Luke 16.19-31 Eternal punishment and the impregnability of a determined atheism.
Posted: 29 August 2012 in Luke

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

There seem to be at least two things which can be inferred from this passage. One is that the annihilationist view put forward by some today is not really tenable in the light of biblical revelation. This above passage is not the only one in the gospels where Jesus makes it perfectly clear that he expects eternal punishment to await those who are not saved, and not merely annihilation. Whilst it is obvious what the sentiments are which motivate the annihilationist view, we are not allowed to substitute what we would like to be true for what God has revealed to be true. The attempt to do so contains an implicit criticism of God and his righteousness, and sitting in judgment upon God, and his absolute sovereignty, really is not something Christians should be found doing.

The other thing which struck me, towards the end of the parable, is the remark to the effect that even somebody returning from the grave would not persuade somebody who did not want to be persuaded of God’s existence and of his rule over creation. Listening to the new atheists, that rings very true. If some such thing did happen today, a new atheist would predictably say that, although medical science was currently unable to account for it, that does not mean that it won’t be explicable in naturalistic terms at some point in the future. Their faith in the explanatory power of science to account for any inconvenient truths is unlimited, and it is unlimited because they don’t want to contemplate any alternative possibility (one in particular).

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