I’ve been asked by friends, ‘If you don’t believe in Hell, then why did Jesus have to die?’ And while that’s a good point, there is of course far more to Jesus’s death than His simply ‘purchasing our salvation’. There is so much more to the Cross (by that, I mean Jesus’s death on the Cross) than sin, than wrath, than most of the other attributes and meanings we ascribe to it. The deepest meaning, though, is of course the Love of God for us. St. Paul captures it well in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
But the question of Hell, now, that’s another thing entirely. I personally do not believe that God torments unrepentant people forever in a fiery furnace. I’ve written lots before on this subject. But even if Hell does indeed exist, as Evangelical doctrine would have us believe, to see the purpose of Christ’s death as only being that of ‘saving’ us from that Hell, now that, to me, narrows down the immense breadth and scope of Christ’s death to just the one item – saving us from Hell – to the exclusion of everything else.
And then there’s the somewhat scary idea that some Christians come up with: if there’s no threat of Hell, can’t we just do as we like? If sin is forgiven, isn’t that just a licence to go and sin as much as we like? Well, to be honest, the Cross would not affect that; if we wanted to sin because sin is forgiven, then the threat of Hell is clearly not working. No, to me, this indicates a serious misunderstanding of Jesus’s finished work on the Cross, the effect of the knowledge of God’s Grace in our lives, and the whole idea that if not for this idea of God holding the threat of Hell over us, we would simply sin, sin, sin. But that doesn’t make any sense to me.
Anyway, I read an excellent article on this subject recently by a friend of mine, Mark Darling of Queensland, Australia. Mark is a very smart man whose background is in psychology and applied neuroscience. He puts these arguments forward so much better than I could; why would I want to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when Mark has already written such an excellent piece? I will pass you over to Mark’s article now. Click the link below to go to the article:
If Hell Doesn’t Exist Then Why the Cross?
This essay is a breath of fresh air – definitely go and read it!
Grace and Peace to you.
4 thoughts on “If Hell Doesn’t Exist Then Why the Cross?”
That’s superb! I love that he’s even stated that God Killing God to appease God makes no sense. I’ve been thinking the same for some time: surely if God’s all-powerful and merciful and stuff, even if he *was* angry with us then he could just have forgiven us anyway?
I think that at its core, the penal substitutional atonement theory gives rise to this idea that – in order to forgive a wrong – a sacrifice must be made by or on behalf of the offender. But if you apply that concept to every-day life, it’s simply bogus. What kind of people would we be, if we refused to forgive until somebody gave us some blood? No, that flies in the face of everything I know God to be.
For what it’s worth, I once held this theory in high regard. It was very dear to me, and for a while was more or less pivotal to recovering my dignity and sense of self-worth after some pretty poor decisions that hurt people I loved. But it was a crutch, essentially: I believed in penal substitutional atonement because I needed it. I felt the weight of “God’s anger” at my own sin and needed that sense of salvation.
But in the end, it turned out that it was me myself who was angry about my mistakes, not God. I had been carrying the guilt and the shame of my actions, but God had never held those against me. But he still met me at the place I was at the time, even though I didn’t and couldn’t understand that he was just bursting to show me what unconditional love was all about. And you can’t love conditionally if you demand a sacrifice when you have suffered a wrong, be that perceived or actual.
Interesting what you put in your third paragraph. This is essentially the same as what I quoted Jeff Turner as having said last year, in this article: http://tinyurl.com/y82m4dyl – believing that God is not angry with us is the first step in learning to relate to Him, and PSA can help at that stage. But it is important to hold loosely to doctrines, which are changeable and open to interpretation (that’s why there are so many conflicting ones) and hold fast to Christ alone; He’s the ultimate authority over every man-made and man-interpreted idea. Well said, and great testimony 🙂
Wow, that really does resonate quite strongly with my experience, indeed, including how God used that idea as a way of communicating with me/us in a way we understood, even if it was only a shadow of the truth. It’s a little bit like how subjects get dumbed down to teach kids the basics, and then they get progressively more complicated, building on that understanding as one’s study goes on.
I also like how Jeff Turner has included a nod to the notion that this experience may repeat itself several times in the course of our lives. This has been my experience of life so far, too: my growth and understanding comes in stages, each of which renders the previous step redundant save for the fact that I wouldn’t have reached the stage I am at had I never been on the one(s) before.
I think for this reason, that although it is easy to feel disdainful about our past opinions, we should respect them for the part they have played, and also hold our present opinions and insights with a healthy degree of humility:
the same process may well cause them to be superseded, in due course!
After all, the most we can ask of ourselves or others is to do the best job we can with the resources available. That applies to all of life, not just to doctrines, but it is also relevant here. I think that this realisation also helps us to relate to others better, who are sometimes at very different points or paths in their spiritual journey. Humility and a sense of fallibility is key to that!
Yes, excellent comments all. I find it interesting that we are not the only ones going through this process; through social media and other worldwide open communication systems, we find that others too all over the world are undergoing a similar, yet still individually unique, process. I also find it interesting that some people at different stages may consider us ‘backsliders’ because we have ‘moved on’ from our previous position(s). But the irony is that it doesn’t mean any of us are more ‘advanced’ than others, we are each at our own, unique, stage in our walks. And that’s fine.