#STRask: May 11, 2017

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Published on 05/11/2017

In 4 min. or less, Greg answers questions about punishment in Hell, the role of those in need in the church, and when God talks to us.


  • Judges sentence proportionally to the offense. Why does God punish all offenders the same (i.e., in Hell)?
  • The Bible says to take care of the poor/orphans/sick, etc. I don’t think it’s directly addressed, but what is their role in the church?
  • God may not whisper, but maybe He waits until our Christian life grows before He talks to us?


Melinda: Hi there, I’m Melinda the Enforcer and I’m here with Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason.

Greg Koukl: Hi.

Melinda: We’re both from Stand to Reason. So you went out earlier this afternoon.

Greg Koukl: That’s true.

Melinda: And you got a fidget thing for Eva?

Greg Koukl: I did. Well I was given these fidget widget things, spinning whatevers. I had never heard of them before, but Anthony in New York gave me two of them for my kids. Now he gave me two of the same color so they wouldn’t fight over the colors.

Melinda: Oh, sisters always find a way to fight.

Greg Koukl: Yeah but see now they can’t distinguish them and actually...So they wanted a way to distinguish them. Eva didn’t like the yellow. She said, “Can you get me a blue one?” Now she was not, did not, lack gratitude, in fact, but she was just asking for a different color.

Melinda: They’re both really happy.

Greg Koukl: Unbelievable. I had never heard of these things before and then Anthony says, “I got these for your daughters.” And I said, “Great ’cause I’m always looking for something to bring back for them. What are they? What’s that? I don’t know. A widget...What is it? A fidget spinner? All right. Whatever.” And so I brought it back and I saw them the night I got back and I said, “Oh, I got something for ya, and I don’t know if you’re going to like this. I don’t even know if you’d know what these things are, because I’ve never heard of them.” And I said, “Do you know what a fidget spinner is?” And they both came right off the floor. They were so excited to get this fidget spinner. So it, to me, it’s just another big time waster, but they’ll get tired of it soon enough. I hope. But it was nice to see how excited that they got over this little thing. And my thanks to Anthony. My kids really loved it, and I did get a replacement color for my one daughter.

Melinda: So now you have one for yourself. You were demonstrating it for us.

Greg Koukl: Yeah it’s not for me. She’s going to give it to her friend.

Melinda: I know you often try to find a little something to bring home from trips and it reminds me in the early seasons of the Dick van Dyke show. Whenever Rob Petrie came home from work, he would try to bring his son a little something. So Richie would come running out and say, “What do you have for me?” And he’d check his pockets and stuff. And so one day Rob forgot and he goes, “Oh, I’ve got this paperclip.” And little Richie goes, “Yay!” And runs off. He was just happy...

Greg Koukl: Kids are pretty easy...

Melinda: Dad just thought of him during the day, that’s what it was.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. Right. That’s the way they are, and I just...The thing is, I want to get something small that’s not gonna clutter up stuff, something I can put in my bag. This was perfect.

Melinda: Well you go on enough trips, you don’t want to bring them back major gifts all the time.

Greg Koukl: Break the bank.

Melinda: Right. So we find your questions on Twitter when you use #STRask. We put Greg on a timer. He’s got four minutes or less. And here we go.

First question comes from Barry Wallace. Judges sentence proportionately to the offense. Why does God punish all offenders the same in Hell?

Greg Koukl: Oh, well that’s a misunderstanding. He doesn’t punish all offenders the same. Jesus makes it clear that there are greater provisions of the law and lesser provisions. This is in Matthew 25. He says you tithe mint, dill, and cumin. In other words, you are following the law so perfectly to tithe even on your spices, so you’re really persnickety about that, but you ignore the weight to your provisions of the law, justice, and mercy, that kind of thing. And then when he is in his trial, he says to Pilate, the person who delivers me over to you has the greater sin. Which might be the High Priest, it might be Judas, but the point here is that there is a different levels of sin. We see Jesus speaking in Capernaum and he is rejected largely there and he shakes the dust off his feet basically, and says that Sodom and Gomorrah will fare better in the day of Judgment than will Capernaum. I think he had a couple of cities in mind. The point of it is there are different levels of crime, and therefore there are different levels of punishment.

I mean for a very crude analogy, you can have some people in prison for five years and one is in kind of a group thing and it is fairly open and there’s a lot of latitude, and others in solitary confinement. The period of time is the same, the duration is the same, but the intensity of the punishment is not because the crimes are different. This is the way we have it with eternal punishment. You have the duration is the same, but the amount of punishment, the intensity is not the same. That’s the way I would characterize it.

Melinda: Some people object to the idea of Hell being eternal because they say that’s not just to punish finite sins in an infinite time.

Greg Koukl: Well, I guess some would have to do a better job explaining that to me than just contrasting the finite and the infinite or the everlasting actually. You just always have an age no matter how long you live, even if you live forever and ever you always...But the point is, they’re put away forever and ever and the crime is done in time. Well the punishment is in time too, in my view. We talk about eternity as if we’re moving into a different quality of existence.

Melinda: Right, but there’s no end to the punishment.

Greg Koukl: But there’s no end to the punishment, so the question then becomes, is the duration of the punishment meant to be proportional with the amount of time it took to commit the crime. And this, I think, is a false comparison. It takes just a second to shoot somebody, but appropriately at least, life imprisonment that people can experience for a murder. So even though it takes just a second to commit the crime, you are punished for a longer duration. So, the question then becomes, what is the appropriate amount of punishment for someone who rebels against his sovereign, the Sovereign of the Universe? Well, the proper punishment is banishment forever from the presence of the sovereign. No, in this case, because we were made to be in friendship with the sovereign and we are banished from the presence of the only one that can give us satisfaction, happiness, and richness in the long run, then that will be ruined for our purpose and that will be torment. I think that’s the way it works. The banishment is complete, and that’s an eternal torment for those who are thus punished.

Melinda: And it’s common in our laws even that the punishment is, at least to some extent, deemed according to who the crime was against.

Greg Koukl: Right. That’s key.

If what you might do towards one person is considered a more egregious crime if you do it towards another person. Like if you slap a person that’s kind of assault. If you slap a police officer, that’s worse. If you slap the President, that’s even worse. It’s the same action, but because a different type of individual, in a sense, the office is different, it’s a greater crime. I think that’s a common sense notion. So then the question is, what is the nature of the crime when we offend the Sovereign of the Universe. And this is something that I did not think we are in an adequate position to assess. We can’t assess how bad that is. Only God can assess how bad that is. He has the resources to do that assessment accurately. We don’t.

Melinda: Okay. Next question. The Bible says, take care of the poor, orphans, and sick. I don’t think it’s directly addressed, but what is their role in the Church?

Greg Koukl: The role of orphans and the sick?

Melinda: Mm-hmm. And the poor.

Greg Koukl: Well, what we have to do is go back to those specific passages. It actually says different things in different circumstances. There is a general concern for the poor, and we see that with Jesus’ comments, and we see that in the early church. But one thing that’s missed, is the first poor in line are poor Christians.

Melinda: Poor at caring for those in the Church.

Greg Koukl: Yes. That’s the first in line. Because there’s a family responsibility first.

Melinda: Yeah, Paul talks about family members taking care of their own, also, before they’d expect the church to.

Greg Koukl: So there is a biological family obligation, but then there’s a spiritual family obligation. And, there’s a statement in James where he says something about widows visit those who are in prison, or something, as if you are in prison with them because they also are in the body. So he’s not just talking about prison ministry there. He’s talking about visiting and caring for the Christians who are in prison. Probably those who are in prison for the wrong reason, for an unjust reason. So, a lot of times these are directives that have to do with the family and the body of Christ. In this conversation with Larry Hertado, that I had earlier today about his book, Destroyer of the God’s in the Early Church. He said that the biblical injunction is principally the New Testament junction about love, is to love other members of the Church, other brothers and sisters, you know other Christians by your love kind of thing. A very modest injunction is to love God. In the ancient world, the idea that God loved people was unheard of, and Christianity introduced that as a very unique kind of feature of their religion.

Melinda: Well you talked about too, Christianity wasn’t a religion per say because they didn’t have the formality that...The structures and organization that goes along with it. Kind of what really distinguished Christians was how they behaved towards God, and towards one another, and love for one another.

Greg Koukl: That’s right. That’s right. They had a questionable status as a religion because they didn’t have sacrifices, and temples, and priests and all of those things normally associated with what’s called the cult of religion. These are the activities of the religious community. Rather, they were just people that were in relationship with each other and community. The Ecclesia, the called out ones, Greek word translated Church. They were characterized by their ethical behavior, and their rigid adherence to bending the knee to Jesus alone, and not to any pagan deities of any kind in any way. And this of course made them personas non grata in that culture. The point I was making though, is that the emphasis on love there, the emphasis on love is in the New Testament, is loving the brethren, on not loving human kind.

Melinda: Well, even in the Old Testament, the prophets frequently talk about caring for the poor. And in the same way are the poor in either of those in Israel?

Greg Koukl: Well I couldn’t speak to the Old Testament model, but I mean in the Old Testament times, it was a mixture of things. I mean the Old Testament law had provisions for releasing people from their debts every year, seven years, which is the year of Jubilee. So this is built into the law, a certain kind of care for those who are poverty stricken and up to their neck in debt.

There was also, the foreigner was supposed to be treated with deference and not abused. I think that the emphasis on the poor in the New Testament that people make nowadays, is not consistent with the biblical emphasis. I went through all of the Gospels and looked up all these references to the poor and it turns out that very little is said actually, in fact, about caring for the poor. In the Gospel of John, there’s not a single word. Not a single word. In the Four Discourses of Jesus, you’ve got the Olivet Discourse, the Bread of Life Discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Upper Room Discourse. Only the Sermon on the Mount makes any reference to the poor. And in those cases, it seems like the poor is being used as an example to make another point. There are poor in spirit, yes, poor financially, that’s another thing entirely.

Melinda: But, some of the things that are said are pretty significant, like Jesus saying when you cared for these, you cared for me and when you didn’t care for the least of these, you didn’t care for me.

Greg Koukl: Yes it is, but he says the least of these my brethren. That’s important though, because there I think we’re back to an in-house situation...

Melinda: I’m not disagreeing with that. I’m just saying that even though the comments about caring for the poor within the Church may not be frequent, they’re still pretty significant when they are mentioned.

Greg Koukl: Well I think that’s an example of caring for the poor within the Christian community, or the Jews, so that is more. I was talking about the references to the poor at large. Some people make a big deal about that. What if we really acted on what Jesus said to do? When it turns out there was almost very little. I see this as a distortion of the true message of Jesus, what Jesus came to do, and this is why I speak about these things. I want to put...I don’t want the tail wagging the dog.

Melinda: Right. My concern is sometimes when you make this point, which I think is a valid point, it sounds like you’re saying caring for the poor isn’t that important. When that’s not really your point. You’re just speaking against a certain way of using the New Testament.

Greg Koukl: The Gospels are not about what Christians do, but what Jesus does. That’s what they’re about. The point of the Gospels is to tell us about what Jesus did. And not to...Jesus did on our behalf and not to lecture us, or teach us about let’s all get along, love, peace, and restore social justice. That’s the concern that I’m after. The focus of the centrality. What is the central message?

Melinda: Yeah, but as you were saying earlier. Caring for the poor among us is an important thing. It was a distinctive in the early Church. And by the way, we’re going to post that interview with Larry Hertado the week of June 20th. When you won’t be here. Amy and I will do one hour and then we’ll post that interview in June.

Greg Koukl: That’s coming up. Watch for it. It’s good.

Melinda: One minute on this one because you can do this one. Comes from gtreeves17. God may not whisper, but maybe he waits until our Christian life grows before he talks to us. Maybe this is what they mean? About God talking to us?

Greg Koukl: Well I’m not sure who they are in this particular point.

Melinda: Those who say God talks to us.

Greg Koukl: Well I just see no biblical reason to expect that God has a desire to have a conversational relationship with every believer. It’s not there. Revelation, God speaking directly to people and giving them propositional information, is a unique characteristic of certain people in the history of the Church and certainly in Scripture. But this emphasis nowadays that everyone can hear from God is simply not biblical. I actually think it’s deeply damaging to the welfare of the Church. All kinds of mischief gets justified by that. If it’s not biblical, that is, if the Bible doesn’t teach that kind of thing, than we shouldn’t be teaching that kind of thing either as a Christian practicer.

Melinda: So what you see in Scripture doesn’t even teach that model, period. It doesn’t just teach it when you get old enough to recognize it.

Greg Koukl: No, you’re exactly right. It’s not there at all. It’s not a matter of when you get really spiritually mature, then you develop this sixth sense of sorts that allows you to hear God’s voice. It’s just not there in that way. Rather understanding Scripture, and growing in virtue, and wisdom, all of those things are there, obviously.

Melinda: Okay. Before we...I just wanted to mention about some speaking events coming up in June 17th, Greg is going to be teaching at the Reveal Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. You can check our website for that. In May, Alan is going to be teaching at the Biola Conference in Eugene, Oregon. Brett is going to be teaching at South Shores Church in Dana Point, two times. Tim is going to be teaching at Central Baptist Church in Victoria, British Colombia up in Canada. So lucky he gets to go to Victoria.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. Don’t I have an even with Biola up in Portland? I guess, in the fall.

Melinda: That’s in the fall. Just doing things that are closer. You’re taking a bunch of vacation time, so you know. Yep. You can find Greg’s schedule and other details about this at I’m Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl for Stand to Reason.