Hell And A God Of Love (3)
According to Paul Helm’s reading of Scripture one’s location in either heaven or hell depends only upon one’s relationship to Christ. Is he correct? Is heaven or hell dependent upon a ‘decision for Christ’? Is our ultimate destination dependent upon the beliefs that we embrace? In our modern, distorted view of church in the West, we have turned Christianity into a set of beliefs, an intellectual or academic acceptance of facts. That someone should go to hell because they lack intellectual capacity is unthinkable because it is unjust; but everyone is capable of relationships, and so everyone is capable of relationship with Jesus Christ.
Is hell just and subject to justice precisely because no-one has any advantage or disadvantage in themselves? We do not know how to reconcile divine mercy and the torment of the lost. But we do know him. Our disarmed faith knows God, and it suffices, according to Blocher.
For Hick, Christianity is one among many religious satellites orbiting the common deity, one way among many to the salvation which the God of love will ultimately effect in all. For him, the fact of evil constitutes the most serious objection there is to the Christian belief in a God of love. Yet the fact and nature of evil is meaningless and empty except for a God of love who granted his created human beings both free will and the consequences of free will.
If a human being is to be a being capable of entering into a personal relationship with his Maker, and not a mere puppet, he must be endowed with the uncontrollable gift of freedom. In order to be a real person, a human being must be free to choose and to accept the consequences that come from making a choice. A human being must be a morally responsible agent with a real power of moral choice, according to Hick.
John MacKenzie said: “Sin always brings evil consequences with it, and these evil consequences always react in some way upon the perpetrator.” Relationships surely bring responsibilities. Love relationships bring good consequences; evil relationships bring evil consequences. What is clear from human experience is true also for God: Choices are never without consequences.
If, with regard to Hell, we ask how God can turn his back on human beings he created, one must also ask how he could turn his back on his own Son – but he did – and by his choice. God apparently loves us even more than he loves himself. God apparently loves us even more than he loved his own Son. When there was an incredibly difficult choice to make, God made that choice in our favour.
Therefore, Christianity presents us with a God so full of mercy that he becomes a man and dies by torture to avert that final ruin from his creatures, and who yet, where that heroic remedy apparently fails, seems unwilling, or even unable, to arrest the ruin by an act of mere power, as C S Lewis observed. Love cannot insist on its own way.
Now we move on to consider what hell is, and what it is not. According to Paul Copeland, it is agreed by all Bible-believing Christians that hell is a place of eternal judgement and destruction, but this seems a generalisation too far. He maintains that hell must be seen as the creation of the God who is infinite in justice. It is, for him, the preparation of the wrath of God. He declares that hell is the cup of the wine of the wrath of God.
Some like Augustin, however, think it unjust that anybody should be doomed to an eternal punishment for sins which, no matter how great they were, were perpetrated in a brief space of time; as if any law ever regulated the duration of the punishment by the duration of the offence punished! Such thinking neatly ignores human experience where a brief act of murder can result in life imprisonment for the perpetrator.
Nevertheless, God does not arbitrarily stretch forth his arm like an enraged and vindictive man and take direct vengeance on offenders. Rather, by his immutable laws, permeating all beings and governing all worlds, evil is and brings, its own punishment. God rewards successful fulfilment of commandments and punishes transgression, according Helm.
Quite understandably, Charles Darwin did not want Christianity to be true, for then his father, brother and almost all his best friends would be everlastingly punished. He called this thought the damnable doctrine, which it quite literally is. There is, however, error at the heart of Darwin in refusing to believe in hell, for Darwin’s thoughts and wishes were self-centred; he had a vested interest. When God gave his Son for the whole of creation, he had no vested interest; indeed, it cost the Father more than any vested interest could ever bear.