Is Stephen Paddock in Hell?

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A murderous act meticulously planned.  A multi-millionaire unleashes automatic weapons’ fire onto a crowd of innocent country music fans.  Fifty-eight dead.  Over five hundred wounded.  The killer then takes his own life.

What happened on October 1, the worst mass shooting in modern American history, breaks our hearts and causes our heads to spin.  How do we, how can we, respond to this overwhelming tragedy?  What truths can we cling to in order to somehow cope with this massive act of evil?

Perhaps the following certainties will help Christians and others somehow come to grips with this awful event.  Holding onto these truths will help us navigate our way through this horrific, senseless crime, and beyond it.  Jesus said the truth shall set you free.  What truths hold the potential of setting us free from despair, disillusionment, and doubt in the face of this terrible loss of life?

Certainty #1:  Man is fallen and broken and capable of great evil.  What more empirical proof does one need than the images of October 1 at that country music concert?  Secular humanism’s myth of man’s basic goodness was also a casualty on that evening.

We must not rule out the very real existence of a supernatural enemy called the devil. Was Paddock demon-possessed?  We don’t know.  And human fallenness is such that we can do awful things without being controlled by demons.  However, the Bible does teach that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10), and that “the devil . . . was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn. 8:44)

But we must not underestimate man’s potential for great wickedness.  Isaiah 59:7 says, “Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways.”

The Bible does not sugarcoat the evil that men do.[1]  Such acts of evil should not surprise us, but of course should disturb us and grieve us. Both religious and non-religious people hold the potential for “pure evil.”

Certainty #2:  God is holy and will judge rightly.  There is a great battle going on — the battle between good and evil.  And God will win.  Stephen Paddock, although he “escaped” being captured by human authorities, did not and will not elude the judgment of a thrice-holy God.  We must, like the Psalmist, take the long view of life and recognize that God will hold all evildoers responsible at the end of history (Ps. 37).

Certainty #3:  Life is tenuous at best, and extremely dangerous at worst.  The story of the Galileans massacred by Pilate as well as the tower of Siloam falling and killing eighteen people (Lk. 13) remind us that life is quite fragile.  Vicious crimes and violent accidents sometimes claim God’s people.  And Jesus’ response to these tragedies is, “Be ready to meet God.”

Certainty #4:  Man is still made in the image of God and is capable of incredible acts of kindness and heroism. Although human beings are totally depraved (i.e., every aspect of man’s make-up has been tainted by sin), they are not utterly depraved.  Man, even unredeemed man, exhibits sacrificial love.  For strangers.  Because we are made in the image and likeness of God.

Certainty #5: Heaven and hell are real.  C.S. Lewis said, “In reality, along with the power to forgive, we have lost the power to condemn.”  In a real sense we ought to say, “Thank God for hell!”  We should not seek vengeance ourselves, but the Bible does speak of God’s vengeance (we are to “leave room for His wrath,” Rom. 12:19).  He will punish evildoers.  Stephen Paddock is now in hell.  He is.  How do I know that?  The wholesale testimony of the Bible is that those who die without having received the saving work of Jesus Christ are doomed to eternal separation from God’s love.  If Paddock thought that taking his own life would end whatever pain drove him to his atrocity, he was wrong.  If he died without Jesus, his pain was just beginning.  Hell is not God’s over-reaction to sin, but rather the application of His righteousness.  To those who don’t believe in God’s ultimate judgment, we must say, “You will stand before God’s judgment even if you don’t think you will.”[2]

Many verses in the Bible speak to the issue of eternal lostness, the wrath of God, and the salvation offered by Jesus Christ.  And if Stephen Paddock turned away from all of these, his existence nonetheless continued after his suicide.  In a place called hell.  A place every person deserves to be, if not covered by Jesus’ saving work.

 

[1] Many texts speak of God’s anger toward and eventual judgment of wickedness (such as 2 Sam. 3:39; Ps. 5:4; 10:15; 28:4; 94:23; 141:4; Is. 47:10; Jer. 5:28; Hos. 7:2; Jn. 3:19-20; etc.

[2] I’ve critiqued alternative views to eternal conscious punishment (such as universalism, annihilationism, and post-mortem conversionism) in my book The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching on Hell (Christian Focus, 2008).


 

Dr. Larry Dixon taught theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, SC for almost twenty years.  The author of ten books (available on Amazon), his blog is found here.   He and his wife Linda have been married for 46 years and have two children and six grandchildren.  Dr. Dixon is available to churches for his “Theology Matters” conferences and may be contacted through his blog.

 

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