This is the fifth post in a 14-week study. More information and resources can be found here.
A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:
– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. It’s gonna be good!
– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.
– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.
It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way. If you have any questions about the study, or about God in general, feel free to email me from the link in the right sidebar.
The introduction to the chapter brings many of the questions that we have all heard or asked ourselves concerning a loving God and hell. Keller says, “In our culture, divine judgment is one of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines.” (p. 71)
A God of Judgement Simply Can’t Exist
Keller postulates that modern man believes that the natural world to be malleable, and within his power to manipulate. “Our new confidence that we can control the physical environment has spilled over so we now think we can reshape the metaphysical realm as well.” (p. 74) But according to Keller, this view of modernity is not accepted by all.
So many arguments against Biblical teachings are based on cultural beliefs. Keller shares a story in which a woman approached him to share that the very idea of a judging God was offensive. He responded, “Why aren’t you offended by the idea of a forgiving God? I carefully urge you to consider your cultural location when you find the Christian teaching about hell offensive.” (p.74) He then went on to ask her, did she believe that Western cultural sensibilities should be the final court in which to judge whether Christianity is valid? And did she consider her culture to be superior to non-Western ones? When she replied “no”, Keller concluded, “Well then why should your culture’s objections to Christianity trump theirs?” (p.74)
A God of Judgment Can’t Be a God of Love
The God of the Bible is One of love and of justice. While the love of God depicted in the Bible is not controversial here in the West, the wrath of God is. Keller explains that these two entities cannot be separated. When a loving person is faced with the mistreatment of a loved one, that love is the very root of the resulting anger and wrath.
Becky Pippert in her book Hope Has Its Reasons: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer… which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.” (p.76)
A Loving God Would Not Allow Hell
Keller describes the modern view of hell as God casting souls – those unfortunate ones who did not make the right choices in life before their time was up – into hell for all eternity… despite the pleas and cries for mercy. But this view misses the very nature of evil, Keller says. “The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort. Since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, only before his face will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential. If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell – the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy.” (p.79)
“Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.” (p.79)
Keller utilizes the story of Lazarus, a beggar, and the Rich Man in Luke 16:24-31 to support his view of hell. Incredibly, the Rich Man, despite the fact that he is in hell, does not ask to get out. But instead continues to complain to Abraham about his surroundings and bully Lazarus, the beggar, just as he had during their lives on earth. “Commentators have noted the astonishing amount of denial, blame-shifting and spiritual blindness in this soul in hell… He is only called a “Rich Man,” strongly hinting that since he had built his identity on his wealth rather than on God, once he lost his wealth he lost any sense of a self.”
“In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.” (p.80)
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, he compares hell to a busload of people who are asked to leave behind their sin and depart the bus – but refuse. Those on the bus are indeed miserable, but the desire for freedom to pursue their sin is too much to resist. They simply cannot risk losing ‘everything’ so instead choose to remain apart from God. Lewis says that the steps to the bus trip “… begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.” (p.81) However, rather than ending the pride of selfishness, people double down in the mistaken belief that they would rather have freedom than salvation. Keller writes, “Hell is, as Lewis says, the greatest monument to human freedom.” (p.82) Ultimately, according to Keller, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?” (p.82)
Hell and the Equality of People
Keller argues against the point of view that Christians belief system naturally makes them narrow-minded. He completely dissects the argument by demonstrating that a narrow-minded view is one that argues that there is no eternal consequence of sin. “Both the Christian and the secular person believe that self-centeredness and cruelty have very harmful consequences. Because Christians believe souls don’t die, they also believe the moral and spiritual errors affect the soul forever.” (p.83) This belief should lead the Christian to a greater understanding of the consequence of sin whereas the secular belief leads to a more narrow view because the consequence is finite and not relative past one’s own life.
“I Believe in a God of Love”
Interestingly, Keller titles the chapter as a statement. Previous to this, the title is simply used to break up thoughts. In this case however, he uses quotes to emphasize that this is an argument heard countless times, not merely a natural break in the chapter.
This section is a reminder of his earlier chapter that argued the cultural beliefs of ever person influences their interpretation of the Bible. However, Keller also argues that the belief in a God of love is not found in other faiths, so the central tenant must have come from within Christianity. “I must conclude that the source of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end,” Keller says. (p.85) The real leap of faith comes when someone believes that God is love but judges no one. If you love someone and see them harmed, would you not be judging the instigator or would it be better to simply love the victim and the perpetrator? Those serving a loving God are not serving the true God but rather a fictitious god that helps them feel cozy and cuddly without dealing with the evil of this world brought to bear by Satan and man’s sinful nature. “The belief in a God of pure love — who accepts everyone and judges no one — is a powerful act of faith… The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.” (p.86)
Question: Has this chapter opened your eyes to any false doctrine you’ve knowingly or unknowingly believed about God’s wrath? About hell?
My response: Absolutely. I am constantly amazed by how much false doctrine I have absorbed, without even realizing it. Because of this book, and Keller’s systematic approach, I have been able to recognize so much false doctrine in my own heart. After tracing it back to the roots (usually the desire to be politically correct here in the West) I have been able to inspect it and determine what really is truth. And this has grown my faith in a surprisingly big way.
Wrath. This used to cause great angst in me. I have always understood God’s love but His wrath was something that took longer. Much, much longer. Honestly, it wasn’t until I began really spending time in His Word that He began to reveal His true character to me, bit by bit. I mean I had read about God and had learned He was omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and so on. But I didn’t know it, deep in my bones. He has revealed to me how perfect, flawless, holy, worthy, patient, loving, merciful, protective, good, just and wrathful He is. It all works together for my good and most of all for His glory. If I could not trust His perfect and just wrath, then I don’t think I could truly trust His perfect and unconditional love.
Now about hell. I had read this chapter, as well as a bit from C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce, last fall and since then my perspective of hell and those who are headed in that direction has completely changed. I admit to being one of those who couldn’t really fit the God I understood in my heart to the one Keller characterizes in this chapter. Both Keller’s and Lewis’ observations just make so much sense to both my head and to my heart. I have seen people living the very lives they describe – completely self-focused and self-absorbed, pursuing personal freedom at all cost – who are also some of the most unhappy and joyless people I know. While the most joyful, peaceful and hope-filled people I know are those who are on the opposite trajectory – moving, daily, closer to God and ultimately, to heaven.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. — John 3:16-18
Here is the button for the participants who will be linking up to the study. Grab the code, paste it into your Reason for God post and link up below.