“Yes, it’s good news, BUT….”

Isn’t there that niggling thought when talking to someone about Christianity, that we’re preaching a mixed message? It sounds like great news in 2 Corinthians 5:19, hearing that “God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them,” but it also sounds awful in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, hearing that Jesus “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel” with “everlasting destruction.”

It makes things very awkward, because if we say “the Christian message is nothing but GOOD news,” how do we answer all those verses that are nothing but BAD news? We can’t ignore them. The Bible talks openly of Hades and Gehenna, of eternal punishment and fiery judgment, of the Lake of Fire and a second death, and it describes hell in vivid terms that are deeply disturbing. So how on earth do we stick to good news when we’ve got all these other horrific pictures of hell and eternal destruction to contend with as well?

It’s a challenge that Christians have met quite differently. Some don’t hide the bad stuff, and instead rather relish the chance to use threats of hell and eternal destruction to get people’s attention, but in so doing they bury much of the good news under a mound of fear and loathing. Other Christians stand their ground, meanwhile, believing the gospel should be nothing but good news, so they seek ways of explaining how all that bad stuff actually turns out to be good stuff after all.

Imagine the challenge for that second group, though, trying to explain what Jude said about Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 7, as to how those two cities “serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to a crisp as “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly,” 2 Peter 2:6. You can’t get much clearer than that. The ungodly end up as smoking ruins. How do you explain that to someone as “good news”?

But you can, because in Ezekiel 16:53 God says, “I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters,” and in verse 55, “you will return to what you were before.”  God’s going to rebuild those two cities one day, which then begs the question as to what Jude meant by “the punishment of eternal fire.” Clearly it means eternally burnt until God raises them up again. In the meanwhile their destruction serves as a visible deterrent to anyone thinking “sexual immorality and perversion” are acceptable (Jude 7). There’s a GOOD news purpose, therefore, behind “eternal fire”. Would the same good news purpose apply to all those other “bad stuff” verses too, then?

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