PHOTO COURTESY of Christian Truth Center
A lot of you liked it. Many of you felt it needed to be said. There’s no question it generated a lot of reactions and a lot of debate.
I do not decide lightly, when a person dies, to talk about his descent into Hell. In the case of Stephen Hawking, I believed I should for a variety of reasons. And so I did.
Now, like I said, a lot of you liked it. But a fair number of people did not, and made their feelings known. Unsurprisingly, many of these were unbelievers, but many were Christians who didn’t think the way I approached the issue was likely to make the faith appealing to others.
I’m summarizing here, but generally speaking these were the seven main criticisms people made of the piece, along with my responses. We’ll start with the ones from non-believers:
That’s harsh and judgmental.
If it’s harsh, it’s because the consequences of sin are harsh, and I’m being candid about what the Bible says they are.
As for being judgmental, no, not at all. That’s a misconception that stems from ignorance of what the Bible says about salvation. If you think your eternal fate is determined by how good or bad a person is – or you don’t believe in any of this but that’s what you think believers think – then you might be under the impression I just opined that Hawking deserves to be in Hell because he was a bad person.
Going strictly by works, I deserve to be in Hell. If Hawking is in Hell, it’s because he rejected God in general and Jesus Christ specifically. My pointing that out isn’t me judging Hawking. It’s me applying what God says about salvation to what Hawking said about God – nothing more.
This is the sort of meanness and hatred that turns people off to Christianity.
No. What turns people off to Christianity is the requirement that they repent of sin and submit their lives to Jesus Christ, lest they suffer the same fate described in this column. People don’t want to do that for all kinds of reasons, so they reject the whole idea of the faith and what it teaches about eternal life and salvation.
The Bible reveals to us how all this actually works. My column took the revelation offered in the Bible and applied it to a real-life person who had just died. I do not hate Stephen Hawking and I never did. I clearly disagree with much of what he asserted, but I disagree with lots of people without hating any of them.
Christianity deals with the stark truth of sin and its consequences. The nonbeliever who doesn’t like this conversation isn’t being turned off by me. He or she is hostile to biblical truth.
It’s not very nice for you to gloat about Hawking going to Hell.
It sure wouldn’t be, which is why I didn’t do that. I described his fate as heartbreaking and offered it as a cautionary tale. Many people made comments like this without actually reading the column, and ascribed to me a schadenfreude that is absolutely not in my heart.
Who are you to condemn Stephen Hawking to Hell?
No one. I didn’t. I candidly addressed what we can discern his fate to be based on his own statements and the Bible’s revelation about salvation.
So you think anyone who doesn’t agree with you goes to Hell?
This doesn’t even make any sense.
I believe God has revealed Himself to us through prophets, whom He commanded to write down His Word in Scripture. I have studied the Scriptures and found them to be trustworthy and true.
I believe God has offered every person alive an opportunity to be reconciled to Him and to have their sins forgiven, and that this is a free gift you accept or reject, with your eternal fate at stake.
If you think God has not revealed Himself to us, that’s what you think. But this has nothing to do with “agreeing with me.” I believe rejecting the gift of grace offered by God through Jesus Christ is a tragic, heartbreaking, eternal mistake. I wish Stephen Hawking had not made that mistake. I hope the people saying these things will not continue making them. I don’t want them condemned.
Now, let’s deal with two common criticisms from believers:
No one but God knew his heart. We can’t say for sure that he didn’t accept Christ.
Well, no one but God knew the deepest reaches of his heart, but as for the rest of us, we can know a lot about his heart.
Because he told us.
This, I think, is an area where some Christians need to come to grips a little bit with reality. When someone declares that there is no God and that belief in a creator is silly, and presumes to prove it with science (thus fueling the misleading of millions), I see no reason to tell myself, “Well, maybe in his heart he really believes.”
There’s nothing wrong with praying that a man who rejected God might, against all odds, turn and embrace Him before it’s too late. I pray that about a lot of people. But it’s delusional in the extreme when someone is openly telling you he rejects God to try to convince yourself that maybe he really doesn’t.
He does. If he says he does, he does. You should believe him.
I do believe that the grace of Christ is available to you up to the moment of your death, and that if you accept it, you receive it fully. What I don’t believe is that, seconds before someone dies, God will necessarily launch a desperate, last-minute, irresistible effort to win that person to salvation.
Why? Because “men are without excuse” as we know from Romans 1:18. God’s efforts to pull us to Him happen throughout our lives. There is ample opportunity for everyone, each and every day.
In the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, the rich man in Hades pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to repent so they will not suffer the same fate as him. Abraham refuses, saying that they’ve had the testimonies of Moses and the prophets to listen to all their lives, and they’ve rejected it. If they won’t listen to them, he says, they’re not going to listen to Lazarus or anyone else.
The point of the story is that people reject God because of the hardness of their hearts, not because the sales job wasn’t compelling enough. Jesus asserts that the existing evidence is quite enough, and indeed it is.
If God decides to allow your life to end, He does not do so without you having already had plenty of chances. To suggest that God will wage some all-out, last-minute appeal is to suggest that what was already on offer wasn’t good enough. That’s not true.
You want to believe it happened because you don’t like the idea that Stephen Hawking is in Hell. I don’t like the idea either. But there is no biblical support for the idea that God does this, and plenty of biblical support for the idea that he doesn’t.
(Now, I should say this: The Lord once sent me to witness to someone who would die a week later. I did and he accepted the grace of Christ. But the key thing to understand here is that God sent me because He knew the man’s heart had opened, not strictly because he was about to die.)
It’s better to keep the focus on the love of God rather than on Hell, because that’s what attracts people to Christ.
I think it’s better to deal fully, openly and honestly with everything we know. People only need Christ in the first place because of their sin. Glossing over the consequences of sin because it’s not sunny and happy means you’re leaving out the reason you should care about your sin being dealt with.
I would even argue that sanitizing the Gospel into a just-the-positive version may win a lot of people who think they’ve been saved but really haven’t – the Jesus-says-I’m-fine-the-way-I-am-and-doesn’t-judge-me variety of “Jesus follower” who isn’t really following Jesus at all, because he or she has been told repentance is neither important nor necessary.
In order to really understand the power of God’s holiness, we must understand the seriousness of sin. Leaving that out or downplaying it might put more butts in the seats, but it won’t lead to real repentance, and it might leave a lot of people at the end of their lives wondering why they suffered the same fate as atheist scientists who kept belittling the idea that there’s a Creator.
You were attracted to a happy-happy-love-love message, the Gospel Lite. You never repented and you never submitted yourself to Christ, acknowledging your sin or the need for His grace. And you were surrounded by others who kept telling you Jesus didn’t care, and wasn’t troubled by anything you did.
I’d rather tell the whole truth and win people who actually understand what they’re being won to.
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Powers and Principalities (2009): Twenty years ago, Clay Bender saw the face of spiritual evil with the naked eye while attending a party. Now, Clay’s terrifying spiritual gift returns, showing him that a supernatural threat is looming – one that could threaten everyone in Royal Oak. As the community grapples with bizarre electrical disturbances and a horrible train derailment, only Clay can recognize the true nature of the strange events, and he and his two closest friends have little time to battle the city’s demons – even as all three are forced to face their own. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)
Pharmakeia (2010): Kyla Spears is being warned – in terrifying dreams – of grisly and violent tragedies looming for young people in Royal Oak. But her spiritually gifted friend Clay Bender is reluctant to help, and her feelings for one charming young man threaten her newfound spiritual integrity and her ability to face the truth about what’s really behind the threat. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)