The Easter Goat

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Easter is upon us and just like clockwork a story to undermine Easter makes the news cycle. Easter is a holiday event marking the weekend of the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and then left the grave to provide salvation. So of course, there is breaking news to pull against Easter and that news takes the form of a story that claims the Pope believes there is no eternal Hell (To their credit the Vatican is denying the Pope said this). If true this is news because it breaks with thousands of years of Church teaching and seemingly conflicts with the words of Jesus himself. It is also news because many people want this anti-gospel this anti-Easter view to be true. The reported conversation linked here claims the following quote from the Pope.

“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

This idea of a limited or nonexistent hell is not a new idea and if one accepts this view it changes everything about our relationship with God. Here are a few consequences of accepting the idea that Hell is nonexistent or is not eternal.

No Hell = No Consequence

Those that reject God and continue on in their rejection of the creator will have virtually no consequence for the life they live. One might live the life of Hitler or a child abuser and know that at the end of the day the consequence will simply be to “disappear”. It will be as if one was never born. Jesus taught something much different.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:5-6 ESV

If you are an unrepentant abuser and you destroy the soul of a child with perversion then it would be better to be drowned in the bottom of the sea than to face the judgment of God (as if one could escape from God to begin with). Jesus went on even further in the same verses.

7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9 ESV

Jesus makes the point that it would be better to live life on earth broken and damaged than to be “thrown” into the “eternal” hell. Consequence to sin is a heavy price, it is a scary price, and Jesus was not shy about making that reality clear to his listeners. Many people in their heart hope that hell is not real because being unmade and disappearing forever would be welcome relief to the reality of eternal fire.

No Hell = God will be Mocked

The atheist preaches that when one dies the chemical reactions stop firing in the body and brain causing the self to end. Only the material is real. There is no immaterial soul that continues on. Darkness overtakes the mind and death is the end. If there is no hell and rebellious sinners just cease to be then the atheist is mostly right about their view of God. God who is true will then be replaced by the lies of men. People will be free to set themselves up as god and make themselves in whatever image they want. There is no right or wrong only what mankind states as the truth. This short life we live right now will be the only thing that matters. Why does God even need to communicate “woes” if God and truth become relative?

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV

No Hell = No need for Jesus

Finally, if there is no Hell then what did Jesus die to save me from? What is the point of Easter and the gospel of Christ? What do I need salvation for?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes Romans 1:16 ESV

Salvation is defined as deliverance from destruction. While true that Salvation could be a deliverance to eternal life from a destruction of nonexistence that is not the context that Jesus taught and it is not the context of day in which Jesus taught. A timeless existence is the context for both those with God and those opposed to God. God through Jesus made a way to save the creation so that we are able to glorify, worship, and have a loving relationship with God the Father for all eternity. Jesus is the good news of salvation. I pray that everyone would submit to that plan. The alternative is not going to be peaceful nonexistence.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-33; 41; 46 ESV

Eternal and Imperishable

I know less than I should about Heaven and I have not studied the topic in any depth. I have spent all of my energy learning and understanding the knowledge of this world. Understanding the wisdom of what makes life easy or hard, and worthless or worthwhile. I need to know more about what eternal life might be like or what purpose I might have in eternity. What I do know however is that the current grace we live under is leading up to eternity in heaven or hell. For example, if one takes advantage of everyone around them for personal gain it might work in the short term however eternally that person could forfeit their soul. But do we care? Is heaven so wonderful or hell so bad that it matters? Some decisions might be against the short term benefit, like protecting a persecuted individual against an unrighteous military force, even to ones own death. However in the eternal view that decision could be of supreme benefit. How do we know? Is it worth the sacrifice? For me I operate in faith that God has that all planned out on my behalf. God has proven trustworthy to me in the here and now, so I trust him in the future, but I wonder what life might be like in the eternal.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV

My hope is in the future. My hope is in Christ and future glory. I have hope for this life now and God has richly blessed this life more than I deserve, but this life is not my final hope. All of us are going to die, everyone you know will die. Death is ever present no matter how much we try to set it aside, or ignore what the sands of time will take away. Even if this life is destroyed and cut short, no matter how difficult that may be my true hope and my final hope is in the life to come.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV

Christ brings with him the power of a resurrection and while many in this present age are skeptical seeking to understand only what they see in the physical, Jesus has promised a new life. What that looks like is interestingly described by Paul.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 ESV

A seed has a type of glory, but it must go into the ground to be raised into a new life with a new glory. What God plans for his children in the eternal life will be a new type of glory that I can’t imagine from this place of death. The new life will be bigger than the single seed that I am now. This life will also not be hounded by death. It will be new life the life of spring time. All of the pain of sin, the pain of a broken body, and the pain of broken relationships will not be present.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:42-45 ESV

New life in Christ, eternal life moves from the perishable to the imperishable. I think how quickly my life has gone by and I think of the pain in my knee and back from years of use. Life will only go by faster and my body will never be what it once was. My life is temporary and perishable. What Paul is telling me is that I need to fight against the desire to only live for the here and now. Most people seem to try to live as if this is the best life now. Do not make that mistake. Turn with me toward Jesus for the future hope that only he can provide in the resurrection of an eternal life that is imperishable.