Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If My Kids Asked Rob Bell's Questions, part 2

Again, what if my boys asked me the questions Rob Bell posed in his video?

Dad, will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?

Son, first let me caution you about the way this question is coming out. The way you're asking this will skew your perception of the outcome. For example, let me ask you, is it right to deprive millions of people of their right to freedom and keep them caged up like animals? On the surface, it's a no brainer,right? But, now let me ask you, is it right that a judge should let a thief go free? Or a murderer. Of course not. A judge should execute justice. What if there are a thousand murderers? Should he let them go because there are a lot of them? Or should he still execute justice?

Do you see where I'm going with this - if God is just in punishing one rebel in hell, what makes him suddenly unjust if there are indeed billions who deserve such punishment?

I could easily pose an equally loaded question - will God really let people like Hitler and Stalin and Nero (a Roman emperor who murdered hundreds of Christians) to enjoy the same eternal rewards as the righteous? If not, then what about the next level of evil persons, like Capone or Dahmer?

Loaded questions like that don't really help us. Let's stick with what the Bible tells us to be true, then go from there. Ok?

Remember from our last conversation when we talked about sin and its consequences? The apostle Paul reminds us that everyone is a sinner and that sin deserves death - not just physical, but spiritual and eternal. Sin is rebellion against our King, an offense against the holiness of our Pure God. If God is justified of punishing one rebel in hell, then what makes him unjust in punishing two, or fifty, or a thousand or a billion. Have they rebelled? Is there rebellion deserving of punishment?

Guys, I know your question was sincere and honest, but I want you to know how uncomfortable I am even talking this way. Does God need to me to justify his actions, or does he need to provide a defense of his justice? We should never put God in the dock, as though he were on trial (read the end of Job boys)!

I know it's hard to imagine God sending billions to hell. What is, or at least should be, even harder to imaging, is that God saves millions or billions from hell. Aren't we all deserving of it? How many will God save? We dont' know. Some passages lead me to believe it will be few in comparison to those he punishes. For example, Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV).

On the other hand, there are passages that seem to indicate a great multitude will be saved. John says, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands" (Rev. 7:9; see also Rev. 19:1 and Rev. 19:6). Bottom line, we don't know how many God will chose to save. We do know no one deserves it - not one.

Ok, but dad, if that's the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated or baptized or take a class or converted or being born again? How does one become one of these few?

Guys, the way your asking the question makes it sound a lot more confusing than it is. You're piling up a whole lot of words that are synonyms or at least different ways of speaking of the same thing and treating them like they are different options. Sorry if we haven't been clear on this.

For example, being converted and being born again are basically different ways of talking about the same thing, or at least different parts of the same process, and they do happen in the heart. Some of things you through out there are necessary but not sufficient. Do you know what I mean by that? No. Ok, being able to catch the ball is a necessary trait to being a really good ball player, but it's not sufficient. To be a really good ball player you need more - you need to catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball, run the bases, be 'baseball smart', etc. Do you get it? The same is true of belief. You must believe (as in agree some things to be true) - it is necessary and denying certain core truths is disastrous (Luke 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:12; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23). But the Bible says even the demons believe ('mentally agree') that Jesus is God (James 2:19) - so it's not sufficient. You just need to pay attention to how a writer or speaker is using the word 'believe' because it can be used in slightly different ways, depending on the context. Sometimes believe is used simply to mean mentally agreeing something is true. That is necessary, as I said, but just mentally agreeing Jesus is God and died on a cross isn't sufficient. At other times we use the word to mean more than just 'mentally agree' - we mean 'trust in' also. So we sometimes use belief and faith as synonyms (Acts 16:30-31).

Ok, but how do you become one of the few? Guys, it is all by grace! You don't deserve it, you can't earn it. It's a gift. Do you need to do something? Well yes, you need to respond to God's invitation, his offer to forgive and be reconciled, by putting your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord. Faith, in the fullest sense of trust and not just 'mentally agreeing', is all that is required of us to be saved. But let me also say, our faith isn't some good work that saves us. Paul says we are saved by GRACE and through FAITH, but even our faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9)! Even the ability to respond in faith is a gift. We are so dead in our sins that turning to God just isn't an option for us apart from God working in our hearts to enable faith (Eph. 2:1-9; Col. 2:13; Titus 3:1-8; Rom. 8:5-8). Does that make sense? How Christians explain this can be a little different, but Christians who understand the Bible, understand God gets all the glory, even for our faith, because even our faith is a gift. The way I understand it is that we are dead in our sins, but God comes and performs spiritual CPR on us. He gives us new life (here's where the language of being born again comes in). This new spiritual life is what enables us to respond properly in faith, which also includes repentance. (You know what that means right? We talked about it the other day when we were doing the catechism. A turning to God involves a turning away from sin.) This whole process can be referred to as conversion. There are things you do...but even these things are God's gift, so it is still wholly by God's grace you are saved.

So do you see that how you asked the question is a little confused. As for things like obeying and doing good deeds and being baptized, those things flow out of a heart that has been changed by God. When God changes our hearts and gives us new life, enabling faith and repentance, we do these things because our hearts are now inclined to God. We don't do them to earn our salvation or any thing like that, but because we desire to please our heavenly father. Baptism is incredibly important. Jesus commanded his followers to be baptized, so if you are his follower (you have trusted him as Lord and Savior) you will want to obey his command - if you haven't already been baptized, you should!

Oh, and I don't know where you got the idea that you had to be initiated or take a class to be 'saved'? What idiot is passing that misinformation on? Are they just trying to confuse you?

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