In short: God’s no psycho.

If it’s psychotic for Joe Blow to murder people who reject him, then it’s psychotic for God to send to hell people who reject him. God’s justice is not founded upon dynamics or principles that have nothing to with our own understanding of justice. Fair is fair—and right is right, and evil is evil—in heaven and on earth.

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  • Mindy

    What is with this concise, summing-up-of-the-giant-questions in minute numbers of words??? Wow. Absolutely stunningly done.

  • just downloaded it for kindle…

  • I’m with C.S. Lewis on this one:

    “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ”

    ― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

  • Barbara Rice

    I have a feeling there is more that you haven’t said here.

    “No one comes to the Father but by Me” (paraphrased because I can’t be buggered to get up and search for the correct wording) – to me, that means that Jesus has the last word. Not Jerry Falwell, some legalistic church in some tiny town, not Billy Graham, not even the pastor who married you & your spouse and is a really nice guy.

    If Jesus meets the dearly departed at the Gates and says, “Yes, you – by the way, the Ella Fitzgerald show starts in ten minutes in the lounge, and we’re serving homemade guacamole & margaritas, so get on in there” – who am I to squawk if the chosen one is Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, agnostic, or whatever? It ain’t up to me.

  • Allie

    Lewis also quotes George MacDonald. I don’t have the quote but it’s to the effect that if you read in the Bible that God did something that you can’t reconcile with not being evil, it’s better to believe God never did or said that thing than to believe evil of God.

  • Lymis

    Far too many people seem to read that quote as “No one comes to the Father except through the book people wrote about me” and as “No one comes to the Father except through the Church people started after I died and rose.”

  • Amy

    “No one comes to the Father except through the Church people started after I died and rose.” That’s the most common one I’ve heard (phrased differently, of course). It’s all about control. Which is probably why they get so mad and defensive when we disagree with them.

  • Luke

    I loved the pregnant pauses. However, I was expecting the ending to be some thing more like: “God bless you! You will burn in hell!”

  • “No one comes to the Father except through this specific prayer to recite that someone will write in a couple millenia from now and leave in little pamphlets on the bus.”

    “No one comes to the Father except through believing in a particular theological perspective that I am one part of a three-part trinity – that’s this inexlicable thing where we’re three personalities in one – the third part of which you haven’t met yet.”

  • Lots of people are in the business of figuiring out all the abscure and unrecognizable ways in which people are unknowingly choosing to go to hell.

  • God’s love and justice is of the same type as it is for us. Exactly. Otherwise, saying that God is loving or just is meaningless. Otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t tell us to love others as He has loved them. Otherwise, we wouldn’t pray thy will be done on earth and in heaven and continue to follow love and justice as we know it. Eternal punishment for finite sin? (as I’ve heard it phrased) We would never tolerate it. The punishment must fit the crime.

  • Nathan

    Agree with Buzz here – C.S. Lewis is amazing. John, I sure hope you have read “The Great Divorce” and “The Problem of Pain” before publishing any serious work on Hell. I completely agree that the “traditional” view of Hell is both outdated and somewhat nonsensical. But that is merely a strawman. The great theologians of Christendom have a much more nuanced and complex view that is worthy of intellectual and emotional satisfaction. (without throwing the concept of hell out the window!)

    A couple quick points off the top of my head:

    1) The whole idea of heaven and free-choice is nonsensical to me without a hell. What is the point of free-choice unless we really DO have the possibility to reject Him?

    2) It is emotionally (and intellectually) very difficult to argue AGAINST a hell when studying the extreme human atrocities of history. (Think Nazi Germany, Roman persecution, and Babylonian brutality)

    3) The entire sacrificial death of Jesus makes no sense without a Hell. What penalty did Christ pay? Why didn’t God just forgive? Why did Christ have to die? The Bible is clear: He died IN OUR PLACE. Without the POSSIBILITY of Hell, then why did he die at all?

    4) We don’t have just the writings of Paul warning us about Hell: We have the teachings of JESUS warning us. What sense to the warnings of Jesus make unless, in fact, there are eternal consequences of our behaviour? I can (with caution) dismiss some of Paul’s teachings. But reject the teachings of Jesus? Really?

    I’m all for “postmortem salvation” or “purgatory” or other ways to make the system seem more fair. But we can’t throw out the entire idea. Either Jesus was giving us a glimpse of reality, or he was lying.

  • Lymis

    Nathan, I do recommend you actually read John’s book.

    But honestly, heaven is nonsense without hell? The idea that a flawed, limited human being can do anything in the limited time we have available (what is 100 years as set against literally all of eternity) that would justify eternal torment?

    That’s a bit like saying that having manners are nonsense if you aren’t thrown into solitary confinement and given daily electroshock torture for using the wrong fork to eat your salad.

    As genuinely horrible as human behavior can be, one of the fundamental principles of the Christian worldview is that our souls are the most important part of us, that nothing can be done to us that God cannot soothe and heal, and that nothing we can do as humans is something we cannot repent and be forgiven for. So God can fully heal the victims of the worst that can be done to them, and God can forgive the perpetrators of the worst crimes we are capable of. We need to police ourselves and work for justice while we live; it doesn’t follow that Divine forgiveness is nonsense.

    And, while a lot of people will definitely disagree with me on this, it’s the idea that Jesus’s death was a sacrificial substitution as a blood sacrifice that makes no sense. His life, death, and Resurrection were essential, but that explanation for it isn’t. It simply places too many absurd restrictions on God, most of which are out of character for God in the first place.

    “Either Jesus was giving us a glimpse of reality, or he was lying.” Or something else entirely was going on, that we aren’t equipped to fully understand. And of course, that’s even assuming that he was quoted properly by people writing generations after he died.

  • Matt

    The human concept of Earthly justice is way, way too small to encompass God, who knows every single thought that crosses every single human heart, past, present, and future.

    I don’t know what God chooses to do with the likes of Hitler, serial killers, and so on. I don’t know, and it’s not my job to know. I just focus on living my life the way I think They would want me to.

  • Nathan

    Lymis, I think that the last sentence you wrote is the root of our disagreement here. (and perhaps my disagreement with John) I believe that the Bible should be our PRIMARY source of truth. Our logic and conscience should be a SECONDARY source of truth. I think that you (and perhaps John) reverse the priority of those two.

    Also, I disagree with the “generations after he died” statement as well. Most scholars date Mark to just 30 years after Jesus’s death. Matthew and Luke just a bit later, and even John was within the lifetime of Jesus’s followers.

    Again, I firmly believe that the fundamentalist doctrine of Hell is very misguided. However, if our primary source of truth is the Bible (and I believe that it is), then we have to deal with Jesus’s teachings head-on. We can’t just assume that he was misquoted or misinterpreted. And I particularly take issue with your statement that sacrificial substitution makes no sense. It ONLY makes no sense if you start out by assuming that Hell doesn’t exist! It makes complete sense if you assume that it DOES exist.

    I start my philosophy with the Bible and THEN work in my logic and conscience. As such, I see no way around the reality of some sort of Hell (or annihilationism). I won’t pretend to know who is going there and who isn’t. But I won’t deny it’s existence, as much as I would *love* to do so.

  • Lymis

    Well, and I know that this will feel like snark to a lot of people, I start my philosophy with the Living God who speaks to me daily, in my heart, in the world around me, in my mind, and in the clear and obvious consequences of lack of love and the clear and obvious consequences of abundant and profligate love in the lives of people around me, not in a book, no matter how special it is.

    I see that as the same fundamental challenge that Jesus addressed when he told the Pharisees to put down the book that they thought was the primary source of their philosophy and start paying attention the the needs of their neighbors.

    If that’s where we part company, then so be it. The Holy Spirit working in our hearts should be – must be- the primary source of truth. We even need the Holy Spirit to help us interpret Scripture. The choice isn’t between the Bible and logic. It’s between a living faith and a book.

    I don’t worship the Bible. Jesus isn’t dead, requiring us to follow the words in a book. I have a relationship with a living Person. If that makes me not a Christian by your standards, you won’t be the first person to say so.

  • 1. Why does rejection require hell exactly? I didn’t choose to be on earth. That doesn’t mean to don’t have free will why I’m here.

    2. I have studied them. So what? Where is forgiving our neighbors and loving our enemies supposed to end exactly? If forgiveness can still be justice, why does that work for little things but not big things? Why can’t limitless love be, well, limitless?

    3. What about having no choice but to wallow in our sins here and now? What about  a reconciliation in this life? What about a demonstration of Jesus’ teachings in action? What about allowing for the ultimate miracle and the ultimate symbol of our rebirth?

    4. We INTERPRET those words as hell. We see them as literal fires, but what if it is entirely metaphorical? Not just fire as a metaphor for, say, pain, but misery in this life or a way of illustrating uselessness or worthlessness. The concept of hell would have been foreign to that context, so why was it not more explicit?

    I’m not sure throwing out the concept is the right way to go either. But you don’t need to go outside the bible to see that throwing it out should be an option for serious consideration.

  • Nathan

    No, absolutely not. I didn’t (by any stretch) say that I believe you aren’t a Christian. We’re all on some sort of a spiritual journey. The only “mistake” we can make is to ignore the spiritual reality that is put in front of us. In spite of our differences, I actually feel pretty comfortable with many of the commentors on this website (including you) precisely BECAUSE you recognize a spiritual reality that is both around us and within us. We both agree that this spiritual reality can be found within the Bible, with our conscience (the Holy Spirit), and within creation itself. We just disagree about the priority of those three. I think we have a lot more in common than in conflict, for sure.

    Anyway, I’ll agree that this issue is probably where we part company. I think that the Bible has authority over my conscience while you feel the reverse. That’s fair.

    One word of caution. Probably this is something you’ve already thought of. By listening to my heart alone, it is very easy to simply “create God in MY image” rather than the God who IS. That’s why I (try to) start with the Bible and THEN work on how my conscience and logic makes sense of it.

    All the best in our searching for the right answer! I genuinely believe God rewards those who diligently search. In my book it’s only those that are arrogant enough to believe that they have “all the answers” that are truly in danger.

  • Diana A.

    I’ve read “The Great Divorce” and “The Problem of Pain.” I’ve also read a book by Thomas Talbott called “The Inescapable Love of God.” It is because of Talbott’s book that I consider myself to be a Christian Universalist.

    Talbott uses both scripture and logic to support his view that God is both willing and able to reconcile all sinners to himself and that therefore all sinners will be reconciled with God eventually.

    I don’t consider it a good idea to take God for granted. But I also think it’s unwise to put time limits (or any other limits) on God’s love. Nothing is impossible for God. That’s the bottom line.

  • I think C.S. Lewis would agree that everyone who wants to be saved (however one understands it) will be saved. But there will be those who will be lost, too. They tend to be the self-centered, selfish ones. If they can not stop worshipping their own ego, they can’t start to relate to God.

    In The Great Divorce lost souls in Hell are capable of leaving anytime and going to Heaven. They just won’t get on the bus (not a metaphor; read the book).

  • Lymis

    You know, I suspect you meant well, but every time you make a concession like “gosh, I’ll grant that maybe you are a Christian, too” with one hand, I’ve noticed that you have a habit of immediately completely undercutting it and taking it away with the other hand. I’ve seen you do it in almost ever post you write.

    Have you any idea whatsoever how very condescending it is to say “probably something you’ve already thought of” and then point out something as incredibly basic as the fact that it’s easy to map ourselves onto our image of God? That’s really right up there with asking if I’ve read the Bible or ever prayed at all.

    How you could read what I’ve written, even if it’s only the things I’ve written specifically to you, and not realize I’ve dealt with things like that and far more in my life, eludes me. I’ve been dealing with that question in various forms for decades.

    What comes across seems to be the assumption that if I had thought about these basic ideas, well, then, of course I would have come to the same conclusions that you have, so I must be so very, very, very far behind you on the journey to God that you are justified in patting me on the head and reminding me to search diligently, with the backhanded implication that since my conclusions are not the same as yours, that I’m the one who is arrogant enough to believe I have all the answers.

    In other words, this last comment of yours can be summed up as “I would never by any stretch say you aren’t a Christian, but I will say you are arrogant and in danger of damnation for what you think you know, as long as you insist on disagreeing with me.”

    If that’s your intention, and you think you’re doing it subtly enough that we heathens won’t notice your condescension, please think again. If that isn’t your intention, you might want to rethink your approach.

    From your responses to people, I imagine you think that most of the negative reactions you get are logical hostility to your deep theological insights, when as I see it, they are generally in response to your patronizing and condescending tone. Even if all your beliefs are right and all of ours are wrong, you aren’t serving anyone by putting people off with every post you write.

    And, often, as it was here, ironically amusing, because this post reeks with the clear implication that you are the one with all the answers, and are here to kindly remind us all how wrong we are. I invite you to read your own advice.

  • Lymis

    I’ve always felt that the parable of the Prodigal Son applies. As long as people wallow in their misery and refuse to be forgiven, they will be in hell. As soon as they ask, they will be.

    Nobody and nothing can exist entirely cut off from God, or they wouldn’t be subject to God at all, even for their very existence. And as long as that connection is there, the possibility of salvation exists. Nobody can be lost, because God will always know right where they are.

  • Nathan

    I’m sorry for my condensation. I assure you it was unintentional. My last paragraph was not referring to you at all. I was actually referring to the vast majority of Americans that seem both ignorant of and indifferent to spirituality.

    You’ve obviously thought through your beliefs thoroughly, as I have. My beliefs aren’t “better” than yours. I was simply trying to explain why I don’t agree with you. I’m sorry that it came across in a derogatory way.

  • DR

    One word of caution. Probably this is something you’ve already thought of. By listening to my heart alone, it is very easy to simply “create God in MY image” rather than the God who IS. That’s why I (try to) start with the Bible and THEN work on how my conscience and logic makes sense of it.>>>

    Why in the world would you say something like this. Sigh.

  • DR

    You’re being given a gift of awareness by extremely – extremely patient people who are offering you a tremendous amount of Grace .

    It’s great that you’re here. Great that you’re wrestling with this. You can also, walk away the second you get offended or your intention isn’t the thing that people focus on.

    For you Nathan, this topic can stay at the “idea” level where people can just “agree to disagree” and walk away, their lives totally untouched. Where for people like Lymis, they’re going to get punched in the stomach today because people like you with your beliefs in North Carolina are going to vote for an amendment where he can’t see his dying husband in the hospital. So to see you continue to wrestle with this at a “hey let’s just kind of bounce these ideas around and if we disagree, let’s just make sure we all respect one another” is a tough thing to watch (especially today).

    I can only pray that you’re taking this as an opportunity of being a student of Christians here, Nathan, instead of a teacher. I can only pray that you’re letting all of this sink in, that you are beginning to grasp how serious this is.

  • DR

    You are an extraordinarily patient human being.

  • Nathan

    DR, I say it because I believe it to be true. It is something I struggle with all the time. I would LOVE to believe exactly like you do. But I *CANNOT* because I am absolutely convinced that I need to take the Bible as the inspired word of God. Maybe someday I’ll find out I am wrong. So be it.

    I try to be open minded. I don’t have all the answers. My beliefs don’t make complete sense, I agree. But no one’s beliefs make sense 100% of the time. We wrestle with the truth – that’s all we can do.

    I’ve been “sticking around” on this website really for two reasons. First, I am genuinely interested in learning how Christianity can play out in a very different worldview than I typically live in. If Christianity is true (and I believe that it is), then it has to be relevant across cultural barriers. This website is a reminder that the Christian community is much broader than my “traditional” view has been.

    Secondly, I have been frequenting this website as a representative of conservative Christianity. John (and others) frequently build up a “caricature” of a Christian and then tear it down. (a “strawman”) I’m standing here as the real thing. If you want to tare something down, tare me down! Let’s not kid ourselves that Christians are a bunch of buffoons. There are many (MANY) conservative Christians who are trying their darned best to integrate their belief in the inspired-Bible into the culture in which we find ourselves. That’s me. I have some mixed up beliefs. My beliefs shift. I am a hypocrit. We all are. But I believe in the Bible as the word of God and I wrestle with how to take it seriously and not just “dismiss” something in the Bible because it is hard to believe.

  • Allie

    Y’all, you’re right, but please remember this isn’t easy. There are people posting on this blog who have struggled for decades with the idea that being gay is sinful, while being gay and thus having every motivation to overcome that belief. Nathan’s been here about a week now and these ideas are new to him, give him a bit.

  • Allie

    Let’s look at that word “inspired,” because I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God too, without having to believe the Bible is inerrant.

    Look, a while ago Copernicus noticed the earth went around the sun instead of the sun around the earth, and that was a big problem for people, because there were Bible verses that said the sun “stood still in the sky,” and there’s a line in a psalm that says the earth is firmly fixed and cannot be moved. Today, most everyone who is not insane has conceded the earth does orbit the sun. Those verses aren’t a problem for believers anymore. And it seems laughable and silly to us that they ever were. The psalm writer was talking about the awesome majesty of God, not giving a physics lesson! And if time stopped, the sun w0uld appear to stand still, and that’s a perfectly reasonable way for a man to put it in ancient times, it’s not like he knew any better.

    They wrote as they did because they didn’t know what we know now.

    And so do the Biblical writers on the subject of sexuality.

    How many gay people do you know, personally? How many have you had long, meaningful conversations with about their sexuality and their motivations? The average human being has about a dozen close friends. That means the average straight person is likely to know about one gay person well enough to sit out under the stars with him and have long talks.

    There’s a reason this – the explosion of gay awareness and gay rights – is happening RIGHT NOW. It’s happening because of a technology shift, a shift as magnificent as the invention of the birth control pill allowing a total change in attitudes towards the position of women in society. You are here, talking to dozens of gay individuals, who are telling you what THEY think, what they feel. Paul didn’t have that. Paul heard about gratuitous sexual behavior at orgies and saw flamboyant male prostitutes on the street and maybe heard sob stories from women in his congregation whose husbands didn’t love them. You, at this moment, are ten thousand times more educated about human sexuality than it was possible to be in the first century. The result of this is that some of the things people wrote then were wrong, just plain wrong.

  • Nathan

    Allie, I am coming around to agreeing with you on the issue of sexuality. But the issue of Hell is really the one being discussed here. There are just too many references to Hell (and “God’s wrath”, “sheep and goats”, etc) to ignore. Especially considering that many of those remarks are by Jesus himself.

    I agree about inspiration. Inspiration and inerrancy are not the same, but many Christians do confuse them.

  • Allie

    Well, I’m not sure I agree with John on Hell either. But there’s this, Isaiah ch 55:

    Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

    For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

    Seems to me that in this verse God is saying that he will save people, period, and that saying he will fail in saving some of them is insulting him.

  • Lymis

    Good point.

    Nathan, let me take the opportunity to thank you for seriously considering this issue and taking the time to question whether you need to rethink your beliefs. Far too few people do that, and it’s easy not to give people credit for doing so.

  • DR

    You’re right. Thank you.

  • Nathan,

    I won’t cover the general tone of condecesion. Lymis said it better than I could and you apologize. Nuff said.

    But I do want to point out one aspect of your comment that is both offensive and difficult to defend.

    First, tou CANNOT assume that just because someone comes to a different conclusion than you that they are in some way prioritizing something else over scripture. That COULD be true, but often times people are simply interpreting scripture different. Speaking from experience, it is remarkable frustrating to point out an alternate view of scripture only to be told that I disagree because I’m not relying on scripture.

    Second, you CANNOT at all assume that just because you start with the bible that that somehoe makes you any less likely to create God in your image. The bible can be interpreted in such vastly different ways and people will always (though intentionally) bring their presuppositions to the text. You are no less vulnerable on that count for having “prioritized” the way you do.

  • Diana A.


  • I can appreciate that, Nathan.

    But what exactly do you mean by “conservative Christianity”?