God of the Living in Heaven and Hell

What does it mean that God is God of the living, not the dead.


Interestingly, Jesus directed most of his criticism against the Pharisees, but there were two groups of religious leaders during his time. The other group was known as the Sadducees. In one of the rare encounters with the Sadducees that we read in the Gospels, they asked Jesus about marriage in heaven. This is because the Pharisees believed in resurrection in bodily form (at the end of the age), but the Sadducees did not. In the biblical passage that inspires this blog post, the Sadducess pressed Jesus on the issue of resurrection.

They confronted Jesus with the hypothetical example of a woman married to the oldest of seven brothers. In Jewish culture and tradition, a brother had an obligation to marry the wife of a deceased brother. In the hypothetical, they asked Jesus, if each brother died in turn, with a surviving brother marrying the widow, who would be her husband after the resurrection? (Matthew 22:23-28)

Jesus, in typical fashion, responded that they should know the answer if they know the Scriptures. (Matthew 22:29) Imagine the upstart Jesus putting the respected leaders in their place like this!

But, Jesus didn’t leave them hanging. He answered that people neither marry nor are given in marriage after death because people are “like the angels in heaven”. (Matthew 22:30) And, then Jesus said,

“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.’” (Matthew 22:31-32 ESV)

The statement that jumps out at me in this passage is the last one: God is not a God of the dead, but of the living!

Jesus made it clear when answering the Sadducees that there is a physical resurrection. Indeed, he had been talking about his own death and resurrection multiple times by this point in his ministry. Jesus came for the precise purpose of living and dying and rising from the dead.

And what this means for us is of the very most significance. God is a God of the living, not the dead.

What are the implications for us? While there are some obvious implications, I see some less obvious ones as well.

Continue reading “God of the Living in Heaven and Hell”

Sam Harris Podcast Interviews Bart Ehrman – Part 5 – Atheists & Fundamentalists May Be Two Sides of the Same Coin

Ehrman does exactly what we might expect of someone trying to explain something he doesn’t believe in. He grossly oversimplifies the discussion, and he compares it to something else he doesn’t believe in.


This blog piece is a continuation in a series of articles commenting on the podcast interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris. We trace Bart Ehrman’s early fundamentalist experience through the “loss” of his faith and the fundamentalism that still informs Ehrman’s view of the Bible, albeit not from a believing position anymore. I explore some factors from Ehrman’s story that may explain his turn away from belief in God, and the “exceedingly high” bar skeptics set for miracles that allows them to discount the Bible without seriously considering the evidence.

Ehrman suggests, reasonably, that the resurrection is the foundation for Christian belief, but he and Harris quickly gloss over the evidence. From the resurrection, the discussion turns to focus on heaven and hell.  Erhman remarks that, when he was a fundamentalist Christian, he believed in a literal heaven and a literal hell.  He described a literal hell with traditional fire and brimstone.

I have noted, as have other people in the past, that atheists and agnostics often take the same literal approach to scripture as “fundamentalists” do.  This is an example of what I mean by that. It’s possible that hell is literal fire and brimstone, but it’s possible it isn’t. There are a number of different biblical theories about hell, even among evangelicals, and even more if we go to the more mainstream denominations.

Many Christian scholars do not believe that hell is literally fire and brimstone.  They make a good case that the language is metaphorical, rather than literal.  One of the hallmarks of a fundamentalist (as with an atheist or agnostic) interpretation of the Bible is the lack of nuance and sophistication. Both viewpoints tend to fail to appreciate and understand metaphor.

Of course, sometimes a text might be taken literally and metaphorically, and a text may have literal meaning and metaphoric meaning that are both appropriate.  A fundamentalist, though, tends to want to read everything literally, and skeptics do the same thing.

The result for the fundamentalist is a kind of belief that ignores evidence to the contrary, and for the atheist the result is total rejection of the Bible.  The fundamentalists and the skeptics ironically approach Scripture in the same way. This leads to a false dichotomy: we either must accept everything (regardless of the evidence) or accept nothing (in spite of the evidence).

Continue reading “Sam Harris Podcast Interviews Bart Ehrman – Part 5 – Atheists & Fundamentalists May Be Two Sides of the Same Coin”

Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 2

Missing the mark – If you begin from two points adjacent to each other, but angled ever-so-slightly in different directions, the difference may be hardly noticeable at the start.


In the first piece in this series about hell, inspired by a talk given by Tim Keller in 2010, we explore the idea that hell isn’t a place that God sends us; it is the result of our own choosing. When we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, our most treasured thing, the thing we identify most with, that choice becomes our ultimate aim.

If we choose anything other than God as our ultimate aim, our most treasured thing, we lose ourselves to it. What we value most consumes us and we lose our identity to it.

Keller uses the parable of Lazarus and the rich man as the backdrop. The rich man, not even realizing he is in hell, demands Abraham to send Lazarus to him to wet his lips to relieve him from his discomfort. The rich man is delusional. He still thinks he has the wealth and station he enjoyed during life, but he has completely lost his identity. Abraham and Lazarus have names in the parable, but the rich man is without any name.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book, Sickness Unto Death, in which he defines sin as finding our identity in anything other than God. The word for sin, in the Hebrew, means, literally, missing the mark. To find our identity in anything other than Godis missing the mark.

The first point Keller makes about the idea of hell is this: when we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, the thing we most identify with, we lose our identity to it, and it becomes our hell. If the thing we cherish most isn’t our identify in God, we lose our intended identify (given by God who created us) to the things we have chosen over God. And this becomes our hell.

Keller says that the idea of hell is crucial in helping us to understand the problem with our own hearts. We have a tendency to want things other than the purpose for which God made us. God made us for Himself, to reflect unique facets of His nature, and to have relationship, forever, with God. If we choose as our greatest treasure something other than this purpose for which God made us, we lose our identity to those things.

In this blog piece, we will explore this idea further.

Continue reading “Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 2”

Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 1

Tim Keller says that the idea of hell is crucial in helping us to understand our own hearts.

Depositphotos Image ID: 45826369 Copyright: kamchatka

Tim Keller gave a series of talks on the biggest objections to Christianity about eight years ago. In one talk, he addresses how can we reconcile a God who is loving with a God with the idea of hell. I’m going to summarize what Keller says partly in his words and partly in my own words. I will also go off script down some side roads. I will cover the subject in several blog posts.

Before we start, I want to observe that truth and reality are not always how we would like them to be. The nature of truth is that “it is what it is”. We don’t advance in our knowledge and understanding by denying it. If we are going to take the Bible seriously, and particularly the things that Jesus said, we have to contend with the idea of hell. Jesus mentions hell more than any other person in the scripture.

Tim Keller claims that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts, for living at peace in the world, and for knowing the love of God. The text he uses to set up the subject is Luke 16:19-31. This text is known as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I encourage you to read it before continuing on. I am only addressing the first point in this blog post – that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts (because it is something we choose).

The idea of hell, of course, is a basic Christian principal. Jesus did not shy away from the subject, and neither should we. Hell is a principal that doesn’t sit well with the sentiments of modern people, but that is no reason to dismiss it anymore than we should dismiss the idea of disease just because we don’t like it. We dismiss it only to our detriment.

One interesting quirk about this parable is that two of the characters are named (Abraham and Lazarus), and one character is not named (the rich man). Keller says this parable is the only one in which Jesus named any of the characters. (I didn’t double check him on that.)

In Hebrew culture, even more than in our day, names were intimately connected to the identify of a person. In this parable, Lazarus is identified by name, but the rich man remains anonymous. He has lost his identity. Why is that? And how does that relate to understanding our own hearts?

The fact that Jesus named characters, but he didn’t name all the characters, is a window into understanding the parable and understanding our own hearts.

Continue reading “Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 1”