Home > Chapter 5

You be the judge

A breeze played upon the beach along the East Coast. Across the water lay downtown Singapore. The lights of its skyscrapers were twinkling in the gathering dusk.

Uncle Loh nudged his younger companion. "Can you spot Orion Building where you work?"

Lost in thought, Arthur gazed at the silhouettes. "There, I guess," he pointed desultorily.

"Arthur, you are far away," said Uncle Loh gently. "Something is on your mind when you wanted to come here to talk. What is it?"

"Uncle Loh, when we began our chat on the Christian faith I began to read the Bible again. That was when I realised how little I knew even though I came from a mission school. Now I find there are teachings that disturb me, one especially."

He paused. Uncle Loh made no response. He felt that Arthur was so close to the Kingdom. Not an easy man to convince, Arthur had over many months reasoned and argued his way from an agnostic position to one that was open to the gospel.

"People make jokes about ‘hell’! Personally I don’t think it’s a nice thing to do. I interpret ‘hell’ as a condition of the mind and I know many who share the same idea. For instance, we speak of those who make life hell for others and themselves. It’s a state of the mind."

"If that is all there is to it, why are you so disturbed?" asked Uncle Loh.

"Am I right in thinking so? I get the impression that the Bible has a more literal idea of hell."

"You mean, does the Bible say there is a real rather than an imaginary place called ‘hell’? The answer is ‘Yes’. It is interesting that people don’t seem to object to ‘heaven’ being a real place, an idea the Bible teaches with equal force," replied Uncle Loh.

To Arthur’s amusement, he took a torch from one pocket and a Bible from another.

"Useful things - these little torches," he muttered.

"Let me read from Luke’s gospel, Jesus said, ‘I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear. Fear him (God) who, after killing the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.’ (Luke 12:4-5)

Stern words, these. Jesus never speaks of hell in a light-hearted way. He tells us it is a real place, that it comes after death and is a part of the world to come." (Luke 16:22-23, Matthew 5:27-30 & 8:11-12)

"It must be a horrible place," Arthur murmured.

"Indeed it is. Knowing how honest Jesus was we cannot suppose he merely intended to play upon our fears. It is a place of separation from the goodness of God. In hell there is a profound sense of permanent loss that leads to rage and frustration. Jesus describes it as weeping and grinding of teeth (Matthew 13:37-43).

You may be aware of a popular persuasive teaching," continued Uncle Loh, "which says that it matters not at all what anyone believes so long as he or she sincerely believes it. Ultimately all will go to heaven."

"That kind of reasoning is faulty," Arthur retorted, causing Uncle Loh to raise his eyebrows. "It does matter what one believes. Should I take the wrong bus all my sincerity in believing it is the right bus won’t get me home."

"You’re right, Arthur," Uncle Loh commented. "Besides it does not tally with what the Lord Jesus says of heaven and hell. He says that everyone does not end up in the same place. There is a permanent separation that has to do with one’s choice, the choice of a free moral agent."

Arthur took a deep breath and sighed. He went on to his next question.

"Uncle Loh, is God really just in sending people to hell?"

Uncle Loh turned from watching the boats in the harbour.

"Four thousand years ago a man called Abraham asked a similar question. He was concerned that God should be just in His dealings with two groups of men. Let me read to you what he said when God told him He was about to destroy the wicked city, Sodom. ‘Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous and the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25) What a remarkable statement from ancient times.

Note Abraham’s concern for God’s honour and sense of justice. Now, Arthur, the answer to your question is found in understanding how morally pure and good God is. He alone has the right to judge the earth because He is its Creator. Abraham understood all this."

Arthur nodded thoughtfully, "Please go on."

"People today have rather anaemic ideas about good and evil. Not surprisingly their ideas of the moral character of God are just as deplorable. The reason is that from an early age we have been brainwashed into believing that there are no moral absolutes. Good and evil are only relative. This is simply not true but it is a convenient belief. This belief is harmful because it undermines the belief in an absolutely good God to whom men and women are accountable. But where is accountability if evil is denied?

We are unwilling to say a person is guilty of moral evil even when the facts are plain that he is. We need to be reminded that evil deeds are done by evil men and not, as is popularly thought, only by the misinformed, misguided or mistreated. The Bible puts things in correct perspective when it informs us that we are all sinners at heart and therefore guilty before God (Romans 3:23)."

"Does that mean that ordinary, decent people are sinners too?" queried Arthur.

"According to the Bible, yes. And if we are honest with ourselves, sadly, yes. All of us ordinary, decent people have had impure thoughts and shameful motives. We have all entertained pride, prejudice, hatred. We all have our share of misgivings over wrongs we have done which we would rather forget, and wish those we have wronged would too. But God sees our hearts. He knows (Psalm 14:1-3)."

"I have to agree with much of what you say," Arthur said. "It’s a dismal picture."

"I don’t relish saying what I said. The Biblical view is confirmed by grim reality on an individual, societal and international level. I feel bad at the thought of anyone rejecting God and going to hell. If I didn’t feel bad, I am in danger of becoming hard and uncaring."

"Are there no good people then?" asked Arthur.

"There are good as well as bad people. Was not the Samaritan doing a good deed when he went out of his way to help the wounded man (Luke 10:29-37)? The word ‘goodness’ comes from an old English word ‘godness’. In so far as men behave in socially helpful ways, they are good, like God who is the standard of all good. Men are good or bad, righteous or unrighteous by comparison with each other. Only God is good in Himself, by His very nature.

Jesus once said that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). However there is an internal goodness, goodness of the heart. It is here that everyone fails in meeting God’s standard of goodness. It is here we are found to be self-justifying, self-serving, conniving, rebellious, unbelieving and ungrateful."

"Hell isn’t a fair punishment for sinners," Arthur protested.

"Arthur, we commonly speak of fairness in human terms. No human is completely fair. No court on earth is immune to possible miscarriage of justice. At the back of our minds we think that perhaps God may suffer from lapses of fair-play and kindness. This is a psychological barrier. The Bible views it differently. God is blameless in His ways and just in His decisions (Deuteronomy 32:3-4).

When God the Creator says to Adam ‘The day that you sin, you shall surely die’, He gave adequate and fair warning to His creature (Genesis 3:3). He did not force or trick Adam and Eve into sinning. They, we and the rest of mankind have always been sinners by choice and have suffered the consequences.

When God administers His justice, which He has said He would, there are shouts of ‘Unfair! Tyrant!’ Look again at the Genesis account. Look at the pages of man’s history and at today’s newspapers, red with violence and every horrible atrocity. Honestly ask yourself whether, in your scheme of justice and fair-play, you will put Adolf Hitler and Saint Paul in the same place in the afterlife."

"We are not all Hitlers," Arthur found himself saying defensively.

"Indeed not. Nor do we wish to be," replied Uncle Loh. "However, if we are frank with ourselves, we have to admit there are Hitler-like tendencies in all of us. It is just that absolute power has no chance to completely corrupt us. But why compare ourselves with one of history’s worst examples of cruelty and unbridled ambition? The question you should ask is whether hell is a fair punishment for sinners. Presumably you mean it’s unfair for ‘ordinary’ rather than the ‘extraordinary’ sinners?"

"How should I know? I am not God. He should know," retorted Arthur, somewhat irritated.

"That’s the point. You and I are not God. But neither are we willing to let God be God. We just don’t like the idea of hell. Nobody should therefore go to hell. If we could we would have hell abolished, like how some countries have abolished capital punishment. Ironically, these countries are experiencing mounting crime rates.

We seem to have totally dismissed from our minds God’s case against us for breaking His laws. We conveniently forget God’s sense of holiness and justice. We also dismiss the remedy for sin which He has provided through Christ at a great cost. Meanwhile we harangue him for not conforming to our notions of justice. When this fails we blame Him for creating us the way He did. Alternatively, we entertain feelings that God owes us His mercy."

"Why can’t He save everyone?" Arthur persisted.

"We live in a real world, Arthur. The Bible says that God respects our choice, the exercise of our human free-will. God says:

‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.’ (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Tell me Arthur, should God drag people into heaven with or without their consent? Are people to be saved against their will from the fires of hell?"

"Who in his or her right mind does not want to be saved?" asked Arthur incredulously.

Uncle Loh shook his head gravely.

"I can only tell you, Arthur, from my own experience. There are those that want nothing to do with God. You speak of a ‘right mind’ but sin is irrational at its core. It doesn’t listen to reason, nor allow itself to be moved by love."

Arthur was silent.

Uncle Loh turned to face Arthur squarely. He guessed that Arthur’s upbringing made it hard to accept unpleasant truths.

"I was brought up in a good home with a loving family. We were taught all the common courtesies. We honoured our parents, spoke politely and were thrifty. Being brought up in a family like that it was quite difficult for me as an adult to accept the Christian teaching that decent people, like me, need Christ as Saviour. Saviour of what? What great wrong had I done? Sure - I was imperfect but so was everybody else! At that time my idea of God was that He was a sort of benevolent fog.

Then I made an important discovery. In the course of reading religious books I noted that those whom I admired as truly good, saintly men were the very ones who freely confessed they were sinners in need of God’s saving grace. This puzzled and irked me. But it put me on the right road to finding out my real need."

Arthur listened intently.

Uncle Loh turned to a page in the Bible and read:

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Holy Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." (Romans 8:6-8)

Uncle Loh put his Bible down. When he spoke again his voice was warm with affection.

"Arthur you are outraged that God would send people to hell. When God administers justice as Ruler of the universe there is nothing unjust about that. He leaves man in no doubt as to His intentions when He tells them ‘Choose life’ rather than death. God doesn’t ‘send people to hell.’ Unrepentant sinners know where they are going. They judge themselves unworthy of His kingdom by rejecting the free and full forgiveness He offers.

Do you know that the only truly innocent man that ever walked this earth, Jesus Christ, suffered willingly on the cross? He took the full weight of God’s penalty for the sins of mankind, sins He had not done. Is that justice in human terms? Or is it mercy from a loving God?"

A long pause followed.

Arthur finally spoke, "I do not want to go on rejecting God who has loved me so much. I want to receive Jesus as my Saviour and Lord now."

Uncle Loh was overjoyed. Then Arthur uttered a moving prayer. "Lord God, please forgive me for my great sin of unbelief. I accuse you of not caring. I thought I cared more. I demand of you justice when I should ask for mercy, and that for myself."

The two men stood up, laughed for joy, and embraced each other as brothers in the Lord.

Arthur smiled as he drifted off into a blissful sleep that night. A verse from the Bible came into his mind.

Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper;
The snare is broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
’ (Psalm 124:7-8)


Next chapter: Parthe-what?