Sustaining the Justice of God
Over the past few weeks Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” has caused a stir within the walls of the evangelical church. He has called into question the existence of hell and brought forth the ire of many pastors and scholars who accept the literal teachings of eternal punishment in the Bible. Bell and others in the emergent church movement love to call historical doctrines into question. It seems these individuals are trying to make the message of Christianity more appealing to a wider audience. Hell arguably is the most hated doctrine of the Christian faith and by eliminating its existence, Bell and others can focus on the love of God, rather than his judgment.
I am not going to critique Bell’s book but I am going to use the doctrine of hell as a way to discuss the holiness of God; the justice of God. I was confronted this week by my atheist friend Tom on the topic of hell and his hatred of this teaching. It was an intense 15 minutes discussion at the local gym as I defended hell. My major reason for the existence of hell was the justice of God. Are there punishments after death for moral wrongs? Or do people who commit unspeakable crimes get away with them when they die?
I will look at a few systems of belief to examine whether or not there is ultimate justice. My hypothesis is that Christianity is the only belief system that maintains God’s holiness and thus provides justice for all who commit moral wrongs. Without hell God’s holiness is sacrificed and He is an unjust God.
I will briefly look at four beliefs concerning what happens when we die and I will then conclude with how God is both loving and holy.
- Atheism: Atheist’s believe there is no God, which eliminates the possibility of life after death. We are simply “bags of chemicals” that upon death, our bodies decay and go back to the ground from whence we came. In my discussion with Tom I mentioned that according to his beliefs there is no ultimate justice in the world. Atheistic mass murders like Stalin, Lenin, Moa Zedong, and Khrushchev, when they died, they simply went out of existence. These men murdered over a 100 million people and yet upon death they suffered the same fate as Mother Teresa, a person who did incredible good. I asked Tom, where is the justice in that. He admitted there is no ultimate justice in atheism and mass murders and people who do incredible good all face the same fate.
- Universalism: Rob Bell is accused of being a Universalist. Whether or not he is not important. There are people who hold this view. Universalism teaches everyone will get to heaven, including those who reject his existence. God’s love covers their rejection. Is there justice in Universalism? Absolutely not! Similar to atheism, everyone receives the same fate; this time instead of going out of existence, all go to heaven. What this means is those who hate God or dismiss His existence are dragged kicking and screaming into heaven. There will be God haters in heaven. God made us in His image and as such He gave us the freedom of choice. By forcing his love upon people and dragging them into heaven He violates our freedom of choice and by doing so contradicts his nature. A contradictory God cannot exist. I contend the God of Universalism is unjust and unholy for forcing his love upon those that reject Him.
- Reincarnation: This is the belief that upon death, depending on how you lived your life, you come back and get to do it again as a different person. The most common belief systems that teach forms of reincarnation are Hinduism and Buddhism. Under the law of Karma you reap what you sow in this life and how you lived has an effect on the next. Where is the justice in this system? Stalin who caused untold misery when he murdered millions gets another chance to either do it all over again or live a better life. Yet, all the destruction of his past life lives on beyond his death. None of the crimes against God or against society gets paid for by him. Individuals like Stalin are given multiple chances to do it again and again. And when you get a second chance, you come into the world as a baby. Karma says if you were destructive during your lifetime you will come back at a low status. But how is that fair to a baby who has no clue about a violent past. This person lives in poverty and suffers because of the evil deeds of someone else. Stalin caused unspeakable misery during his lifetime and now some unknown person has to live a life of suffering because of what he did. The pain of his life continues endlessly. Justice is never served in reincarnation. This has to be one of the cruelest religious beliefs.
- Good works saves you: Many belief systems teach if your good works outweigh your bad, God allows you into heaven. Islam believes Allah grants heaven based on good works and following certain precepts. There are multiple problems with good works salvation. First where do you draw the line of who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. How many sins are allowable before you are banned from heaven? What sins are bad enough to prevent someone from heaven? How much good is needed to overcome evil? In our justice system following the law and doing good is expected; you don’t get rewarded for following the law. However, if you break a law there is a penalty if you are caught. We would all agree law breakers should be punished. Why do we think it is different in the spiritual realm? Where do you think we got this idea of justice? God expects us to follow His laws and doesn’t give credit for doing good or doing what we a supposed to do. For God to be just He must punish us each and every time we break His laws. We break them daily. Good works are simply following God’s laws and when we break them we deserve judgment. There is no justice in a system that allows people to earn heaven by doing what they are supposed to do and not incurring punishment each time they break God’s laws.
I have shown four systems of belief concerning ultimate justice and how each of them fails. Part 2 I will examine the Christian worldview and how through the doctrine of hell God’s justice and holiness is sustained.