Death of A Missionary

EDITED – If you are interested in helping this family, a GoFundMe account has been set up. Click HERE.

When we departed for Liberia, West Africa in 2012, we had an understanding of the risks. Our family was moving to an area that was 3-hour drive from any other missionaries. We would be living in an old mission house that sat on a hill that was considered to the “Devil’s Hill” due to wicked practices that took place before the first missionaries arrived. Nobody else would live on the hill and many of the villagers would avoid it, especially at night.

To make matters worse, we lived in the heart of what had been rebel-held territory during a very brutal 14-year civil war. The war claimed the lives of approximately 10% of the population of Liberia. The ramifications of that war, which ended around 2004, are still being felt today. Violence and vulgarity were constant reminders of what surrounded us, and ex-rebel soldiers surrounded us on every trip into town.

Our plan involved spending 4-5 years in the jungle training pastors and starting churches. However, that was cut short when one of my 6 year old daughters and I became deathly ill. There were nights that we thought she would not make it until morning and times like that really make you consider your priorities. A few days later, I spent my first night in a mission clinic being tended to in highly unsanitary conditions. As my fever and delirium grew, I would learn later that another pastor had entered the clinic the same day with the same symptoms. Three days later his wife and family buried him.

Less than three months later, I was diagnosed a second time with a completely different strain of both typhoid and malaria. Much of the time is but a dark cloud over my mind, but I remember the times of pain. The chief physician at the Firestone Plantation hospital informed me that my immune system was shot and I needed to get out of the country. If I did not, my next time would probably be my last.

Heartbroken, we began to make the arrangements to return to the USA. I was leaving behind what I loved, but I still could not help but wonder why I had lived when others had died.

The following year, a severe epidemic of Ebola broke out in the area of villages where we lived and thousands died. During that epidemic, I lost some pastor friends and their wives to the disease.

Since then, I continue to keep my finger on the pulse of the missions world, and the news that I read yesterday brought some painful memories to my mind.

The day started with an email from one of the brothers I trained in Liberia. We had been praying for God’s will to be done in regards to the health of Pastor Harrison Margai. He was the pastor of a brand new church that had been planted in an unreached village. The email informed me that this man had closed his eyes in death and left a wife and children.

Later that day, I read the news of what took place with another missionary in Cameroon, West Africa.

Charles Wesco, a Baptist missionary from Indiana, had surrendered his life to serve the Lord. In particular, he and his wife believed they had been called to minister in the country of Cameroon. After raising funds, they departed just over 2 weeks ago and began the process of settling into their new home with their eight young children.

Yesterday, another missionary was taking this man into town for some supplies. A situation erupted between a separatist faction and Cameroonian soldiers. In the crossfire, a “stray” bullet crashed through a car window and entered the head of Charles Wesco.

In a matter of minutes, this man who loved the Lord went out into eternity. Immediately, the news erupted along with the comments. I read several that were hateful, but some extended sympathy. I finally had to stop as the comments began to infuriate me.

The bottom line is not that this man gave his life needlessly. The bottom line is that God is and always will be sovereign. For reasons that may never be understood, this brother in Christ never planted a church, nor saw a Bible Training institute started in Cameroon. This family is devastated as they face a new life. Soon, they will return back to the US and will try to pick up the pieces. Questions will be asked, and many will never be answered.

Today, many hearts are breaking and while I have connections with others who knew this family, I did not ever have the privilege of meeting them myself. However, I know that one day I will, but before that day comes, this brother has already gone to his reward. He was welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We could ask, why, why, why, but it would do no good. There is nothing wrong with seeking the face of God and asking Him for understanding. Where we tend to go wrong though is when we want to question His sovereign purposes. We cannot find fault with the Almighty, but we can learn to trust in His grace and mercy.

In a village close to where we lived in England, there is a cemetery. In the cemetery, a tombstone tells the brief story of a young pastor who lost his infant son and his wife. In the tragedy, this man had inscribed the following words on the tombstone.

“We cannot Lord, Thy purpose see,
But all is well, that’s done by Thee.”

Through what is a tragedy to human eyes, we pray for strength and extreme comfort to be provided to this dear sister, their eight young children, and extended family, friends, and church members.

For those who know the Lord, the Bible is clear that when we become absent from this body, we are forever present with the Lord. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them to not only find comfort in these thoughts, but to comfort others as well.

May His will be done and may all find peace through this time of turmoil. Our prayers also go out for the people of Cameroon that they will one day learn of the Prince of Peace, who alone brings salvation.

The Death of Mr. Hof

Dennis Hof is dead. Many people do not know the man, but his life of vulgarity and degradation have destroyed many homes for many years. You see, Dennis Hof ran several houses of prostitution in the state of Nevada. One of the many stunts that the man offered was for veterans returning from war to give him a call. He would extend the red carpet to anybody who wanted to come to one of his businesses and treat them royalty.

In this life, we never know whose life we will touch and almost seven years to the month, this man and I met in September 2011. I was a funeral director working in Carson City, Nevada. I also served as the chaplain for anybody who did not have a minister.

One day, we received a call to collect the remains of a man who had worked on the staff of one of Mr. Hof’s houses of prostitution. The wife came to the funeral home to make the arrangements. In the process, she asked if I knew somebody who could preach the man’s funeral and I told her that I would be willing to do so.

She asked what kind of message I would preach and how I conducted funerals. I told her that I pulled no punches. I said, “Ma’am, I am a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ first. Second, I will not allow anybody to dictate to me what I should or should not preach, even at a funeral. Third, I do not preach anybody into heaven or hell for I do not the condition of their heart. However, I will preach the truth and I always give a gospel message.”

We completed the arrangements and she stood to leave. I could tell something was bothering her and asked if there was anything else I could do.Before she left, she turned to me and said, “I am so glad I came here. There are not many who would be willing to preach my husband’s funeral, and if they would be willing, then they would not preach the truth.”

I thanked her for her time and she left the building. In just a minute though, she came back in.

“Mark, there is something else you need to know. I do not know all that my husband did at Mr. Hof’s business, but you need to know that he and several of his ladies will be at the funeral.”

At the time, I had no clue who Mr. Hof was and it did not matter to me whether he was connected to the prostitution business or not. I told this man’s wife that I would still teach the truth. She thanked me and then left. I would not see her before the funeral.

The owner of the funeral home received a few phone calls and a couple of individuals who came to inform the staff that “Mr. Dennis Hof will be attending the funeral.” The police even came to ensure us that they would be providing additional security.

The day of the funeral arrived and the funeral home chapel was packed. There were people lining every aisle and even into the side rooms listening in. The only exception to the seats being full were six or seven seats across one side at the very front and two very imposing men stood with very dark sunglasses keeping people from taking the seats.

A few minutes after the funeral was supposed to start, I had still not been given the ok to start and the front seats were still empty. A ripple of words began to filter through the assembled crowds and somebody whispered to the man’s wife. She stood and walked up to me. Leaning down she whispered, “Mr. Hof has arrived.”

I nodded that I understood and waited. In a couple of minutes, the main doors opened and 4 or 5 women dressed extremely provacatively pranced down the center of the chapel and found their seats. They were followed by a woman dressed all in black and a large man that I knew must be Mr. Hof. Coming down the center aisle, he stopped to greet several people, shook several hands, and finally took a seat right on the front row.

Looking over at me, he said, “Hey preacher-man, you can get started now.”

Several people chuckled and I knew that the service was not going to get any easier. A tradition in Nevada that is not found everywhere is allowing people to stand and offer their condolences or to share an anecdote of the person’s life. This was scheduled to take place at the very end of the service.

Praying for wisdom, I started the service. The family had selected some songs and one of the man’s daughters read a brief eulogy. When I stood to deliver the message, I knew that what I had to say needed to be said last, so I asked for friends and family to share any thoughts.

Several things that were shared are not printable and perfectly described the debauched life that the deceased must have lived. The brothel madam (Mr. Hof’s other half) stood and gave a raunchy anecdote about the man and then Mr. Hof stood to speak. He wasted no time trying to make everybody laugh and more than a few grew extremely embarrassed at what was shared.

He finally wound down and looked at me with a smirk. “I guess it is time to hear the preacher-man with the few minutes we have left.” Sitting down, he crossed his arms and stared at me.

Standing to my feet, I began.

“Thank you for your attendance today and despite the length of time that has been taken, the wife of the deceased asked me to preach a message. I will share this in its entirety.”

If looks could kill, the entire front row would have been in attendance at a second funeral.

“The Bible tells us clearly in Hebrews 9 that once a person passes away, there is a judgment which will follow.”

Over the next 30 minutes, I followed the pattern of the apostle Paul in preaching to Agrippa in the Book of Acts. God gave me the strength to preach sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.

On the front row and possibly for the first and only time in his life, Mr. Hof and his ladies heard the truth. They heard that judgment was real and that everyone will face it at the moment of death. However, they also heard that God is merciful to those who call upon Him and repent and turn away from their sins. As I closed, I appealed to each person who was in attendance.

I looked each one of those women and Mr. Hof in the eyes as I scanned the room. In my concluding remarks, I told them that I stood ready to answer any questions they may have, but that they could not walk away and think they could make a mockery of God because ONLY the fool says in his or her heart that there is no God.

As I did in every funeral I preached (a total of 271 over 8 years), I said something like this.

“I do not know where the deceased stood before God. However, if they could return for just one more minute of life, they would implore you to make things right with God. They would tell you that heaven and hell are real. They would tell you to not put off the reality of eternity for all of us will face it the moment we cross from death into the life after.”

Mr. Hof was furious and I honestly wondered if he was going to say anything else or come to the front and accost me in some way.

I gave a final prayer and dismissed everybody. Most ignored me on the way out including most of the women from Mr. Hof’s ranch. However, one of the women stopped as if she was going to say something. Her face was a wreck from tears that ran freely down her face. She turned to walk away as Mr. Hof walked up behind her.

“Ma’am, is there anything I can do for you?”

She turned back and said with sobs, “I heard you speak the truth today, but I am not sure that I can change now. Please pray for me!”

I put out my hand and shook Mr. Hof’s hand. I told him that I would be praying that he would know the truth that I preached. He only glared at me and didn’t say another word to me. He turned on his heel and left just as the wife of the deceased walked up to me and gave me a hug.

“I know Mr. Hof is very angry right now, but I want to tell you that I am so glad you were the one preaching. Thank you for sharing the gospel. My husband was not a believer and things were not good for us the last few years after he took the job. However, I can say that all of these people needed to hear what you said.”

I told her again that I would be praying for them and with that everybody was gone. I have never forgotten the events of that day, nor have I forgotten each person that I personally interacted with that day. A man had gone into eternity and I had been granted the privilege of preaching as a dying man to dying men.

From all the news reports today, Mr. Hof died in the midst of enjoying his sin and his debauched life. Now, he faces the God of all creation and I could not help but wonder if he has ever remembered the words that I preached that day back in 2011.

Sin brings judgment and now he faces judgment alone without any of the women he sought to keep entrapped in a life of destruction. I do not rejoice in the death of this man, but pity those he left behind. I have sorrow for those he has destroyed.

Tomorrow, his family and friends will be making final arrangements for the earthly remains of Mr. Dennis Hof, but eternity has already started for his man.

Here now the Word of the Lord God –

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” – Ezekiel 18:32

This is still the only message to be preached to unbelievers. TURN AND LIVE!

The Winter of Death

Yesterday, I was able to enjoy probably the last of the nice weather we will have in Wyoming until Spring 2019. Today, the temperature is 39F and the weather forecast is snow sometime over the weekend. That is part of the territory though when you live at an altitude of over 6,000 feet.

I spent about an hour riding through town on my bicycle getting some exercise. On my trip, I took a different route than normal. Stopping for a quick break, I waited for one of my sons to join me from a different area of town.

Without taking time to think about it, I had stopped directly outside a funeral home. While sitting on my bike, I contemplated my time as a funeral director and all that work entailed. I enjoyed my time serving families, but there were also difficult times.

A common thread for each family was the comment, “They died way too early.” Sadly, this did come from families mourning the loss of a baby or a child, but was heard equally from families who were burying a relative who had lived to see 80, 90, or even 100 years of age.

Leaving the funeral home, I swung through a neighborhood and rode right past the city cemetery. I was riding slow enough that I was able to read several of the tombstones. Each was inscribed with words of love and sorrow, and every single grave told its own story.

Both the funeral home and the massive cemetery were a stark reminder that death is coming. The Bible reminds us in Hebrews 9:27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Whether we choose to face the reality of death or we try to avoid every aspect of death, we can no more avoid death than you can avoid the coming of winter.

For the believer though, there should be no fear. Some fear death like they fear the coming of winter. They may fear the dreaded cold, or having to deal with snow, or a host of other concerns.

When our soul leaves our body, we will immediately be with the Lord. To be absent from the body is not a drudge, but is a promotion to heaven. Leaving these worn-out shells behind will be just one aspect of the glory that awaits, but more importantly, we will also leave behind pain, sin, tears, and the sting of death.

Jesus Christ reminds us in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Then the apostle Paul concludes in Phil 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”

Look up, dear friends, for our redemption draws nigh. We need not fear the winter of death for death and the grave has been swallowed up because of the victory found in Jesus Christ alone.

The Wonder of the Mirror

mirror

Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes, appearances can be very deceiving. That was true the day the knock came on the mirror and the horror that came with realizing that somebody would have to answer.

The preceding days held nothing ominous. If there had been an inkling of an idea that something was amiss, then I would have done everything in my power to prevent things from happening. But then again, in hindsight, I am not sure that I would. Changing the inevitable does not always bring a modicum of joy or happiness. Getting our way would actually be a miserable existence.

The actual morning dawned. As usual, it was beautiful. The sun rose around the world, but by nightfall things would be very different. The problem was that I knew about the mirror but I was too young and naïve to think that it could ever affect me.

Preparing for work, I began to feel some odd twinges, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Opening the door, I said goodbye to the family but was stopped when the phone rang. It was not unexpected and I was in no hurry, so I answered. In my mind, I think I knew before I responded, but the mirror glared back at me. I dropped my gaze first as I listened to the voice on the other end.

“Hello, I need you to meet me at the hospital. There is nothing to worry about, but I would be quick just in case.”

To this day, I cannot remember whether I responded in a courteous fashion or not. The caller informed me though that they would be there waiting for me. What I can recall is exceeding the speed limit on several major roads. A trip that should have taken about 15 minutes, I made in less than 10 with change to spare.

Only one ambulance was in the bay as I ran through the doors marked EMERGENCY. All decorum was absent as I blindly stumbled to the nurse’s station. As I approached the desk, one of my senses did not fail me. My hearing has always been excellent and today was no exception.

I introduced myself to the nurses and I noticed them looking oddly at each other when I gave my name. One of them stood to her feet and asked me to come and wait for the doctor to finish. As soon as he was free, he would come and let me know what was happening. Sitting down in the waiting room, nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for the mirrored glass that covered almost one entire wall.

After what seemed like an eternity, I grew impatient. Standing to my feet, I opened the door of the waiting room and went back to the nurses’ station.

“Hi, I am sure the doctor is busy, but I would really like some information. May I just go back to the examination room?”

“Sir, we just got word from the doctor and he said he should be up to speak with you in just a matter of minutes. Please wait for him in the room.”

Walking slowly back to the room, I opened the door and stepped in. Closing it back behind me, something back to nag at me as I stared at my dim reflection in the mirrored glass.

When time stands still, it is impossible to give an accurate description of a timeline. In my case, the next few minutes took another eternity while I pondered my location. As soon as my mind went through a myriad of possible computations, I came to a stark conclusion.

First, there was nobody in the room with me. There were always people in the Emergency Room. Not but a couple of weeks before, I had brought one of my children to the same hospital because they had fallen out of bed and split their head open requiring stitches.

Second, this waiting room had a door on it and while I had seen several people walk by who were not staff members, nobody had entered my waiting room.

Third, just as my brain realized that I was clearly in the wrong room, the doctor entered with another individual by his side. It was an older woman and she did not have a lab coat on. In fact, the only thing that I could focus on was the lapels of her jacket. Both lapels held a small, almost inconspicuous piece of jewelry that had been fashioned in the shape of a cross.

The doctor sat down at my left hand and the woman with the emblem on her lapels sat immediately to my right. Neither of them sat back in leisure, but were on the edge of their seats looking at me.

The room began to spin and I realized that my heart was not prepared for what the doctor began to say.

“Sir, I am sorry, but there was nothing we could do! We tried everything, but your brother is gone!”

That beautiful morning turned black. I knew that a knock from the other side of eternity had taken my brother from what C.S. Lewis called the Shadowlands of earth into the brightness of heaven where there is no night, no tears, and no death.

Each taking a hand, they walked me back to the exam room. My heart still aches as I remember looking down on the still face of my 22 year old brother, John. The pictures will always be in my mind of that day along with the torture of the funeral preparations. He was my best friend. No friends, no co-workers, and no family had yet joined me, and I felt more alone than I have done at just about any other point in my life.

Unbeknownst to us, he had developed a virus in his heart. Less than a year after getting out of the military with a clean bill of health, his heart had simply exploded. We later learned the EMTs were already in the building just about six or seven steps away. Ironically, they had taken over helping a lady who was having an angina attack.

The only first aid certified individual in her office had been my brother. Giving the care over to the EMT staff, he had turned and walked over to his desk, sat down, and fallen over dead.

Somehow, I managed to go back to my home. It was my responsibility to bear the brunt of the emotions as I called my parents who lived overseas. I called my brothers and sisters and informed them in different parts of the country, but nothing would change the fact that eternity had come calling for my brother, and he had answered.

I would have to say that I would not want him to have to come back to this world of misery and woe. The land where he lives is a land beyond compare and he did not have to grow old while dealing with sickness and pain. As I look from this side of the mirror, I realize that there are shadows on the other side. At my age, they are growing closer now than they were 23 years ago when my brother was called.

Sadly, we can only see glimpses every now and then of the joys that lie beyond this mortal pale. One day, we too will hear a clear, distinct knock. However, when the knock comes for us, it will actually open and the door will be a welcome intrusion. For those we leave behind, they will mourn, but one day, they will be able to join us on the other side. We will see clearly and realize that our journey was designed to take us from the shadows into the most incredible clarity that we cannot currently imagine.

The thought of seeing what is on the other side is not as scary as it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. There are times the unknown reflects back to us in ways we cannot comprehend. We know there is something there, but all we see is our own reflection. For now I must go, but I am trying to prepare harder for the knock on the mirror. Whether I like it or not, it is coming. I will be ready.

1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…”(ESV)

Thoughts on Fear

I’ve been pondering lately what makes people afraid. To fear is to not trust God but the average person would not give that as a reason for their fears. I know, in my life, my biggest fears have been due to thinking God would not intervene in a bad situation. The bottom line was that I wanted what I wanted and I did not want to accept the fact that God may not give me what I wanted. (How selfish is that!)

In talking with a friend recently, I realized that fear in some people may have to do with knowing that one is not right with God. Maybe they fear God will do bad things to them because of how they are living, or maybe they’re afraid of dying because they know that they are not ready to meet Him.

trustinggod

If this is the root of your fear, it is not too late to repent of your sins and ask God’s forgiveness. God did not give you that spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). He desires for you to walk in faith and victory, completely trusting Him in everything! This is not impossible.

When one knows that there is nothing hidden in their life that is displeasing to the Lord, he or she can lay down that fear and walk in complete trust, knowing that God will take care of them. Sure, disappointments will still come. We will still face financial stress, sickness, death, and a myriad of other things but we will also be able to say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him” (Job 13:15).

I am praying for strength to trust Him more than ever this year. This past few years, I’ve dealt with more fears than I remember dealing with previously, but I know in reality that nothing can happen to me that my God doesn’t allow. I am continuing to learn to rest in that. I pray that you are too.

Growing Old With Grace

When I was young, old age never bothered me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to even remember a time when I wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to grow old. It was other people that grew old – like grandparents. However, it is amazing what almost five decades will do to one’s perspective.

Yesterday, I was reminded again of the passing of years as someone I really did not know passed away and went to be with the Lord they loved. This individual was quite elderly and known to others I love. This brother in Christ had spent years sharing and teaching the Word of God. Despite being racked at times with pain, the main diseases that was eating him away was not what ultimately took him from this life of toil and pain. He closed his eyes in sleep as his heart gave out and woke up in a place where he would never sleep or be in pain again.

When I heard the news, I was reminded again that time is creeping up on us and flies back so quickly. James put it so succinctly when he said in James 4:14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

vapor

As I write this, it is a special day for another reason. Forty-four years ago today, in the cold, wind-swept, bone-chilling landscape of the country of Iceland, a healthy young boy was born. Almost from the first day my brother was brought home from the hospital, he was happy. He was the life of the party and often the clown. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but John David made the most of whatever oppositions got in his way.

In late 1995, John had just left the USAF with an honorable discharge and was making a home for himself in North Carolina. He had found a body of believers that he dearly loved and he had spent time with the men on a retreat where his heart was stirred to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, all of that changed when he went to work one cold November morning. I received a call that I should meet at the hospital. Arriving, I found out that my brother, who was less than 5 years younger than me had passed away at the young age of 22. He had acquired an infection in his heart and when his heart exploded, he was gone before he hit the floor.

That was 21 years ago. There are still times the pain and loneliness of not hearing his voice or the endless jokes is emotionally difficult. Even back then, we spoke of him lovingly at the funeral and afterwards, but old age was still a long ways off. I didn’t really dwell on the reality that it was still going to come for all who are left to face the world.

Far from this maddening world, my brother no longer has to walk the dark paths of these Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called them. John’s path led him to a promotion that is far better than anything he could have experienced in this life. In fact, the moment he crossed from death into life, the joys he would have known would have been crowned by meeting the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. That is not something that any true believer would want to take away from another believer. Yes, we miss those who have gone before us, and we can hope that others will miss us when it comes time for us to depart this life.

However, until it is time for us to close our eyes to sin, death, and the grave, we must focus on living our lives in such a way that we will hear, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of the Lord!” We have no reason to fear the door of death. For the believer, the door is only the opening to the wonders of what eternity holds and the half can never be told this side of heaven.

To me, this world is not really my home. I grow tired of the pain and the struggles that assail the flesh and the heart. If I should be left another 10, 20, or 30 years, I struggle to accept that more illnesses and heartache may well be my lot in life as it has been for much of my life.

inheaven

Each year that passes, I strangely find that growing old is something that did not really sneak up on me. Each year was filled with memories that resonate in my mind and heart. Each memory, whether good or bad or indifferent or sad or happy, was created as I lived the path that God had ordained for me to walk. One day, those memories may be forgotten as I get even older, but it will not diminish what I have been allowed to do by a gracious God who has been more merciful and gracious to me than I have or will ever deserve.

We live from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, and year to year. The time is precious and should be spent without regrets before the Lord. I do not fear the age I have become, but I welcome it because it puts me closer to the day when I will see the saints who have gone before me. I will see my grandparents, my brother, and friends who loved the Lord as well.

Growing older does have both advantages and disadvantages, but knowing what comes next makes the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. As believers, we are called to endure this race. Whether we are called to go at a young age or at an elderly age, our race is being encouraged on the sidelines of heaven by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Therefore, it behooves us to run the race while looking to Jesus Christ alone!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1, 2

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 3) – Eternal Punishment

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 3) – Eternal Punishment

The distance that certain conditionalists will go to deny the obvious linguistic nature of eternal conscious torment is very disturbing. While I have already revealed in Part 2a why the fire is categorically different and in and of itself eternal, AND how it is semantically linked as the instrument and reason why those that are in it will continually endure eternal punishment (since it is indicative of God’s wrath, read Part 2b), the twisting of Scripture continues. The basic premise is that eternal punishment is not an eternal “punishING” but one of eternal “punishMENT.” In essence, what is proposed is that the eternal punishment that Jesus speaks of in Matthew does not refer to the process of being punished for an eternity, but that Jesus’ administration of the punishment (in their case the punishment is death/annihilation brought about by fire) is what is meant by eternal punishment. Therefore, that punishment which He administers lasts forever.

There are several personal observations that I must bring to the forefront before I address the linguistic/scriptural issue of this argument. 1) Language is messy business. It is one thing that I learned from studying linguistics is that many of what we take for granted everyday can often be arbitrary and ambiguous. Many of the points conditionalists make, from a linguistic standpoint, are notable nuances, but too often are exploited for their benefit. In other words, they capitalize on the ambiguities of language. This is to not say that I or anyone else is not guilty of doing such a thing, but they do it so often with clearly understandable texts like Matthew 25 that I have no choice but to assume deception (which is once again, what we are accused of). 2). A dictionary is not meant to regulate language. I know it is a habit for some to use dictionary definitions of words because it is an easy reference, but this wonderful tool simply records how the language can be used in any given context, not regulate how is should be used. In other words, it describes not prescribes. It tells you how words have been used and are conventionally used (that means by agreement) depending on the kind of dictionary you have. But they do not always capture every nuance. However, internet is changing that. So whenever we go to our dictionaries, remember that it is good to have an general understanding of what a word entails, but syntax, grammatical structuring, discourse structuring, and even idioms can break the “rules.” Therefore we are to be cautious how we bring dictionaries to make our points. Look up lexicography if you care to know more. It really is a fascinating field of linguistics. Now, unto my arguments.

Here is the first problem I see. In my last post, I mentioned how conditionalists believe that the result of the punishment is eternal. I wrote it this way because whether it is Chris Date in his podcasts/debates, or recently William Tinksley (a contributing author to Rethinking Hell), I am told something along the lines that this is not what they believe. Their correction to my statement is that they too believe in “eternal punishment,” and I am apparently wrong for saying that they believe in the results of the punishment. But then they go on to say (perhaps not all of them) that the punishment is the result of Jesus’ punishing action, or it is the duration of the punishment inflicted once which is eternal (the example given is capital punishment). So what we have here is an example of saying the same thing, just differently. By asserting that eternal punishment refers to “the result of Jesus’ punishing action” is to say, in essence, that you believe that eternal punishment in Matt 25 is implying the result, not the process. So to be corrected by saying that conditionalists do not believe that the results of the punishment is eternal is being semantically illusive. They are very good at making distinctions without making any difference, as well as proving their point without proving their position (which I’m sure I will be accused of doing).

Here’s the second problem. In order to prove their point, conditionalist compare the words redemption (using Hebrews 9:12 as an example) and punishment. Since redemption can refer to a one time act, or can refer to the results (there’s that word again) of an act, they say that this is a comparable example to the punishment administered by Christ in Matt 25. From a linguistic perspective, this is a notable nuance in any given context. Even though conditionalists are correct that punishment and redemption both can refer to a single act or a result of an act, they overlooked the very same Scripture tells us what exactly that punishment is (eternal fire), and they assume we will be burned up. But they also don’t realize that the suffixes of both punishment and redemption can imply a state or condition. Before I go to Matt 25, here is a quick breakdown of suffix usage.

The suffix -ment can refer to a state or condition. It is a way to “noun” a verb (notice I just verbed the word noun because how I placed it in the sentence. This kind of syntax is key when having these sorts of discussions. Not just how words are defined, but how they are used in any given utterance or text). For the word redemption, the suffix -tion does the same.  In both words, the suffix can imply a state or condition. In Jesus’ case, He went into the Holy place to obtain eternal redemption for us. In this case, eternal punishment refers to the state or condition of being punished. In other words, while Jesus’s obtaining the state of condition of eternal redemption for us is accomplished by the one time act of enduring the wrath of God and death, we experience the state or condition of punishment by being in eternal torment by the one time act of being thrown there (we I will explain below). But also in this case, if you are given a punishment, depending on the punishment, it can be temporary or eternal based off of how or by what means it is being administered. The effects can last even after the infliction has has passed (just like the death penalty), or you can remain in a state of condition of being punished (like a lifetime in prison). The downfall in our case is that any punishment that is meant to endure can only endure in our lifetime. And, if it does endure throughout our lifetime, it can be a punishment that is consistently being administered or undergone by an instrument or agent, or it can simply leave a lasting result (sort of like a physical scar, although emotional “scaring” is not outside the realm of semantics).  In Matthew 25, eternal punishment into eternal fire is a state or condition that the wicked find themselves in forever, eternal punishment being another way of appositionally (see Part 2b again to remember what I’m talking about here) describing that state.

Now, lest you think this can also sway in the conditionalist favor, one must understand that verbal nouns like punishment keep some semantic value of the verbal form, although they do not function as a verb. I can get pretty technical at this point, but I will save that for other posts or conversations that I may have with conditionalists. For now, punishment always has the sufferer in mind. That is, whatever the means, whatever the outcome, punishment always has the person receiving it as its focus. Seeing that the fire mentioned earlier in Matthew is eternal, and is the instrument that will forever administer the punishment, and since that fire is indicative of God’s wrath and judgment, if the fire is eternal, then the one who is experiencing that fire is in that state or condition for an eternity.

It is clear that any punishment administered in this life that is administered by man or by God, even physical death, is not eternal. The first death we experience is not forever. We will one day be resurrected. Jesus came to save us from the power of the first death (Rev 20:6; 1 cor 15:54), which by natural consequence saves us from second death. But the first death is not like the second in nature. And Scripture clearly demonstrates, at the very least in Matthew 25, as making the day of judgement and final judgment different by saying that out of all the punishments, this one will last forever. If death is the punishment as conditionalists make it out to be, then why would God have to resurrect them to only do the same thing again? This question cannot be redirected at us who believe in eternal conscious torment because while we may die, we have yet to face the wrath of God that Jesus took upon Himself on the cross before He died. And we can’t, because we would die in our current state. And if conditionalists continue to assert that the eternal fire in Jude 7 is equivalent to the eternal fire in Matthew 25 (in the sense of how they use it) then if Sodom and Gomorrah suffered punishment by eternal fire, why resurrect them and do it all over again? Eternal conscious torment is consistent in that the only thing that the wicked have not yet faced is God’s full wrath in the body. This is something Jesus did. And He doesn’t need to suffer eternally like we do to do it. Which is the reason why we need a resurrected body designed for such an occasion.  Because if we use the Old Testament as an example, which  Sodom and Gomorrah is just a taste of, then there is a reason why that body would have to be a body fit for eternal punishment. Because the current one we have will whittle away.

But guess what, in one sense, the conditionalists are right! When you read verses 41 and 46 of Matthew 25 which reveal that the wicked “go away into” eternal punishment while the righteous to eternal life, it is a one time act of sending them to their respective locations. And when they arrive, they will experience the bliss or the pain of what God has in store for them there, and they will experience that state or condition for an eternity. So to say that the punishment can be a one time act, or the result of the act really makes no difference seeing that the punished will experience their state of punishment eternally, just as the natural understanding of the text is to be interpreted. So even if this is what it means to be punished, this one time act of being thrown into the fire indeed has an eternity behind it, and those that are there will be in a state of eternal punishment. In other words, how conditionalists argue their points still doesn’t prove their position, nor does it prove that those that are thrown into the fire will be eventually annihilated.

But what of the words “eternal destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and the parts in Scripture where Jesus uses parables to describe what happens to the wicked when they are judged? Like in Luke 13:40 where the Greek word katakiaw is used to illustrate the wicked being “burned up”? What about those? Those will be dealt with later on in upcoming articles. For now, remember to take all these article as a collective whole. What I mean is, each article is designed to build off of one another. It may be difficult to process all this, but I know many of you reading the New Testament understand the implications of eternal fire and punishment and that it lasts forever. It is something our Church Fathers understood (something I will prove as well), and it is something that has been easily understood by many generations, except for those that have an agenda (whether they realize it or not) to prove otherwise.

-Until we go home