The Reason for God

Timothy Keller

Chapter 5: How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

"I doubt the existence of a judgmental God who requires blood to pacify his wrath " said a frowning Hartmut, a graduate student from Germany. "Someone had to die before the Christian God would pardon us. But why can't he just forgive? And then there's all those places in the Old Testament where God commands that people be slaughtered.""All that is troubling, I agree" responded Josie, who worked for an art gallery in Soho. "But I have even more of a problem with the doctrine of hell. The only God that is believable to me is a God of love. The Bible's God is no more than a primitive deity who must be appeased with pain and suffering. "

Keller heard from many who had deep misgivings about the Christian concept of a God who judges people and sends them to hell. Part of the revulsion was the idea that this treats people as unequal in dignity and worth.

Descriptive scriptures:
2 Thess 1:9
Matthew 25:41-46
Isaiah 33:14
Matthew 13:50
Revelation 14:10
Matthew 3:12
Revelation 20:10

Hidden belief: A God of Judgement Simply Can't Exist.

"80% of Americans agree with the statement 'an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church or synagogue' " "fundamental belief in American culture is the moral truth is relative to individual consciousness. Our culture, therefore, has no problem with a God of love who supports us no matter how we live."

"Moralistic, therapeutic deism"

Lord of the Rings: seeking power and control rather than wisdom and glad enjoyment of the "givenness" of God's creation.

Instead of shaping our desires to fit reality, modern man tries to control and shape reality to fit our desires.

Christianity transcends culture as the truth of God, whereas cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. Wouldn't you expect the truth of God to offend and correct your thinking at some point?

Hidden belief: A God of Judgment Can't Be a God of Love.

"All loving persons are sometimes filled with wrath, not just despite of but because of their love. If you love a person and you see someone ruining them - even they themselves - you get angry. "

"God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer ... which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being."

"God's wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity." Psalm 145:17-20

Objection: "those who believe in a God of judgment will not approach enemies with a desire to reconcile with them. If you believe in a God who smites evildoers, you may think it perfectly justified to do some of the smiting yourself."

Response: "If I don't believe that there is a God who will eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I am sure that there's a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain."

From one who witnessed violence against the Croatians "If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence - that God would not be worthy of worship... The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God."

Marx : religion as the "opiate of the people" led the poor and working class to put up with injustice.
A true opiate of the atheist is to believe that all his betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders are not going to be judged after death.

A Loving God Would Not Allow Hell

Caricature of hell: God gives us time, but if we haven't made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says "Too late! You had your chance. Now you will suffer!"

Biblical picture: Sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom or good things of any sort. Since we were originally created for God's immediate presence, only before his face will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential. If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell - the loss of our capacity for giving or receiving love or joy.

"Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever."

"It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud." C. S. Lewis

Luke 16:24-31 Rich man and Lazarus.

Lewis: Hell is "the greatest monument to human freedom"

Romans 1:24 God "gave them up ... to their desires"

"Their delusion is that, if they glorified God, they would somehow lose power and freedom, but in a supreme and tragic irony, their choice has ruined their own potential for greatness."

"There are only two kinds of people - those who say "Thy will be done" to God or those to whom God in the end says, "Thy will be done." All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn't be hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it." Lewis

"The source of the idea that God is love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end."

Doubt: If Christians believe someone is headed for hell then he/she is unequal in dignity or worth. (There but for the Grace of God, etc. . . )

  • In our culture, divine judgment is one of Christianity's most offensive doctrines.

In ancient times people believed in a transcendent moral order.

  • If you violated it, you suffered consequences just as if you violated physical laws.
  • Wisdom was learning to live in conformity to this reality.

Modernity reversed this understanding.

  • Ultimate reality was seen as a physical rather than supernatural order.
  • So rather that shape ourselves, we shape reality to fit our desires.

CS Lewis notes that magic and modernity (science) grew up together.

  • There was little magic in the middle ages - it came hand in hand with science.
  • Where wisdom had focused on conforming the soul to reality through knowledge, self-discipline and virtue, science and magic sought to subdue reality.

And so modernity gave us the responsibility to determine right or wrong.

  • We shape not only the physical but the metaphysical realm as well.

This belief makes Biblical truth and prescription uncomfortable.

But if God's word is transcultural Truth for all people at all times, shouldn't we expect it to contradict and offend every human culture at some point?

How do we reconcile judgment and love?

  • Perhaps the concept of divine judgment is the major place where God's word confronts our modern culture.
  • But we know that love and judgment go together.
    • Don't we judge when a loved one is ravaged by unwise actions or relationships?
    • Anger is not the opposite of love, hate is. [God is a jealous God!]
    • But if God will judge, and our deeds are imperishable (as all religions recognize), our passion for justice can be honored without vengeance: in heaven or hell.
  • But what about hell? Isn't that punishment "cruel and unusual?"
    • If sin is whatever separates us from God, then when we don't focus on God, we focus on ourselves.
      • We all know what pathological self-centeredness does to people: selfishness, envy, bitterness, anxiety, paranoia, denials and distortions.
      • Imagine if at death, the self-absorbed simply continue uninterrupted on this path. Would that not be hell?
  • Is hell then the eternal trajectory of the self-absorbed soul? Is it simply one's freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity?
    • We see this process "writ small" in addition. First disintegration, then isolation, then the loss of reality. It is "writ large" in hell. (see longer quote)

Hell, freedom, choice and human quality.

  • People mistakenly believe that if they glorify God, they will somehow lose power and freedom.
    • But unfortunately that choice - not to worship - gives them contemporary freedom from God and eternal life without Him.
    • CS Lewis called Hell "the greatest monument to human freedom" and says: "All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn't be Hell."
  • But does perceiving someone as lost mean they are of lesser value? NO!
    • "Both the Christian and the secular person believe that self-centeredness and cruelty have very harmful consequences. Because Christians believe souls don't die, they also believe that moral and spiritual errors affect the soul forever. Liberal, secular persons also believe that there are terrible moral and spiritual errors, like exploitation and oppression., But since they don't believe in an after, they don't think the consequences of wrongdoing go on into eternity. Because Christians think wrongdoing has infinitely more long-term consequences than secular people do, does that mean they are somehow narrower?"
  • In Conclusion
    • Only the Bible says God created the world out of love and delight.
    • We only know the He is a God of love through the Bible.
    • But from this same source, we know He is a God of judgment who will put all things right in the end.

"A common image of hell in the Bible is that of fire. Fire disintegrates. Even in this life we an see the kind of soul disintegration that self-centeredness creates. We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them. Now ask the question: 'What if when we die we con't end, but spiritually our life extends on into eternity?' Hell, then, is the trajectory of the soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever." (Cited by Frank Turek in Stealing from God, p224.)
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