Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Unevangelized and Hell

The question of what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel is one that has plagued many Christians over the centuries. It is true that in Romans 10:17 we are told, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The next logical question of course would be, “If faith comes through hearing the word of Christ, then are those who never hear that word incapable of saving faith?” To answer this question, we can review such Scripture verses as Psalm 19:1-6, Isaiah 40:5, and Psalm 98:2-3 which tells us, “The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” These verses demonstrate that all, either through general or special revelation, are aware in some capacity or another of God and His salvation. In fact, Isaiah 65:1 adds that those who have no desire to seek after God are made able through His revelation to them by stating, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation that was not called by My name.” Scripture attests to the fact that God’s salvation is made known to all men, however, our sin and the works of Satan act as blinders keeping us from the Truth. If it were not for the work of God, we would be unable to turn to Him, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.’” The problem here is that modern evangelism is man-centered, based solely upon man’s choice rather than upon God’s (see Romans 9:22-33 for a correct understanding of this in relation to salvation). If we believe that man is capable of effecting his own salvation, it necessarily follows that if he has not been evangelized nor given the opportunity to effect said salvation, we can then blame God for His judgment of the individual to Hell because He has not provided an opportunity for him to hear the Gospel. This conclusion does two things: First, it refuses the fact that all men are sinners by choice and by nature. God is never unjust in punishing a sinner eternally in Hell. In fact, this is the end we all deserve and God’s love never undermines His own justice. Second, this denies the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Scripture attests that God the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, draws individuals to the Father, regenerates by the Spiritual Baptism of being born-again, justifies by gifting faith in Christ, etc. While human responsibility is based upon our own sinfulness which must justly be punished, God demonstrates His love through punishing that sin on the Cross in the Person of Christ. This is why Scripture teaches us in John 14:6 that, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” While Scripture demonstrates this a number of ways, such as recognition of the Angel of the Lord (the preincarnate Jesus Christ) as God, looking forward by faith in the promises of God through Messiah, or recognizing the divinity of Christ in the New Testament, all come to saving faith in Christ alone. Those who do not are judged in Hell for eternity on the basis of their sin, as we all deserve. Therefore, there is no such thing as someone who has never heard (at least in some way or another in the providence of God), and those who do not come to Christ do so in active rebellion against God.

Looking to Scripture which defines the doctrine of Hell, there are certain points we must consider when interpreting the text. First, we can understand that Sheol in the Old Testament was used to mean the place of the dead. This is true for both the righteous and the wicked as we can understand from verses such as Genesis 37:35 (Jacob), Psalm 16:10 (David/Christ), Proverb 5:5 (Immoral Woman), Isaiah 38:10 (Hezekiah), and Hosea 13:14 (Unrepentant Israel/Ephraim/Samaria). Second, we must understand that in Christ’s argument with the Sadducees over the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33), He proved His point by the tense of a single verb (eiÎmið, the first person singular present indicative; a prolonged form of a primary and defective verb). Because we understand through this passage that there is life after death, and because we understand that up to this point both the righteous and the wicked were sent to Sheol (Hades in the New Testament; see Acts 2:25-28 and the cross-reference of Psalm 16:8-11), this supports the fact that both the righteous and the wicked endure after death, as opposed to the annihilation of the wicked. Christ’s illustration of the rich man and Lazarus also support this conclusion in Luke 16:19-31 by demonstrating the division in Sheol/Hades up to this point between the enduring righteous and enduring wicked. Reconciling the place of Lazarus (Abraham’s Bosom) with such verses as Ephesians 4:8-9 and Luke 23:43, we find that Abraham’s Bosom is synonymous with Paradise. Additionally, the final destination of the wicked (to include Satan, his angels/demons, the Antichrist/Beast, the False Prophet, Hades, and Death) is an everlasting (both ultimate AND enduring) Gehenna (Hell). We see this truth in verses such as Revelation 19:20, 20:10, and 20:12-15. There are several additional points we can consider to further support the enduring consciousness and punishment of the wicked in Hell. First, non-temporal terms such as eternal, unquenching, everlasting, etc. all must be consistently redefined to refer to temporal activities alone in refutation of this doctrine. Second, the popular Jewish mindset and representation of the doctrine of Hell in the Old Testament is weak as Jews do not regard Jesus Christ as their Messiah, nor do they accept the completion of revelation in the New Testament as authoritative. Thirdly, the acceptance of the doctrine of Heaven as something a “nice” God would do while refusing the doctrine of Hell as something a just God would do honors neither God’s perfectly just perfectly loving nature, nor His inspired revelation of Scripture and the teaching found within. Fourthly, a non-enduring, ultimate (as opposed to eternal) view of Hell is consistent with many cults today such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Finally, an annihilationist conclusion is an attack against the justice of God (e.g. No matter how horrendous a death Hitler could have experienced, his one-time annihilation could never justly reconcile the extermination of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust), but it is also an extreme detriment to evangelism, as many secular humanists and postmoderns today already believe that there is no life after death, hence, no eternal punishment for their sin.

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