Friday, July 25, 2014

The Foolish Story of Jesus

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-23).
The apostle Paul predicted long ago that many people will view "the message of the cross" as foolish and impossible to believe. On an internet forum, a user by the name of Skeptikitten said that, "Christianity is illogical in general. To claim that a god needed to sacrifice a human form of himself TO himself in order to forgive mankind for the horrible crime of simply being human because their ancient ancestors (a dirt man and a rib woman) ate a magic fruit given to them by a talking snake is just ridiculous."

I have spoken with many atheists recently who share this view. Just as Paul predicted, they view the story of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection as "foolishness."

On one hand, Paul is clear that God purposefully chose this means of redemption so as to weed out the prideful and the arrogant. God is "pleased" when His message is humbly believed and obeyed, not when men believe only because their intellect is satiated. It's as James says in James 4:6, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." So I have no intention of making "the message of the cross" easier for you to believe by compromising, making excuses, pleading with you to see how reasonable it is, and so on.

On the other hand, I do believe that there are some misconceptions out there about the cross and why Jesus had to die for our sins.

In this article, I'd like to provide a concise explanation of biblical salvation.

Created in God's Image
The crescendo of God's creative work was/is mankind. This is evident in Genesis 1:26 when God says, 
"Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
God made us different from all the animals. He made us in His image in the sense that we have an eternal spirit, or "inward man" (Matthew 10:28; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2). In other words, God created us to be different. Why did He do this? Because He wanted to create a being with whom He could enjoy intimate, eternal fellowship.

God's desire for fellowship with man is clear from the very beginning. He placed man in the Garden of Eden, or paradise, and was in the habit of "walking in the garden" with man (Gen. 3:8).

But a relationship that is forced - a relationship that isn't optional - is hardly a relationship. We all understand this. And so God gave man free-will by instituting law. This way, man could choose to remain in a relationship with God or to disobey and remove himself from God's fellowship. The blessings of obedience were indeed great...but there were - and had to be - consequences for disobedience...

The Penalty of Death
There are consequences for committing a crime. On a practical level, a fear of consequences often (and should) deters us from committing crimes, even when those crimes might be appealing to us. While some laws seem arbitrary, they are generally intended for our benefit and/or for the greater benefit of society. In this sense, consequences not only intimidate us, they actually help us to live a more fruitful and happy life, and for others around us to do the same.

In the Bible, sin is any transgression of God's law (1 John 3:4). And just as we are punished by the civil authorities when we violate the law of the land, we are subject to divine punishment when we violate the law of God. As I explained in the previous section, it is a very serious thing when we sin against the holy God who created us in his image. Therefore, He has deemed that sin is a capital crime.

This is seen in the very beginning:
"Of every tree of the Garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17).
God warned Adam and Eve of the consequences of sin. When they did eventually sin, they could't blame God; they only had themselves to blame. 

Now, did Adam and Eve die the instant they sinned? Not physically. Satan actually used this to deceive Eve when he said, "You will not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). You see, they didn't die physically, but they did die spiritually!

Death is defined in the Bible as a separation. Physically, it is the separation of the soul from the body (James 2:26). Spiritually, it is the separation of man from God.
"But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Is. 59:2).
"The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
"For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23). 
Of course, Adam and Eve's sin did also result in physical death in that it caused them to be expelled from the Tree of Life, which had the potential to grant them immortality (Gen. 2:22). We are all subject to physical death because of that "original sin," but we are only subject to spiritual death when we sin.

Unfortunately, we all eventually choose to sin. That makes this a global problem.
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned..." (Rom. 5:12). 
We all follow in Adam's footsteps by choosing to sin. Because "the wages of sin is death," we have all separated ourselves from God; we are all spiritually dead. If we do not resolve this problem before we physically die, we face eternal separation from God - the ultimate punishment.

Substitute Sacrifice
When we sin, the consequence is eternal death, or separation from God. This is a fate from which we, seemingly, cannot escape. Thankfully, God is willing to accept the death of something else in our place. This is the idea of a substitute sacrifice.

This first took place in Genesis 3. After Adam and Eve sinned, God "made tunics of skin, and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21). Where did the tunics of skin come from? From an animal that had to die because of their sin. In this case, the sacrifice literally covered them.

But also consider these verses...
"For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord" (Leviticus 16:30).
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11).
"And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). 
This is also seen in the institution of the Passover in Exodus 12. God was going to kill the firstborn sons of the Egyptians as the final act of judgment against Egypt. To avoid this fate, the Israelites were instructed to sacrifice a lamb and "take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it" (vs. 7). Notice verse 13...
"Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt."
Again, this is the idea of a substitute sacrifice.

Throughout the Old Testament period - for thousands of years - untold millions of animals were sacrificed to atone for man's sin. When an animal died, it took the penalty for our sin - death! Therefore, the shedding of blood through death allowed man to regain access to be in fellowship with Him again and to have eternal life.

An Imperfect System
It's true that God commanded His people to offer up animal sacrifices for thousands of years. By doing this, they received atonement for their sins.

But do you remember how, according to Genesis 1:26-27, mankind was made in the very image of God? And do you remember how God gave us dominion over the earth and all the animals? Here's what I'm getting at: something that is of much lower value than us and isn't equal to us can't be seen as a proper substitute.

The Bible confirms this...
"For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).
The book of Hebrews, especially chapters 9-10, explain this more fully. Without getting into all the details, there is one question that is worth answering: what was the purpose of killing millions of animals if they couldn't provide total redemption from their sins? I'll come back to this.

It was the imperfection of the Law of Moses and the system of animal sacrifice that warranted a better sacrifice and a more perfect system. This was accomplished through... guessed it! Jesus Christ!

"Behold, the Lamb of God..."
Throughout the Old Testament, we find prophecies and foreshadowing of a coming Savior. These prophecies have a common theme: someone would come that would offer true and total redemption to the whole world!

Consider this partial list of such prophesies:
  • Abraham would have a descendant that would bless ALL nations (Genesis 12:3).
  • Moses foretold a prophet to whom Israel would turn (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22).
  • A descendant of David would reign as the Son of God (1 Chron. 17:10-14).
  • He would be pierced in His hands and feet (Psalm 22:16).
  • There are over 60 such prophecies.
But take special notice of this one in Isaiah 53...
"Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (vs. 4-7).
Someone was coming who would be our substitute sacrifice, and unlike the millions of bulls and goats that the Jews had slain for thousands of years, His sacrifice would be perfect.

Lo and behold, at just the right time in history (according to the prophecies in Daniel), Jesus was born of the virgin Mary as the "Son of God." When He began His ministry at 30 years of age, John the Baptist - the one sent by God to set the stage for Jesus - said the following when he saw Jesus walked toward him...
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).
You know the rest of the story. Jesus performed miracles, taught in parables, preached the coming kingdom...and was eventually betrayed, arrested, tried, scourged and crucified. His hands and feet were pierced. His blood was spilled. And when the prophecies were all fulfilled - and after years of ministry - He said three simple words.

It. Is. Finished.

Three days later, He was resurrected from the grave to show His power over death, and to show us that, through Him, we can overcome death...
"But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:20-21).
"Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15). 
Jesus was our substitute sacrifice. He died on our behalf and shed His blood that we might have life once again - eternal life and fellowship with God. This had been God's plan all along. We call it the "scheme of redemption" which God had "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:17-21). Paul called it the "mystery" of God which unfolded throughout the Old Testament and which was revealed in the New Testament (Eph. 3:1-7).

It's also important to understand that Jesus' sacrifice atoned for all the sins that had been committed under the old law (Hebrews 9:15). The animal sacrifices had "rolled" the people's sins forward to Jesus. When He died, the faithful of old acquired total redemption.

Yes, Jesus "paid it all" for you and me.

The Love of God
Why did Jesus have to do this? As I pointed out earlier in this article, many people find it absurd that God had to sacrifice Himself to save us from Himself. This wording is a bit misleading, and is intended to make God's plan look and sound absurd. This meme (at right) is yet another attempt by Bible skeptics to highlight the apparent "absurdity" of the gospel message.

Here's a better way of putting it: God sacrificed Himself for us to deliver us from a fiery fate that was never intended for us (Matthew 25:41) but that we deserved, and to give us something that we don't deserve - eternal life with Him.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
"But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 2:5).
And my personal favorite...
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
You see, we have chosen to sin and have sealed our own fate. Rather than viewing the sacrifice as an absurd, tyrannical act with ulterior motives, we need to see it as the ultimate act of love and self-sacrifice.

You've lit your own house on fire, and Jesus is knocking on the door saying, "Let me in so I can save you from the fate you've fixed for yourself." You've jumped into the swirling, foaming water and are going to drown; Jesus has extended His arm to deliver you from the tempest...but you have to accept His offer. You've sinned and have chosen to live outside of His grace; if you die in such a state, your fate is sealed. God saw your condition and gave His only Son to die for you, and He's pleading with you to return to the light.
 "'For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord God. 'Therefore turn and live!'" (Ezekiel 18:32).
 " that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). 
Your eternal fate is in your hands. God has done everything; He has made all the preparations. The offer is on the table. It's now up to you to accept the offer. You must believe in Him! You must repent! You must "turn and live." You must experience the "washing of regeneration" (i.e. baptism) so that your sins can be removed and you can be "raised to walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:1-5).

I wrote this lengthy article to clarify the issue of salvation. Have I proven anything? Maybe not. It is my firm conviction, as odd as it may seem to you, that this doesn't need to be proven...that you already know in your heart that this is true. Maybe you've repressed that knowledge. Or maybe you get it. Either way, I implore you to take this very seriously, to ponder your soul's eternal fate and to accept God's offer of salvation.

If you have any questions about this, please let me know.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lucifer: Babylon, Satan or Both?

In Isaiah 14:12-15, we learn about "Lucifer, son of the morning." While most religious people see Lucifer as the name for Satan and therefore apply this passage to Satan's fall, others see this merely as a reference to Babylon. I have always taken the latter position.

What's clear in this passage is that Isaiah IS speaking of Babylon and prophesying against it (vs. 3-7). So when he refers to "Lucifer" beginning in verse 12, he is referring to Babylon's pride and eventual downfall.

It's also clear that there is no direct link between Satan and Lucifer - not in this passage or any other passage for that matter. In fact, the name 'Lucifer' only appears here in Isaiah 14, in the context of a prophecy against Babylon.

However, I do believe it is possible that Isaiah is alluding to Satan when he speaks of "Lucifer, son of the morning." After all, the description of Lucifer and his downfall is very similar to the description of Satan and his downfall.
"For you [Lucifer] have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the pit" (Isaiah 14:13-15).
"And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6).
 You might also read 2 Peter 2:4 and perhaps even Revelation 12:7-9.

It's clear from Scripture - and most Christians accept this - that Satan incited a rebellion against God sometime early on in history (by the time of Genesis 3). He and his angels "did not keep their proper domain" in that they rebelled against the authority of God. Satan, who was, at one time, an angel of God, was cast out of heaven and relegated to the role of "adversary" here on earth (1 Peter 5:8, et al).

So in regard to Isaiah 14, there does seem to be some basis for identifying Lucifer as Satan and that Isaiah is using the story of Satan to illustrate and even prophesy the fate of Babylon. Perhaps we cannot say this with certainty. But can we say it isn't Satan with equal certainty?

What do you think?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

7 Examples of 'Scientific Foreknowledge'

While the Bible isn't a 'science textbook,' because it is the inspired word of God, the Creator of the universe (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Psalm 19:1), then statements it makes about the natural world ought to be accurate. 

In this brief article, I'd like to discuss what many have termed the 'scientific foreknowledge' of the Bible. These are statements about the natural world (i.e. astronomy, meteorology, medicine, etc.) that were written down long before the secular world understood or accepted them as being true. 

While some of the commonly cited examples of 'scientific foreknowledge' are weak, I've chosen to emphasize the ones that I find the most compelling.

The placement of earth in space (Job 26:7). According to this verse, the earth "hangs on nothing." In other words, it's suspended in space. How could Job have known this? He didn't have satellite capabilities. 

Furthermore, in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Greek writings, it was believed that the earth was held up by a man or some other creature.

The Water Cycle (Job 36:27-28; Ecclesiastes 1:7; Amos 9:6). Job speaks of the process of evaporation and condensation. Solomon and Amos both speak in greater detail of the water cycle when they describes how the "rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again."

From a historical perspective, in the 1600's it was finally realized that water could evaporate as a gaseous substance. In 1676, Pierre Perrault and Edme Marriotte made a scientific breakthrough by describing the hydrologic cycle in detail. Yet the Bible described the process thousands of years earlier. Even after people understood the hydrological cycle, they believed that rain, being fresh water, came from rivers and lakes. The discovery that rain comes mostly from seawater as described in the Bible is recent.

Springs on the ocean floor (Job 38:16). The book of Job was written about 4,000 years ago. We might ask how Job knew about what existed on the ocean floor.

From a historical perspective, the earliest secular reference to these springs was by the Roman geographer Strabo, who lived from 63 B.C. to 21 A.D. However, scientists really began to understand deep sea vents and springs in the 20th century: 1. In 1965 scientists first theorized that such vents could exist. In the late 1970's, oceanographers with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute finally saw and photographed one from the deep water submersible Alvin. Until then it was impossible to travel to these depths because of the intense pressures encountered. Since then many more vents have been found. These are usually referred to as "hydrothermal vents" which are composed of steam and minerals flowing at high pressure into the sea as a result of cracks in the earth's crust.

Circumcision on the 8th day (Genesis 17:10-12). The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was to be circumcision. This surgical procedure remained a requirement for all Jews from that day forward until it was eradicated under the Law of Christ (as a requirement).

What is significant here is the day on which circumcision was to be performed. The following quote is from an article by Kyle Butt, M.A.: 
“The encyclopedic work Holt Pediatrics remains today one of the most influential works ever written about child care, pediatric disease, and other health concerns as they relate to children. First written in 1896 by L. Emmet Holt, Jr. and going through several revisions until the year 1953, the nearly 1,500-page work is a master compilation of the ‘modern’ medicine of its day. One section, starting on page 125 of the twelfth edition, is titled ‘Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn.’ The information included in the section details the occurrence of occasional spontaneous bleeding among newborns that can sometimes cause severe damage to major organs such as the brain, and even death. In the discussion pertaining to the reasons for such bleeding, the authors note that the excessive bleeding is primarily caused by a decreased level of prothrombin, which in turn is caused by insufficient levels of vitamin K. The text also notes that children’s susceptibility is ‘peculiar’ (meaning ‘higher’) ‘between the second and fifth days of life’ (1953, p. 126). In chart form, Holt Pediatrics illustrates that the percent of available prothrombin in a newborn dips from about 90% of normal on its day of birth to about 35% on its third day of life outside the womb. After the third day, the available prothrombin begins to climb. By the eighth day of the child’s life, the available prothrombin level is approximately 110% of normal, about 20% higher than it was on the first day, and about 10% more than it will be during of the child’s life. Such data prove that the eighth day is the perfect day on which to perform a major surgery such as circumcision”
Sanitation Laws in the Pentateuch. The Law of Moses promoted standards of sanitation long before germs were well understood. For example…
  • They believed in quarantining the diseased (Lev. 13:4-5). 
  • Bodily discharges were considered unclean (Lev. 15). 
  • The “water of purification” (Numbers 19:6-9): 
    • Lye soap is made by pouring water through ashes. 
    • Hyssop contains the antiseptic thymol. 
    • Water itself is useful in sanitation. 
  • They weren’t to touch a corpse (Num. 19:11-16). 
On one hand, these laws were for holiness, not health (Lev. 11:44-45). We might also add that much of this was observable and easily deduced. But on the other hand, the Pentateuch, albeit incidentally, encouraged certain sanitary and medical practices that were/are beneficial.

Many societal and medical practices throughout history have reflected a lack of understanding of such sanitary principles.

Lightning & the rain (Job 38:25-26; Jeremiah 10:13; 51:16). Jeremiah writes, "He makes lightning for the rain." Job adds that the "thunderbolt" causes the rain to come forth.

David R. Cook of the Argonne National Laboratory has noted:
The heavier rain after or just about the time of more frequent lightning is probably not a coincidence. Research on lightning frequency and rainfall suggests that the action of hydrometeors (rain and hail) being carried around in the thunderstorm (in updrafts as well as downdrafts) creates electrical charge buildup in the clouds. The more active the storm and the more hydrometeors there are, the more electric charge is built up and the more frequent the lightning is. The more hydrometeors there are, the greater the likelihood of heavy precipitation, although it may occur after most of the lightning, as a downdraft has to set up or the updrafts decline to allow the hydrometeors to fall towards the ground”
There is a clear, scientific correlation between lightning and rain, just as the Bible describes in many places.

The dimensions of Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:14-17). Many have criticized the account of Noah’s ark. What is fascinating is that this ancient text (ca. 1,400-1,500 B.C.) contains ship dimensions that have been proven to be legitimate, if not perfect.

The ratio of 30-5-3 has been proven to be a legitimate, if not perfect, ratio for shipbuilding:
  • In 1844, Isambard K. Brunnel built the Great Britain with these same dimensions.
  • Shipbuilders during World War II used these dimensions as well. 
  • “Noah’s Ark was the focus of a major 1993 scientific study headed by Dr. Seon Hong at the world-class ship research center KRISO, based in Daejeon, South Korea. Dr Hong’s team compared twelve hulls of different proportions to discover which design was most practical. No hull shape was found to significantly outperform the 4,300-year-old biblical design. In fact, the Ark’s careful balance is easily lost if the proportions are modified, rendering the vessel either unstable, prone to fracture, or dangerously uncomfortable. The research team found that the proportions of Noah’s Ark carefully balanced the conflicting demands of stability (resistance to capsizing), comfort (“seakeeping”), and strength. In fact, the Ark has the same proportions as a modern cargo ship,” ( am/v2/n2/thinking-outside-the-box) NOTE: Dr. Hong is not a creationist. 
These are a few of the examples of 'scientific foreknowledge' found in the pages of the Bible. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, if the Bible is the word of God, its statements and observations about the natural world ought to be correct.

But not only are these statements correct, but the element of foreknowledge ought to make any honest observer ask, "How did they know?" If it was once or twice, we might say that they got lucky. It may even be that other ancient cultures had incredible insight into the natural world as well. They also got a lot of things wrong. However, for the Bible to be so consistent and so accurate is one of many evidences of the Bible's divine authorship.

At least, I think so.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dante's Inferno: Varying Degrees of Punishment?

In the 14th century, Dante Alighieri wrote an epic poem called Divine Comedy in which the spirit of a Roman poet named Virgil gave him (Dante) a tour of the nine circles of Hell. These nine circles represented varying degrees of punishment. The first circle, Limbo, was the least severe while the ninth circle, Treachery, was the most severe.

Over the years, I have heard some Christians use the story of Dante's Inferno to mock the idea that there are different levels of hell, or varying degrees of punishment. But the poem by Dante Alighieri no more negates the reality of different levels of punishment (if such exist) than do the comical pictures of Satan as a little red demon with a pitchfork and pointy tail negate the reality of the devil.

All that matters here is what the Scriptures teach.

Do the Scriptures teach that there may be varying degrees of punishment in hell? Consider these passages with me...
"Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for this city" (Matthew 10:15).
"Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you" (Matthew 11:20-24).
"Then He said to them in His teaching, 'Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogue, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation" (Mark 12:38-40).
"And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself to do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48).
"Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will be he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29).
For many years, I believed (and taught) that there will be no varying degrees of punishment in hell. I was one of those who used the story of Dante's Inferno to mock the very idea that hell might be less miserable for some than for others. 

But the fact is, these verses exist...and they do appear to teach that there will be varying degrees of punishment in hell. This is something I have been pondering in the back of my head for many years now, and I'm at a point where I'd like to figure this out, if possible. I'd like to briefly address a few of the common objections that I have had (and that perhaps you have), and then make a few concluding points.

First, the two common objections that I have heard (and made)...
  1. In the past, I would have objected on the basis that the varying degrees of "punishment" will be experienced in some way on the day of judgment, not in hell itself. But will the wicked be punished on the day of judgment before they are sent to be punished in hell? Certainly not. That just doesn't make any sense. Maybe certain ones will be punished more severely in that they will suffer more mental torment. Again, this seems to be a forced interpretation...just so that we can avoid the notion of varying degrees of punishment in hell itself. The fact is, the wicked will be punished in hell, and according to these verses, there will be varying degrees of punishment.
  2. I also once objected on the basis that because there aren't different levels of reward in heaven, there cannot be different levels of punishment in hell. Some religious people actually do believe that there will be different levels of reward in heaven. However, what I have come to realize is that whether there will be or won't be, it's not germane to the question at hand. In other words, it's possible that the heavenly reward will be the same for all of God's people while punishment in hell will be experienced in varying degrees (pun intended) by the wicked. 
While I believe that God is just no matter what and will happily submit to His established form of justice, whatever it may be, I do believe that the point of this article, if true, enhances God's justice. In the Old Testament, God's revealed laws of civic justice allowed for varying degrees of punishment. This has been true of nearly every (if not every) justice system in the world ever since. It just makes sense that there will be different degrees of punishment in hell. This is a part of our hardwired sense of justice.

In closing, I want to appeal to you for help and counsel. 

If you believe that I'm wrong or that I'm missing something, please let me know. This is still something I'm trying to work through in my head. Really, this article is less a declaration of my convictions on hell, and more an honest question about a traditional viewpoint.

What do you think?