Turning his back on Christianity, a good friend of mine explained his thinking on social media. The gist of it was: “... any God who would allow a horrible, nightmarish, place of eternal punishment containing people who simply believed the wrong thing arbitrarily, would be a terrible God. Not even bad people deserve such a place from a just God ... eternally.”
Interestingly, George MacDonald, undoubtedly closer to the heart of God than most Christians, repeatedly said similar things in his writings over a hundred years ago, such as this:
“If sin must be kept alive, then hell must be kept alive; but while I regard the smallest sin as infinitely loathsome, I do not believe that any being, never good enough to see the essential ugliness of sin, could sin so as to deserve such punishment. I am not now, however, dealing with the question of the duration of punishment, but with the idea of punishment itself; and would only say in passing, that the notion that a creature born imperfect, nay, born with impulses to evil not of his own generating, and which he could not help having, a creature to whom the true face of God was never presented, and by whom it never could have been seen, should be thus condemned, is as loathsome a lie against God as could find place in heart too undeveloped to understand what justice is, and too low to look up into the face ofJesus.”
From Unspoken Sermons III, 1889.
These statements deal with an essential question that has plagued thinking believers and non-believers alike for many centuries. How could a loving God send somebody to Hell?
The question was especially pertinent in George MacDonald’s time, when a large portion of Christians in England held to Calvinist doctrine, essentially believing that God created some people for Himself, and other people He created for Hell. To many, these unfortunates had no chance of ever believing and being saved.
In our day most Christians believe in “free will.” Meaning, that everyone has a chance to know God and come into a relationship with Him. However, this does not completely answer the question raised by my friend, and by many others in our society. Why would God send people to Hell just because they misunderstood something? Or even if they chose to ignore Him –they obviously were not completely aware of what they were choosing. Like a child who wants to be a policeman before they understand what is involved. You wouldn’t send the 12-year old off to the police academy, would you? In the same way, how could God hold it against well-meaning people who simply didn’t believe he even existed?
These are tough questions.
Part of the answer may lie in our misunderstanding of God’s nature. Many today have this picture of God as an old man sitting in the clouds and looking down disapprovingly on mankind. When somebody dies, the Old Man pulls out his list of requirements and checks it against the poor bloke’s life, and if it doesn’t match up, well … let’s just say it doesn’t go well for the dead dude.
But, what if it isn’t like that at all? What if it has nothing to do with a decision based on arbitrary rules you must live by and things you must believe? What if there is avery good reason for Hell and a very good reason for the rules?
I recently saw something in the Bible that I had only glossed over previously. It is somewhat shocking when you think about it:
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
That isn’t the only place we are told such a thing. A quick search will bring up around a dozen references that speak of God being “fire,” including these:
In addition, the Bible often speaks of God as light, which is one of the qualities of fire, as in this example:
who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light,whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
1 Timothy 6:16
Passages like these paint a very different picture of God than the one in popular culture. Instead of a good, old, man, these describe something of a nature very different than what we are. So, what if the reason some can be with Him and some cannot is not arbitrary, but natural? Have you ever wondered why no man can look at God – and live?
Here is what I mean: would you blame a fire for burning up a piece of paper that landed on it by accident? Would you blame the sun for disintegrating your deep-space probe if it came too close without the proper protection? Of course not! The sun cannot help how hot it is! Fire cannot change its nature just to please the paper that happened to drift too close.
So why do we blame God for being who He is?
What if God’s whole purpose is to make us into men and women who can abide to live in His presence? Sons and daughters who can look into His face without being destroyed? What if the whole reason Jesus came was to give us a new life that is able to dwell in His presence? A life that is able to have fellowship with a Consuming Fire.
Is the fire different for gold and for dross? It burns up the dross and refines the gold. Is it the fire’s fault?
The fire is the fire. It doesn't change.
We see the same thing happen with soil. If the earth is well watered, it becomes moist and easy to work with when the sun comes out. If the soil has no water, it hardens into clay and becomes impossible to work with. The same sun hits them both, with different effect.
What if Hell - on some level – is just getting too close to God without being ready?
Throughout the Bible God is shown doing all He can to get us to follow His Son. Why? The only way we can be “Children of Light” and “Shine like Stars” is if we become disciples of His Son, and so begin to change in our very nature to be like Him. Then, we shall “see him like He is.” (Philippians 2:15, Ephesians 5:8, 1 John 3:2)
Let me know what you think about these musings...
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