“If You Don’t Love Jesus . . .

. . . go to hell!” You will never see this quote from Billy Joe Shaver on a Christmas card. It is too harsh and abrasive; especially during the Christmas season when we celebrate God sending his son to save the world.

But is Shaver right?

Most evangelicals would reluctantly say yes. Eternal punishment is what awaits all who don’t accept Jesus as Savior, from Hitler and Stalin to the nice couple down the street who happen to be devout Muslims.

But this condemnation contains a spiritual dissonance that is seldom acknowledged, as Phillip Gully points out:

On the one hand, we assert God is loving and merciful. On the other hand, we believe God will forever torture the very people most in need of forgiveness. We seldom question the jarring contrast of such beliefs, preferring to live with the inconsistencies rather than be transformed by the grace of God.

And according to theologian Jacques Ellul,

A theology of grace implies universal salvation. What could grace mean if it were granted only to some sinners and not to others according to an arbitrary decree that is totally contrary to the nature of God? If grace is granted according to the greater or lesser number of sins (including the sin of unbelief?), it is no longer grace.

Here’s a happy thought for the Holidays: What if God’s grace doesn’t take no for an answer?

From anyone.

5 thoughts on ““If You Don’t Love Jesus . . .

  1. Also what about those who have never heard?

    “Christians go to Heaven after death, and non-Christians go to Hades.
    However, Hades has been very frequently confused with Hell.”

    Here’s an interesting theory from an individual in Japan where many good and decent folks are not believers. http://www2.biglobe.ne.jp/~remnant/hades.htm I’m not saying this is exactly how it works, but it is consistent with a just and loving Creator who doesn’t want anyone to perish and is able to present himself in a manner where the logical answer is “yes Lord.” Oh Mike, thanks for the recent pictures from the hospital; they speak a thousand words.

  2. The point is not that God will punish you, but he will let the devil have his way with you. If one rebukes God his entire life and lives in sin and worldly pleasures, then he has passed up his opportunity to get into Heaven. Spiritual success in this world is sort of a prerequisite as to whether one will get into Heaven or not. Not to mention, without an eternal Hell, would there be any repercussions for our actions here on Earth?


    1. What’s the difference between “spiritual success” and works? And if doing well on earth is a prerequisite to heaven, where does grace come in? And as far as repercussions for our actions, by what standard of justice should temporal sins merit eternal punishment?

  3. KC – I completely understand your reasoning as it was my own until a few years ago. What has changed is my view of the Bible, which I believe is inspired but not inerrant. I think hell is like other “doctrines” taught in scripture but no longer seen as being from God, e.g. slavery, the divine right of kings.

    A good book that reflects my shift is Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible for the Very First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally,

  4. This line of thinking makes perfectly good sense to me. And it accords well with my heart too, as I really, really, really want to believe it.
    But the question is: Is the measure of truth that which makes sense to me or what makes my heart feel good? No, I think I need to maintain a healthy suspicion of my own mind and heart. It is God’s word which is the final authority on what is true.
    When I look to the Bible on this subject, as I so often do, I can find whispers and hazy images and theological trajectories that make me think that maybe God is somehow up to some kind of surprise like a pluralistic or universalistic salvation. But I can never find it in plain, black and white terms.
    What I do find in plain black and white terms is an unmistakable teaching that all are lost and doomed to an eternity in darkness away from the presence of God, except those who have faith in His Son, Jesus.
    Truly, I do not like this doctrine. But I still can’t find a BIBLICAL way around it.
    And to be honest, even if I set the Bible aside and go with my own thinking and feeling on the subject, only half of what rushes in leads me into inclusivist directions. The other half leads me toward exclusivist thoughts.
    On the one hand, it makes me sick to think of the nice Muslim couple going to hell. On the other, it makes me sick to think that my Lord would have gone to the cross for no reason, since, as you put it, “God’s grace doesn’t take no for an answer.” On the one hand, the endless suffering of infidels in hell seems to diminish or ruin the joy of heaven. On the other, that hell would be somehow a myth, metaphor or purgatorial cleansing station seems to make the very idea of justice a sham. On the one hand, it seems a beautiful thought to say that God’s love and grace will have the final word and NO ONE will ultimately be able to resist it. On the other hand, this seems to be a fundamental violation of human free will and, at least for me, puts me in a trajectory toward Hinduism (i.e. if EVERY single one of us turns out to “choose” to be with God, then I begin to lose any ground for believing that we are not merely ‘parts’ of Him).
    You see, I trust, how just plain reasoning and feeling my way through it still leaves me with ambivalence.
    But as long as we’re talking about logic, let me offer a cool, calculating thought: Suppose some sort of universalism turns out to be true. What will have been the great error of fundies and other exclusivists? They will have unnecessarily scared some sinners and offended some people, all of whom will end up sharing heaven with them anyway. But suppose the exclusivists turn out to be right. What then will have been the error of the pluralists and universalists? They will have been giving aid and comfort to people in their unbelief and will perhaps be accountable for helping people into hell. (I don’t actually think in such black-and-white calculae, but it seems fair to put the thought forward, if we’re going to approach the subject with reason.)
    Like you, Mike, I too want to be able to get away from the terrible doctrine of hell. I keep hoping that, when we reach the other side, YHWH will reveal a wonderful surprise wherein He is able to do something like pull off a pluralist/universalist salvation WITHOUT violating His own truth and justice or our human freedom. But I just can’t get there.
    Meanwhile, it is clear that those of us who do know Christ have a job to do. We are to be preaching Christ to the world, to the people who are “lost” (whatever that means). And it seems to me that we are not authorized by Scripture to do so in any terms other than to say that hell (eternal separation from God) awaits those who will not put their faith in Christ.
    How do you escape such conclusions without the use of a hermeneutic that compromises–even eviscerates–the Bible’s ability to serve as a reliable guide to Truth?
    If you’re interested, I have wrestled with this at much greater length in an academic paper called “The Hospitable Kingdom,” which I have posted on my blog. (It’s at http://talmid1021.wordpress.com/papers-3/ .) I would welcome any feedback you have. I remain open to changing my thinking on this issue. So far, though, I keep having to fall back on the Scriptures.
    Thanks for the impetus to think it through again!
    Shalom, brother!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s