The Reason for God Study Guide Chapter 5

I am posting a study guide for Tim Keller’s The Reason for God that I created to lead my small group through. I hope it is a blessing.  This chapter is a great read particularly in light of the recent controversy with Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”.

Reason for God Chapter 5

How can a Loving God send People to Hell

Ice Breaker:

What are your thoughts on Hell?

Study Questions:

  • What was your favorite part of this chapter?
  • What made you struggle in this chapter?
  • What did you learn about God in this chapter?
  • What did you learn about yourself in this chapter?

Idea 1: A God of Judgment simply cant exist:

  • 80% of Americans believe you should get your beliefs on God independent of any church or synagogue.
  • Moral truth is relevant to individual consciousness
  • What do you think about C.S Lewis saying Magic and Science were twins. One died and the other lived. 16th and 17th century.
    • they are both about subduing reality and are willing to do even terrifying things to do it.
    • Ancient wisdom was trying to conform the soul to reality and used, knowledge, self discipline, and virtue.
    • Ancients:  there was power outside ourselves that we conform to. You need to change to fit the world.
    • Science/Magic: We can change the world to fit our desires.
    • C.S. Lewis: Modernity was born in “dreams of power.”
    • The spirit of modernity gave us the responsibility to determine right and wrong.
      • It seems unfair then to think that it would be fair for God to punish us for things we think are ok.
      • We feel we have our own rights that we have determined for our selves to be inviolate.
    • Not everyone in the world believes this though
      • Why aren’t you offended by the idea of a forgiving God?
      • Other cultures actually dislike the idea of a forgiving God.
    • Imagine that if Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If this is the case then it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment.

Idea 2. The God of Judgment cant be a God of Love.

The big idea is : God shouldn’t be angry:

  • All loving persons are filled with wrath sometimes – because of their love.
  • God is angry and evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity
  • Volf:
    • If God did not make and end to violence then he would not be worthy of worship.
    • The concept of prohibiting violence in human is based on the concept that God will take vengance for us.
    • It takes a peaceful home in the suburbs to believe that human non violence is because of God’s non-violence. But this dies in the real world.
    • The lack of believe in a God of vengeance secretly nourishes violence.
    • Humans desire to make perpetrators of violence pay for their transgressions.
      • If we aren’t careful we will get sucked into a vortex of retaliation.
      • if you don’t believe that God will put things to right someday you will have to put them right yourself.
  • People think that a God of Judgment will lead to a more brutal society.
    • History shows that a lack of God’s judgment leads to brutality.  Nazi Germany and Communist Russia
    • Opium of the People: a belief in nothingness after death. Czeslaw Milosz
    • We think we will not have our evil judged.  All religions recognize our deeds are imperishable.
    • God’s final judgment is a necessary under-girding for the human practices of love and peacemaking.

Idea 3: A Loving God Would Not Allow Hell

Fighting and injustice are one thing but sending people to hell is another. How does eternal punishment fit in with the love of God. – it is an understandable recoiling

Modern People: Hell works like this – God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives he throws your soul into hell for eternity. As people fall into hell they say please don’t punish me!!!

  • This is a misunderstanding of the very nature of evil.
    • Sin separates us from God.
    • God is the source of our ultimate purpose.
    • Being separated from God totally is hell. No ability to give or receive love.
    • Image of Hell in the Bible- Fire.  Fire disintegrates.
    • Sin disintegrates us and consumes us. What if hell is an eternity of that? Self-absorbed self-centered life forever.
    • Hell is one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory to infinity
      • The Rich man’s identity is intact. Doesn’t ask to be out of hell. Still is asking Lazarus to be his slave.
      • Hell Writ Small:
        • Disintegration
        • Isolation
    • Hell is the greatest monument to Human Freedom C.S. Lewis
      • God Gave them up to their desires. Romans 1:24
      • Two kinds of people.  Those who say, “God thy will be done” or those to whom God says “thy will be done.” All those who are in Hell choose it.

Idea 4: Hell and the Equality of People

Christians are not narrow minded because they believe in hell.  They are not any more narrow minded than someone who believes that there is no hell.

  • Both Christians and Liberal secular persons believe that there are terrible moral and spiritual errors.
  • Christians think the errors go with them forever, Liberal secular people think errors only last with a person while they are alive.

Christians are not discriminatory to people in this life, because they do not know who will be going to hell and who wont because people change in this life.

Idea 5: I believe in a God of Love

What makes you think God is love?

  • NO other religion outside the Bible teaches that God is love.
    • Buddhism is very selfless but does not believe in a personal god so there is no love because love is the action of a person.
    • Muslims think it is disrespectful to speak of anyone knowing God personally
    • Skeptics who cant believe in the God of the Bible because of his wrath must answer where do they get the concept that God is love?
      • Can you look at the world and infer that?  Wars and demise?
      • Religious texts?
      • The place we find that God is love is from the Bible, and it also tells us God is a God of Judgment who sets things right in the end.

The belief in a God of pure love who accepts everyone and judges no one – is a powerful act of faith.

  • There is no evidence for it in nature (it is cruel), nothing historical, not religious proof, outside of Christianity.


Prayer Time


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What the Hell?

As a pastor, I get lots of questions about hell.  Most of them go something like this.  Does it exist?  What is it like?  Surely a loving God wouldn’t send people there right?  I have found as I have studied what the Bible teaches about hell that most of us know very little about hell.  Furthermore, most people believe things about hell that are taught nowhere in the Bible. If we are honest, most of us have our concept of heaven, hell and the devil formed for us by what we watch on television in general and by cartoons in particular.  Most of us imagine something out of the far side comics or from Looney Toons to create our impression of what the afterlife looks like.  In those portrayals heaven is portrayed as a place where people play a harp among the clouds and hell is portrayed as a place where Satan rules on a throne and has a bunch of weird torture devices where he tortures humans for all eternity.

It is vital that we base what we know about heaven and hell and on what the Bible teaches instead of what pop culture and cartoons teach us.  As we study we find out that God teaches us something very different about what mankind’s destiny is after we die.

I was leading a Bible Study the other day and we were looking at the most famous Bible verse in the world.  John 3:16.  In it there is a phrase that many people just breeze right over.  – that none should perish but all have eternal life.  What do you think of when you hear that people can perish?  Do you believe it?  Do you reject it?  Honestly it is the reason why Jesus came to the earth.  The concept of Hell is vital to the message of the gospel.  If there is not hell there is no need for Jesus to come to earth to pay the price of sin for us.  If he died anyway, then he was a fool. Jesus was no fool.   He came and died for us because there was no other way to have peace with God.  Someone had to pay the price for sin so he took the pain of sin and death for us.

When we get started at looking at what the Bible teaches about Hell we need to go to the source.  Here are some  Biblical passages to look at: Matthew 8:11-12, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 16:19-31, Jude 1:3-13, Revelation 20:11-15, Revelation 19:20, 21:8.  These aren’t all of them but they are some of the main verses.  Go ahead and look them up if you want.

When looking at these verses something really stands out.  Jesus believed that hell was real.  In fact, he gives us more information about hell than anyone else.  R.C. Sproul says this:  It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself.

So lets answer some Frequently Asked Questions:

1.  What is hell like?

Jesus says it is a place of torment.  He called it a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It is fundamentally a place where you are separated from God’s favor.

It is a place where people get to experience the reality of choosing to live a life without God.

Many people think it is a symbol and only a image used to scare people I love what R.C. Sproul says.

I suspect they are symbols, but I find no relief in that. We must not think of them as being merely symbols. It is probable that the sinner in hell would prefer a literal lake of fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire image. If these images are indeed symbols, then we must conclude that the reality is worse than the symbol suggests. The function of symbols is to point beyond themselves to a higher or more intense state of actuality than the symbol itself can contain. That Jesus used the most awful symbols imaginable to describe hell is no comfort to those who see them simply as symbols.

2.  Does Satan live in Hell?

The answer is no.  Although the Bible teaches that someday Satan will be thrown into the lake of Fire, there is no evidence that Satan has ever been to hell.  In fact the Bible teaches that Satan is the prince, the ruler of this world.  Jesus references him as the ruler of this world in John 14:30.  You also find that Satan a lot about Satan in the book of Job.  Check out this passage from Job 1:6-7 6

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and  Satan  also came among them. 7 TheLord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered theLord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

You find that he wanders the world looking for evil to do.  He also has access to go to heaven and present himself to God.  But you see that he also needs to ask for permission to take action against those who are followers of God.

I believe one of the reasons we like to think that Satan is in hell ruling the underworld is because it is much more frightening to live in the reality that he exists on this terrestrial ball with us.  If he is actively at work on this planet then we must be on guard that we will not fall under his influence.

3.  How could a loving God send sinners to hell?

He doesn’t.  They volunteer.  Those who go to hell choose to go there.

How do they choose?  People choose hell instead of God whenever they choose to deny him as their Lord and Savior. The most powerful sin in the universe is rejecting Jesus as God and God as the ultimate reality.   C.S. Lewis says it this way, “I willingly believe that the damned are in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

The Bible teaches that if you spend your life telling God to be quiet and leave you alone, hell is that place where he honors your request.

I believe we must be careful that our hearts don’t get hardened toward God.  Matt 13:14-15 gives a sobering warning:

You will indeed hear but never understand,and you will indeed see but never perceive.15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

4.  Why does the topic of hell create such resistance?

The primary reason is because people resist the concept of punishment for sin.  People don’t want to think that God could possibly punish people for rejecting him.  In doing so they throw out huge portions of scripture in order to make the Bible conform to their image.

I think people really want to just let God off the hook.  They want him to be humane and humanitarian God.  That God be a being that only exists to ease human pain and not cause any of it.  They want him to be a God that looks the other way when people actively hate him by denying who he has revealed himself to be.

In conclusion:

Hell is an unpleasant reality of life.  Although we may not like the concept, Jesus taught very clearly that hell is a reality and it is the future of those who deny God’s offer of salvation in this life.  This is essential to the gospel.  Without the doctrine of hell there is no need for a savior.  If Hell is not real then Jesus came to this earth and gave himself up as a ransom for us in vain.  I hope that this post causes you to think, to explore and to discover what the Bible really says about what happens after death and to consider what the future holds for you.

Trusting Jesus is the most important decision you can ever make.  If you need help making it let me know in your comments or can email me at [email protected]

Stay tuned for a future post on what heaven is like.