In this post I will use verses from the Bible to explain my answers. I don’t expect atheists or non-Christians to accept them as authoritative. Rather, it is my intent to show that my answers are representative of what Christians have affirmed throughout history. This is sometimes called historic, orthodox Christianity. Further, these verses are used to help illustrate the misrepresentation of Christianity by some of its critics, what is sometimes referred to as a Straw Man Fallacy.
Recently I was tweeted by one of my online atheist friends that my belief in Hell was contrary to the concept of Christian love. How can the God of the Bible be good and loving and willfully send people to Hell? This question is sometimes asked in a friendship affirming way and sometimes asked as a philosophical declaration of war. Either way, it and the person asking it deserves an answer.
First, it is easy to condemn God as immoral. What is not so easy is to validate (not articulate) a moral standard if God does not exist. But let’s follow along with the decision that God is a moral monster. According to what standard is God a moral monster? To this point, my friend’s reply has been,
Defining what is objectively “good” is not easy even if it comes from god because there is no clear source.
I appreciate his honestly, but I don’t think the full weight of his admission has struck him yet. To be fair, this answer was given through Twitter, and his thought was restricted to 140 characters. Brevity is often the enemy of clarity and should not be a mark against him.
But for the moment, let’s take his answer at face value. If there is no clear source, by what standard has he clearly condemned God (should he exist)? Imagine that I said Atlanta is closer to Zippy than it is to Zappy? The first question you might ask is if Zippy and Zappy are real places. Then you might ask where are Zippy and Zappy. If I told you that they are real but aren’t clearly able to be located—you would have sound reason to distrust my affirmation that Atlanta is closer to Zippy than to Zappy. I may be right, but how could you or even I know it?
Now, imagine someone tells you that God’s decision to condemn someone to Hell is closer to evil than it is to good. (True, the analogy isn’t perfect, but it works well.) You may feel inclined to agree or disagree. That is understandable. But why would you trust that person if they did not possess the ability to define good from evil with clarity? This is the problem that faces every atheist who seeks to condemn God, my atheist friend included. Someone else recently stated this as,
They have to sit on God’s lap to slap him in the face.
Should an objective or meaningful standard be given, like well-being, empathy or do no harm—they all fall short. First, these supposed standards are really statements and would need to be shown as valid. Another way to say it is that the moral truth claims need to be grounded in something. Every single time, the real grounding that emerges is a subjective one that is either based in biological evolution or human preference. No objective standard or morality can be given once God is rejected.
So where does good come from? In Biblical Christianity, good is based in the unchanging character of eternal God. God didn’t arbitrarily say good is good. God didn’t recognize something as good. God is good and anything consistent with his character is good. Anything inconsistent with his character is evil. It is also important here to point out that the Bible is not the source of good. Good, or God’s character, is revealed in the Bible.
Now, does believing in Jesus make someone good? No. Belief in Jesus does not make someone good. The message of Christianity, and it may be better to say the message of the Gospel, is that Jesus alone is good and he is good on behalf of those who believe in him. That is what the cross is about. Jesus paid the penalty that all men must pay, but no man could pay. This what Christians mean by atonement, or substitutionary death of Christ.
Here is another question that was recently posed to me:
Do I really believe that a Christian rapist gets to go to Heaven and his Hindu victim will be condemned to Hell?
Questions are intended to reveal more from the one who is being asked. Sometimes questions reveal something about the one who is asking. A possible assumption behind this question is that some people clearly don’t deserve Heaven and others likely do deserve Heaven (should it exist).
I trust what the Bible affirms. No one is good enough for Heaven nor deserving of anything good from God. There is one magnificent fact that both Heaven and Hell share in common. No innocent person enters. In consideration of the question above, it is important to note that Biblical Christianity maintains that neither the rapist nor the victim deserve Heaven.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
It is also important to clarify what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is any person who places his or her life in the trust of Jesus Christ. That is what we Christians mean by, “faith.” Becoming a Christian is not like saying the pledge of allegiance—it’s more like jumping off the high-dive. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. Even murderers? Yes. Even IRS agents? Yes. Even people who do things sexually that I don’t agree with? Yes. Even rapists? Yes.
Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Any person who places their trust in Jesus will be saved. It is a gift. It can never be earned. Any person who doesn’t will not be saved. Is belief in Jesus a license to do whatever you want? No. That attitude is an indication that such a person loves themselves, not Jesus. Again, following Jesus is not merely the words you say but handing over all of your life to him.
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
I’ll accept it as theoretically possible that a Christian can or may commit rape. Would that Christian still go to Heaven? Yes. Not because he is deserving, but because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for his moral rebellion (sin) on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for every person’s moral rebellion on the cross. That gift is called grace and it is given freely to any person who trusts in Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1-8 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So what is Christian love? It is loving others the same way that Jesus has loved us. If God is real and good, if all people are destined for Hell, if God has lovingly made a way of salvation and freedom from sin—the most loving thing we can do is to share that good news—even if people don’t want it to be true.
The most hateful thing we could do is withhold that good news. This article does nothing to prove that God does exist. It should demonstrate that Christians are not being incoherent by affirming objective moral good, sincere love for others while also affirming belief in the reality of Hell.
Your comments are welcome and wanted. I can’t promise that I will respond. I will be in Asia spreading the good news of God’s love and grace.