The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Stefan Gustavsson, Director of Apologia Centre for Christian Apologetics, explains and defends the claim that God is coming back to judge every human being.
The biblical idea of a final judgement with eternal consequences can be incredible, offensive, and deeply immoral for non-believers.
As Christians, how can we today explain and defend the claim that God is coming back to judge the living and the dead?
Stefan Gustavsson, Director of Apologia Centre for Christian Apologetics, explained that “many non-believers have false ideas about hell”, based on books that describe hell “in a humorous and grotesque way”, or cartoons where “the devil is a a kind of a king over a dark kingdom”.
However, it is interesting to think “how the teaching of Jesus grounds His view on hell”, Gustavsson said in an interview during the European Leadership Forum in Wisla (Poland).
“Jesus’ vision of God, His Father, is that He is perfect, He is righteous. Jesus views human beings as responsible beings, we are not just the victims of circumstances or bad luck”, the apologist points out. “There needs to be a day of judgement, of justice, of putting things right again, giving the evil its right punishment”.
According to Gustavsson, “the ultimate judgement is an issue of who do you want to belong to, and God has invited us to belong to Him”.
Question. What false ideas do many non-believers have about hell?
Answer. Many non-believers have false ideas about hell. They are influenced by Dante's inferno, the well-known book from the medieval time, where in a humorous and grotesque way, horrible punishments are described.
But that book has very little to do with the Bible or the Christian faith.
Other non-believers have the view of hell that we can find in cartoons, with the devil as a a kind of a king over a dark kingdom. Again, that has nothing to do with what the Christian faith teaches.
The devil will be defeated and thrown into the lake of fire, so hell is not the kingdom of the devil.
Q. How does Jesus’ teaching about God and man ground his teaching about hell?
A. It is interesting to think how the teaching of Jesus grounds his view on hell. Jesus talks quite long about judgement and hell, but it seems to me that it is not just something that is assumed, it is more a conclusion of some driving conclusions that we can find within Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus’ vision of God, His Father, is that He is perfect, He is righteous. Jesus views human beings as responsible beings, we are not jut the victims of circumstances or bad luck.
We are also choosing individuals, we have choices, we have responsibilities. In Jesus’ view, we have a deep-seated problem: our hearts are unclean. That is why He invited us to come to Him and be cleansed, to join into His Kingdom.
Jesus is looking forward to the day when God will intervene and hold everyone responsible for their lives, and He will judge the world, separating good and evil.
If you look at those different convictions, the conclusion necessarily follows. If there is a righteous God and there is judgement, and we are responsible beings but have a deep problem, how it could be in another way than there is a possibility that we will be separated from God?
Because God cannot long term coexist and embrace evil in our hearts and evil in this world.
Q. What must we conclude about God in order to deny eternal punishment?
A. There are some things about God that follow from who God is. God is not a God who can just ignore human history; nor can we as human beings.
We look back into history, we look at horrible events, and we say: “This is terrible”, we scream out for justice. If we cannot just move on, forgetting history, them God, who is the Creator, the Author of this world, cannot just forget, ignore history and move on.
There needs to be a day of judgement, of justice, of putting things right again Giving the evil its right punishment, restoring all those people who have been treated so unjustly.
I do not think that God can just forgive without a moral foundation. When evil things have happened in human history, we have demanded justice, you cannot just say: “Let's forgive and move on”. There needs to be justice done, punishment over the evil.
Here we are approaching the real center of the gospel: God cannot forgive without the moral foundation, but He has provided that moral foundation for forgiveness, and that is the whole secret with the Cross. On the Cross, Jesus carries the right punishment for our sins, so that evil is punished, and now God can forgive us, our sins.
Q. What are the main moral objections to hell?
A. The main moral objections to hell is that it seems unfair. Is it right for God to give that kind of definitive judgement over human beings?
If you start to think about it, it is not coherent to think about God being unfair or unjust. He is the foundation of morality, of goodness, of righteousness, and all through the Scriptures, it is said that God ultimately will be shown to be absolutely just and righteous.
We need to think about our situation, that we have responsibility, we have knowledge. And God will judge us according to the amount of knowledge that we have.
The problem is that, even if we have a limited amount of knowledge, and maybe I have never heard of the Bible and the gospel, we still have access to knowledge, just through Creation, through our inner sense of right and wrong.
The problem for us as human beings, is that no one of us have lived up to the actual knowledge we have had access to, regardless if that amount of knowledge is very small, or it is a huge amount.
The ultimate judgement is an issue of who do you want to belong to, and God has invited us to belong to Him - and to be married to Him.
People who reject God, are not forced to be married to God, to belong to Him. That is a huge issue. If people say: “I do not want to believe in God, to belong to Him”, how can you then complaint if God draws a line and says: “Let your will be done”? And that is part of what we mean by hell.
ABOUT STEFAN GUSTAVSSON
Stefan Gustavsson is a member of the European Leadership Forum Steering Committee. He is the director for Apologia – Centre for Christian Apologetics and makes his home in Stockholm.
He was the founding General Secretary for the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. Stefan travels widely with apologetic teaching and training and is often involved in university evangelism and public debates.
He is the author of several books on Christian apologetics and the Christian mind. Stefan is married to Ingrid and they have three grown children.