As God’s unique creation, we live in physical bodies in a material universe that will pass away, “for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor:4:18). God desires to reveal to us the world of the eternal, the world unseen by physical eyes. While still earthbound, we are to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” and to set our “affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col:3:1,2).
But how can God convey spiritual truth to fleshly minded earth dwellers who, because of sin, are separated from Him and know nothing and desire nothing except the material world? He must, with physical terms familiar to us, bring us to a clear understanding of and earnest desire for spiritual truth and reality. He communicates through words, often with figurative language.
The physical realm has been consistently used by God from the very beginning (starting with a tree in the Garden of Eden) to convey spiritual truth. Paul shows us how to interpret God’s object lessons:
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written....If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things...? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. (1 Cor:9:9-14)
In His parables, Christ spoke of trees and fruit, grapevines and grapes, shepherds and sheep, sowers, seeds and bread, wind and weather, birth and death, fire and torment, etc. But there is no more powerful picture in all of Scripture than that of water and thirst. There is no life without water. The need for water to sustain life is signaled by thirst, which can be tormenting and soon fatal if not satisfied.
The seemingly unlikely Samaritan woman (why would He go out of His way to meet her!) whom Christ, by His arrangement, encountered at the well, was obviously very thirsty for a fulfillment that she couldn’t find. Like most of mankind, she did not understand that her thirst was spiritual and that nothing physical could satisfy it. But our Lord knew her heart.
He talked to her about water and thirst: “Whosoever drinketh of this [well] water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (Jn:4:13,14). There was an authority about this stranger that made her believe what He said. She thought He was referring to a special water that would permanently end her bodily thirst: “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”
In fact, He was going to expose a life of disappointments and regrets: “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”
“I have no husband,” was her evasive reply.
Christ’s response must have shocked and cut her to the heart: “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband....”
“Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet!” was her dumbfounded reply. How did He know the intimate details of her life?
The conversation that followed exposed her spiritual thirst. Christ revealed to her that He was the Messiah she awaited. That revelation gripped her heart. She believed on Him and ran into the city to tell the amazing news that the Messiah stood at that moment at Jacob’s well. In her haste to testify for the One who had revealed and satisfied her spiritual thirst, she “left her waterpot” (4:28) and its unsatisfying contents.
When the Bible says that in our natural state inherited from Adam we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph:2:1), one knows instinctively that the reference is not to physical death. We receive physical life at our birth into this world, but tragically, we are born into the spiritual death we inherited from Adam. Responsible adults have until their physical death to receive spiritual life by being born again into God’s family by His Holy Spirit through the gospel. If not, they will remain spiritually dead in the torment of eternal separation from God.
Christ gives a hint in physical language (through the story of the rich man in hell) of the unbearable spiritual thirst created by that separation: “I am tormented in this flame,” the sinner exclaims (Lk 16:24). The torment of that eternal separation was endured for each of us by our Lord on the Cross as He suffered the agonies of hell. He cried, “I thirst....My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?!” The spiritual torment of the damned is even more excruciating than physical pain could ever be.
Most of earth’s inhabitants do not realize that they are nonphysical beings, dead to God by birth but temporarily occupying physical bodies. Desperately thirsty for spiritual life, which can be received only from God on His terms, they seek unsuccessfully to satisfy that thirst with earth-bound possessions and pleasures. After Paul turned from rejection of Christ to faith in Him, he rejoiced in what only the Christian can know: “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor:4:16). It is the inward man that lives by the spiritual food and drink that God’s Word offers.
Nor do most people realize that their physical death will not end the existence of the soul and spirit that had inhabited their body. Death ends the opportunity that life has provided for us to surrender to God willingly, for: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb:9:27).
Materialism’s passionate lust for popularity, pleasure, wealth, and power is what drives the West, from Wall Street to corporate board rooms to academics to athletics. The advertising world and Hollywood play on that lust with tantalizing enticements aimed at youth to make each new generation more the children of Satan than their parents before them. Over and over, God’s unchanging Word is proven true: “For all that is in the world [is] the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn:2:15-17).
Satan deceives billions of souls with false religions that seem to offer an escape from fleshly lusts but in truth only lead their followers into hell. Muslims turn their backs upon Western materialism and are willing to die in jihad—except for those who come to the West while pretending to remain true to Islam; and excepting, of course, the despotic, wealthy, self-indulgent rulers of Muslim countries who never offer themselves or their children as jihad martyrs. But what do suicide bombers hope will be their reward? A “paradise” that offers everything they condemn in the West: unlimited sex, abundance of every delicacy that fleshly appetites could desire, rivers running with wine (forbidden to Muslims in this life), and superhuman capacity to indulge in the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” non-stop.
Other millions have been caught in the delusion of Hinduism’s Eastern mysticism, which seems to reject worldly lusts but is founded upon the same ultimate selfish pride that captured Eve’s heart: the desire to become a god. Gurus from the East became wealthy by selling godhood through self-realization to millions in the West, religion packaged as yoga and Eastern meditation—a deception now sweeping through the church as well. Yet, as we document in Yoga and the Body of Christ, the gurus were themselves the victims of the very “lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes” from which they promised their followers an escape. These “god-men” proved again the truth of Scripture: “While they promise them [their followers] liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption” (2 Pt 2:19).
These agents of Satan promise fulfillment of the passion inherited from Eve of becoming one’s own god and gaining every fleshly desire. The New Age Movement, promising its own godhood of mind power to achieve every selfish ambition, and picking up where the hippy revolution left off, repackaged Eastern mysticism as “Human Potential,” trapping millions more with “the pride of life.” It stirred a brief flurry of interest in the “spiritual” dimension and left in its wake shattered souls closed to God. Their mantra remains, “I’m spiritual but not religious”—i.e., don’t push your religious rules on me.
The latest movement, “the New Atheists,” is led by famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins and his understudy, Sam Harris. They declare that belief in God is not only a great delusion but an evil from which the world must be delivered—and they are determined to do it. Their books rank high on The New York Times best seller list. They ridicule those who believe in God, using arguments like the following, from Sam Harris:
Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent...?
If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place....
If He exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.
There is another possibility, of course...the biblical God is a fiction. (Excerpt from An Atheist Manifesto, www.truthdig.com)
Apparently, God is responsible for every child’s refusal to eat his peas and neglect of his homework and for every heated lovers’ quarrel and selfish action. He ought to make everyone behave like perfect saints? If God had made mankind robots programmed to do whatever He dictated, then He could be blamed for not stopping evil, suffering, and death—but there would also be no love. Every person knows that he has the power of choice, uses it continually, even to the point of being able to shake his fist at God, curse Him, and live in total rebellion of His laws written in every conscience—and is therefore without excuse.
But how could the power to choose that makes it possible for us to love one another account for the suffering of innocent children by disease, starvation, abuse? What about “natural disasters” such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, poisonous snakes and insects, animals preying upon and eating one another and man, etc.? Can these be blamed on human rejection of God?
The Bible makes it clear that the entire universe was affected by Adam’s sin and joining Satan in his rebellion against God: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together until now” (Rom:8:22). Deliverance from this curse will come in part during Christ’s Millennial reign on earth (Isa:11:7; 65:25)—and completely in the new heavens and new earth:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away...and there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him....” (Rev:21:1; 22:3)
But how could a loving God be so vengeful as to torment those who reject Christ in the flames of the Lake of Fire forever? This is not God’s choice for mankind. He loves us so much that He made His love the essential ingredient of our very existence. Thus, to be in the fullness of His love would be ecstasy; to be finally and without possible recovery separated from Him would be torture. That is why hell will be such torment for the same reason that heaven will be such exquisite pleasure and joy.
The best way to describe this spiritual reality in terms that we can understand is with water and thirst. Water tastes so good because it is essential to our life. Thirst hurts so bad for the same reason. God did not create us to be thirsty but to drink of His love. It is no more reasonable to blame God for our follies, failures, and sorrows than it is to say, “The Devil made me do it.”
A school of fish is swimming contentedly in a lake. One of them sees a man sitting in a chair on the shore, holding a fishing pole, and smoking a cigar. “Now that would be really living!” exclaims the fish. Moved with envy, it leaps out onto the bank. Exhausted, trying desperately to grab a fishing pole and get onto a chair, the “fish-out-of-water” gasps its last.
Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris walk by, leading a group of atheists on a “trashing God” tour. Pointing to the fish, flopping in the dirt and gravel, gills opening and closing in vain desperation, Dawkins declares in triumph, “What kind of a ‘god’ would create a fish to suffer like that!”
The atheists continue discussing with great enthusiasm how evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest (inefficient and cruel to the core) have so marvelously produced creatures like themselves with such wisdom that they can analyze the cosmic forces that spawned them and damn the God they say doesn’t exist.
God did not make the fish to “suffer like that.” He made the fish to swim in water, its God-given habitat. But the fish was not content with what God had made it and tried to do its own will. Nothing could be more reasonable than for the Creator to be in charge of His universe—but man has rebelled.
Just as God created the fish to swim in water, so He created man to swim eternally in the ocean of His love. He so constituted us that our highest enjoyment—indeed our very life—would be in receiving His love and loving Him in return. But we rejected His love, spat in His face, and defiantly went our own way. God alone knew the endless torment we would suffer as a result of our rebellion, and gave His Son to pay the penalty for every sinner
Jesus described the “lake of fire” (Rev:20:15), the rebels’ final end, as a place of unbearable burning thirst. God did not intend for any human to go there. The Lake of Fire was not made for man but “for the devil and his angels” (Mat:25:41). From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God continues to plead, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev:22:17).
Heaven is for those who have accepted the offer to drink continuously of the water of life: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb...” (Rev:22:1). In contrast to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat:8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk 13:28) by those in the Lake of Fire, those in heaven, we are told, “...shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more....For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev:7:16-17). Let us live in the joy of that promise in the days ahead and bring this good news to all who will hear. TBC