Why would a loving and compassionate God send people to hell?

whyThis is the question a co-worker asked me a few weeks ago.  It is an important question, and honestly, a difficult one to try to answer.  My friend was having difficulty reconciling what she saw around the world with her Christian beliefs.  “There are a billion muslims,” she said, “I can’t see how God will send a billion people to hell when they are only following the only culture and traditions they have ever known.”

She asked this question a few days before the Paris terror attacks.  I don’t know if our conversation would have been different if it had taken place after the attacks, but I do know that the day before any tragedy seems to be a normal day just like any other.  And when tragedy strikes, we immediately start searching for the truth.  The truth does not change based on circumstances.  It is the same the day before and the day after.

The answer to her question is not a simple yes or no.  But there can only be one truth to the world, and this question can be answered adequately and rightly without having to compromise on that truth.

God is Just and Fair.  He will do what is Right. (Psalm 145:17)

I began to explain my answer to my friend and followed it up with some references.  Many people have this same question, so I have written my answer below in four statements that I hope will also help others.  After all, everyone wants to know, and there is nothing we can do to change the answer once we die.

1. The answer lies not just in what we see in the world today, but in an overall understanding from the beginning of people in our world.  This is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.

No other book explains the historical beginning of time and records the genealogy starting with Adam.  The Bible represents 40 authors, 66 books, written over 1600 years, in 3 continents and 3 languages.  It describes the human race in completeness – all races, cultures, and religions.
*fun fact: There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In triplicate (3), this equals 66, the number of books in the Bible.  Three means complete.

Two-thousand years passed between Adam and Abraham in the book of Genesis.  This is significant because God does not establish his first covenant with people until Abraham.  Abraham is considered the start of religion as we know it today.  The book of Genesis does not give us a lot of detail during those first 2000 years, but we do know the earth had become very evil and God destroyed it with a flood during Noah’s time.

God is known to punish people for evil, but He always gives them fair warning ahead of time.  Grace has been present from the beginning.  Anyone who heeded the warning, sought God and repented from their evil ways was saved from destruction, no matter what they had done in the past.

The people of Noah’s time were warned for many years. (I Peter 3:20)
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were warned ahead of time. (Genesis 18:22-33)
The people of Nineveh, though very evil, were warned through the prophet Jonah and they listened and repented, and were saved from destruction.  (Jonah 3)
God’s own covenant people through Abraham had become very evil themselves in about 600 BC.  They worshipped other gods, sacrificed children and participated in cannibalism, and their own priests had become corrupt and evil.  The prophet Jeremiah warned them for years, and his prophecy came true when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC and the few thousand remaining were held captive in Babylon. (Jeremiah and Lamentations)

2. God will not condemn someone for what they do not know.

How were people saved or judged before Jesus’ time?  And what about those in more recent times who still have never had a chance to hear of Jesus or read a Bible?  Remote areas of the world, certain cultures, Native American Indians who lived prior to the western colonization,  young children, and the mentally handicapped are a few of these.

Prior to having a knowledge of Jesus, people were saved by faith in what they knew up until that time, and by faith in the promise of a coming Savior.

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4)
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/before-Jesus.html

3. God the Creator can reveal himself through his creation, and will make himself known to each of his created.

Just like a baby knows its mother, we instinctively know God our Creator.  It is our heart (soul) that decides whether we want to follow God and what He has revealed to us.  Reading a Bible or attending church is certainly helpful but not a requirement.  God has been known to use His creation to reveal Himself, especially in Old Testament times. (Psalm 19:1-4)

This is part of the mystery of God.  We do not know how God reveals himself to each person, but we can trust that He will, and everyone is given a choice.  But we must be very careful here… for those of us that have knowledge, we are judged on that knowledge.  Even Satan and the fallen angels had knowledge of God and they chose differently.

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/never-heard.html

4. Finally, because God loves us, he will not leave us without hope or without choice.  He has sent a Savior for all people.  A Savior is not based on who we are or what we’ve done, but on what the Savior has done for us.

By nature of who God is, he cannot be a part of sin or evil.  God poured out his final judgment on sin through the ultimate sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who took the punishment on the cross in our place.  Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).  God’s plan to redeem his people was complete.  Jesus’ burden was so heavy during the time of his crucifixion, that I believe this was because he was thinking of each and every one of us by name – past, present and future.

There are different ideas on the exclusivism-inclusivism of Jesus, but the basic truth is this:

Jesus came as Savior to all the world. (“Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said” Matthew 28:19).  His death and resurrection covers the righteousness for those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, and as the promised Savior for those who have not yet heard and will believe.  This makes Jesus still the one Savior for all the world, as prophesied from the beginning of time, and the one true path to God.  He is our intercessor to God.  Through Jesus, God no longer sees our sin but sees the righteousness of Jesus within us.

There is no need and no truth in having many paths to God to cover our various traditions, personalities, character traits, races, cultures, circumstances or changing times.  God never said we had to work our way to Him either.  By Faith (true repentance) and by Grace present from the beginning, One Savior covers it all; fair and just and complete.

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/inclusivism-exclusivism.html

We want quick answers, even to tough questions, but the Bible shows us that God’s view and concept of time is not limited to our short timeframes.  But because our life on this earth is short, we have little time as individuals to decide what we want to believe and do.  Will it be based on a matter of convenience or a search for the truth?

~~~

My friend left our talk that night a little overwhelmed, but the next morning I noticed  she was smiling and talking to the taxi driver about Christ!  She had found her answer.

We may not find all the answers, but in finding God,
we will find the One who does.feet with waves cropped

A Halloween observation from an outsider

The question comes up every year this time – should Christians celebrate Halloween?
Clearly, a person’s salvation is not determined by this holiday, so it then becomes a secondary matter for Christians.  It is more a matter of impact and image.

I am not talking about the American tradition of handing out candy to cute little neighborhood kids.  This is part of what makes America unique and great – the fact that we can still have our neighbor’s kids come by our house with anticipation that we will greet them with candy and smiles.

But what about the rest?  What about the decorating of ghosts and witches and tombstones in our yards?  Or the barrage of horror and evil associated with the holiday?  My co-worker from India, who was traveling to the United States for the first time, told me a sobering observation.

He arrived in the U.S. in late October.  Just like anyone visiting a new country for the first time, he was excited to see what it was like.  After settling in for a few days, I took him out to lunch.  As we drove down the streets of Atlanta, looking for a place to eat, my friend became quiet.  He hesitated a little, and said, “I thought America was a Christian country.  Why does everyone put out decorations of evil spirits and magic?”

I felt embarrassed.  I tried to explain as best as I could to an outsider looking in, about our Halloween traditions.

He still seemed disappointed.  “In my country,” he said, “there are people who worship evil spirits, so you do not put those things around your house if you do not want to welcome evil spirits.”

All I could say to him in return is that I was a Christian and I did not celebrate Halloween.  “Ah, ok,” he said.

Impact and image are important.  Does Jesus look welcome in this home?  What would you think if your church pastor decorated his home like this?  It would seem kind of weird.  Why should it be any different for other Christians?

halloween-decorating

 

 

 

The Response

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It has been heartbreaking to watch the news this last week, with riots and looting and angry words being thrown back and forth.  But what I noticed most on the faces of the people I saw on television was a look of deep pain and hurt and frustration.  It goes much deeper than the cries of racism.  This was a look of pain accumulated from many years of injustice – from substandard schools for the poor, people not caring, families torn apart from alcoholism and drugs, single moms trying to raise their families against the odds, being poor in a country that has so many extremes in wealth, and a general lack of morality in our culture.  The tone spread throughout the country like a bad virus, and spilled over into family Thanksgiving celebrations and times where we should be coming together.  It brought home the fact that the holidays are very hard for many people, those without families or means to provide, and loneliness and hurt feelings are heightened.

What is the correct response, and what is the solution for a hurting country and the world?

There is only one answer, one person, that can satisfy all our questions and truly take away the pain and injustice.  Jesus Christ.  No other person, no other religion or doctrine or leader, has spoken the words that Jesus said and acted as Jesus did.  Jesus faced many of the same issues that we have today, but he is not just a historical figure to be studied.  His truth is still true today.  Jesus offers compassion for the forgotten, the poor and lonely.  Only Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, no matter who you are or what you have done.  Jesus often spoke against the wealth and power of this earth, yet no one has ever found any fault with him other than he claimed to be who he said he was.  He healed.  He understood.  He cared.  He carried all of our pain to the cross.  He died for us.  No one else has done this.

As my younger self, I might have considered this to be a lesser response to the world’s problems.  I wanted to solve it my way.  But as I have seen more of the world now, I know there is no other answer.  Jesus is the only way out of our circumstances, and the only one who can ease our pain.  During this Christmas season we see the images of baby Jesus lying in a manger, but I hope we will also see Jesus the man.  Read the spoken words of Jesus in the New Testament (red-letter edition) and you will see why He came and what He stood for.  In your pain, look to Jesus.  Trust in Him as your Savior and He will lead you out.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5

 Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  John 12:46

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The lunch conversation I will never forget

debate-lunch-breakI’ll never forget that day at lunch.  I’ve thought about it many times since.  Why didn’t I have an answer?  What would I say today?  I was resolved to find the answer.

My co-worker sat across from me in the lunch cafeteria.  She had invited me to lunch that day, which was unusual since we were not close friends and had never had lunch together in all the years we worked at the same company.  She was retiring soon and asked if I would join her for lunch.  I was happy to go.  She was a funny person, liked to tell jokes and always had a smile on her face.

We began talking about trivial things and small-talk, when all of a sudden her demeanor changed.  She looked at me with a fierceness in her face I had never seen before, and she brought up the subject of God.  “I don’t believe in God,” she said, “but if he does exist when I die, I’m going to look him right in the face and point my finger at him (she starts shaking her finger at me) and I’m going to tell him I don’t want anything to do with a god that demands people worship him or else he sends them to hell.  I’ll turn around and gladly go straight to hell!”

Whaat?, came my reply in a state of disbelief.  I kept waiting for the joke or punch line but it never came.  I was speechless and did not know where her sudden anger came from.  I had never discussed religion with her and was not even sure she knew I was a Christian.  I do not know her reason for choosing me that day, but her attack seemed very personal.  I think it was not me she was attacking but rather the one I represented, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that lives within me as a Christian.

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12

Our lunch was mostly over after that rant, but the expression on her face never changed back to the happy person I knew before.  I never saw her again after that, but I have often wondered about her and what was the right answer to her statement.  Here is what I would say to her today.

You have the wrong idea about God.  God is Sovereign and Holy, and the Creator of the universe.  He created this world and you and I, with only a spoken word.  He is far beyond anything we can fully imagine or contain within our limitations.  God is to be revered, but He is also fair and good and loving.  He does not demand anything of us, nor can we earn it.  Everything on this earth requires that we work for it, including our jobs, but it is not that way with God.  God asks us if we would like to receive His gift of Grace.  It is freely given to anyone, but we have to want to accept it.  Heaven is a place for those who want to worship the true and living God and have found their salvation in Christ.  If you get to know who God is, then you will want to be with Him out of this love.

You also have the wrong idea about hell.  If hell is real, as described in the Bible and warned about many times by Jesus, then it is not a place you will gladly want to go.  You will want to avoid it at all costs.  Just look around us at the evil we see every day on this earth and you will know that hell can be a reality, and there is no reason to think it would be limited to only what we can see.

Satan’s main goal is to keep us away from God and to keep us from knowing the truth.

It is worth everything we have to seek out and find the truth; to examine our hearts and our motives.  There is no price too great for knowing the truth, and there is no substitute.  Yes, God is more than we can ever imagine, but He has also given us the truth and the way for redemption and eternal fellowship with Him.  The rest is up to us.

And all mankind will see the salvation of God. Luke 3:6

 

How not to become bitter in your old age

old man

I waited in the morning rush hour line at the local coffee shop.  My laptop was in one hand and my work bag in the other, while I searched around for my debit card.  An older gentleman stood beside me.

“You can go ahead of me”, he said with a smile.  “You look like you have something important to do.  I’ve done my time already, and besides, you’re probably paying for my social security too”, he said with a grin and a chuckle.

I laughed at the thought.  “Yes, I guess I am.”

“I’m so old…”, he continued, “I remember when the Dead Sea was only sick.”

I let out a big laugh.  He seemed pleased at my response, as if he had done his job for the day.

Throughout the day, I retold that joke to several more people, and they each had a good laugh too.  This one old man had spread a lot of joy that morning.

I want to be like that when I get old, and I began to wonder what was his secret.  I’ve observed that people usually take one of two paths when they get older: either they become bitter and depressed and generally unhappy about most things, or they live their life with a happy-go-lucky, not a care in the world attitude.  I want to be the latter.

So how do we make sure we do not become bitter?  It starts with how we live our lives today.  What are our priorities?  Do we put our families first, or do we emphasize work too much?  Have we learned to forgive?  Can we let go of things at the appropriate time and trust God for the rest?

I try to practice all these things but I still wanted some solid advice, some kind of script that I could follow to be sure.  I know money isn’t the answer; I see lots of unhappy rich folks.  Good health is not guaranteed for any of us and much of it is out of our control in our later days, so there must be something else.  Then I ran across this passage while reading one day:

“How do we ensure that life gets better and not bitter as our days advance?  Our treasure must be above. When our treasure is laid up in heaven, we go to our reward. We are not leaving it.  Keep life and its treasure in perspective.  It will make a difference now and forever.” – Randy Ray

That was the answer I was looking for.  We are going to something.  And it is never too late to start on the right path.  There is always more we can do on this earth.  Sometimes it’s as easy as brightening someone’s day in the coffee shop line, and making them stop and think.

The one who does God’s will remains forever.  I John 2:16

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