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If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?


LUKE 16:19-31
Jesus said,

There was a Rich Man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.
At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores,
and longing to eat what fell from the Rich Man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side (bosom in some versions). The Rich Man also died and was buried.
In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’.
But Abraham replied, ‘Son remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone else cross over from there to us.’
He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.
Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (NIV)

Jesus told a story about a Rich Man who neglected a poor man and who went to Hell to be punished for it forever. The Rich Man looked up and saw the poor man in Paradise. His tongue was in grave agony in the flame. He asked for a drop of water to soothe it and if the poor man could be miraculously sent to put it on his tongue. His request was refused as it was impossible for anybody to cross from Paradise to Hell. He asked then that the poor man be sent to his living brothers to warn them about Hell by rising from the dead. This was refused as well on the grounds that they would not listen anyway. This suggests that they didn't believe in Hell but that would not stop them being damned when they die.
Filled with fear that his brothers, who may or may not have been still alive on earth, would go to Hell, the Rich Man begged Abe to talk God into raising Lazarus from the dead so that he could warn them about Hell and the importance of serving God to avoid it. Abe’s pathetic answer was that it would be no use raising people from the dead for that purpose for they wouldn't believe the warning when they wouldn’t believe that God wrote the Old Testament scriptures.   That wasn’t fair for they had no archaeological or any other kind of evidence that the scriptures were genuine. There is no proof against the possibility that Moses wrote the Torah and somebody intending to deceive altered it before it was able to be studied in depth by the people. The modern means that Christians say make the Bible more plausible were not available to them. When God and Abe are so unreasonable why wouldn’t they send somebody to Hell forever? Moreover, it is madness even for God to say that he knows what certain people would do if he did this or that for it is not logically possible to know that.
Is this narrative told as fact or fiction? The book, Jehovah of the Watch-tower, argues for the traditional view that the story was a true story (page 80, 85).
Let us look at the alleged proofs that the story is a fable.
a) The Rich Man is carried off into Abraham’s bosom.
Abraham’s bosom was a popular name for paradise then. It was the place close to his heart hence the name. The people there were close to Abraham who was boss under God – lying on his bosom to speak symbolically. There is nothing about the expression that indicates the story is symbolic and just a story.
b) The Rich Man had a body but Jesus said the damned are not raised yet.
It is said that the Rich Man having a body when his brothers were alive on earth cannot be explained. But God could give the damned a makeshift body to suffer. Another possibility is that the Rich Man wanted the poor man to go back in time to warn the brothers. Even if that were impossible that would not stop him being told that there was no point for they would not listen. So we could be talking about the Rich Man and the poor man after the resurrection.
The Rich Man miraculously burns in the flames without being consumed like the men in Daniel 3. God made him a new body or kind of body or he may preserve the body or remake it each time it is reduced to ashes. On resurrection morn, God will give him back his earthly body to be judged and then thrown back into Hell. He must do this for a symbolic reason rather than a logical one. Or perhaps it is best for the body that committed the sins to suffer forever. But it could be that the resurrected body is the body that one left on earth and which is destroyed in Hell and God continually remakes it.
Christians want to pretend that we make our own Hell and God has nothing to do with it. It's a little stupid fad of theirs. If that is true then why do they believe in the resurrection of the damned? Surely then God is re-making bodies just for the sake of tormenting them physically?
c) The conversation between Abraham and the Rich Man cannot have happened for one was in paradise and the other in Hell.
God could miraculously make them hear one another. The afterlife is full of miracles. Or maybe they have an intercom? The text does not say it is usual for saints like Abraham to hear the Rich Man. Abraham does not help the Rich Man. It cannot be used as proof that God allows prayers to saints. It is better at showing that such prayers to saints fail!
The thought that they could hear each other across the massive chasm does not imply that the saints in Heaven despite the distance from earth can hear us. If Heaven can hear Hell that does not mean Heaven can hear earth.
d) The Rich Man implored Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his burning tongue with a few drops of water. This would only help one part of the body for a few seconds. Why didn't he ask for a bucket of water all over? The Rich Man would not have asked for Lazarus to cool his tongue for when he was suffering all over what difference did it make? The Rich Man would not have asked just for a drop of water but for a pail of water to be thrown over him for all-over relief.
The tongue may have hurt the most and the suffering must have been beyond human expectations or imagination when such a tiny fleeting relief was craved so strongly.
He probably believed he wouldn’t get the pail so he didn’t ask. His plea for a drop to cool his tongue shows that it must have been suffering the most or that he knew it was the most he would get if he were getting anything.
The Rich Man wants a tiny bit of relief. Some believers say that all the Rich Man cared about was his own relief and not about God. It is said that the Rich Man was preoccupied with his thirst and had no longing for God. But the parable does not actually say that. The Rich Man may have wanted God but saw no point in asking for God but thought something might be done for a few seconds about his thirst. We must remember that the Rich Man was forced to obsess about the thirst by the fire that God had made in Hell.
The story is supposed by some to show that people who are too selfish to love God go to Hell. But the passage is not about the Rich Man's attitude to God at all. That is not even mentioned. It is possible to imagine somebody being in such horror that any tiny momentary relief would be priceless.
e) Abe said that anybody who wants to go from Paradise to Hell or from Hell to Paradise cannot get across the great abyss. But anybody in Paradise who wants to go to Hell would be committing sin when God wants the two places separated. So nobody in Paradise would want to go across therefore the story is a parable for Abraham would not have said anybody would try to cross.
But the story could be literally true and Abe could have been speaking hypothetically. He was not saying that anybody would want to cross but was saying if they could want to and do want to they won’t get far.
The main thought in the tale is how once you die and go to the place of suffering for sin you cannot escape or get any relief at all. You are there as if you are in chains. It is a real prison that even if you wanted to leave and chose to you could not. The Rich Man couldn't relieve the pain of his tongue even for a second. You are not there of your free will anymore. The modernist doctrine that Hell is just where you go when you finally reject God and you make your own Hell can't be true for if you willingly reject God you will want to make the best of it and enjoy it as best you can even if just to spite him.
f) The story says that Lazarus could not leave paradise to put a drop of water on the Rich Man’s tongue to soothe him. God could miraculously enable him to without letting him undergo the pain of Hell.
So the Rich Man wanted Lazarus to help. Abe replied that there was nothing he could do for nobody could cross the abyss between Paradise and Hell. God could make it possible but it was not possible since God did not will it. God made communication possible but nothing else. There was no transporter beam.
God could have let Lazarus help but maybe the reason it couldn’t happen was because God had forbidden mercy to the damned?
g) The Rich Man was a damned person and would not have called Abraham father and prayed to him to save the brothers. The damned hate God and would rather everybody went to hell forever than that they should worship him. They are completely bad. The Rich Man wasn't so the story is a parable.
Some would answer that the passage merely says that the Rich Man paid no attention to Lazarus when they were alive. If so then it does not say he was totally selfish. Perhaps he was a philanthropist but was condemned for ignoring the beggar man near his house.
We must not forget that despite all the ink that has been spent on saying the Rich Man was condemned because he neglected Lazarus there is no evidence that he was. Lazarus needed help but the Rich Man perhaps could have been too caught up in charity work and his own affairs to notice. We are not told if he should have noticed. This observation tells against the story being a parable as well for Jesus’ parables had a moral while this story has none and its point is that those who disbelieve in the Law and the Prophets will burn forever and a man rising from the dead to make them believe is wasting his time. This is presented as fact and not as a moral or hidden meaning in the text like with the real parables. The story says that moral people like the Rich Man go to Hell (page 38, Hell – What the Bible Says About It?).
Nowhere does the Bible say that the damned are totally bad any more than the rest of us are. It says that there is good in many of them when they don’t all undergo the same punishment in the same severity (Matthew 18:34). Even Satan could have to talk to God despite the animosity between them.  
The Rich Man could have been calling Abraham father to get round him and perhaps he wanted the brothers safe for he felt for them and not out of any real goodness or concern for God. But the Bible says we have to assume the best when in doubt so we have to believe that the Rich Man loved God and his brothers. The story therefore denies that the damned are necessarily evil. God holds them in Hell forever and gives them grace to be holy but that holiness does not help them.
Abraham called the man son. So the Rich Man could have called Abraham father and meant it. Abraham may have called it because it was true but also to hurt the Rich Man more. It was possibly sarcasm. In that case, Abraham gives him no pity at all and expresses no wish that he could help. Indeed he rubs his nose in it.
Or perhaps Abraham meant it - meaning the man was not fully bad.
h) The Rich Man would have asked to go to Paradise for help but he didn't. He does not ask to go to Lazarus for help but asks that Lazarus be sent to him.
Does he ask Lazarus to risk the pains of Hell to help him? This seems to illustrate the Christian doctrine that those who are in Hell want others to suffer that fate. Is it a trick to lure Lazarus into Hell? But does it? Lazarus could have come to him in a force-field. Lazarus if he got the drop of water would expect it to evaporate unless there was a forcefield.
i) Hell and paradise are not places. Paradise is happiness after death. Hell is torment and despair. In the story, Jesus says that Hell and paradise are far apart and that there is an abyss to prevent people crossing. Jesus’ details about the topography of the afterlife is pictorial not meant to be taken literally. The story is a parable.
Even if Hell and Paradise are not places they are still far apart in quality and there is no way of flitting from one to the other. There is still an abyss between both states in a sense. And we must remember too that we have no right to pretend that the Bible does not consider Paradise/Heaven and Hell to be places just because science has refuted the traditional view that Hell was below the earth and Heaven in the clouds. That is reading the knowledge we have now back into books that give no hint of knowing these things but which talk as if they did not know.
j) Some say it is odd that the Rich Man was able to see Paradise and didn't want to go there so they take that a hint that it is a fairy story. But it is not said he didn't want to go there. Abraham after all reminds him that he cannot go there.
k) A variation of the last argument is that if the Rich Man could see Paradise he could see God.
If Paradise is the presence of God as Christians say, it does not follow that the Rich Man could see God. He only saw the happiness of Heaven not Heaven itself. You cannot say he was looking at God and hating him. The fact that Jesus never mentions God would support that.
l) The story is just a fairy-tale for God would not have enabled Lazarus and Abraham to see the horrors of Hell for it would only upset them.
Perhaps Jesus did not realise this. God might have let them have a temporary look and then heal them of the shock. Don’t many Christians say that the saints don’t give a hoot about the damned? Perhaps Jesus thought that Lazarus and Abe had a censored view of Hell. Abe alone heard the Rich Man but did he see him? If he didn’t then neither did Lazarus.
m) The Bible does not say that we go to Heaven or Hell after death – this will not happen until we are raised from the dead. It says death is the end. The story says of those two men that one was in paradise and the other in Hell while people still lived on earth that is before the resurrection. It cannot be literally true for it would not contradict God’s word.
In reality you are trying to make the story your disbelief in Hell. If the Bible contradicts itself on the subject that does not mean that Luke 16 is being misunderstood for preaching Hell.
The Bible does not claim that death is the end. If it does then it certainly does not say that people will not and cannot live again or that nobody is raised before the general resurrection.
There is nothing in this whole passage or anywhere else in the Bible that indicates that this tale from Luke is a parable or that what it describes is not true. The supposedly silly bits are all approved in the Bible elsewhere.
We have to take the story as a true one for it is a sin to assume that something is a parable or a joke without reason. The message can be made ineffectual and lost that way. If we start doing that then where do we draw the line?
There is no hint in the story that it is a parable. Jesus meant it literally. It was intended to show that the fires of Hell are extremely tormenting and are so bad that you would do anything even for a seconds relief on the pain on your tongue. It was intended to show that you can go there for forgetting the poor. It was intended to show that the damned do indeed have concerns about others and stopping them going to Hell. It shows there is no escape. The Rich Man did not ask that he be raised to warn his brothers. This illustrates the point.
Luke 16 is a shocking description of Hell and what Jesus meant it to be, the worse thing it could be – a true story. The terrifying thing is that it says that the fate of the person who dies rejecting God cannot be altered. If he goes to Hades he stays there forever (page 121, Why does God?). The vigilance that Jesus wants in preparation for his return to earth supports this terrifying doctrine.
The Christian booklet, Hell – What the Bible Says About It?, tells us that the story is not a parable especially since Jesus went to the trouble of naming Lazarus and did not mention the name of the other man to spare the feelings of those who might know who he was (page 6).
The Worldwide Church of God used to say that the narrative was not about what happened immediately after death for death is the end of the existence of the person but what will happen at or after the resurrection. They say that the fire that was hurting Lazarus was the fire that God sends to put the sinners out of existence. It burnt him because it was getting very close. They deny that the story supports everlasting torture. If that is true then how could his tongue have been so painful? It was inside his head after all! His nose would have been hotter for it was nearer the flames. Or was it because he shouted to Abraham and the flames got into his mouth and burnt his tongue? No for he says he was in the flames and in torment and it still would not have been as painful for the tongue was inside the mouth most of the time. He talked too much for one that was suffering the excessive burning of his tongue. His tongue was not the worst part of him. All of him was suffering terribly that even the slightest relief for a moment was of infinite value to him. And notice that he believed that his surviving brothers were still living on earth and that the general resurrection hadn’t happened yet when he told Abraham to let Lazarus walk out of the tomb alive. Abraham did not tell him he was wrong to assume these but agreed with him. They all talk as if the brothers were still alive so they were.
The brothers could have been long dead. Abraham who speaks as if they are still alive might not have been aware of this for he talks as if they are still alive. The suffering man still cared for his living relatives. If there is no friendship in Hell it is because
But it is simpler to assume that they were alive so they were.
Speculation is worthless. Everybody likes to see things in the story that are not there.
Some would speculate that the Rich Man and perhaps Abe thought Lazarus could be sent back in time to change history but that is unlikely and there is no hint of it in the story. Nobody would be going to Hell at all if that were possible. To imagine somebody can be sent back in time to change the present by altering the past is mad.
Some would speculate that the account refers to temporary suffering for the wicked in the period between death and the resurrection to judgment. If they don’t repent they will suffer until they do or they will be annihilated. But our Rich Man did repent for he loved God and was still trapped so he was probably damned forever. And Jesus' main point was that there can be no crossing over from paradise to Hell or vice versa. The story was told from the Rich Man's perspective implying his fate will never change.
There is no reason for taking the parable to denote some place other than that of eternal misery. If it had meant a place other than that of eternal misery; if it had meant a place different from Hell, Jesus and the author would have made that clear when there is no biblical evidence that the wicked go after death to somewhere other than Hell.
The story makes a good warning for Catholics who chase after revelations from apparitions and visionaries instead of reading the Old Testament. No true revelation from God would encourage and welcome their activities.
The story is a true story in Jesus' mind because it is all about making the point that if people don't think the Jewish scriptures are true and from God then even somebody rising from the dead to tell them that they are true and in danger of Hell for not believing will not help. Jesus could simply have made that point without the story. The story was told because it was true and not just because it had a moral. Jesus made a simple point in the story, that people should listen to the prophets which was something his hearers had been listening to all their lives. This shows that he would not have given cause for confusion. He was indicating the existence of and importance of clear revelation from God.
The story is as meant to be literal as the story of the resurrection of Jesus is and it is reckless to take it any other way.
The Amplified Bible

APOLOGETICS AND CATHOLIC DOCTRINE, Most Rev M Sheehan DD, M H Gill & Son, Dublin, 1954
APOLOGETICS FOR THE PULPIT, Aloysius Roche, Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD, London, 1950
ENCHIRIDION SYMBOLORUM ET DEFINITIONUM, Heinrich Joseph Denzinger, Edited by A Schonmetzer, Barcelona, 1963
‘GOD, THAT’S NOT FAIR!’ Dick Dowsett, [OMF Books, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Belmont, The Vine, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 3TZ] Kent, 1982
HANDBOOK OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Monarch, East Sussex, 1994
HAVE WE TO FEAR A DEVIL? Fred Pearce, The Christadelphian Office, Birmingham
HEAVEN AND HELL Dudley Fifield, Christadelphian Publishing Office, Birmingham
HELL – WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT IT, John R Rice, Sword of the Lord, Murfreesboro, 1945
JEHOVAH OF THE WATCH-TOWER, Walter Martin and Norman Klann, Bethany House, Minnesota, 1974
LIFE IN CHRIST, PART 3, Fergal McGrath SJ, MH Gill and Son Ltd, Dublin, 1960
RADIO REPLIES VOL 1, Frs Rumble and Carty, Radio Replies Press, St Paul, Minnesota, 1938
REASON AND BELIEF, Bland Blanschard, George Allen & and Unwin Ltd, London, 1974
THE BIBLE TELLS US SO, R B Kuiper, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1978
THE DEVIL, THE GREAT DECEIVER Peter Watkins, The Christadelphian Birmingham, 1992
THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF BIBLE DIFFICULTIES, Gleason W Archer, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982
THE FOUR MAJOR CULTS, AA Hoekema, Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1992
THE KINDNESS OF GOD, EJ Cuskelly MSC, Mercier Press, Cork, 1965
THE LIFE OF ALL LIVING, Fulton J Sheen, Image Books, New York, 1979
THE REAL DEVIL, Alan Hayward, Christadelphian Bible Mission, Birmingham
THE REALITY OF HELL, St Alphonsus Liguori, Augustine Publishing Company, Devon, 1988
THE SERMONS OF ST ALPHONSUS LIGOURI, St Alphonsus Ligouri, TAN, Illinois, 1982
THE TRUTH ABOUT HELL, Dawn Bible Students, East Rutherford, NJ
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT HELL? Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HEAVEN?, Dave Hunt, Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1988
WHEN CRITICS ASK, Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, Victor Books, Illinois ,1992
WHY DOES GOD? Domenico Grasso SJ, St Paul Publications, Bucks, 1970