Earlier this year, Pastor Ryan Bell, controversially announced for 2014 that he was “living for a year without God.” His declaration came after 22 years of serving as a pastor in a Seventh-day Adventist church. Agreeing to separate from his church due to “theological concerns,” it seems separation from his “faith” is soon to follow. His declaration also included his plan of how he was going to pull it off. “For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.” But, Bell’s declaration begs some questions. Is it even possible to live even one day without God, much less one year? Does his "how to" sound like it can work? Is Bell deluding himself or are Christians deluding themselves?
Is it possible to live even the smallest amount of time without God? The answer is no. God is all around us, providing for us, loving us, and ultimately breathing life into and through us. To prove that, here are a few more questions Bell would be well served to ponder: How is it possible to sleep without God? Why do you think that you can’t stop breathing voluntarily? Why do you think that you can’t stop your heart from beating voluntarily? Why are the beginnings of a baby’s heart beating such a mystery? God is the sustainer of all life and the source of all that living things need to live. And, He sustains it so well. We walk into grocery store after grocery store and should be amazed at the provisions of God that are stacked from floor to ceiling and wall to wall in almost every city in the developed world. And God keeps giving without end. Even the oxygen that we breathe for granted and the water we drink is supplied to the vilest among us without restraint. But, the greatest thing that God offers all of us every day is His love through His Gospel. Without love ("God is love"), life is impossible. And, we all express love towards others due entirely to God’s love for us and our attempts to imitate Him consciously or subconsciously. It is impossible to live without Him. What Bell fails to admit is that it is presently impossible to live in complete separation from God. Therefore, Bell is destined to spend 2014 in self-inflicted delusion.
In fact the Bible gives us a vivid glimpse of precisely what it is like to exist without God. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Hell is Hell for one reason and one reason alone – God is not there.
In the Bible’s Gospel accounts Jesus describes Hell many times. In seven of those instances, He describes Hell as a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Luke 13:22-30 for example) There are only a few concepts that Jesus repeats using identical wording every time. This description of Hell is one of those few. I believe He was emphasizing a very serious point. Why in Hell will people react with weeping and gnashing of teeth? Is it because of darkness or fire? Does the Bible explicitly identify the cause for these reactions? The reason why there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in Hell is primarily because there is total separation of God’s image-bearers from the source of their image.
Every fiber of our being was designed to constantly receive and sense God. Every cell in our body exists and is satisfied by the subconscious bathing in His presence. Separation of ourselves from God might be like people who have lost a limb, and continue to feel itches where there is nothing to scratch. They go through tortured frustration knowing the itch, like their limb, should not exist. That is similar to existence without God. Except, without God, every microscopic component of our entire body both inside and out will itch with unbearable pain for lack of the One they were designed to feel. And, there is nothing that can satisfy this need. This all-consuming "itch" will be the truest of torment.
This biological reality was best evidenced by a series of experiments conducted during the 1990s. They were designed to determine if sensory deprivation was an effective means of torture. Volunteers were placed into sealed, sound-proof chambers with no light and their ears blocked from all sound. The chambers were partially filled with water that was controlled to stay at body temperature and maximum buoyancy. As the volunteers floated in the water, it was as if they sensed nothing at all. They felt nothing, heard nothing, and saw nothing but blackness. The results were horrific. Below is an excerpt from the study reports:
“Technically, total sensory deprivation is very difficult to achieve [Auerbach, 1996]. However, in severe deprivation environments noticeable differences emerge. White-out conditions, prolonged isolation, or a highly structured environment intensifies the altered state experience. If brain stimulation from sensory inputs is eliminated or greatly altered the brain begins to ‘fill in’/compensate for the change. Hallucinations likely result; all perceptual experience is being drawn from internal sources. Loss of identity, difficulty meeting basic survival needs, apathy, and depression have been known to occur in a total sensory deprivation environment. Research subjects typically find the experience intolerable within only 4 days [Wallace & Fisher, 1991].”
And, many of the volunteers required extensive psychiatric treatment following the experiments. Hell will be so much worse than that because God was still present in those sensory deprivation chambers. That luxury will not be afforded in Hell.
To further determine the cause of weeping and gnashing of teeth, consider also the designed purpose of Hell. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Hell was not prepared or designed to punish humans. It was designed to punish angels. That thought alone should give us great pause. To digest this contrast, imagine punishing a mischievous puppy with the same punishment you would reserve for a ravenous wolf. The sight would be unbearable. And, yet this contrast is nothing compared to that between a punishment being designed for massively powerful angels being inflicted on much weaker and smaller humans. More importantly, we know from Hebrews 1:14 and other scriptures that angels are not physical beings, but spirit beings. Therefore, the design of the punishment of Hell should be entirely spiritual rather than physical. It is often described in physical terms in order for us physical beings to better relate. But, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth due to spiritual pain first and foremost. This spiritual pain is due to unimaginable, eternal separation from God.
It is not possible to live without God and that is why death is called death. Since life is borne of God, living without God is the equivalent of living without life. It is logically impossible. Therefore, true death (or lasting death) is the equivalent of existing in a state of permanent separation from God (or separation from life). God is the source and giver of all life. Without Him, there is no life. Therefore, without Him, those who were designed to live will suffer eternal separation from that for which they were designed. Bell is deluding himself into believing he will live a year without God. Ignoring God does not remove God from reality. Only God can do that. And, God will only do that in Hell. Ironically, in 2014, God will still bless Bell with food, water, oxygen and freely offered love during his year of ignorance.
If you are reading this, you broadly fit into one of two categories. You are either marching down the path towards eternal resurrection or down the path of eternal death. If you have up to this point chosen an eternity without God, then reading this is an urgent reminder that it is not too late to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness, eternal life and adoption into eternal familial royalty. Surrender to the One who paid everything to set you free from death so that you might have life eternal. If, however, you are on the path towards eternal resurrection, I have a final question for you. Are you to any degree blind to the horrors that await the rest of us? If so, open your eyes and react now by offering sight to the blind. After all, their lives depend upon it.