Thursday, May 5, 2011

Divine Justice Questioned

This past week I had the chance to read Rob Bell’s latest book called Love Wins. You can probably infer from the title alone that Bell is a universalist as well as a humanist. His latest book dispels the idea that there is an eternal hell among other things. In a nutshell, it is a declaration that God's love will melt all hearts eventually, and all will be saved. If you want more explicit details on the book I suggest you go to Amazon and read through the 300 plus reviews.

Needless to say, his book has caused quite a stir similar to other his works. But then again, I suppose any book that questions the authenticity of Scripture tends to rustle some feathers. I always find it interesting when an author has such issue with hell because he/she feels the penalty is just too harsh and that a loving God would never put a person in eternal torment. Of course, Jesus spoke more about hell than any other topic and the subject of hell is addressed 162 times in the New Testament alone. Jesus Himself references it 70 times or roughly half of all the times it is mentioned.

What is it exactly that causes us to bristle at the subject of hell? After all, earlier this week, the entire nation celebrated the death of Osama Bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, a militant Qutbist Sunni Islamic organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets. Americans at baseball games and basketball games cheered and chanted “U.S.A.!” “U.S.A.!” In our hearts we felt justice had been served and indeed it was against a man who was on the American Federal Bureau of Investigation's lists of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and Most Wanted Terrorists for his involvement in bombings and other such atrocities over the years.

As a people, we never have an issue with national justice, civil justice, or personal justice but we do take issue with divine justice, don’t we? Mr. Bell is not alone in his inability to fathom a God that not only demands justice but requires it be satisfied in full. Of course, he has missed the whole message of the cross because it is there that God’s justice and mercy meet in the person of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Himself that satisfied God’s justice on the cross so that men could be saved, “And He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

That word “propitiation” is an interesting word as it is somewhat antiquated in today’s world. It is most often translated “substitute” but as I studied the word further, I found this Biblical definition regarding its use throughout Scripture:

“Propitiation is the means that is consistent with God’s character and government to pardon and bless the sinner. The propitiation does not procure God’s love or make Him loving; it only renders it consistent for him to exercise his love toward sinners. In Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5 the word is translated “mercy-seat.” It is the Greek word hilasterion. It is the word employed by the LXX translators in Ex. 25:17 and elsewhere as the equivalent for the Hebrew word kapporeth which means “covering” and is used of the lid of the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:21; 30:6). This Greek word (hilasterion) came to denote not only the mercy-seat or lid of the ark, but also propitiation or reconciliation by blood. On the great Day of Atonement the high priest carried the blood of the sacrifice he offered for all the people within the veil and sprinkled with it the “mercy-seat,” and so made propitiation. In 1 John 2:2; 4:10, Christ is called the “propitiation for our sins.” Here a different Greek word is used (hilasmos). Christ is “the propitiation,” because by his becoming our substitute and assuming our obligations he expiated our guilt, covered it, by the vicarious punishment which he endured.”

After reading this, the awfulness that is hell melts away in the person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is why He taught so much on the subject of hell – to ensure people did not go there. God’s desire as stated in 1 Timothy chapter 2 is that all men would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

Unfortunately for Mr. Bell, he likes to interpret Scripture as pliable and versatile (his words) which is what causes his angst and makes him more of a philosopher than a pastor. What is even more tragic is that he causes his readers to miss the magnificence of the gospel message that Jesus Himself so clearly articulated and embodied.

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