What In The Hell Is Christian Love?

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.

About Rick Henderson

Happy husband. Proud father. Friend of Jesus Christ and desperate to introduce him to others. View all posts by Rick Henderson

14 responses to “What In The Hell Is Christian Love?

  • Jim Holt

    I’m a new blog post follower. Very well said. It’s always amazed me how proactive atheists are toward people of faith. If they don’t believe in the existence of God, why don’t they go fishing or take a vacation instead of trying to argue something that doesn’t exist to them? Could it be that there is some force pressing them against the good news? Just a thought. Thanks for you insightful posts.

    • Robert

      Jim, the main reason that I see in my neck of the woods is an effort to keep a separation of church and state. Beliefs in and of themselves are not a problem, but they clearly influence and direct our actions. When religious beliefs make their way into our laws, then those who do not hold to those same religious beliefs view it as an issue – and I can understand why. Were that not the case most atheists would probably be more apt to go fishing or take a vacation.

      You’ll notice, for example, that few atheists take the time to argue against Orthodox Judaism (though I imagine they disagree with those beliefs just as much as they do with the majority of Christianity). However, if there were a serious lobby in Washington to outlaw pork products and the serving of meat with dairy, I am pretty certain atheists would take notice.

      My point is not that all Christians are trying to get religious based laws passed, but that when our laws are influenced by religious beliefs, those beliefs are for the most part Christian. So I think many atheists wrongly take too strong a stance against Christianity as a whole (as opposed to only sticking to the specific situations that deal with church and state separation). They have become hyper vigilant in a way, and due to that they many times come across as a bit too ‘proactive,’ as you mentioned.

      As a side note, Pastor Rick, I appreciate your consistency. Especially when you say something like, “the most hateful thing we could do is withhold that good news.” Personally I have never understood non-evangelical Christians (though I am not criticizing their belief). I’ve always felt that if I held the Bible to be the true word of God the only thing that would make sense would be for me to do what I can to spread that message to as many people as possible. In fact I can’t imagine how anything could possibly seem more important.

      Wishing you the best on your trip to Asia, and still looking forward to your reply on your earlier blog post.

      Thanks so much.

      • Rick Henderson

        Robert,

        You’ll have to refresh my memory. Were we discussing the proposition that the Bible endorses slavery?

      • Robert

        Yes sir, that’s the one. Though I’m not certain I would go so far as to say ‘endorse,’ but we were discussing the proposition that God at least does not find it to be immoral in certain circumstances.

        You gave me an article to read before the holidays, and it took me a couple of weeks to get back to you (which I finally did).

        Our conversation is in the comment section of “A Final (and hopefully friendly) Response to James A. Lindsay Ph.D.”

  • Abby

    Re: Romans 6:1-2
    I am having difficulty with the concept that one can be Christian and theoretically choose to rape. (yeah, I understand sin is sin and it’s all sin in God’s eyes – scale is not a concern). My problem is that when you call yourself Christian, you try to walk the talk and the talk clearly is that you aren’t going around deliberately raping or robbing banks or doing other illegal things.

    I don’t see how that can be done in the name of Christ and have Christ say “Hey, that was ok to do in my name.” (because somehow, someway, someone is going to see that and say “Gosh. What a Christian thing to do. I want to be a Christian.”).

    My other concern is that someone who doesn’t understand Christianity then says, “Well your God is just a slot machine. You just say the right prayers, pull the lever and God just blesses what ever you wanted, illegal or not (meaning have no concerns about being caught).”

    I can see someone being a lapsed Christian or perhaps someone who just became Christian and really didn’t understand what it means to walk a straight and narrow path or they became Christian later. But raping and saying I’m a Christian while it is happening, I’m having difficulty.

    On a different note, I recently read: The Delusion of Disbelief by David Aikman. It nicely gives some points about holes in the arguments of what he calls the Four Horsemen of Atheism.

    thanks. I enjoy your stuff.

    • Rick Henderson

      Abby,

      I also have difficulty with affirming that someone can be a Christian and an active rapist. In fairness to my atheist friend/critic, I thought it was best to hold it out as theoretically possible.

      Anyone can do anything and say it’s in the name of Jesus. The problem with that is that appealing to someone’s name in Scripture and in Hebrew culture was also appealing to their character. So committing sin in the name of Jesus would be like arguing for segregation in the name of the Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s simply incoherent and meaningless.

      If you were to read my post on Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer I think you would see that I have addressed your concerns about God as a slot machine. That view would be a misrepresentation of Biblical Christianity.

      Thank you for your kindness and taking the time to read and respond to what I wrote.

      • Robert

        Just to give an outsider’s perspective for you – I actually appreciate your honesty in including the rape example, as well are murder, etc. I think it is often easy for Christians to fall into the ‘no true Scotsman’ defense, even if they do so without realizing it.

        While the concept of a “true” Christian being a rapist or murderer seem completely contradictory – I admire and respect your willingness to approach those conflicts head on, instead of side stepping them by making assumptions of people’s ‘true’ beliefs (even if hypothetically).

        As a non-believer I feel it makes your argument more serious, stronger and more demanding of consideration.
        Just my two cents, for what its worth.

  • tim

    first of all, I am amazed someone like you who celebrates a Christmas holiday , as in some thing Jesus said, which he did not say or tell anyone to do. it is a pagan derivative of something, not Christian, referring to roman history, when the occupying government were still persecuting true Christians , as in reference to Perpetua and Felicity, they show what the last true Christians were, they refused to sprinkle ash to give worship to the false gods of Rome. so then also to the effect of heaven or hell, nowhere does it say people are going to heaven, it says they are in the earth one as in hell one as in paradise, where Abraham is , and in revelations it shows those under his alter, and are considered martyrs for refusing the mark of the beast, not out of that place, not in heaven as god is. then closing in REV. 21 shows the new earth and new heavens, but Jesus and God are one, after all of the tribulation and the final 100 years, so also to your argument suggesting all can just believe in Jesus, is at the least , irresponsible, it leaves the fact like you claim, that a unrepentant rapist, murderer, thief, and all the like, will make it into the kingdom, they will not,, that will be on earth not in heaven. one has to accept the gift of the holy spirit and use it to connect with God, Jesus left it for a replacement intersessor , until he returns for it, and his, those who keep his sayings , those who keep his commandments , the rest will die, with the beast and hell, and all of those fallen angels. and like my family they don’t believe like I believe, and they think they are going to heaven too, when you believe something or say you represent something, you should really look into what it is your getting into,, as a teacher one should be sure of what they are saying, those one liners like the JW’s do are also uneffective, for one has to read it, and keep reading it, and when they learn it they must teach it. to be considered faithful. all of these things outside of the truth of the bible, is man made and to confuse those who don’t read the bible over and over, to understand the true language

    • Robert

      To be fair, you inserted the word ‘unrepentant’ into the list of rapists, murderers and thieves. I never go the impression that Pastor Rick meant an unrepentant person could be saved, regardless of what they have done.

  • tamera

    I am a Christian,I follow christ, and I would be real scarred to call one of my fellow brothers out, like Joe Olstein, and Joyce Meyers, they are going about Gods bussiness, I suppose if you was doing the same, you wouldn’t have time to sweep there porches.

  • kat saint

    I find your negativity towards joel Osteen repugnant. You sound jealous and arrogant. I pray you stop your attacks on such an inspirational man. And for the record, I AM a born again Christian, and have been long before I heard joel speak.

  • AJ

    Hello,

    In reading comments about murder or rape a thought came to mind. Actually a scripture of Jesus parable about planting our roots. Now some of us plant deep roots and get in the Word and prayer and fellowship with other Christians. Some do not feed and grow their spirit. Jesus made the way and targeted the Gentile sinners. Anyone can be saved if they believe and accept Jesus as their Savior. But we ALL need to grow spiritually in the likeness of Jesus. Some do not eagerly seek and grow. Yes sin is possible in each of us. Although I could never rape or murder, there are sinners who can and do. We are all sinners. We need to seek the Spirit and not the flesh. Those with deeper embedded roots seek the Spirit and not the flesh. Sure we all fail, but probably less than those without roots.

    Thank you for a good read.

  • Elaine

    I have a difficult time believing that people are righteous and going to heaven if they are still living this way…How can a person profess to be a Christian and live in what God calls sin?
    1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10) nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11) And such were some of you; but were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

    Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality (adultery KJ’s), impurity (fornication KJ’s), sensuality, 20) idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions 21) envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Ephesians 5:5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person (whoremonger KJ’s) or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

    Would appreciate an answer via email…Thank you.

  • Sarah

    I notice you didn’t answer the question in the end.. Does the presence of hell (being what the bible says it is, brimstone and fire) indicate that God isn’t a loving God? Atheist issues aside.. What if a person believes in God and is genuinely asking that question? I have had many friends ask me that and I haven’t been able to give a satisfying answer.

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