If God is Love, Why Hell?, Part 2

If God is Love, Why Hell?, Part 2 August 13, 2012

One of the most sincere and reflective questions peopleask about Christianity is how a loving God can punish people in hell. In lastweek’s column, we dug down to the deepest foundation of the love of God andzeroed in on His primary focus. God’s love, according to the Bible, burnsbrightest and strongest… for Himself! In other words, the heart of God burnswith white-hot passion for God.

Once we get this fundamental piece in place in ourunderstanding of God, the nature of His love and how He expresses it will comeinto clearer focus for us. For one thing, it will help us avoid the popular butmistaken notion that God loves all people unconditionally. Careful,God-centered readers of the Bible will admit that this description of Godappears nowhere in God’s word. The nature of God and the teaching of the Bibleare far too complex for this vastly truncated view. Yet I’ve commonly heardpeople assert: “God is love; therefore, God’s love must be unconditional foreveryone.” This oversimplified logic never stops to ask how God’s love cohereswith His holiness, His kingship, His righteous judgment, and the particular andindividual focus of His redeeming grace.

A more biblical understanding of God’s love recognizesthat it makes distinctions. It differs in intensity and expression, dependingon its object. (This was, in part, the point of last week’s column: that theFather’s love burns brightest for His own Son—i.e., God’s preeminent love forHimself.) In point of fact, God’s love actually is conditional in someof its expressions. God’s love—brace yourselves!—discriminates. For example,while God lovingly cares for the whole creation, His promise to “work allthings together for good” applies only to “those who love God,” which is anobvious condition (cf. Rom 8:28). Adoption and redemption are furtherexpressions of God’s love, but they are also conditional—certainly NOTconditioned upon our works but rather upon His choice in predestination (cf.Eph 1:4-5).

The larger point here is, the love of God is complexand unique. It takes careful thought and a humble heart even to begin to graspthe vast depths of God’s love. Oversimplified statements plainly will not work.Even less effective is the paltry logic which seeks to blackmail God intounconditional, heaven-opening love for all people, no matter their dispositiontoward His Son.