Friday, August 8, 2008

Forgive me if I seem to have this topic of eternity on my mind, but I have noticed that since I have been preaching through Revelation and, consequently, doing much reading on heaven and hell, my life has changed -- for the better.

Currently, I'm reading through Jonathan Edwards on the Torments of Hell by William C. Nichols. It's (can I say) a good book. It is scary, humbling, terrifying, and provoking my evangelism desires all the more. At any rate, Nichols gives a great page on modern-day preaching and how preachers are so apt to refrain from saying hell but are quick to speak of it as "separation from God" or "that other place." Hear Nichols speak to this issue:

[Pastors] make the misery of hell to consist principally in the punishment of loss. They shall be cast out of God's sight and shall not have God's favor as others shall. One of the most common phrases which can be heard when the subject of hell is addressed in today's church is the description of hell as "separation from God." This is somehow supposed to communicate the horrors of hell in a more gentle, politically correct way, so that people get the message that hell is really bad, but are not offended at the minister or his description of hell. Perhaps the object of such preaching is to retain the minister in the good graces of the parishioners, so that they will continue to give their money to the church, and not leave and go elsewhere.

Such "doctrine" might be called "hell-lite." It is part of the "don't offend anyone" mentality of our culture, and, as a result, people begin to think in their own minds that hell is really not all that bad.

Many modern evangelical leaders have jumped on this bandwagon with the result that it is difficult to hear today's preachers speak of hell as anything other than "separation from God." ... If such preaching is meant to strike terror into the hearts of the ungodly or perhaps stir up within them a desire for God, it won't.

The vile and wicked men of this world and even the religious church attendee want nothing more in this life than to be separated from God. They would love it if God would leave them alone and separate Himself from them forever. The unconverted have no burning "thirst for God that cannot be quenched." They hate God and wish He did not exist at all. To be separated from Him for all eternity would be their greatest joy and happiness, especially if no physical punishment were doled out to them for their endless acts of sin, and rebellion, and willful rejection of His laws and authority during their life on earth. Separation from God is exactly what the wicked of this world long for.

One may also question the theological accuracy of such a statement as "separation from God": for how can anyone ever be separated from an omnipresent God? Edwards believed that both saint and sinner would spent eternity "in the immediate presence and sight of God." This is confirmed in Revelation 14:10-11, which tells us: "The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever (p.134-35).


Dave said...

Good post. This is a key reminder, and a tough reality that people are trying to avoid today. Edwards is always good to correct our thinking. Thanks,

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