Observations on life; particularly spiritual

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It ain’t necessarily so

Pompeii 5 400pxUncertainty in the dating of past events

The volcanic eruption that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii probably took place two months later than previously thought, Italian officials say. Historians have traditionally dated the disaster to 24 August 79 AD, but excavations in southern Italy have unearthed a charcoal inscription written on a wall that includes a date which corresponds to 17 October. The writing came from an area in a house that was apparently being renovated just before the nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii under a thick blanket of ash and rock.

Other evidence that supports autumn rather than summer for the eruption includes:
– The south-easterly debris pattern is consistent with the prevailing winds in autumn, but not those in August.
– The remains of victims of the eruption in heavy clothing.
– Braziers have also been found in the ruins, suggesting a date closer to winter.
– A calcified branch bearing berries that normally only come out in the Italian autumn.
– Remnants of autumnal fruits (such as the pomegranate),
– Large earthenware storage vessels which were laden with wine at the time of their burial by Vesuvius. This could indicate that the inundation occurred after the year’s grape harvest and winemaking.

If such an error (or uncertainty) is possible in recorded history, what about ancient history?

Recorded history

Wikipedia says that recorded history starts at about 3000BC, but the oldest specific date they quote is 1046BC when the Zhou force (led by King Wu of Zhou) overthrew the last king of the Shang Dynasty, and the Zhou Dynasty was established in China. 776BC is the legendary start of the ancient Olympics and 753BC the legendary founding of Rome. The dates of events before Greece and Rome are only approximate or traditional and those in the early years of Greece and Rome are in doubt.

The Bible is an amazing record of ancient history. In 1440-1480BC Moses compiled and documented a history of the world up to the time of his death. This included Adam and Eve at about 4000BC, the global flood at about 2400BC, and Abraham at about 2000BC. And in about 1000BC the Hebrew king David captured Jerusalem.

So recorded history is quite short, being a few thousand years.

Dating ancient events

Ancient events have been dated by methods such as recorded history, archaeology, geology, dendrochronology (tree rings), radiometric dating, and luminescence. Most of these methods assume the principle of uniformity.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, “The uniformitarian principle means that the processes occurring today have operated throughout most of the Earth’s history. For example, an ancient sandstone formed exactly as a beach forms today – by the gradual build-up, over many years, of water-transported sands. The principle is one of the guiding rules for understanding rocks and landforms, reconstructing their histories, and estimating the time it took for them to form.”

Uniformitarianism assumes we can look at the present to see what has happened in the past. It is the geological theory that states that changes in the earth’s crust throughout history have resulted from the action of uniform, continuous processes. It can be summarized as “the present is the key to the past” and was pioneered by Hutton (1785) and Lyell (1830).

The geological column was formulated using fossils to correlate between rock layers in geographically distinct areas. The fossils were assumed to occur in an evolutionary order, from early simple organisms to more complex ones later in time. It was assumed that the rock layers were a chronologic sequence laid down gradually at the same rate as they are today, not catastrophically. And the rock strata were dated using radiometric methods. Between the mid 18th century and the mid 20th century the estimated age of the earth increased from 75 thousand years to 4.55 billion years.

Today, earth’s history is considered to have been a slow, gradual process (uniformity), punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events. So there is some allowance for catastrophic events, but uniformity is still the dominant assumption.

Comparing with recorded history

In a previous blogpost I have shown that, “As a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime, so reliable history is better than ancient forensic science (the use of science to investigate ancient times) in investigating ancient times. So, history trumps science when dealing with the past”.

So, if a small error is possible in dating events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius using recorded history, then larger errors are possible and probable in dating events using ancient forensic science.

Presuppositions

The presuppositions used when dating ancient events usually involve the uniformity of some parameters over extended periods of time. There is no way to verify these assumptions because they relate to conditions that occurred in the ancient past, prior to recorded history. All these dating methods rely on unprovable assumptions. One of the main assumptions is that geological layers represent the gradual deposition of sediments (uniformitarianism). But archaeologists and geologists were not there to observe how the sediments were built up over time. So they don’t really know how long it took. And they don’t consider factors such as the Biblical flood and the ice age.

Although these dating methods appear to be objective and scientific, they are subjective. They are largely driven by the prevailing “long-age worldview”. However, the ‘age’ is calculated using assumptions about the past that cannot be proven.

The dating methods involve enormous extrapolation from what has been observed during recorded history, which cause a huge uncertainty in the predicted dates (Appendix A). In normal (operational) science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.

Those involved with unrecorded history gather information in the present and construct stories about the past. They use radiometric dating that relies on assumptions that are unknowable like the initial conditions, the radioactive decay rate over time, and that the fossil or rock are a closed system which doesn’t exchange chemicals with its environment. This makes the calculated dates unreliable and untrustworthy.

Luggage scale 2 400pxUncalibrated

When I flew to Tasmania last month, the limit for checked in luggage was 20kg. I have a hand-held electronic scale to measure the weight of my luggage. At the airport I check that my scale gives a similar weight to that measured by the airline. This is how I check the calibration of my scales. If the readings are significantly different, I need to purchase a new scale.

The problem with ancient forensic science and the evolutionary/geological time scale is that they have never been calibrated against actual time. It’s impossible to calibrate them against real time because there are no records older than recorded history. Outside the range of recorded history, it’s impossible to calibrate dating methods independently. In fact, the use of all dating methods outside the range of recorded history rely on unprovable assumptions.

Have the methods of ancient forensic science been tested against samples of known age? The only instance that I can find gives examples where radiometric dates are much older than actual dates, where different radiometric methods gave different dates, where known recent lava flows are dated at millions of years, where DNA and soft tissue is found in fossils that are alleged to be millions of years old, and where 14C is found in coal and fossils that are supposedly millions of years old (Catchpoole et al, 2006, Mason 2014). This casts doubt on the reliability of all radioactive dating methods.

The past is the key to the present

We all know that time moves forwards, not backwards; and that causes precede effects. So it’s more accurate to say that “the past is the key to the present”. And “the present is the key to the future”.

This is a fundamental flaw of the principle of uniformity when it’s used to date ancient times using ancient forensic science. It’s a simple and obvious problem. The present isn’t the key to the past.

Discussion

The Bible (which has the best record of ancient history) says that most of the world was destroyed by a global flood in about 2,400BC. And this was probably the precursor of the ice age (Job 38:29-30). The impact of this flood is evident across the world as widespread thick layers of sedimentary rock, some containing fossil graveyards. As such a catastrophic event would invalidate the assumptions of all ancient forensic science, dates reported to be older than 2,400BC do not represent true calendar dates (see Appendix B). They are purely hypothetical dates that may convey some information about relative dating, but not about absolute dating.

What about cave paintings that have been dated about 40,000BP? Whatever assumptions were made to determine these dates, they are obviously not calendar dates. This confirms that the uncertainty associated with dating events using ancient forensic science can be huge. These uncertainties are caused by the assumptions that are made when calculating the dates.

The hypothetical geological column is based on a fragmentary sedimentary record. And there are far fewer sedimentary rocks on earth than should have been deposited if its age is about 4.5 billion years. This means that either the earth is not that old as is generally believed or that most of the strata are missing because of erosion.

The lack of erosion surfaces between strata, the presence of poly-strata fossils, and the presence of any fossils show that sedimentary rock strata were deposited rapidly, not gradually. Note that when animals die today, they aren’t fossilized.

Cataclysmic events such as the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 have indicated that large amounts of sedimentation and erosion can be associated with cataclysmic vulcanism and floods.

Radiometric methods use isotope concentrations which can be measured very accurately. But isotope concentrations or ratios are not dates. To calculate ages from such measurements unprovable assumptions have to be made. The radiometric method is unreliable because of the unknowable assumptions that must be made about the history of the sample being dated. In practice, dates that do not fit the evolutionary/geologic time-scale are discarded. Only dates that fit this paradigm are reported. Because what a person thinks about the age of the earth depends on their worldview, the findings in most publications that use ancient forensic science depend on the author’s worldview.

Summary

Radiometric dating doesn’t directly measure the ages of fossils and rocks. It measures the concentrations of isotopes and then many unprovable assumptions are used to determine the probable age.

Let’s be sceptical of ages for events that are claimed to be older than recorded history. These hypothetical dates have huge uncertainties, which are never mentioned by scientists. When the real uncertainties are taken in account, the dates are shown to be speculative guesses.

Appendix A: Enormous extrapolation

Scientists use mathematical methods to make predictions. These mathematical methods (which are called “models”) are developed from measurements (observations) that have been made over a certain period of time and under a certain range of conditions. The predictions are most accurate for circumstances that lie within those under which the model was developed. Predictions made outside these circumstances are less reliable as they are extrapolations outside the realm that was measured and observed.

The ancient forensic scientific explanation of ancient history uses theories and observations made in the past few hundred years to make statements about what happened millions and billions of years ago. In science it is well known that the accuracy of a prediction decreases as it extends outside the region of measurement and observation.

Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1.

We will now estimate the degree of extrapolation that is made by ancient forensic science. In order to be conservative, we will assume that the scientific theories and observations have been developed from measurements and observations made in the past 1,000 years. So any prediction that applies greater than 1,000 years ago is an extrapolation outside the range of measurement and observation. Therefore, a prediction of an event 10,000 years ago represents an extrapolation of one order of magnitude. Using the dates taught in the Big History Project, we see that the extrapolations are at least 2 to 7 orders of magnitude. As the degree of uncertainty usually increases with the size of the extrapolation, these enormous extrapolations indicate a huge uncertainty in these predictions. In normal science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.

Proposed Event Extrapolation – Orders of magnitude
Big bang 7 (a factor of 107 )
Earth and solar system formed 6 (a factor of 106)
First life on earth 6 (a factor of 106)
First humans 2 (a factor of 102)

Appendix B: The flood and radiometric dating

The Genesis flood would have greatly upset the carbon balance of the earth. The 14C/12C ratio in plants, animals and the atmosphere before the flood would have been lower than after the flood. And volcanism, which occurred during the flood, would have also reduced the 14C/12C ratio at that time.

References

Catchpoole D, Sarfiti J, Weiland C, Batten D (2006), “The creation answers book”, Creation Book Publishers.
Mason J (2014) “Radiometric dating”, Chapter 6 of “Evolution’s Achilles heels”, Creation Book Publishers.

Written, November 2018

Put your mind at rest

November-18_MindAtRest_JPG 400px“Grant me sexual purity and restraint, but not yet” – is the famous prayer of a young Saint Augustine. You see, Augustine enjoyed his numerous affairs and hedonistic lifestyle too much to change. Born in North Africa in 354 AD, Augustine described himself as a “slave of lust” before he eventually yielded and put his faith in Jesus at the age of 31. This great event occurred because he was so impressed by the faith of his mother and other Christians close to him.

Augustine’s conversion is famous because he chose to share his story and because he was so insightful about what God was doing in his life. Indeed, great quotes from Augustine have continued to help Christians from every subsequent age understand more deeply what God has done in their life. In fact, Augustine may just be the most quoted Christian in history.

For example, Augustine understood how universal the problem of sin is. He wrote, “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” And he knew how hard it is to change. Here is another insight, “The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed. The mind commands itself and meets resistance.”

In the Bible, King David wrote emotionally about how hard it is to face up to God and confess sin. Psalm 32 records his experience of shutting God out.

When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Psalm 32:3-5)

When Augustine finally understood this and gave his life to Christ it was the words of Paul in the New Testament of the Bible that convicted him.

Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:13-14)

In response Augustine wrote these famous words about his new relationship with God,

Oh Lord, restless is the heart until it rests in you

Bible verse: Psalm 32:3, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long”.

Prayer: Great are you, O Lord … because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you (from Augustine’s book: Confessions)

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted, November 2018

Incredible stories

UFO 4 400pxBob writes incredible science-fiction stories. He knows how to capture the reader’s attention with intriguing characters and surprising plots. Let’s imagine that Bob told these two stories.

The first story

Last night, while my wife and I were watching TV, a UFO landed in our back yard. A green alien got out of the UFO and asked us to join him. So my wife and I got into his UFO, and he took us to his home planet, Jupiter. There he showed us around his home city. We had dinner with his family. Afterward, we got into the UFO and returned to earth. But when we got back, because of the space-time continuum, we went through a time portal, and only one second of earth time had passed.

The second story

Two thousand years ago, God sent us his Son, Jesus. This man Jesus was 100% God and 100% human at the same time. He was born from a virgin! While he was on earth, he healed sick people and raised dead people back to life. And then he died on a cross. If you believe this, he will take away all your sins and forgive you. But he didn’t stay dead. He rose again to life and is now in heaven. If you trust in him, God’s Spirit lives in you right now. When you die, your soul will leave your dead body to be with Jesus in heaven. And one day (the rapture) he will resurrect your dead body to be reunited with your soul. After this you will return with Jesus at his second advent when he comes to set up a kingdom on earth.

The difference

What’s the difference be these two stories? They are both incredible. Will the first story be told in 2,000 years time? Probably not. Will it change people’s lives? Probably not. Will people be willing to die for it? Probably not.

But the second story has been told for  about 2,000 years. It has changed people’s lives. And people are still willing to die for it (Phil. 1:20-23).

Whether or not we believe a story, is influenced by our community (family and friends), our experience and the evidence. Our community is a major influence because it also shapes how we interpret our experiences and how we interpret the evidence. So our community has a powerful role in forming our beliefs. Different communities with the same experiences will interpret them in different ways. And different communities with the same facts, evidence and data will interpret them in different ways. People will find a story more believable if more people in the community (family and friends) also believe the story. For example, the fact that over 500 people saw Jesus alive makes His resurrection more believable (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Lessons for us

All stories are not the same. Although they may be interesting and entertaining, most stories won’t endure like the story of Jesus.

A Christian’s beliefs are supported if they attend a church (which becomes part of their community). And if they attend a small church it’s good to attend a larger gathering of Christians (like conferences) sometimes so they can experience a larger Christian community.

Evangelism (telling others about Jesus) is more effective if it includes a group of Christians than if it is done by a solo Christian.

Acknowledgement:
This blogpost was sourced from the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 40-43.

Written, November 2018

Many ways to present the message about Jesus

choose own adventure 6 400pxGospel metaphors

Choose your own adventure was a series of children’s books where the reader choose the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. This style of writing has been called gamebooks and interactive fiction. Today we are looking at choosing your own metaphors.

The key message of the Bible is the good news (or message) about Jesus, which includes:
– Our sinful state,
– Who Jesus is,
– What blessings God has promised to us, and
– What our response must be.

Various methods are used in the New Testament to communicate the message about Jesus including: parables, letters, speeches, sermons, conversations, and discussion meetings. Today God uses people like us to tell the message to humanity so that they can repent of their sin, trust that Jesus paid their penalty for rebelling and ignoring God, and follow and obey Him (Rom. 10:14-15).

The Bible gives us different ways to tell the message about Jesus to different people. To Jews, the apostles presented Jesus as the risen Savior and they quoted from the Old Testament. For example, Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Whereas to the Gentiles they talked about God’s providence (sending rain, making crops grow, providing food), His creation, and the universal human desire to worship a god. For example, Paul’s preaching at Athens (Acts 17).

Transgression and guilt

In the past we have often explained the gospel message like this. “We have all done things that we know are wrong, and if we break one law, it’s equivalent to breaking all of God’s laws. We stand guilty before God. We deserve to be punished by Him. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will forgive and justify us”. It describes how we can move from sinfulness to salvation.

This worked well in the previous generation for Billy Graham because people were familiar with the Bible. But many people no longer believe in absolutes and they aren’t familiar with the Bible. They see laws as just oppressive institutions, such as governments and churches, wielding power. So, we should probably be looking for other models of sin and salvation to this one of transgression/guilt and forgiveness/justification. Some other models for sin are given below.    

Bancrtoft Smith & Warner 400pxShame and dishonor

Smith, Warner and Bancroft brought shame and dishonor to the Australian cricket team last year for cheating in South Africa and were banned from playing for up to 12 months. They brought the game into disrepute and let down their teammates. When Paul preached to Gentiles, he said that they had been enjoying God’s general creation blessings but didn’t thank Him for them. Because they dishonored God, they needed to repent (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31). So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We have not been honoring God” or “We have shamed God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will restore us.

Defilement and impurity

Women who suffer domestic abuse often feel defiled by what they have suffered. And those who are addicted to drugs can feel defiled and disgusted with themselves. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We feel defiled”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will purify us.

Brokenness

All our relationships have some level of brokenness. This includes our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “Our relationship with God our Father is also broken”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can be reconciled with God.

Self-righteousness

We tend to look down on people that are not like us. If we care for the environment, we will look down on those who don’t care for the environment. If we are happily married, we will look down on those whose marriages have failed. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We are guilty of putting other people down and having an elevated view of ourselves”. We feel morally superior to them. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find our identity in Christ.

Idolatry

God gives us life, freedom, pleasure, success, health, sports, school, work, family, friends, wealth and possessions. But we can live for these instead of the God who gave them. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We become enslaved to what we live for and neglect the giver”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find real freedom as we worship Him.

Falling short

People are often urged to make the most of every opportunity and be the best they can to make a difference in this world. It’s a common message at school speech days. And we can do lots of good things, but we’re not good enough to be God’s children. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need to admit we fall short of being a child of God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we become a child of God.

Needing peace

Because of fractured relationships at home and work, many people long for peace. Every aspect of our lives is affected by disharmony, disruption and despair.  So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need peace in our lives”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we will have peace with God.

Describing sin

One commonly used definition is “Sin is anything that we think, say or do that is against what God says in the Bible”. It displeases God and separates us from God. And that’s right. But we can also use other words to describe sin. That’s what Jesus did in His parables. In the parable of the rich fool, it’s described as storing up earthly wealth but not having a rich relationship with God (Lk. 12:21). In the parable of the lost sheep, it’s being lost (Lk. 15:1-7). In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it’s being confident of our righteousness and looking down on others (Lk. 18:9). Also, the meaning of the word “sin” has changed to the idea of a guilty, playful pleasure, like chocolates, ice cream, candy (lollies), or lingerie. It’s something that we have a delightful giggle about. Not something that can have serious consequences. So, some other ways to describe sin are: shame and dishonor, defilement and impurity, brokenness, self-righteousness, idolatry, falling short, and needing peace.

Likewise, we can use other metaphors to describe salvation (see Appendix).

Conclusion

Let’s be creative and use these metaphors appropriately to present the message about Jesus to others.

Appendix: Tabular summary of metaphors for sin and salvation

Sin or sinful state Correct response Salvation (blessings)
Transgression
Guilt
Rebellion
Disobedience
Repentance
Faith Obedience
Justification
Forgiveness
Shamefulness
Dishonor
Honoring God Restoration
Honor
Uncleanness
Impurity
Defilement
Stained
Recognize our defilement Cleansed
Purity
Sanctification
Broken relationships
Brokenness
Recognize our brokenness Becoming a child of God
Inheritance
Self-righteousness
Looking down on others Pride
Calling on Jesus name Have our identity in Christ
Idolatry Worshiping God God’s favor
Falling short (of God’s righteousness) Calling on Jesus’ name Reconciliation
Enemy of God Ceasing our hostilities Peace
Reconciliation
Unfaithfulness Faithfulness Reconciliation
Wandering
Going astray
Lostness
In darkness
Following God’s ways Being on the correct path Restoration
Falsehood
Error
Repentance
Correction
Restoration
Captivity
Slavery
Imprisonment
Debt
Serving Jesus Freedom
Redemption
Liberation
Released
Ransomed
Blindness
Disease
Recognize our blindness/disease Healing
Illumination
Insight
Deafness Recognize our deafness Healing
Hearing
Deadness Recognize our lack of spiritual life Life
Regeneration
Raised
Reborn
Recreated
Renewed
Ignorant of God Listen to Jesus Know God personally
Not a child of God Repentance
Returning
Adoption
Reconciliation
Security
Separation Returning Union
Wickedness Godliness Godly flourishing
Righteousness
Thirsting Recognize our thirst Contentment
Starving
Hunger
Recognize our hunger Contentment
Danger
Sand
Calling on Jesus name Rescued
Delivered
Rock
Burdened
Restless
Calling on Jesus name Rest

Acknowledgement:
This blogpost was sourced from the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 63-101.

Written, November 2018

Sydney’s biggest billboard

October-18_ForGodSoLoved_JPG 400pxApparently, around the world, the Sydney Opera House is more famous than Australia itself. Whether in sparkling sunshine or on a luminescent night, the vision of the Opera House, with its brilliant harbor setting, has come to represent both a spirit of unflinching boldness and a quest for architectural purity. It features regularly, along with the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal and the Empire State building, in top ten lists of the most important and famous buildings of all time.

Recently, Australia’s new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, with his background in marketing, said it was, “the biggest billboard Sydney has”. His insight came amidst a public furore over whether a new horse racing event should have its ‘barrier draw’ splashed across the buildings sails.

The issue really ignited when radio shock jock, Alan Jones, got involved. With interests in the racing industry reportedly in excess of $20 million, Jones threatened and bullied the Opera House CEO, Louise Herron, declaring he’d get the Premier to overrule her that day if she didn’t agree to the display. That same day, the New South Wales Premier did just that.

Sydney has always been a venal city of jostling egos where confected outrage masks vested interests. In Sydney big gambling happily feeds on the suffering of failing families addicted to pokies and ponies. The taxes and donations reaped from both are so huge that Governments dare not reign them in. Indeed, successive governments have been thoroughly compromised and cowed.

So, despite the sparkling lure of Sydney Harbor and its world famous, world heritage listed Opera House, Sydney is a place that desperately needs God. Whether by day or by night, it needs God in its soul. And the most precious, important thing that God can give – indeed has given, is His dear Son Jesus.

Jesus came to die on the cross so that sinners might get a fresh start… even bullies and those who profit from the misery of others, or those who accept bribes and inducements… or those who fail their families by gambling away the grocery money. Really, anyone can get a fresh start by believing in Jesus.

If the Opera House truly is a billboard to the world, then how fitting that God’s offer of a fresh start be writ large on its sails.

Bible verse: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being willing to forgive anyone for anything. Help us to realize just how great the gift of eternal life is that’s available through your Son.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted, October 2018

Human destinies: Hell

Wildfire 1 400pxThe Bible teaches more about hell than it teaches about heaven. An understanding of hell can give us an appreciation of God’s mercy and God’s love. It can also help us to understand how dangerous it is to be without faith in Christ. Not to be covered by the grace of God, heading towards a destiny the Bible calls hell. This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Johnathan Edwards preached a sermon titled “Sinners in the hand of the angry God”. He spoke about hell and human beings outside the covering of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, heading towards hell, which is a dangerous thing. Recently I saw a similar title, “God in the hand of angry sinners”. Postmodernity is witnessing the fact that God is thrown into the hands of angry sinners who are tearing apart everything that is noble, everything that is eternal, and everything that is miraculous. We are living in a world in which people do not want to talk about death or life after death or cemeteries or graveyards or corruptibility or decay or disintegration. These are things which aren’t favorable, positive or good. But we must talk about hell because the Bible talks about hell.

What do we mean by “hell”? It’s not life without the presence of God because He is there as the God of justice, righteousness, holiness and judgment. But there is no fellowship with God in hell. It’s a place of fire. It’s circumstances that aren’t normal or acceptable, or favorable or comforting, but are disturbing, or challenging or distracting. It’s eternal. A place of pain, thirst, and solitude. A place for Satan and his followers (demons and unbelievers).

There are some false ideas about life after death, such as the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory where people are purified after death so they can go to heaven. And the theory of annihilationism, which is the destruction of the wicked after death. These are all extrabiblical.

The Old Testament word for hell is “sheol”. It is used for the unseen state of life; or a grave or pit; or torment. It’s meaning in a particular passage is determined by the context. In the New Testament the word “Gehenna” means a place of torment or a place of perpetual burning with fire. It implies agony, infliction and suffering. This conveys the eternal nature of hell and the experience within hell. The Biblical passages we will look at about Gehenna are horrifying. Much of this language uses figures of speech like parables, similes, metaphors, and symbols to describe things that are indescribable (like something spiritual or divine). Most of the passages about hell were spoken by Jesus. They are true because they were spoken by the Son of God and included in the Word of God (the Bible).

The Bible says the following about hell.

It’s real

Words represent what they describe. They symbolize what they describe. They are symbols that represent what is real. Hell is a word that represents a real spiritual place. The concept is real.

A passage about the eternal state says, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev. 21:8NIV). The fire and burning is a symbol of something in eternity. This “fire” can hurt the spiritual bodies of unbelievers.

The Bible mentions three kinds of death:
physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the human body.
spiritual death is the temporary separation of the soul, spirit and body from God. They are still able to be reconciled with God and obtain eternal life.
– the second death is the eternal separation of the soul, spirit and body from God in hell. Jesus said, “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).

The Bible describes the judgement of unbelievers, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life [an unbeliever] was thrown into the lake of fire [the second death]” (Rev. 20:15). Going to church doesn’t make us a believer. Being baptized doesn’t make us a believer. Having Christian parents doesn’t make us a believer. The Bible doesn’t teach that. Instead, the Bible teaches that those who believe that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered for their sins are saved from this punishment. It’s a personal commitment to Christ that makes the difference.

So, hell is real whether we believe it or not. And whether we like it or not. Our beliefs are not going to change the truth. Hell is real. But those who want to comfort others don’t believe that hell is real.

It’s eternal

When Jesus returns to establish His kingdom, He will separate those living at that time into believers and unbelievers. This is what Jesus will say to the unbelievers, “Then He [Jesus Christ] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal [endless or everlasting] fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). This says that hell was not originally intended for people. It was meant for Satan and demons. Unfortunately, it’s also the destiny of unbelievers.

Hell is eternal and the punishment there is everlasting. It’s not going to end. There is no mitigation. The Bible says, “then they will go away to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46). Not temporary purification (like purgatory). Not temporary sanctification. Not temporary considerations of suffering. Not annihilation. It’s continual. Forever and ever.

A place of fire

Jesus used a hyperbole to emphasize the need for drastic action to deal with our sinfulness, “It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:43). Can you imagine a place full of fire? An “eternal fire” (Mt. 18:8). This is figurative language from Isaiah 66:24. We can’t image how horrible it will be. But that is what the Bible says.

In August 2018 a national disaster was declared in Northern California due to massive wildfires burning there. And in September 2018, a wildfire forced more than 700 people from their homes in Croatia and Italy. It’s horrifying to be trapped in a wildfire.

A place of worms

Jesus used another hyperbole to emphasize the need for drastic action to deal with our sinfulness, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mk. 9:47-48). This is more figurative language from Isaiah 66:24. It relates to the garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom (Gehenna in Greek) near Jerusalem where fires and maggots were prevalent. The second (eternal) death is likened to being devoured by worms that never die. It could be a figurative way to refer to a guilty conscience and the memory of shameful things done in this life. It shows that the misery of unbelievers will never end. Hell is characterized by unending suffering.

A place of torment

The Bible says that those who oppose God will be “tormented with burning sulfur” (Rev. 14:9-10). And Satan “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” in the lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 20:10). Torment means mental agony. No celebration. No peace of mind. What a terrible situation to be in forever.

A place for Satan

We have already looked at, “the eternal [endless or everlasting] fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Hell wasn’t originally meant for human beings. It was prepared for the angel who rebelled against God. God doesn’t like human beings to be confined in hell. God is gracious. He died for all the people of the world. And He loves each one of us. And He wanted everyone to be with Him in heaven. But unfortunately, if someone rejects the gift of salvation, this is their final destiny.

The Bible says that the great political and religious leaders who rebel against God in a coming day will be “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Rev. 19:20). So, Hell is a place where Satan and his followers, whether they be demons or human beings, end up being tormented forever. There’s no escape. It’s permanent confinement.

Lessons for us

If you are a believer, confirm your personal commitment to Christ by displaying godliness and the fruit of the Spirit (2 Pt. 1:10). Strengthen yourself. We are not heading to hell. Hell is not a fearsome thing for a believer. But we are heading to heaven where the joys of heaven will carry us through eternity. And “Preach the word [the good news about Jesus]; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Remember many people are heading towards hell. Make use of every opportunity to witness for Christ. We don’t want anyone to perish in hell.

If you an unbeliever, or if you are unsure, Paul says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Trusting Jesus as the One who took our punishment when He died and is now the Lord of our lives is the only way to escape the horrors of hell.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, October 2018

Also see:  Heaven and hell” What is hell like?
Where’s hell?

Human destinies: Heaven

Heaven 5 400pxChristianity provides the most comforting and comprehensive way of life which addresses the fundamental aspects of human life. Some of the major questions we ask are: Where do we come from? It’s a question of human origin. The Bible says that God created humanity in the beginning. Who are we? It’s a question of human identity.  Christians are children of God. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here and what is the purpose of human existence on earth? It’s a question of human purpose. Where are we heading? And where are we going? It’s a question of human destiny. Christianity doesn’t only provide a reasonable answer to these questions for believers alone, but it addresses every human being. Is this post we look at the last topic: Where are we going? What is our destiny? This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Heaven and hell

It’s very important for us to understand that the question of human destiny is based upon the question of the Jesus’ identity. Who Jesus is and what He is doing for us is determining human destinies. If someone believes in Jesus and His sacrificial death for human sin, then their destiny is fixed with Him. But if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus and His death for human sin and for the destiny of the world, then that person’s destiny is fixed without Christ for the whole of eternity. So Jesus is the decisive person here and now. The choice we make here in relation to Jesus and in relation to the good news (gospel message) in Scripture is going to decide our future destiny.

What does the Bible generally say about the destiny of human life? In this post, we will not look at what happens immediately after death or future events such as the tribulation or the millennial reign of Christ. But we are going to focus on the final destiny of human life. The Bible says that people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27NIV). So death is certain. It’s like we all have a terminal disease. Some will die early and some will die later, but we will all die. This is a consequence of Adam’s rebellion against God. And after death there is judgement. There are various kinds of judgements described in the Bible. But God’s final judgement is going to divide everyone who ever lived from Adam down to the end of time into two groups. “Then they [unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [believers] to eternal life” (Mt. 25:46). The first group is unbelievers (who don’t trust in Jesus Christ) who face eternal punishment (hell). And the other group are believers saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who face eternal life (heaven). This post describes heaven, and the next one describes hell.

The Bible addresses human need, but not human curiosity. For example, it doesn’t tell us what Lazarus experienced after death. The Bible is like a love letter from a Father to His children saying that I am in control, trust me as we pass from death to eternity. We are excited about heaven. But heaven isn’t a surprise. Instead it is an outcome of all the decisions and the choices we make today. A small, simple, clear decision and encounter with Jesus we make is going to decide that destiny.

What is heaven?

According to the Bible, heaven is where Jesus is. It’s a place that God promised to prepare for us where there is no sin, no disease and no death. But is heaven going to be a place? It can be a spiritual place. We understand things through comparison, and analysis, and verification, and through examples. We don’t have realities in this world to compare with the heavenly. But we have symbols to express these realities like parables, similes and metaphors, which are the language we use to speak about the eternal and the heavenly and things that we do not know but are revealed in the Bible.

The word “heaven” is used in the Bible for three main purposes. It’s meaning in a particular passage is determined by the context. It’s “shamayim” in the Old Testament Hebrew language and “ouranos” in the New Testament Greek language. It is used for the atmosphere (sky), the universe (stars and galaxies) and the abode of God (the third heaven). In this post we are looking at the third meaning of heaven. The Bible says that this heaven is:

God’s home

It’s a spiritual home. A place of God’s being. When Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, He said “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven …’” (Mt. 6:9). So, heaven is a place where God is. It’s God’s home. And in the Bible the word heaven is synonymous with God Himself. And Jesus told them, “My Father’s house has many rooms” (Jn. 14:2). So, heaven is our Father’s home.

The believer’s promised home

Jesus told His disciples “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). So heaven is also a place for believers. Jesus promised to return and take believers to be with Him in heaven. What a great promise to encourage us when we face the pain, struggles, tears, weakness, and challenges of life.

The believer’s citizenship

Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). We are travelers and sojourners here. Our life is very short. It’s temporary. The brevity of life is going to give way to the permanent citizenship of heaven. Are we happy to be a permanent citizen of heaven? Mortality will be swallowed up in immortality. Corruptibility will be swallowed up in incorruptibility. And the temporal will be swallowed up in the eternal. Are we waiting for these joys of heaven?

The believer’s eternal home

After Paul described the rapture of the dead, he said “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [resurrected believers] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we [all believers] will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). At the rapture all believers will leave the earth to live with the Lord. It will be an endless life in heaven. It’s a great destiny which is described in the Bible as follows.

A place of inheritance

An inheritance is kept in heaven for those who trust in Jesus. Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us [believers] new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you [believers], who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time “ (1 Pt. 1:3-5). Its been said that “he is not a fool who gives away what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot lose”. Believers are not fools. They give up the perishable things of this world to secure, gain and keep forever the imperishable things to come. It’s an eternal inheritance. In heaven, God will deliver all believers from the presence of evil and sin.

A place of hope

Paul often thanks God for the faithfulness of His people, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5). This hope is not a virtue or an attribute. Jesus Christ is our hope: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It’s the assurance of eternal life in heaven (Tit. 1:2). Jesus Christ is returning to take His followers to be with Him. Are we ready to meet Him with confidence?

A place of God’s presence

A passage about the eternal state says, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them” (Rev. 21:3).

A place of perfection

John wrote, “now we [believers] are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). They will not become gods or semi-gods. But they will be like Jesus in His risen body. In His resurrected glory. Christlikeness is their destiny.

A place of joy

A passage about the eternal state says, “‘He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Everything will be new. No more suffering or physical ailments.

A place of glory

A passage about the eternal state says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). God provided light so that the Israelites could travel by night (Ex. 13:21-22). But this eternal light will be more glorious than that. We can’t imagine what it will be like. There will be no time, space or mass.

A place of resting

Believers are promised eternal rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:9-11). What a great prospect for those who live in a restless world.

A place of worshipping and serving

But what are believers going to do in heaven? There will be plenty to do. There is worship. In this passage three groups of people are worshipping God 24/7. They are the multitude of believers, the 24 elders and the four living creatures. And the elders, “lay their crowns before the throne”, showing that God alone is worthy of praise and worship (Rev. 4:10).

In a coming time when God defeats those who persecute His people, there will be praise and worship in heaven. “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah [Praise the Lord]! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, both great and small!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb [Jesus] has come, and His bride [believers] has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:1-7).

A place of fellowship and celebration

In contrast to the law of Moses [the old covenant], the new covenant is described as, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). Believers are not alone in heaven. They are with a crowd of angels and human beings who are resurrected, restored, and enjoying the presence of God in celebration. Heaven is a place of celebration and joy and fellowship with God. Are you excited? Live up to that. Then one day Jesus will call, “Come on! I’m ready. Come out of your graves! Come out of your bodies, and pain and tears and suffering. Servants of God, who have put their trust in Jesus. Come home. Enjoy your rest”. May God keep us focused on the fellowship and celebration of eternal glory. May we cherish the eternal heaven of God which is our home, promised for us forever and ever.

Summary

Heaven is our destiny if we trust in the death of Christ on the cross to forgive our sins. It’s God’s home, the believer’s promised eternal home, and the believer’s citizenship. It’s a place of eternal inheritance, hope, God’s presence, perfection, joy, glory, resting, worshipping and serving, and fellowship and celebration.

Let’s not forget our faith or our journey with Jesus. And never lose the enjoyment of God in our life because that’s what’s going to keep us going until we reach our heavenly home.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, October 2018

Also see: Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?
What are the new heaven and new earth like?

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