Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Does One Reconcile The Love Of God And Hell?

The modern day Christian lives in a dilemma as he contemplates his religion and his culture.  The dilemma is between having an internally consistent worldview and serving a God who, through the eyes of man and culture, appears to be a monster.  The question in the title of this post highlights at least part of this dilemma, and it demands an answer!

To answer requires a starting point.  So we should start by ever distinguishing between cultural assertions and biblical truth.  The culture asserts that, as far as the "self" is concerned, it is sovereign. That is, the average individual we meet will reject the existence of an objective basis for  right and wrong. Just as in the days of the Judges, in which "every man did what was right in his own eyes", (Judg 17:6) right and wrong is currently said to be dredged up from between the ears of each individual.  In a culture that has embraced this view the individual finds himself floating on a sea of opinions based on personal feelings. In the modern mind, "That doesn't make me feel good" carries the same weight as "Thou shalt not..."; in fact, it carries more weight.  Unfortunately for the average individual, the mind adrift on this sea is easily blown this way and that by winds created by the rulers, the powers, the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness.  (Eph 6:12)

So, for the average modern man, to be told that he is not a good person is a full frontal assault on his sensibilities.  Any God that would say such a thing, therefore, must be the figment of the imaginations of little monsters themselves.  Either that or God actually is a monster. For if the reference point for good and evil is the self, how can any "self" conclude that itself is wicked while using the same self as a basis for good and evil?  And if the self doesn't conclude that itself is wicked, how can it ever conclude that it is heaping up for that same self the wrath of God, as the Bible plainly says it is?  And if it can't conclude that it's in dire eternal straits, how can it ever realize that it is in desperate need of some eternal good news? The short answer is that it can't.

This current zeitgeist poses a problem for the contemporary Christian because the spirit of this age is averse to the eternal truths of scripture which asserts in no uncertain terms that man is wicked to the core, dead in his sins, unable to do anything to remedy that fact, is in desperate need of salvation from that predicament, and without which he will pay an eternal price. That is the Biblical view of man.  And needless to say, man doesn't like it; not then, not now, and not ever.

But it doesn't end there.  The Biblical view of God is that He is perfect in every way, that He is holy and righteous, and also that he is just. Being just, therefore, necessitates that He is a God of wrath against all injustice who sees all men as deserving of eternal damnation; yes, every last one, male and female.  These words of Jesus put it best:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already... (John 3:17-18)

So this puts the modern Western Christian in a difficult place.  He is afraid that if he presents the truth about God and man his religion will be rejected.  And he is right in thinking that, but he would be wrong in moderating the truths in his message.

But this is what has happened.  Christianity began moderating its message early in the last century by teaching half truths about the love of God. The wrath of God was increasingly ignored because it was unpalatable, and as went the wrath of God, so went the fear of God, and the beauty of grace.  I will expound on this later, but the point I want to make now is that these half truths were not presented to a static world.  Generations are ever being born and passing away.  A half truth in one generation will become the whole in the next. It will have the same cumulative effect on the culture as drinking saltwater has on the human body.  The more half truths we imbibe, the more we need. In the end, unless we get pure water, death is certain.  And we are observing this very thing all around. We are living our lives in a dying culture that reaches out in vain for pure water; some sort of truth to which it may cling.

These half-truths ushered in the internally inconsistent Christian worldviews that are best summed up by the expression that God loves everyone unconditionally.  I was born in the 1960's, back when people still talked about the Bible a little bit, and I knew that Jesus had quite a lot to say about lakes of fire and eternal torment.  I rejected the notion of unconditional love because I knew that the person who was preaching that message either worshiped a different God than his Bible proclaimed or he was ignorant of what his Bible said.  In either case, the message of unconditional love was equally pathetic and uncompelling to me with the knowledge that the Bible painted a different story, one in which an eternal fate of agony hung in the balance.

This God-loves-everyone-unconditionally message eventually became the mainstream of Christian thought and it has gutted the western church of sound doctrine.  If Christianity either rejects, ignores, hides or is ashamed of a basic foundational component of its own religion involving man's condition and certain attributes of God that it sees as offensive, or "unloving" what's left?

When the truth about man and God are ignored or downplayed, then good and evil themselves transition from truths that are objective to truths that are subjective. The self is returned to the throne as judge over what is to be considered good and evil. The individual then becomes the basis from which all things are measured with the assurance that no matter what that basis is that God loves him unconditionally. Feelings are king. This is evidenced in the experience and self-oriented worship so prevalent in this time. Service and mercy-oriented works to "help the poor" are exchanged for the Gospel.  "Grace" covered licentiousness, especially when it comes to libertine freedoms, are increasingly the norm. In addition, we see wholesale heresy with entire denominations becoming apostate. Around every corner, there arises another Christian pop-star who announces his or her coming out of the closet as an active homosexual, or by publicly embracing what scripture clearly teaches is wrong... all under the umbrella of "God loves everybody unconditionally".  Unitarianism and Universalism are on the rise. Here is a statement made by a pastor on the subject of "Chrislam", which is a combination of Islam and Christianity. It is typical of all sorts of misguided theology that finds God's unconditional love as it's root:

"But let's make sure that we view God through the eyes of Jesus, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the beauty of a Savior, the loving open inclusive arms of a loving God."  (1)

We can be sure that whether Christianity is being synchronized with the world or other religions, the root of the problem is tapped into the same soil.

This brings us back to the question asked in the title. How does one reconcile the love of God and Hell?  What is the whole truth?  When we elevate man to a state of goodness, only with a few flaws; when we make goodness dependent on man's internal compass, when we see God's love as something that we deserve, the true love of God is diminished.  It's one thing to love someone who we think deserves to be loved.  But that love is not the same as loving someone who hates you and wants you dead.  But that is the picture the Bible paints of man, who is, in his natural state, at war with God.  So if God loves, even one of us, he is first loving someone who hates Him.  On the same token, when we are ashamed of a God who would send people to eternal torment--when we reject the wrath of God against all unrighteousness and hide the fact that the just, right, and holy thing for God to do is to send all men to Hell, we are judging God according to our own standards, and at the same time obscuring the real love of God found in the cross, for it'sIt is in the contrast of the total depravity of man and the holiness of God that God's love truly shines for the amazing thing that it is.  And to the extent that we miss that contrast in its stark reality, the true love of God is missed; the true love that a holy God would demonstrate to depraved man by sending his sinless Son to pay the price for their sins, even though not one deserved that sacrifice.  This is the condition that makes God's love conditional.  

But this raises an often missed question. What exactly can we know about the love of God from the scriptures? With such an emphasis as we see in the present age on God's unconditional love for each and every one of us, you'd think that the Bible would be filled with references to His love for us. But I'm afraid that that's not the case. The word love is used quite often. But it might surprise some to realize that the vast majority of those references are found in God's commands for us to love Him, and to love others.  In the Old Testament His love is not extended to every human being but rather is expressed to his chosen people, Israel. In the New Testament we are told several times that God loves us, but take notice, with one exception, it is always mentioned in the context of the cross:

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 
Rom 5:4-9 ...and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 
Rom 8:33-36  Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 
 2 Cor 5:14-15  For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 
Eph 2:4-5 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him,
Eph 5:2  ...just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God ...
Eph 5:25-26 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, ...
Titus 3:4-7 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior
1 John 4:9-11  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins
The list above is not an exhaustive list of scripture telling us that God loves us, but I do believe it almost is.  God does not love us unconditionally, at least not in the way modern man understands "conditionally". Let me show why I say this:
John 14:21-22 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." 
1 John 2:3-5  By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.
1 John 5:3-4  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 
1 John 2:29-3:1  If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.  See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.
So this brings us back to a worldly question.  If I am saved by grace, why is God's love conditional?  Therein we find the answer to the question of how the love of God is reconciled with Hell.  God's love is conditional in the sense that we are dead in our trespasses, yet he still saves some.  There was nothing the dead could do as a condition to bring that about.  But after being saved, our sanctifying process begins and we begin to grow into Christ-likeness.  In the same way that birds are not birds on the condition that they can fly but rather birds fly because they are birds, Christians don't obey God's commands as a condition of salvation, they obey His commands because they are Christians.  Therefore when we disobey God's commands, although we are heartsick, we are still in his love.  But as we disobey His commands, we realize even more the great love He has for us because we see who we are, and what a great salvation it was that saved us, and we also realize God's holiness, and what a great work of love He accomplished on the cross.

But these are strange words in the ears of the modern Christian.  There is no law, and with no law, there can be no lawlessness to avoid.  We are saved by grace and can do anything we want except "judge" anything as unrighteous.  This complete disconnect from objective truth, which is that man has fallen short of the glory of God and that God's mercy, which was shown when He sent His Son to die for sinners, has set the vast majority of the western church adrift on a sea of opinions.  It should be no surprise then that Husbands are abandoning their families to chase after temporal dreams.  Why not?  He's not under any law and we're told that God does love him unconditionally because he is after all made in His image, and to call his sin sin would be judgemental and unloving.  Besides, God doesn't hate him, no, he loves him, it's his sin that God hates.  The husband can sow to the flesh in this world and reap a harvest of heavenly bliss in the next.  The same goes for wives abandoning their families, and for the murderer of children in the womb, and every other sin that this culture embraces.  God loves everybody and we can do as we damn well please, thank you very much. And, we can turn Christianity into Christlam because God is "inclusive" and loves diversity because diversity is love... or so we're supposed to believe. But it's not true.

When our thinking starts with man and works its way to God, we are doomed to deception. We must instead start with God and work our way to man if we're to walk in the light. If we start with man we must contort God to fit into man's image. We must reinterpret God's word to conform to our true basis for truth, man. But if we start with God, and we see or read things in life and the scriptures that make us uncomfortable, we can then see the places in which we have work to do in conforming our own thinking to God's Word. Once we've done that; once we've lowered ourselves, and God is on the throne of our minds and hearts, we can more easily understand the things that the natural man cannot.  But best of all, it gives a true sense of the way things really are. It helps us to be a true light in a truly dark world, and it gives us confidence to say things, and live in a way that makes us stand out in a crowd and heard above the noise.

My nation is dying of malnutrition.  But His Church is not. My nation is starving to death for lack of truth. But His Church is not.  This nation is under God's judgement, and all that we are watching take place that makes the Church sick is His hand administering that judgement.  But His Body will stand strong. It is not in any danger of disappearing or being lost because its existence is not dependant on man.  We now live in a nation that helps a child pretend to be the opposite sex while ridiculing those who call such things child abuse. At the same time, there is an abundance of churches, preaching God's love, even for the child abuser. We live in a nation in which not only can a man "marry" another man, but such things are taught in public schools as good and righteous. But by the numbers, Christianity abounds.

It's well known among addicts that to fix a problem there must be an understanding that there is a problem. That there is a problem is not in question. For some, the problem is that not enough people understand that God loves them. I think that's a misdiagnosis. I think the real problem is that most are convinced that God does love them, just as they are. And so they have asked a question that modern evangelicalism can't seem to answer, which is, why change?

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