[forthright] God Is So Good

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthright@...>
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 13:47:26 -0500
Forthright Magazine
http://www.forthright.net
Straight to the Cross


COLUMN: Final Phase

God Is So Good
by J. Randal Matheny

Is God so good that he will not punish the wicked
in hell eternally?

People have grappled with this question for years.
Several answers have been offered.

1. Universalism says God will save everyone. If
hell exists, it is for the devil and his angels,
but not for human beings. Hell is probably some
medieval concoction.

2. Extinction of the soul. The good will go to
heaven, but the wicked will be snuffed out of
existence.

3. Only a few. Hell exists, but only the really,
really bad people will actually go there. You have
to work very hard to get into hell.

4. God might change his mind. The Bible talks
about hell, and so did Jesus, and, yes, he says
few will be saved, but we must let God be God: If
he decides to let some people into heaven that, by
what the Bible says, won't be permitted in, then
we'll accept that.

Such positions fail, however, to take into account
several truths.

+ God is good *and* severe. To Gentiles who were
proud they had been added to God's people, Paul
warns: "Note then the kindness and the severity of
God: severity toward those who have fallen, but
God's kindness to you, provided you continue in
his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off"
(Romans 11:22). God is more than merely good; he
is also righteous, just, and holy.

+ God gets mad. His anger is not like ours,
fickle, unstable, a random shooter. His wrath is
focused, invariably, against evil. Evil is
whatever goes against his nature and character.
The Lord has, in his mercy, provided an escape
through Christ, where the full horror of sin was
faced and dealt with. Those who spurn his grace
are objects of his wrath, as well as those who
have the gospel in their hands and keep quiet.
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life;
whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life,
but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36).

+ God is faithful and true. If God says he will do
something, we may be sure that he will not change,
for he is "the Father of lights with whom there is
no variation or shadow due to change" (James
1:17). To affirm that God tells us that the
spiritual world works one way, only to let us get
at the end and discover that he had actually
decided to do differently would be nothing more
than a cosmic joke. God doesn't operate that way.

+ God has decreed that people live with their
decisions. Decision determines destiny. In the end
we will be judged by our deeds. "For the Son of
Man is going to come with his angels in the glory
of his Father, and then he will repay each person
according to what he has done" (Matthew 16:27). Or
as Paul put it, "For we must all appear before the
judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may
receive what is due for what he has done in the
body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
In other words, we will reap what we sow, so we
shouldn't deceive ourselves into thinking
otherwise (Galatians 6:7-10).

+ Things are better today, and worse. God offers
salvation in Jesus, but the consequences of
rejecting it are worse than in the old covenant.
The book of Hebrews puts warnings near the
beginning and the end of the work, declaring that
to refuse Christ will be worse for us than
punishment was for Israel (Hebrews 2:1-4; 12:25).

The attempts mentioned above to emphasize God's
goodness so as to downplay eternal punishment for
the wicked leave people as they are and encourage
them to relax, if not in intent, at least, in
their result.

Considering our great salvation, we must "pay much
closer attention" (Hebrews 2:1) than ever.

God is good, but his goodness does not pretend sin
is something that can be overlooked nor go
unpunished.

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