Heaven, hell and the ultimate destiny of humankind

Georgene Rice Interviews Mark Galli, the author of “God Wins, Heaven, Hell and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins”. His book deals with issues raised in the New York Times bestselling book “Love Wins” which has generated unnecessary confusion about the nature of hell, heaven and the ultimate destiny of humankind.

Georgene: Why is it important to clarify the details of what Scripture teaches on the subject of heaven and hell?

Mark: The book “Love Wins” is still on the New York Times best selling list, so that indicates that the questions raised in that book are of concern to Christians and non Christians. Questions seem hinged on one main question, which is, “Can we trust God to be a just God?” Or variations of that are, “Can a loving God send someone to hell?” or “How can a good and all powerful God allow there to be suffering in the world?”

Georgene: There seems to be a battle waging between God’s justice and His mercy. One of the more controversial issues in Love Wins that you address is the continuum of life that goes beyond natural death. Love Wins takes the Universalist view that no matter how we lead our lives, we will all at some point end up in heaven. Why is this view important to address?

Mark: More than any time in history, we are keenly aware that we live in a world in which there a lot of people who do not believe in Christ or that enjoying eternal life with Him is contingent upon a belief in Christ. And what about all those people who appear to be devout and serving God? As Christians we need to address it because that tension is out there.

Georgene: You point out that the phrase “God wins” is better news than that “Love Wins”. Why is “Love Wins” more limiting?

Mark: What happens in the book “Love Wins” is not unlike what takes place in a lot of teaching today in which loves becomes a more sentimental concept. It turns God into this grandfatherly individual who just wants to be nice to people. That is simply not the Biblical picture of who God is, and if God has revealed who He is through Christ, that is not even who Christ was. He was one who could be compassionate to the weak and the lost and lame, but He could also chastise the Pharisees and call Peter satanic.

Actually, Love Wins takes an impersonal view. For example, in Love Wins the picture of heaven is about all the cool things we’ll get to do in heaven. What’s missing is a concrete vision of God being there. There is one paragraph devoted to the presence of God but it’s spoken of in abstract language. It’s as if He’s on the sidelines watching people enjoy themselves, and it’s a blessing He gives to people to be in heaven, but there’s no real sense of participation. This contrasts powerfully with the New and Old Testament visions of the kingdom of heaven being utterly amazing because God is in the midst of the Kingdom of heaven. It’s not that love wins and we get to do cool things. It’s that God wins and we get to have that participation in the life of God for eternity.

Georgene: On that subject you have a chapter titled The Point of Heaven. For many Christians the idea of spending eternity in heaven in God’s presence sounds like long boredom, rather than something we should long for and look forward to. What is the point of heaven?

Mark: The point of heaven is that eternal relationship with God and one another in love, and that love permeates everything. The reason we often revert to images like we see in Love Wins showing us playing and working in a world without evil, is because those are the types of things we can understand. But what we need to recognize that the joy we feel at accomplishing something at work, sharing a time with friends , or doing some good is a mere shadow of what it means to have a relationship with God through eternity. So we should see those not as “this is the real thing”, but that “this is the vague thing”, and the real joy with God will be multiple times richer than that.

Georgene: The fact that we all enjoy God’s common grace, it’s difficult for us to imagine a place like hell, where some of us will spend eternity. Why do you believe in hell as a real place that ought to be avoided?

Mark: I’m a typical, modern person who wishes it wasn’t true. But, years ago I gave my heart, mind and soul to Christ. In reading the Scriptures and listening to His teachings, my mind tells me there is no question there is a last judgment for those who refuse to believe in God. He doesn’t argue about it, or make a case for it, He just assumes it. That is how profoundly real it is to Him.

Georgene: What are the implications of teaching that all people will go to heaven, to getting that point wrong?

Mark: The most obvious is the consequential effect that if we teach everyone is going to heaven, one is not tempted to take life in the moral seriousness that the Bible seems to take it. From cover to cover the Bible gives moral commands, always assuming the decisions we make in this life have eternal consequences. There are no second chances. This is the life we’ve been given to live in the way God calls us to live and believe.

Georgene: What about those who haven’t heard about the Gospel? Will they automatically end up in hell?

Mark: We can trust that God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful in a way that is right and good and true. We are not called to speculate on things that we don’t know. We are called to respond to what we do know.

Georgene: Explain what you mean by God wins is a better outcome than love wins.

Mark: Love wins shares the perspective that I see quite often today, in seeing God as an agent of goodness—one who gives us things—love, family, church, forgiveness. In fact that is true, and that is one of the blessings of knowing God, but the really incredible thing about the gospel is not that God does things for us. It is that He does things in us. There is a powerful and real union with God. God wins. He participates in our lives in some mysterious way.

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