Thursday, 19 June 2008

God's love and Man's sin

This entry is a response to the discussion ensuing from a friend’s blog entry, to be found here. Be warned that this is a very long post.

There are several issues that bear looking at (from what I see):

1. Is there a 'holding place' for people who die the first death (pre-judgement)?
2. What is sin?
3. God and sin
4. What is hell?

Please do note that what I'll say here is my view, and it's cool if other people disagree. I may not necessarily change my mind, but I'm open to listen :)

With regards to issue 1 - is there a 'holding area' or 'holding space' for those who have already died prior to Jesus' return, to stay in wait for the Judgement Day? - I believe that there is not.

There are several reasons for this belief. Firstly, look at Jesus' statement to the robber next to Him on the cross: "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). We can only get to Paradise through the Judgement Day, and Jesus said that it would happen 'Today' (H4594 - this (very) day) . In saying this, I'm assuming that Heaven = Paradise = the new City = the new Heaven and Earth that God promises He will create after having destroyed the current one.

Secondly, a friend of mine's wife had cancer several years ago. I never knew her, but I've heard him tell the story. When she was pretty far gone with the cancer, she started talking about another lady who she could see. Often the two of them (the two ladies) would spend quite a lot of time together. Eventually one day, my friend's wife said to him "I now know who the other lady is! She's my glorified body, waiting for me to move into her. Jesus showed this to me." For this reason I believe that we go straight from our mortal bodies into our immortal bodies (and this goes for the believers as well as unbelievers).

Finally, and this follows on from the second, is the concept that God is out of time, while we are bound to time. This is not an easy concept to grasp, but I guess being a scifi fan makes it a bit easier. One of the teachings of God that resounds throughout scripture is that of His identity: I AM. This means that He IS today, yesterday, and tomorrow, not He is, was, and will be, but He IS. While we are bound by time, God is completely unbound, and is able to see the whole of time in one single instant. This is one of the reasons that we can truthfully say that 'the Kingdom of God is near', and that 'He is coming back soon', because, out of time, these sayings are the truth. In time, however, we've been waiting a very long time, in our terms. This understanding of things makes a couple of things easier to grasp, including Jesus' statement on the cross, "Today you will be with me'. He was talking in the robber's terms, not His own terms, and He does not lie to us. The minute we die, we are in our new, eternal bodies, and before the Judgement throne of God, with ALL peoples who are bowing the knee to our Lord and King.

Please remember that this is my understanding, and that it is by no means set in concrete. It simply makes sense to me, and if this is not the case, then Amen. God knows what He is doing, and I will not be upset if what I state here is not the whole truth. It is merely my limited, poor attempt to understand something that is not always very clearly spelt out in the Word of God.

Now I know that one of the references that we see later on in this comment speaks of the Angels being cast down into hell, and that hell will be cast into the eternal fire. However, if one looks at Strong's references, the translation of hell used in these instances appears to be more relevant to the concept of Hades, or wherever bodies go once the spirit has left them. It should not be linked to the second death. This is my belief.

Now, let's look at the second issue - what is sin? It's been previously discussed that God is love, and that love cannot be bought, not ever. Therefore God could not make us puppets who would simply follow His commands. The reason - He IS LOVE, and love necessarily needs to be reciprocal, and unchained. It must be freely given. He therefore necessarily had to give us a will, and freedom of choice. This is embodied in the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was planted in the Garden of Eden. God then gave Adam and Eve a choice, in the form of a command. Do not eat from the fruit of this tree. They disobeyed God, and ate from the fruit. 1 John 3:4 says: "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." Or in other words, sin is disobedience to the law [of God]. This is why sin can be understood as 'disobedience' to God.

In the Bible, we are provided with the ten commandments (and later, the single, twofold command that Jesus gives us, which sums up the law), which are the covenant between the Jews (and all believers in God) and God. These are the 'if you love me you will do as I command' bit, and therefore, if we are not obeying these commandments (including love the Lord your God), then we are disobeying them. We are breaking the law. For sure, in Romans Paul describes the law as only able to show us where we are going wrong - it cannot save us, while God's grace can and does. But the old man, bound in sin, is not able to obey the law - and even if he/she did, the law could not save.

Something that may interest you is Strong's (G2288) elaboration of what the word 'death' means in the context of Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (KJV)

1) the death of the body
a) that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which the life on earth is ended
b) with the implied idea of future misery in hell
1) the power of death
c) since the nether world, the abode of the dead, was conceived as being very dark, it is equivalent to the region of thickest darkness i.e. figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin
2) metaph., the loss of that life which alone is worthy of the name,
a) the misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body in hell
3) the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell
4) in the widest sense, death comprising all the miseries arising from sin, as well physical death as the loss of a life consecrated to God and blessed in him on earth, to be followed by wretchedness in hell

Thayer's lexicon indicates that death means 'the loss of spiritual life'. One question that of course arises is, what does this actually mean? I've been looking around on the internet to find out more about this, as I think it will be useful to understand this better. What I've found so far is the following paragraph:

"Salvation" in both the Old Testament Hebrew (YShWIaH and YShI) and the New Testament Greek (Soteria) actually means to "preserve life from perishing". The implication here is that without it our "life will perish". Romans 6:23 specifies "death" as a consequence of sin. John 3:16-18 links "receiving life unto not perishing" to "believing or trusting in Christ". It also links the negative: "being judged unto perishing" to "not believing or trusting in Christ".

accessible from here. For a further discussion on this topic, that document is well worth reading through. If that document becomes unavailable at any time, I have a copy of it, and you are welcome to contact me for it.

One thing that I find interesting in the couple of references that I have looked at in trying to answer the question of what the loss of 'eternal life' means is that no-one actually answers this. They instead focus on what eternal life and salvation are, and the obtaining of these. Perhaps it is not for us to understand these things, but rather to heed the warnings that Jesus very frequently gives us during his recorded time here on earth. This will be further discussed below.

Thirdly, let's look at God's relationship to sin. With these verses, I would like to show that sin and God do not go together - that God is Truth, and that no sin is found in Him or His offspring (all verses from the KJV, again ...).

1 John 3:9 - Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

2 Cor 5:21 - For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

This last is an important. My understanding of what it is saying is that, in Jesus (and be extrapolation, God), there is no sin. So perhaps instead of saying that ‘sin cannot be anywhere near God’, it is more correct to say that ‘there is no sin IN God’. Nevertheless, having said this, it cannot be argued that sin brings about a gulf between us and God, as exemplified in the following verse:

Isaiah 59:2 (NIV) - But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Although this is said to the Israelites, it can be applied to all of mankind.

Now to the final problem - that of what hell is.

One of Strong's references to Hell (G1067), as the word is used by Jesus and in the New Testament in general, states that:

"Hell is the place of the future punishment call "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction."

As mentioned, it's a good thing to consider the warnings that Jesus gives us concerning Hell (or the second death) (all KJV):

Mark 9:43 - And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Mark 9:48 - Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Luke 12:5 - But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

2 Peter 2:4 - For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

Rev 20:4 - And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

This last quote is a very interesting statement. Needs some thought! But nevertheless, these quotes together create an image of a place of everlasting torment, as opposed to the everlasting life/relationship with God, and I do not believe that annihilation or 'a place where God isn't' are meaningful conclusions to draw from what is said in the Bible, when there are statements such as these, and warnings from someone who does not lie.

With regards to the angels who God has cast down into hell (2 Peter 2:4) - what I mean by 'eternal beings' is that, like us, they will exist forever, as servants of God. It is definite that the Godhead is an eternal being that we cannot fathom, and IS, while the angels are His servants, and minister to us, His children. Yes, they, like us, are created by God, but unlike us, they were before we were.

Having extracted all of these quotes, one must be careful to read these in the context of the whole Bible. And to this end, elsewhere in the Bible, it is stated that:

Acts 2:27 - Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Jude 1:23 - And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

This last is perhaps one of the most important verses in the Bible, because it underlines God's love for us, and puts Hell (or the second, spiritual death) into perspective.

So, in summary, what I have tried to discuss here is as follows. Firstly, the concept of a 'holding place' for souls until Judgement day. I do not believe that such a place exists, and have reason to believe that people who die are immediately transferred into their eternal bodies, and present at the Judgement Throne of God as described in Revelations.

Secondly, sin was discussed, and described as disobedience to the law of God. Also, following this, was the fact that sin separates us from God, and that there is no sin in God.

Finally, the concept of hell was discussed. It was found that while the scriptures speak of hell and paradise, it is clear that there is a destination past the judgement known generally as the second death, which is a lake of burning fire which Jesus warns us NOT to head towards. It was also made clear that God does not want any man to go to this place, but that our sin (disobedience to His laws) will send us there if we do not repent and turn back to Him.

Last of all, I would like to reiterate that I do not agree with taking verses out of context, which is why I say that each must be read in context of it's immediate chapter as well as the whole Bible, and that taking verses out of context only leads to misinterpretations of the scriptures. I have tried to stay true to the general message of the Bible here, and if it is felt that I have not, feel free to question me. Also, just remember that this is an understanding that I have developed based on what I have read in the Bible, and that while this is what I believe, if God does otherwise, that's fine by me. But this is what makes the most sense to me.

1 comment:

  1. hmmm.. there is a lot here!

    I'd like to comment on it.. but it seems we're getting into a back-and-forward post-comment hehe..

    I'll see what I can do.. I suppose to do it justice, I'll need to post a reply.. but maybe I can thin it down to a comment-size reply.. hehe

    I'll see what I can do..

    But, I like the thoughts on this, and the biblical references, although, personally, I don't know that KJV is the best version to use.. (because it's the oldest, doesn't mean it's the best - I'd argue that it could be put lowest on the list, regarding it's correctness to the original documents)

    There is much that I don't particularly agree with, and some of it refers to the same scriptures you've used to make your point hehe.. but I'll try tackle this point-by-point sometime soon.