Monday, February 13, 2006

Question 5: Will Everyone Go To Heaven Cont.

In my last post, I definded some different views about salvation. In the next several posts, I want to specifically answer the question, "Will Everyone Go To Heaven?" I agree with CS Lewis when he wrote, "There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, (hell) if it lay in my power. But is has full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord's own words."

Along with Lewis, I believe the Gospels teach eternal seperation.

The Gospel of Matthew alone records at least 15 occasions where eternal separation is taught. (Mat. 5:22,29-30,7:13,21,8:12, 10:12, 28,13:30,18:8-9, 12, 34-35, 40-42, 21:41, 22:13, 23:15,33, 24:51, 25:46) Thomas Johnson divides these up into six categories of teaching regarding eternal separation. These categories are destruction, not entering the kingdom of heaven, outer darkness, being burned with fire, perishing, and being tortured. Of course when reading much of this material, we have to consider Jesus’ use of allegory. These symbols may not be literal in that eternal separation is not literal burning, but they do symbolize the reality of eternal separation. I want to turn our attention to two parables specifically in the gospels.

The first parable is found in Matthew 25:31-46. In this parable, Jesus says there will be a time when all people will be gathered before the Son of Man and he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then, the Son of Man will turn to the sheep and say, “Come, you are blessed.” He then tells them that they fed him, gave him something to drink, invited him in, and visited him. They then ask when they did those things and he tells then they did them when they cared for the least.

The Son of Man then turns to those on the left and tells then to depart from him. They ask why and he tells them they did not provide him food or drink, invite him in or visit him because they did not do that for the least of these. He then says these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. As is the case with most parables, there is generally one main point behind the story. Normally, its meaning was not too complex for its original hearers. Sometimes we have to work hard at it because we are reading the story with a different world view.

I think the main point of the story is that there are consequences for good and bad chooses. I do think we can draw the conclusion that some people will be eternally separated from God out of this passage. It seems that this passage is quite clear about the ramifications of poor moral choices. The parable does say the righteous go into eternal life while the unrighteousness go to eternal punishment. Thomas Talbott argues that the world we translate “eternal” does not always mean “forever.”[1] In this context though, “eternal” is used twice, once for eternal life and once for eternal punishment. We can either say that eternal life and eternal death are only for a period of time or that they both mean forever. Since Talbott believes in eternal life, I will choose the latter. Further, if we use the book of Matthew to help us in interpreting this passage, we can conclude this parable teaches the same basic truth taught throughout Matthew, that some people will remain separated from God forever.

The second parable we want to bring to your attention is Luke 16:19-31. Recently there has been a great deal of debate about its meaning, but I think it does have implications to our study regardless of whether or not it is to be taken literally. Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus would sit at the rich man’s gate longing to eat the crumbs from his table, but was never fed. Both of them died, the poor man going to Abraham’s bosom, the rich man to Hades. The rich man in Hades was in torment and seeing Lazarus cried out to Abraham, “Have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip his finger in water and cool off my tongue.” Abraham then reminds him of how he did not comfort Lazarus when they were on earth. Then Lazarus asks if Abraham will send someone back from beyond the grave to warn his family.

There is a great deal of debate about whether or not this depiction of Heaven and Hell are accurate. Some say it is a story reflecting actual events and some say it is a parable. Whatever you do with this story, one cannot help but to get the point. After Lazarus asks Abraham to send someone back to warn his family, Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” The point is that some people, no matter what God does, will resist God forever.

It is safe to conclude that the Bible does teach “eternal salvation” and “eternal separation.” As a matter of fact the word gehenna itself, which is the word Jesus uses for hell the most, gives this connotation. This word is derived from the Hebrew word ge-hinnom meaning “valley of Hinnom.” In the period of the kings, this became a place where a high place called “Topheth” was erected and people offered human sacrifices. Josiah ended this when he had it destroyed. Since that time and into the time of Jesus, this place became a place for burning trash. Thus, it was symbolic of “a place where the fire never went out.” William Crocket notes that in the intertestamental times gehenna was used to connote a place of eternal damnation.
Gehenna was a place outside the holy city of Jerusalem where the temple was and where they believed God dwelt. To be cast into gehenna was to be thrown outside the presence of God and to be separated from God. It was also “a place where the fire never went out.” Thus, the connotation is a place that last forever. Thus, in the word gehenna, eternal separation is implied.

[1] The Inescapable Love of God, 83-86.
[1] William Crocket Four Views on Hell, “The Metephorical View” ed. William Crocket ( Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996) 58.

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