First published 30 January 2012
To recap, I’ve been talking for a few months about morality and it’s place in Christian thought. I’ve compared Christian rational foundations with non-religious foundations. Non-religious philosophies, I’ve argued, have no rational basis for morality. They want to say some things are right and some things are wrong. They even sometimes treat Christians as if we are evil because we transgress their rule that no-one is allowed to question their authority! But because they have only themselves to turn to for authority, because their fundamental belief is that humans are no more special than rocks, apes, dolphins or roses, because they can’t define anything objectively, their rules reduce to arbitrary preferences that they try to enforce on everyone else.
In the last couple of articles I’ve tried to show the foundations that Christians have for morality in more detail. Our responsibility is to God, because He created human beings to have a special relationship with Him. We are created equal. But because of the sin of Adam and Eve, the first human beings, every descendent has been tainted with self-centred, God-rejecting, sinfulness. And out of that sinful, self-centred heart comes immorality and sin. Human beings are equally sinners.
The consequences for sin are the same for every human being too.
Since all sin is an expression of a rejection of God’s authority, He is perfectly justified to be filled with wrath and anger and indignation. The Bible warns us that we will all one day face God’s judgment, and our sinful rejection of God’s authority will be punished forever. Frankly, we deserve Hell.
People baulk at the idea of Hell, but if we only understood the nature and perfection of God we would see that it is the only punishment possible. God is perfect, and the source of everything good – love, joy, peace, perfection. To be cut off from God is to be cut off from the source of everything good, and therefore to suffer everything bad for the rest of eternity. Those who reject God’s authority, because they would rather go their own way, want to enjoy the good things that come from God – beauty, love, joy, peace, power – but they refuse to submit to Him. God only allows that situation temporarily in “this life” – up to 80 years or so nowadays. When the Judgment Day comes, those who reject God’s authority, evidenced by their sin (using the good things God has made and given to them for their own selfish ends, rather than for the purpose He gave them), will be given what their actions deserve – to be cut off from God forever, and therefore sent to an eternity without access to anything good, sent to Hell.
“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27)
“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5-6)
“… following the course of this world… among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind…” (Ephesians 2:2-4)
We may not all be equally sinful, but we are equally sinners and therefore equally deserve God’s wrath and the eternal punishment in Hell that comes with that.
I’m going to publish the next chapter soon, but I do want to give you chance to dwell on this for a little while. In fact, if you are reading this retrospectively (in other words, you are picking up the series after the series has been completely published) then I’d encourage you to pause here and reflect.
This is not popular stuff, but it is reality. It’s not just idle talk, it’s not simply for lecture theatres, pulpits and blogs. It’s not simply “very interesting stuff”. It’s about our eternal destiny. It’s what will really happen in history because of what our real actions have been based on. And that’s why it’s important, as Christians, that we don’t shirk from talking about it, unpleasant though it is.
I once talked to one of my housemates at university about the gospel, and tried to do so as sensitively as possible. At one stage, though, he asked me outright, “so you believe I’m heading to hell?” I said quietly, “Yes, I do.” And he walked out of the room, and didn’t speak to me again… ever. He avoided me until the end of the summer term, and that was his final year. I have not seen him or heard from him since that day in 1991.
In the film The Day After Tomorrow, one scene always strikes me. The film is a disaster movie, about how a particular combination of weather events conspire to bring about extreme weather across the whole world, leaving half the USA under snow and ice. Dennis Quaid plays the heroic scientist (Jack Hall) who predicts the events, and then has to go and find his son, Sam, who is trapped in the ice in New York. Having managed a brief conversation on the phone with his father, Sam knows that the best chance for the group of survivors he is huddled with in the New York Public Library is to stay indoors. If they go outside they may get caught in the huge freezing cyclones that are moving over the world, and they will freeze to death in seconds. At one stage the survivors in the library get impatient and talk of moving on to find better shelter. Sam pleads with them not to, telling them what his father has told him. He knows that by going outside they will die, and he tries to warn them. Some of the group simply ignore Sam, some argue with him and tell him to be quiet. Even when he explains that his dad is a climatologist and knows what is happening, and that he has just spoken to him, they still refuse to listen. All except a couple of the group go outside. Jack discovers their frozen bodies as he treks north through the snow to try to rescue Sam and his friends.
It strikes me that this is like the way Christians are treated when we try to warn about hell, eternal punishment. What we are doing is warning, because we have been told by our Father, that a big storm is coming – a Day of Judgment. Yet we are ignored, marginalised, mocked and sometimes shouted down for doing so.
The worst outcome can be avoided by listening to the Son. Jesus.
If you are not a Christian, don’t, whatever you do, exit this series at this point. There is good news to come.