Have you ever punished your child for disobedience? Most of
us have, knowing that a quick punishment now, can save a lot of trouble later.
Can you imagine inflicting a punishment that lasts forever? Sounds crazy, doesn’t
it? We, as weak and imperfect parents, forgive our children quickly after punishing
them. No good parent would think it fitting, or even sane, to punish children
for the rest of their lives. In fact, don’t we often already anticipate
forgiveness even before we discipline them?
Yet some Christians would have us believe that our heavenly
Father – a Father who is not weak and imperfect – wants to punish some people
forever and ever. And these same people would also be quick to say God is full
of grace and mercy! Jesus tells us to love our enemies and even to do “good” to
those who hate us and persecute us. But some Christians think that God not only
hates his enemies, but also literally roasts them mercilessly and relentlessly
for eternity. But how does that view show love, especially the love that is the
essence of God’s being? A love that is perfect, eternal and infinite!
As much as we human beings love our children, how much more
does God love them? That’s a rhetorical question—God loves them infinitely more
than we are even able to love them. The truth is, God really does love the world.
The apostle John declared it:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God
did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world
through him. (John 3:16-17)
Yes, the Lord disciplines those he loves, but that
discipline is for the same reason we discipline our children, to teach them and
to save them from further pain and trauma. Love desires the perfection of the
beloved. Anything less would not be loving!
I am not denying that there is such a thing as hell. Given
the biblical warnings, which are meant to prevent people from rejecting God’s
grace, it might somehow be possible for some to eternally and absolutely reject
God’s love and not experience all its benefits. Instead, I am emphasizing the
nature of God’s being – God is love. Any discipline from God is to point us to
the truth that we are his beloved children, sanctified by his Son. It is to get
our attention so we can receive all his benefits, including eternal life—and
participate in what he is doing, bringing many sons and daughters to glory.
Next time you hear some human authority confidently
assigning some people to hell, remember this: the salvation of this world
depends on God, and only on God. God sent Jesus to do the job, and Jesus did a
perfect job. God’s focus is not upon eternal punishment; he is in the business
of salvation. And God is really good at what he does. Let’s leave all final
judgments to him.