Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’


On Eternal Conscious Punishment…

August 31, 2012

On the topic of Eternal Conscious punishment:

“Then [there] will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and the will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[1]  Jesus spoke these words on the road to Jerusalem, and hence they have been the source of great anticipation and great apprehension for almost two thousand years.  Jesus spoke to His disciples about an impending moment of time, a moment impending still.  Most who read this text can detect the tension, the glorious and awful day of the Son of Man’s return.  We read this text confident with the knowledge that, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but (His) words will not pass away.”  The day is coming when; the trumpet shall sound, the elect shall be gathered, the wicked cast aside and the kingdom of God will endure forever more.  Then what? You might ask.  What is next?  What of the wicked?  Shall the wicked endure in punishment as the righteous in delight?  Can God’s kingdom, where the corruptible has become incorruptible, exist?  With the wicked present, suffering torment in light of God’s justice?

From the first Easter on these questions persist.  Christ’s resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples and community secure our faith’s belief in the like-resurrection awaiting the righteous; this belief is fundamental to that faith.[2]  His resurrection serves as a first-fruit of the promise, that for the saints, there is victory in death; “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]  Death’s sting shall not be removed for all however, for some will be raised not to inherit the kingdom, but to reap eternal punishment.  Our aim will be to address what shape that eternal punishment will take.

This view can be described as the orthodox position or traditional position within the church.  Throughout the history of the Church, many diverse individuals have found common ground on the profession that “the wicked will suffer the pains of hell forever.”[1]  “It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it.”[2]  To dissect this position let us take it word for word.

Eternal:  This means that the wicked that are cursed by God and have rejected His grace shall face punishment forever.  Jesus himself foretold that He shall declare to the wicked on the Day of Judgment: “depart from me in to the eternal fire…” and to the condemned He shall say, “…go away into eternal punishment.”[3]  This is furthermore declared in book of Christ’s Revelation, “and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night…”[4] The torment that awaits the wicked shall not end but shall endure eternally.

Conscious:  The conscious in Eternal Conscious Punishment denote that those who exist in torment and punishment forever will be cognizant of the punishment they receive and shall react with all the attributes of consciousness.[5]  In the previous passages mentioned, when Christ addresses the Day of Judgment, those who are cast into the outer darkness shall, “weep and gnash their teeth.”[6]  This is powerful imagery in that when one gnashes teeth it is in response to the infliction of pain.  There are no unconscious individuals who weep, none who knowingly gnash their teeth.

Punishment:  For those who hold the belief that the wicked shall suffer Hell eternally and consciously also believe that there shall be punishment.  Indeed just as “no eye has seen, nor ear heard… what things God has prepared for those who love him,” so too what has he prepared for those for do not love him.  “Hell is torment beyond comparison, the outcome of marvels, wrought by the greatest marvels of divine omnipotence, torment beyond any we could conceive.”[7]  These are strong words and powerful images, not the substance of joyous thought.  Those who cannot bear the thought of any suffering in such a manner, for such a time, have sought different interpretations of the same texts sighted.  Their conclusions hold that the future which awaits the damned is just as permanent but far different in experience than the one listed above.

I support the position of eternal conscious punishment; and I shall briefly outline the justification for said support.  My argument is really two-fold: one that ECP represents the majority and orthodox position and this fact is by no means incidental.  Two, I believe that ECP belies a consistency both biblically and theologically, which has accounted for its support throughout the development of Christianity and Christian Doctrine.

Orthodox for a Reason

The adoption of ECP as the orthodox view within Christianity was not an arbitrary choice.  Its support is first detected within the proclamations of Christ which lie at the very heart of the Faith.  Throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims the fate of those who fail to heed the call to follow Him.  Matthew 25:30, 41, 46 all speak to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, in the “eternal fire” for the purpose of “eternal punishment.”  Jesus affirms in Mark chapter 9 that the same fire is “never quenched.”  We see in Luke 16 He tells of the rich man and Lazarus, and the torment of the rich man.  Jesus first raises the dichotomy of eternal reward mirrored by eternal punishment.  “Matthew, as D.A. Carson notes, ‘uses the adjective aionios… only for what is eternal.’ The punishment that the lost suffer in hell is parallel to the bliss that the righteous enjoy on the new earth.”[1]  Like ripples in a pond Jesus’ testimony of future eternal punishment was adopted and perpetuated the apostles.

The apostles expanded and added interpretation to the gospels’ record of Jesus’ teachings.  While the word hell is not mentioned in Paul’s writings[2] there can be no doubt that from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, Paul proclaims that God’s judgment awaits the wicked.  The author of Hebrews considers eternal judgment to be a “foundational elementary teaching.[3]” James, Peter, Jude and John, in their letters, all allude to coming torment for the wicked apart from Christ.  The pinnacle of this commentary comes in apocalyptic narrative form in John’s Revelation of Christ.  We have mentioned some of the passages previously, suffice it to say, Revelation chapter 20 stands as a vivid picture “emphasizing that hell is just [and eternal] punishment for the wicked.”[4]  As the church developed and strengthened, so too did the affirmations of this doctrine by the early church fathers.

By the late second century the theologian Tertullian arguing against the Gnostic heresy and the denial of physical resurrection argued that the enduring punishment in view is akin to “never-ending killing” the continual conscious penalty for those who die in sin.[5]  Tertullian led to Augustine in AD 400; Augustine to the Council of Constantinople in AD 553;[6] from Constantinople to Aquinas in AD 1270; on through to Luther and the Reformation in AD 1553.[7]  In fact, “from Augustine to the Reformation, only the ninth century Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, positively denied an eternal, or even material hell.”[8]  ECP, as a doctrine of the church, maintained almost unparalleled loyalty throughout the churches history, this loyalty springs from its consistency with biblical theology.


[1] Matthew 24:30

[2] I Corinthians 15:14-19 “ And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

[3] I Corinthians 15:57

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04.

[2] Beale, Christopher W. contr. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Pub. 2004.) 139.

[3] Hebrews 6:1-3 (Beale, 140.)

[4] Beale, 141.

[5] Peterson, Robert A. contr. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove, IL. IVP, 2000.) 119.

[6] Constantinople declared that “whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end… let him be anathema.” Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. (New York, NY. Simon and Schuster, 1976) 340.

[7] Peterson, 119-122.

[8] Johnson, 340.

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04. Indeed Peterson goes on to list 11 prominent figures from Christianity History who subscribe to this doctrine; among the 11 listed we find: Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, and Millard Erickson.

[2]  Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (USA, Hendrickson Pub. Inc.

1999.) 870.  Hodge also attests that the broad reception of this view among the church is due to more that simply church authority in protecting doctrine, “it was universally received before the external church had aggregated to itself the right to dictate to the people…what they must believe.”  The churches teaching on this was not upset or challenged by the reformation rather the reformation continued and affirmed the doctrine of ECP.

[3] Matthew 25:30 (emphasis mine), and Matthew 25:41 respectively.

[4] Revelation 14:11

 [5] The most chilling account of this conscious torment is found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here Jesus tells the story of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus; both die and head into eternity, the rich man to Hades and Lazarus to Heaven.  The Rich man Begs Abraham to dip the tip of his finger in water to quench the burning of his tongue, and even to send Lazarus back so that the rich man’s brothers might be warned.  Both requests end in denial and the realization that such torment is irreversible and permanent.

[6] Matthew 25:30

[7]  Winklhofer, Alois. The Coming of His Kingdom: A Theology of Last Things.

(New York, NY. Herder and Herder. 1966.) 86.


5 Ways the Resurrection Gives Meaning to Our Lives….

April 6, 2012

There are many events of history that if I were to mention them to you this morning they would have very little if any meaning, even though they were monumentally important in history. No matter how important the battle, no matter how influential the personality, as time passes and their accomplishments fade the meaning behind what they have done likewise loses power. There is only one event in the course of human history that has never faded, will never fade and will always be as impressive and important today as it was 2000 years ago when it occurred; that event is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As air entered His lungs, and His heart began to beat, and the stone rolled away the clock of the universe was reset and everything, absolutely everything changed. Satan’s grip on this world slipped, sin’s chains were loosed, and generations gained the first fruits of lasting hope that the end was in fact near. Despite these terrific accomplishments and undeniable effects, how many of us proceed through our days acting as if nothing ever changed? How many of us treat Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as a mere event in history? A mark on a timeline much like the fall of the Roman empire, or Columbus’ discovery of the new world. Monumental, yes, but distant events with little modern impact and no personal impact on or daily lives.

Here are 5 ways that the Resurrection gives meaning to our lives:

1. The Resurrection gives meaning to our faith and belief. Belief is the buzzword of religion in America today. You need to believe, she needs to believe, we all need to just believe. Belief is a word that can be used in any setting and it is entirely void of confrontation. Having faith is not a controversial stance. Many people if you were to stop them on the street or talk to them in coffee shops, would tell you that they have faith. Politicians can advocate a number of policies for and against everything from marriage to sexual ethics to defense policy and all be “people of faith.” But what is missing from the common popular conception of faith and belief is anything that grounds those activities in meaning. The question that the Christian must ask is “believe in what?” “believe in whom?” What do we believe in where is our faith placed? It is not enough to simply have faith, it is not enough to simply believe. In order for belief to have any real lasting eternal and temporal value it must be rooted and grounded in God through the work of Jesus Christ. Christ’s Resurrection gives our faith and our belief meaning. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that if Christ had not been raised from the dead then “our preaching is in vain, your faith is in vain.” Without the resurrection faith has no meaning. The only work which saves, the only work by which God has provided a way for sins to be forgiven was and is the resurrection. All these churches, all the missions, all the sermons, would all be nothing, but for the resurrection. If Christ has not risen from the dead then we of all people are “most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19) Christ rising from the dead gives your faith meaning and purpose.

2. The resurrection gives meaning to your hope. Hope and change are ideas that corse through our culture, behind every tragic event and every cultural controversy. Politicians get your votes on the idea that hope can be realized. Everyone is searching desperately for something or someone to hope in. For so many people in the world today, the hope that they nurture and they hope they find dies with the movements they place their hope in. The hope that the world offers is a dead hope, a futile hope that is tied to death. As Christians, we live lives in the light of our hope in God, or at least we should. But how many of us walk through our daily lives and daily struggles devoid of any evidences true hope. According to scripture though, if we are born again, we are “born again to a living hope.” That living hope is found “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3) What enlivens the hope of the christian is the fact that our hope is tied directly to the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that he rose from the dead. This was according to God’s great mercy, and serves to give meaning to our hope. If we truly believe that this miracle occurred then we should have hope even in the face of death. So as you go through life and interact with others will you be able to give an evidence for the hope that is in you? You can have a living hope, not tied to any movement or any individual, but tied to the work of Christ on the cross for you. Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. And His blood means something, and his righteousness is proven real because He has risen.

3. The Resurrection gives meaning to our love for one another. To the world love represents an opportunity. An opportunity to be served, an opportunity to be fulfilled, an opportunity to be complete and feel wanted and needed. Websites advertise how you can search through countless individuals for someone who matches what YOU want, and someone who will most likely satisfy what you need; be it adventure, love, security etc. On a more corrupt level, pornography gives the illusion of love but is wholly constructed to cater to lust. Pornography is like a cool light with no warmth, illuminating only our selfishness, finding our satisfaction at the expense of others. This is love to the world. The resurrection radically reorients all relationships and redefines love. The work of Christ is the ultimate display of love and gives us the model of how to love one another. Time and time again in the Bible we are told to love as Christ loved. If we love, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our wives (Eph 5:21) for our brothers (1 John 3:16) If we know love, according to the Apostle John, we know love by this, “that He [Jesus] laid down His life for us.” We have no greater love for one another than when we are willing to lay our lives down for our brother. The resurrection gives the loving sacrifice of Christ meaning, in that it points to the reality beyond His death. Because of His resurrection, our faith is sure, and our hope is grounded, so as a result we cease to love the way the world loves. We see in the Sermon on the Mount, when we are hated we respond in love, when we are tempted we respond in our love for God, when we are asked to love the world and its treasures we respond by loving and seeking our God first. Our love is real because our Lord is real, risen from the dead. Christian love has the potential to convey far more than any worldly love could attempt; it should reflect and flow from the act of Christ’s sacrificial love made real by the resurrection.

4. The resurrection gives meaning to our suffering. Why is there pain in the world? If there is a God and He is good then why do people suffer? These questions echo through hospital hallways, across battlefields and storm aftermaths throughout the world. Suffering cries out for an answer. For many Christians, suffering remains unanswerable. This world is broken, caught in a vicious cycle of sin and death which afflicts christians and non-christians alike with profound unfair suffering. Our lives are lived in the hope brought to us by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. ( 1 Peter 1:3). Because when Christ rose that Sunday morning so long ago he broke the cycle of sin, and the consequences of sin, death. His rising points to our future resurrection, through God’s power. This hope gives us the strength to view persecution as a “light momentary affliction.” For we know that no matter how difficult this life gets we have awaiting us a new abundant resurrected life. So we face unjust suffering as Christ did. He suffered for us, leaving us an example for us to follow in His steps. (1 Peter 2:21) Christ paved the way in both His suffering and His resurrection. Therefore, we “should not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among us… but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice.”(1 Peter 4:13) What awaits us is glory, a glory made sure by Christ’s resurrection.

5. The Resurrection gives meaning to death. The unbeliever trembles in the face of death. Death is the great unknown and the ultimate uncertainty. As a result non-christians and unbelievers spend much of their lives, and money, fleeing death and the effects of aging. Christians too, are not immune from this fear. Death seems mysterious, and many Christians act as if there is no hope when death occurs near them. Non-Christians (and functionally many Christians) Pursue life and fear only death. But this should not be. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be the most confident when approaching death, and should live their lives pursuing God and fearing only Him. When Jesus rose from the death the earth quaked at the realization that the old ways were finished, the power of death had been broken. For Jesus conquered death by rising from its clutches. As He rose from the dead imperishable He gave us a picture of what awaits us when we rise from the dead. Hear Paul as he wrote to the church at Corinth;

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power… 50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed… then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55 O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through Christ we have victory, death is no longer the end, but only the beginning. As He was raised, so too will we be raised, and this promise removes the sting of death. Death is no longer meaningless, but becomes a means by which we experience victory and are joined with Christ to the Glory of the Father.


A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms…

May 6, 2010

“How Long O Lord?”[1] This tragic plea is pregnant with many contradictions and truths.  Four words cried out in apparent abandonment by David; the context in which they were spoken has long since passed into irrelevance.  What remains is clear: the speaker believed in a Lord, one who reigned and had the power to respond to such a plea.  The speaker was also in apparent duress, to the point of death, where his heart was plagued all day long and his enemy was exalted over him.  Still he cries to a God of steadfast love (hesed), whose sure salvation is a matter for rejoicing.  The rub is this; if there is a God of Salvation, steadfast love and deliverance then why are those attributes absent from the psalmist’s life?  This is the quandary that attracts people of diverse backgrounds to the Psalter.

The Psalms are in part, an artistic historical effort to confront, lament and conquer evil through song.  The product of many authors, they express “the emotions, personal feelings, attitudes, gratitude, and interests…of the individual.”[2] The Psalms are “a rich treasure house of reflection on evil and what God does with it.”[3] Across generations, nations and religions whether Christian, Jewish, or secular when confronted with evil, “universally people have identified their lot with the psalmist.”[4] There is a truth within the poet’s lyric that draws all those seeking comfort.  Such comfort is often hidden however in the face of mounting evil and threat.  So from what and from where is comfort to be found?

The Psalms from the outset present a dichotomy which is key to finding true and lasting comfort in God.  Beginning with Psalm 1 we are told that there is good and that there is evil. There are those who walk in evil, they perish.  There are those who pursue both the good and God, they endure.  When evil appears to advance in the face of God’s covenant promises the psalmists lament and appeal to God’s steadfast love or hesed (the full nature of which we will address later on.)  When Evil is on the run and the psalmist’s enemies are put to an end, God is praised for displaying his steadfast love.  Encouragement throughout the psalms is found by recalling times when God prevailed against evil; and great hope is conveyed by claiming the promise that God will ultimately defeat this raging evil and claim eternal victory through His anointed King.

These promises explode on the evangelical mind in a way that far exceeds the poetic comfort sought and found by the secular world in these reassuring verses.  Each Psalm hammers away at the nonsensical problem of Evil that so plagues the child of God.  Why do the wicked seem to advance and the righteous suffer?  Will there be an end to this suffering?  In the darkest times of evil’s ascendency will God and His chosen prevail?   These questions pepper the minds of God’s children across the persecuted church.  We find it difficult to uncover the face of the Almighty in the problem of apparent injustice.  The Psalms, offered to us, chisel away at the slab of unanswered questions and slowly an image begins to emerge.  As the dust settles we see a hewn tree, a suffering shepherd and the dashed head of evil stamped out by a love which endures forever.  This is a Christian’s comfort in the Psalms.

(This post is an excerpt from another larger work… currently in progress)

[1] Psalm 13:1 in its entirety reads, “ How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

[2] Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A complete survey of Old Testament history and literature. (New York, NY Harper Collins, 2000) 286.

[3] Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God. ( Downers Grove, IL IVP, 2006) 60.

[4] Schultz, 286.