A few months ago, I wrote an article providing logical support for why a loving God sends people to Hell. Ultimately, God does not want any to go to hell. After all, He sent His Son to die on the cross to pay for our sins in order that we might spend eternity at His side, our sin pardoned. However, when we shake our fists in the sky, say “I’ll do it my way, God,” we leave Him little choice. To allow such selfish, destructive children into Heaven would quickly turn it into a version of Hell.
Another friend brought up this very subject, and upon thinking on it overnight, I found a logical inconsistency with how we evaluate God and our own relationships. Now, my purpose in writing this is not to demonstrate another logical reason for judgment and Hell, though it might do just that. Rather, I wish to display how we use a different standard in evaluating Christ’s approach to relationships versus our own.
First, let’s make clear the claims of our Lord regarding exclusivity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the light. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” When asked which of the laws was the greatest, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus (as well as the entire Bible) makes it clear that harmony with God is predicated on loving Him first and foremost. Multiple times, God corrected and even punished those who placed other people or things above God in their lives. Jesus went so far to say, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
This seems a hard truth for some to swallow. They cannot believe that God not only makes this a law, but punishes those who reject it. And, for some, the more I try to explain it, the more entrenched they become against this idea of exclusivity.
Yet, many practice it themselves.
Most people I know have an exclusive relationship with another person. Generally with a spouse or a move-in boy/girl friend, an understanding exists between them that they should place each other’s needs and desires above their own (at least some of the time). The unwritten expectation exists that they will spend more time with each other than others. More importantly, they believe in sharing themselves with each other physically, but with no one else. The fastest and most assured way to destroy any relationship, infidelity, works so effectively at obliterating love because it strikes at the core of intimacy itself. I know of no one, personally, willing to share his or her partner in this way with others. I have seen infidelity devastate the strongest relationships, leaving many destroyed completely.
We all understand this. And while some of us have engaged in adulterous activities, few believe that such a move strengthens the bonds of love with our spouse or lifetime partner. We intuitively know, and understand on a foundation level, that love thrives in an environment of complete commitment, where two people value each other higher than anyone else, including themselves. If we take time to ponder it, we know that true love looks nothing like the 10 minute romances we see in the movies. Instead, it appears as a lifetime commitment between two people who give up everything (money, time, devotion, and more), if necessary, to take care of the other.
So, why do we have such a hard time understanding God’s law that we must follow Him, and no one else? First, understand, God is spirit. We must worship Him in spirit and truth. God doesn’t allow us to make up our own gods, or rules, and call that ‘worship.’ We must follow His Word. Second, understand that God sees your heart. You may fool your spouse when you break the rules of your relationship, but you cannot fool God. Jesus makes it clear in the Bible that sin begins and ends in the heart. Unless you completely devote yourself to God, He will know that you covet other things above Him.
Now, that does not mean we cannot have other relationships and loves in our life. After all, most of us hope that our spouses will have other friends, hobbies, and pursuits. However, we must put God first in our spiritual lives, the way we put our loved partner first in our physical life. If God calls us to leave our family, money, jobs, and more, for Him, our love for Him should be so great that we should be willing to do so with little hesitation. Again, we hope that our own spouses place our needs, and even our desires, above those of others.
Usually, if I can get a friend to understand this eternal truth, then usually they trip up on a second point. “But, Phil, ok…I guess that makes sense. But, Hell? Really? Seems like an over-reaction! I don’t send my girlfriend to hell if she cheats on me!” Granted, you do not damn her to eternal flames…but, you would cast her out (of your house) if she continued to do it again and again with no remorse. The Bible says when we remain in our sin, refusing to love our Holy Creator, we leave Him with little choice but to do just that… cast us out of His presence for all of time and eternity. And, because He does not deal with just our unfaithfulness to Him, but also our lifetime of harming others through sin, this casting aside not only banishes us from His sustaining light, but places us into eternal punishment (aka Hell).
“But, but…Phil! That’s just not loving! God is love!” Perhaps, but it is justice. It is what we deserve when we spur Him over and over again, living a life in sin that not only breaks our Father’s heart, but those around us. Keep in mind, God sent His Son to die on the cross for our sin in the ultimate act of love. He paid the price that, as a perfectly righteous judge, He could not simply handwave just because He loves us. Yet, that sacrifice means nothing against our sins if we reject it over and over. When we stubbornly cling to our way of doing things, rejecting His love, we not only break His heart, but we continue to hurt others around us with our selfishness. When we face judgment, and God casts us out, it should not surprise us. If our spouse kept breaking our heart AND hurting our friends and family around us, we would have no choice but to do the exact same thing and cast them out of our lives. Why do we find it so hard to understand that God, being perfectly Holy as well as loving, must do the same if we live a life completely rebellious towards Him?
Hopefully, this helps. Coming soon, I plan to write more on these subjects, including the most difficult one of all, Hell.