This past week, I had the opportunity to be a part of a jury. On Tuesday we spent the whole day selecting the jury, and once we were selected, we were told that the case was scheduled to run until Friday. The next day, I saw why it might take so long when we got started a half hour behind schedule. The rest of the morning was spent listening to the prosecution and defense question two witnesses. Then, after a two hour lunch break, we went into deliberation. From the moment we entered the jury room, everyone was in agreement that neither side did a very good job, but in the end the evidence itself pointed to a guilty charge and that’s where we had to go.
One of the things that I noticed about the whole process, was the excruciating amount of time that was spent in making sure we the jury understood our role in the process. The judge on several occasions re-emphasized the fact that we were to make our decision on the evidence alone, holding no testimony higher than another. It hit home on the painstaking procedures that went into making sure that the defendant was treated with every ounce of innocents that could be afforded. And when the jury met, not one person seemed to want to give the guilty ruling based on their desire to inflict pain, but rather solely based on the evidence. One man spoke up and said, we cannot have an emotional desire to keep this defendant from the guilty verdict, instead, this might be a pathway for them to get the treatment they need.
Leaving the courtroom after the verdict was announced, there was no doubt in my mind that the jury performed their duty correctly, and with as much compassion as possible, even in giving a guilty judgment.
And, by God’s design, this brings us to this week in our “No One is Talking About It” series, where we are going back into addressing the topics that Marty Sampson, an ex-worship writer and leader of the Hillsong church, presents for why he is walking away from the Christian faith. The topic we’ll be looking at this week is this idea of a loving God sending people to hell. And just like I saw the painstaking work to make sure innocents was afforded in the jury trial, we’ll look at how God takes painstaking steps before someone ends up in hell.
Now in this series we have covered three topics so far. The first topic was about how no one talks about when preachers fall to temptation. We showed this to be untrue, giving several examples both nationally, and personally. And we talked how we need to be praying for pastors, preachers, and each other, because as the Scripture says, there is no temptation that is unique to anyone, but temptation is common for everyone. So, prayer and standing against temptation is what God is calling us to do.
Then in the next week, we talked about miracles. Sampson said that not many miracles are happening. In phrasing it like that, Sampson acknowledges that miracles do happen, but he then falls into a trap that Jesus talked about. When confronted with people that wanted to see a miracle from Jesus, Jesus told them that it wouldn’t be enough. Even the greatest miracle of him rising from the dead, would not be enough for someone who is seeking miracles over seeking God. And so we talked about how God desires us to seek him, rather than seeking what we can get from him.
Finally, in the last time we talked, we tackled the idea that the Bible is full of contradictions. This is a common accusation against the Bible, so we took the fifteen contradictions that are given on the website, atheist.org, and debunked three of them in our talk, and then the other twelve in a packet that was available in the foyer. Through that time, we were able to see that with a little work on our end, we can be assured that the Bible isn’t full of contradictions, but rather the problem lies with us taking verses out of context and trying to make it say things they don’t.
With that refresher, let’s get into our fourth week answering Marty Sampson’s “No one’s talking about it,”and his reasons for why he is leaving the Christian faith. And as we’ve said before, we’re not trying to pick on, or demean Sampson, but rather, we’re using his words in the public sphere to make sure that we talking about these subjects and are able to answer these objections.
In his instagram post, Sampson’s fourth topic of why he is losing his faith says, “How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.”
What’s the place he is talking about? It’s hell.
About every three years or so, the youth watch a video called GOSPEL Journey Maui. In the reality show type series, there’s this girl named Racheal, who, out of the gate, tells people that she doesn’t believe in a literal hell. And in reality, there are a lot of people in this world that don’t. I’ve heard people say things like, “God is too loving, and wouldn’t send us to hell,” or “earth is more than enough of a hell for people, so there’s no other hell.”
And in fact, the idea in Sampson’s statement is a long standing theological discussion, that is phrased like this, “Why would a loving God send people to hell, simply because they do not believe in him?”
So let’s talk about these seemingly opposite ideas of God’s love and hell.
First, what is God’s love? Most of the time when we talk about the love of God, we talk about the unconditional love of God. But what if I told you, that nowhere in the Bible is the word unconictiopal mentioned? Just a simple word search of the top English translations reveals that the word unconditional does not appear anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the only time a word like it comes up, is in Genesis 2, where God tells humans they can eat unconditionally from any fruit in the Garden of Eden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v.16). But even in that case, there is a condition.
See we misrepresent God’s love, when we talk about it being unconditional. Now, I want to take a moment and stop, because the inevitable question arises, “But doesn’t God love us even when we sin?” And the answer is yes. Romans 5:8, “…While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” John 3:16, “For God loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” Yes, God loves us even in our sin, but if we finish John 3:16 we see that there is a condition on us receiving that love, “…that whoever believes in him shall receive eternal life.”
And the Bible is full of passages pointing to God’s love. Psalm 36:5 says that God’s love for us is vast. The whole book of Hosea and the parable of the Prodigal Son speak to God’s unfailing and steadfast love for us. Verses like 1st Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9, tell us that God’s desire is that no one should perish, and all would come to him.
The problem with the topic of love isn’t on God’s side, but rather on our side. To anyone who would accept God’s love, it is open. His love is freely offered by him to everyone. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock,” reveals how close God’s love is to each of us, with God on the outside of our door and all we have to do simply open it.
But there inlays the condition, the door has to be opened, God’s love has to be accepted.
If we take the three parables of the lost in Luke 15, we can see a pattern. The first two talk about lost objects. First a lost sheep. One sheep out of a hundred gets lost form the herd, and the shepherd goes and finds it. Then there is great rejoicing. The second parable deals with a lost coin. The woman searches for one lost coin out of ten. When she finds it, she rejoices.
Then there is the third one, the one of the lost son. A father has two sons, with the youngest wanting his inheritance early, and then leaving behind his father’s house and going to squander his new wealth. One day the son returns, and is met by a father that brings him back into his house and rejoices at his son’s return. In each of these parables, we learn about God’s love for us, but in the last one, we learn that to be brought back into the house, the son must make a conscious decision to return. And when he does, the father’s love, which has never stopped, is again experienced by the son.
And it’s here that we transition from God’s love given to us, to what happens when we reject that love. If we reject God’s love, what is God’s response?
Back in the 14th century a word came into the English language from a Latin word that meant to snatch, or take away by force (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rape; http://latindictionary.wikidot.com/verb:rapere). That word is rape. Now, rape has sense become a term we use for forcible sexual attacks, but in it’s original understanding, it simply meant to take someone or force someone to do something against their will.
Well if God forces those who reject his love to experience his love, that would mean that, in a sense, he would be raping them. And I know that sounds gross and can make us uncomfortable, which it should.
Because when people say, how can God be loving and send people to hell, what their saying is, how come God can’t force us to experience his love? But that is the original definition of a rapist. Someone forcing another person to do something against their will.
This is what people miss when talking about God’s love, God isn’t a cosmic rapist. Think about this: God, the only being in the universe that is uncreated. The only being that can speak things into existence. The only being that has complete autonomy. This being gives us created, finite, and flawed beings the opportunity to either reject or accept his love.
To those who accept, he gives eternal life with him to experience that love.
But what about those who reject? Who keep that door to God’s love closed? What is God going to do with them? Because if he really is love, then he won’t force them into that love.
Now we’re getting somewhere. But before we can talk about hell, we must talk about what a rejection of God’s love really means. Many people that I’ve encountered, think that rejecting God’s love, just means that you reject following Jesus. That’s part of it, but not the whole. The way the Bible puts forth creation, is that it is out of God’s desire that it even exists. That God calls it perfect in that it reflects his attributes. With humanity being the crown jewel of creation in that we are made in his image. This all means that everything good in this world: joy, peace, kindness, mercy, grace, patience, faithfulness, self-control, beauty, these things are the characteristics and the fingerprints of God himself. When we experience something good, we’re experiencing the goodness that is rooted in God’s love because he desired to create.
That means the rejection of God’s love, is a rejection of all these good experiences, because you can’t have one without the other. In fact, sin is the rejection of the things of God’s character, which, when we reject God’s character all it brings is pain and destruction. So without the love of God, you don’t have joy, you have sorrow. You don’t have peace, you have strife. You don’t have kindness, you have hatred. To reject God’s love is to embrace those things that are not of God.
So now, what is God’s answer to those who reject his love? It’s one last loving act. In the end, after all his pursuit of us in love, God gives us what we have always desired when we have spurred his love, which is a place where we can experience a total rejection of him. And with that we embrace everything that isn’t of him. All the joy we’ve ever experienced, all the kindness, mercy, peace, and everything that is good, gets rejected as well, because you cannot have those things without God, so when we reject him, we end up rejecting those things as well.
Therefore hell isn’t a place that God sends people, but rather a place for those that desire to reject God. In creating a place where we can receive our desire to be without God, God shows ultimate love. He does not force himself on us, but rather allows us to go our own way into eternity.
I remember hearing a pastor one time say something along theses lines, “Everyone in heaven will want to be there, and likewise, everyone in hell will want to be where they’re at too.”
The reality is this, we can think, like Sampson does, that hell is a destination that we get sent to because we just don’t believe in God. The reality is, God gives us the opportunity to choose our eternal destination. And it all hinges on either embracing God’s love, or rejecting it.
So what’s embracing God’s love look like? First it’s a realization that God’s right. See God says as a loving Father, that we are in rebellion. We have rejected God’s created goodness by lying, cheating, stealing, lusting, hating, murdering, gossiping, and much more. The Bible calls this sin, and us sinners. And because we have done these things that are not of God, we cannot be with God, because he is all good, and we’re not. At this point, we’ve chosen hell for ourselves, it’s our destination based on our own actions.
But God shows his love for us when he doesn’t leave us in that rebellion and in that choice. God the Son comes to us as Jesus, lives the good perfect life that we were meant to live, but was then killed. That death was unjustified in that only those who have sinned deserve to die. So Jesus was raised back to life, conquering our sin in the process and giving his perfect life as payment for our sinful one. When we embrace this truth and accept God’s work on our behalf, we are embracing God’s love. We’re that son that makes a conscious choice to return to his father’s house. Then we begin to follow him, spending the rest of our lives allowing him, by the Holy Spirit, to cut out every sin in our lives that is holding out in rebellion against God’s love. That eternal life that we have chosen begins at that decision to accept Jesus as our Savior and when this body fails and we die, God’s eternal love awaits us.
And what do we do to earn this great gift? Nothing, we simply accept it. No work on our part can make it happen. We can’t earn it by praying enough, doing enough good things for people, listening to enough sermons and Christian music, or even fixing all our bad habits. The only thing we can do, is embrace God’s gift through Jesus for us, and then follow him, doing what he says to do as we are led by his Holy Spirit.
If we have accepted that, then we have made our choice and our life will reflect that. If we haven’t, then there will come a day when that choice will become an eternal one, and we will get our desire to reject God, and as a last loving act, God will release us to our eternal choice. And we will embrace hell.
But what about those who never heard about Jesus? What about those who lived before Jesus? Is hell eternal? What’s it like? There’s a lot more about hell to be talked about. But to answer Marty Sampson’s question about how does a loving God send people to hell, the answer is, he doesn’t. We choose hell, and God being loving, allows us our choice. Hell then is the greatest form of love, to allow a finite being to make an eternal decision, even after being pursued by a infinite loving God.
My challenge for you today, is first, where are you in making this eternal decision? Have you accepted it, or are you rejecting it? Maybe you have more questions, I would be happy to sit with you and talk about them. In fact on Sunday nights, we are starting our sermon discussions to allow these conversations to happen. But we must understand and be honest about where we’re at in our choice to accept or reject the love of God.
Second, if you have accepted God’s love, are you praying for those who haven’t? Are you sharing God’s love with people? Are you communicating the result of rejecting God’s love with people? I have always loved the imagery of two beggars looking for food. Their clothes are in tatters, they smell, and they look like they haven’t had a bath in weeks. The difference between them, is the Christian has found food and now is eating their fill, and while they eat, they are calling the other beggar to the meal. Christian we need to call people to the meal of the love of God, because there will be a day, when the choice will be made, and the feast will be closed to those who have rejected it.
So seek God this week to bring people into your life that need to hear the Gospel message of Jesus’ loving work to keep us from an eternal hell.
Let us be people full of the love of God, overflowing to those around us, so that they may see that God desires them to be with him in perfect peace, joy, and love for eternity. Amen.