God’s Character Maligned
Since my conversion to Christ over 40 years ago I have learned through God’s word (and practical experience) that our beliefs about God’s character affect our relationship with Him and our salvation. I know people who turned away from God when a loved-one died either suddenly or slowly over time. Maybe you do too. Some have stopped associating with Christians, praying, or reading their Bible because they feel God allowed (or caused) something in their life to make them sick, uncomfortable, unhappy or inconvenienced them.
If we believe God is angry and looks for reasons to keep us from peace or repays evil for evil we are sure to rebel. Lucifer’s original rebellion in heaven included the charge that God’s character and actions were harsh, secretive and selfish. Listen closely to the lies and charges of Satan in the garden as he worked to convince Eve about a false picture of God’s personality.
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 3: 4-5
To paraphrase: “Eve, forget this idea of dying….You are going to live forever. God is someone who is not telling you all the truth. He knows your eyes are going to be open when you eat this fruit and you will be like God Himself! He’s holding back! He is not as good as you think!” Sadly, these are often the general thoughts of people who do not know God personally.
It is important that we know God’s character and His word, especially in the context of His temperament and our troubles.
Understanding and knowing God the Father and Jesus is vital to our salvation.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Jesus Clears up the Wrong Ideas About God
To have a false conception of God is dangerous and will lead to death. It is Satan’s desire to give the world a wrong impression of the only true God and Jesus. By doing so, the enemy turns people away from the source of peace and happiness. If the storms of life come to the professed Christian and there is no trust (faith) in the goodness and mercy of God, apostasy is sure to come.
To “know” someone means you have an understanding of who they are. After spending time with them, you learn to either trust them or not. You know their heart; their emotions; and how they feel about you as a person. Knowing someone takes time and events. That is often why people wait about marrying. They want to know the person and how they will respond to things like their family.
Let’s consider another question:
Is Jesus different from the God of the Old Testament? The answer is a resounding, “No!”
By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the professional teachers and leaders had made God out to be something He wasn’t. The life of Jesus was a demonstration of what God is like….in the flesh! His actions showed us the will and the character of the Father. God loved us and wanted us to know Him, so He sent Jesus on a mission of salvation that included the opportunity to know the Creator.
Jesus’ coming as a babe, a youth, a young man and an adult demonstrates how important it is to know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent.
Yes! Jesus came to this earth to show to people the true nature of God. He said, to his disciples, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father:
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
“By coming to dwell with us, Jesus was to reveal God both to men and to angels. He was the Word of God,—God’s thought made audible. In His prayer for His disciples He says, “I have declared unto them Thy name,”—“merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,”—“that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
Desire of Ages p. 19
God desires for his Creation to know him. Knowledge of God is both power and peace. We are invited by Jesus to learn of him. When we take up the invitation, we will know more about God the Father.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Did you know Jesus was this kind of God? He wants us to learn from Him and about Him. Jesus is the perfect reflection of what God the Father is like!
Jesus offers us rest for our souls if, by faith, we come to Him. He is gentle and lowly in heart! His burden is light and His yoke easy! How many Christians think the opposite? Sadly, so many, even those who claim to be His followers, fail to go to Jesus when trouble comes…instead, they go to pieces!
Unending Torture in Hell Teaching Makes Unbelievers
Someone once said that the concept of unending torture has turned more people into atheists than most anything else. I don’t know if this is true, but it certainly must have a negative effect on a true understanding of God.
When I was young, I could see the gentle Jesus in the experience of my grandmother, but something would change all that and I would begin to see an angry God, with arms crossed, frowning at me for being such a terrible person. In my mind, He was looking for ways to make sure I was left out of heaven and burned at the stake. As I got older, I went into total unbelief. The Bible and God became a fairy tale created by men to keep society in line and have power over people. I hope the following will show how wrong I was and encourage you to search out God for yourself. Here is how it started.
When I was about 8 years old, my saintly grandmother sent me to Vacation Bible School. I recall loving everything about it except for the last day.
I liked the teachers and the programs. The cookies, milk, and rest time in the church were enjoyable. Of particular joy to me was the arts and crafts where I was making a jewelry box for my beautiful mother. She was a single mom (My Dad left when I was 6 years old) and pleasing her was something I cherished. The jewelry box, made from a King Edwards cigar box, was carefully painted with a dark color and little small shells and decals carefully attached to it. To this day, I can still smell the fresh paint on it!
On Friday, the parents were going to join us for cookies and milk and they would get to see what we had created. I was so excited, but something would happen that would change my view of God for a very long time. It would eventually turn me to unbelief and to embrace atheism.
As we prepared for our parents, the teachers told us that we were all going to gather in a room and listen to one of the elders of the church talk about God. We sat around him on the floor with our legs crossed and our eyes bright with anticipation.
I can still recall his name. It was Mr. Hale. Mr. Hale wanted to know how many of us knew about God and how to have eternal life? Only a couple of hands went up. I was not sure, but I knew my grandmother would know. She knows the Bible better than anybody! Maybe I should ask her tonight, I thought.
Mr. Hale then begin to tell us that we could have salvation and be free from the “horrors of hell” if we accepted Jesus as our Savior. We should acknowledge it by responding to the preacher’s altar call on Sunday. Then we should be baptized. If we did, we would escape the “horrors of hell.”
Next, he began to describe hell as the place where “our flesh would almost melt, but it would keep burning.” Our blood “would boil like hot water. We would scream for mercy and find none. This will go on forever and forever.”
I was scared. This did not seem like the same God my grandmother was always describing in her stories. Many of the kids began to sob. Mr. Hale wanted us to raise our hands if we wanted to “go forward” when the preacher had the altar call on Sunday. We all raised our hands!
As promised all of us kids went forward that next Sunday when the preacher made the altar call. There were many “Amens!” and “Praise The Lords” throughout the congregation.
After church, my grandmother seemed troubled instead of excited about my decision to be baptized and escape the “horrors of hell.” When we got home, she looked at me with those kind and understanding eyes and said these words, which many may think to be wrong, but looking back I think it was the wise counsel of a Godly woman who knew her Father well.
“Eddie, you are too young to know why you need to give yourself to God. You don’t understand sin, repentance, and confession. When God brings conviction on you, you will know it.”
I was not baptized.
The description of hell by Mr. Hale was reinforced many Sundays afterward. It may not have been described in such detail, but all the teachers and preachers said my soul was immortal and that it would spend eternity in one of two places: Heaven with Jesus or Hell with the devil.
As I contemplated it, I began to see God as an angry old man waiting for me to make a big mistake so He could send me to the flames forever. This was the God I knew for a long time as I tried to be good and earn God’s love.
After a while, the contradiction of my grandmother’s God and the God of Mr. Hale and the preachers led me to believe there is no God and perhaps the Atheists were right. God is an invention of mankind to keep everyone in line and as a tool for power over the people.
Is God like Mr. Hale’s description or that of my Grandmother’s? Is He like Jesus or like the strict destroying God of the Old Testament? How do we reconcile the two?
How Unending Torture Maligns God’s Character
We have seen in this series that Jesus did not teach more about hell than heaven (Did Jesus Really Teach More About Hell Than Heaven?) This is a false statement meant to insinuate the “horrors of hell” are so bad that you should want to come to Jesus on the basis of fear.
As we studied verses that seem to indicate an everlasting fire, we discovered that context is important in understanding everlasting fire….It is everlasting punishment, not everlasting punishing. The fire is everlasting in its effect, not its duration. Lord Teach Me About Hell-Part 2-Difficult Verses
We also saw that “hell” is a word used by the Hebrews and Greeks to signify the grave. But, it is also the ultimate destruction of the sin problem at the end of time. This hell is hotter than any because it burns up the earth and all its elements. Lord Teach Me About Hell-Part 3 Eternal Death Not Torture.
Now that we have sufficient proof about the ultimate fate of the lost, let’s consider the character of God further and why it makes no sense for our Creator to burn people without mercy or rest for all of eternity.
Some may think “torture” sounds like too strong of a word especially in the context of a Holy omnipotent God and Creator. They will try to separate hell from God, but hell as described Mr. Hale cannot exist without an omnipotent God allowing it to. Wouldn’t you agree?
What would you call it if you were burning constantly and no one was there to put out the flames or give you relief? That is the highest form of torture someone could think up. Imagine if our prison system used flames that kept the person alive while burning their tender skin as a form of punishment? Would that be called torture? Would it be justice? What is its purpose other than cruel torture?
Let’s think this through.
The unsaved could be someone like uncle Harry who never went to church with his wife and children because he was an unbeliever and life kept him busy and with different priorities. By society’s standards he was a good man; never arrested nor did he break the law. He visited a few prostitutes when he was young private in the army. At one time when he was younger, he secretly looked at pornography, but as he got older, he lost interest. He pays His taxes. He is faithful to his wife and loves his kids and grandkids, but he never professed Christ. He just enjoyed life and saw it as a few good years then he would turn to dust.
One day uncle Harry dies of a heart attack from years of not taking care of himself. He enjoyed food so much that he could be described as a glutton. In many cases, the preacher will talk about Harry as if he is in heaven enjoying his gardening with the Lord, but in the sermon at church the next Sunday, this same preacher will talk about salvation in Christ alone, which is true. The preacher would never describe Harry as being lost and in eternal flames even though the congregation could put two and two together to come to some simple conclusions.
According to most preachers, Uncle Harry is lost and will be tortured without end for his bad decisions and sin.
This seems to be the philosophy of many who live on this planet.
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Did you notice that Jesus talks about a way that leads to destruction? This would have been the perfect time for Jesus to say that the broad way leads to hell that would burn forever, but no…it is destruction. Uncle Harry got his desire of enjoying his short time of life on earth, but then it will be over. He does not have an immortal soul.
The soul who sins shall die
Jesus said that the lost soul would be destroyed
But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
The hell here is the grave, but even if you wanted to think of it as the place of burning, the soul is destroyed!
Without a doubt, there are more on the path to “destruction” than those who are not.
Here is the first hint of the fate of the lost, the continued use of the word “destruction.” “Destruction” and “Perish” are the favorite words used by Christ, Peter, and Paul to describe the fate of the lost (Collectively used 42 times). This happens by fire, but there is no eternal life for the lost in flames.
True, only God can determine who is ultimately lost and who is saved, but Jesus gives us plenty of reasons to know the character and life of the saved compared the character and life of the lost. Not all have death-bed conversion. They are probably the minority.
“Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘ I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Matthew 7: 21-23
Notice, that even those who claim to “know” the Lord and done incredible works in the name of the Lord missed out because they practiced lawlessness. These might be called hypocrites and religious. Their habits of sin showed they did not “know” the Lord.
At the other end of the spectrum are guys like Hitler and child molesters, and those who cursed and mocked God believing there was no accountability for their blasphemy.
If all are tortured if hot flames for eternity according to the Mr. Hale’s of the world. Harry and Hitler (although hugely different in their lives) have the same fate and will live with no rest from the flames. Every day is the same. There are no lunch breaks, no sleeping, no vacations. no water. No medications to help endure the pain. Only intense, torturous non-stop pain and unending weeping.
Many teachers will try to minimize this by saying, “God does not send them to hell, they send themselves.” But, even if it was so, it takes a miracle of God to keep them all alive so they can burn more. It would take a miracle to keep the flesh from consuming.
God’s Character is Longsuffering and Merciful
“I take no delight in the death of the wicked.”
God does not want anyone to die or perish.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
There’s that word again, “perish.” God’s longsuffering with us means He desires more people to have life and not “perish.”
Our God does not torture. He wants people to come to repentance so that they will not have to experience eternal death (non-existence). Their fate (death, perish, destruction) is horrible enough. But to root out the seed of sin, God performs his “strange act” of eternal destruction.
Do you know God? Your eternal life depends on it! We are invited to learn about Jesus. This takes a personal experience. It is His loving kindness and its demonstration on the cross that draw us to Him.
Lord, thank you for your word and the life of Jesus that teaches us about who you are. May we each have an experience with you that will lead us to trust you more. Amen.