Last Tuesday, we took a look at ‘The Unpardonable Sin”, and how just exactly what that sin is has been a point of mystery and contention for the Church for centuries, and whether there is a contradiction between Matt. 12:31 and the multitude of passages that indicate that God is willing to forgive any sin from which we repent….
And that got me thinking about hell, and a frequent objection raised by non-Christians that goes something like this: “Even if I did believe in a God, I wouldn’t want to follow a God who is so evil that He would torture people for eternity in hell. That kind of punishment exceeds the magnitude of ANY ‘sin’ you could possibly commit! How could a loving God send good people to hell?”
The conclusion I came to, interestingly enough, answered both questions. So, let me take you down the logical path towards what I think is a pretty definitive answer to both “what is the unforgivable sin?” and “how can a good, loving, and merciful God send people to hell?”
First, God is not only loving and merciful, but He is just. He is not good; he is PERFECT. So, any failure on our part to perfectly follow his loving and righteous directions must, in keeping with His just nature, result in His just punishment. That standard is simple, according to Deut. 6:5 – love God in everything you do, think, or desire. Anything less at any time is sin, and the punishment is death (Rom. 6:23). Since love cannot exist without free will (you cannot love someone unless you have the option to NOT love them; love requires choice), there will be those who choose not to love God.
But, God is merciful as well as just. Therefore, in His love, He provided a way for us to avoid the punishment for our sin. The Christ lived a perfect life, died to pay the price for our sins, and three days later rose to life. All God requires of us to receive His mercy is to put our trust, love, and life in His care and repent from our willful disregard for His love. God has promised that anyone without exception who chooses to receive this gift will live with Him forever and avoid hell (Rom. 10:13).
Ok, so far we have a perfect, just, and loving God who has clearly stated what He expects of us. He has provided one way for us to avoid the penalty of disobeying Him, and has promised forgiveness. So what about that ‘unforgivable sin’? Doesn’t that contradict what we’ve just read?
Well, no, it doesn’t. It all comes down to choice. We can choose to love God and follow Him, or we can continue in our self-centered rebellion against him. If we do so until we draw our last breath on earth we will not be forgiven. So, the ‘unforgivable sin’ isn’t blasphemy, theft, murder, sexual sin, pride or anything else you want to fill in the blank with. Those are only symptoms! The sin for which end in an eternity in hell is rejection of God’s love and forgiveness.
But what about all those good people that don’t believe in Christ for whatever reason? Surely they won’t be tortured for eternity, right?
There are very significant errors behind that question:
First, that it is even possible for someone to be good enough to merit God’s favor without Christ. Remember, the standard isn’t ‘good’, the standard is perfection.
Second, nowhere in the Bible is hell described as a place of torture. It is described as a place of torment, and there is a BIG difference. Torture involves the active inflicting of pain on the subject. Torment is internal; you can be tormented by simply dwelling on the knowledge of your own shortcomings. Hell is a place where you will with full knowledge of your own sins you are consciously separated from God. No torture either required or given!
For those who would argue that a loving God would never create such a place as hell, I give you something to ponder. If God is both just and loving, how could He not create hell, given that hell is simply a place of separation from God? It would be unjust to refrain from punishing those who reject His method of escape, and it would be unloving to force those who turn from Him to endure His presence for all eternity. Hell is the only place for them to be!