This old bumper sticker from the 70’s expresses pretty well the attitude many Christians have about the situation in the world: “I want justice on the earth. I don’t want people to get away with all the things they get away with now. Lord, when are you coming back and knock heads?” There is a longing in all our hearts to see justice served, the guilty punished and the righteous rewarded, even if we have to suffer ourselves!
This is also in God’s heart. One of the facets of the answer to the basic theological question “What is God like?” is that He is just; He judges His creation perfectly, according to His standard, which is Himself, i.e., perfection, and He expects as much from us. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’” (1 Peter 1:15, 16).
This means, as we each go about God’s individual plan for us on the earth, we are called, in all we think and do, to conform to that standard. “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” Matthew 5:48).
However, because of Eve’s gullibility and Adam’s lack of family leadership in the Garden of Eden, the plan went sideways right out of the gate. Satan tricked them into deciding to seek that perfection on their own, by their own assessment of good and evil, without yielding to their Father’s rule over them. We were right there ”in Adam,” joining in their rebellion with them.
Big mistake. Man is not created to be independent of God and make decisions on his own, and the result of our attempt to do so has proven disastrous. Human history is the sorry record of us trying to decide good and evil for ourselves.
Sadly for us, there are severe consequences that accompany our rebellion against God’s rule in our lives. God, as a just and perfect God, has a specific future for those who do not measure up to His standard of perfection. It is death, not just the physical death of the body, but the spiritual death of the eternal soul. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20), and this death is not simply ceasing to exist, as many believe. It is separation from God—thus being stripped of all the common graces He extends to His creatures in His world that are unseen, unacknowledged and unappreciated by them.
The Bible describes that spiritual death in vivid terms to help us understand—torment in the fiery, constant, unquenchable flames of Hell. That biblical language is the closest man can come to expressing what separation from God is like.
So, the conundrum is this: How can a God who is the personification of love (“God is love” – 1 John 4:8) send any of His sinful, rebellious children whom He loves absolutely to an eternal Hell that His absolute justice demands?
Christians know that the answer is the cross of Jesus Christ. It has been said that “Justice and Mercy kiss at the cross,” but how that can happen is fuzzy to most Christians.
For example, we say God is “absolutely sovereign,” but somehow “we have our own free will, we can reject God’s offer of salvation, and we will go to Hell,” even though God died for us and desires with all His heart to save us. Does that make sense? How exactly does that work?
Or how about this one: “God is sovereign and will save all He chooses to save. He just doesn’t choose to save everyone.” That means He is a blatant “respecter of persons,” which we are told in the Bible that He is not (Acts 10:34). Nor can He love someone He chooses to send to Hell, can He?
Directly preceding Jesus’ call to us to “be perfect” in Matthew 5:48, He describers what that perfection entails in verse 44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Is God violating His own standard by doing just the opposite and sending His enemies who hated Him and rejected Him to Hell? Most Christians believe that He does exactly that!
There is an answer that solves this seemingly impossible conundrum.
There are three presuppositions that form the foundational thinking of Christians that they never question and of which they are largely unaware. They form the lens through which they read the Bible:
- God loves all the people in world and died for all their sins.
- God is sovereign and always does as He chooses.
- Those who do not believe that Jesus died for their sin and is their Savior will spend eternity in Hell.
However, I would think that a bit of critical thinking would question God proving His love for the world by torturing a huge percentage of its population forever in Hell. In order to get around this obvious inconsistency, there have been two differing schools of thought.
The first group emphasizes the love of God for all, but hedges on His absolute sovereignty by inventing man’s “free will” that God refuses to violate, because “He is a gentleman.” He thus, for unexplained reasons, surrenders His rule as God to our “free will.” This is an untouchable, “sacred cow” doctrine to many Christians.
The other group emphasizes the sovereignty of God, and realizing God does whatever He wants, and He sends many to Hell, they reason that He doesn’t love everyone—only those He has chosen to save, and hates the rest of us and sends us to Hell.
This division among evangelical Christians has existed for centuries. One group emphasizes love, the other sovereignty, but both diligently and unfailingly agree on #3: all unbelievers with spend eternity in Hell.
Is it important that we do our best to solve issues like this, or does our faith not need to be logically consistent? Let me propose some questions for thought: 1.) What if an absolutely sovereign God loved everyone and thus, of course, wanted to save them all, would He not do so? 2.) What if it can be shown from studying the Greek word for “eternal” in the Bible that a great majority of times in the New Testament it means “a distinct period of time?” 3.) What if Hell is temporary and redemptive and not permanent or punitive; what if it is God’s loving discipline, i.e., “God’s woodshed?”
Doesn’t this sound more like the God you know and love? My 63-page book, Limitless Grace, A New Look at Hell, available on this web-site, discusses this topic in detail.