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Question 210

Q: I’ve always been taught that God loves all people unconditionally, and that when we accept Jesus as Savior, we go to heaven; if not, then we go to hell, without any opportunity for repentance.

I have two children whom I love and would die for. If they someday would turn against me, or commit heinous crimes, I would be heartbroken, but would continue to love them. Where does that spirit of grace come from? And why doesn’t God hold to this same standard? He made it clear that when our physical lives end, so does any hope of mercy if we haven’t accepted Christ.

Suppose I were to tell my children that if they left me I would punish them forever. I couldn’t tell them that. Why does it seem that God does that? I want to love and serve God with joy, but this point is making it very difficult for me to do so. Any clarification would be appreciated.

Asked by: Beverly

A: Beverly, I have to say that what you’ve asked is one of the most difficult questions that I’ve ever had put to me.

I’ve thought about these things for years. But they are very difficult, and I can only hope that I speak here in accordance with God’s Word.

First, I have to challenge your premise that God loves everyone unconditionally. I know that we hear that a lot, but you know the Bible says, for example in the book of Psalms, that God is angry with the wicked every day. I don’t think you could prove from the Bible that God loves everyone unconditionally. I believe that He loves His children unconditionally, and that’s a different kind of love. I think Jesus made this clear in the 17th chapter of the book of John where He talks about “the love where with you have loved Me, that is the love with which I have loved them,” but that’s a reference to His children and not the world in general. So that’s the first point I’d like to make.

As a matter of fact, if you study the word “love” in the Bible, you’ll learn that there are different ways that God loves people. And I believe that while He loves His own children unconditionally, I can’t say that about everyone.

Secondly, you ask whether or not God plays by a different set of rules, I think He does. God doesn’t do the same things that we do. For example, if you were beside a swimming pool and a little two-year-old fell in and you just sat there and watched them drown, you’d be culpable because there was something that you could do about it. God sees that kind of thing happen every day and does nothing, and yet we don’t hold Him culpable and say that it’s His fault. So you can see here that God is God, and we aren’t. So even though you love your children unconditionally and think that you would never turn against them, the simple fact is that God loves the world differently. And yes, it is true—He has chosen that if they do not respond to Him, they will be punished.

And that leads me to another point. God deals differently with people because His justice needs to be balanced with His love. You think of your love toward your children and you think you don’t have to worry about the justice end of it. God does. Because of His searing holiness, justice enters into the picture. Justice demands that people who turn against God pay for their sin on their own if they don’t accept Christ. And so the justice of God is fulfilled. When we think of the doctrine of hell, we don’t necessarily think of the love of God, but we do think of the justice of God. Beverly, I have to commend you for wrestling with a huge issue, and I hope that you continue to wrestle with it even as I do. And at the end of the day, we bow and simply say “let God be God.”

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