Thursday, March 31, 2011

Heaven & Hell

After coming across some video clips from this sermon on YouTube, I decided to download the whole thing and listen to it on my iPod. I was stunned when once again my exact question was asked and answered. I knew God was speaking to me, giving me more grace than I deserve. And once again, the question of the goodness of God comes up, and Driscoll says that He is good. It was as if God was speaking to me and saying, "I am good."

And at the end, Driscoll reminds us - begs us - not to judge God because that is how this whole mess got started way back in Genesis. And isn't that what I am doing - the same thing as Adam and Eve - judging that God is not good?

Thank You, Father, for using this to teach me about Yourself. For all of you reading, enjoy. If you want to hear the entire sermon, you will find the links below.

Mars Hill Church – Seattle, WA
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Luke, Part 68 – Heaven and Hell

March 20, 2011
Luke 16:19-31

This is a (very) slightly edited transcript from his sermon from 39:20 – 44:55 and 45:35 -47:22. For the full sermon go to

Question #3

"Why would God make people who will permanently remain His enemies? Why does God create certain people when He knows that their only future is to be tortured for all eternity?"

There is much to be said here. First of all, people go to hell because they reject Jesus. They reject the general revelation that God gives to all humanity. They reject the common grace that God bestows upon them. Furthermore, they have to reject their conscience that God has placed within them, as well as any special revelation that He has brought to them. We are in no way innocent. We are not.

Additionally, when God was finished with His work in Genesis 1:31, making the earth and our first parents, giving us life, breath, and creation as a gift, He declared it all to be very good. There was no sin. There was no suffering. There was no sickness. There was no death. We sinned. We rebelled. We declared war. We ruined everything. It is our fault, friends. It is my fault. It is your fault. It is our fault. This is not the world as God made it. This is the world as we have corrupted it.

Additionally, it makes perfect sense to me that a convicted criminal goes to prison...That makes perfect sense. Similarly, it makes perfect sense that a condemned sinner goes to hell. That makes sense. What is astonishing is that God would become a man to live in the world as we have destroyed it, that God would endure poverty, that God would endure humiliation, that God would endure opposition and betrayal, that God Himself would be arrested and falsely accused and beaten and crucified, which is the most shameful and wretched and painful of deaths, and that He would cry out "Forgive them!" and that He would die in our place, for our sins, as our substitute, and that He would taste the hell that we deserve. And Jesus states this when He cries out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" That the Father turned His back on the Son and that the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus so that it might be propitiated or diverted from us...That is the miracle, that is the great exchange, that is the love of God.

Additionally, I would beg you, not to judge God. Do not judge God. We have three pound, fallen brains. We have sinful dispositions and inclinations. We have only been around for a few short years. We are not all-seeing, we are not all-knowing, and for us to sit on a throne, even if it is an academic throne propped up by footnotes, asking the Creator of heaven and earth to pass before us that we might render a verdict regarding His holiness and justice is how all the trouble began in the first place.

That Satan came to our first parents asking a few questions about the character of God, inviting them to judge Him. Dear friend, we are in no position to judge God. We are to trust God, not judge God because we are not God. You are not God. God is good and God is loving and God is merciful and God is kind and God is just and God is holy and God is righteous, and whatever God does is good and it is glorious.

...I feel the Holy Sprit bringing to mind one point He would like me to make as well on the previous question of why would God make people knowing they’re going to hell, why would He create hell for them. In fact, the Holy Spirit wants me to tell you that in Matthew 25:41 Jesus says that hell was made for the devil and his angels. The devil and his angels, Satan and his angels, spirit beings, they rebelled against God and there is no possibility of salvation for Satan and demons. Jesus did not go to the cross to die in their place, atoning for their sins, securing their salvation. Satan and demons have no opportunity of salvation, only damnation. And Jesus says in Matthew 25:41 that hell was made for the devil and his angels. We choose to go there when we reject Him. In the same way, a prison was made for criminals. We don’t need to go there unless we choose to become a criminal…I’m telling you today, you need not go (to hell). Trust in Jesus...Hell was made for the devil and his angels.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dad, Job, and the nature of God

Ok, I've been writing about this in the statuses and comments, and am going to try to organize my thoughts on what is going on.

My Dad is gone, and I'm hurting, and then looking at the whole world and railing against God. I looked over Job again (and just read it back in January) and I understand where he is coming from, demanding answers from God. From where I stand, I didn't f*ck anything up. He let me father die. He lets this sick world go on day after day. I am just plain angry.

First, I probably scared Pastor Steve without meaning to, and I'm sorry. What I said was "I am questioning everything I believe." What I meant was "I am questioning everything I thought I knew about the nature of who God is." Let me make clear: I believe. I believe God is the only God and that the Bible is His word to us. I stand with Peter: "Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life'" (John 6:68, NASB). I am not going to run away from God because there is nowhere else to run, no other God to go to.

A song that describes where I am is Michael Card's I Will Not Walk Away.

What I am questioning is whether or not God is truly good and trustworthy. I am having a hard time trusting Him right now or seeing Him as good. I want to trust Him again; I really do. I just can't right now.

The crux I came to while praying, in short: I ask why You save so few - a remnant; You reply that You were under no obligation to save any, but have chosen to save some. I ask why You created knowing so many would be lost; You direct me back to your answer to Job - that I can't understand. Help that answer, Lord, to seep into my heart, and truly know that the Judge of all the earth always does what's right (Genesis 18:25).

You save only a remnant, and yet that "remnant" is classified as a multitude. "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands" (Revelation 7:9, NASB). And way back in Genesis God promises Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the heavens - too many to count (Genesis 22:17, 32:12).

I'm trying to look at this through the lens of the Bible because that is the only way to arrive at truth. I don't want to see things through my own preconceptions or "the gospel according to Victoria" - how I would rule the world.

Yes, I am angry over my father's death, not so much because he died, or even whether or not he's in hell. Those were questions that merely covered the bigger questions of God's goodness in creating this whole world to begin with. That's where I am at this moment. And I am angry that He would create to begin with knowing that so many people would go to hell. I can understand God not saving some people so that His glory can be displayed in His justice. Just, so many?

And this is where the questions cease to be answered. Again and again I circle back to Job. God's answer is what He gave to Job - a non-answer basically saying if you can't explain and control the natural world, how do you expect to understand the supernatural world? I seem to remember Hank Hanegraaff, the "Bible Answer Man," saying that it would be like trying to explain Einstein to a small-necked clam - the clam has no hope of ever understanding something so far beyond him. If I can't understand the list of things He told Job, I certainly can't understand His purposes in creation. Change my heart, God, to be in sync with Yours!

God also points me back to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5, NASB). Admittedly, my "own understanding" is part of the problem, as there is a difference between how *I* would run the world vs. how God runs it.

One post from Dolores made an impact on me because of everyone, she understood what I was saying. I think if you're a Christian long enough, sooner or later you go through something like this. You've gotten past the "What if God doesn't exist?" doubts and now know for a fact that He does. But then the next doubt, the one not often talked about, is "What if He does exist but He's not actually benevolent?" I've been there, too, and it hurts, and it also terrifies. But Victoria, it will pass. A day will come when you suddenly can feel God's goodness, when you know its reality just as surely as you can perceive God existing. Suddenly things make sense even when you can't always explain it logically. It's a grace. It will suddenly rush in as a relief, like cool, quenching water when you're so thirsty you're scared of dying of it. And you will be so much stronger then than you were before these doubts arose!

And this is where I am. As she said, the doubts I'm having are not usually talked about. But I think they should be because my questions are honest questions. I'm not trying to trip anyone up or glorify myself.

I do not have the strength right now to hold onto Him, but this is not the first time I have been this weak, and He had held onto me before. I pray He holds onto me now. I don't understand, and I want to, and I pray that God will change my heart because it is not right with Him right now!

Most every night I find myself praying this prayer by John Piper: ‎"Fix me, change me, alter me, go down, kill me if you can’t, but don’t let me live out of sync with the Bible! Don’t let my heart stay out of sync with the Bible! God, I got all kinds of feelings right now that are not in sync with the Bible. Would you come and change me?"

God is my only hope of getting through this with my faith in Him intact. He has called me and saved me. He has held on to me and carried me when I was too weak to hold onto Him. I have hope that He will carry me through this, too.

So is He good? I don't know right now. But with His help I may just be able to believe it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More musings on the death of my father

Was today's highlight the Ash Wednesday service? No, today's highlight was the Dividing Line program I listened to on my way to church. Dr. White asked (and answered) the exact question I have been asking about God - "Why not save my father?" This program was recorded the day before my Dad died. His answer was God's words to me. God knows what I am going through, and cares enough to give me an answer.

And my response to God giving me an answer is simply to realize that my questions are much broader than just "Why not save my father?" and go to the very heart of who God is and what the Bible says. It's blasphemous to even ask the questions I am, but I am asking them nonetheless. I just don't know what to do anymore, or how my father's death could so profoundly (and negatively) effect my faith.

My only hope right now is that because I had been praying before all this happened, I am still praying now, and perhaps God will hear my cry and save me from myself.

So is it that God is unknowable, or just that I don't want to accept what I see in the Bible, and I am really beginning to wonder if I do. The Scripture is clear, but it's hard, and I don't like it. And the only way out of this maze is for God to save me from myself. I don't understand Him anymore. I thought I knew what He was like, who He is, and now I realize I don't know anything about Him at all. And I am not liking what I see in the Bible.

And yet...I know He has called me and spoke to me and wants me. And I want Him. After almost 15 years I can't just walk away; indeed, I could not if I tried, and I have tried before. There is a relationship, and I don't want to give up on it, and I don't believe He wants to give up on me, so perhaps there is hope since neither of us wants to let the other go.

And so like Jacob, I wrestle (Genesis 32:24ff). As John Piper said, "I am begging, Lord, that I not be stubborn between Your fingers." Change my heart, Lord, to accept what You say, no matter how much my natural self doesn't like it, no matter how much I don't understand.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Theology of Death

I am hurting right now. I believe that God revealed more of Himself to me last year in the late summer and into the fall and winter. I could accept what I read and see how it gelled with Scripture. It made sense. It made God make sense.

I have known people who have died without Christ, and I could accept it. Ninian and Robin come to mind. They died as Pagans and I know they will not be in heaven, and I could accept that.

And then I got the call about Dad on Saturday morning, February 26. My sister said he wouldn't last the week. Two days later I was on a plane to Seattle to see my Dad before he died.

When I got there he was on a respirator, totally non-responsive, and in a vegetative state. The doctors said there was brain damage. He had had a heart attack and it took them 25 minutes to bring him back. It would have been kinder to let him go, but my sister didn't understand how important that DNR (do not resuscitate) order would have been. And so they worked on an 88-year-old man who was brought back with no quality of life.

It can take three days after a heart attack for the patient to recover enough to communicate. I asked the doctors to wait the full three days. After that, my sister asked that he be made comfortable with morphine, and we decided to let him go. He had too many other things wrong, and his organs were shutting down one by one. We said our good-byes, and had him taken off the respirator Tuesday night. He died at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday morning. I had left the hospital about two hours earlier, but my sister was there.

I did not realize how hard his death would hit me. I keep trying to pray and just end up in tears. I pleaded with God to save him, and He answered "no." And so I find an anger welling up in me at my God who could have saved Him but chose not to. To run back to my Arminian beliefs would be merciful - Dad chose to reject Christ, so he is getting his wish.

But I see something quite different in Scripture, and that is where the struggle lies. How can God possibly be glorified when so many people go to hell? I can see how His justice is glorified in the just condemnation of sinners, but why does it have to be so many? Why does it have to be my Dad?

I believe God is worth the struggle, or I would walk away now. But with Peter, I am constrained to say "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). There is nowhere else to go, and so I must wrestle this out. But my natural self does not like what Scripture clearly teaches, and so anger at God is added to my grief, and what a deep grief this is!

Things were going so well for me - God had revealed more of Himself to me, and drawn me into a deeper relationship with Him. Little did I know how important that relationship would become. He is all I have in this valley, my only hope of coming out the other side with my faith still intact. He chased away the gods I used to worship, so there is no temptation to go back, but I struggle to remain with Him.

How quickly life can change from loving and cleaving to God and basking in that deeper relationship with Him, to grief and pain and anger! I am praying, and I know He hears me and is not angry at my anger. I am praying for His help in this, and praying that He will change my heart to be in sync with Scripture, no matter how much my natural self may abhor it.

I am thankful that He drew me into that closer relationship with Him last December because it is the only thing getting me through right now - knowing I can talk to Him and pour out my heart and my tears and that He will not judge me, even if I can't fully trust Him right now.

I want to thank all of you for praying for me this past week. Your prayers and outpouring of support held me up and helped me to get through a very difficult week. I could feel God sustaining me and your prayers were a part of that. Prayer is the only thing that has helped: my prayers for myself, and your prayers for me. I cannot overstate its importance.

But it's not over for me just because I am back home and back at work and life is starting to get back to a semblance of normalcy. Please continue to pray. I need it now just as much as last week as I wrestle through these issues with God.

I am dealing with anger against God, as well as grief over my Dad's death, and regret for the things I didn't say and all the time I spent not praying for him. God saves people through means, and one of those means is prayer. I have failed Him in this area and had to repent. There is so much regret, so much I have failed to do and say and pray that I feel and I have little right to ask God to forgive me for so much. And yet He does.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He has called me. All who are called are saved (Romans 8:30), but why doesn't He save more people? Why didn't He save my Dad?

It seems a lot of people are dying lately - Norma's dad, Brent's grandfather, Brad's sister-in-law, and the friend of someone I subscribe to on YouTube (what a sad story that is!). But these people all died in Christ and are with Him now. I don't have that hope.

God's glory is above all, and in some way I don't understand, every person - saved and unsaved - contribute to His glory. And so I must believe that in some way, not saving my Dad brings more glory to Him than saving him would. And this is where my mind goes *tilt* and my understanding ends. I know all this is true on a head level, but my heart aches for my father and I can't understand it emotionally. Suddenly, nothing makes sense. God doesn't make sense. Just when you think you know Him, something happens that challenges everything you believe. I'm free falling and don't know when or where I will land.

I have never known a grief this deep, a regret so profound, a God so unknowable.