The doctrine of hell is disturbing. The very idea of suffering and separation beyond the grave elicits a wide range of responses, from anguish to anger.
The possibility of departed loved ones languishing in outer darkness only adds to the grief of those laying flowers on their graves.
Some atheists cite hell as a reason to deny the existence of a loving God.
What’s more, Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering in hell so repugnant that he rejected it in favor of annihilationism.
According to a 2014 survey by LifeWay Research, fewer Mainline Protestants believe in hell than do Americans in general (55 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
And for many evangelicals, hell remains an inconvenient truth.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a disturbing take on the apostle Paul’s description of Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation.”
Consider how the Watch Tower renders Col. 1:15-17 in its New World Translation: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist …”
Note the unjustified insertion of the word “other” before “things” four times in the NWT.
The Watch Tower’s official website explains: “Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son — and for good reason. He is called ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ for he was God’s first creation. There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the ‘only-begotten Son.’ This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things.”
To summarize, JWs believe Jesus is the first created being, known as Michael the archangel, who is sent to earth temporarily as a man, then recreated as an exalted angel after his death on a torture stake and subsequent annihilation as a human being.
But is this the proper way to understand Paul’s meaning of firstborn?
In a word, no.
The mass shooting earlier this month at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Texas left 26 people dead, made a hero of a civilian who confronted and shot the murderer, and raised lots of security-related questions for Christians:
- Should I buy a gun?
- Does my church have a security plan?
- Is it ok to defend myself, or my church family, when threatened?
- How do I reconcile Jesus’ instructions to buy swords with His rebuke of Peter for using one?
- What would Jesus have done in Sutherland Spring?
The answers to at least some of these questions are matters of Christian conscience over which followers of Jesus sincerely disagree. Others concern proper exegesis of Scripture, or simply create fodder for social media.
So, perhaps we should ask: Does the Bible say anything about self-defense?
The answer is yes.
In The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins vents:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
It seems odd that Dawkins, who has made a career out of pillorying a God he says does not exist, charges this fictional character with a plethora of crimes, including ethnic cleansing.
But the question itself is a valid one. When God instructs the Israelites to annihilate seven nations inhabiting the Promised Land to make room for His chosen people, He uses unambiguous terms.
In passages like Deut. 7:1-2 and 20:16-17, God tells the Israelites: “you must completely destroy them … you must not let any living thing survive.”
And the biblical narrative suggests the commands are taken quite literally: “They [the Israelites] completely destroyed everything in the city [Jericho] with the sword — every man and woman, both young and old, and every ox, sheep and donkey” (Josh. 6:21).
Does Dawkins have a point?
November 5 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. North Korea continues its run as the nation most brutal toward its Christian citizens, but the vast majority of the top 50 persecutors are Muslim-dominated nations, according to the 2017 World Watch List.
Which begs the question: Is Islam hostile to Christianity?
Many Muslims worldwide condemn the violence done in the name of Allah, especially to Jews and Christians. They desire peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. Further, they cite passages from the Qur’an that support freedom of religion, and they embrace Jews and Christians as “people of the Book.”
Other Muslims, of course, follow a more violent path to achieve the goal of Islam: Bringing the world into submission to Allah.
All Muslims, however, honor Muhammad as the al-Insan al-Kamil, or “the person who has reached perfection.” Further, they seek to pattern their lives after him based on his words and deeds as revealed in the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira.
So, it’s only fair to explore what Muhammad said about Jews and Christians, and how he treated them. After all, if he is indeed the ultimate role model, his life should exemplify how every Muslim thinks and acts toward others.