Dear "Little Timmy,"
You left the following comment on the previous post, and I think your questions are important; so important, in fact, that I would like to dedicate this entire post to addressing your questions. Thanks so much for your willingness to put yourself out here. This is what you wrote:
I don't know you, but I was surfing the web and came across your blog - you certainly have an interesting way of looking at the world. I am not a 'Christian' - so I was wondering if you would enlighten me.
"In the ten minutes or so it took you to read through this short article, 817 people died. 725 of them died and went to Hell. What are YOU going to do about that? Will you let God put a fire in your heart to tell others about Him? Pray that He will."
Where are you getting these statistics from? How accurate are they? On what basis does God send someone to hell? Do you believe that you are going to heaven or hell? If you believe that you are going to heaven, then why do you deserve to go to heaven? Finally, what is the nature of hell?
Well, "Little Timmy," let me first say thanks. I'm sure that the worldview I hold looks pretty weird from the outside! I'll start, if I may, with your two more straightforward questions first. These numbers are based on the statistic, mentioned early in my previous post, that 11% of folks on Earth are Christians -- see the U.S. Census information or a World Almanac to confirm -- and also on global birth/death rates. I believe, based on those two things, that this statistic is accurate. All of the statistics I posted were taken from a sermon preached last week at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by Dr. William Henard. I posted a link to an audio version of the message in an earlier comment, if you'd like to listen to it.
And then you've asked a few more questions that require more thought and care to answer. Please forgive my clumsiness in responding; I can only write what my limited brain power allows, and what God has shown me in His word, the Bible. In order to give appropriate weight to your questions, I'll address them one at a time. If you like, you can have a Bible at the ready, or open a Bible website like www.crosswalk.com in another window, so you can check to make sure I am quoting Scripture accurately, and so you can read the context of each passage.
I have a few presuppositions that the answers below assume. First is that God exists and both CAN be known and MAKES Himself known. Second is that Jesus Christ is the divine man in Whom God chose to make Himself known. Third is that the Bible is God's message to humanity about Himself, and contains only truth. Even if you don't believe those things (and I don't expect you to, since you said you're not a "Christian"), please play along just for the next few minutes as though you did believe them -- it makes things so much more fun! And it will, I hope, help you understand why I answer the way I do. So, here goes...
1. "On what basis does God send someone to hell?" According to the Bible, God is perfect, and created people to be perfect as well, and to represent Him on Earth (see Genesis 1-3). But evil entered the world, and it corrupted everything about us, leaving us with no possibility of living up to God's standards (see Romans 5:12 and 7:14-25). Joshua 24:19 says that God is holy, and that He has a Holy jealousy that will not allow Him to have a relationship with those who turn away from Him. Everyone who rejects Him, He will also reject (see Leviticus 26). God has a perfect standard that we, in our own human ability, can never live up to. I'm sure that you can see in humans a tendency to rebel, to try to do things our own way -- anyone who has spent time with a "terrible" two-year-old can certainly attest to that! And when we rebel against God, turn away from Him and reject him with our lives and our attitudes, we get what we deserve: death (see Romans 6:23), completely separated from God. When we insult a perfect God and trade his amazing offer of life for our own selfishness and sin, we deserve perfect justice (see Romans 1 and Jeremiah 2:11-13).
2. "Do you believe that you are going to heaven or hell?" I believe that when I die, by God's gracious gift, I will be with Him forever in Heaven.
3. "If you believe that you are going to heaven, then why do you deserve to go to heaven?" Well, this is the big question, and here is where there's some big confusion about Christianity. The reality is, I don't deserve to go to Heaven. I deserve to go to Hell, because I sin. I screw up. I fall far short of God's perfection (see Romans 3:23). But, here is the part that gets me every time I think about it: God chose to save me from the death and Hell that I deserve. That's called mercy -- NOT getting what I deserve (see Romans 8:1). Then He chose to give me eternal life through His Son Jesus. That's called grace -- getting what I DON'T deserve (see Ephesians 2:8). I could never pay for my sin, could never be good enough to earn the mercy and grace of God, so Jesus, God's perfect, sinless Son, paid instead. I belonged to Hell, and I deserved death, but Jesus died a shameful death on a cross, to keep that punishment from falling on me (see Romans 3:24).
I put my hope and trust in Jesus, that His death was enough to change the way I relate to God. I am now a "Christian" because I trust Christ, and know that through Him God, out of love, chose to save me from Hell and give me new life. He loves me, and has had a plan for my life, even since before time (see Ephesians 1:4), not because of anything good in me, or because of any good thing I've done, but so that He could use me to give Him glory (see Ephesians 2:8-9). For this purpose He sent His representative, the Holy Spirit, to shape me and make me more like Jesus -- not just to make me a nicer person or help me do good things, but to point people to God, and to show that all the credit for every positive result of my life goes directly back to God (see Romans 8:29 and 11:36).
4. "Finally, what is the nature of hell?" Well, two of the Gospel writers quote Jesus as calling it "an unquenchable fire" (see Matthew 9:43 and Mark 9:45). Folks in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus called Hell "Gehenna," a word that referred to the nearby Hinnom Valley, where infant sacrifices had once been offered; where, in the first century, all of Jerusalem's ritually unclean garbage was burned, twenty-four hours a day; and where the bodies of criminals or those denied proper burial were dumped (see Wikipedia's article about it). It's a pretty powerful image, don't you think? Other Biblical images of Hell also involve decay, darkness, fire and sulfur -- and most of all, misery and torment. Heaven, on the other hand, is described in grand superlatives: great joy, peace, delight, pleasure, and every good thing are to be found there in the direct presence of God! In other words, Hell, according to the Bible (which is the only way we can know what it will be like), is not some eternal party with an impish Devil presiding over the festivities; neither is heaven some dull convention of harp-playing angels. Hell is utter torment and eternal separation from God and His love and holiness; Heaven is total delight and eternal worship in the presence of God and His love and holiness.
The good news is, because of God's gift of mercy and grace through Jesus' death on the cross, I never have to experience the agonies of Hell, nor the misery of a meaningless life. I can look forward to heaven, and work to fulfill the purposes of God while I am alive. This amazing gift is available to anyone who trusts that Jesus' death is enough for them (see John 1:12).
"Little Timmy," I don't know how much of this has sunk in, or if I have answered your questions sufficiently. But I'd like to encourage you to do one thing: think about your life. What would happen if you saw yourself as hopelessly flawed and destined for death? Would you continue to go down that road, struggling through life empty and purposeless? Or would you reach out for Jesus and ask Him to change your heart and give you a whole new life, with all its meaning and purpose? What would happen if you did that? My encouragement is for you to try it on for size. Walk around in those shoes for a week or so. Ask God if He's really there. Ask Him if He'll show you that He loves you and wants you to know Him. Take a look at some of the Bible passages I've referred to. Look for God. The Bible says that you'll find God when you seek Him with all your heart (see Deuteronomy 4:29).
You were made with a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice, a need to relate to things and people outside yourself. Something in your heart, maybe long ago, has cried out for some sense of meaning -- maybe you don't even feel it anymore. We're restless, we humans, always searching for something more. I hope that what I've written tonight has pointed you toward that Something. All those characteristics and desires -- God put them in you to show you that you need Him.
I'll be praying for you, brother, as you continue to ask questions and seek answers. God is real. He has promised that He rewards everyone who seeks Him earnestly. Test that promise, and see if it holds true. It has held true for me. Peace to you, as well, from the Author of true and never-ending peace.
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