Lou: “If God does not punish, then who sends the fire down from heaven on the wicked?” Rev 20:9. You’ve already alluded to that. Also, “Who caused Ananias and Sapphira to fall dead?” Acts 5:1-11.
Graham: I would want to make a difference between two kinds of death. What happened to Ananias and Sapphira is what the Bible calls the first death, and they will be resurrected. Their future, in which resurrection they will arise, is between them and God. But what happened to Ananias and Sapphira is different from this awful death at the end. Now when fire comes down from God and consumes the resurrected wicked (Rev 20:9), God is there, no doubt about it. But as we have discussed before, this “fire” is His life-giving glory which is described in the Bible as having the appearance of fire (Ezek 1:26-27; Dan 7:9-10; Rev 4:5). In fact, if we were among the saved, we would have been living in this life-giving glory for a thousand years, and it won’t have hurt anybody. It’s only if we’re willfully and rebelliously out of harmony with God that this glory is damaging. God in mercy has veiled this life-giving glory for our sake. His so-called “strange act” (Isa 28:21) is when He ceases to veil His life-giving glory. When this earth is no longer a dark place, and His glory fills the earth, all that is out of harmony is consumed. He doesn’t turn His back on this. He’s there. He’s watching His children. It’s His glory. But He’s not torturing His dying children to death. That’s the difference.
Lou: You once told me that we will bask in that glory for all eternity. We will never want it to go out.
Graham: Oh, I like the fact that this is everlasting fire. If the fire is God’s glory, it had better not go out. We will live in this everlasting fire for eternity, but it’s His life-giving glory.
Lou: Someone raised the same basic question about the Flood. “Are you saying God doesn’t kill? What about the Flood?”
Graham: This is a similar question to the one about Ananias and Sapphira. The deaths at the time of the Flood belong to the first death. I see God bringing the Flood as an emergency measure, and a very serious one at that. The Flood was a very risky thing for Him to do, lest we serve Him from fear. And certainly the Flood didn’t win their hearts. The survivors built a tower to escape Him not long after (Gen 11:1-9). But He did it to preserve contact with the human race. Those who died in the Flood died the first death. And all who died in the Flood will be resurrected.
Lou: A related question: “How do we explain where God in the Old Testament told His people again and again to wipe out the enemy? Here are God’s children being instructed by God to do this. How do you reconcile that with a loving God?”
Graham: That was truly an emergency measure. But before He did that, He said to the children of Israel, “When I take you out of Egypt, I’ll send my angel ahead of you. I’ll send hornets ahead of you. I’ll use the forces of nature to remove your enemies one way or the other. Let Me do it” (Exod 23:23-30). But they didn’t trust Him on this, as with so many other things He sought to do for them. And so He stooped and met them where they were and helped them fight. But while He helped them, He still hated the fighting. How do we know? When David wanted to build the temple, God said, “You’re a great man as a warrior, but you’ve been a man of blood (1 Chr 28:3). That’s not My ideal,” and He went on record as not wanting the fighting. He never designed His people to fight their way into Canaan. But in their lack of faith, He helped them fight.