Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Checkmate For Hell - Part 3: Moves 6-7

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts, meant to be read in order.  In the first post, I introduced the concept of Universalism, and introduced the concept that I would be defending my position through a series of "chess moves".  I mentioned that I believe I have checkmate in 2 moves, but because a lot of questions would be left, I would use a series of further moves to keep the king in checkmate while I systematically removed the rest of the pieces from the board.  I would highly suggest you read the previous parts of this series before reading this one:
Part 1: Moves 1-3
Part 2: Moves 4-5

So let's move on:

Chess Move #6
What is the Biblical definition of death?  Is it an eternal conscious torment?
Before I answer that, I’d like to consider one of the common objections that people have to Universalism.  It is quite common for a Universalist to be accused of throwing out God’s justice, or to put it another way: there are no consequences for sin.  But we must use the Bible to define what the consequences of sin are, and Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, not eternal conscious torment.  So perhaps some would like to define death as eternal conscious torment in an eternally burning lake of fire.  But if that’s your move, then you have a problem, because this is not how the Bible defines death.  Ecclesiastes 9:5 says:
For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even their name is forgotten.
Hmmm… if “the dead do not know anything” as the verse says, how do they even know they’re being tormented?  They know nothing.  That sounds unconscious to me.  Also, Psalms 115:17 says:
The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
for they have gone into the silence of the grave.
Here the grave is described as silence - doesn't sound like consciousness.  Now, with the next verse we find something interesting: I Thessalonians 5:10 uses a particular word in most versions, but some of the newer versions have changed it to "dead" - in NIV it says:
He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
This verse uses the analogy of sleep to describe death, but like I said, some newer translations have started switching that word out.  But many scriptures describe death this way: sleep.  One website I looked at said they had counted over 50 times the word "sleep" or some form of it was used to describe death.  So if the wages of sin are death, as in Romans 6:23, and the Bible defines death as sleep, this creates a problem for believers of eternal conscious torment.  But let’s move on to my next “chess move”.

Chess Move #7
Now we’re going to examine what the Bible says about how a person is “saved”.  Now, those who believe in Hell would like a way to keep from going there.  So they’ve worked out a Hell avoidance plan, and that usually involves saying a prayer that they call “the sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Jesus into your heart.”  Usually, they don’t have a clear way of defining how that last one works out, and if you press them for details on how that works, their answer is usually just kind of along the lines of mysterious voodoo magic, in my experience.  Oh, don’t get me wrong – I think that “accepting Jesus into your heart” is actually a valid, rich metaphor that we should seek deeper understanding of.  But usually, this whole “magical incantation resulting in the disembodied spirit of Jesus moving into your blood pumping organ” idea is not well thought out by those who use it.  But what’s really interesting about that whole thing is that you can’t find this “sinner’s prayer” anywhere in the Bible.  You never see Jesus getting his disciples to pray any form of this prayer - he just says to them "follow me."  So if this "sinner's prayer" of mysterious origins is not the way to be “saved”, then what is?  Well, let’s look at the Bible.
One of the most famous passages on the subject is Ephesians 2:8-9, which says:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
So we’re saved not by anything we can do, but through something God gives us.  So after we’re saved, we can sit around on our butts, right?  Let’s look at some more Bible passages on the subject of being saved.  Romans 10:9 says:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Now, aren’t “confessing” and “believing” verbs?  Things we do?  Didn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 say it’s not from anything we do that we are saved?  Is this a contradiction? 

Romans 10:9 also brings up an interesting conundrum for Hell-sayers: Phillipians 2:10-11 implies that at some point every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  So are we to believe that at this point, whenever it is, the Romans 10:9 rule does not apply anymore?  Is God really that petty, that he has an expiration date on his offer?  God is the ultimate salesman?  Act now - we have a limited supply of salvation?
Let’s look at more Biblical passages.  In Luke 23, Jesus is hanging on the cross, and he has two men beside him, one on either side.  One of the men joins in with the mockery of Jesus, and the other rebukes him, and then says to Jesus in verse 42:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
What is Jesus reaction?  This is it – I’m not removing anything in between – in verse 43, the entirety of the verse says:
And Jesus replied, "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise."
So, we’re saved by asking Jesus to remember us?  That’s not the same thing as being saved by confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in our heart that God raised him from the dead, right? 
In Luke 20, when Jesus is asked about marriage in the afterlife, in his reply he says that the people who will be part of the “age to come” are those who are, as verse 35 says: “worthy of being raised from the dead.”  So we’re saved because God considers us worthy?  Or because we’re born again?  Or because we ask Jesus to remember us?  Or because we confess and believe?  Or because of grace?
Now there’s one other story about being saved that I find interesting.  In Luke 7, there is a very vivid image presented when Jesus eats at Simon the Pharisee’s house, and, as verse 37 says: “a certain immoral woman” came and joined them.  A lot of people hold the view that this woman was a prostitute – we don’t really know that for sure, but we know that whatever she had done, it was considered pretty bad, because Luke considered it necessary to tell us what kind of woman she was.  But she was the one who cried tears all over his dirty feet, wiped them off with her hair, and then kissed them (a sensual image that would have been considered pretty risqué back then, and probably still today), and poured the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  At the end of the story, without having indicated to us that the woman said or did anything else, Jesus says to her: “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

So, how are we saved?  Wait, there’s more.  There is a concept you will find throughout the Bible of a household being saved by the faith of one member of the family, as in Acts 16:31.  And then we also have in I Timothy 2:15 it says that women will be saved through childbirth.  So how are we saved?

So far we have:
  • Childbirth
  • Saved through your family members
  • Faith that seemingly is apparent when you cry and wipe away tears with your hair and kiss Jesus' feet and pour perfume on them
  • Being worthy
  •  Ask Jesus to remember you
  • Confessing
  • Believing
  • Grace (not by works)
How are we saved?  Are you feeling confused yet?  Maybe strangest of all in this exploration is the fact that we never, ever see (not anywhere) in the Bible the “Sinner’s Prayer” that so many seem to teach is the way to become saved.  No magic incantation saves you – at least not according to the Bible!  Now, if I see Hell as eternal conscious torment that will be experienced by anyone who has not taken the proper Hell-avoidance plan before they die, the conundrum of trying to figure out how exactly I could be “saved” from it would really bother me.  If that’s what I believe about Hell, that is.

But we're going to take a break.  Tune in next time for some more chess moves:

Chess move #8: Jesus is our defense attorney and our judge - how can we possibly lose that case?
Chess move #9: No fear. 
Chess move #10: Wasn’t Origen a heretic?
Chess move #11: What about the wrathful God of the Old Testament?
Chess move #12: Calvinism is Totally Depraved
Conclusion: Testing the fruits.

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