agrees with the philosophical reasoning that hell is not literal flames.  As is clear from the teaching of Jesus, hell is the consequence of rejecting the gifts and the love of God.

Posted in Atheist Arguments, Hell | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Completed Work

Recently, WordPress sent me an email reminding me that I started this blog some four years ago.   When I started, my goal was to explore the ideas that would be the basis for my second book.  The book was to be entitled From First Principles: A Christian Apologetic and its purpose was to share the best answers that I have found to the questions that have made living a fully committed Christian life difficult.  These are the “why” questions that atheists often use to bludgeon Christians:

  • “Why did Jesus Christ have to be tortured to death on the cross?”
  • “Why does God require faith?”
  • “Why did God create evil?”
  • “Why is their so much pain and suffering in the world?”
  • “Why does God order the Israelites to commit genocide in the Old Testament?”
  • “Why does God send people to hell?”
  • “If God exists, why does it look as though life has evolved?”
  • “If God exists, then why would human beings have a history that goes back thousands of generations?”

To my mind, these central “why questions” are the most important questions that confront us as we live the Christian life.  Any reasonable adult will understand and agree that a limited amount of pain and suffering could, in principle, be worthwhile depending on the goal.  We even have a saying that recognizes our willingness to make this exchange.  We say, “no pain, no gain” to motivate ourselves to suffer through difficulty in order to attain a desired goal.  On the other hand, experiencing gratuitous pain at the hands of another person is the hallmark of an abusive relationship and any intelligent, self-respecting adult would avoid someone who inflicts pain on themselves or others without a good reason.  What is that reason?  Why would God create a world filled with such pain?

To answer these questions, I wanted to employ the power that a narrative has to explain a set of facts that is otherwise a mystery.  I cannot be the only person who has ever found the actions of a friend incomprehensible until I was able to ask them directly and have them explain?  As the explanation unfolds, seemingly irreconcilable facts fall into place in a harmonious account that offers a satisfactory explanation and answers all of the obvious questions.  The goal of my book, therefore, was to supply a Biblically based narrative that offered an explanatory framework for answering these why questions.

As I survey the work that I have done over the last four years on this site, it seems to me as though I have accomplished my goal.  In the posts that I have written over the last four year, an interested reader will find my best answers to the “why questions” that I have struggled with over the course of my Christian walk.  It is up to the reader to determine whether or not I have answered these questions well, but all of my best answers are available in the posts that I have written:

Having shared my best answers to these difficult questions and thus accomplished the purpose that I set out to accomplish, I have decided that I am no longer going to actively maintain this site.  I hope that every reader has gotten something valuable from what I have written and that we will meet some day in the Kingdom of our Lord.

Posted in Christian Refelections | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hitchens and Human History

As I was reviewing the debate between Frank Turek and the late Christopher Hitchens the other day, I realized that there were two questions that Hitchens had raised that I had not answered in any previous post.  I thought I might take a few minutes to answer these questions as part of one of my last posts cleaning up loose ends.

The first and I thought frankly the most egregious was this.  I find it extraordinary that it can be said on a university campus that without God humans are capable of doing anything.

–Christopher Hitchens in his debate with Frank Turek at 44:40 expressing his incredulity at the idea that human beings fall into depravity without God.

Suppose we have only been around for 75,000 years.  Monotheism . . . shows up 4000 or 5000 years ago at the most.  So if you give me my most microscopically small assumption of human existence, for at least 70,000 years heaven watches as the human species is born, dies, usually of its teeth, usually at about 20, usually its infants having about a 9-10 or 2% (chance of survival) . . . (heaven) watches this with indifference . . . thousands and thousands of generations miserable, illiterate, starving, hungry, to say nothing of the wars they will fight with each other, to say nothing of the cruelties they will inflict, as well as the ones they will suffer just from existence and only 3000-5000 years ago heaven decides that is enough of that it is time for an intervention.   And the best way to do it would be in the most primitive part of the Middle East not in China where people can read and have looked at telescopes.  No.  In the most primitive part of the Middle East basically by offering human sacrifice.

–Christopher Hitchens in his debate with Frank Turek at 1:04:40 asking questions about why God has allowed human history to unfold as it has.

So in these two clips we first have Christopher Hitchens extolling the virtues of human beings and expressing his certainty that human beings do not need God in order to be moral and that to believe otherwise is an infantile and servile fantasy.  In the second of these two clips, we have Christopher Hitchens outlining the actual brutal and barbaric lives that human beings actually lived over the course of our history.  How do we answer these two points raised by Mr. Hitchens?  By realizing that the one answers the other using the power of a Biblical narrative.

The Bible tells us that God is at war with His creation.  The primary issue in question?  Do created beings need their creator’s guidance and love?  Or do we not?  The faction that is against God argues that both the angels and humanity do not need God in order to live and love.  God says, and those who submit to His superior wisdom and love agree, that created beings are incapable of love without His guidance and love.  One of the primary reasons for this creation, therefore, is to demonstrate the truth regarding this question.  Do created beings need God to be good or not?  Hitchens argues that we do not need God to do good or to know good, but human history, as he himself outlines it, demonstrates that he is wrong.

God created human beings perfect and in a perfect environment from “the clay” of inhuman ancestors.   After demonstrating that even in such idyllic conditions human love is imperfect by allowing us to fall after we failed to obey the simplest possible command, God allows humanity to sink into unfathomable barbarism.  For thousands of generations, humanity demonstrates that we are without any redeeming qualities at all.  As archaeology tells us, there was not one “Bronze Age” but many as even the most basic technology was discovered and lost over and over again by a human race innately incapable of sustained progress because of our self-centered and unloving natures.  At long last, one human being responded to the visions and dreams given to him by God and decided to pursue the divine.  Because the man Abram pursued a greater knowledge of God through faith, God blessed the entire world to demonstrate the transforming power of His love.   After only a few thousand years of God’s influence, humanity has made enormous progress morally, artistically, technologically and spiritually.

This is a plausible overview of human history from a Biblical perspective and it answers the two questions raised by Christopher Hitchens as an argument against Christian faith.



Posted in Atheist Arguments | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment