What Kind of God?
[original article published in Fort Bend Herald, Sunday, February 24, 2013]
An age old question has found new life in recent debate concerning the seeming incongruity of an all-loving, all-powerful God being willing to bring the harshest of judgments upon his creation. To be exact, the debate is generally kick started by some rendition of the question, “What kind of God would send people to an eternal judgment in Hell?” The question is of course baited and the outcome presumed self-evident. Supposedly one should nominate only a malevolent God as capable of such judgment. Surely a loving God couldn’t be responsible for such harsh condemnation.
The answer tends to fall in one of several templated responses. One group, believing the sentiment of the question, would say that in fact God does not send people to Hell at all. Either Hell is an humanly-imposed product of the misinterpretation of Jesus’ (and the Old Testament Prophets, Apostles, church fathers, etc) words or in fact it is in some way a temporary sentence by which man can be properly refined, finding ultimate escape into eternal life. Some believe in a form of annihilationism; that unbelievers will simply die without hope for Heaven, yet without judgment in Hell or any other punitive resort. Some contend that God doesn’t ‘send’ anyone to Hell, but that men choose to go to Hell, as if they put their name in the wrong column of a sign-in sheet. And some still hold to the classic Christian position that – in fact – we do serve the ‘kind of God’ who would sentence people to Hell and carry out such sentence first hand.
The question is only valid, of course, if in fact the scriptures claim that Hell is real and that God sends people there. In the short space allotted, it can be quickly noted from the words of Christ himself that such is true. Jesus’ account of his return and judgment speaks of the fate of the sinful in these terms: “(The King) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:40-41) Jesus affirms this position also in Matthew 10 and 23, along with numerous other references, yet from this text alone three things can be clearly seen: First, that Jesus proclaims a literal judgment of fire, second, that this judgment is eternal and third, that the King himself issues the sentence. Other New Testament authors concur in clear language, such as Paul’s note in 2 Thes. 1:8-9, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction….” Thus, according to the scriptures, the question is valid: Just what kind of God would sentence people to Hell?
The question is actually answered clearly in the earlier portion of the 2 Thes. text above. Verses 6-7 note, “God considers it just to repay with affliction… those who do not do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Romans 3 concurs, noting that until Christ took the full weight of the guilt of sin for the believer upon himself that in God’s forbearance “he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (v25-26)
Rarely does one question a judge who sentences a child molester to a life sentence in prison. We consider the penalty of such sin justly carried out by the utter segregation of the offender for the duration of his life. What kind of judge issues such a sentence? A just one – who upholds the law and considers the crime truly reprehensible. No further examination need be sought out for God’s upholding of his sentence for sin. He is just. He hates sin. He will satisfy its sentence.
Thanks be to God that He is in fact also a loving and forgiving God. In Christ he has taken out his full retribution on sin for those who trust Christ alone as their sacrifice of atonement. But he remains yet just. Every man’s sins will be punished: either through Christ or the sinner himself.