Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter Five ~ How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Chapter 5 was a doozy!  I'm still mulling it over.  The summary from Stefanie's blog:

The introduction to the chapter brings many of the questions that we have all heard or asked ourselves concerning a loving God and hell. Keller says, “In our culture, divine judgment is one of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines.” (p. 71)

A God of Judgement Simply Can’t Exist
Keller postulates that modern man believes the natural world to be malleable, and within his power to manipulate. “Our new confidence that we can control the physical environment has spilled over so we now think we can reshape the metaphysical realm as well.” (p. 74) But according to Keller, this view of modernity is not accepted by all.
So many arguments against Biblical teachings are based on cultural beliefs. Keller shares a story in which a woman approached him to share that the very idea of a judging God was offensive. He responded, “Why aren’t you offended by the idea of a forgiving God? I carefully urge you to consider your cultural location when you find the Christian teaching about hell offensive.” (p.74) He then went on to ask her, did she believe that Western cultural sensibilities should be the final court in which to judge whether Christianity is valid? And did she consider her culture to be superior to non-Western ones? When she replied “no”, Keller concluded, “Well then why should your culture’s objections to Christianity trump theirs?” (p.74)

A God of Judgment Can’t Be a God of Love
The God of the Bible is One of love and of justice. While the love of God depicted in the Bible is not controversial here in the West, the wrath of God is. Keller explains that these two entities cannot be separated. When a loving person is faced with the mistreatment of a loved one, that love is the very root of the resulting anger and wrath.
Becky Pippert in her book Hope Has Its Reasons: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… 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.” (p.76)

A Loving God Would Not Allow Hell
Keller describes the modern view of hell as God casting souls – those unfortunate ones who did not make the right choices in life before their time was up – into hell for all eternity… despite the pleas and cries for mercy. But this view misses the very nature of evil, Keller says. “The Biblical picture is that 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 capability for giving or receiving love or joy.” (p.79)
“Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.” (p.79)

Keller utilizes the story of Lazarus, a beggar, and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 to support his view of hell. Incredibly, the Rich Man, despite the fact that he is in hell, does not ask to get out. But instead continues to complain to Abraham about his surroundings and even bully Lazarus, the beggar, just as he had during their lives on earth.“Commentators have noted the astonishing amount of denial, blame-shifting and spiritual blindness in this soul in hell… He is only called a “Rich Man,” strongly hinting that since he had built his identity on his wealth rather than on God, once he lost his wealth he lost any sense of a self.”
“In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.” (p.80)

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, he compares hell to a busload of people who are asked to leave behind their sin and depart the bus – but refuse. Those on the bus are indeed miserable, but the desire for freedom to pursue their sin is too much to resist. They simply cannot risk losing ‘everything’ so instead choose to remain apart from God. Lewis says that the steps to the bus trip “… begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.” (p.81) However, rather than ending the pride of selfishness, people double down in the mistaken belief that they would rather have freedom than salvation. Keller writes, “Hell is, as Lewis says, the greatest monument to human freedom.” (p.82) Ultimately, according to Keller, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?” (p.82)

Hell and the Equality of People
Keller argues against the point of view that Christians belief system naturally makes them narrow-minded. He completely dissects the argument by demonstrating that a narrow-minded view is one that argues that there is no eternal consequence of sin. “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 the moral and spiritual errors affect the soul forever.” (p.83) This belief should lead the Christian to a greater understanding of the consequence of sin whereas the secular belief leads to a more narrow view because the consequence is finite and not relative past one’s own life.

“I Believe in a God of Love”
Interestingly, Keller titles the chapter as a statement. Previous to this, the title is simply used to break up thoughts. In this case however, he uses quotes to emphasize that this is an argument heard countless times, not merely a natural break in the chapter.
This section is a reminder of his earlier chapter that argued the cultural beliefs of every person influences their interpretation of the Bible. However, Keller also argues that the belief in a God of love is not found in other faiths, so the central tenet must have come from within Christianity. “I must conclude that 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,” Keller says. (p.85) The real leap of faith comes when someone believes that God is love but judges no one. If you love someone and see them harmed, would you not be judging the instigator or would it be better to simply love the victim and the perpetrator? Those serving a loving God are not serving the true God but rather a fictitious god that helps them feel cozy and cuddly without dealing with the evil of this world brought to bear by Satan and man’s sinful nature. “The belief in a God of pure love — who accepts everyone and judges no one — is a powerful act of faith… The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.” (p.86)

Question: Has this chapter opened your eyes to any false doctrine you’ve knowingly or unknowingly believed about God’s wrath? About hell?

*My Response*
Oh my!  I can understand why we believe in a God of pure love, especially in our Western culture, because the Bible teaches us to love God first and then love everyone else, including even those who are unlovely to us.  But it seems somewhere along the way, we sort of grasped the 'love' concept, and then we became the jury, judge and executioner of all we believe to be wrong.  So if we can make things right in our little world, why would we need God to do that?
I am ashamed to include a statement I made before I knew Christ.  I was with my oldest and only child, who was probably 3 at the time, and an acquaintance mentioned something about 'the devil,' and I said, "Oh, we don't believe in the devil or in hell."  Really?!?
It is an honest reflection of my ignorance.  I didn't know Jesus; I didn't acknowledge my sin; I didn't consider the consequences of my sin.
Several years later when I accepted Christ, I recalled that statement, and it haunted me so much that I found that person and corrected myself.
I believe in eternal separation from God, simply as a continuation of the choice one makes to turn from him in this life.  We see people who are self-absorbed, indulgent and ruthless.  They don't want to be 'controlled' by anyone.  They want 'freedom.'  And the Bible tells us that their reward is here on Earth.  Sadly, people living solely for themselves can never get enough of whatever they are after, and they seem to be chasing elusive happiness.  They are critical and blame others, they are paranoid and anxious, and they are always right.
What about the common argument that so-and-so was such a good person, they simply couldn't go to hell?  After all, there are people who are kindhearted, generous and selfless.  I was surprised this wasn't addressed in this chapter, but it's certainly something I hear.  
Even though I've read about the Rich Man and Lazarus many times, I never caught onto the idea that the guy didn't ask to get out of hell.  He simply wanted relief from his torment.  And he wanted Lazarus to do it for him.  He still wanted to be served, even in hell. 
"Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others...but you are still distinct from it.  You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it.  But there may come a day when you can no longer.  Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine.  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
The main impression I am left with after this chapter is that when we choose our own form of 'freedom' on Earth, we will continue to receive that 'freedom' for all eternity.  The freedom from enjoying God in his kingdom will be lost forever.
Jesus, thank you for taking the wrath for my sin, and giving me the one and only way to escape eternal separation from God.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Thanks for sharing...that was interesting. Tim Keller is a smart guy...I've only read his book on idolatry though which was really good. What baffles me more than the reality of a God who a humanity that claims to stand in judgement of that God. Created beings thinking they have wisdom beyond their Creator (hasn't that been the lie of Satan since the beginning?). There are so many people who claim to be Christians and yet deny, edit, and erase a majority of what God has revealed about himself in the Bible. People act as if Jesus was some pacifist sheep hugging hippie who's greatest pursuit was "social justice" when his pursuit was to shed his blood to redeem a lost people. The reality is Jesus talked a LOT about if we claim to be Jesus followers we can't only admire his actions but we have to believe his words. Of course it's a subject that is difficult and our modern human sensibilities and limited understanding can struggle with it...but placing ourselves as moral judges over God and redesigning him to suit our most modern preferences? yikes. That's exactly what much of the "church" has done though. We can't understand God's incredible mercy and grace until we comprehend our own depravity and the reality that we deserve the opposite of his extended hand of friendship. Even our "good works" are tainted by our own pride and sin...Jesus says only God is good. Our good deeds are but filthy rags compared to God's holiness. We have been rescued, redeemed, and regenerated not because we are such great people,....but because of the actions of a great God. Out of that overflow of joy and gratitude comes the love and service to others. The longer I live, the more atrocities I see, and the more heinous sin I witness the more I understand God's wrath...what still blows my mind is his patience and grace that reaches down to a sinner and makes him a son. A God who, instead of flicking this sin twisted world out of his universe, entered into it, served his enemies, and shed his own blood. That is love.

You Might Also Like...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...