It’s the most common response on the street to any discussion of what the Bible says about God’s wrath or judgment; about the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Start talking about these things and you know its coming: “I don’t believe that God would send anyone to such a place. I believe in a loving God.”
The question we must ask is, where on earth did we get this idea of a loving God?
Now don’t misunderstand me, I too believe in the love of God. I believe that love is so integral to His very nature that the Bible is able to make the statement “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Right at the heart of Who the person of God is, is a nature of absolute love.
I believe that. The question is, why does a person who is not a committed follower of Jesus believe that?
Did they get that idea by looking at the world around them?
Surely not. After all, isn’t this the unbeliever’s great objection? “Look at all the pain and suffering in the world. How could a loving God allow all this?”
Without some other information being introduced that provides an answer to “the problem of pain” (as C.S. Lewis called it), just looking around and seeing the human condition would not suggest to us the existence of a loving God. Without some additional explanation, someone might be more inclined to see God as disinterested at best.
Or did they get the idea by looking at the world’s religions?
Is it simply that all religious men believe in a loving God?
Hardly! In fact, the idea of a loving God is not all that common in religion. Take a look at the world’s other major religions:
- Buddhism doesn’t teach a God of love. To the Buddhist God is an impersonal force. Love is merely the noblest human emotion.
- Hinduism doesn’t teach a God of love. The Hindu believes in a great pantheon of gods – an estimated 330 million of them. Some are kind and benevolent, while others are cruel or mischievous. But there is certainly no concept in Hinduism of one supreme and personal God who loves mankind.
- Islam doesn’t teach a God of love. To the muslim, Allah is called “the merciful and benevolent” because he allows people to live, but at the same time it is considered highly disrespectful to even think of a personal relationship with him.
So, I ask again, where on earth did we get this idea of a loving God?
The truth is that it comes from only one place. The Bible. The Judeo-Christian revelation of God as a God of love is absolutely unique in the world.
Come back then to the standard appeal, “I don’t believe that God would send anyone to hell. I believe in a loving God.” But it is the Bible, and only the Bible, that gives us that understanding of the love of God. And if the Bible is our source for believing that about God, doesn’t it naturally follow that we should believe ALL that the Bible says about Him? Surely we don’t get to just pick and choose the bits we want?
The Bible does teach the love of God, but it also teaches, just as emphatically, the holiness and justice of God. That He cannot condone sin, but must bring sinners to judgment. It is the same Bible that tells us “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It is the same Bible that describes an eternal separation from God in the hell He created because He loves so much that He will not endure sin forever.
You say you believe in a God of love? So do I. In the words of the old children’s song:
Jesus loves me, this I know
FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.
God has acted in peerless sacrificial love so that we might not have to face His wrath. The punishment has not been foregone – it has been exacted on God’s own Son in our place.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)