Monday, 14 February 2011

A God of love would never send anyone to hell, would he?

We’ve all become familiar with airbrushing, pictures and images being touched up to remove wrinkles or a scar or something like that. Nearly every image we see in the media has been airbrushed in some way. One magazine this week went slightly too far with its airbrushing, though they didn’t realise it until too late and the front cover carried a picture of a model with her whole left arm airbrushed out. And it isn’t just pictures we airbrush, we airbrush history – not recording the bits we find distasteful, we air brush stories we retell casting our role in them in a more flattering light.

And we also airbrush our view of God, emphasizing the things we like and removing those we don’t. The most popular view of God is what? That God is love, and the bible would tell us that he is love, 1 John 4 emphasizes that twice (v7, 16) and that is a great comfort to those John is writing to and to us. But our problem is that we air brush other parts of God’s character, or just focus on the one missing them out entirely. God is love but that is not all the bible has to say about God or all it has to say about that characteristic of God. It doesn’t mean that God loves everything, or that it would be loving for him to tolerate everything.

God’s love means he judges
God is love, but he does not love everything. For example, God doesn’t love injustice or murder in fact he hates it, and we want him to.

Turn to Psalm 5:4-6
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, LORD, detest.

What does God hate? He hates wickedness and evil. He can’t bear it. And one day he will deal with it once and for all, and we have to say that is loving isn’t it? How could God say he loved us and yet wickedness and evil thrive and go unpunished.

A father loves his children but that love means he will not tolerate some things from his children. In fact his love compels him to challenge, warn and teach his children. Imagine that a father walked into his children’s room to find them fighting each other, not messing about but one on top of the other battering him. What does love do? It would, in fact, be unloving not to do so.

All wickedness, evil, and injustice will one day be accounted for and dealt with; its perpetrators will be locked up for all eternity. That is what hell is – hell is the punishment for those who commit injustice, and it exists because God loves.

That’s great news isn’t it? Evil will be dealt, all evil. There are no loop holes there are no get out clauses, no legal technicalities which can be exploited. In Malachi 2:17 Israel are asking the question ‘Where is the God of justice?’ They look around and see the world in a mess and they want to know why isn’t God acting, why are evil people getting away with it? And the great news God gives them chapter 3 is that he is coming and coming to judge.

God is perfectly just, he sees everything, he knows everything, and he will judge injustice and punish those who have committed it.

But that is also terrifying news, that’s why God warns us again and again about the danger of his judgement. You see in chapter 3 of Malachi he goes on: (read v2-5). Israel wants God to come and judge everyone else but the warning God gives is that they will also be in the dock. God’s love which means he is just which means he punishes rebellion and injustice places us in the dock not as witnesses but as the accused.

God’s love means he warns us
That’s why God warns us, that’s why the bible teaches us about his character about his love and why Jesus speaks so often about hell. Turn to Matthew 25:31-46 – Read.
In Matthew 25 we see a picture of what it will be like when Jesus comes not to warn but to judge, to deal with injustice and rebellion.

There are two groups of people in the story what are they? 1. Sheep/righteous, and the Goats/unrighteous. And there are two verdicts, what are they? Come you who are blessed by my Father, depart from me. And there are two destinations; the kingdom and eternal life and the eternal fire and eternal punishment.

Jesus is not trying to frighten people but he is trying to warn people, and it is not a one off either. 12 times the word hell is mentioned in the 4 gospels, and there are others references like those here to eternal punishment or a place of darkness and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Back in Matthew 5:29-30 read it we see another warning as Jesus warns people to deal radically with the things which led us sin because the consequences of hell are so terrible.

Jesus is not trying to scare people into the kingdom but to warn them about the dreadful reality of a God of loves just judgement on wickedness.

What do you think deserves God’s punishment? What should God judge?

Look again at the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25 – what is on the charge list against the unrighteous? It is not big crimes as we think of them – it is not murder or terrorism. In fact they are not even active sins; they are passive sins or sins of omission. They have not given the hungry something to eat, or clothed those in need, or looked after the ill or imprisoned. They can be summed up in one word – indifference.

The difference between the sheep and goats is not that the sheep do lots of righteous things and the goats are indifferent. It is that the sheep have their hearts transformed by the love they have found in Christ; having experienced Jesus giving everything for them they love others like that. The actions of the two groups show that they have either been transformed by grace or they haven’t.

For those who haven’t judgement awaits. Now that may seem a bit harsh, we actually find ourselves squirming a bit uncomfortably don’t we – we fail to love our neighbour like this.

Why a God of love warns us?
Turn to Luke 20:9-15. Read – what would justice look like? Look at v16 Jesus gives us the answer – the owner of the vineyard has every right to judge the tenants who have so abused everything he gave them and killed him servants and his son.

It’s a parable spoken to warn Israel, they have been God’s people in God’s place but they have rejected his servants killing them and now they are about to kill his son.

But it applies to us as well. God has given us everything we see around us, what would a right response be? Thankfulness; shown in how we lived aware of and looking to please God by living his way. And though we may not have murdered anyone physically we will not live with God as king, we will not listen to the warnings, or his son.

God is love, but that love means he is just and must punish sin and rebellion. That rebellion shows itself in our determination to live without giving God a thought and in our indifference to others. A just God must punish injustice and to ignore our creator, to kill his messengers, to murder his son is the biggest injustice of all.

But Jesus comes so that we can be forgiven, he comes not just to die rejected but he rises again, so that having heard the warning we would listen to it and trust in him to save us, and live lives transformed and marked by God’s love.

1. God is love – and a loving God must punish injustice – it would be unloving not to. We better check how we think of God, is it in line with how God reveals himself.

2. A loving God warns us. God hates sin, and sin is not things, or even failing to do things it is living ignoring our creator, his messengers and as if his Son was dead to us. But he loves us so much he warns us so we will respond.

3. A loving God calls us to repent

4. A loving God calls us to respond to his love in action.

5. A loving God calls us to warn others

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