How Long Shall I Suffer?

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In the Bible it is written, “Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?(Mt 17:17)

A very interesting question: How long shall God suffer? It begs other basic questions: How does God suffer? Why does He suffer? They are worthy, insightful questions. We must, I think, answer these latter questions first before attempting to answer the first.

Our ultimate purpose in asking such questions here is simple: [1] to put the amazing nature of God on display in perhaps a unique way, and also [2] to present Hell in its rightful context, such that no reasonable soul may find it even remotely unjust, or complain against it in any way.

How God Suffers

Firstly, how does God suffer? Evidently, from the above context, He suffers in that He endures the actions of and the presence of sinners, rebels. This enduring is extremely unpleasant for God, a real suffering as well as an enduring. God, in being omnipresent, finds both sin and the sinner to be detestable, an abomination, a pollution … right under His nose, so to speak. “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.” (Pr 16:5) What must it be like for God to continually endure, to remain in the immediate presence of, that which is an abomination to Him?

To endure the immediate presence of an abomination is to be in a state of unpleasantness, a state of discomfort, a state of disappointment and anger. God must endure unpleasantness and put up with a constant grievance in His heart because of rebels … angels, demons, people … exalting themselves, putting themselves first, alienating themselves from God rather than pursuing fellowship with God. God is, evidently, enduring this continually, and suffering greatly. It has been so for quite some time. Why?

Why God Suffers

Why God is willing to endure our rebellion, to suffer in it, is rooted in His choice to allow what we call Free Will: that property of independent beings that formally defines their independence from God. God allows created beings to think and act independently of Himself, in a manner that is contrary to His desire and will for them, to choose things He would not choose. In doing so, He has exposed something very interesting, something we would not have known about reality otherwise: every being, when allowed to choose apart from God, does so. In doing so every being becomes evil, or anti-God. We thus learn that all outside of and apart from God Himself is quite awful.

It is in the midst of working out this revelation that God is suffering. It is God’s purpose to suffer in order to reveal the nature of everything outside of Himself, and also to reveal Himself as He responds to what is apart from Him. Most all we know about God is derived from this conflict between Himself and what is outside of Him, and what we see thus far is incredibly glorious. God is holiness, God is goodness, God is wisdom, God is love, God is patience and kindness and generosity and benevolence … on and on we may go in describing His beauty and His wonder. Apart from the conflict in which His nature is expressed, we would know very little about Him other than His power; we would not know much of His heart, or much about the nature of that which is outside of God.

Inherent in this revelation is the fact that God must defer to His enemies, temporarily shield them from the natural consequence of their rebellion, in order for His enemies to act like enemies, bringing real harm to Himself, to others and to themselves. Otherwise, if God dealt directly and immediately with rebellion, His very reaction would make it impossible for rebels to function, and their nature would no longer be apparent.

Enough Is Enough

Certainly, in the eternal plan, there must eventually come a day, a Great Day, in which God will stop shielding His enemies from Himself. God will have suffered long enough; His point will be made. In this day God will remove a veil that currently shields every created being, especially His enemies, from Himself, from His innermost nature. (Is 25:7) We read about this event in Revelation: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” (Re 20:11)

When the veil is removed, God’s response to His enemies will be fully exposed to all. We might think of the face of God as the place where His heart is most fully revealed; when His face is exposed everything will be in the immediate presence of the very heart God, as if there were only one place. There will, in fact, be no other place. Every created being will continually behold His face and experience the pure, undiluted nature of God in all His fullness. It will be, at the same time, both life itself to all that is in God and of God, and an absolute terror to all else, to all that is outside of and apart from Him.

In Preparation

In anticipation of that day, God is performing a work in the lives of certain beings to equip them for it: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:6) It is not a work that is performed merely until death, but until “the Day.” This work is the re-configuration of the human heart to be God-ward instead of self-ward. God asserts that He will continue to work in His children, with all that are in Him and of Him, completing us, well beyond our transition through death. The implication is that believers are not perfected at death, but continue to grow in holiness even after death. Death need not necessarily imply an abrupt change in anyone. Most importantly, we have no indication that death will result in any kind of directional change for any human being,

What we pose is perhaps a new idea to most, and it is this: whatever it is that you are seeking at the time of your death, whatever you are valuing, whatever you are pursuing, you will continue to seek and value and pursue after your death. Those who are pursuing truth, pursuing light, pursuing God … will continue to do so. And those who are not … will continue not to do so.

As the children of God continue to grow in preparation for The Day beyond the time of their death, being refined and strengthened and honed in their pursuit of truth and light and all that is of God, is it then so unreasonable to think that those who have neglected God in this life will continue to harden themselves against Him in the next? Consider God’s invitation in Revelation 22:11: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” The inference is that all men continue their life’s pursuit beyond death; all continue to make choices: the righteous continue to make righteous choices and thus to grow in their righteousness, and the wicked continue in wickedness and to spiral farther and farther downward into it.

God’s Face

There are, in reality, only two things that anyone can seek: themselves and God. In this life, even now, everyone is commanded to seek the face of God. “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” (Ps 27:8) The elect respond to God’s command obediently, seeking out the heart of God. The wicked are repulsed by this, ignore it, and seek to satisfy themselves in some other way.

Seeking God’s face is the seeking of God Himself. This is more than talking to God, more than praying to get things from God, more than doing things for God, more than humanitarian effort, more than any ritual, more than studying about God or His kingdom, more than trying to obey Him, more than evangelizing the lost, more than speaking in tongues, more than doing miracles, more than worship, more than seeking and being in God’s presence. Certainly, one may seek themselves in all of these activities. Seeking God is much different: it is a laying down of the entire self to seek Another, the heart of a greater Self. This is the creature, connecting relationally with the Creator, heart to heart, abandoning, at the core of one’s being, all that is not God Himself.

When you look into the face of another, when eyes meet eyes, when face sees face, two souls meet in a way that is not physical. There is a relational connecting, a vulnerability, a seeing that is, at times, painfully intimate. Between two people this is generally one shame-filled heart looking into another shame-filled heart … and we seldom do it. Why do we shrink from this? Why are we so uncomfortable looking into one another’s faces? … really looking into each other? And why is it that we’d rather do just about anything … than look into God? Everyone will you know. It is our destiny.

Part of God’s preparation of us is to deliver us from the shame of Eden, that shrinking, that hiding that springs from the shame of sin. God would free us of the dominion of sin, and so free us from its shame, so that we may look into each other, and look into Him, with confidence and joy.

Which Way?

So, where is your heart? Are you a seeker of the face of God? Are you content merely with prayer? With ritual? With religious expression of any kind? With knowledge? Or obedience? With mere acts of kindness, mere humanitarianism? Or even in building God’s kingdom?

Are you content with anything besides God Himself? Have you abandoned self love in order to seek His face? Are you, with every fiber of your being, distilling every place to this one? Are you willing to live anywhere else? Pursue anything else? Be anything else? Not if you are a child of God.

The rest, those in whom God is not doing this sanctifying work, are left to their own “free” will, and exercise it consistently in such a way as to prepare their hearts to hate God, to loathe Him and His very nature. In the beginning the human will was free to choose, but in being free to choose evil … did … and every human being participated in this initial choice. And the choice of self over God takes many disguises, sometimes appearing dreadfully wicked and at other times appearing outwardly righteous and good. The monk and the despot may look very different on the outside, and yet be very kindred spirits all the while. In any case, the soul in choosing evil found a snare: wickedness enslaves the will. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” (Jn 8:34) The human heart has indeed become depraved, and it appears more and more so with every wicked choice, no longer free to choose good: no longer free to seek God instead of self.

Insanity?

Some would argue, “Well, what sane person would continue to rebel against God and alienate themselves from Him after they die?” Certainly, no sane person would; no sane person would ever rebel against God, in this life or the next. But men and women do rebel, and they do so willingly and deliberately and knowingly. In the end of days, living men gather themselves together to make war against the heavenly King and His army. (Re 19:19) It is not a matter of mere deception: it is a matter of pure hatred, pure enmity against God: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Ro 8:7)

The problem men have is not the amount of truth available to them, the amount of light, but rather their orientation toward truth, toward light. It is the reaction to the truth, to the light, that reveals a God-ward orientation, or exposes an anti-God one. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Jn 3:19-21) If a person hates light, whether it be the faint glow of a midnight star, or the noonday sun … they are repulsed by both. When a person dies, the amount of light to which they are exposed will dramatically increase … but it is deception to think that this will change anyone’s orientation. If a person has hated the light in this life, why would anyone think they would love it in the next, or visa versa?

God’s Open Door Policy

Further, would the God revealed in the Bible damn anyone based merely on a past condition, and not a present one? (Ez 33:11) What would motivate God to reject anyone’s true repentance at any time? (Lk 15:10) Is this the God we know and worship? (Mi 7:18) Does He not invite all who are thirsty for Him to come? (Re 22:17) If God’s nature never changes, then His invitations and promises and heart towards Mankind will never change.

No Middle Ground

So let us consider God as He has revealed Himself to us: the infinite Fountain of all life and holiness and goodness. His beauty is absolutely breathtaking, His glory is so intense that it is tolerable only to those with holy constitutions … to those fitted to endure it.

In the great Day of His unveiling, all of Creation not so fitted flees from Him in absolute dread. Earth itself, and all Heaven, will scream in violent terror to escape His penetrating, omnipresent, holy intensity. There will be no place for them to go. Everything that can be shaken and destroyed — will be. Only that which cannot be shaken will remain whole, intact (He 12:26-27) and yet all else must also face Him eternally.

God has never done this for sinful creatures, revealed Himself fully to all Creation like this. What we see happening in Revelation 20:11 is the result: absolute and total destruction of all that is temporal, and unutterable bliss or terror for every eternal being. It is as if God is telling us now, by giving us this little peak into the future, that He is presently holding Himself back: enduring, waiting, permitting, allowing … suffering …

No More Veil

When God decides that He has suffered enough, endured long enough to reveal both His nature and the nature of every being that He has allowed to rebel against Himself, we have an unspeakable turn of events. All God seems to do is to finally appear to saints and rebels and devils and angels … as He is: no veil, no shadow, no pictures. All will see and experience His holy, undiluted nature … face to face, first hand. (1Co 13:12)

Perhaps it is a little like a divine microwave: the energy streaming forth from the eternal God excites into an infinite intensity the core structures of every created thing: the spiritual atoms of which every spiritual being is made. This streaming energy of God moves every being to an extreme, way past the melting point, and way past the boiling point. The chosen saints and elect angels drink in the infinite intensity of God as if finally at home … it is what all of us are made for.

All the rest, the damned, having chosen themselves above God, react oppositely. These dreadful souls, though made for God and designed to enjoy Him, have instead chosen to exalt themselves, corrupting their nature and so completely hardening their own constitutions that the presence of God is now a dreadful terror to them. (1Co 5:11) These are now in the intimate and immediate presence of that which they absolutely detest and loathe … the holiness of God, God Himself. (Ro 8:7) Now, rebels who have dared to oppress the holiness of God begin to experience His presence in the same way in which God has been experiencing them: undiluted, unveiled, naked.

The result is so profound, the suffering so intense, that their wills are actually unable to function in this state: they are unable to think, unable to reason … and therefore unable to sin, unable to act in rebellion. This state, by any measure, could be called destruction, even though the souls continue to exist and are not at all annihilated.

In this state the damned are cast into the Lake of Fire (Re 20:15), gathered and assembled into a small shallow body of weighty, dense, plasma-like intensity, emanating from and enveloping the damned in their ongoing reaction to God. (Ps 21:9) It is for them now on the outside what it is like for them on the inside.

At Last

Finally, when every last one of God’s enemies has entered fully into such a state, boiling and shaking in the infinite fires of God’s intensity – in a burning that is so intense that every emission from within them and around them is vastly beyond the visible spectrum … and therefore creating a condition of absolute darkness about them … that God’s suffering begins to be relieved. It is here, in this darkness, that God no longer experiences the presence of any acts of rebellion in His enemies. While the wicked are in this Lake of Fire … for the first time since the fall of Satan … there is no one sinning in the entire universe … and God’s suffering is finally ended.

What a joy that will be, both to God and to His elect! (Is 66:23-24)

To affect this condition eternally, in love, consider that God may repeatedly, at the appointed seasons of His calendar, don again the cloak that shrouds His holiness. This action might tend to dampen the intensity of the furnace, the Lake of Fire simply melting away, relieving the damned of their infinite suffering, one brief moment at a time. In relief, the wicked come to themselves again, and hear God graciously offer one more undeserved chance to lay down their arms, to yield to Him, to honor Him, to love Him. (Is 1:18)

If He ever does so, all Heaven will behold the amazing, consistent condition of depravity: over and over again, every last one of the damned will spit in the face of Love, shaking its fist, spewing forth its blasphemy. (Ps 81:15)

God, after again exposing us all, and Himself, to the ultimate destiny of free will, removes His veil, restoring the furnace. The blessed return to their rest in Him … reminded again that everything outside of God, that exalts itself apart from Him, will always of its own accord, continue that in that way … regardless of the consequence.

What the Hell!

What is Hell other than this? If this is Hell, and no more, how can anyone rightly complain against it?

Hell: a prison defended from within, its torments merely the perfectly natural response to the inevitable unveiling of a holy God, the terrifying experience of utter selfishness and depravity in the intimate, immediate presence of utter love and holiness. It will be, forever, a glory to God and a source of unspeakable gratitude to His elect.