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Fire, Brimstone, and the Love of God PDF Print E-mail

On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and brimstone...(Psa 11:6 )

According to the church, God will bring his faithful to heaven and send others to hell.  How can an all loving God cast people into an eternal fire?  

God is All Loving

The Bible tells us God is love, and those who are perfected in the love of God need not fear hell. ...We know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:16-18 )

It is in God’s perfect love that He sent his son into the world, so that those who accept Jesus might live forever. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3:16-17 )

God Will Send People to Hell

Yet this same loving God, who sent his only begotten Son to willingly suffer and die for our salvation is presented in biblical imagery as also being the God who destroys.  Jesus said,  "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?'  He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" (Mat 13:24-30)

The meaning of this parable need not be mysterious.  Jesus tells us its meaning:

"He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one,  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.  Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.  The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mat 13:37-43)

Elsewhere Jesus tells us, "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49 )  We are also told that at the second coming of the Lord...His winnowing fork (will be) in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (Mat 3:12)  How could a loving, forgiving God throw evildoers into a fire?  Shouldn’t he be more patient with them?  Shouldn’t he be more understanding of their human frailties?

The Bible and church tradition presents us with this dichotomy - The God who loves us, and is in himself perfect love, has promised he will throw some people into an eternal fire.  How can we reconcile this with our understanding of a loving God?

Hell and the Holy Spirit

In order to reconcile these two presentations of God we need to look at the church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. The following biblical text juxtaposes the attributes of a person leading a spiritless versus a Spirit filled life.  Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, (and) self-control ...(Gal 5:19-23 )

The church teaches that sin is a turning from God.  Since we believe God is Love, we must also believe that sin is a turning from love.  Thus, those who live in the Spirit will have lives filled with love and filled with the ‘fruits of the Spirit’.  Those who turn from God’s ways turn from love itself.  Thus, their lives become empty of love by their own actions, and because of this emptiness they turn to the ‘works of the flesh’ listed above for attempted fulfillment.

One might well ask, “Even if someone turns from God why won’t God still forgive them?  Is any sin too terrible to be forgiven?”  The bible tells us that all sin will be forgiven, with one exception.  According to Jesus there is one unforgivable sin.  Jesus said,...“every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”  (Luke 12:10 )

Blasphemy, (which literally means ‘to speak harm’), can be by word or action.  (Actions speak louder than words). When blasphemy is against the Holy Spirit it is a state of hardness in which one consciously and willfully resists God's saving power and grace. It is a desperate condition that is beyond the situation of forgiveness because one is not able to recognize and/or repent of sin.  It is a state in which God’s offered forgiveness is refused because the sinner denies the sin.  Someone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit rejects the grace of God because they do not believe they need it; or they disagree with God about what a sin is and claim to know better.  Thus they refuse his forgiveness because they proudly maintain that either God’s view of them is wrong, or God’s view of sin is wrong.

God, however, is the only one who can rightfully identify all sin since only he is fully good.  Only he is qualified to reveal perfect goodness to his creatures.  The bible tells us that, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  (1 John 1:5-10 )

In the perfect light of God, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”  On the day when all is revealed; when we stand before God in his perfect light and see ourselves as he sees us, will we accept his revelation of our sinfulness and accept his forgiveness, or will we deny his loving revelation of ourselves to us and say the sin he sees is not really there?  The revelation God has given us through his church is that our decision to accept or reject his forgiveness, a decision with eternal consequences,  is a decision we make during our earthly lives.  There will be no chance for salvific repentance after death.  The time to accept God’s forgiveness offered through his Son and his Holy Spirit is now. (Luke 12:2-3 )  

Those who know the forgiving love of Christ live lives of humility and repentance; while those who pridefully reject God’s forgiveness turn away from God towards Godlessness; from being to non-being, from heaven to hell.  All who reject God’s forgiveness request, by their actions, to be cast from Him.  Can there be a greater hell than to be eternally distant from the love of God?  Yet, as heaven is filled with the constant presence of the Lord,  how can a loving God force a person to remain for all eternity in a place they clearly do not want to be?  God’s ‘casting people into hell’ is therefore a response to their initial and definitive rejection of Him and His love by rejecting Him along with His Son and Holy Spirit.

Christian Humility

In order to go to heaven we must confess our sins.  We must welcome God’s revelation of our sins to us;  not that God desires us to feel miserable about ourselves, but as his children, he wants us to grow in holiness.  As Christians we must welcome revelation of our sinfulness as opportunity for growth in the Lord.  Through acknowledging and confessing our sins we welcome his divine cleansing and spiritual renewal.  When we identify and repent of our sins we learn something about holiness that we were previously unfamiliar with.   Through this life of Christian humility we welcome the light of God in our lives, ...(and) if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 )

The time for us to adopt this life of Christian humility is limited.  For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Th 5:2)    Therefore confess your sins to one another... (James 5:16 ) so that we as a community may actualize the love of Christ amongst us, and serve as a beacon of light in this world of darkness.  May God use our church as a tool to prevent people from going to hell, by being a living witness that God forgives, loves and offers salvation.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14 )  Amen.

Der Tavit
This article will take a biblical look at these two seemingly contradictory facts: (1) God is all loving; and (2) God will send people to hell.


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Rev. Fr. Tavit Boyajian
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