When evaluating one’s religious beliefs (or any beliefs for that matter), one should not be afraid to ask the difficult questions that accompany such belief. Blogger Virginia Postrel did ask such questions last week in response to yet another Nicholas Kristof column which disparaged evangelical Christians. Postrel, an atheist, poses some interesting questions:
But [Kristof’s] outsider’s eye does raise a serious question that evangelicals seem never to ask themselves: Why would you worship such a God? What makes you think a deity who would consign righteous unbelievers (or even bad guys) to never-ending torture–a bully who makes the most vicious dictator look like a nice guy–deserves adoration and praise? Do you really believe this stuff? Would you believe it if you hadn’t heard it all your life?
This is a fair question, and it is one that evangelicals have been asking themselves for two millennia. Why indeed worship a God who in the end destroys the righteous unbelievers along with the unrighteous? The problem, however is that the question is based on the wrong assumptions.
The first wrong assumption is that there exist such persons as “righteous unbelievers.” In fact no one, either believing or unbelieving, is righteous on their own account. The apostle Paul noted in Romans 3:
as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside;
together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
There are few who would argue the point that we have all done wrong at one time or another, and that we all have the ability to do wrong in the future. We all are unrighteous—in other words, there’s something just not right about each one of us.
The skeptic might concede this point yet continue to ask (as does Postrel) if this “not-rightness” is worthy of eternal suffering. The answer has to do with three attributes of God: his authority, his holiness, and his justice. If God made us, then he has authority over us. If God is holy, the unholy cannot be in his presence without defiling his holiness. If God is just, if God is committed to making things right, then those who are unrighteous (all of us) must be brought to justice.
God is an infinite, therefore all these attributes are infinite as well, leaving his justice to be outstanding upon us—for all eternity. This is one reason that the Christian impetus for evangelism is so great. It is good news indeed.
The God who demands righteousness for the sake of his justice is satisfied completely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who trust in Christ for their salvation are by their own standards no more righteous than those eternally condemned. The only difference is that those trusting in Christ are imputed with Christ’s righteousness in place of their own. Jesus Christ embodies the authority, holiness, and justice of God all on his own.
That is why such a God deserves our praise and adoration—because he has not given us what we deserve, placing the penalty of our own sin upon Christ. In this light it is difficult to see God as a “cosmic bully.” The question changes from “why is he so cruel?” to “why is he so kind?” Praise him indeed for making things right!