Ask Bob # 41: “Does God like torturing people?”

Ask Bob # 41: “Does God like torturing people?”

This question was submitted anonymously: “ I guess you could say my question is about torture. Why would God create people only to send them to Hell? He knows it would happen before they are even born. Here are a couple of representative verses but I’m sure there are more that would fit into this question: Revelation 9:4-6, and Revelation 20:10-15.”

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(My reply): Okay, the short answer first: no, God doesn’t like torturing people. However, there are places in the Bible where God takes personal responsibility, unapologetically, for causing great suffering.

Some Christians simply can’t deal with this idea. In order to cope with the “contradiction” of a loving God who inflicts pain they say, “No, all suffering is Satan’s fault!” They’re not speaking biblical truth, so ignore them.

The passages submitted by the inquirer are in two separate, but related, categories. It makes it a long article if I quote them here, but I know that most readers won’t look up the passages, so I have included them below.

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The First Passage: Suffering On Earth

Revelation 9:4-6

“They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.”

This passage (Rev. 9) isn’t about Hell. It’s about something that will happen on Earth when the fifth angel sounds his trumpet. And God sets the rules. We can’t blame it on Satan.

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The Second Passage: Suffering In Hell

Revelation 20:10-15

“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the Heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

This passage (Revelation 20) is about Hell. God takes clear responsibility for it. He’s the judge.

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Regarding suffering on Earth, at the hand of God: we always thinks it’s unfair. Managers sometimes have to discipline employees for various infractions. As a Navy Petty Officer, I made a sailor get a haircut, and he complained to the Captain’s office that I was picking on him unfairly. As a civilian, I had an Administrative Assistant who was routinely calling out sick on the Fridays when her husband returned from business trips. I told her that her high absentee rate wouldn’t be tolerated, and she got herself transferred to a different department. So – punishment seems unfair.

Let’s turn it around for a moment, and look at what God is trying to accomplish:

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city
   and lack of bread in every town,
   yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

“I also withheld rain from you
   when the harvest was still three months away.
I sent rain on one town,
   but withheld it from another.
One field had rain;
   another had none and dried up.
People staggered from town to town for water
   but did not get enough to drink,
   yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
   destroying them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
   yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

“I sent plagues among you
   as I did to Egypt.
I killed your young men with the sword,
   along with your captured horses.
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,
   yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

“I overthrew some of you
   as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
   yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

   “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
   and because I will do this to you, Israel,
   prepare to meet your God.” (Amos 4:6-12)

So. God initiates some suffering, yes. Do you understand that he gives you a solution? Do you understand that you can choose how you react to it? That you can choose what sort of person you become? And how it affects your eternity?

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Regarding suffering in Hell, at the judgment of God: do you understand that you are eternal?

You may have said this – certainly you know people who have said it. Said what? People have said “No” to God. “No! And that’s my final answer! I don’t want anything to do with you now – tomorrow – ever! Stop asking me!”

“But,” you say, “it’s not fair. We didn’t really understand the penalty.” Oh, I see. In other words, you would have said “Yes” to God – not because you loved him, but to avoid punishment.

I’m going to write something now that will offend some Christians. But that’s okay, because what I’m writing is in the Bible. Some people don’t know how to deal with it. Here we go: the Bible gives us several descriptions of the afterlife for people who don’t serve God, and most of them don’t involve flaming pits. IN FACT – in the Bible, eternity for the unbeliever is described as the grave, darkness, nothingness, as a time when all is forgotten, a desert wasteland, a stinking garbage pit… in addition to being described as a place of eternal flame. Which description is accurate? How do we account for the different descriptions? Could it be that, like Heaven, it’s a bit much for us to comprehend while we’re still in these bodies?

Every description of both Heaven and Hell is given in language we can relate to, and yet we don’t have a very clear picture of either one.

What we do have a clear picture of is God. Jesus came to show us the Father. We know that God is loving, and he is just. He is not a pushover. He will not be ignored. Neither is he some sick sadist who likes to pull the wings off of flies. Heaven and Hell will both be consistent with God’s love and justice.

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Notes:

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To Be Truly Known

Short Words 009

To Be Truly Known

The Text

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.’” (Genesis 16:13)

The Short Word

On a Tuesday evening I was teaching this story to the Singles Group at Beaverton Christian Church in Oregon. I kind of choked up when I talked about verse 8.

I better back up a bit, though. To be brief, and leaving out lots of details, Hagar was a badly mistreated woman who was running from an abusive family. In verse 8, the angel of the Lord (translation: God) speaks to Hagar.

That Tuesday evening I choked up and could barely get the words out when I said, “He called her by name!” Someone came up to me after the message and said, “I noticed you got a little emotional there; why?”

But some of my readers won’t have to ask why. You know what it’s like – that oh-so-gaping hole inside, that longing to be recognized, acknowledged, respected, cared for, loved. When God found Hagar in the desert he approached her with dignity, compassion, and – dare I say it? – respect!

And so in verse 13 she calls God by a new name: “the God who sees me!”

He sees you. And he calls you by name.

The Application

Will you look at him? Will you answer?

–Bob Young

[1/6/2010]

Books by Bob Young

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Fear!

Short Words 008

Fear!

The Text

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1)

The Short Word

When God told Abram not to be afraid, it wasn’t a criticism or a complaint. He wasn’t scolding Abram. And Abram’s fear was nothing to be ashamed of. God didn’t say, “You are wrong.” God said, “I am your shield.”

Not “you are,” but “I am.”

The Application

A shield is no good if you don’t stand behind it.

–Bob Young

[1/4/2011]

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1. Your comments are welcome.

2. I would be honored if you decide to copy and reprint my public writings, either in whole or in part. Please include my name and contact information.

(Bob Young, bobscorner@comcast.net)

The City of Pain

Short Words 006

The City of Pain

The Text

“The next day [Paul] and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (Acts 14:20)

The Short Word

Just a day earlier, Paul had been stoned. They dragged him outside the city and left him for dead. Well, he lived through it after all, and the next day he and Barnabas moved on. I’m sure Paul was highly motivated to get to some place safer, but ouch! – what a time to be traveling! He had some mighty painful bruises!

The Application

Your immediate past may be excruciatingly painful. Still recovering? Fine. Leave for Derbe now. Don’t stay in the City of Pain. God has a future for you.

–Bob Young

[12/30/2010]

 

 

Courage

Short Words 005

Courage

The Text

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.” (Acts 9:10)

The Short Word

In Chaos Theory we speak of the unexpectedly large results that spring out of seemingly small, inconsequential actions. For example, one drop of water is the tipping point, and there is a mudslide in California that destroys some houses on a hillside. Which drop of water was it? No one knows…

Ananias is the drop of water in the Book of Acts. Everything that the Apostle Paul did depended on the faith and action of this Ananias.

He listened to God.

He overcame his fear.

He obeyed God.

Paul gained his sight, and Ananias gained the right to be heard by Paul.

Paul changed the world. Or did he? Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Ananias changed the world.

The Application

Listen to God. Overcome your fear. Obey him.

–Bob Young

[12/28/2010]

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I would be honored if you decide to copy and reprint my public writings, either in whole or in part. Please include my name and contact information.

(Bob Young, bobscorner@comcast.net)

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