This side of the cross

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Amos 3:6 says that God brings calamity, evil, destruction (depending on the translation) & Amos 3:2 says God punishes people for their iniquities, sin, transgression, (depending on the translation). Does God still punish this side of the cross? Does God cause calamity still?

A friend asked me this last week and I thought I would share it here on my blog. What I have learned after reading this question, and then exploring an answer I will share below, but it is important to remember, ‘never read a Bible verse’. I have heard Greg Koukl say that more times than I can count. Always read what is above, and what is below the verse. Consider the context, and who the passage is written to.

Amos and Hosea are two prophets in the Old Testament who focus on the Northern Kingdom. Both begin their days during the reign of Jeroboam II, 750’s B.C. Amos and his prophesies are very short lived, while Hosea lasted until just before the fall of the Northern Kingdom.

Amos was from the south, but his message was for the Northern Kingdom. He was a shepherd by trade with no credentials to speak of. He had a burning message to give to the North about their comfortable position of power and prosperity. Despite their wealth, they were ignoring the needs of the poor, the widows, the disadvantaged. Multiple commentaries speak to the parallels between that time under the reign of Jeroboam II, our own prosperity and position as a world leader in technology, wealth, and health. He was confident in his message and he knew it was his mission (Amos 7:14-15) to prophesy about a warning to the kingdom of Israel. 1

During this time, Israel was guilty of what our current New Age world view stream of thought does, specifically syncretism. It means combining two or more religions. Jeroboam II ruled for 41 years as the 14th king of ancient Israel. His reign brought a very prosperous time for Israel, not since Solomon had Israel enjoyed such comforts, wealth, and power.

Unfortunately, the people in the North ignore the warnings of these two prophets and within a generation, (40 years), the Northern Kingdom is absorbed by the Assyrian empire.

Quest Bible Study notes explain that He permitted Israel to suffer the consequence of its own evil actions. The Northern Kingdom was absorbed into a pagan world and never returned as Judah in the south did 150 years later. The greed, corruption, self-centered behavior, and syncretism secured their place. Their identity as a nation was gone forever. 2 During this time there was a great earthquake (Amos 1:1) that researchers estimate up to a 7.8, equivalent to what Nepal just experienced the other day.

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown Commentary says, “I will walk with you only to punish you; as a lion walks with his prey.” 3 They also explained when you have a corrupt nation, there God’s instruments of punishment are sure also to be. For example, when you have a crack in a foundation of a house, depending on the severity, you may have to build a new foundation. That means tearing out the old with your shovel, crowbar, sledgehammer, or jackhammer if you have one. Unfortunately for the North, it was not in God’s plan to replace, only remove.

The Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary reads put it this way, “The distinguishing favors of God to us, if they do not restrain from sin, shall not exempt from punishment.” 4 I thought of it this way. Can your favorite student get away with cheating on a test if caught? Of course not. Neither can a favored nation continue with immorality, idolatry, and shedding the blood of innocents without punishment. Yes, I am talking about America.

Does God still bring calamity after the cross? We live in a fallen world and the consequences of that initial fall surround us every day. Does someone wants to look at it as God does not punish after the cross, but we are just suffering the outcomes of the original sin? What loving father does not correct? Does not punish for poor behavior?

Another source I read commented on understanding the difference between the punishment and consequence of sin. If a student cheats on a test and is caught, their punishment may be that they receive an F on the test. The obvious consequence is their good character, (assuming they had one) is now in question. Their teacher, peers, and maybe their parents will question their truthfulness in the future. We still have to deal with the consequence of our own sins.

So many Christians are uncomfortable when we go beyond the ‘love’ characteristic of God. How can a loving God allow so much pain and suffering in this world? So instead of answering the tough questions about God’s character, they may claim He does not punish any more, but we are just still just experiencing the shock waves from the fall. Christians are quick to speak of and point out his mercy, goodness, grace, but justice, as an attribute of God often takes the back seat in conversations. Of course we are still experiencing the fall, but think of it this way. If a man murdered someone prior to the cross, would he experience punishment and consequence, but after the cross only consequence? Maybe the answer depends on his repentance, his heart.

Unrepentant sin leads to punishment. I think Scripture is pretty clear on that. New Testament, Old Testament, before the cross, after the cross. We are not God’s pets. It is not His obligation to make us happy. Our purpose in life is not happiness, but knowledge of God, and that is what will bring true and everlasting fulfillment. We may experience horrible and painful losses in life that make absolutely no sense with the purpose of producing happiness in life, yet they may not be pointless in terms of communing with God. We are not in a position to know how those catastrophic events in our lives move us toward God, but we can rest assured that a Godly response will bring us closer to Him. 5

God is not so interested in how we fail, but rather how we respond to that failure. We have all experienced consequence’s for our failures, and if you think back and ponder some of them for a few minutes, you will begin to see that some of your greatest lessons in life that you learned were due to your failures. William Lane Craig put it this way, “…God’s will for our lives can include failure. It other words, God’s will may be that you fail, and He may lead you into failure! For there are things that God has to teach you through failure that He could never teach you through success.” 6

Sources:

1. Zondervan. Quest Bible Study Notes. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
2. Ibid.
3. Jamieson, Robert., Fausset A.R., Brown, David. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible., J.B. Lippincott & Company; Eerdmans, 2011. Print.
4. Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003. Print.
5. Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
6. Ibid.

 

 

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This side of the cross by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog.

The ultimate correctional facility

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What purpose does hell serve? If it is punishment for sinful actions, shouldn’t it be used for correctional purposes? Seeing as how you burn forever, you will never get out of hell to show that you have learned your lesson. Would it make sense to live a faithful Christian life glorifying the Lord and to accidentally sin by saying a curse word the instant you smash your car into the back of a tractor-trailer, thereby being condemned to burn in hell forever?

This completely misrepresents, or at the very least entirely misunderstands, the gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins offered within the Christian world view.

Christ’s sacrifice is not yanked out from under our feet, like a rug on a smooth hardwood floor, the first time we commit the smallest of sins. And where does it say we will burn forever in Scripture?

As Christians, we are to be Christ like to the best of our abilities, but since we are not perfect, we will never be able to live sinless lives. The whole reason Christ died for us is so we can be forgiven and have eternal life, despite imperfections. Sound too good to be true? Yes, it does sometimes.

Who among us does not want someone who wrongs us or others to pay for their deeds? Ever get cut off by a reckless speeding driver and then hope to see them pulled over a few minutes later? I do every time. If someone commits a murder for private, or selfish gain, and they are caught, we can and do expect them to be put behind bars for life, if they don’t receive the death penalty. We don’t expect that kind of person to be corrected in a correctional facility and then to be set free. We expect them to be punished for a very long time, possibly for the rest of their life for the murder committed.

What is so hard to understand that a perfect and holy God cannot abide by anything less than a perfect and loving character? We expect people to live up to our standards and abide by the laws that govern our society. When the laws are broken, or our own version of ‘what is fair’ and ‘right’ is upset, we righteously expect there to be a consequence for the wrong done to us or others.

If there is a perfect and holy God, and I believe there is, then why can’t He expect a consequence for wrongs done? Yet, unlike a murder committed in our world, those of us who commit murder can plead forgiveness and live an eternal life with our Creator.

In all other religions, we must work toward God and make efforts to bridge the gap that is between us and God. In Christianity, Jesus bridges the gap, because without him it is impossible for us to meet the conditions. Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen? Have you ever use the Lord’s name in vain? In Matthew 5: 27-29 it says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Whoa! So if we just think about it, we are sinning? If you are a guy like me, good luck with that one! None of us can meet these conditions, any more than someone can run the mile in 10 seconds, or lift 10,000 pounds.

In the King James version of the Bible, the word hate is used a total of 87 times as opposed to the word love, which was used 310 times in both the Old and New Testament. The word hell is used 31 times in the Old Testament and 23 in the New Testament, again in the King James version. The word heaven is used 327 times in the Old Testament and 255 in the New Testament. I can’t help but think there is a bias slant portrayed by atheists and skeptics who focus on the punishment rather than on the forgiveness offered.

The fellow who posted the 50 Questions Christian’s can’t answer, (this is number 15) misses the point time and time again.

Christianity offers forgiveness that is everlasting, so we can live an eternal life with our God the Father. The world offers its version of forgiveness, but after you pay for the crime, and sometimes the payment is a life. Where have we heard that before?

 

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Hell – the ultimate correctional facility by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog/category/blog/.

 

Cramming for the final

Reading Time: 6 minutes

What crime deserves an eternity of punishment?

Sounds like a marriage that if you say one wrong thing, your mate will ask for a divorce. Or the first time a child does something wrong, they are shipped off to the orphanage. Not a lot of room for error and comes off sounding very unforgiving. It is probable the person asking such a question is being rhetorical. By that I mean, they are simply asking the question to make a point; they are not really interested in your answer. Is the Pope Catholic? Do trees grow in the woods? Do I look fat in this dress? If you’re married, you better know how to answer that one. Or, one that would fit the above question, “You don’t expect me to actually believe any idiotic answer you come up with, do you?” You could approach such a question by asking a question in return. For example, “Do you believe in eternity?” or “Is there such a thing as a crime?” or “Can someone be punished for eternity, and if so, who would be doing the punishing?” Depending on your question, and their response, you have quite a few different possible directions. If it is determined they don’t even believe in God, you could bring up the argument that everything created must have a cause, everything that has a design has a designer, or everything built must have a builder. But I want to discuss the question from the perspective of a skeptic, someone who may or may not believe in God, but honestly can’t understand why they would be punished for a single crime, and that punishment would be everlasting. You might even struggle answering that question. If you’re one, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. Most Christians don’t spend their time reading about and thinking about, how to respond to such difficult questions. Also sitting down, and typing out a thoughtful response, is a very different matter than responding to difficult questions on the fly.

What crime would deserve an eternal punishment? Most of us, when we first consider such an event, focus incorrectly on the crime itself. Would Hitler deserve an eternity in Hell for the slaughter of six million Jews? How about Stalin in his 30 year reign? Forced labor camps, masses of peasants and involuntary exile, World War II losses, political crimes, famine due to government policies, etc. Estimates range from 30 to 60 million. Would Stalin deserve an eternity of punishment? Without a doubt, Stalin was one of the worst, yet if you really think about it, eternity is a long time for 30 years of murdering even tens of millions of people. Maybe a year for every person killed would sound more reasonable, that way Stalin could have up to 60 million years in hell. Any time off for good behavior?

A couple weeks ago, Todd, our youth group leader, used a rope as an example of eternity. It was a great visual aid that he shared with everyone on Sunday. He had one end of a rope in his hands, (maybe six inches), wrapped in what looked like black electrical tape. The rest of the rope ran across the room and disappeared out the window. We were asked to imagine the rope that went out the window, continuing on forever. Around the earth, past the moon, sun, out of our galaxy, through and past other distant galaxies, going on forever. Todd then talked about how we live for this miniscule 6 inches of rope, when we should be concerned with the eternal end. When you put a crime or crimes in that perspective, it makes it even less palatable or reasonable that someone should be punished for eternity because of a deed or deeds they committed within those 6 inches of rope. If the ropes does not work for you, picture someone, after 70 years of deeds, being punished for billions and billions of endless suffering years. Does not sound fair to me.

As I said, a common mistake made when looking at this question is focusing on the crime, and not the judge. Ask any trial lawyer, one of the first questions they will ask is who the judge will be during the trial. Knowing the judge will often determine strategy and tactics used in the course of the trial. As important as knowing the judge is considering who the crime was committed against. Ray Comfort explained it this way in, The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions. Say you said you were going to beat your dog, it is doubtful there would be any consequence. Now if you threatened to beat up a police officer, then you could expect an arrest and an investigation, which could result in some jail time. Finally, if you were to threaten to beat up the President of the United States, then the result would be swift, severe, and possibly years in prison. The threat was the same across the board, but it was the individual, who was much more significant in each case, that made the difference.

The John Gill Commentary put it this way.
“Their excuses will not be regarded, their pleas will be of no avail, their pretensions to interest in Christ, and love to him, will be set aside; the sentence will remain irrevocable, and there will be no appeal from it, for there is no higher tribunal to bring the cause before; judgment having passed, the execution of it immediately follows: these goats, or formal professors, shall be obliged, whether they will or not, to depart from the presence of Christ; the angels will be ordered to take and cast them into everlasting burnings; they will be driven by them into hell, the place appointed for them; where they shall endure (yxun vnwe) ‘everlasting punishment’…”

Ouch! Sounds like bad news if you offend the Eternal God and Creator of the universe. It is not the crime that increases time served, but who the crime offends. In this case, the one being offended is not ‘only’ the judge, but the jury as well. Ask the skeptics if they have ever lied? If they are being honest they will say yes, and that of course makes them a liar. Ask them if they have ever cheated, again most will say yes, and that makes them a cheater. You can continue asking them if they have used the Lord’s name in vain, lusted after another person, or hated anyone. You see, Christ did not draw the line at the acts, but also the thoughts. Point out to them you are in the same boat, no one can escape the crimes we just listed, but Christ Himself who lived a perfect, flawless life, and who paid the price for our guilt. Matthew said in 5:28 “If a man has lustful thoughts of another woman he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” John said, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” Some may object, stating they don’t do these things very often, but it only takes one lie to become a liar. One event of cheating to become a cheater. Hating one person to be a murder.

Once they understand the consequence of their crime or sin against a perfect and holy God, and that every crime, no matter how small, must be dealt with, then they can see how important the figure of Christ is and what he did for us on the cross. Our God is perfect and holy, and sin cannot abide in his presence. We are all sinners and are incapable of leading perfect lives, but the blood of Christ washes us perfectly clean so we can spend eternity with the judge and jury.

A single crime that deserves an eternity of punishment still sounds pretty harsh, but what about that we have but one decision to make to ensure an eternity of joy and everlasting peace? You never hear an atheist point out the fact that so many, when they embrace Christ, understanding their wretched and hopeless condition, get what seems to be a ‘get out of jail free card’ for eternity. What if Hitler and Stalin embraced Christ before their deaths? As unlikely as it sounds, had it happened we would spend eternity with them. Sounds distasteful doesn’t it? Maybe now you have an impression what an atheist thinks/feels when we say they are going to spend an eternity in hell if they don’t accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. It does sound like a single question final, and if you get it wrong, you lose in a very big way. True, but if you only make one right decision, then you also get to spend eternity in heaven.

Greg Koukl explains that Christianity is offensive enough without our making conditional statements which not only ignore the circumstances of the person asking the question, but that our reply can have eternal consequences. If you don’t know an answer, admit it, or maybe ask some questions yourself while you reflect a considerate reply. They may be more open to the Good News than what you think, so your reply is important.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:15

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