Tackling Hell: Thinking About the Israel Folau Controversy

Another week, another sporting scandal. Not a ball-tampering cricketer this time, but a Christian rugby player who has offered some truth to help people avoid losing in the most crucial game of all: LIFE. But, as Jack Nicholson once yelled across a courtroom, “You can’t handle the truth.” Apparently, these days, no-one can handle the truth about the consequences which follow our actions in relation to God.

Apparently, these days, no-one can handle the truth about the consequences which follow our actions in relation to God.

God has established rules to govern how we love Him and how we should love others. What I find fascinating, and a little frightening, is that a nation can defend a cheat banished from cricket but condemn someone who speaks an uncomfortable truth to protect us from being banished from God.

We think it’s crazy, with all the warnings and cameras focused on the game, that anyone would disregard the rules and bring the game into disrepute by tampering with a ball. When of course someone ignores the warnings and is caught we expect judgements to be made and consequences to follow. We may not like the judgements made by the Australian Cricket Board but we don’t argue with their authority to make them. 

Is it any less crazy to ignore God’s warnings, whose watchful eye misses nothing and whose authority cannot be argued with?

Although he may have not done it sensitively, Israel Folau has expressed Christian truth. God rules the world according to His purposes, standards and character. To ignore God’s ruling purposes for life in any way (sexual or otherwise) is sin. To stubbornly ignore God’s call to turn away from sin is to deliberately hold yourself at alms length from God for eternity. That arms-length distance is the distance between God’s rule and self-rule, between forgiveness and condemnation, between Heaven and Hell.

This truth seems harsh and judgmental to our world—and again, perhaps Israel’s way of describing it didn’t help here. But when we put it together with the message of the cross it’s great news. God is calling us to a new life with him through Jesus Christ. God has satisfied his just standards and taken away the condemnation and judgement that we all deserve. Both his commands and his cross are expressions of God’s love.

When the stakes are so high we should not be surprised by the judgement of a Christian rugby player who would warn people off the things that bring God’s condemnation and threaten with hell. Yet Christians can’t avoid these truths. Folau chose to speak out about the world’s alternative plan for human sexuality but he could just as well have spoken about domestic violence, dishonest business practices, human greed, slanderous speech, hubris, the dishonouring of parents, any of my own sins and so much more. Hell does not exist simply for those whose sexual decisions are foreign to the will of God. It exists for anyone who sins and shows up before God unforgiven. Being unforgiven, of course,  is so unnecessary when grace and mercy is offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for anyone who will ultimately surrender to the rule of God. There is no unforgivable sin other than the sin of keeping God at arm’s length.

Hell does not exist simply for those whose sexual decisions are foreign to the will of God. It exists for anyone who sins and shows up before God unforgiven

I have not heard anyone in the cricket world suggest that the issues are so difficult that ball tampering rules be changed such that you can freely tamper all you like. Nor have I heard anyone in the Commonwealth Games coverage suggest controlling drug cheats is too hard so we should change the rules to allow a drug assisted games. Such suggestions sound ridiculous but there is no shortage of people who would change God’s rules to accommodate their own performance.  Folau and Christians everywhere know that this is never going to happen. God doesn’t change for us but God can help us to change for Him. So with Israel Folau, I would warn everyone who sins that hell is real but the Saviour of this world, Jesus Christ, stands ready with forgiveness and the offer of help for a heavenly future.


Photo: David Molloy

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