#STRask: April 28, 2016

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Published on 04/28/2016

Greg answers questions about what the biblical basis is for thinking people go to hell immediately at death, if imprecatory psalms are still usable, why God didn’t make Adam, Eve, Cain, and Jesus and get it all over with, and the best case in favor of saving sex for marriage.


  • What’s the biblical basis for thinking people go to hell immediately at death rather than at the white throne judgment?
  • We can still use imprecatory psalms, right?
  • Why did God not make Adam, Eve, Cain and Jesus, and get this all over with. So billions of people are not in hell?
  • What is the best case in favor of saving sex for marriage?


Melinda: Gosh. Just stop it. Greg tries to get me laughing. Of course, he’s successful, but it’s just gross. It’s just little boy humor, so just stop it. This is STRask. We’re supposed to be professionals. Stand to Reason, #STRask. I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with little boy, Greg Koukl.

Greg: What was your first name?

Melinda: Melinda the Enforcer. What did I say? Anyway... Here we are, starting the second episode this week. 20 minutes. Greg has four minutes to answer questions. New episodes posted Monday and Thursday. Just checking on my notes. Is there anything else I need to announce? Anything you have to say?

Greg: Well, we’ve got a birthday coming up.

Melinda: Stand to Reason’s?

Greg: Yeah.

Melinda: Yep, we do next week. Our 23rd anniversary. We do not say we’re beginning our 24th year. You do not get credit for 24 years until you reach 24 years. We’re celebrating 23 years. That’s good. You don’t have to borrow credit on next year. If anybody doesn’t know, this is one of my many pet peeves with Greg. He likes to mark anniversaries by saying the year you’re starting. We’re starting our 24th year. Nobody on their birthday says, “I’m starting my 67th year.” Which is what you would say on this coming birthday.

Greg: I only have one thing to say to that.

Melinda: Anyways. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. That’s where we get the questions, and Greg gets four minutes to answer them, so let’s go.

First questions comes from Jason Dual. “What’s the biblical basis for thinking people go to hell immediately at death, rather than at the white throne of judgement?”

Greg: Well, hell is a very general word.

Melinda: Why does that surprise you? We’ve been doing it from the very beginning?

Greg: I know. I always like to look at Brooke’s face every time I pause there, and look at her for ticking me like that, or whatever. Hell is a general word. It’s translated from, I think, different Greek words. One, for example, Gehenna, and the like. Maybe Sheol, which is the abode of the dead, or whatever. The point is that we think of hell as the final disposition of the unrighteous. There is a final disposition. You read about it in the book of Revelation, and that’s when the devil and the prophet and the beast, the unholy trinity, are all tossed in there, this is their final disposition, their final punishment. Then it says anyone who’s name is not written in the Book of Life is also thrown into the lake of fire.

You could say, strictly speaking, if that’s hell, then no one goes to hell until after the great white throne judgement. Where they go in between is no fun either, okay? When Jesus gives... It’s not clear whether it’s a parable, or an account, or an illustration or whatever, but he talks about the rich man and Lazarus, he talks about a rich man who is in Hades, I guess, or he is in torment. Wherever he... he’s dead, he’s gone, that’s it for him, and he’s in torment. It isn’t the final hell. The believer, Lazarus, is in the bosom of Abraham, so he’s receiving comfort. I think there are a couple of things that Jesus means to communicate in this parable, and again, you can’t... It’s not... It doesn’t look like he’d take everything strictly literally, but the general thing is that wherever that place is that you go before you go into the final place, it’s still pretty nasty. It’s torment. I think of it kind of like a county jail before you go to the state pen. Let’s say you’re convicted of a crime, or you’re accused of a crime, and you’re probably guilty, so you hole up in the county jail for a while, then you get tried, then you’re guilty, then you go on to the final disposition.

Melinda: I don’t know. Twin Towers in LA is pretty horrible.

Greg: Yeah, it is pretty horrible. Some county jails are better than others. You don’t want to go to LA. The point... This is pretty horrible. Whatever that temporary place is before the final judicial act is accomplished there in Revelation 20, it’s not any fun. I would count as my biblical basis the thing that Jesus taught about the rich man and Lazarus.

Melinda: Good. I was just thinking, because the person who wrote this... This is common, but hell in lower case. Our style sheet here at STR, and this is my little soapbox here I guess, is to capitalize Heaven and Hell. These are real places, just as real as Seattle and Washington DC, and Philadelphia. I say capitalize Heaven and Hell.

Greg: Yeah, that’s a good point, when they’re being used as proper nouns, like the place called Heaven, and the place called Hell.

Melinda: People who go to Hell.

Greg: “We’ve had a hell of a good time.” That’s not capitalized.

Melinda: Well, of course not that.

Greg: When you go to Hell...

Melinda: Okay, so next question comes from abate16. “We can still use imprecatory Psalms, right?” I think she’s talking about never read a Bible verse, we don’t take things out of their historical context and naturally apply it to our lives. What about imprecatory Psalms?

Greg: These Psalms are... These are the Psalms that...

Melinda: Did I pronounce that right, by the way?

Greg: I wasn’t going to correct you in public, but yeah, you got it wrong. Imprecatory is the way I’ve heard it pronounced. In any event, these are the Psalms were David gets really mad and says really nasty things like, “I would that they would dash their babies on the rocks,” and stuff like that. You have some others...

Melinda: Those make me really uncomfortable.

Greg: What, that you mispronounced imprecatory?

Melinda: No, that kind of...

Greg: Language is used.

Melinda: That that kind of anger, and viciousness towards other people is used, and I know there’s... I’ve read that it’s getting angry on behalf of God, in God’s defense is a God thing. Some of these, they’re not necessarily God’s enemies. They’re David’s enemies. It seems like he really wants them to get punished.

Greg: That’s an interpretive issue. There are Psalms like that where David is just unloading and he says this stuff. There are other Psalms though, like Psalm 5, for example, where David is talking almost from God’s perspective. He says, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness. No evil dwells with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes. You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood. The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.” That’s Psalm 5. We see something similar in Psalm 11. “The Lord test the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence, his soul hates.” That is God’s soul hates. “On the wicked, he will reign snares, fire and brimstone, burning wind will be the portion of their cup, for the Lord is righteous,” et cetera. I think you’ve got something else going on there. In this case, you have... It isn’t like David’s having a bad hair day, like maybe he was in the other one. He’s just crabby, but in this case, he’s telling us something that’s true about God. It’s ugly in a certain sense from one perspective, but it’s expression of God’s holiness.

Now, this isn’t the whole story, because God doesn’t just hate those who do wickedness. He also loves them, which sounds like a contradiction, but it’s only a contradiction if you think that love and hate are emotions, and how can you have the emotion of love and hate simultaneously? Actually, I think married people understand that a little bit more. We can... I love you but, man, right now... To the moon, Alice. That kind of thing.

Melinda: Single people understand it too.

Greg: Okay. With people you love...

Melinda: People who work with other people...

Greg: That’s what I was just thinking about. I don’t know what she’s talking about, but... I think that this, then, it’s an imprecatory Psalm, but it is telling us something true about God. As far as the hermeneutics of it... We’re just taking at face value. I think it is true that God hates the wicked, and the only place of safety from a God who hates the wicked is under the shelter of the son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. These things kind of fit together in odd ways, but we don’t want to sanitize God in these verses. We don’t want to say, “Psalm 5, that’s just an imprecatory Psalm,” as if that takes it away. It’s imprecatory, so we’ll just tear that one out. He just was bugged a little bit when he wrote that, and he didn’t... He wasn’t speaking the truth. No, he is speaking the truth, and it adds a dimension that’s important to our understanding of God.

Melinda: That’s a good explanation.

Greg: Thank you.

Melinda: I guess part of the reason, too, they make me uncomfortable is because I know I am a horrible, miserable sinner, and God’s given me his grace.

Greg: You’re right.

Melinda: I know. It sort of feels like, instead of praying for God’s righteous anger to be poured down on these enemies, I have to pray for grace, because that’s what I received. I think that fits into what you were saying. These Psalms tell us something true about God. At the same time, just as David did, God gives grace too.

Next question comes from jodermatt. “Why did God not make Adam and Eve, Cain, and Jesus, and get this all over with, instead of billions of people going to hell?” So, like in a week and a half.

Greg: Yeah, well... Different people are going to answer this a different way. My basic answer, and someone raised a question similar to this last night at Marshall University, “Well, why didn’t God do X, Y, Z?” I said, “I’ll tell you, I don’t know.” Which is the answer that you give for most questions that start with the phrase, “Why didn’t God do...” Whatever. X, Y, Z. “Why didn’t he do it a different way than what he did?” When you think about it, that’s a question that could always be asked, even if God truncated the whole process right there, into that, like what was suggested, then one could say, “Why did God make Cain and Abel? Wasn’t it just bad enough that Adam and Eve sinned, then Jesus comes, and it’s over with?” It just seems like no matter what God does, someone could always ask, “Why didn’t God do it differently?” I don’t know why he didn’t do it differently. That’s his own mind, and he doesn’t tell us about that kind of thing.

Now, I do know... I have a suspicion why Bill... How Bill Craig would answer this. That has to do with possible worlds, and a kind of a modal logic, and middle knowledge, and how God’s desire is to maximize the number of people in heaven. It might turn out that, given all the plausible worlds that God might create, that the one that the most people would actually be in heaven, and maybe the least in hell, I don’t know, there’s a balance there of actualizing the greatest benefit, all things considered, might have required tens of thousands of years of humanity and fallenness.

Melinda: Yeah, but that’s not your view, so you answer this.

Greg: I did. I don’t know. I answered that. I said I don’t know. I’m just suggesting that some have offered another thought, another way of thinking about it, and all I could say is that I would agree with Bill in the sense that God has a morally sufficient reason for doing what he does, because he’s a good God. What Bill has done is he’s tried to cast an example of what that reason might be from a perspective of a somewhat... I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, but a creative, philosophical, theological twist. He’s trying to solve problems, and I think that’s a noble thing to do. I don’t go in that direction, but something like that is going to be the case. That is God is going to have an adequate, a morally adequate reason for making the world that he made, with all that he knew would go to hell. I don’t know what that reason is, but I’m confident that he has that.

Melinda: I think it’s related in the end to what most glorifies God. It’s not that sending people to hell glorifies God, but kind of related to the previous question, imprecatory Psalms, God’s justice, as well as his love is a good thing, an objectively good thing, and for God to be able to display those things is a good thing.

Greg: Yeah. This is where I’d go back to your comment a moment ago when you said, “Well, it’s not so much that sending people to hell is going to glorify God. I think the only justification, from God’s perspective of doing so, is that it does glorify him. It glorifies him...

Melinda: It demonstrates his justice.

Greg: It demonstrates something good about his character. It’s not like he’s this guy who always needs to be stroked, and you got to say these nice things, so he really feels stroked when he fires up hell pretty hot and throws some people in, like Jabba the Hutt. I saw that scene in the third... Was it the third... Return of the Jedi? I was on the airplane this last trip, somebody was watching it, and I saw this scene. That’s not like God. When God does justice, by punishing someone in Hell, solving in a certain sense, the problem of evil, doing something about evil when he does something about evil, that’s a good thing. The thing that he does, that is good, is he punishes evil people. Because that’s a good thing, then he is glorified. His glory is magnified by that good thing that he’s doing.

Melinda: Before we get to the last question, I want to mention we’ve got two Rethink conferences coming up this fall. Our Rethink conferences are for students and youth groups. You can find more information at rethinkapologetics.com. We also have our cruise coming up to Alaska in August whose conference Greg is teaching, Jay Warner Wallace is teaching, and John Stonestreet from the Colson Institute is teaching. You can find information on our homepage str.org.

Greg: Just in addition about the Rethink, parents are welcome, youth leaders are welcome. There are adults. It’s a youth conference, but we’ve had a lot of adults come as part of their youth group, or with their youth, or parents with their kids. We’re not carding anybody when they come in, if they’re too old.

Melinda: You don’t have to. You can tell we’re the old people. We’ve got Orange County in September. We’ve got Dallas in October, and Alabama next spring.

Greg: In 2017.

Melinda: Yes. That’s next spring. This is this spring.

Greg: Just trying to be precise.

Melinda: We’ve known each other a long time. We have these conversations over and over.

Last question, and you’ve got two minutes. Carlo3999. “What constitutes marriage in God’s eyes? An act, an agreement, or a ceremony? Or all three?”

Greg: An act, or an agreement, or a ceremony, or all three?

Melinda: Or two of the three.

Greg: Well, the simplest characterization is when Jesus said, “A man shall leave his father and...” How does he put it? Matthew 19, “A man shall...” I’ll find it.

Melinda: Leave his father and mother.

Greg: Is that was he says? “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” I think that’s the best characterization of it. That’s not a ceremony. It is a decision. What was the third one? A ceremony, a decision, and what?

Melinda: An act, an agreement, or a ceremony?

Greg: Well, I think it is both and act and agreement that is the core of it, of the kind I just described, and because it’s significant, so significant, and it is the core of our cultural heartbeat, so to speak, family, then having a celebration with the rest of the culture is understandable and fully appropriate. You can still have the marriage without the celebration. Adam and Eve didn’t have any celebration. Not that kind of celebration. Yeah, I think it’s partial. Nowadays, I’d say if people say, “We’re committed. We’re living together, but we didn’t have our celebration, and we’re not...”

Melinda: We’re married in our eyes.

Greg: Yeah, that I think is... Theoretically, it can happen, but for the most part I think that’s a lot of baloney when people do that.

Melinda: I think if we lived in a different culture, in a culture at another time where people co-habiting...

Greg: Desert island, where there’s no people...

Melinda: No, where co-habiting was taken to be a marriage, and that in itself was the agreement, and... These days, people come together, they separate. That isn’t enough. For the longevity of marriage, as difficult as marriage is, I hear from people, the community support is important.

Greg: It’s critical.

Melinda: Right. It’s supposed to be hard to get out of.

Greg: Yeah.

Melinda: In the past, maybe it didn’t take a contract and a ceremony to do that, but these days, minimally it does. Even that’s not that hard to get out of these days.

Greg: That’s right. Yeah, you want every inducement and incentive possible to stay together. When you make a public declaration before a community, and you have a community around you, that means... At least theoretically it means that that community is going to be supporting that marriage and is going to be there to prod you forward when you don’t want to go forward.

Melinda: Great. That’s our second episode this week. STRask, short answers in a short podcast. It’s possible. Greg has done it here. We post this STRask every Monday and Thursday. I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl, for Stand to Reason.