What don't you like about Jesus? - Part 2

By Robin Schumacher

Oftentimes when I engage unbelievers in a spiritual dialogue, it's common to hear a litany of complaints about the Church, the hypocrisy of Christians' behavior, and so on. Some of the criticisms are valid while others have no merit. However, because true Christianity isn't based on earthly humans or things, but rather a divine Person, I do my best to bring them back to Jesus and have them focus on Him instead. A question I typically is, "I hear what you're saying, but let's talk about Jesus for a minute. Tell me, what don't you like about Him?"

The vast majority of the time, there will be a very pregnant pause in the conversation, and for good reason. When Jesus was illegally put on trial by His enemies, Mark tells us: "Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any" (Mark 14:55). Christ's enemies had literally dogged His every step, sent false disciples to try and trick Him into some verbal gaffe, and yet there was absolutely no dirt they could drudge up against Him.

But every now and then, someone I've put my question to will bring up something they don't like about Jesus. This post and the previous one will address two of the most common complaints.

2. Jesus taught about and believed in Hell.

The skeptic Bertrand Russell wrote the following about Jesus in Why I am Not a Christian: "There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and it is that He believed in Hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching.... I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty."

There is a rising trend of universalism, an idea that teaches all will spend eternity with God an no one will suffer. However, a plain reading of the gospels leaves no question that Jesus believed in a literal Hell; He even taught that some people would spend eternity there. Yet some Christians hold to the universalist's view and try to diffuse the issue by referencing the early Church father Origen, who claimed Hell was simply a "tutelage" and sanctifying process of purging fire. The most recent and visible example of this was Rob Bell's book Love Wins.

However, no exegesis of Scripture, no matter how tortured or distorted, can overcome the clear teaching of Jesus. It may be something as explicit as Jesus's end to the Sermon on the Mount where He says: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Or, it may be something more subtle as when Christ quotes the Psalms, "For David himself says in the book of Psalms, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet"'" (Luke 20:42-43), where the illustration referenced kings who put their feet on the necks of their enemies as a sign of their impending execution.

Jesus consistently and constantly referenced judgment and Hell, and for that, some people turn away from Him. But they shouldn't; instead they should rush to embrace Him for He is their salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Those who question how a loving God (Jesus) can send anyone to Hell ends up overlooking two key things. First, they fail to realize that all sin is vertical before it is horizontal. Such sin is committed against an eternal God, and thus, that sin is eternal and demands eternal punishment.

This shouldn't surprise anyone as justice and the degree of punishment are often linked to the status or importance of the person who is the target of the offense. As an example, threaten my life and no real legal action will be taken against you. But threaten the life of the President, and you will find yourself quickly arrested and go missing from society for a long time.

Second, anyone doubting Jesus' moral compass on the topic of Hell should understand the unique linkage between God's mercy and justice. It's a fact that in every religion or faith in the world — other than Christianity — the deity in question dispenses mercy at the expense of its justice. For example, in Islam, if Allah grants mercy to a person, he does so by weighing their good against their bad, overlooking the crimes they have committed, and never requiring any payment for those committed crimes.

But such a thing goes against our natural moral framework as well as our legal system. We would never think a judge righteous who let a thief or murderer go free simply because they have done good works in the past. The offender needs to pay for his crimes.

Christianity is different. In Christianity, God dispenses mercy through His justice. The truth is, we have all sinned against an eternal God and deserve the Hell Jesus spoke of. But because God is love and loves us, He provides mercy and a way to escape eternal punishment.

But God is also just. Someone has to pay for sin, and Jesus willingly took that bullet for all. We only need to put our faith in Him to accept the gift.

In essence, Christ did die for His Church, but He also died for God in order to satisfy His justice. Paul spells out this fact when he says, "God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:25-26).

Is Jesus "bad" because He taught about Hell? No, He is infinitely good in that He spoke the truth. He provides the mercy and love of God on the one hand and satisfied God's justice at the same time for those who put their faith in Him.

What's not to like about Jesus?

After His enemies had thrown everything and the kitchen sink at Him, the end result of Jesus's six illegal religious and secular trials is summed up in Pilate's words, "I find no guilt in this man" (Luke 23:4). Although some still try to deface His character, the same conclusion is arrived at today by those who approach Him with an honest heart and mind.

When deciding how to portray Jesus in his famed Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis chose the following way, which I think does a great job of depicting Christ's nature and goodness:

"Is he...quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good." 2

For further study: For a full refutation of universalism, see my 3-part PPT presentation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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Published 8-28-12