Wouldn’t a Loving God Make Sure Everyone Gets to Heaven?

The concept of Hell is daunting for many Christians. It’s not pleasant to think our unbelieving loved ones might spend eternity separated from God, regretting their decision forever. Several religious traditions seek to avoid the problem by offering a second chance to those who reject God’s gift of forgiveness. They envision a place where rebellious souls can, in the next life, reconsider their choice or earn their way toward heaven; the Catholic tradition offers “Purgatory” and Mormonism describes a “Spirit Prison”. Both seek to offer solutions to commonly asked questions: Wouldn’t a Loving God love all of His creation? Wouldn’t He make sure everyone goes to Heaven (regardless of what they might believe in this life)? A loving God would never limit Heaven to a select few and allow billions of people to suffer in Hell, would He?

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Why Is the Penalty of Hell the Same, Even Though People Are So Different?

The notion of Hell is incredibly controversial, even among Christians. Many believers struggle to reconcile the mercy and grace of God with the existence of Hell and have tried to redefine Hell in an effort to remove what they perceive as offensive. For some, Hell seems too inequitable to be possible. Would a Loving God punish everyone in the same way? Isn’t it unfair to send someone like Gandhi to Hell (simply because he was not a Christian) alongside someone like Hitler (who committed unspeakable atrocities)? A reasonable and just God would not be the source of such inequitable punishment, would He?

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Why Would God Punish Finite, Temporal Crimes in an Eternal Hell?

I was interviewed recently on a large Los Angeles radio station about the existence of Hell. One caller objected to the duration of punishment in Hell. From his perspective, the idea our temporal, finite sin on earth warrants an eternal punishment of infinite torment in Hell was troubling, at the very least. The punishment does not seem to fit the crime; in fact, the disproportionate penalty makes God seem petty and vindictive, doesn’t it? Why would God torture infinitely those who have only sinned finitely? I think it’s important to define the nature of Hell and sin before our discussion of the eternal nature of punishment can have any meaning or significance. Objections related to the eternal nature of Hell result from a misunderstanding of four principles and terms:

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Do Capitalism and Christianity Fit Together? Let's Just Say It's Complicated

I like doing more than having.  Anti-consumerism just seems right to me. To be a lover of God and humanity more than a lover of things, to be a Christ follower who chooses abstracts like love and peace over crass commercial objects--this world view feels, to me, like a soft blanket I just discovered in my closet. On most days Henry David Thoreau feels legit. 

But my house is full of those same crass objects I claim to dislike. I bought a new messenger bag the other day when I already have two, and I was certain that the made-in-China wooden bird I bought for my kitchen table would make my house feel, you know, more bohemian. The capitalists who have custom-built their jacked-up mansions along the bluffs outside my city have also bankrolled dozens of charities and helped pay my salary as a public school teacher. In short, the paradoxes of capitalism are keeping me up at night, especially in an election year. To make things worse, most of the Christians I know don't see the paradoxes at all. 

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Augustine’s Confessions

In book ten (specifically chapters twenty-seven through forty-three) of Confessions, Bishop Augustine reveals a connection to the first nine books. Although Augustine speaks frequently of hope, towards to the future, he also recollects the memory of sin and struggle between options. Thirteen years have now passed since the death of his mother, Monica, which he recorded in book nine. Now as Bishop of the Catholic Church in North Africa, Augustine shepherds and teaches the community whom he is writing. Book ten is a transition, but as Carl Vaught writes, “Augustine has still not reached the end of his journey.”[1]

The Bishop recollects willfulness and the dissipation into many things. His remorse is that he not only missed out on being filled with God, and God filling him, but that he sought finite things that lead to nothingness. Augustine’s hope is turned to the one and only true mediator, who is both man and God, Jesus Christ. Though Augustine received Christ’s forgiveness in book eight, Augustine looks to the future in hope to be filled with him, healed by him, and continually praise him.

Augustine begins chapter twenty-seven, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you! Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there that I sought you, and a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. They kept me far from you, those fair things which, if they were not in you, would not exist at all. ”[2] 
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God Is Not Mad At You

God is not mad at you. If you are a believer, it is actually impossible for God to be mad at you. For God to hold anger towards you would mean that you are still under wrath. Simply put, if God could be mad or hold any form of condemnation towards believers, covered by the blood of Jesus, then Jesus failed on the cross.

            When I tell Christians this, they often balk. Few believers know how to live their lives in the freedom of Christ-completed work. Instead these believers live lives in a three-step dance of sin, guilt and confession; the second step being unnecessary as guilt is a useless commodity for believers in the kingdom of God.

            This process of sin, guilt and confession is what causes some Christians to hate sin for the wrong reason. Think about it. Why do you hate sin? If you are like me in the past, you've hated sin more for the way it made you feel or the results of your sin then hating sin itself. Yes, we need to hate the consequences of sin, but the primary reason for hating sin is because sin is everything God is not and when we sin we break God’s heart. For God, lack of condemnation towards you and a broken heart can co-exist.

            Thus, the amount you hate sin is tied into how much you experience love for and from God. When you love God, you no longer avoid sin because of the law or fear. Instead, you avoid sin, because you want to bring pleasure to the Father. Your righteousness becomes a love language. This is why freedom from sin is found in the place you least expect it. Freedom from sin comes from focusing on your love relationship with God rather then creating a fail-safe program for sin management.

            Since the Devil knows this, he will continue to convince Christians that God is mad at them. Why? The reason is that we tend to avoid people who are angry with us. When we avoid God, we are also avoiding his love and acceptance.

            Here’s the truth, God’s not mad at you. Go in peace.

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Fighting Indifference, pt. 1


“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them,”

George Bernard Shaw


 

 

The gunman stood at the window looking out over the crowded streets below. Bobby paused from typing and surveyed the situation. Could he make a break for the door? What happens if he refuses to type? Maybe, he would simply charge and tackle the man, sending him crashing through the window to the street below. Something akin to an action hero would certainly do the trick. Then again, there was that gun. Knives are considered rather personal, guns seems so cold and impersonal. A sniper can shoot a complete stranger from a great distance and still remain seated at that great distance. Stabbings, though, happen at close range amongst people who can know each other. Guns seem to prevent struggles. In that case, so do bombs, missiles, torpedoes, and nuclear weapons. When a rather large bomb is dropped, there is nothing really personal about it; it simply means that people will die. We have simply become too efficient at hurting each other.

“You want out of here, don’t you?” said the gunman.
 
“Yes, sir, I do.”
 
Neither man moved and to Bobby’s surprise, the gunman never even looked over at him.

Something Like Old Yeller

Okay, I admit it, I was pretty happy that the centerpiece of the current reign of terror was ushered into the netherworld. That it was at the hands of a Navy Seal, a well-placed missile or by falling down the stairs would not have made a whole lot of difference to me. I am just relieved to know that there is one less misguided mind plotting horrific acts of murder.

That he was eliminated does not trouble me a whole lot. Like C.S. Lewis, I subscribe to the principle of “just desserts”.

And I know that this confession will have a lot of my tenderhearted friends in the blogesphere howling in disbelief and digging around for scriptures to quote. “How can you possibly match Christ’s demand that we “love our enemies” with the action of unloading lead into their skull?” they shall ask.

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Battling Your Relationship With Shame

Discovering who we are inevitably leads us to discovering the reality that we're not who we desire to be - at least in ways.  Shame and guilt over past sin or current struggles can paralyze us....completely.  We feel separated from God, the people of God and the things of God.

We have to understand, though, that shame creeps in because we wrongly identify ourselves in sinful actions/tendency/behavior.  At it's core this misplacement of our identity is because we view ourselves as bodies that have a soul versus a soul that has a body.  

It may seem like a matter of semantics, but it's not at all.  It's an entirely different identity.  If we view ourselves as a body that continues to sin and do what we ought not - cf. Romans 7:18 - we inevitably end with feelings of shame and guilt.  However, if we view ourselves biblically and through Christ as a soul that has been made new, our identity is beyond our fleshly limitations and actions.  This is important to understand because our identity, then, is not found in sin, but instead in who God has made us to be spiritually (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14).

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What the Chilean mine rescue teaches us about sin

Like the rest of the world, I was captivated by the impressive rescue of the Chilean miners trapped thousands of feet below the earth's surface for 69 days. In a world where a lot of these kinds of things often turn out badly, it was heartwarming to see a rescue plan that worked.

There are lots of angles on a story like this. The resiliance of the miners and their belief that they would be rescued. The resolve of the mining company and the Chilean government to get every man out alive. The unabashed joy of the rescuers and the families as the miners emerged on the surface one by one. All of these mini-dramas within the larger story made for great theater.

As I watched the drama unfold, I was happy for the miners, but I couldn't help but think about sin. Not the sin of the miners or anyone else involved in the story, but a metaphor for sin and how God has put together a rescue plan for each one of us.

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