Are we hellbound monsters?—engaging Washer

Before we get started … [T]here are other people—in this room right now—who if they die, will be sent by the judgment of God straight into hell—where the grace of God is totally removed and they will be revealed as the monsters that they truly are.…

I’m concerned about one thing. One day each and every one of you will stand naked before a holy God and you will be judged. … [S]ome of you … will hear warning after warning after warning and you will not listen and you will die under the wrath of God and spend eternity in hell.

Paul Washer, Do you see God working on your life?

Certainly, an intense prelude to a sermon but is it biblical? Well, the Bible does warn us about God’s judgment and people do often ignore him… At the same time, the Bible reveals that each and every person is made in God’s image—indeed a child of God. Our Father isn’t a monster and therefore, neither are you!

Washer would probably acknowledge that at least currently, God is showing everyone grace. There are lots of examples but here are just two:

The Lord is good to everyone. He shows his mercy to everything he made.

Psalm 145:9, ERV

But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly. If you do this, you will be children who are truly like your Father in heaven. He lets the sun rise for all people, whether they are good or bad. He sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong.

Matthew 5:44-45, ERV

The question then becomes, is Washer right that God changes his attitude towards people and removes his grace? No, the Bible says God doesn’t change:

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

Numbers 23:19, NIV

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8, NIV

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17, NIV

Washer appears to be saying he is only concerned about “one thing”, namely God’s judgment. However, the Bible calls us to be concerned about many things, such as:

What about Washer’s claim that some people will “spend eternity in hell”? He doesn’t unpack that but it’s likely he is basing it on a common misinterpretation of the Greek word aionios. While many English translations often render aionios as “eternal”, when pressed scholars admit it literally means “pertaining to the next aion/aeon/eon/age”. It’s important to note that just because two things pertain to a particular age, doesn’t mean they have the same duration (e.g. tweeting and programming both pertain to the Information Age, but the former has only been around for about a decade, whereas the latter has been around for over a century). This is the case in Matthew 25:46, where the life and punishment both pertain to the next age but won’t have the same duration.

Aionios life is:

  • in the sustaining/renewing presence of God (Rev 21:23, 22:5)
  • immortal (2Tim 1:10)
  • without death (1Cor 15:26; 2Tim 1:10; Rev 20:14)
  • without rust and decay (Matt 6:20)
  • tied to our relationship with God (John 17:3)

Conversely, the duration of aionios punishment isn’t described in those terms and the Greek word translated “punishment” suggests it is corrective (see the second half of Pruning the Flock? and Punishment – Gr. Kolasis). It’s pertinent to ponder what the Bible reveals about the purpose of punishment. For example, we believe God “corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12). Surely, this at least opens up the possibility that punishment in the next age could be corrective, educative, and restorative. Even severely unpleasant experiences can (if carefully managed) result in the good of the one receiving it (e.g. detox, chemotherapy, pruning, or refining).

I would suggest that a passage Washer quotes shows God transforming people for their good:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26-27, NASB

Later Washer says, “when the holy God looks at sinful men, the only thing their sin motivates God to do is [to] judge them—to condemn them.” However, when Jesus looked at sinful men he was motivated to forgive:

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots.

Luke 23:34, CSB

Likewise, the Apostle Paul says that God responded to our hostility with reconciliation:

Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him

Colossians 1:21-22, CSB

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:10, CSB

Washer rightly recognises that “God saves us because he is a savior” but concerningly, says “first of all, God saves men in order to get glory out of that work.” While I agree that saving people is indeed a very glorious act (far more glorious than tormenting someone for eternity), my impression of God’s primary motivation is different. For example:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.

John 3:16, CSB

As Washer’s sermon over an hour long, there’s a lot more I could engage with if I had time. However, I pray that my brief response at least encourages you to pause and test what he teaches against Scripture—may God bless you as you do so.

Mary Porterfield's painting of a volcanic hell
Painting by Mary Porterfield

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