Scene 5 – Life at the family reunion

Audio message of all five scenes: Play Audio!

Joseph’s elevation to a powerful position in Egypt set the stage for reunion with his family. With a seemingly simple stroke of the historical pen, we learn that,

“Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Genesis 41:46).

Joseph was a seventeen–year-old boy when it all began. Thirteen long, lonely, confusing and difficult years had passed prior to his elevation to power.

Through providential circumstances (see: Genesis 41:56-57), Joseph’s brothers had to come to him for food. Joseph recognized them immediately but concealed his own identity. “As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked” (Genesis 42:7).

Through a series of interesting encounters with Joseph, we learn that his brothers had not forgotten the wrong they had done to him. Although perhaps not completely intentional, Joseph seems to lead them to a place of repentance. Those who think Joseph was exacting a kind of revenge against them by the various things he put them through should pause to reflect on what he could have done as second in command in Egypt. The matter of forgiveness had been settled years before this encounter. If it had not, the good hand of God would not have rested on Joseph.

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:1-8a).

These words reveal the stronger and deeper commitment that held Joseph through all his dark, confusing and painful years. By faith, Joseph embraced a deep commitment to the providential goodness of God over the evil intentions of people.

Genesis 50:15-21 – We see the same emphasis again after Jacob died.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:15-21, emphasis mine).

Reflection on God’s sovereignty in Joseph’s life

“After Jacob’s death, his sons approach Joseph out of fear that he may have been awaiting their father’s death before exacting revenge. They had, after all, sold him into slavery. As the first minister of Egypt, he held them entirely in his power. What would he do?”

“Joseph allays their fears, and insists he does not want to put himself in the place of God. Then he looks back at that brutal incident when he was so badly treated, and comments, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

“The parallelism is remarkable. Joseph does not say that his brothers maliciously sold him into slavery, and that God turned it around, after the fact, to make the story have a happy ending. How could that have been the case, if God’s intent was to bring forth the good of saving many lives? Nor does Joseph suggest that God planned to bring him down to Egypt with first-class treatment all the way, but unfortunately the brothers mucked up His plan somewhat, resulting in the slight hiatus of Joseph spending a decade and a half as a slave or in prison. The story does not read that way.”

“The brothers took certain evil initiatives, and there is no prior mention of Joseph’s travel arrangements. As Joseph explains, God was working sovereignly in the event of his being sold into Egypt, but the brothers’ guilt is not thereby assuaged (they intended to harm Joseph); the brothers were responsible for their action, but God was not thereby reduced to a merely contingent role; and while the brothers were evil, God himself had only good intentions” (from, D. A. Carson, How long, O Lord?)

Yielding to God’s control

It is not easy to understand God’s control when the evil intentions of others profoundly affect our lives. The Lord Jesus, our faithful and merciful High Priest, understands this experience (see: Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28). But when we yield to God’s sovereign control (see: Daniel 3:16-18; 4:34-35; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-7,11-12), it liberates us to follow Jesus in radical kingdom obedience: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Like Joseph, we can be free under God’s final authority from the consuming control of bitterness and revenge. We can also be free from the multiplication of evil. There is a power available to absorb the loss and return a blessing instead (see: I Peter 3:9). 

(New Testament mention of Joseph, Acts 7:9-14;Hebrews 11:22).

Steve Cornell

Scene 4 – Life as a ruler in Egypt

Audio message for all five scenes: Play Audio!

Another abrupt and unexpected change for Joseph.

After two long years of being forgotten, Pharaoh had a disturbing dream and wanted an interpretation of it. The cupbearer remembered how Joseph could interpret dreams and told Pharaoh of Joseph’s ability. Joseph was then called out of prison to interpret pharaoh’s dream. The dream revealed a dangerous famine coming over the entire area. Since Joseph proved so wise, he was chosen by Pharaoh to prepare and lead Egypt through this time of trial.

“When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream… In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him. …

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, 

Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled’” (Genesis 41:1-13).

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph,

‘In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.

“In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.” (Genesis 41:17-24).

Counsel for Pharaoh

“The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’” (Genesis 41:32-39).

Joseph is exalted

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, ‘Make way!’ Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt’” (Genesis 41:39-44).

Marriage, Family and Leadership

“Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.”

“Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt” (Genesis 41:45-46).

“Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere” (Genesis 41:50-52, 56-57).

The stage is set for an unexpected family reunion.

Before reflecting on the final scene, keep Joseph’s final perspective in mind where he said to his brothers, “… ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21). 

Joseph was used by God to preserve a remnant for God’s people. 

Steve Cornell

Trust God at all times

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom

This is a great quote from someone who practiced its truth in conditions far worse than most people ever experience. It reminded me of one of my favorite verses of Scripture, Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Although I’ve never faced the kind of evil Corrie ten Boom experienced, I’ve learned that the key to trust at all times is to pour out your hearts to Him when times are dark and difficult.

Psalm 62:8 parallels two NT references:

  • I Peter 5:7 – “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).
  • Philippians 4:6-7 – “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).

At the opening of Psalm 62, the Psalmist wrote, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2). 

Still learning to trust at all times,

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

Trying to play the divine lottery

I am the oldest son of eleven children (seven boys). Growing up in a large family, I felt extra responsibility to help with the needs of the home.

When I was nine years old, my mother came close to death due to complications at the birth of one of my brothers. All of the children had to be “farmed out” to relatives until mom got well enough to take care of us. This was a very difficult trial, but it only increased my sense of responsibility.

When I was eleven, my parents became Christians and our home transformed from being basically non-religious to being Christ-focused. Shortly after, my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. This devastated our finances and placed a great deal of stress on family life. We lost the home my Dad had built and we struggled through years of setbacks and limited finances.

Despite these trying times, my parents’ faith in Christ deepened. As for me, I felt an even greater need to help my dad with the family.  

As a twelve year old, I struggled with why God allowed these things to happen to my mom and dad. As the oldest son, I was more keenly aware of the difficulties but did not have the maturity to handle it. Throughout those years, I often prayed for God to intervene with a “BIG” solutions.

My approach to God was something like those who play the lottery –– looking for a “BIG” solution to life. Prayer became like a divine lottery. “If only God would intervene and take our trials away.” I thought. So I prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more. But the BIG solution never seemed to arrive.

Through this experience, I learned how I could get so focused on BIG solutions that I missed the hand of God through many smaller interventions. And we witnessed many of these during our seasons of trial in a large family.

I find that I am sometimes still affected by my experience as a youth. At times, I tend to look at all the challenges, trials and setbacks of life and ask God for BIG solutions. Although I am typically optimistic in my outlook, my childhood mechanism occasionally pushes me into a place where I lose perspective. The way out of this feeling of despair is to trace the hand of God in the many smaller blessings of life. When I do this, although I feel bad for failing to notice God’s blessings, God is kind and merciful when we turn to Him with grateful hearts.

I also learned to thank God for the process of my trials because it reminds me of my dependence on Him. This is a good lesson and needed place for me to be (see: Deuteronomy 8:1-5; Proverbs 3:5-7).  

Although there were hard times growing up in a big family, I learned invaluable lessons about life and God — lessons I draw on many times as a spiritual leader.

Have you ever been in a dark tunnel of doubt and discouragement? Do you tend to focus too much on BIG solutions? I encourage you to trace God’s many acts of kindness in the smaller blessings of life.

When you do this, God will be honored and your joy will be renewed. The small blessings will also take on much greater significance and these words of Scripture will become more deeply meaningful: “the Lord’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Ask God to help you live by these words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

May you be blessed in the New Year!

Steve Cornell

Top 5 Arguments against eternal punishment

Along with great emphasis on God’s love and mercy, Scripture presents God as the Judge who sends some people into hell.

Jesus warned his followers not to “… fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus referred to hell as a place where God sends people (Matthew 25:41,46).

The Bible doesn’t describe a pleasant end for those who reject God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. But what type of judgment falls on them?

Is it eternal suffering or eternal annihilation? Eternal in consequence or in duration? Part of the debate centers on whether ‘eternal’ is meant as a consequence (i.e. eternal punishment– not eternal punishing; the result being eternal destruction,) or as a duration (i.e. never ending, on going punishing).

Five arguments against eternal punishing

1. The fire is metaphoric

The late John R. W. Stott (a teacher I hold in highest regard on most subjects) suggested that, “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises forever and ever’ (Rev. 14:11; cf. 19:3)” (Evangelical Essentials, David Edwards, p. 316).

But how does this same approach apply to the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3 which “burned with fire yet was not consumed”? Consistency of metaphor would lead one to think that smoke rising forever and ever indicates something is burning in the fire.

2. The matter of justice:

Sins committed in a finite realm should not suffer an eternal consequence. Justice demands punishment in proportion to the crime. This argument may sound appealing on the surface but it fails at the Cross of Christ. Why did the infinite, eternal God have to come and die for the sins of finite creatures? Sin against an infinite God is infinite in consequence. Are we implying that people can sufficiently pay the consequence of sin against God? I am sure we are incompetent judges of the penalty sin deserves.

“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).

“Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine (of hell), we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself” (Tim Keller).

3. Conditional immortality of the soul:

This is argued by the late Philip Hughes in The Image Restored, pp. 398-407. He taught that immortality belongs to God in the purest sense and to believers only through Christ (I Tim. 6:15-17; II Tim. 1:9f). This seems to be based on a limited understanding of death as total extinction of existence. But, if spiritual and physical death do not result in cessation of existence, why would the second death? (Eph. 2:1-3; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:6; 14:21:8). Scripture does not equate death with non-existence. The evidence points in the opposite direction.

4. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable (and should not be considered a literal source of information)

This text is not identified as a parable, but even if it is parabolic in nature, treating it as an unreliable source ignores the one who is telling the story. Should we believe that Jesus Christ would use speculative imagery on such a serious matter? If this refers only to a temporary intermediate state ending in a judgment of annihilation, the judgment seems like it would be a welcomed end. This is clearly not the point Jesus is making.

5. The problem of eternal dualism:

Philip Hughes wrote: “With the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God’s reconciliation to himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death” (p. 406, The Image Restored).

The lake of fire is certainly not a Kingdom. Ongoing punishment itself would be a continuous testimony to the defeat of evil. The reality of victory over death secured by Christ is not threatened by hell (Heb. 2:14-16; I Cor. 15:54-55; Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

What does Scripture teach?

All humans will be resurrected (Jn. 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15); all will be judged by God (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:4-10; 14:10-12; Rev. 20:11-15), and all will be separated between two distinct eternal destinies (Mt. 25:32,41,36; Jn. 3:36; 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3-8).

Where people go after death

Theologian Millard Erickson offers a six-point answer to the question of where people go after death. His points are worthy of careful reflection.

  1. All humans are sinners, by nature and by choice; they are therefore guilty and under divine condemnation.
  2. Salvation is only through Christ and his atoning work.
  3. In order to obtain the salvation achieved by Christ, one must believe in Him; therefore Christians and the church have a responsibility to tell unbelievers the good news about Him.
  4. The adherents of other faiths, no matter how sincere their belief or how intense their religious activity, are spiritually lost apart from Christ.
  5. Physical death brings an end to the opportunity to exercise saving faith and accept Jesus Christ. The decisions made in this life are irrevocably fixed at death.
  6. At the great final judgment all humans will be separated on the basis of their relationship to Christ during this life. Those who have believed in Him will spend eternity in heaven, where they will experience everlasting joy and reward in God’s presence. Those who have not accepted Christ will experience hell, a place of unending suffering and separation from God (The Evangelical Mind and Heart).

Steve Cornell

See: Hell bound?

4 reasons for persistent prayer

I’ve been in a season of persevering prayer. This is not a new experience for me, but always one that leads to significant outcomes.

This kind of prayer could seem confusing, so allow me to share some seasoned wisdom about it from a good teacher. Let’s start with a question.

Why do we need to engage in persistent prayer if God is our loving heavenly Father and truly wants to give us good gifts?

J. I. Packer responds

“Here is a question that is not always well answered.  It is not, as some seem to suppose, that passionate petition twists God’s arm, so to speak, and thereby coaxes out of him what he had not originally wished to give. Nor is it that passionate petition, working itself up to an inner certainty that the gift requested will be given, induces God to give what he would not have given had it been asked for in a more low-key style.

According to the teaching of Jesus, “we should pray insistently and persistently about crucial needs, not because God will not meet them unless we do but as if he would not.” (see: Luke 11:5-12; 18:1-8). Why does Jesus teach us, and therefore clearly want us, to do this? 

Four reasons, at least, may be given.

  • First, God the Father loves to be petitioned in a way that shows he is appreciated as the source of all that is good.  This glorifies him.
  • Second, the Father wants to see that we are taking both our acuteness of need and his greatness as the one who can meet it with absolute seriousness.  This takes us beyond superficiality in the way we think, feel and live, and binds us closer to him because of the clarity with which we realize that he is really our only hope.
  • Third, the Father knows that the more earnestly we have asked for a particular gift and the longer we have waited for it, the more we will value it when it is given, and the more wholeheartedly we will thank him for it.  This will lead to increased joy.
  • Fourth, the Father’s larger plans for blessing us and others may require him to delay giving us what we ask for until the best time and circumstances for its bestowal are reached.  To keep asking with patient persistence and to wait with expectation for the answer is thus sometimes necessary, and is always the reverent way to go.  This strengthens the muscles of our faith, as constant walking strengthens the muscles of heart and legs.

The fact to focus on for encouragement, however, when we seek to express the persistence of our faith in the prayers we go on making as we face short-term disappointment and desolation, is that there is a covenanted family bond that unites us to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, and unites the Three-in-One to us forever and ever.  Paul describes universal Christian experience when he writes: ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:16-17). 

Professed Christians who neither testify to this testimony nor rejoice in the identity that it confirms are, to say the least, very much out of sorts.  Being children of God is our supreme privilege and security—and is at all times the supreme incentive to us to pray.” (From: Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight)

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). 

Steve Cornell

Disturbing problems with atheism

If a good God made the world, why has it gone so wrong? This is a question that bothered C. S. Lewis in his days as an atheist. He acknowledged that,

“…for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling that, ‘whatever you say and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’”

But Lewis could not dismiss the problem. He explained his dilemma this way:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too — for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

Steve Cornell

Check out two short audio clips from my radio program:

  1. Should evil makes sense?
  2. I wish God would judge evil

Where could my heart flee from my heart?

“I carried about me a cut and bleeding soul, that could not bear to be carried by me, and where I could put it, I could not discover. Not in pleasant groves, not in games and singing, nor in the fragrant corners of a garden. Not in the company of a dinner table, not in the delights of the bed: not even in my books and poetry. It floundered in a void and fell back on me. I remained a haunted spot, which gave me no rest, from which I could not escape. For where could my heart flee from my heart? Where could I escape myself? Where would I not dog my own footsteps?” (Augustine)

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“This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory” (Richard Halloway, Scottish writer and former Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church).

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We are paradoxical beings; versions of Jekyll and Hyde; combinations of dust and glory. We have plenty of evidence for this universal truth about humans but what is there to account for it? Why are we this way and not another?

Why do we possess moral sensibilities to distinguish right from wrong and love from hate? Why do we participate in benevolent activities and think we are being benevolent? When do we distinguish justice from injustice and freedom from oppression and do it with moral fervor?

We humans show a kind of moral compass different from all living beings. Yet our sensibilities are easily twisted in self-serving ways so that we behave worse than animals. Why does the same mind that invents life-saving machines and medicines also invent instruments of war and torture? What accounts for this “strange duality of dust and glory”?

These are questions that not even science can resolve. They take us from the physical to the metaphysical.  When someone offers answers that disguise philosophy as science, he gives unsuspecting people the misleading impression that science can resolve more than it’s capable.

Abraham Heschel wrote, “It is not enough for me to be able to say, ‘I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: ‘What am I here for?’”

Augustine resolved his painful quest with a prayer, “Dear Lord, You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

“Lord, … Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” (Isaiah 26:8)

Resting in Him.

Steve Cornell

You made us for yourself

  • “I give water … to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself 
that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:20b-21
  • “Yes, Lord, …..we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26:8).
  • “Lord, You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You” (Agustine).

I don’t know how to say exactly how I feel
And I can’t begin to tell you what your love has meant
I’m lost for words
Is there a way to show the passion in my heart
Can I express how truly great I think you are
My dearest friend
Lord, this is my desire
To pour my love on You

Verse 2:

Is there a way to show the passion in my heart
Can I express how truly great I think you are
My dearest friend
Lord, this is my desire
To pour my love on you

Chorus:

Like oil upon your feet
Like wine for you to drink
Like water from my heart
I pour my love on you
If praise is like perfume
I’ll lavish mine on you
Till every drop is gone
I’ll pour my love on you