Often, we are accused of creating God in our own image or according to current fashions. In contrast to this, Emergent Church Guru Brian McLaren criticizes the Christian faith for not going along with the current fashions:
- "For many Christians, their faith is primarily about what happens to people after they die. That distracts them from seeking justice and living in a compassionate way while we're still alive in this life. We need to go back and take another look at Jesus' teachings about hell. For so many people, the conventional teaching about hell makes God seem vicious. That's not something we should let stand." (Beliefnet Interview Online)
Because the biblical revelation about eternal judgment “makes God seem vicious” for “so many people,” McLaren is determined that “That's not something we should let stand." But why should truth be a product of our tastes? What should be more important or more authoritative – our preferences or God’s? Should our preferences dictate God or should God dictate our preferences? Should our theology be man-centered or God-centered?
As obvious as these answers should be, they have become a central issue of our culture wars. What is to determine the nature of our society? Many have criticized the church for not keeping pace with society. Theistic evolutionist, Karl Giberson, gloats that theology has advanced. He remarked that no one believes in a “genocidal Old Testament deity” anymore apart from flat-earthers.
Truly, a God of eternal judgment is out of fashion today, but should he be? Do we have any rational or Biblical reasons to discount the existence of a punitive, righteous, and judgmental God? Here are some considerations in favor of such a God:
To deny that God is vengeful is to deny the entirety of the Bible and to surrender any claim to be a follower of Jesus, who talked more about hell than anyone else.
We judge. We judge our children, our subordinates, our students and our criminals. We have courts, police and prisons. To judge the God of judgment when we ourselves judge is hypocritical.
Love requires judgment. If we love, we will protect, even if it means sequestering those who represent a threat to society. Also, punishment is a way of loving the wayward. Without painful consequences, people often learn anti-social behaviors. If we spare the rod, we spoil the child and the student. There has to be accountability.
Without the threat of eternal judgment, moral conduct will lose a significant negative motivator. Studies have confirmed that in societies where this is not a consideration, morality suffers. Humanity requires, not only positive reinforcement, but also negative. Without this, life is deprived of much of its meaning! Being good then becomes a fool’s vocation. Similarly, if all students receive an “A+,” why bother working?
Without the reality of eternal judgment, the reality of mercy and grace is undermined. If we don’t rightly deserve eternal judgment, then there is little justification for mercy, grace and forgiveness. The logic of salvation suggests that we have been saved from a horrible fate.
The absence of eternal judgment – the universality of salvation – might encourage an entitlement mentality. We therefore might begin to think that we are entitled to eternal life. It also conveys the erroneous idea that our behavior really doesn’t matter that much. And if God is unconcerned about ultimate justice, why then should we!
The reality of such deadly consequences induces us to be compassionate. If there are no ultimate consequences, there is no sufficient reason to be concerned about the welfare of others. After all, everyone will be fine in the end!
Knowing that God is the ultimate arbiter of justice frees us up to love others. Because we trust that He will avenge, we need not avenge the wrongs ourselves (Romans 12:14 – 13:4). With this obligation off of our shoulders, we are liberated so that we can attend to the needs of others.
God’s very nature requires justice! Judgment and justice often transcend pragmatic considerations. We cannot find rest until the wrongdoer is brought to justice. The imposition of justice is often necessary for a family or a community to move on. If there isn’t a justice system in place, we naturally seek revenge, something that, if it is allowed to proceed unchecked, will undo society. If we are this way, and we have been created in the image of God, what is wrong if God also requires justice?
It is possible that heaven could not be heaven without justice. As the cancer must be removed for health, perhaps the unrepentant must be removed in order for the rest of humanity to enjoy the bliss of heaven.
Whenever a Christian argues that God must accomplish His loving purposes in a certain way, the skeptic will counter:
- Well, if God is good and He is omnipotent, then He can accomplish His purposes without suffering or…..
However, this objection fails to understand God’s omnipotence. Against the skeptics’ challenge, God cannot do anything. There is much He cannot do. He cannot sin; He cannot go against His nature or His promises. Perhaps also, He cannot go against logic. This means that God can accomplish anything He wants to accomplish but not in any manner. Perhaps, therefore, hell is necessary for reasons that transcend our understanding.
We have a very limited understanding of God’s entire program and the constraints He imposes upon it. Why are the skies blue instead of green? Why is the grass green and not blue? We cannot answer these basic questions. Why does God not save everyone if He could save undeserving me? I cannot answer this.
Maturity requires that we live with some degree of cognitive tension. I cannot understand everything that the Bible communicates. Sometimes, I am left in a state of perplexity. However, if we are honest, we must admit that science also leaves us perplexed. We don’t even understand the basics – the nature of light, time, space and matter. Many of science’s findings even seem to be contradictory. Does this mean that we reject science? Of course not! Science has validated itself in so many ways that we are willing to tolerate its “absurdities.”
Do we reject the biblical God because we cannot get our mind around His entire revelation? Of course not! If we are willing to accept the science about the creation--and the creation is less profound that its Cause--we should not be so quick to reject the biblical revelation of the Creator, simply because we cannot fully understand Him. The god we can fully comprehend is a god of our own creation, one unworthy of our worship.
McLaren wants a God that will conform to his lifestyle and understanding rather than truth. It is tantamount to saying, “I will only receive the findings of science that I can get my mind around. I will reject any findings that violate my sensibilities.”
This, however, is no way to do science. It is also no way to do theology.