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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A God who "tortures"

I received a new question in response to one of my recent blogs. I want to thank my "anonymous" friend for sending it in. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said any and all questions--even the tough ones. Let me share their comments (not sure if it's a he or she). Then I'll make an attempt to explain my thoughts.

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'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


Kearsmom said...

The truth is, we are all born going to Hell. There is no one righteous, no not one (Romans3:10). God has provided a way out of that certainty through Christ.

We are "saved" from the just wrath of a holy God by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. "At the cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God," (David Platt, Radical).

So I agree, God has not, does not, will not torture any person. Christ has accepted that torture on our behalf so that we can experience Life. It is ours to choose.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your thoughtful response. Have you read Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans? She grew up in a very conservative Christian home (her father was a theology professor at Bryan College) and she was taught the exclusive interpretation of salvation common in traditional Protestant churches. One day she saw a video of a Muslim woman being publically executed by the Taliban for the “crime” of being raped. It was a tragic end to a tragic life and, if Evans’ Christian worldview was right, just the beginning of an eternity of conscious torment in hell because she didn’t “know” Jesus. This painful realization caused Evans to doubt her faith. Ultimately, she came through the crisis with her faith restored, but with a different outlook.

Hypothetically, if this woman had Christian relatives in the US, how would you counsel them? Could you look them in the eye and tell them that she was lost because she had not accepted Jesus (never mind the fact that she grew up in an oppressive Muslim environment where she was likely taught falsehoods about Christianity)?

Also, your “glass is half full” argument that two (2) billion people will be saved is not good news in my opinion. Maybe it’s good news for me – I was born to Christian parents who beautifully modeled and taught the faith to me. But, it’s not good news if you love the Muslim woman in the example or billions of others of people across the globe.

In short, I believe in hell. I believe people have the choice to reject God (and all too often do). I don’t believe all people will be reconciled with Him (universalism). But, I pray that God’s salvation is offered to more people than just those who consciously and explicitly accept Jesus.

Thomas said...

Ridley, while I applaud your willingness to say 'I don't know', which is a something we as the created are oddly unwilling to admit in matters of the Creator, I fear that you skirted the issue raised by the original querent. How can it be that the Lord of All Creation, Master of All, would place any of his creation in a circumstance where they are unlikely within the course of their lifetime to even encounter someone who can share the story of Christ's sacrifice? How can the Sentinelese people of the Anaman Islands, for instance, be held accountable to a truth that they have never heard?

An omniscient God would be painfully aware of the circumstances separating those people from the key to their salvation. For an omnipotent God not to provide access to that key would be tantamount to an unwillingness to save those people.

Further, chalking this up to 'a matter of perspective' seems to woefully discount the salvation of 5 billion currently living souls, and introduces subjectivity into a subject matter that is based on the bedrock of 'absolute truth'.

It is a problem that has always vexed me, and I thank you for using your forum to address what is a question not often asked or properly addressed within the faith, but I fear that you are not done.

Anonymous said...


I love when someone is asking questions because that expresses an interest. My concern about your anonymous above is the fact that other books are being referenced. Those books are based on stories, opinions, perspectives, etc. All of those are good but the Bible is the book we need to get our truth from. It clearly states in the Bible that there is only ONE way to heaven. Being a "good person" just doesn't get it. That is hard for many to except. Jesus will come back one day but until then, we need to make sure everybody hears truth.

I am curious, if your reader believes in hell and being good enough gets you into heaven, then who goes to hell? That leaves the "bad people" but what defines bad? The Bible says even the demons believe there is a God. Jesus is the only answer! "There is no other name under heaven given to men by which they may be saved". (Acts. 4:12) It isn't up to us to decide who does go. That has been established by God. If you believe in God, the creator of heaven and hell, then you have to believe in His way of getting there.

paul said...

I am thinking of the movie "Pay it Forward".

While I understand the need for theological debates, I can’t help but think a more practical conversation should be about how to get the word to 5 billion people and not how sad it is that 5 billion people are likely not going to heaven. How quickly could 2 billion "Christian" people make a difference in the world-if each one shared Christ with just 2 other people ?