Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Life is a beautiful mystery, but terrible as well. Beautiful for those who love mystery, but terrible for those who hate the mysterious and unknown."

-Dave Reed (my Brother-in-Law)

Recently, my brother-in-law spent a week with us, and I lifted this pithy quote from him. Dave is not a Christian. He was raised in a godly home and experienced God's grace in his early life, but at seventeen he left the faith and has never returned. To this day he remains a kind, generous and forgiving person - what the world would call a "good person." Dave attributes his unusual patience and gentleness to the influences of his upbringing, and although he appreciates the "pleasant" parts of Biblical faith (A God of love, commandments to be kind to others, etc.), he follows a long line of philosophers and skeptics in rejecting what doesn't fit with his own sense of justice. It is a peculiar trait of worldly philosophers that they place mystery over the areas God has clearly revealed, and they shine a spotlight of self-certainty on the things God has left in darkness. Thus, they are mystified by things God has already explained, and fail to be mystified by the things that would mystify them if they believed His Word.

For example, the doctrine of hell appears unjust and mysterious until one realizes that all humanity is guilty of the most heinous crimes against our Creator. Our Maker is justifiably wrathful against our deep-seated moral evil. We can't see this until we realize how far down into our hearts wickedness has seeped, and how transcendently high His holiness stands. God does not have to give us time to repent or opportunity to change. He could rightly destroy rebellious mankind at any moment. The real mystery is that he doesn't cast us all into hell. When we realize this, every good thing that happens to us suddenly becomes a stunning act of mercy, and every bad thing that happens to us is better than what we deserve. We need only read the first three chapters of Genesis, and we find that the tables are turned. We're wrath-deserving wretches whose destruction is warranted and whose suffering on this earth might well be a gift - tailor-made to bring us back into the loving arms of God. And we're literally living on borrowed time. So there's no more mystery about why "bad things happen to good people," because there aren't any good people. The bigger mystery is, "Why do good things happen to bad people?"

The startling paradox of revelation is this: enlightenment expands mystery.

Biblical thinking results in faith and justice meeting one another. As we understand God's justice, our faith in Him grows. And as our faith grows, we trust His version of justice more and more. Eventually, we recognize that His is the only TRUE and RIGHT concept of justice, and our own natural views are skewed and twisted by false perceptions. We have to start by realizing we are absolutely guilty, and all good that comes to us is not a function of justice, but an outflow of His pure mercy. In the Gospel, we find both mercy and justice at work, and both of them in perfect harmony.

But why are there still mysteries? Perhaps Biblical theology is not so much meant to answer all of our questions as it is designed to deal with us. God gives us enough light through precept and promise to provide solid knowledge, needed security, and comforting certainty. But he leaves enough darkness to prove our faith genuine, our hope enduring, and our love sincere. He is infinitely wise in His administration of all the knowledge that exists, in what He reveals and in what He withholds. Life is a beautiful mystery when Christ's boundless mercy is recognized and received.

Proverbs 2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

Colossians 2:1-3 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.


  1. You know, Derek, I've found in my own life that the things God leaves unexplained and unrevealed ultimately serve to heighten my sense of His immense complexity (his "otherness") and consequently deepen my adoration and worship of Him.

  2. So, creating an entire race of sentient beings, and setting up that creation so that BILLIONS of them would be subject to eternal torture, and then, carrying out that torture in such as way, that the pain exacted is beyond measure, is all explained by, "yup, it's just a mystery to US, but it's still true, cause it's in the Bible"???

    No, sorry, Hell is much more than a concept that "appears" unjust... it is infinitely unjust!

    I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website:, but let me share just a couple of the many points I make in my book to explain why.

    Yes, people do bad things, but Historical Christianity says we are condemned to Hell before we even get one chance to do one bad thing, because we were "in Adam," and therefore just as guilty as he. The punishment for this "crime" is said to be eternal torture, by fire, even though no one ever asked to be born of Adam.

    But lets' just say that the purpose of Hell is to punish us for the things we actually do wrong. And further, that "justice" means having to suffer the same amount of hurts that one causes, barbaric as that concept is.

    Well, we are finite beings, capable of only doing so much damage. With all eternity to work with, even the worst of us who might be paid in kind for whatever pains he caused others, would at some point, be paid in full! On this basis, you might justify the existence of a Purgatory, but not an ETERNAL Hell.

    Moreover, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

  3. The basis of your argument is:
    * We didn't ask to be born, and yet we are damned
    * Infinite punishment could not possibly be merited by a finite crime
    * Jesus seemingly preached against hell in Luke 9:51-56

    Please allow me to answer these three points with one question: What motivates God to do all that He does?

    Why the creation? Why the cross?

    You might say, "love."

    And that's a good answer, but it needs more refinement.

    I think you might mean, "love for humans."

    Tell me, what did God (the Father) love before He created us? I think there can only be one answer, the Son.

    Who is the Son?

    Deity. God.

    If you don't agree with me on this point we have a different discussion. So let's assume you agree.

    So what motivates God?


    For Himself.

    Don't take my word for it. Ask yourself what motivated Him to save you when you read Isaiah 48:9-11.
    Or John 17:1.
    Or John 14:13.
    Or John 16:14.
    Or Acts 12:23.
    Or Psalm 25:11.
    Or Romans 9:17.
    Or Exodus 14:4.
    Or Isaiah 43:25.
    Or Habakkuk 2:14.
    Or Ezekiel 20:14.
    Or Psalm 106:7-8.
    Or Isaiah 43:6-7.
    Or Jeremiah 13:11.
    Or 1 Samuel 12:20-22.
    Or 1 Corinthians 10:31.
    Or Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32.
    Or 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10.

    (Reminder, God wrote those verses about Himself.)

    Want more proof? How about the biggest book in the Bible: The Psalms.

    What are the Psalms' basic content?
    Praise God!
    Praise God!
    Praise God!

    The Psalms were written by God.

    So what He's really saying is,
    Praise Me!
    Praise Me!
    Praise Me!

    What motivates God most is love for Himself.

    It is because you begin with the assumption that God revolves around man that leads you down a terrible road -- even to the point of inventing a different god than what is found in the Bible.

    This is called idolatry.

    (I don't know if you're an idolator, but the warning must be clear: assume that man comes first and you will become one.)

    I'm not sure you were aware of this assumption. I know of very, very, very few people who have asked the question, "What motivates God?"

    Not even me.

    But you must ask this question to rightly understand the Bible. When you see that God is motivated by love for Himself, the Bible falls into place. Your life will radically change for the better.

    Trust me.

    So if God loves Himself above all things, how does that presuppose the doctrine of Hell?

    God is infinitely worthy.

    Worthy of exultation.
    Worthy of majesty.
    Worthy of respect.
    Worthy of praise.
    Worthy of honor.
    Worthy of glory.
    Worthy of song.
    Worthy of all!

    He is WORTHY of obeying, simply because He is worthy.

    Now, what is sin?

    What is sin but a rebellion against His command? What a TERRIFIC insult to His honor!!! He said "don't do it," we say, "you're not worthy of obeying." On the basis of His worth alone, He should be respected, listened to, agreed with, obeyed. He is supreme over all!

    If He says jump, your only answer ought to be, "How high?" Simply because He is worthy of obedience.

    David the Psalmnist agreed. He sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba and his son and dragged all of Israel down into scandal, thus sinning against literally millions of people. Yet he wrote these words:

    Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight
    (Psalm 51:4a ESV)


    so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
    (Psalm 51:4b ESV)

    Another way to consider sin is it is deeds that would be done only if He isn't really there.


  4. (Continued from above...)

    If a dignitary, some royalty or ambassador, visits your house and you go about your life as if he were not there, you would greatly insult him. How would your and my life change if Jesus knocked on our door and said, "I'll be following you around from now on, listening to your thoughts, words, watching your actions and judging your fears." Would you act or think differently?

    To the degree that you would change, there is unbelief that He really is watching, that He really does exist. This belittles Him. God will not tolerate belittling of His name for very long.

    He is most motivated by love for His own self-worth.

    Tell me, what would it communicate about His opinion of Himself if there was no punishment for those who belittled the worth of His great name, the name that He loves?

    What if He did nothing to uphold the worth of His great name?


    For God not to uphold the glory of God, God denies God the glory that God deserves. God heaps scorn upon God. That would be blasphemous!

    Let us consider even the smallest little grumbling about the weather, alone in your car on the way home from work. I was guilty of this a few weeks ago.

    What are we really saying?

    First, we say that God doesn't know what He is doing. Don't you see that He is watering the plants to feed you? He doesn't have to. He could let you try to make plants grow all on your own, without any water at all anywhere on the earth.

    Second, we say that God doesn't love His creatures to send this providence. There are literally MILLIONS of people on earth shaking their fist in His face, and He gives them a sandwich. What a tremendously loving, patient God this must be!!

    Third, we say that God doesn't exist. When we complain to the air about circumstances, we are effectually complaining that He sent the circumstances. We would never, never, never, never, never question His providence if He were sitting in the car next to us. This belittles His great name. God cannot tolerate belittling His name for long.

    Grumbling under our breath to ourselves about the rain must be an infinite affront to the majesty and authority and worth of HIS GREAT NAME.

    What an amazing God, then, who visits the furious wrath deserved upon those who grumble about His rain. He visits the full fury of hell, upon His Son, who gladly volunteered for the job "for the joy that was set before him." (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

    I CANNOT believe I get to worship this God!

    What a God!
    What a God!
    What a God!

    In summary, hell is a doctrine that is demanded by an understanding of the nature of the God of the Bible.


    If you don't agree, you have to deny the core, fundamental essense of who God is.

    Ultimately, in order to escape these Biblical truths, you must create another god.

    This is called idolatry.

    P.S. Unfortunately I will not be able to respond to any replies you write. So sorry. If I am wrong in anything I say above, simply pray for me.

    Derek (the creator of this blog) said he will respond if you post anything. But he said if you send a reply to what I write he won't be able to approve it until he gets back on Monday. So don't think you're being ignored.

  5. Verses mentioned above:

    Why did God restrain His anger from you? Isaiah 48:9-11:
    For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

    Why did Jesus go to the cross? John 17:1:
    When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you..."

    Why does the Father answer prayer? John 14:13:
    Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

    Why does the Holy Spirit give you truth? John 16:14:
    [The Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

    Why did God strike down Herod? Acts 12:23:
    Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

    Why does God pardon guilt? Psalm 25:11:
    For your name's sake, O Lord,
    pardon my guilt, for it is great.

    Why does God raise up wicked leaders? Romans 9:17:
    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."

    Why does God harden wicked leaders' hearts? Exodus 14:4:
    And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.

    Why does God blot out your transgressions, and make Himself remember your sins no more? Isaiah 43:25:
    I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

    Why will God flood the earth with knowledge of Himself? Habakkuk 2:14:
    For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

    Why did God not pour out His anger on the disobedient, idolatrous Israelites in the wilderness? Ezekiel 20:14:
    But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.

    Or Psalm 106:7-8:
    Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power.

    Or Ezekiel 36:22-23:
    Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.


  6. (Continued from above)

    Why did God create Christians and believing Jews? Isaiah 43:6-7:
    I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
    bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

    Or Jeremiah 13:11:
    For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

    Or 1 Samuel 12:20-22:
    And Samuel said to the people, "Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself."

    What did God say you should everything that you do? 1 Corinthians 10:31:
    So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

    Did God act on your behalf because of you? Ezekiel 36:32:
    It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

    Why is Jesus (God) coming back? 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10:
    They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

    One more, not mentioned above. Romans 9:22-23:
    What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory...

    For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it... (Isaiah 48:11)

    (Scriptures from the ESV)

  7. One more thing then I'm done, seriously.

    It occurred to me that I should summarize my points to make it easier for you.
    * God loves Himself above all things, and does all that He does to bring glory to Himself.
    * God is worthy of all, and worth giving glory to.
    * Even the slightest grumble under your breath, alone by yourself where no one hears, is worth an infinite amount of punishment.
    (Indeed, I did not say this earlier but an infinite amount of punishment in hell really isn't enough to pay for just one of our crimes, let alone our multiplied crime upon crime. If hell didn't exist the trees and the rocks would SCREAM for justice!!)
    * God would not be just to Himself if He did not mete out the just punishment on those who grumble under their breath.
    * This God is amazing who visits the fury of infinite wrath upon Himself in order to show kindness to us, so that we will in turn bring Him the glory He deserves.


    "...bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." (Isaiah 43:6b-7 ESV)

    OK your turn :) I need to quit. Derek will respond if you respond.

  8. A couple of thoughts from the Resolved 2008 Conference (John Piper quoting, then commenting on Jonathan Edwards):

    The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another is proportionately more or less heinous as he was under greater or lesser obligations to obey him. And therefore, if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, honor, and obey the contrary toward him must be infinitely faulty. Our obligation to love, honor and obey any being is in proportion to his loveliness, honorableness and authority, but God is a being infinitely lovely because he hath infinite excellency and infinite beauty; so sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations must be a crime infinitely heinous and so deserving of infinite punishment. The eternity of the punishment of ungodly men renders it infinite, and therefore renders it no more than proportionable to the heinousness of what they are guilty of.

    -Jonathan Edwards

    In other words, the LENGTH of your sin is not what makes the length of your suffering just. It’s the HEIGHT of your sin that makes the length of your suffering just. The height of your sin is measured by the dignity of the one you are sinning against and it is an INFINITE dignity.

    -John Piper

  9. Chris,

    I asked you to respond to Rick Lannoye's comment because I was out of town this weekend. I thought you would write a little blurb out of the duty of friendship. But you went all out, brother!

    Thanks so much for offering your considerable insights. I have nothing to add, and lots to learn from you. I thank God for your friendship and the wisdom He has given you.


    I was thinking of referring Mr. Lannoye to Jonathan Edwards' treatise, "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners." Looks like you beat me to it.

    Grace & peace,

    PS - It has well been said the mark of a true believer is that he admits God would have been just in condemning him to the worst hell that can be imagined, yet he clings to the grace of the cross as his only hope of escaping this deserved fate. The true believer is able to acknowledge God's justice because he simply trusts the righteousness of God. He believes God owes him nothing, but nonetheless gives him everything. And then he falls wondering before the glory of divine grace and the infinite wonders of mercy.


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