Augustino, Me, Rob Bell and Hell

Amidst all the hub bub of Rob Bell's new book (haven't read it) I thought I'd post a discussion chain from one of my old blog's between me and a dude who calls himself Augustino. The discussion is all about hell. Augustino rejects the thought that a loving God would send unbelievers into an eternal hell. I reject the idea that a holy God could avoid sending them there. I thought maybe it would bring some helpful insights into the discussion.

I believe if hell is not real then the Bible is not true. Just because we can't wrap our puny minds around the higher-than-our-paygrade reality doesn't mean it's not true. Anyway, here it is. Be warned, it's longer than two chapters of the average book….maybe three.

On December 21, 2010 @ 9:33 pm Augustino said:

What about the ever-blathered, "Repent or you're headed for HELL!"?

I've been intermittently reading your schitck for awhile and I haven't picked up a sense of how your teaching on hell could reverberate within my mission field.

I get that you believe in traditional hell but, can you point to any of your writings where you back your beliefs with scripture?

I believe that hell is one of the biggest concepts that young – and old – need explained – it is their biggest hang-up against God.

I don't see anyone in the Church doing much justice on the topic. For example, the Churchees don't get the point that the Seekers need to start with doctrine related to immortality of the soul. Where is the proof that unsaved man is immortal?

God keeps adding the increase, regardless of how poorly the Church does relate God, framed by their doctrine of hell.

Thanks, God!

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On December 22, 2010 @ 9:29 am Greg said:
Hey Augustino,

Here's some more of my schtick on hell.

For some more meaty stuff delivered to a postmodern setting google "Dan Kimball and hell". Hope that helps.

BTW, I wish I had the name "Augustino"…way cooler than "Greg"… "Stierino?" Nahh. I'll stick with my boring name. Have a Merry Christmas!

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Augustino Reply:
December 22nd, 2010 at 10:23 pm

¡Feliz Navidad, Greg!

Thanks for the reply!

Actually, my name is Greg, redux. Augustino is just a reference to being an inhabitant of St. Augustine.

I appreciate theresources and your sincerity on the subject! However, after reading your article I'm wondering if you've ever made mind contact with a real being under the age of 20 or anyone not presently under The Way sway.

I admit you are most likely to be spot-on in all you say but, correct is often not persuasive – unless the Holy Spirit is doing the convincing.

And, therein lies my dilemma – I hate being out of step with my Church and unable to witness to others due to my confusion on the basics. I pray, pray, pray …. for clarity and I've asked four pastors to de-murk my dalliance into emerging church dogma.

No relief so far, but at least you stand out as one who has a few scriptures to toss about. That's far better than pushing C.S. Lewis quotes or vague references to Church tradition which kinda sounds like scripture – or the year-old "I'll get back to you when I have time."

But, since the first scripture you tossed was Isaiah 66:24, I gotta call you out on that! Is it my lack of spirituality messing with my tiny head or are you mixing metaphors like M2 in a way God never intended?

Is that verse your depiction of the immortality of the human soul or the immortality of WORMS. If worms be physical, as we commonly construe them, how do they infest the attributes of the universally presumed, non-physical, soul languishing in hell?

I can match you – verse for verse – with similar IMMATURE reasoning. Your use of scripture preaches to the choir but, those of us who don't know that tune are left searching for another channel. Although I'm sure your rationale makes perfect sense to most of Churchdom, ALL the scriptures you reference bring up more debate than they resolve. Oh, if only someone could answer the skeptics form the viewpoint of their skepticism!

I can see that the smoke and fire are eternal – as is punishment – but, don't see how any of that precludes annihilation. The first verse my pastor quoted to me when we randomly met in a burger joint was, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life!"

Well, I've sat in his church for three years now, and each week he mentions traditional hell, but he never gets to the point about the just payment for sin is NOT really just death. And, although he says all will live eternally, he never ventures into the preponderance of verses that juxtapose eternal life with God against just plain old death. All the while, I'm just destroyed, with wondering worms, over why his leading verse isn't the end of the matter on hell.

Can you give me a scripture that definitively says that man has an immortal soul? A few weeks ago, my pastor read Romans 2:7. As he heard himself say "seek immortality" he did an awkward, albeit honest, stumble and said, "Of course, that is not what it really means; we all have immorality. We just need to decide where we'll spend our eternity."

I always sit on the front row at church; it is my way of giving back to a community that has been so kind to me. Plus, whenever the pastor utters such church-ese, I can swiftly dispense with church decorum and swivel my head to observe the reaction of the congregation. I always see a vast sea of bobble heads in waving nods of agreement, while I'm left scratching my disagreeing head.

The link you provided doesn't presently seem to offer any deep end explanation of traditional hell – just more choir preaching with lockstep choreography. Honestly, as weird as it would be to join a chorus line – I would really like be in step with the mainstream on this point. Does anyone out there offer an acknowledgment of and counter-argument to the many alternative interpretations, or misunderstandings of the verses used to spin traditional hell?

I'm not fond of millstones; don't want to lead little ones into my heresy, so I'm reluctant to talk much – because hell is THE stumbling block subject for those in my mission filed. Very unlike your tidy account of your roofie buddies, the possibility of your hell does not bring up a real uncomfortably – it does however spur much graphic disparagement of God's holy character – and is sometimes backed with an attempt at using scripture.

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Greg Reply:
December 22nd, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Wow.That's a lot to respond to. It's 11pm at night and I just saw True Grit so, with that "grit" I'll try to respond (not with C.S. Lewis quotes) but with some not-taken-out-of-context Scriptures. I'm glad that you hold to the text on your authority on these matters. I agree that too many times Christians quote theologians or philosophers when they should be quoting apostles or prophets (or the Son of God himself!) So here's what Jesus said in the context of heaven and hell in Matthew 25:46, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." The punishment in this passage is what is eternal. Punishment is not fire. Punishment can only be punishment if there's an object of wrath being punished. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Here's how Jesus describes the punishment that he is enduring (which we can safely assume is a picture of hell with all the fire and brimstone and all)In verses 23-28 of Luke 16 here's how the story goes, "In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'"

Notice the Rich man is not immediately consumed. It is a persistent and painful "punishment" not some kind of anhilation.

But probably the most powerful passage to show that the punishment from hell is eternal is found in Revelation 14:10-11, "They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name."

Terms like "their torment will rise forever" and "there will be no rest day or night" point strongly to eternal punishment.

Hell may be a stumbling block but you have to admit it gives Christianity, well, true grit.

Hope that helps. Great questions and keep letting the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit be your guide (not CS Lewis, your preacher, me or any emergent dudes.)

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Augustino Reply:
December 23rd, 2010 at 7:41 am

Sorry about jabbering on so long last night – my thoughts were sloshing around in cold medicine.

However, forgive me for needing to point out a bit more of the whack smack in the Stier shtick on hell.

In your article you wrote:

"Did you know that the Son of God spoke more about hell than heaven? Of the nineteen times that hell is mentioned in the New Testament twelve are mentioned by Jesus."

What? I don't know where you learned to count but, Jesus definitely spoke about heaven way more than 12 times!

But, maybe if you can count words like perishing in John 3:16 and insist it doesn't literally mean perishing – as in eternal death – as juxtaposed by the term eternal life in the same verse – than perhaps you can count your hell references from just about any passage.

Tis the season to celebrate the Lamb of God who came to save – not condemn – the world; therefore, would you consider amending your article?

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On December 23, 2010 @ 8:26 am Augustino said:

A look at the Parable of Lazarus & the Rich Dude – which you referenced and claim is not figurative: I believe that because this passage is recorded in Luke, then Jesus certainly spoke these words. Furthermore, because Jesus spoke them, they are perfect and holy. What this parable really means though, I wish you knew – so you could tell me.

The first time I ever read that passage, it was from the King James Version. The KJV uses the term "Abraham's bosom" to describe where the angels took Lazarus. Unfortunately, that phrase is permanently graffitied on my mind.

I'm not homophobic, but to me, the bosom of Abraham does not seem like the Paradise where I want to be rocking my soul for eternity.

If you insist this parable is a literal depiction of hell – I gotta hear your full and literal doctrine on the saved in heaven jabbering with the condemned in hell. I thought we were forbidden to contact the dead?

Okay, so the Stier shtick on hell is shaping up to include:
1. the doctrine of eternal maggots (Isaiah 66:24)
2. the doctrine of the saved in heaven conversing with those in hell (Luke 16:19-31)

No wonder Christians get laughed at so much – difficulties deciphering whether passages are figurative and literal is funny! Unless one is headed to your hell because the hell confusion got in the way of the Gospel.

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On December 23, 2010 @ 9:55 am Augustino said:
Sorry; one last thought and then I'll get back to my Christmas festivities.

We do have some agreement! Revelation 14:10-11 is the most powerful passage used to describe traditional hell. But, for someone who I generally perceive to be so straight forward, I think you are really spinning the party line with your rationale.

In Revelations 14:10-11, an angel spoke (or will speak) these words to a certain (but not all) people at a very important time. The story of the exact same people seems to be picked up again in Revelations 19:19-21; with the same people being killed in verse 21.

The chapters between 14 and 19 seem to depict an earthly torment from which these people get no rest day or night. Then in Revelation 20:10 we see three specific someones thrown into the never ending torment. Not ALL are in that same boat.

Can you even fathom a remote possibility that the punishment described in Revelations 14-19 is not the punishment for everyone who ever lived and died without Jesus?

In Revelations 20:11-15, we have the second death – and while that seems perfectly final to me – the Church's teaching is the second death is really not death either. So I guess God just throws death and hell into the lake of fire for dramatic flare – but they just continue on as always.

Anyway, put your best hell scriptures up against Jesus words in Matthew 10:28 "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." – and just imagine that body and soul can be literally destroyed in hell. Is it possible?

We've established that counting is not your strong suit. But, if need be, you could employ the help of your kids to count the number of LIFE versus DEATH verses and contrast them to the number of "traditional hell" verses. If the idea sticks in your mind you'll notice the life/death verses everywhere.

In Deuteronomy 30:19 God gives us the choice between life and death and urges us to choose life. Jesus is the life! There is no life – or existence – apart from Jesus. I can't see why the Church teaches all already possess immortality. Eternal life is THE gift of the season!

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On December 26, 2010 @ 6:08 am Augustino said:
Dear Pastor Greg,

Please delete all of my posts. I don't want to risk poisoning anyone with my stupidity.

I hope I have not been disrespectful to God or you. Your blog has been a huge blessing to me; the concepts you've artfully displayed have sent me to God in praise and have inspired me to want to share Jesus with everyone.

However, at this point I'd have to call my personal ministry something like Scared 2 Share because I'm so out of sync with those ministry cats whom I most respect. The only calling I feel, and feel safe about, is praying for the preaching of the Gospel.

The reason I dumped my rude insanity on you was because I think that while you are an insightful and caring teacher, you are also tuff enough for what ever comes at you. The anonymity factor of the internet also makes it safe enough.

We both believe God is Love and whatever He does regarding the unsaved is Holy and only His prerogative – if it is eternal torment in hell fire – that could only be holy, righteous judgment.

However, I just can't pin the rap of eternal torture on God based on the Church's explanation of scripture.
I'll repent from referring to it as the Stier Shtick on hell but, this is how I pick up the shtick you guys are putting down on the subject:
1. the doctrine of eternal maggots infesting immortal souls (Isaiah 66:24)
2. the doctrine of the saved in heaven conversing with those in hell (Luke 16:19-31)
3. the wages of sin is not really death (contrary to Romans 6:23); the soul that sins shall not die (contrary to Ezekiel 18:4); and even the second death (of Revelations 20:11-15) is not really death. With all that, I wonder what the big deal is about Jesus' victory over death?
4. Jesus is speaking literally in the parables (like Luke 16:19-31) but, all His worry references to bodies being thrown into hell is really figurative slang for souls. But, when He mentions body and soul being destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), we say that destroy is an unfortunate twist of the Greek.
5. The eternal punishment for all who never learned about Jesus should be assumed to be identical to the punishment that is reserved for Satan and his demons (as depicted in Matthew 25:41 or Revelations 14).
6. Just like during this present age, two kingdoms will eternally exist, each with its own victor. Although Satan will be bound and cast down to no longer be able to harm anyone, he gets to eternally keep these victories:
a) Satan will remain in a place where his demented reasoning can conclude his total body count is a greater number than in Jesus' Kingdom.
b) It's not just a body count trophy; Satan gets more – to eternally keep the conditions he fought for – the extremely wretched existence for those who God loved so much that He was willing to send Jesus into the battle
c) To some degree, Satan gets to keep the status he sought – becoming god by re-creating in his own image, too many of those whom God originally created in His image.
7. Jesus' victory is only partial, because hell will never be destroyed (contrary to Revelations 20:14). Eternal punishment must be eternally on-going because eternal punishment, as in finished and done away with for ever, would mean that mercy does not indeed triumph over judgment (James2:13)
8. Jesus' kingdom is limited (contrary to Revelations 21 and the many other prophesies) because it does not encompass the entirety of all there is if hell eternally is. The never-ending party of Revelations 21 is cause for celebration but the old order of things has not completely passed away as hell continues.

Thanks for trying to set me straight; I appreciate the effort! It is not your fault or the Church's problem that I don't understand the teachings on hell. In many ways, it would be so much easier for me to pretend to go along with all that the Church teaches on hell – and be a normal Christian within the community of believers.

However, until God convicts me to believe otherwise, I can't frame Him with the hell rap.

I realize the above points define me as a lunatic. But, maybe I can be a Jesus-loving, eternal hell denying, raving lunatic if I just keep my heresy to myself.

With joy, I will remain committed to praying for the success of your ministry!


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Anonymous Reply:
December 26th, 2010 at 10:50 am

Hey Augustino,

You make many good points and, to be honest, I re-read some of the passages I was just spouting off before because you think and write well. I will not delete your posts because I think these kinds of discussions are good and healthy. To be honest they are much easier with someone like you who takes the word of God seriously. Too many times too many people depend on human arguments instead of looking to the Word. This morning as I looked to the Word here's what I read.

Jesus said in Matthew 25:46, " "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." I know that I mentioned this before but I think that this is a verse that compares eternal living in the presence of God vs eternal dying (aka "punishment") in the absence of God. If it is just the "fire" that is eternal (as my Jehovah's Witness and Seventh Day Adventist friends say) then the idea of this punishment being eternal doesn't make sense. You can only have eternal punishment if there is someone who is the recipient of that punishment.

Probably the strongest passages to indicate that people suffer eternally in hell are couched in Revelation. I don't think these can be brushed off as being merely apocalyptic/figurative in nature since what is being communicated is crystal clear, at least to me anyway.

First of all Revelation 14:9-11 reads, "A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name." This points to a future time and definitely refers to humans (people who receive the mark of the beast) suffering an eternal punishment in well, fire and brimstone. Again, as I said before, when the Scriptures say "there will be no rest day or night" it seems pretty clear that suffering and fire and brimstone will be a part of their eternal future. The suffering in this passage seems identical to a future event that culminates in Revelation 20:8-10,
"When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prisonand will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth-Gog and Magog-and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 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." After the final battle of God v. Satan Satan is finally thrown into the lake of fire where the "unholy trinity" suffers (Satan, the beast and the false prophet). This passage naturally flows into Revelation 20:11-15, "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." It's hard not to equate the same suffering of Revelation 14:10-11 ("there will be no rest day and night") and 20:8-10 ("They will be tormneted day and night for ever and ever") is equivalent to the same suffering in Revelation 20:11-15. At the very minimum Satan, the beast, the false prophet and those who receive the mark suffer eternally which still leaves you the same philosophical stumbling block of a God who would allow eternal suffering.

From my estimation of Scripture it doesn't detract from the triumph of the cross because the cross was triumphant to those who chose salvation (or were chosen for salvation.)

That's the best that I got Augustino. To be honest, I don't like the concept of an eternal punishment in an eternal hell either. But I believe that God is more holy than we can imagine, more loving than we could ever dream and more profound than we can comprehend. Just because I can't wrap my puny mind around how a loving God could condemn people to everlasting punishment doesn't negate his love. My temptation to call him cruel for creating an eternal hell may just be because we have a very limited view of his holiness, mercy and love. As my old theology professor used to say, "Hell may be God's ultimate act of mercy because a sinner in his sinful state may choose the flames of hell as relief compared to standing in the presence of a holy God." As you know this same God who lit the fires of hell with his holiness also sacrificed his Son so that people wouldn't have to go there. To me that's not cruely, that's love, love willing to go through hell so that we wouldn't have to go there.

You have brought up some good points in your posts. But, as much as I would like the idea of instant destruction verses eternal punishment I can't reconcile the passages about hell with that concept, especially in the book of Revelation.

Thank you for such a thoughtful and healthy dialogue about this subject. I think it's good for others to read and make their own decision based on what the Bible says.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas and wish you a phenomenal new year. And whether or not we are saving people from eternal punishment in hell or instant destruction in hell I think we both can agree, we need to share the good news with others because both are bad options, but one is much worse.

Viva LA Cause!

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On December 26, 2010 @ 10:53 am Greg said:
I'm using my wife's computer. The above comment is from Greg Stier.

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On December 27, 2010 @ 11:43 am Augustino said:
Witnessing game is enhanced by the knowledge of how to reach into all head types. So, I can see the benefit of this type of discussion.

Due to your awe-inspiring, passion-fueled potential, I could wish you were sharper in the game. But, I say the later half of that about all the bigs in the biz. You guys, NOT ME, are the ones who should be laying out all angles of the arguments and using scripture, accurately, to hone resolution.

Instead, I see mindless groupies amen-ing everything they hear – instead of challenging some obviously bogus, or at best, ambiguous statements. These are probably the types whose foundations crumble when they get out into the world and are hit by swirling storms packing temptation, stressors and strange winds of doctrine.

Upon hearing one internationally known pastor speak about Luke 16:19-31 being literal, I asked him to explain his doctrine of dialogue and negotiation between heaven and hell based on his literal interpretation of the passage. His response was, if hell is not literal, what are all our brave missionaries risking their lives for? Of course, the obvious response to his question was: If we love God we will preach the Gospel, regardless of hell. But, the praise of his lackeys prevented any further comments.

Then, we have a few puzzling statements from you, such as: As my old theology professor used to say, "Hell may be God's ultimate act of mercy because a sinner in his sinful state may choose the flames of hell as relief compared to standing in the presence of a holy God."

It's shocking that you'd accept this professor's musing, oh you who believes in the literal interpretation of Luke 16:19-31, but fail to notice the lack of a reprobate spirit in the rich dude – he deeply regrets his sin and wishes to warn his family. This parable doesn't fit the hell is a prison locked from the inside paradigm.

But of course, the big, scriptural elephant in your classroom, when the professor would say this, should have been the repeated references to every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. Your hell doctrine does have all people literally standing before God, kneeling and confessing – right before God boots them into the flames.

Wasn't there any thinking person in your class to challenge this theology perpetrator? He didn't even do justice to C.S. Lewis' quasi-doctrine. Those who are predisposed to the hell bent are hell bent on accepting, without question, anything that their leaders say.

We also have your peculiarity – which is not just peculiar to you – of the statement that Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven. After I called you out on that, I experienced a bit of panic that perhaps I was wrong since I've heard a few respected teachers spout that Jesus was more about hell than heaven. I do acknowledge that you/they know Jesus better than I do, so I needed to verify the claim.

Fortunately for me, I discovered that to be just another case of blind guides trippin' down the brimstone path. When I got home, I opened up Matthew and started counting the references Jesus made about heaven. I only got up to chapter 18 of Matthew before I got side tracked onto another project but, by that time I had already counted 28 references to heaven – which far out paced your claim.

Regarding your view that eternal punishment must be eternally punishing – you're likely to be right even if you can't explain it from the contrarian's view point.

In the US justice system there have been executions followed by posthumous pardons. However, little good that does one whose punishment is permanent. God doesn't make mistakes – His judgment is final and righteous. Since our penal system can execute a final/permanent judgment and punishment – why must you limit God's ability to do the same?

Next, I'd love to get into your interesting views on Revelations however, I've but a minute to spare today. So, if you're not going to delete all my rants and banish me from your blog, I'll follow up on that later.

¡Vive la misericordia!

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On December 27, 2010 @ 12:10 pm greg stier said:
Hey Augustino,

Just checked out the references to "heaven" in the book of Matthew. Holy crap, I was way wrong on that! I appreciate you pointing it out and will make sure that I don't say/write something so frightfully off in the future! Thank you.

As for hell, I think we have a point of genuine disagreement. I personally can't reconcile anything less than eternal suffering in an eternal hell based on my study of Scripture, especially Revelation (but also Jesus' descriptions of hell as eternal punishment and, yes, Luke 16:19-31.) I try not to be one of the guides blindly amening the other blind guides. Augustino, I have no problem bucking the trend of tradtionalism if it differs from the Holy Scriptures.

All that to say, I hope you are right about your view of hell. I can't reconcile it Scripturally myself but if there is one doctrine I hope to be totally and absolutely wrong about, this one is it. I don't understand it. It scares and confuses me. But I accept it, not because of tradition, but because I think Scripture supports that view more than the anihilation view.

I sure do appreciate all of your well thought and articulated posts. You are an excellent writer and thinker my friend! May God bless you as you seek to honor him and continue to wrestle through this issue and others in light and lens of His Word.

Someday we will discover who is "right" on this issue. On that day I hope you can turn to me and say "I told you so." If not, there will be an exercise of justice and judgment unparalleled in cosmic history.

Until then I cling to the fact that God is God and that God is good, even if I can't comprehend the mystery of hell.

Greg Stier is the Founder and President of Dare 2 Share Ministries International. He has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Christian teenagers through Dare 2 Share events, motivating and mobilizing them to reach their generation for Christ. He is the author of eleven books and numerous resources, including Dare 2 Share: A Field Guide for Sharing Your Faith. For more information on Dare 2 Share and their upcoming conference tour and training resources, please visit

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