Apologetics is both an art and a science. The ability to explore the mysteries of theology and philosophy deeply, using logic in the one hand and evidence in the other, has always been impressive to me. I’ve got to admit that a lot of that stuff goes over my head – once you get three proofs deep and need to have done six hours of background reading to understand where the author is by the third paragraph I tend to check out. So this is my attempt as a pretty simple country boy to explain some of the truths of the Gospel.
On Heaven and Hell
If God is so loving, wouldn’t He want us all to go to Heaven? Why is there even a Hell?
To answer the first question, God does want everyone to go to Heaven. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 states that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He isn’t up there on a cloud waiting for us to screw up so He can zap us (if so, I’d be bearing permanent smoke marks from lighting strikes by the time I’d hit the ripe old age of 18 months). But God loves us enough to let us choose.
God could make us all robots; He could remove all free will and simply make us programmed little minions to walk about and do His bidding. But that isn’t what He wants. He doesn’t simply want compliance to a set of regulations and requirements. God wants our heart – He wants us to choose Him; in order to do that He must give us the option of not choosing him.
To answer why God even allows a Hell to exist, I think the answer is probably pretty straightforward there, too. If God is the only One who is truly “good,” if He is the source of all things good then it would make sense that where He is is the place with the most good. Conversely, if God (who is all good) is not somewhere then no good exists in that place. I picture Hell in the same way I do dark and cold – both concepts that technically don’t exist. You can’t make dark; you can’t create cold. Dark is revealed as soon as you remove light (a measurable, creatable thing); a shadow is proof that darkness lurks everywhere as soon as you step between it and the light. Cold is the same way – you can’t create cold, you can only add or remove heat (a measurable, creatable thing). Absolute cold simply measures the absolute removal of heat.
Hell is merely the complete absence of good. Think about how awesome and awful that is at the same time – God would allow those who do not choose to accept Him to experience the repercussions of their own choice: to not be in His presence.
On Entering Heaven
Why doesn’t God allow everyone into heaven? OK, I guess I can understand rapists and murderers and child molesters, but what about all of the good people? Well, there are two answers to that: first, there really isn’t anyone who is “good.” If Heaven is the place of absolute goodness, then one must be absolutely good with absolutely no screw-ups (ever) to get in. I think we could all safely say that we’ve told at least one little white lie in life, if nothing else. We’ve all done something really small we know to be wrong. So that makes us not absolutely good – we may not be as bad as someone else, but entrance standards (even in this life) generally don’t measure from the bottom up. “OK, as long as you didn’t get a 100 or lower on your SATs you can be admitted to this college.” No, we measure from the top down; acceptance is measured, even by human standards, by the degree of departure from a standard of perfection.
As humans, we’re all okay with a little bit of sin, a little bit of gray area, a skinned up knee here and there. Why? Simply because we all know that we’re imperfect so we’re okay with other people being that way too. As humans it’s hard to wrap our mind around the concept of a perfect, holy God. Someone who has never screwed up. Someone who has never failed, made a mistake, or said “Oops.” That’s the standard.
I tell my wife all the time that I’m practically perfect.
“I thought a was wrong once, but I was mistaken.”
Since we can never go back and erase those mistakes; we can never make them to have never been, God had to make a way. That way is a relationship with His Son, and there’s an easy way to demonstrate this.
You’re probably living in a house, apartment, trailer, or some place you call “home” with a front door, even if it’s a van down by the river. Imagine there’s a knock on the door and you go answer it; when you open the door, you don’t recognize the two guys standing there. One of them is clean cut, wearing a suit, and is very well-spoken. The other guy has a pink Mohawk, is completely covered in tattoos and piercings, has a shirt with an expletive and a rude statement about your mother and has his finger up his nose. Who do you let in? Well, if you’re like the average person the answer is probably neither. You have no idea who these people are!
But let’s say they tell you that they know your son, so you call him to the front door. “Oh yeah,” he replies. “This is Tommy. I’m working with him on a school project.” He points to the nose-picker. “Come on in man.” You let Tommy in because you trust your son. As the two teenagers head back down the hallway your kid throws back over his shoulder “But I have no idea who the other guy is.” Are you going to let him in? No?! But why not?! He’s got a list of credentials a mile long, volunteered thirty hours a week, saved eight kids’ lives, never did anything wrong that was too serious in nature, and he’s a genuinely nice guy! Jesus, God’s son, once said this about letting people into His Dad’s house: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.”
The answer isn’t religion and following a set of rules, achieving a minimum number of good things, or doing enough to make up for the bad in our lives. The answer is relationship, and in that relationship Jesus gives us access to the one thing we could never have, no matter how good we are: access to His Dad, as a son, in His house.
Well, that’s all well and good, but what about people who have never had a chance to hear about Jesus? What about those who have never had an opportunity to know about God and make that choice for themselves?
It’s important to realize right off the bat that God knows everything about our lives. He knows our words before we speak them (Psalm 139:4), the number of hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30), in short, he literally knows everything (1 John 3:20). God knows what our entire life will look like before it even starts: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
The second thing that is important to acknowledge is related to the first, but is different enough that it deserves its own paragraph: God sees our heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 says “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Not the left/right ventricle blood-pumping organ heart, but the center of our thoughts-intentions-attitudes-desires heart. He not only knows what we’ll do before we’ll do it, He knows why. Because He knows why, He knows what we would do in a hypothetical situation.
Keep those two things in mind while I ramble about my daughter for a moment. One time I let her play with a bunch of kidney and navy beans on the floor. As I watched she arranged one nice, neat pile of red beans and one nice, neat pile of white beans. Then she made a line next to them with alternating red and white beans, then she dumped a bunch of mixed beans into a bowl and there was no discernable order. Finally she made groups of beans that had no semblance of ratio; she seemed to be more concerned about the size of the piles.
Then I saw it.
What if God, creator of all things, who knows our hearts, who can put anyone anywhere in any time He wants… what if all of human history looks like my floor did at that moment? Let’s say the red beans represented those who had the heart to accept Jesus, regardless of where they were placed – they could be the only red bean in a pile of white beans, or they could be totally surrounded by other red beans, or they could be mixed in a pile with an equal number of red and white beans. I saw how entire areas of the world could be made of white beans for hundreds of years, and the first time that a red bean appeared was the first time someone accepted Jesus as Savior. From the human perspective we examine the causal relationship in the other way (as soon as someone brought the gospel to them they found someone who accepted Christ)… but what if we’re looking at it backwards? What if the good news about Jesus wouldn’t have borne any fruit for all of the generations before?
My daughter wasn’t any less my daughter because she arranged the beans in any certain way. There was no requirement for a certain ratio of red to white beans in any given pile, nor was she wrong for not making sure each white bean had contact with at least one red bean so it could be given a chance to become a red bean. The red beans would be red regardless, and the white beans would be white regardless, it didn’t matter where they were placed.
If I were to drop an egg from five feet up onto a hardwood floor, what would happen? Yes, my wife would throw a frying pan at me but besides that, what? It would splatter, right? Not necessarily. All you saw was the egg, but you didn’t see the character of the egg inside. You assumed it was raw; had it been raw, you would have been right about how the egg would have reacted to the floor. But I, as the creator, changed the character of the egg. I hard-boiled it. You couldn’t tell from looking at the outside but I knew the difference. When I dropped this egg it cracked a bit, but remained intact – and the only difference was the character of the egg.
And that’s the simple story behind predestination. Romans 8:29 says: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” Those whom God knew would react in a certain way (to accept Christ) He predestined. How did He predestine them? He simply created them. You see, when I squeeze a whole, raw egg in my hand I’m the one who broke it. When I drop it from five feet up I don’t break it, the floor does. Since I knew the character of the egg and I released it on a path I knew would result in a shattered egg (because of the character of that egg) I could say I predestined it to shatter because I foreknew it, and the same situation with a boiled egg would be true as well.
So then the million dollar question – why doesn’t God just “hard-boil” all of us? Why doesn’t He make us all with the character of one who would accept Christ? To answer that we’ve simply got to go back to how we started this discussion – if God were to eliminate the possibility of anyone not choosing Him, would we be any better than robots to start? For there to be the option to choose Him, there must also be the option to not choose Him. For that to be real, it can’t just be theoretical.
The most loving thing that God could do is to allow us to choose – to give us real, actual freedom to make that decision and live with the consequences. Anything less wouldn’t be real love. Do consequences of the wrong decisions suck? Absolutely, and I tell my kids this all of the time – but in love, I allow them to make their own decisions and learn from them. I’ll give them advice and guidance; I’ll teach them and then release them, but as anyone with kids knows they’ll eventually run into the table no matter how many times I tell them to look. And because I love them, I don’t handcuff them to the soft, comfortable couch.
God loves you, and He wants to be in relationship with you. We try to make it complicated, full of rules and regulations, but really He just wants you to love Him because He already loves you.