Ninevites are not ‘God’s children’

I just watched the new documentary Hellbound, and I’ll have more to say about that film later.

“Jesus loves [some of] the little children, [some of] the children of the world …”
For now, though, I just want to highlight one quote from the film. It was given voluntarily — not captured on a hidden camera or misspoken in response to some ambush “gotcha” question.

The quote comes from Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., and a popular blogger at the Gospel Coalition.

Filmmaker Kevin Miller asked DeYoung if God loves everyone. “That’s a complex question,” DeYoung said.

It’s actually a fairly simple yes-or-no question, and DeYoung’s fairly simple answer is “no.” But here’s his full response, which I’ve transcribed from the film:

Most often when scripture talks about love it is this rich, deep, jealous, covenantal love that God has with His children. And in that sense it’s not true to say that God loves everyone. Certainly not in the same way that He loves His children. And this is perhaps the best way to get at the question and why it’s striking to us. Does God always work for the joy and the happiness and the good of His children? Yes. Does He want to see all of His children come to believe in faith in Him? Yes. Will God in the end see that all of His children believe in Him, rejoice in Him, belong with Him forever? Yes. Are all people God’s children? No.

OK, then.

If you’re looking for a biblical text to support DeYoung’s position, I’d suggest Jonah 4:12. In my Bible, the book of Jonah ends with the 11th verse of chapter 4, in which God says to Jonah:

And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?

But I guess I just got a defective copy of the Bible — one that’s missing Jonah’s reply in which he corrects God, reminding the Almighty that Ninevites do not count because not all people are God’s children.

Or maybe my Bible is defective for including the book of Jonah at all


"Patheos hosts Mark Driscoll, but booted Warren Throckmorton? If Dr. Throckmorton doesn't qualify for a ..."

Standing by
"Do you know anybody who enjoys golf, who might enjoy reading your issues, while they ..."

Standing by
"It's possible that someone you know gave you a gift subscription, under the misguided impression ..."

Standing by
"The following is a true story.For several years I wrote for a magazine called Electronic ..."

Standing by

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • caryjamesbond

    Fred’s interpretation here leaves out something very important. 

    Jonah 3:10:”When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
    (emphasis mine)

    The story makes quite clear that it is only a city-wide reformation that prevents his wrath.  This story is actually, I think, in agreement with what DeYoung says. God cares for everyone so he wants everyone to be part of his flock. But until you ARE part of that flock, he’ll scorch you along with those who do not know their right from their left, along with your animals. However, once you join that flock, you’re fine. 

    It seems to me that God is criticizing Jonah for wanting to burn Nineveh after Nineveh converted.

  • Jim Roberts

    I can’t speak for Fred or anyone else, but when I say “God’s children,” I’m referring to people that are worthy of love, grace and mercy. In other words, people, but giving a description of why they’re worthy of such.

  • Dean

    I’m not a fan of DeYoung in the least, but the verse that Fred presents is not much of a challenge for the neo-Reformed (they are VERY good with Bible versus for those of you who don’t know).  He would say that just because God spared the Ninevites doesn’t mean he loves them in the same way as the Elect, after all, they’re still going to suffer eternal conscious torment in hell when they die.  So in other words, God CAN show love for everyone in this life, but he only chooses to save the Elect from hell because he has a special love for the Elect. 

    I do think that was the single best scene in the movie, though, when a Christian has to tap dance around the question of whether God loves everyone, it’s pretty eye opening, and it’s got to surprise some people.  I think if more of the Young Reformed and Restless were presented with the severe shortcomings of Calvin’s theology head on like this, that particular movement would not be as popular as it is right now among young Christians.  I know there are lots of non-Christians that read this blog and maybe  this kind of  internecine strife just seems bizarre to you, but I really think this is one of the biggest challenges facing the Church today (not abortion, gay rights, porno, etc.).  All that other stuff is really just a distraction.  The question that I think being presented to the Church is:  what is the Christian God like?  I think how you answer that question is going to inevitably  impact how you treat other people.  I have to say that the God of the likes of Driscoll, Piper, MacAruthur, DeYoung, et al. is hardly recognizable to me. 

  • Tricksterson

    Less so.  Spike was willing to go through trial and torment so he could gain a soul and become a man worthy of Buffy.

  • AndrewSshi

    I think that, if you’re looking at it from a Christian perspective, Fred’s approach is probably best: center it on the character of Jesus as he appears in scripture and work from there. Otherwise, when you get folks who read Paul’s letters like a set of statute books, you can get really awful stuff.

  • AndrewSshi

    I don’t actually think the horror of Reformed theology taken to it’s logical conclusion would turn off any of the neo-Reformed.  Indeed, I think that there’s almost a thrill, a rush to worshiping a God who is so transcendentally Other that he’s beyond our own petty notions of good and evil, and who, being almighty, makes good and evil whatever He says they are that’s kind of intoxicating. “My God brings about misery and suffering in the world because He can and there’s nothing you can do about it!” has its own sort of frisson.

  • lowtechcyclist

    Have I ever mentioned that Jonah 4:11 has always been one of my favorite verses in the Bible?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Assuming a theology in which only one deity exists, though, if not all people belong to that deity and it is not necessary to treat well people who do not belong to that deity, then either that deity is a colossal asshole or whoever’s relaying that deity’s instructions is.

    Also true in a theology that has multiple deities or pantheons, of course, just not quite in the same way. If (to drastically oversimplify) there’s Durga and there’s Athena and everybody belongs to one or the other, nobody to neither, then as long as both Durga and Athena are benevolent, everybody’s got a divine protector. Everybody therefore knows that mistreating an otherwise defenseless Durgaite is going to piss off Durga, ditto for Athenians and Athena, and, y’know, getting a warrior goddess mad at you? Not exactly a good survival strategy.

    If there’s only Yahweh and some people are his and some aren’t, and it is not necessary to treat well anyone who is not Yahweh’s, who the hell is looking out for the people who are not Yahweh’s?

  • Worthless Beast

    I used to have arguments with my father over whether or not animals had souls.  I loved my pets. He was a retail butcher. (Yes, I eat meat). We were a vaugely American-theist family, but we didn’t go to church. This was, in part, because us kids found it boring, in part because my parents worked hard, often on Sunday to keep food on the table and wanted their Sundays off for rest, and in probably large part due to my father having grown up a Jehova’s Wtiness – made him sick of church for life.  (May have changed, he converted to Mormonism a few years ago)

    My dad knew a lot about religion, but he studied all kinds of stuff – including a bit of Eastern, so I probably wound up growing up like you – I found out about what Christianity was supposed to be / the religion in-depth later. I went through a period of conservatism, and now I’m back to an attitude of “who am I to say what God can or cannot put a soul into?”  The results:  I have sci-fi arguments occasionally with people online about this stuff.  I wonder if I’m the only person who even loosely identifies as “Christian” who thinks “Yeah, maybe one day we’ll create an AI/android / genetically engineered being with a soul and it will be a real soul.”   If my fiction work is ever published, Fundies will hate it.

    As for the end of Jonah’s tale, I see that tag-on about the animals as… You know the old addage “If you think no one cares about whether you live or die, miss a car payment?”  Back in those says (and in many societies today), livestock is equal to wealth, so I see the character of God trying to meet Jonah half-way with “Well, if you can’t care about *those* people, don’t you at least care about the wealth they can share with yours?”   One hard truth I’ve learned in this world that, as an individual, as a person, most people don’t care about you. Have money to give them, and they “care.”  

  • Tricksterson

    WARNING :  Am about to invoke tvtropes

    Yes, tod is Tautologicalar.  Anything He does or that they do in His name is justified because He (and therefore they acting in His name) is the definiton of Good.

  • Dean

    Well, for the truly indoctrinated, I think that’s probably right.  Everyone’s theology has it’s own logic and once you buy into it, it’s hard to see something different, so  even though I find Calvinism repugnant, I can understand why people embrace it.  Greg Boyd, however, presents a great challenge to those who reject free-will theism, and particularly his own version of it, Open Theism which is basically on the opposite spectrum of Calvinism, with the response that it’s simply more comforting to believe in a sovereign God who is in control of everything in the universe (as opposed to one who has ceded some space to autonomous creatures).   The question he presents is this: does it really give you comfort if you knew the life God has planned for you is going to be filled with torture, misery and suffering to no end until you die?  Is it really more comforting to know that God foreordained your child to be raped and murdered as part of some grand plan that you will never comprehend and can’t do anything to change?  For the life of me, I really don’t see how that’s a “high” view of God, a “high” view of scripture, or helps anyone sleep better at night.   In fact, I can’t think of anything more terrifying than that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Did that work? How? Where does a soul come from if one is not born with it?
    (Andersen’s Little Mermaid frustrates me too.)

  • Wait, who’s this tod now?  Or is this just because the ‘g’ and ‘t’ are so close together on the keyboard?

  •  You suck one out of the aether as you draw your first mortal breath?

  • The Lodger

    Obviously, he’s a fox in a Beatrix Potter story.

  • arghous

    What does the question of whether Hell exists, or lasts eternally, have to do with whether God chooses to give Hitler a second chance?

    Why can’t God make exceptions if he wants?  Jesus didn’t didn’t get all hung up on details.  “Hey, thief — you’ll be with me in Heaven, provided of course that you get down from your cross and get baptized first!”

  • Tricksterson

    Sorry meant “tautalogical templar”.  My keyboard and I frequently get into arguments and I often lose.

  • Actually, I meant the part where you typed “tod” and might have meant someone named “Todd”, or typoed for “God”, or for some reason meant “sod”….

    ETA: Looking at the comment to which you were replying makes it pretty clear that no Todd is involved, but God is, so….

  • Tricksterson

    And how to you know that God’s real name isn’t Tod?

  • Hilary

    That’s a good discussion  . . . Tod . . . God. . . . second cousins, once removed?

    FWIW, if anybody’s interested, the story of Jonah is one of the proof texts used by Talmudic rabbis use for their claim that the righteous of all nations can get into heaven.  Consider the verse “And God saw that they turned back from their evil ways and repented.”

    Those old Jewish guys with beards noticed that the text did NOT say “And they all converted to Judaism, started worshiping Adonai and opened a kosher deli”  They were pagans, who stayed pagan just stopped doing whatever evil they had been up to – credit card scams maybe, selling over priced cheez-wiz, or refusing to care for the poor and orphaned in their midist – repented changed their ways.  The conclusion was that pagans who do bad things get torched by the wrath of God, but if they stop doing bad things God relents, even if they stay pagan.  

    Follow that line of thought, and pagans who do good things are ok.  Now Jews are not supposed to follow pagan gods, that’s clear throughout the torah, however pagans who follow pagan gods but still follow the torah’s ethical precepts are considered righteous, enough to get to heaven – according the Talmudic Rabbis.  Piper et al have a different view, but  . . . meh.  Whatever. It’s not like they can read Hebrew to check the original text.

    This is obviously a fable, not based on any part of the Hebrew’s tribal history, or the Israelite history.  A prophet who walks into a city that takes three days to walk across, makes one anouncement to repent, and every body believes him and does that?  C’mon, three days in the belly of a big fish is more believable.   


  • octopod42



  • Shayna

    My last pastor talked about this once, it was a put down of people who like to say “We are all God’s children”.  He basically said that while all people are God’s creations, only people who are saved are God’s children (adopted into God’s family/coheirs with Christ and all that).

    A pretty good rationalization, and I admit at the time it sounded a lot better than what DeYoung said…still I prize the sentiment of ‘all God’s children’ more highly.

  • Hilary

    Oy Vey.

  • LectorElise

     I always interpreted the line about ‘and also many animals’ as being part of the earlier phrase. As in, ‘120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left,’ and also do not know their right hand from many animals. I hadn’t realized other people interpreted it differently. Huh. You learn something every day.

  • “And God saw that they turned back from their evil ways and repented.”

    Kind of like LectorElise above with a different verse, I’m seeing different ways of parsing this.  I’d imagine it’s clearer in Hebrew, if it’s more inflected than English, as most languages are.  Does it mean “and God saw that they turned back from their evil ways, and He repented” or “and God saw that they turned back from their evil ways and that they repented”?

  • The Hebrew for the relevant clause in Jonah 3:10 is:  “וַיִּנָּחֶם הָאֱלֹהִים”, which is pretty unambiguously indicating that God is the subject.

    The sentence structure in the Hebrew, were it to be preserved in awkward but grammatical English, is something like “And God repented, upon the evil that [no subject specified] said to do to them — and did not do [it].”

    Though translating Hebrew into past-tense English is necessarily taking some liberties. I could also render it “And God repents, upon the evil that [no subject specified] says to do to them — and does not do [it].” Which is also a conventional narrative structure in English, so take your pick.

    There is also, incidentally, some uncertainty surrounding the use of “repent” as the translation here in the first place, though it’s conventional.

  • And, OK, as long as I’m dusting off my rusty Hebrew… the original is
    “אָדָם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע בֵּין-יְמִינוֹ לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ, וּבְהֵמָה…”

    Which is something like “…people, that do not know between their left to their right, and beasts”.

    I don’t think it allows for the reading you’re giving it here in Hebrew. (That said, I have no objection to you interpreting your preferred English translation without reference to the Hebrew if you wish, as long as you just intend to treat it as a text.)

  • The “not knowing your right from your left” sounds pretty strange, but I suppose it’s one way of expressing that the people there required some kind of guidance or care, and God pitied them after he decided not to cast Divine Nuke.

  • Lori

    That’s the interpretation that I’ve always heard. It’s referring to children who aren’t old enough yet to have learned even the basics like right & left  and people with cognitive limitations such as developmental disabilities and dementia. Basically people who can’t take care of themselves.

  •  Yeah, that’s pretty much how I read it as well. Sort of analogous to “who can’t tell their ass from their elbow,” which is also pretty strange if I’m not part of the culture that uses the expression.

  • Hilary


    I don’t know, that’s a good point of grammer to raise.  I could try and pick out the exact words with my H/E dictionary, but after washing dishes and sorting out the fridge I’m too tired. Besides, even if I could translate the words, Hebrew grammer . . . . ugh. Dave did a better job then I could. 

    I guess the point I was trying to make was how important Jonah is as an example of Non-Yahweh~Adonai worshiping people who change behavior but not belief, and that was important to G-d.  There are different ways to live with these sacred, frustrating stories, and it frustrates me no end when we choose interpretations that turn us against eachother. 

    And Dave, you are Top Jew here for getting Hebrew print on the blog replies, yesher koach.  I hope you had a good holiday season. 


  •  Aw, shucks.

    I should say here that I’m an utterly secularized Jew, though I had a fairly extensive religious education as a child on which I continue to draw as an adult.

    Which is to say, I more or less completely ignored the holiday season. (Or, rather, am in the process of ignoring it, since Shemini Atzeret started at sundown. Which I know only because I have observant Jewish friends. And also because my mom sometimes nags me about whether I’m doing anything for yom tov, though admittedly Shemini Atzeret is pretty obscure as yomim tovim go.)

    But I suppose the title of Top Jew on an evangelical Christian blog is to be coveted. No doubt there are other worthy contenders, though.

  • JP

    Pastor De Young was right in some respects. God does hate as he hated Esau (Rom 9:13) And if do not love Jesus, then your father is the Devil and you are one of his children (John 8:41-45). God loved the world so He provided a solution to the problem of sin. But so long as you do not come to a saving knowledge of the Savior, no matter how much God may love you, His justice will be served and all sinners will be punished for their crimes against God for an eternity in Hell.

  • “God sends you to hell for all eternity just because, like Esau, he has an utterly random dislike of you” is not compatible with any sane definition of “justice”.

    And infinite punishment for finite sin? That doesn’t sound like the act of a just God.

  • JP

    See there’s where we disagree. God doesn’t randomly hate people, Esau was the first born of Isaac and had the right of inheriting everything that Isaac owned, especially God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendents as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach. He traded all that to his younger brother for a bowl of stew. He didn’t care and God didn’t like that.

    Oh yeah, and even one sin against a God who will tolerate zero sin is already a crime of infinite severity. The fact that we sin all the time just makes it worse. Justice means that if you commit a crime, you will do the time. Mercy is when the punishment is lessened or taken away. And there is only one way to gain God’s mercy regarding sin.

    Do you know what that is?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Acknowledge God’s nonexistence?

  • I’m a guess it involves not being a self-righteous D-bag who revels in imagining the suffering of anyone who doesn’t subscube to your obscene beliefs in some kind of murderous tyrant blood-god who bears a superficial resemblance to the god who created the universe and so loved it that he gave his only begotten son to be born into the world, live as a man, and die on the cross.

  • JP

    You’re wrong again. I don’t believe myself to be anymore righteous than the next guy, although I do sorta try to do right. The only way to gain God’s mercy is found in the 2nd half of John 3:16 “whosoever believeth in him (Jesus) should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

    You judge God and his reasonings by human standards. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

  • JP

    You do that. Let me know what it’s like on the other side of death, eh?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Can’t. There isn’t anything on the other side. Pop like a bubble, that’s what death is. No eternal joy, no eternal punishment, no nothing.

  • Oh, so it does involve being a sanctimonious d-bag.

  • JP

    Adjectivederogatory. Making a show of being morally superior to other people.

    Please explain to me how I am being sanctimonious

  • EllieMurasaki

    If you have to ask, given your behavior in this thread, you’ll never understand.

  • JP

    You know, if that’s really all there is, then that would be fine. Even if it’s reincarnation and you just go through life all over again until you get it right would be ok too. But what if you’re wrong? You have no solid proof that you’re right and I have no solid proof that I’m right. I’m just acting on faith.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What if I’m wrong? Good question. Better question: What if you’re wrong?

    How about you stop pretending we should all act on your supposition instead of mine?

  • I don’t know if my faith in an all-loving God is wrong. But I am absolutely certain your belief in a monsterous vengeance-god is.

  • dpolicar

    Consider a phrase like “there is only one way to gain God’s mercy regarding sin. Do you know what that is?”

    For most native English speakers, that construction implies that the speaker knows the answer and considers him or herself in a position to evaluate the listener’s knowledge. Which is to say, it implicitly asserts a superior position.

    For most native English speakers, phrases like “gain God’s mercy regarding sin” imply that morality is under discussion.

    Combining the two suggests that a morally superior position is being implicitly asserted.

  • dpolicar

    Do you consider your faith to be of any more value to EllieMurasaki than their faith, supposing they have any, is to you?