The population of the world is nearing seven (7) billion. Of that, approximately two (2) billion are Christian. For the sake of argument, let's assume they have a "saving" relationship with Jesus. That means nearly 5 billion people will suffer the torments of hell according to your interpretation of scripture. And, that's not to mention the billions who have died previously. So, we have a God that tortures - isn't that the correct term for hell? - the majority of humankind. I'm not trying to be confrontational, but doesn't that seem hard to square with a loving and merciful God? C. S. Lewis said, "We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." Isn't that a possibility? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
I love the compassion behind this question. What I hear is someone who sincerely desires to know that all of us will someday be saved from the punishment that our sin requires. I think the difference between the way the question is posed and what I believe Scripture teaches is our understanding of God's character.
Who doesn't enjoy talking about God's love? He is, after all, the very essence of love. Without Him, I don't believe we even know what love is. But to stop at God's love is to make Him one-dimensional. Scripture gives us many examples of the whole character of God. He is not only loving but pure, holy, just, and righteous. He displays qualities such as anger, sorrow, gladness and jealousy. So, while God is very much a God of love, that's not all He is.
With that understanding, let's start at the beginning. God, out of love, created the universe so that He may live in love with His creation, shower it with the deepest of His affections. Because He wanted that love returned willingly, He created us with a will and a choice. Unfortunately, one of His first creations was Lucifer, who used that free will to disobey and rebel. To keep this short, let's just summarize by saying that Adam and Eve continued that trend (thanks to Satan's influence) and mankind has been rebelling ever since. The evidence of that is all over the evening news. God's righteous and just nature required a penalty to be paid for these poor choices (call it the "Divine Courtroom"--Romans 6:23). But because of His deep love for us, He offered Jesus to pay the price for our sin.
Hang in there with me, I'm to the point of where I think the major difference of interpretation is. You see, the way my friend asked the question was this, "We have a God who tortures (the other 5 billion by sending them to Hell)." My answer is no. God doesn't send people to Hell. Their poor choices do. Rather than seeing a God who tortures by condemning people, I see a God who loves so deeply He died to keep them from the tortures of hell. The questioner sees God as sending 5 billion + people to Hell. I see it as God dying to save 2 billion + people from it (and anyone else who will trust Jesus for salvation).
The difference is in how you look at it.
I like the view of C.S. Lewis who in Mere Christianity wrote, "Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him."
What I hear Lewis saying though, is that all I can speak to is what I know from Scripture--there is a hell and those who do not choose Jesus are choosing to spend eternity there. If there is no hell then Jesus should apologize for talking about it so much and scaring us for no reason. What I do not know--how God judges the hearts of one man over another--is best left for God to decide...not me. I will tell you one thing. On this Rob Bell and I agree: love does win. It won on a cross 2000 years ago when a perfect Savior died a painful death for anyone who would accept His offer of forgiveness. For the rest...it's a choice they have to take responsibility for. Not God.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NIV
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV