God tells us to be merciful and loving to our enemies (Ex 23:4-5, Mt
5:43-48, Lk 6:27-35). But God on the other hand will send his enemies to
hell for eternity (Lk 16:19-26, 9:43-48, Jude7, Rev 20:14-15). To state
the same point differently, in the Old Testament we are taught justice in
an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Ex 21:24). But in the New
Testament we are taught a higher more merciful standard (Mt 5:38-42). Why
in the next age will we see the same God who taught the above things
inflicting infinite punishment on those who have committed finite sins? I
have no problem with the idea of punishment in this age or the next. but
infinite torment in the age to come in light of both the Old and New
Testament ethic seems extraordinarily heinous. Please respond – thank you.

You ask what is in my opinion the hardest question one can possibly ask
about Christianity.

First, let me deal with one small aspect of your question–the fairly easy
part. I believe God always believed people should treat one another
according to the Golden Rule. When he said “an eye for an eye…” he was
only conceding to a lower standard for the Jews in the Old Testament
because of the barbarity of the age and the stubbornness of the hearts of
the Jews. This is similar to his allowing divorce, under certain
situations, in the Old Testament, because of the hardness of their hearts
(as Jesus says in Matthew 18) whereas it is clear from the New Testament
that God always had in mind one man, one woman, for life. So, God always
wanted us to love our neighbor, turn the other cheek and so forth, as in
Matthew 5.

That brings me to your much more difficult question. How could a
supposedly loving God punish anyone He created in eternal torment forever?
This is not discipline. This is punishment. And how is it that we will be
able to enjoy ourselves in heaven, knowing that these people, some of whom
presumably were loved ones of ours during this lifetime, are in that awful

I will be completely honest with you, I do not have an answer which will
be completely satisfying to human beings. The Bible clearly presents God,
both in the OT and the NT, as a God of love and compassion and as a God of
justice and vengeance for sin. These two natures clearly conflict in the
face of a created being such as we who are loved by God and yet who
willfully sin.

For a certain number of his created people, the problem is solved. Jesus
did the suffering and dying for our sins already, so that the Father’s
justice/anger/judgement do not fall on us. We only have to deal with God’s
love. This is the case with saved people. For the other folks, because of
their sin, they only get to deal with God’s justice and anger. After
judgement day, only God’s wrath will apply to them. This is a hard
teaching. This is hard to accept. Personally, I do not like it. This is
also the truth. I cannot exactly explain God to you. In the final
analysis, I believe that God is God and as it says in Romans 9:20 “But who
are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who
formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”

Like you, it is hard for me to see how I will be able to sit there in
heaven and be happy all the time in view of those who do not make it
there. I accept on faith, based on what my God and Lord has said in the
Bible, that heaven will be a place with “no tears” (Rev. 21) How can I
blithely believe this? Because God has proven his love in Jesus and
because God has proven his word to be inspired through so many types of
evidence. I am left with no choice but to accept the Bible as the inspired
Word of God.

I wish I could give you a simple ahaa answer, but do not know one, and
cannot in good conscience pretend that I do. In love, fear and respect, I
accept God for who he says he is. I do believe that the message of both
the Old Testament and the New Testament is consistent. God is a God of
love to those who fear and honor him but to those who reject him and
refuse to do his will, he will appear as a God of judgement.

In love, not judgement,

John Oakes, Ph.D.

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