One of the blogs to which I subscribe is ‘The Reformed Baptist Thinker’, who recently posted an article entitled ‘Bishop Carlton Pearson, “The Way I See It”‘. Briefly described is the announcement by this Pentecostal bishop that no one goes to hell. In his own words,
In reality, hell is not such an intention of God as it is an invention of man. God is love and people are precious. Authentic truth is not so much taught or learned as it is remembered. Somewhere in your pre-incarnate consciousness you were loved absolutely because you were. Loved absolutely, and in reality, you still are! Remember who you are!
There is one clause of one sentence in this paragraph of tripe which is true. “God is love”—this is what Pearson, along with most other liberal “Christians”, have used as the basis for universalism. They could not do this, of course, if they did not first believe that “authentic truth is not so much taught or learned as it is remembered”—that is, in other words, that the Bible is not the objective revelation of God about himself; rather, presumably, our own experiences are what we must rely on. If Pearson had relied on Scripture to interpret the truth that God is love, he would of course have no basis for universalism, since love does not mean what he thinks it means.
I have written fairly extensively both on the epistemological and spiritual bankruptcy of the position articulated above, and on the doctrine of hell (see The Wisdom Of God and ‘On Strawmen’). There is no need to repeat myself here; if you are looking for a refutation of Pearson’s position epistemologically or morally speaking, refer to these works.
If you are looking for a confirmation of the biblical doctrine of hell, however, I have written little which is directly exegetical. As an exercise of interest, I decided to look at every instance in the Bible where the phrase “God is” appears followed by a noun. The famous verses I am using as the basis for this comparison are, of course, those in 1 John 4, so abused by Pearson:
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:8,16).
But what else does Scripture say about God in this manner? Certainly it speaks of him being our refuge and strength (Ps 46:1), the king of all the earth (Ps 47:7), and our salvation (Ps 68:19). But the Bible also says some more fearful things about God, which inform our understanding of oft-used passages like these.
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut 4:23-24).
My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts (Ps 7:10-13).
Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
in your faithfulness put an end to them (Ps 54:4-5).
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).
It is interesting that Hebrews echoes Deuteronomy in speaking of God as a consuming fire. A similar concept is repeated in the Bible many times. Now, I am going to focus on the New Testament because, for some reason, it seems to have more authority with these sorts of professing Christians than the Old—as if it is more reliable, or as if it has a different, more acceptable message. But they are both the word of God, and both entirely consistent with each other. Yet if anyone thinks that the New Testament is about God loving and forgiving, while the Old Testament is about God being wrathful and jealous (heaven forbid they say these are even two different Gods), then they should examine the Scriptures more closely:
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:40-42).
Notice that I have chosen a passage where Jesus is speaking; I do this again in keeping with that liberal notion that the recorded words of our Lord somehow carry greater authority than the rest of Scripture. The passage above is not, of course, alone; Jesus teaches the same thing in Matthew 3:10 and 12, 5:22, 7:19, 18:8 and 9, and 25:41; in Mark 9:43, 47, and 48; Luke 17:29 and 30; and John 15:6. Other places which teach the same doctrine are Luke 3:9 and 17; Hebrews 10:27; and of course Revelation 14:9-11, 20:10-15, and 21:8.
Now, God is love. Pearson and his ilk are eager to affirm this; which they can only do on the authority of Scripture; on the basis of 1 John 4, from which I have already briefly quoted. So how are we to understand this idea, that God is love, in light of the other passages briefly mentioned? Well, 1 John 4 does not merely say that God is love; notice—
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God (1 John 4:7-8, 12-15).
Contrary to what universalists would seem to assume, this passage is self-evidently harmonious with the previous teachings regarding God’s judgment and holy character. It is as if they had stopped reading after verse 12, and assumed that anyone who displays any kind of love, as it is colloquially defined, must be saved. After all, if we love one another, then God abides in us—and what person doesn’t love other people, even if only in a limited way? But the verses following carefully establish the guidelines for those which precede them: guidelines by which we can know if God abides in us—and, therefore, by which we can know if we love one another in the way John means, rather than whatever way seems best to us in our tepid quagmire of anti-intellectual post-modern subjectivism. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Conversely, then, whoever denies that Jesus is the Son of God does not have God abiding in him, and he does not abide in God. Therefore, he does not love in the way John means. He does not love because he has not been born again of God; because he has not been born again, he does not know God; and since God is love, to not know God is to not know love.
This is the Bible’s consistent teaching. Woe to the man who does not know God, for it is for him that the lake of unquenchable fire is prepared by God—for God is love, and God is righteous, and he will not countenance in his presence those who do not love, and are not righteous:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thess 1:5-10).
There is no ambiguity or inconsistency here. Those who love God, who know God, will be glorified on the day of judgment. Those who do not love God and do not know him by the gift of faith through the gospel will be punished forever. They will suffer eternal torment in hell. This is the plain teaching of the Bible.
The likes of Pearson base their doctrine upon scraps of Scripture, illuminated only in the feeble and distorted light of their own personal wisdom. They assume that since God is love, he is nothing else; and that since love bears all things and endures all things (1 Cor 13:7), that God must accept everyone, regardless of their inclination toward him. But if God is also a consuming fire, a righteous judge, and a helper to the righteous who returns evil upon the wicked and puts an end to them, then the universalists certainly misunderstand what it means that “God is love”. Love does not rejoice in wrong-doing, but in truth (1 Cor 13:6). God does not love sin; he loves righteousness. He will not overlook sin, but punish it—yet in the depths of his love he has punished it in himself, in his Son, so that those who believe (and only those who believe!) may be reconciled to him, thus knowing love, and be saved.
To think that love unites unequivocally is not only unscriptural, but plainly out of touch with reality. It is self-evidently absurd, as even a moment’s consideration will amply reveal. Does God love those in China who destroy his churches and murder his people? Will Nero still be looking for ways to eliminate Christians in the heaven that the universalists imagine? Will Hitler be plotting to annihilate the saints of the old covenant? Or will those who hate God joyfully approach him? Perhaps they will be born again after death? But that cannot be, because God loves everyone as they are, and would certainly not change them against their will!
The love of God does not unite all people regardless of their moral standing. It does not accept all people regardless of their sins. Such a teaching is irrational, nonsensical, and heretical. It dilutes and ultimately denies the gospel, and makes our Lord a liar when he said—
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12:49-53).