Bad Calls and Hell: Soccer teaches theology

If you’re an American and you care about the World Cup at all, you know about the third goal in our game last Friday; the non-goal; the disallowed goal.  The blown call has the whole soccer world up in arms because it was such an obvious breach of justice.  The ref’s  Wiki page was defaced within minutes of the blown call, and there has even been a revival of discussions about the use of video replay in soccer, because it’s obvious to everyone that it’s a better game if officials get the call right.

Right.  The word shares it’s root with the word “Righteous”, and both are also rooted in the universal notion of justice that seems to course through the veins of humanity.  We’re outraged at Rwandan genocide, and more recently, Kyrgyzstan, just as we are at pedophilia, missing children, and so much more.  We have longings, deep inside us, for the way the world ought to be, and when it isn’t that way, we’re offended.  But we’re more than offended – we want things made right.  That’s why there are courts, and military tribunals, and war crimes trials.  We want justice.  When it’s a blown call at a World Cup match, we yell at the TV and move on.  When it’s real life, it can suck the air out of our lungs as we mourn and grieve.

And yet, in educated places like Seattle, the average person on the streets doesn’t like the notion of hell.  “God shouldn’t send people away, not if he’s loving” is sort of the way we think.  Still, we want those who murder, and rape, and steal, sent away.  Can you see the contradiction?  We want God to accept everyone, but we also want to live in a just world.  Here’s important news:  If it’s going to be a just world, it will be because God roots out all injustice, and that will happen because of God’s intervention to confine wickedness, so that the world of justice and peace for which we all long can finally happen.

Do you want to live in a just world?  Me too.  At least 4000 years of human history make it clear that this won’t happen without intervention.  Left to our own devices, evil will find its way into cultures and will, by force, seek to reign.  This is why the doctrines of judgement and hell are important.  You can argue about the literal or metaphorical nature of the flames, but it misses the point.  The point is this:  we long for justice and God, who is love, is committed to creating a just world, precisely because God is love, and love demands justice.

Our offense at injustice is present at every level, from blown calls to genocide.  We rightly want the world to be right and the good news is this:  God will make it right.  That’s why the Bibles praises God for his judgements (as seen in so many places), a counter-intuitive notion to our modern minds, but utterly sensible if we’ll but take a moment and think about.

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  • I like this post, but I’m trying to form the questions/thoughts it provokes while I comment, so bear with me.

    I think what comes to mind is a question of identity. So much of who we are as individual creations is our choices, and most of our choices, at least in my case, are mistakes, injustices. To live in a completely just world, God would have to so utterly change us that I wonder if we’ll be who we are. Obviously, we’ll be perfect, as God intended, but if we all make the right, perfect, just choice, will we all make the same choices? Will we all be the same person? Will we have individual personalities?

    I guess this pulls the body of Christ image into play, where some people are the eye, and some people are the arm, and so on. I think I’m trying to imagine the unimaginable heaven, and failing.

    Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think on this.

  • fluger

    The titular “Problem of Hell” argument is one I see that stumbles a lot of unbelievers. And, I admit, its the one that confuses me the most. The seeming (from my human eyes) injustice on God’s part to punish eternally those who simply choose not to follow Him; is hard to reconcile. It takes trust that God is God and His plans are best. Like a child who doesn’t understand why they are being scolded for trying to touch a stove; it makes little “sense” to us; but we are not God.

  • raincitypastor

    yes, tough to understand – but I think some of our barriers exist because we’ve been more specific about the nature of hell than God has been in the Bible. Hell is, at the very least, the absence of God, and the reality is that the presence or absence of God is a choice each person makes freely. Further, it seems true to me that absence of God will ultimately vanquish hopes of justice as well, because God is the source of justice. Thus, by confining those who insist on it, to a life of their own autonomy, God also makes possible the life of beauty, intimacy, abundance, and justice for which we all long. And all of it, of course, is because of mercy and forgiveness. One might even contrast the mute soccer official and remaining bitterness with the apologetic umpire whose blown call a few weeks ago took a perfect game away from a young pitcher. Repentance led to restoration. Stubborness leads to protected injustice, which might just be a foretaste of hell.

  • Is hell the absence of God? That’d been my understanding until my dad pointed out Psalm 139:8. Then I considered that God was in/produced unapproachable light, and I thought Hell might be being forced to be in such light, yet not cleansed of sin. I’m no scholar though, and perhaps I’m misinterpreting Psalms.

  • Lee

    Dear Rain City Pastor,

    Just about my all-time favorite quote on hell is this:

    ‘Sin is our way of telling God, “Leave me alone!” Hell is God’s way of saying, “OK.”‘

    Not much theology to it, obviously, but it serves as a reminder of the responsibility a sinner holds in determining personal eternal destiny.

    Always enjoy your posts. Thank you, Lee

  • Linda

    The reason people go to Hell is not for not believing in Christ, but rather for their sin against a holy and just God. People only go to Heaven if God is gracious to them, nobody deserves Heaven, we all deserve Hell.

  • Linda

    • Hell is final. There is no second chance after death. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

    • Hell is everlasting. It never stops. It is “eternal” (Daniel 12:2) and “everlasting” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), and the smoke of their burning goes up “forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). We moderns may miss this image, since we don’t use fire on a daily basis. As long as the fuel remains, the smoke continues to rise. When the fuel is used up, the smoke stops rising. In hell people are burned, but the smoke keeps rising forever. They burn, but never fully come to an end. Such torment is called “the second death” (Revelation 21:8), where they are forever “outside” the gates of heaven (Revelation 22:15).

    • Hell is conscious. No sleeping here, where “there is no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11). Notice the rich man’s pleadings in Luke 16:19-31. Hell’s victims are conscious.

    • Hell is punishment. It’s not “just what happens” to people. It is punishment at the hands of God. It is God’s contempt of people (Daniel 12:2), it is being “condemned” by God, like in a court (John 5:29). It is God’s just “payback” for sins (2 Thessalonians 1:6), when Jesus “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel…. They will be punished.” (v.8-9).

    • Hell is painful. Jesus described it as “the fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:40-42), “the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41),“the darkness,” “outside” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). Hell is “the blackest darkness” (Jude 13). Revelation calls it “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Whether hot or cold, bright or dark, all these images are images of extreme suffering.

    • People will be condemned to hell at the Second Coming and Day of Judgment. The sentence of hell is given at Jesus’ return (2 Thessalonians 1:7, also Matthew 25:31).

    • People suffer in hell even while they await the Second Coming and Judgment Day. “The Lord knows how to… hold the unrighteous for the Day of Judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2Peter 2:9). We also see this in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), where the rich man was undergoing punishment in hell after his death while his brothers still lived. This is a parable, so it can’t be pressed too far, but Jesus’ parables were taken from real-life situations, including the situation of dying and being held in punishment while awaiting the Day of Judgment.

    • God is in hell and punishes people there. The guilty “will be tormented in burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever” (Revelation 14:10-11). The Lamb in Revelation is Jesus. Hell is not so much eternal separation from God as it is the eternal presence of God in unmitigated wrath and fury. Hell is separation from God in the sense of being separated from his blessings and fellowship (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Hell is where we must “drink the wine of God’s fury which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath” (Revelation 14:10).

    • Hell is both physical and spiritual. It follows the resurrection of the dead (John 5:28-29), so those who suffer in hell will suffer bodily as well as in spirit. Jesus said it was “better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). Hell will be a place for our bodies as well as a condition of our souls. Beware those who make hell sound too ethereal and spiritual.

    • Hell is real. This isn’t just language the Bible uses to get a response out of us. Jesus warns us about it because it really does exist and really is our destiny. He loves us enough to warn us in advance.

    • Everyone goes to hell. Jesus Christ and those “in Christ” are the only exceptions. All who “do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” are sent to hell (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Those who turn to Jesus are saved. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (John 3:16, 18).

    excerpt from “What Does the Bible Say About Hell?” by Greg Johnson

  • Linda

    When we turn to the Westminster Larger Catechism question 29, which deals with the subject of God’s relationship to those who will experience future judgement in Hell, we find a precision of thought on these matters that is often lacking today:

    Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

    A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever. (emphasis added)

    Hell is not spatial separation from God, it cannot be because God is omnipresent. No, Hell is separation from the comfortable presence of God. It is the unshielded experience of the presence of God in his holiness and just wrath, and the absence of his mercy and grace.

  • Ann

    I think the problem that a lot of people have, myself included, is not necessarily that some people will be turned away, but that those who are turned away are punished because they did not believe the right things. I know many people who struggle to live good lives and make life better for others, but can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus was God and is still alive today. These are people who bring more justice into the world, even though they sin just as we all do. You used the example that we want murderers and rapists sent away, and yes, we do, but we don’t want people locked up for life for filling out a false DMV application (number 23,

    I think if Christianity is true, it will be painfully obvious to everyone when we die. What if a person repents then? Is it too late? Eternal hell seems like a disproportionate punishment for the crime. I definitely see what you are saying that if every person was in heaven, there would still be injustice, but what about the good people who just missed the point during their lifetime? Or people who are born in different parts of the world, and because of this they belong to a different religion? They struggle to live faithfully, but don’t believe the right things about Jesus. That these people might suffer in hell because of it seems like a disproportionate punishment. The thought brings me to tears, and I hope it’s not true.

  • raincitypastor

    I couldn’t find the link you posted Ann, but your questions are good. I don’t have all the clarity and finality on this subject as Linda does, in part because I don’t think the Westiminster Catechism is the final word on the subject, nor our interpretation of the Bible. There are, in my opinion, some mysteries surrounding all this. We’re told in Romans 5 that if the sin of Adam brought death to everyone, MUCH MORE does the death of Christ bring life to everyone. We’re told in Philippians 2 that “every knee shall bow” and that’s significant too. However, the very clear teachings about a judgement day are equally important, because they tell me there’s a reality with which I must reckon. There are, however, certain things we know:

    1. Everyone who is saved from judgment is saved through Christ
    2. There have been many in history who didn’t know the actual name “Jesus” who were still saved by the merits of Christ. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David all come to mind. The merits of the cross are applied when one’s response to the revelation given is belief and faith.
    3. If someone insists on going their own way, overtly rejecting what they know in their heart to be true, God won’t stop them. In other words, God doesn’t force belief on anyone. There are many reasons for this, but the fundamental reality is that ‘forced love’ isn’t really love at all, and love, we’re told over and over again, is the main thing (the greatest commandment)

  • Linda

    Philippians 2:10-11 assures us that someday all people will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but not necessarily as Savior. (Even those in hell will have to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship.)

    The Scriptures consistently categorize people into one of two classes (saved/unsaved, also called believers/unbelievers), and portray the final destiny of every person as being one of two realities (heaven or hell).

  • Graham

    What a theology lesson! Joy from Hopelessness! Donovan in the 91st.. as in Revelation, after the end of time all is made right!

  • raincitypastor

    I love that: AFTER the end of time… didn’t know God had ‘stoppage time’

  • Geoff

    Actually this isn’t very “precise” at all; it just re-states a specific view of hell that is full of detail but has no explanatory power.

    The biggest reason, I think, that most people don’t take hell that seriously is because of a general theological inability to establish parity between rebellion against God in a generic sense (what we call “sin”) and eternal, conscious torture in hell-fire. Why do Christians believe those two things are on a par? Because the Bible says so? Actually, the Bible is far less clear on the issue than people will admit (in spite of the proof-texting above).

    It’s perhaps easier if we apply such “justice” to a Hitler or Attila the Hun, but saying that everyone necessarily deserves hell means that any human moral imperfection must equal eternal, conscious torture. And it turns God’s justice and holiness into oversimplified retribution. It makes sense that most people find that particular explanation a bit hard to swallow. That doesn’t make it false, just understandably confusing, and the least we can do is acknowledge that it’s confusing.

  • Geoff

    Actually, the Scriptures are far from consistent on these points. Yes, people are classified, and given a destiny, but actually who is in what group, and what those destinies actually are, is far from clear in Scripture. It’s only in a particular interpretation of Scripture that those questions become so simple.

  • Geoff

    Actually, the Scriptures are far from consistent on these points. Yes, people are classified, and given a destiny, but actually who is in what group, and what those destinies actually are, is far from clear in Scripture. It’s only in a particular interpretation of Scripture that those questions become so simple.

  • Linda

    The problem is you take God’s holiness and justice too lightly, maybe you can ask God to show you personally how holy He is and how unholy you are and you will not be confused anymore.