Q&A:Are Hell And The Cross Overkill For Sin?

Does God simply need anger management classes to make everything all right?

Q&A is our series answering questions we find about God, the Bible, and Christianity, from a perspective of “God is love” instead of “God is lust.”

The Question

This question comes from Lisa to Pastor John Piper. Take a moment to visit that page and read the answer given there.

How would you answer the question? Remember the truth that God is love, and that Jesus fully revealed God to us. Then come back and read our response.

(We will duplicate the question here for archival purposes.)

“Dear Pastor John, thank you for your diligence and taking the time to help people all over the world work through difficult questions! I have one. Why do we need a Savior in the first place? I consider myself to be a good person and when I look around at most people, I would say the same about them. I know I am not perfect, and I cannot hold God’s law perfectly, but I don’t consider my thoughts and actions to be so terrible that they need to be punished by death. Should I really need to die because I disobeyed my parents as a child or told a lie? I have a difficult time seeing myself and those close to me as being wicked and utterly depraved.

“There is certainly great evil in the world, such as war, rape, murder, racism, oppression, etc. But the majority of the world doesn’t need God to see these things as evil or to make a positive change. I certainly don’t see how someone innocent, dying a horrible death, somehow makes my wrongs right in the sight of God. Can you help me make sense of this seemingly twisted justice and come to understand why I need Jesus?”

The Original Answer

Pastor John Piper’s original answer comes from the perspective that God is a Dictator God who has to (or wants to) torture or kill those who do not obey Him. As we have seen on this site, the God of the Bible is a loving Father and divine Doctor who seeks to heal and save sick human beings, not an imperial tyrant looking to destroy rebels.

Pastor Piper is operating under the false perception that God’s law is an imposed law, like the laws of human governments, and justice requires the punishment of law-breakers, instead of a natural law, like the natural laws of our universe, that when violated, leads to injury and death.

In Pastor Piper’s answer, you can see many of the conflicts that arise when attempting to paint God as loving, while suggesting He must torture and kill those who oppose Him.

I think Lisa speaks for millions of people who quietly don’t feel comfortable — to put it mildly — with hell or with the cross of Christ. And I would state the problem like this: Where God is small and man is big, hell will be abhorrent — indeed absurd — and the cross will be foolishness.

It is true, indeed, that “millions of people don’t feel comfortable with hell.” This is because, No reasonable human being should be comfortable with the idea of a “loving God” torturing His disobedient children in fire forever.

No reasonable person will be comfortable with the idea that a loving, compassionate God will torture and kill His children in everlasting hellfire for sins they commit over the course of a century or less. This horrible lie–a vile attack on the character of a loving God–has caused more people to flee God than any other lie in Satan’s toolbox.

It is beyond the power of the human mind to estimate the evil which has been wrought by the heresy of eternal torment. The appalling views of God which have spread over the world from the teachings of the pulpit have made thousands, yes, millions, of skeptics and infidels.

Stop telling people that a loving God will torture people in hellfire for eternity. It is lie and a vicious attack on the character of our loving God.

Look at Jesus. Does He seem like the kind of person that would torture someone in fire forever? Jesus is the exact image of the Father; what Jesus does, God does.

Stop telling people that God uses threats to coerce people to do what He says. This is another lie about God, and directly contradicts His character of love.

Start telling people what the Bible actually says:

Sin kills. God saves.

The most telling thing about Lisa’s question is that her conception of evil can never be big enough to make sense of hell or the cross of Christ, because she defines evil only in relation to what harms man, not what demeans God… Lisa doesn’t seem to have a category for evil understood as the dishonoring, demeaning, disparaging, insulting of God as infinitely worthy of honor. That doesn’t come into her picture.

He seems to be suggesting that God cannot be dishonored, demeaned, disparaged, or insulted without losing His cool. This is anthropomorphism. He seems to think a “loving” God would act like a human being. God is perfectly loving at all times.

The Bible tells us God forgives to the uttermost.

Jesus shows us God forgives even without being asked (John 8:2–11).

Here is what the Bible says about God:

God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. God does not demand His own way. God is not irritable, and God keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. God never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Pastor Piper then walks us through a thought experiment:

Suppose there is no God, and Lisa is a super-successful Adolf Hitler. She is able not only to kill all the Jews in the world, but all the other non-Aryans. So she succeeds in orchestrating the murder of about seven billion people.

Would she deserve eternal punishment in hell? And my answer is, No, she wouldn’t, for two reasons. First, if there’s no God, then there’s no such thing as right and wrong anyway.

But second and more importantly for my point, she wouldn’t deserve an infinitely long punishment because seven billion murders are still finite. And a finite number of finite crimes doesn’t deserve an infinite punishment. In other words, when God is left out, there’s no way to have an infinite crime deserving of an infinite punishment like hell or the cross. They would simply be unjust.

So, if there was no God, Pastor Piper suggests that because there is no “right or wrong” and that seven billion murders is not infinite murders, that the punishment need not be infinite. He calls an infinite punishment for a finite crime “unjust.”

(I’d be curious to know how long he thinks she should burn in fire before the punishment fits the crime.)

Obviously, I agree with Pastor Piper here. An infinite punishment for a finite crime is unjust. However, humans are finite beings. Only God is infinite (1 Timothy 6:16). A human being cannot commit an infinite crime or a crime with infinite consequence, so no punishment should be infinite.

Certainly, the victim could be infinite, but that does not necessitate an infinite punishment, especially since a finite being cannot suffer an infinite punishment.

The only way for a human being to burn forever is for God to miraculously keep that human being alive in the fire for all that time. Just as soon as the person is going to die, God would have to heal all the burn wounds all over the body. Human bodies burn up pretty quickly, so every 30 seconds or so, God would have to heal the human being in the fire.

Only a mind deceived by Satan’s lies would think that a loving God would engage in that behavior.

What God has said is this: The essence of evil — what makes evil evil — is not harm done to man, but indignities done to God.

I am not sure why he believes this. He makes this assertion, but there is no evidence to back it up.

Evil is not evil because of “indignities done to God,” but because it induces fear or pain in God’s creation. That is what makes evil evil.

Then the imperial viewpoint is mentioned:

The essence of evil is loving and preferring and desiring and treasuring and enjoying anything above God. It’s treason.

Not putting God first is “treason” against God and His government, as though God runs his government like a human being would. This stems from the mindset that makes God’s law out to be an imperial law that requires an authority to mete out punishment, instead of it being a natural law that has consequences for violations of that law.

And since God is of infinite worth and beauty and greatness and honor — infinite — the failure to love and treasure and enjoy him above all things is an infinite outrage, worthy of infinite punishment.

Since man is finite, how can God reasonably uphold an infinite standard? It does not make sense, and the slander to God’s character is harmful to all who hear these wicked lies.

These assertions are evil because they induce fear in human beings.

This will make no sense where God is small and man is big.

It makes no sense in any context where God is considered loving to think that a “punishment” for a century’s worth of bad deeds be punished–tortured in fire–for all eternity. That is vulgar and a vicious attack on the character of the God of the Bible.

It will only make sense where people see God as great, as he really is, and see man, see ourselves, and see our outrageous God-belittling self-centeredness for what they are.

God is certainly great, and humankind is certainly not. However, God is not some petulant, immature teenager who gets angry at the slightest slight. He is infinitely…

Patient. Kind. Compassionate. Loving. Tender. Merciful.

That is what the Bible says about God, and it is what Jesus shows us about the Father.

God is never…

Cruel. Arbitrary. Unkind. Harsh. Vindictive. Impatient. Unmerciful. Blood-thirsty.

That’s who we are. We are outrageous, treasonous, God-belittling, self-exalting rebels against God.

That is what he has been taught to believe by those who prior were deceived. Pastor Piper cannot be blamed for receiving the lie and embracing it. At one time, I had embraced that lie and even propagated it to my friends and family.

However, we are expected to grow in knowledge of God, and it is time to grow up. He must now exercise the reason God gave him, open his eyes, and see the truth about the God who is love.

Humans have turned from God as the all-satisfying fountain of life and joy, and tried to find it not in God, but in what he made. It is high treason and worthy of eternal punishment. That, Lisa, is why we need a Savior.

This is not persuasive in the least. It is only a twisted rationale to make God out to be a harsh dictator who must torture or kill rebels. As the Bible tells it, God is a loving Father, a divine Doctor who desires to heal humankind of its fatal disease so we can all spend eternity in paradise.

Pastor Piper, we need a Savior because it is sin that kills, and we have no way of healing ourselves.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death (James 1:14, 15).

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature (Galatians 6:8).

The Bible warns us over and over of the consequence of selfishness (sin): death. God does not have to raise a finger for us to suffer that consequence. Sin will kill us. God does not have to.

Only a God-man can bear an infinite punishment for all who embrace him for the glorious one that he really is.

The final problem with this distorted view of God and His law: Jesus didn’t suffer an eternal punishment.

Did not the Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the grave after three days, then ascended into heaven, where He lives to make intercession for all of us right now?

How can Jesus have bore an infinite punishment if He’s not bearing it right now? For Jesus to truly have suffered for sin, He should be burning in hell right now.

And if you do not “embrace Jesus for the glorious one that he really is,” then apparently He will have to torture you forever.

Does anybody really think this is reasonable?

The REAL Answer

Why do we need a Savior in the first place?

Lisa, you need a Savior because you need a cure, and Jesus is the only one with the remedy to heal your fatal disease. Your sinfulness will kill you if it is left untreated. God does not want you to die. He wants you to live forever in paradise!

I know I am not perfect, and I cannot hold God’s law perfectly…

This is not true. You can follow God’s law perfectly. The only way to do that is to trust Him to heal you of your sin and to make you like Jesus. If you are walking through life trying to “not sin,” you will fail. If you are walking through life with God, trying to love everyone you encounter, you will succeed.

I certainly don’t see how someone innocent, dying a horrible death, somehow makes my wrongs right in the sight of God.

Brilliant! Keep following this thought! You are on the right path!

Can you help me make sense of this seemingly twisted justice and come to understand why I need Jesus?

Praise the Lord, Lisa, you are using the brain God gave you to ask serious questions about what you have been told. Keep going!

There is no making sense of a loving God meting out infinite justice on finite beings. But there is complete and reasonable sense in a loving God offering to heal you from your fatal disease. You only need to get to know Him, to put your trust in Him, so He can deliver the remedy and heal you.

God Saves

Sin kills. Sin destroys. Sin separates us from the source of life. Without God’s gracious remedy, we would suffer, die, and stay dead forever.

God saves. God is our loving Father, our divine Doctor, and will heal and restore all who put their trust in Him.

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Fred Paddock
Fred Paddock (@frederic)
1 year ago

Thank you for this articulate and rational rebuttal to the doctrine (I like that you brazenly call it heresy) of eternal torment. Abandoning that was one of the first steps I took toward freedom in my Christian journey. I look forward to future offerings from you.

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