(A study for: The Reason for God, chapter 5)
NOTE: Through-out the text you will bracketed green text insertions that begin with the word “Discussion”. These are suggested discussion questions for small group leaders, who would like to go through these topics in an interactive group setting.
“I don’t want to believe in a god who could send people to suffer in Hell for eternity. My god is a god of love.” This is a common and understandable objection, which deserves a thoughtful and thorough reply. Let’s start by analyzing some of the beliefs and assumptions that give life to this objection.
[Discussion: What underlying beliefs and assumptions does a person hold when they say they cannot believe in a God who sends people to suffer in Hell for all eternity?]
- God can’t condemn people for their sincerely held beliefs;
- Love can be a character of God, but judgement can not;
- Even a God of justice wouldn’t allow eternal Hell (punishment doesn’t fit the crime);
- I am capable of determining the standard of justice for the universe. In other words, if God’s ways don’t make sense to me, then they must not be true;
Secular western culture strongly objects to a God who can condemn someone’s sincerely held beliefs as wrong. It is even more scandalous that this same God would punish people for these wrong beliefs.
[Discussion: What logical inconsistencies exist with the assumption that God can’t condemn someone’s sincerely held beliefs?]
Now, the objecting westerners must at this point admit they believe the western culture and way of thinking is correct and other cultures are wrong.
For example, an objecting westerner might feel he has a right do decide what he can and cannot do with his body. Thus, he is uncomfortable with a God who says he can’t have pre-marital sex. In more traditional cultures, such as in many Islamic countries, society has no problems in letting a god decide these things. Furthermore, if someone is caught engaging in pre-marital sex, society might condemn and punish the person, sometimes very severely.
On the other hand, western culture has no problem in accepting the Biblical teaching of forgiving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek. In other more traditional societies, this type of teaching may deeply offend people’s idea of justice. Turning the other cheek makes no sense and denying rightful retribution is seen as condemnable.
Are the Islamic and traditional cultures wrong and the secular western culture right? If so, the westerner becomes guilty of what he is accusing God. He is condemning the sincerely held beliefs of more traditional cultures.
Do you see how this is irrational? The secular westerners have a problem with God saying what is right and wrong, yet we hypocrise by saying our western mentality on these matters is right and other cultures that think differently, are wrong. Thus, the secular westerner’s position is self-defeating.
However, as Tim Keller says, “For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment” and Hell.
Now, the objecting westerner might maintain his position and say he has good reason to condemn the religious beliefs of other cultures. He believes his modern western belief is correct, namely, a loving god accepts all relatively good people, regardless of their beliefs. Someone who used to think like this was Tim Keller. In hoping to find this non-judgmental loving god, he began to take courses in other major religions of the world: Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
To his surprise, he found no other religious texts saying God created the world out of love. He discovered most ancient pagan religions believe the world was created through violence between opposing supernatural forces, where-as Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal god. Where was the proof for this loving and accepting god Tim Keller had in mind? Was the only proof in the hopes and dreams of Mr. Keller?
On a personal note, having read all 114 surah’s of the Quran, it was interesting to discover the god of the Bible and the god of the Quran are quite different on love. The god of the Quran approves of those who do good, but, unlike the god of the Bible who loves the world, the god of the Quran never showed the highest form of love: that of self-sacrifice and self-denial. The god of the Bible demonstrated this on the cross by giving his life on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind, enabling him to be both a god of justice and love, and, outside the Bible, there is no evidence of another god who has demonstrated the highest form love. However, because we don’t want anyone to judge us—least of all God, we want to take the “love” part, unique to Christianity, and omit what the Bible says about this loving god also being a god of justice.
[Discussion: What logical inconsistencies exist with the position that God must only be a god of love and not of justice and punishment?]
For those who believe in this “god of love”, who accepts all relatively good people regardless of their beliefs, the question is: Where are you getting this idea of such a god? You most certainly are not getting it from any of the world’s existing major religions. The only place where this god exists, who is only love, who accepts almost everyone and judges no one, besides Hitler and Bin Laden, is in your own mind.
Just because you want such a god to exist doesn’t make it so. You are taking a powerful leap of faith believing in this god of your imagination. There is no support for such a god if you look at world history, religious texts, nature, or life in general. It seems you may have created your own religion, except there is no historical nor theological support for it plus your new religion is logically inconsistent when scratched below the surface, as we will proceed to now do.
Christianity teaches both love and justice are attributes of God. Many western people struggle with this concept since, thinking about it quickly, they don’t necessarily see how someone can be both loving and judging.
[Discussion: What potential weaknesses are hidden in the statement that someone can’t be both loving and judging? Can you think of examples where someone can be both loving and judging?]
This viewpoint is unable to withstand scrutiny.
For example, every day throughout the country, judges working in the court system are judging criminals for various crimes, ranging from unpaid parking tickets to murder. Does anyone doubt that some of these judges are people who love? Of course not, so why would it be impossible for God to be both loving and judging?
Someone might object saying, “Well, judging in our earthly justice system is one thing, but nobody, except for maybe Hitler and Bin Laden, would deserve to be sentenced to everlasting torment: Hell.”
Many in western culture are okay with bad things being punished. They are not okay with the seeming severity of God’s punishments.
[Discussion: What underlying beliefs and assumptions does a person hold when they feel God’s punishments are unjust?]
One major underlying belief of this statement the person is making is his implying he can determine better than God the severity of the punishment for moral offenses. If you feel eternal Hell is not a fitting punishment, the question is: What qualifies you to make that determination? Are you free from all personal and cultural bias when it comes to weighing the gravity of moral offenses? What makes you better qualified than your neighbor or me?
Most would agree that, whenever someone is punished, the punishment must fit the crime. Therefore, in most cultures, one will get a more severe punishment for murdering someone than for running a red light. Likewise, if you view crimes against God, sin, as not a big deal, then you will feel that Hell, as a punishment, is overkill. However, if you view sin as an extremely big deal, then Hell could be viewed as just punishment.
Someone could object by saying they have not committed any crimes against God. That is a mistaken conception. Undoubtedly, nobody has kept the 10 commandments.
For example, if you have ever lied, you have broken God’s law. If you have ever been jealous of someone, you have sinned. If you have had impure thoughts about someone other than your spouse, you violated God’s law.
You, me, and everyone has sinned, and our view on the punishment for that depends on how seriously we take sin and as how offensive we categorize it. Are you qualified to make this determination? Are you free from all personal and cultural bias when it comes to weighing the gravity of sin? What makes you better qualified than your neighbor?
Here is something else to consider: Even in our system of earthly courts, the level of punishment usually goes higher, depending on against whom the crime was committed. If you punch your neighbor, you will likely get a lesser punishment than if you punch the president. Now, imagine punching an infinite god. What kind of judgment do you think that will warrant?
Likewise, our sense of justice usually changes based on the difference between the offender and the one being offended against. For example, hardly anyone will care if you kill a mosquito that was biting you. That’s because the mosquito, a lower lifeform, was committing a crime against a higher lifeform, but if you kill a dog who bites you that will raise more eyebrows since a dog is a higher lifeform than a mosquito.
If you kill a human who bites you, you will most likely get arrested and go to jail as there is no doubt your punishment was unfit for the crime. Do you see how our sense of justice changes based on how big a difference there is between lifeforms?
Most people don’t have a problem with a mosquito getting killed when it bites a human, because the difference between mosquitoes and humans is enormous. Now, think about the difference between humans and an infinite god, whose mind created matter, the very universe, and you from nothing. As big as the difference between you and a mosquito is, the difference between you and this god is infinitely greater. Do you suppose you can talk to God about what punishment is fitting for crimes against him, and do you think your concept of justice is rightwhile God’s concept of justice is wrong?
Job 38 is a fitting chapter for this situation. Job has been complaining that he has been treated unfairly by God. God responds to him, basically asking him to pull up his pants like a man so God can ask him a few questions, and God proceeds to ask Job where he was when God created the universe. In other words: Who does Job think he is in questioning God?
Job 38:3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
[Discussion: What is the real problem most of us have with the concept of eternal Hell?]
The real problem with eternal Hell, from a human viewpoint, is not that God’s punishment is potentially too harsh; it’s that our view of ourselves and other humans is too high and our view of God is too low. We often mistakenly think we are somehow equal lifeforms compared to God, or at least close to it. However, the facts do not support this viewpoint.
We aren’t infinite. Our minds cannot and will not ever comprehend the depths of the universe. We can’t create a universe from nothing. In fact, we can’t even create an ant from nothing.
If you think God’s punishments are too severe, the issue is that your view of humans, including of yourself, is too high, and your view of God and his holiness is too low. Sure, you have no problem when a human kills a biting mosquito, but you have a huge problem when an infinite God passes judgment on a paltry human.
[Discussion: What is usually the main problem with the claim that there are some people who don’t know about God?]
The only people who don’t know nor understand God are babies, small children, and others whose minds have not fully developed. The Bible doesn’t directly address what happens to this category of people upon death but, based on several bible passages such as 2. Sam. 12:23, Matt, 18:1-6 and 19:13-15, there is strong evidence they will go be with God.
As for us of sound and developed minds, there are no such people in our group who don’t know about God. Even a man born in the remotest region in the world, totally shut out from all other civilizations, knows about God. When one looks at nature around him—animals, humans, the miracle of life—the most obvious answer to all of this is that there is a creator, God.
The problem is that man rejects what he has seen about God in nature and in his heart (Rom 1:19-21). Even if this man on the remote island has made a god for himself, it will be a god who is to his own liking. He has not sought the real God in humility. He has not cried out to the heavens asking, “Oh creator of the universe, I’m a bad person. Even my conscious often testifies against me. What shall I do? Help me!”
If he’d done it, he would likely be a believer. As the Bible exemplifies, those who really are looking for God find him. It’s silly to think God would see someone truly looking for him, in all humility, and not show himself to that person—that he would just be laughing, “Try as you might, you will never find me, giggles.”
No, there is no such evidence in the Bible, only the opposite. There are even modern-day examples of Islamic people starting to search for the truth and having dreams of Jesus. God gives light to those who search for him.
It is foolish to debate the fairness of God’s sending someone to Hell who never knew about him. People are accountable to God for what God has revealed to them. The Bible says people reject this knowledge, and therefore God is justified in condemning them.
Instead of debating the fate of those who have never heard, we, as Christians, should be doing our best to awaken people to this truth. We are called to spread the gospel across nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). We know people reject the knowledge of God revealed in nature, and that must motivate us to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Only by accepting God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ can people be saved from their sins and be rescued from an eternity without God.
What would you say if there were a judge who would let all crime go unpunished and would forgive all criminals? Most people would say that’s a bad judge. Yet, they expect God to behave in such a manner.
The Bible tells us one of God’s characteristics is justice. Therefore, if he were to forgive everyone and leave sin unpunished, he would be denying his very character. He would be merciful, but unjust.
However, the Bible tells us God is both just and merciful, so how does he pull this off? By love! The people who say God is a god of love are right. The one true god, the only god, the merciful god of Christianity, has performed the greatest act of love anyone ever can. The god of Christianity has loved more than you have loved anyone.
Yes, sin must go punished—just like crimes in our earthly court system, except this is what the merciful god of love does: He steps down from the judge’s seat. Then, in the form of Jesus, he sits next to you in the defendant’s seat. He proceeds to say he is ready to suffer your punishment on your behalf.
Yes, justice must be served, but he’s ready to volunteer in your place. He asks you if you want to accept him as your lord and savior and start aligning your life under his direction. However, he doesn’t force you.
He is asking you a straightforward yes-or-no question, but this is a question we should take with all the gravity of the world. This is the most important question you will ever answer in your life. Refusal means you will have to pay for your crimes against God in eternal Hell.
Acceptance means Jesus paid for your past, present, and future sins on the cross, so, when you see God on the final day of judgment, you will simply hand him a check signed with the blood of Jesus, saying, “Paid in full. Signed, Jesus Christ, God incarnate.” That’s the god of justice and love we have. He takes sin very seriously, but he takes love very seriously as well, volunteering to suffer your punishment, if you choose.
What’s your choice? It’s your move.
I made this document as a study guide for my small group as we read through and discuss Tim Keller’s book, Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, which is highly recommended for deeper study: https://www.amazon.com/Reason-God-Belief-Age-Skepticism-ebook/dp/B000XPNUZE/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_3
Most of the content in this document was derived from chapter 5.
Feel free to use this document in your own group studies, but kindly provide a link back to this page.
 As quoted in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, p. xiv / location 1507/4761.
 Cornelius in Acts 10 and the Ethiopian servant in Acts 8:26-40.