Just over a year ago, I was given a book by some people whom I deeply respect and love. The book’s title was, Is God Fair? What About Ghandi? It was written by two men: Michael Riley and James William. The givers of the book asked me to give them a response.
As a staunchly orthodox (orthodox means “conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved”) believer, I was surprised by the way the authors of this book had managed to confuse not just one or two, but most of the small group of middle-aged believers with whom I’ve remained in contact from the small, “nondenominational” church I was baptized in as a little girl. These are people I’ve looked up to for years as examples of strong believers. I learned from them how to study the Bible and why we should love Jesus. And now they were questioning the very foundational things they had taught me, like the existence of hell.
Because I’m from the generation of those who think they need immediate information gratification, I promptly Googled a response to the book. There wasn’t one. There were responses, however, to the more popular books by people like Rob Bell, which I found helpful. But there wasn’t a critique of the particular book that was swaying my heroes of the faith. As I read Is God Fair, at times I even found myself faltering. I couldn’t answer some of their challenges on particular translations of Greek words.
However, I wrote my own detailed response to the book. It’s not the greatest response you’ll ever read, because I’m neither a theologian nor a Greek scholar. I had some help from a friend (who is now my husband) and numerous online articles and books, and I got some input from Dr. Wayne Grudem’s assistant, Daniel Malakowsky, on the question of one of the Greek words that is a primary source of contention by the authors.
This is what he had to say:
“While aionion can have multiple meanings based on context, ranging from age to eternal, context is your greatest support for specific translations. I would recommend doing a word study through relevant lexicons that will give you both the etymology of the word, as well as its cultural use at the time of the writing of scripture. Some great resources are BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT).
If the people you’re speaking with will not listen to the soundness of your logic regarding Matthew 25:46 (the parallelism that shows if punishment is not eternal, then neither is life eternal), then you can refer them to Revelation 20:10, 14-15 and 21:8 which reveal the lake of fire is reserved for all those whose names are not found in the book of life, implying eternal punishment, and Mark 9:42-48 which suggest in addition to that the concept of eternal punishing. Additional scriptural references which suggest the eternal nature of God’s punishment are:
• Suggesting eternal punishment (Isa 66:22-24; Dan 12:1-2)
• Pauline writings – Rom 2:5; 2 Thess 1:5-10
• Heb 6:1-1
• Jude 6-7,13
• Revelation – 14:9-11; 15:7; 19:3
• Matt 5:22,29
• 2 Pet 2:4
While their case may have some points of contention, it fails to read the totality of scripture in which eternal torment is explicitly taught, such as again Mark 9 and Revelation 20, and also fails to recognize that their view is also not taught explicitly in scripture.”
That email was very helpful (thanks, Daniel, if you ever read this!).
Again, this response is not the most amazing treatise you will ever read. But I can hope that it will be helpful to some people who have begun wondering if the foundations of their faith (which they gained by reading their English translations of the Bible) were all wrong from the beginning. Forgive me, please, if you find mistakes or if you find my response overly defensive. The most helpful parts of my response, I believe, are the Scriptures I have included, because in the end it is only God’s Word that matters. May He bless us all and guard us from error.
My Response to Is God Fair (PDF document)