Understanding God’s Love and the Sin that Changed the World
ATTENTION: You are reading the 9th chapter in a blog to book series about Genesis (God in the Garden). I recommend starting with the introduction if you haven’t read it yet. If you are interested in learning when the book will be released or discussing anything said in these posts, please reach out through the contact page.
We live in an age of love that has overcome judgment. So if we want to hold onto God, do we need to forget about God’s judgment or downplay it? I mean, isn’t judgment old testament stuff? Doesn’t Jesus say it’s wrong to judge? Well, except when someone else does it first. In that case, it’s okay to judge the judger. After all, they deserve it, and everyone knows that God hates judgers, right? This might appear sensible. However, the big problem with this logic is that everyone judges. We can’t exist without making judgments.
Just because we have progressed scientifically also doesn’t mean we have progressed morally. We overcome one injustice only for another (or more) to replace it in another area of society. Our individual goodness isn’t tied to the age we live in either. The concentration of evil and goodness in our hearts doesn’t change by what laws are passed or what ideology is championed. While we may be great at coming up with catchy slogans like ‘Love is Love,’ that doesn’t alter reality. Equating all types of love as equal might seem nice, but we can’t place sacrificial love on the same level as sexual love or self-love. We can’t make God’s love akin to our own. Could we? Is it realistic to think we could ever love as fully and entirely as an omniscient God does, with our finite minds and sinful nature? The answer is a resounding no.
In our misguided definition of love and our rejection of a judgmental God, we create a false idol. God’s love and judgment exist, and they are not oppositional but two sides of the same coin. Love can’t exist without judgment. Otherwise, our creator would love all things indiscriminately (both good and evil). There would be no distinction. Thus, God wouldn’t be a holy God but an apathetic God. In this scenario, chaos would reign supreme as he couldn’t favor good over evil.
Pain also has a supreme purpose. While we can dismiss God because pain exists. The existence of pain is actually a blessing as it is temporary and can help us draw closer to the eternal God. The curses that resulted from the first sin were not what God wanted but what he allowed because they were necessary (to bring his children closer to him). As we glorify him in our suffering, we also point others toward him (which aids in their eternal good and our own). We can even, in the end, be thankful for our pain. Because without it, we would still be dead in our sin. But what about pain in the next life? What is the purpose of Hell? The bible says there is pain, but there is no pointing others toward Heaven once you are in Hell. So what’s the point?
Getting What We Want
Truthfully, God does not want us to suffer. He does not want us to be in Hell. Nor does he enjoy it. His goal is a relationship with us, and Hell is the absence of that relationship. It’s much deeper than God picking people up and putting some on clouds and some in a burning pit in the Earth. Hell is what we sow. What we value continues into the afterlife. We either value our relationship with God or something temporal. We either continue to grow our relationship (in Heaven) or spend it apart from God relying on ourselves (in Hell).
Hell is, by all accounts, the continuation of our desire not to have a relationship with God. Hell is getting what we think we want (to be in control). In a way, it’s partly our creation. It’s the final fulfillment of our lifelong mission (total independence). It’s us refusing to accept his peace, strength, and love and instead relying on our false peace, strength, and love. We arrive there because we can’t allow ourselves to lose control or give up our will. Control is all we know. How can we trust God? How can we know he has our best interests in mind? So we hold onto our will at all costs and reject the God relationship at our expense.
This almost seems logical, except the temporal things we loved on Earth don’t follow us into the afterlife. Stripped of everything except ourselves, all we have to face now is our own selfish ugliness for all eternity. This is what independence from God brings. Hell is the evil we have sown in our hearts directed back at us (Matthew 7:2). This is what we all deserve, but God’s grace (through Jesus) allows us to escape it.
Does God Enjoy Torment?
God is present in Hell as he is present everywhere. Even though we don’t picture him as there, he is. Two bible verses that seem to contradict each other can give us a picture of this. (2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 14:10) One says we are away from the presence of the Lord, and the other says we are in his presence. Both are true. (Psalm 139:8). Hell is not the total absence of God. It’s the absence of a loving, grace-filled relationship with God.
The torment we experience in Hell is a consequence of our sin. In this life, pain and suffering can help us learn and grow closer to God. It doesn’t have the same effect in Hell (we can only grow and learn in relation to God). The purpose of pain in the next life isn’t simply to scare us into accepting God in this life either. It is a consequence of the fulfillment of our will. We receive our desire (the absence of a relationship with God / his grace-filled love). Our pain in Hell is as much a consequence of our sin as falling is a consequence of gravity. God judges us, but he doesn’t torture us. Our sin does.
Even if that’s true, is it right? Is our eternal torture for seventy or eighty years of sinning fair? Even if you were the worst person ever, that seems disproportionate. This question misses the reality of what Hell is. Those in Hell are unrepentant. Unrepentant people sin eternally, and that brings eternal punishment. It’s not just punishment for this life alone. They are eternally disobedient. God doesn’t judge unfairly, nor are we victims at the hands of a cruel God. Those in Hell continue to sin (hating goodness), which is why the torment is eternal. It’s not just about their past decisions but what they can’t escape. In the permanence of death, they can’t escape their sin nor stop sinning (disobeying and rejecting God). In this context, it’s not God punishing us harshly. It’s us receiving the torment due to eternal hate, disobedience, and evil. True enjoyment comes from being in the loving presence of God, and pain comes from being outside it. Anything permanently outside the loving presence of God also can’t be loving because God is love, and true love can’t oppose true love (Mark 3:24). Those outside his presence don’t have God’s love in them and deserve their punishment. God doesn’t make mistakes.
An Intolerable Love
God’s love can give us peace, strength, and joy, but it is far more than that. At the beginning of this book, I mentioned what happened when I accepted Christ, and in the previous chapter, I said that God’s love is powerful and even destructive. It is a blazing supernova, burning away every atom of darkness from our souls. When I got down on my knees and accepted Christ, that was what it felt like. I could feel the presence of God, and there was a part of me that couldn’t stand it. It was too much. It angered me. I hated it, but still, I remained there on my knees, praying against my will as God did something in me. It was in the power of his love that the darkness fled.
God’s love changed me. I wasn’t the same. Where my spirit had lived now lived the Holy Spirit, I could still feel God’s presence, but it was no longer painful. It was joyous. An incredible peace and strength rested on me. I couldn’t help but weep at that moment for the gift that he gave me. But as I knelt on the floor, praising him, there was something else that I realized. The thing that caused the pain (at first) and the peace (after) were the same. God didn’t change. He didn’t cause pain to me one moment and give me peace the next. The thing that changed was me. Not God.
You see, God’s justice and love are the same. He is both at the same time. What was intolerable at first was the result of my heart. When that changed, the unbearable became a beautiful gift. I believe that might also be one of the major differences between Heaven and Hell (God’s intolerable presence).
Like the Garden of Eden, the pleasures of eternity are about far more than a physical location. Instead of thinking of the afterlife just as a location, we could also think of it as a chemical reaction. The results of that reaction depend on how our hearts interact with God’s love. If we are one way (self-willed), it will be intolerable (a million times worse than what I experienced before I fully submitted my life to Christ). If we are another way (faithfully submissive), it will not only be tolerable but unimaginably joyful. It all depends on where our hearts are. We can even tell ourselves we do all the right things, and our hearts are in the right place, when in fact, we’re still seeking to glorify ourselves instead of God.
While we like to separate God’s judgment (wrath) and God’s love, we can’t pretend one exists, and the other doesn’t. God’s judgment and love are not opposites but one and the same. God is both life-giving and destructive. An example of this was Jesus’ power, as it was both life-giving (healing) and destructive (casting out demons).
God does not want us to suffer, but when we oppose his will, we also make his love an intolerable experience (Hell). We have an opportunity to repent, come to Christ, and feel that agonizing love. If we do that in this life, it transforms us and becomes our joy. However, if we fail to do that before we die, it will become eternal suffering in the next life. How can that be true? The reason is that we can’t receive grace after death. We can only accept what we have sown. We can only look unto our own jealous, evil heart. Evil and good are incompatible. God’s presence is painful and torturous without his grace. And without God’s presence, our wicked hearts are directed back at ourselves as we deserve. Either way, our sin becomes torture. A piece of my spirit or a part of my heart couldn’t accept God’s grace. It was repellant. Intolerable. It had to flee. The same reaction is true in the next life, but there is nowhere to run (God is everywhere). God doesn’t enjoy our torment. Our torment is the reward we receive for making his love unbearable. It’s our own doing.
Is Exclusion fair?
Good and evil are polar opposites, despite what relativism asserts. Heaven and Hell are necessary because pure love and hatred can’t coexist. We might fool ourselves into thinking hatred and love can coexist, but they are like fire and ice. So exclusion is not just about judgment. It’s a necessity. If there weren’t exclusion, there would be an eternal war, an unending battle.
Heaven is also about far, far more than clouds and harps. But, unfortunately, in assuming it is just about a place, we make the same mistake we made with the Garden of Eden (locational, unchanging, boring). I previously imagined that the optimal view of Heaven would mean spiritually learning and growing in the Lord’s presence (forever). To always be discovering more and more, both in love and wisdom and glorifying God in worship. But, unfortunately, knowing and experiencing God’s love after we die is impossible if we didn’t already accept it on Earth. Why? Let us consider this one thing.
Heaven requires a loving heart, a loving heart requires the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit requires God’s grace. Without God’s grace, our sinful nature and the Holy Spirit are incompatible. It can’t live in us because not only is our will contrary to God’s, but there is no room in our hearts for it (our spirit is already renting it out). God grants his grace freely, but there must be a place for the holy spirit first to live in us (two things can’t take up the same space). The only way to make room is through submission (in repentance and proclaiming Jesus is Lord, a piece of us dies). In this, we make room for the spirit of God. All of this happens through God’s grace, but it requires the smallest of payments (our submission). The very act of submitting and accepting God’s grace is life-giving.
Yet, we must accept this grace before our death. On Earth, we live in a temporal world. Even if we are spiritually dead, God can still transform us. Through our submission, he gives us a new spirit that can escape the just punishment for our sin (Hell). Yet, in the permanence of Hell, our submission would not have the same effect on our eternal state (Heaven or Hell). In the immutability of death (physically and spiritually), there can be no growth or change. Dead in body and soul, we can’t deny our spirit and take up God’s (loving spirit) because there is no life in us and no place for it to inhabit. So our submission wouldn’t be heart-changing. God can’t, therefore, remove us from Hell and put us in Heaven because there is none of his love in us. We never gave it a chance to grow on Earth, and if it’s not there at death, it can’t grow into eternity (Heaven).
Of course, God can fill us with his spirit in this life (replacing our own). We are a new creation (the old is dead). God doesn’t fix the old one. He replaces it! This transformation can occur in life (impermanence) but not death (permanence). God can’t substitute his spirit for ours when we are dead. To pretend to do so would be a lie. It would be the equivalent of God creating a new heavenly soul for every damned soul and pretending they were the same. Those in Hell would still not be able to escape it.
The possibility of Hell is also a necessity. God doesn’t enjoy the eternal suffering caused by our sin. Still, he must allow it because to negate it is to negate free will and to negate free will is to negate our ability to love. Thus, there would never be the possibility of an eternal relationship (no entry into Heaven). To put it in simpler terms, for God to deny eternal suffering, he would have to deny us free will and, as a result, the ability to love and, therefore, Heaven. In the process, God would be punishing those that would love him for the sake of those that would hate him. He would be favoring evil over truth, beauty, and goodness. What kind of justice would that be?
Finally, Jesus judges because he has to. Love can’t exist without judgment. Still, he does not cause our eternal suffering. The suffering is our self-affliction. It grows out of our hearts and is fair and just. If there was no judgment, there could be no love. Ultimately, Heaven is a reward, but not the main reason for our conversion. Christianity is not about continuing to be the same person and getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s about discovering the truth and being transformed into something new (for the good of others). This can only be done through the Holy Spirit. Jesus isn’t a door-to-door insurance agent passing out policies for the afterlife. Christ is THE DOOR to a life-giving transformation. We don’t accept Christ for us alone but for the glory of God. Knowing this also benefits all of mankind (it is the only way to true fulfillment and eternal life).
- Can God be loving without judging? Ultimately, what would life be like if there was no distinction between good and evil?
- Could Heaven and Hell both be getting what we want? Is Heaven partly the continuation of our growth in the eternal relationship (with God) and Hell the continuation of our desire for self-reliance?
- If we assume that only true eternal love can come from God, then absent of God (and real love) would our eternal state be one cemented in disobedience and sin? Would that mean eternal suffering isn’t an excessive punishment? Could eternal suffering be more than just judgment for this life but a consequence of our endless sinning? Do you also think God enjoys the eternal suffering caused by our eternal disobedience?
- In light of Matthew 7:2, could the pain we receive in Hell also be the evil in our hearts directed back at us? Might it be exactly proportional to what we all deserve, but God’s grace (through Jesus) allows us to escape it? Is God or our sin the cause of our pain?
- Is God one way with those that end up in Hell and another with those who end up in Heaven? Might he be the same but just like two chemicals might react very differently to the same substance, so might our souls? If our hearts are one way, could his presence be intolerable (Hell)? If we are another way, could his presence will be the greatest joy we will ever experience (Heaven)?
- In the permanence of Hell, would our submission to Jesus have the same effect? Can the Holy Spirit come and dwell within us after we are dead? Can it take root in a dead heart that has made no room for it or can God put someone in Heaven who has none of his love in them? To put it another way, is it necessary that Heaven is exclusive? Without separation between good and evil would there be eternal peace or eternal war?
- Is there any other way that God can nullify Hell (endless suffering) other than denying us freewill? If we were then denied free will to escape suffering, would it be possible for us to love? Without the ability to love wouldn’t that also nullify any chance of an eternal relationship with God (Heaven)? In denying Hell would God then be denying Heaven? Would he in effect be punishing those that love him for those that hate him? Would he would be favoring evil over truth, beauty, and goodness?