Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fair Warning (a problem for the view of eternal conscious torment)

God tells us through the prophet Ezekiel that if we fail to give a warning to someone when danger is coming then we will be accountable if the person dies.

CSB17 Ezekiel 33:6 However, suppose the watchman sees the sword coming but doesn't blow the trumpet, so that the people aren't warned, and the sword comes and takes away their lives. Then they have been taken away because of their iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.'

God Himself followed this principle. Several biblical summaries of a large portion of Old Testament history (from Moses to the fall of Israel and Judah) basically say, “God warned you that if you kept sinning then x, y, and z would happen to you and you kept sinning and now x, y, and z have happened to you” (see 2 Kings 17:13ff; Nehemiah 9:26-29; Jeremiah 11:7-8). God described in considerable detail what the consequences of continued rebellion and idolatry would be, and He warned Israel over and over quite explicitly what was coming.

Even outside of Scripture, it is widely recognized that a part of justice is giving clear advance warning of the consequences if people break the law.

The fair warning principle creates a big problem for the doctrine of eternal torment.

Tormenting someone for billions of years, and then for billions more, and then on and on for eternity is much worse than simply killing them. God warned Adam that sin would result in death. But where is the first clear warning that all who sin will suffer eternal torment (unless God saves them)?

When people attempt to make a biblical case for eternal torment, usually the earliest verse they site is Daniel 12:2.

CSB17 Daniel 12:2 Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to disgrace and eternal contempt.

There are two major problems with Daniel 12:2 relative to the principle of fair warning.

First, the book of Daniel was one of the last books written in the Old Testament. By the time Daniel was written more than half of human history from Adam until today had already past. Therefore, if Daniel 12:2 were the first warning of eternal torment, it would still mean that more than half of human history passed without any clear warning of this terrible fate in God’s Word.

The second problem is far more serious. Daniel 12:2 says nothing about eternal torment. It mentions “eternal contempt,” but contempt is what the righteous feel, it is not what the unrighteous are feeling. A person does not have to still be alive for us to feel contempt for them. Consider Hitler. The only other verse where the same Hebrew word for “contempt” is used is Isaiah 66:24 where the righteous are looking on dead bodies with contempt. Daniel 12:2 also mentions “eternal life.” Significantly, only the righteous have eternal life. This strongly implies that others do not live forever, and thus cannot be in torment forever.

What about the gospels? Do we find clear warnings of eternal torment there? No. The verses which are frequently cited as supporting eternal torment do not actually say anyone will be tormented forever. Perhaps the most commonly cited verses in the gospels to attempt to support the doctrine of eternal torment are Mark 9:47-48 and Matthew 25:46. I explain why Matthew 25:46 actually supports annihilationism here, and I address Mark 9:48 at the 4:30 point in this ten minute video. Even if you think these verses refer to eternal torment, they certainly do not clearly and simply state something like “the unrighteous will suffer eternal torment.” There is no clear warning of eternal torment.

Nor is any such warning found in the book of Acts where the apostles preach the good news.

Do we find warnings of eternal torment in the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, or John? No.

Finally, we come to the book of Revelation. In between the death of Christ and the writing of Revelation many people had been born and died (assuming a traditional date of writing sometime near the end of the first century). Finally, in Revelation, eternal torment is explicitly mentioned. It is mentioned in one, or possibly two passages (it is directly stated in Revelation 20:10, and many people feel it is strongly implied in Revelation 14:11). Do these passages finally contain a clear, fair warning of eternal torment? For several reasons the answer is no.

First, if the passages in Revelation are taken literally then it is only the devil, the beast, the false prophet and those who receive their infamous mark who experience eternal torment. This is hardly a clear, broad warning to you and all your friends and neighbors. But a deeper problem is that both of these passages occur in visions full of symbolic imagery. Further, John tells us what the lake of fire symbolizes. It symbolizes dying a second time (for a detailed discussion of this, with much evidence provided, read What is the Second Death? ).

There really is not a single, simple clear warning of eternal torment for all unbelievers in the entire Bible.

What About Warnings of Annihilation?

I’m convinced that the Bible teaches that the unrighteous will perish (John 3:16), have their souls and bodies both destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), and be burned to ashes (2 Peter 2:6). This view is called annihilationism or conditional immortality.

Are there warnings of death, perishing, and being burned to ashes in the Bible? Yes, from Genesis to Revelation we find many such warnings. Fair warnings. Here are a few examples:

Genesis 2:17
Genesis 3:19
Psalm 37
Psalm 92:6-9
Proverbs 14:12
Malachi 4:1-3
Matthew 3:11-12
Matthew 7:13-14
Matthew 10:28
John 3:16
Romans 1:32
Romans 6:23
Philippians 3:19
James 5:20
2 Peter 2:6
Revelation 20:14
(for a more comprehensive list of verses see this page on the Rethinking Hell website)

Our Responsibility

So far, I’ve presented this topic mainly terms of how it relates to two views of the final fate of the unrighteous, namely eternal conscious torment vs. conditional immortality. But let’s not forget the very urgent and practical application of the principle of fair warning.

Ezekiel, the other prophets, and the apostles all faithfully carried out their responsibility to warn the people of their day of the consequences of sin. It is our responsibility to warn our neighbors, friends, and family members today. This warning should come in the context of sharing the good news. The good news is that through faith in Jesus Christ our sins can be forgiven, and we can receive the gift of eternal life. God has graciously made a glorious way for us to be saved. We don’t have to perish!

Is there any problem if people warn of “too much”? What I mean is, does it matter if instead of warning people that they will face eternal destruction for their sins, some people warn that the unsaved will face eternal torment?

First, let me state that God graciously uses imperfect people with imperfect gospel presentations to call people to faith in Christ. I’m an example! I thank God for all my brothers and sisters who prayerfully are sharing the true gospel, even if in their presentation they include some elements that I think are incorrect, like eternal torment. An imperfect gospel presentation is far different from a false gospel.

Having said that, I think it does matter if the consequences of sin are presented as eternal torment rather than as perishing. Here are three problems:

1. A warning of eternal torment will not resonate with our God-given conscience as well as a warning of death because the unsaved “know God's just sentence-- that those who practice such things deserve to die—" (Rom. 1:32 CSB17).

2. Warning of eternal torment makes God appear to be cruel and unjust. Imagine if you hired a baby-sitter and the baby-sitter told your young children that if they misbehaved then when you came home you would cut off their fingers and toes. You would never let the baby-sitter near your children again! (I think I first heard this baby-sitter analogy from Edward Fudge.) In a similar way, we hurt God’s image when we grossly disform and exaggerate the nature of final punishment. Eternal destruction and missing out on the joys of eternal life forever is already a very severe judgment. We don’t need to add to it.

3. Because of the wrong teaching of eternal torment some people have rejected the Bible as being entirely true and embraced the errors of theological liberalism, and others have rejected the concept of God altogether and embraced atheism (I discuss this and give examples in a short article here.)


By direct teaching and by example, the Bible teaches the principle of fair warning. If eternal torment were true, the Bible would miserably fail to give fair warning. But, if conditional immortality is true, we find fair warnings given all throughout the Bible. Finally, we ourselves are responsible before God to give fair warnings to our neighbors in the context of sharing the wonderful good news that in Christ our sins can be forgiven and we can have eternal life instead of perishing.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

If you want to read more about conditional immortality vs. eternal torment vs. universalism discussion, you may find a list of resources here.

Friday, January 11, 2019

How the Sun Glorifies the Son

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.
(Ps. 148:3 CSB17)

Everything in creation gives glory to God. In this post I want to share two ways in which the sun gives glory to the Son.

1.  The nature of the sun and the light it provides gives evidence that the sun was created by a very powerful, wise Creator for the purpose of sustaining life on earth.

2.  The nature of the sun serves as a metaphor for God in numerous ways.

How the Nature of the Sun and Sunlight Gives Evidence for a Great Creator
(This part is a bit technical, and some of you will love that, and others might want to just skip to the next section.)

It was sometime around 2006 while I was teaching a class on heat transfer to mechanical engineering students at Hasanuddin University in Makassar, Indonesia that I first thought about the precise fit of sunlight for the purpose of allowing us to see. At the end of last year, I was glad when I saw that a book had been written on this topic. The book also addresses how sunlight is just right for photosynthesis and how both the earth’s atmosphere and water have just the right properties to let the light we need through. That book is: Children of Light: The Astonishing Properties of Sunlight that Make Us Possible by Michael Denton. The scientific portion of this blog post is to a large degree a very brief summary of Denton’s book, which provides much more detail and evidence for what I’m sharing here.

One of the three mechanisms of heat transfer is electromagnetic radiation. Heat travels from the sun to the earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation comes in all types, depending on its wavelength. These types of radiation have different names: gamma rays, x-rays, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, microwaves, and radio waves.

We are extremely fortunate that the sun emits most of its radiation in the visible light range which is a tiny portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Because of this we can see! The sun also emits some radiation in the infrared area, which helps keep us warm. It emits a relatively small amount in the ultraviolet zone, but it’s still enough that if you’re out in the sun it’s a good idea to wear sunblock that protects you from UVA and UVB. UVA and UVB are types of ultraviolet radiation that are biologically damaging. Only a tiny portion of the sun’s radiation is emitted as x-ray and gamma ray radiation. That’s a really good thing because those types of radiation are far more biologically damaging than UV radiation.

The main reason that the sun (and most stars) emits most of its energy as visible light is that the surface temperature of the sun is about 11,000°F (6,000° C). If the surface temperature was higher, it would emit more UV, x-ray, and gamma-ray radiation and less light. If that were the case, for the same energy output from the sun there would be less light, and our world we be dim. But that wouldn’t matter much because we would all be dead from the radiation! We shouldn’t take it for granted that the sun’s surface temperature is a relatively cool 11,000° F. Afterall, the center of the sun, where nuclear fusion is occurring, is about 27,000,000°F (15,000,000° C)! Just the right combination of the values of physical constants (like the strength of gravity) result in stars having just the right surface temperature so we can see without being killed!

But this is just the beginning of God’s excellent and precise design.

The same electromagnetic radiation that has the right properties to allow vision, also has the right properties to energize photosynthesis. All the energy that allows your body to function comes from photosynthesis. Plants use photosynthesis to produce and store energy. The energy arrives in the form of light and is transformed into chemical energy stored in the plant. We then either eat the plants directly, or we eat meat from animals which ate the plants. We are all powered by sunlight! Lower energy radiation like infrared and microwaves is not energetic enough to produce the chemical reaction plants use in photosynthesis. This is due to the energy needed to raise electrons to higher orbits, which in turn is based on the values of physical constants. It’s not that another type of chemical reaction would work with radiation with lower energy than light, no type of chemical reaction which is even vaguely similar to photosynthesis could occur. What about higher energy types of radiation? They would damage the very organic molecules needed for photosynthesis.

So far we have seen that the sun emits just the right kind of electromagnetic radiation to allow us to see, provide fuel for life via photosynthesis, and keep us warm, all without killing us with more dangerous types of electromagnetic radiation. It’s like Goldilocks’ porridge, the radiation is not too energetic, and not too weak. It’s just right!

But there’s more to this story. Just like we have windows in our homes to let sunlight in, God created a type of window in both earth’s atmosphere and in water to let the light in. Not only do these windows let helpful light in, but they block the more dangerous types of radiation. For, although the sun emits most of its energy at the “just right” goldilocks wavelengths, there is still enough radiation in the more energetic range that it would do a lot of harm to living things if the atmosphere was not designed the way it is.

Different gasses absorb different wavelengths of radiation. Other wavelengths pass right on through. Here is a graphic from a NASA educational website that shows how far different types of wavelengths penetrate into earth’s atmosphere (this graphic was used to explain why NASA sends some types of telescopes into space, which is partly because different stars and cosmic objects emit all types of radiation, and much of this radiation is blocked by the atmosphere and so can’t be detected by instruments on earth) :

We shouldn’t take our atmosphere for granted. Other atmospheres either would not allow much light in (like on Venus) or would allow harmful radiation through (like on Mars, which is a risk factor for any manned mission to Mars). God made the atmosphere work like a window that lets in helpful electromagnetic radiation (mostly light, some infrared to help keep us warm, radio waves which don’t harm us and allows things like radios and cell phones to transmit through our atmosphere, and a small amount of UV) while keeping out the almost all of the harmful UV, x-rays, and gamma rays. Not only that, but this very same mix of gasses is just what we need to breathe!

While it’s obvious why we need an atmosphere that allows light through, it is also very important that water allows light through. A large portion of our oxygen is produced by photosynthesis carried out by algae in the oceans. And even for plants on land, the cells which carry out photosynthesis are filled with a water-based solution.

So, God designed the sun to emit just the right kind of electromagnetic radiation (mostly visible light), and he designed earth’s atmosphere and water to have something similar to a window to allow this light through. This light both provides energy for our bodies and allows us to see.

The authors of the article, “Electromagnetic Spectrum” in the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica appropriately wrote, “Considering the importance of visible sunlight for all aspects of terrestrial life, one cannot help being awed by the dramatically narrow window in the atmospheric absorption . . . and in the absorption spectrum of water” (as quoted in Children of Light, pg. 65).

I’ve barely scratched the surface of how amazingly well designed (some say “fine-tuned”) the laws of physics are to allow the sun to produce the light, energy, and warmth we need without destroying us. Here’s a few more thoughts:

* Our planet is at just the right distance, and the sun puts out just the right amount of energy, to keep our planet at a temperature which allows us to live. No other planet in our solar system is like this.
* Not only does our sun put out just the right amount of energy in just the right type of electromagnetic radiation (mostly visible light), it has been doing so at a very stable and steady level throughout the history of life on earth. There are constants of the laws of physics which require very precise values to allow stars to form and to be stable for very long periods of time. If the energy output of the sun had changed significantly over the history of life on earth, there would be no life on earth (at least no life much above the level of bacteria).
* The physics of stars (including our sun) also allow them to begin with just hydrogen and some helium and produce all the elements needed to make planets and the chemicals necessary for life. This process (called nucleosynthesis) also requires the constants of physics to be exquisitely fine-tuned in order to produce carbon and heavier elements. A slight change in the values of some physical constants (like the strength of the strong nuclear force) would mean there would be no chemistry to speak of anywhere in the universe and certainly no life.

Could all of this have happened by chance? No way! The sun, sunlight, air, water, and the underlying laws and properties of physics are all designed to work together in a precise and beautiful way to sustain people and other creatures on earth. What a great Creator we have!

So far, I’ve been talking about the scientific side of how the sun points to and gives glory to the Son. This is true because God the Father created all things, including the sun, atmosphere, water, and us, through His Son Jesus Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). But there are also more poetic, metaphorical ways in which the Sun points to the Son.

Ways in which the Sun reminds us of the Son

No matter how long a night may feel, we can count on the sun rising.
And no matter what we face in life, we can count on Jesus to bring us through it to a better day.

The sun is reliable, you can count it.
Jesus will never let us down, He is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

The sun is really powerful.
Jesus is even more powerful. In fact, He created not only our Sun, but billions of similar stars in our galaxy and billions of other galaxies each filled with billions of stars (John1:3)!

The sun provides energy to keep all advanced life on earth alive.
Jesus is the ultimate source of life and offers eternal life to all who trust Him (John 1:4, 3:16).

The sun gives light that allows us to see.
The Son is the light of the world who shows us God’s love truth (John 1:9).

Light is associated with what’s good. The sun is full of light.
Jesus, as the perfect reflection of God, is pure light with no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5).

So, the next time you feel the warm sunlight on your skin, or are enjoying a bright day, or eating something which depended on photosynthesis (which is pretty much everything you eat!), take a moment and stop and thank our Lord for being "the One who gives the sun for light" (Jer 31:35)!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

If you liked this, you might want to read these other posts about evidence for God from science and how nature shows us things about God:

Seeing God in Creation Gives Me Courage to Keep Serving Him

Nuclear Submarines and Living Cells

A Stronger Attraction than Sin (uses the solar system as an analogy)

Excited both as a Science Geek and a God Worshiper

Sunflowers and Sonpeople

Spiritual Lessons from Elephants and Water Buffalo

White Fields

Theistic Evolution Demagnifies God's Glory

Octopi from Outer Space