Does God judge sinners?
Published: 7 April 2018 (GMT+10)
It’s a blessing to see when our material helps people stand firm on the Bible in the origins debate. However, many people misunderstand our mission: we do not simply provide information about the scientific aspects of creation. Our main priority is the defence of the Bible and the integrity of the Gospel in the face of ‘billions of years’ and evolution. This includes such truths as God as Judge, and Jesus’ death taking the punishment of our sins, since their meaning and truth depends on Genesis.
A.B. from New Zealand writes:
Creation ministries have played an important role in my children’s homeschooling education, I used your magazines, books & DVD’s to teach them creation vs evolution, and I used my collection as a lending library for others, who also appreciated your work. Nevertheless I have one problem with your presentations; your constant use of the words, “Gods judgment, curse and punishment”. This suggests God is the cause of mankind’s pain, suffering and death, implying “God is not love” and the exact opposite of all-loving all-forgiving Jesus, invalidating Christ’s claim to be the exact image of God.
God does not judge against us, he is always “for us”, God did not curse us with death, sin itself causes death (if sin kills why would God need to re-kill the dead), and God does not punish us, sin itself causes extinction. God is exactly like Jesus, he is innocent of your accusations, just as Jesus is innocent of judging, cursing and punishing us. The Godhead is not divided into curse-maker & curse-payer, they are united in saving us from the behaviour that is destroying the earth and its inhabitants, not through “paying off sin with human blood” and “legal declarations of innocence” but through “healing” alone, in the same manner Jesus healed his humanity unto resurrection. Jesus gives us his spirit and his mind to this end!
Creation ministries will never convert Richard Dawkins as long as it promotes a lawless, judgmental, vindictive, retributive, revengeful, unloving, unforgiving, cursing, punitive God who tortured Jesus on the cross as a live innocent human-blood-sacrifice, and, accepts into his kingdom only those who partake of Christ’s murder (those who will not approve of the murder an innocent man obviously cannot be saved). If Creation ministries took off its traditional pagan interpretational glasses and rejected the concept of an angry wrathful God who demands human blood sacrifice to appease his wrath, and put on Great Physician glasses instead, and saw only a lawful all-loving all-forgiving God who works only to save us from death through healing alone, then Dawkins would be a fool to mock a humble self-sacrificing servant God who loves others more than he loves himself.
There are two ways to interpret scripture, one through the pagan lens that imagines God “created” a legal law (God himself is lawless), imposed it upon us along with legal penalties for violation, punishes us by burning us in pain, suffering, agony and torment throughout all eternity and demands blood payment to get out of hell, hence the reason pagans offered God innocent child & virgin sacrifices and Christians offer Jesus, then God legally “declares” lawless-sinners righteous. The other interpretational method looks through a lens that sees Gods law as his eternal character, a “law of love” (law is summed up in love), with us falling out of harmony with his character through lawlessness, and his restoring us back into unity with his character through Christ’s “life and death” mission to heal mankind, first by healing his own humanity unto resurrection and then healing us through his spirit, this reversing the damage done in Eden by us going from death to life.
God is “law-full” just as Jesus was “sinless according to the law”, they are not opposed, one member of the Godhead does not pay off another member of the Godhead. The damage done to the human brain cannot be fixed legally, it’s a problem that requires healing of heart and mind. I don’t expect you to reinterpret scripture and come to the knowledge of a perfect, pure, faultless, innocent, righteous God overnight but perhaps if you just refrained from suggesting God legally judges, curses and punishes humans, it might help your cause. Indeed Jesus did not interpret scripture legally nor worship a judgmental, cursing, punitive God, if he did he was a hypocrite and liar in his misrepresentation of Gods character. Thankyou for your wonderful work.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thank you for your encouragement. We’re glad God has used our work to help you stand for His creation and help others to do so. But regarding your complaints, we must stand firm. This is our Statement of Faith position:
Salvation is a gift received by faith alone in Christ alone and expressed in the individual’s repentance, recognition of the death of Christ as full payment for sin, and acceptance of the risen Christ as Saviour, Lord and God.
Jesus Christ … shall return in like manner to this Earth as Judge of the living and the dead.
Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment
These are not secondary issues. These are primary issues we defend as a ministry. (And I’m sure you can find many articles on Hell and Jesus’ penal substitutionary death on creation.com.) And I would encourage you to hear what we have to say, especially since you clearly value the material we have put out.
Our position is not new to the history of the church, but the notion that our position makes God a monster is relatively new in the church. It first flourished in the 16th century through the writings of one Faustus Socinus, a unitarian who rejected the inerrancy of Scripture. It gained cultural sway in the 19th century through the work of liberal theologians who explicitly tried to undermine the moral authority of all traditional churches (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) by saying that God was not a judge. They said that God should just forgive without any need to judge, and thus without any need for Jesus’ death to take our punishment, or to satisfy the honour of God, or to reconcile us to God. I say this to give you some historical context for the origin of your own views. They are new, reflective solely of modern Western culture, and designed to undermine the church.
Would you be grateful to someone who died for you?
Before delving into the specifics of these issues, I would like you to consider three scenarios.
First, would you be grateful to or disgusted by someone who died for you so that you could live? If it were me, I’d be grateful.
Second, would you be grateful to or disgusted by someone who would take the punishment for a crime you had committed so you could go free? And I’m not talking about someone confessing to a crime you committed. I’m talking about someone taking the punishment for a crime the court knows you did and has declared you guilty for. If it were me, I’d be grateful.
Third, would you be grateful to or disgusted by a party you offended sending a volunteer dear to them to pay the debt you owe them so that you could be reconciled to said offended party? If it were me, I’d be grateful, both to the offended party and the mediator.
All three scenarios represent elements of our understanding of Christ’s atoning work (often called ‘penal substitutionary atonement’ (PSA)). Indeed, I submit that if someone were disgusted by people who would do these sorts of things for them, that would be absurd! These are clearly extremely loving and humble acts of self-sacrifice.
Does God judge?
Of course, PSA depends on the notion that God is a (just) judge who will punish sinners according to what they deserve. So, does the Bible teach this? Of course it does! How could anyone rationally suggest otherwise? Abraham calls God ‘the judge of the earth’ in Genesis, and Revelation 20 gives us the Great White Throne judgment, where God judges all the dead, and throws all the wicked into the lake of fire. God is judge from Genesis to Revelation. Indeed, Paul considers any idea that implies that God can’t judge the world to be ipso facto ludicrous and blasphemous (Romans 3:5–8). And did God not say to Adam “cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17)? Does not the Law say, “a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:23)? And Jesus said the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46) when He returns to judge (Matthew 25:31–32). And honestly, I don’t know how anyone could read Romans 2:1–11 and still think that God won’t judge the world in righteousness. According to the Bible, God does indeed judge, curse, and punish sinners.
Specifically related to Adam, God commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and warned that if he did, he would certainly die (Genesis 2:16–17). Adam and Eve disobeyed that command (Genesis 3:6). In response, God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden and barred the way to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22–24). How is this not a punishment for disobeying a command? (Why did God impose the death penalty for sin?) And it was the punishment God gave to Adam and Eve for their disobedience that caused our mortal condition. Mortality didn’t come in just an automatic consequence of their sin; it was the punishment God meted upon the first Adam for his sin. Though the punishment wasn’t meted to Adam simply as an individual, but also as the legal head of the human family. Thus, in Adam we’re bound in sin, suffering, and death, as per Romans 5:12–21 (Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam).
What facts must atonement theories explain?
There are several other biblical facts any attempt to explain how Jesus death joins us to God must account for. First, on the human level, Jesus suffered a gruesome judicial murder. Second, God specifically planned this (Acts 2:23). Third, Jesus’ died “for us” (Romans 5:8) and “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Fourth, Jesus’ death is called a ‘sacrifice for sins’ (Hebrews 10:12) (Why did Jesus die? The sacrificial system and Creation). Fifth, Jesus’ death for us and our sins is the objective ground for our reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10). Sixth, we who believe in Jesus will be saved from God’s wrath, since we are justified by His blood (Romans 5:9). These are facts, regardless of what anyone, including Dawkins, thinks of them.
The Bible also paints a simple, yet clear, picture of the consequences of rejecting Jesus and His atoning work. Jesus said “nobody can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), such that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Part of this includes the fact that Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) Therefore, only those who partake of Christ, which includes His death for our sins, can be saved. This is ‘Gospel basics’ sort of stuff; anyone who explicitly rejects this is not saved. If these facts disgust you, then your problem isn’t with us; it’s with the Bible.
Is a God who judges unloving?
Now, does any of this make God unloving? I don’t see how that’s even relevant. In how God handles the wicked, love is not the issue; justice is. But all these biblical facts show is that God holds sinners accountable and punishes them according to what they deserve. That’s exactly what a just judge would do with criminals. Indeed, how is God just if He doesn’t judge, curse, and punish those who deserve it? And we deserve it (Romans 3:9, 19, 23). We’re not just enslaved to the power of sin looking for healing and release; we’re also rebels who stand justly condemned before the just Judge of all. If God ignores even one instance of our rebellion, He’s not just. And making the offender inwardly virtuous doesn’t change the fact that he has offended, and deserves punishment for his crime. This is especially so in God’s presence, where just one sin is enough to make us unworthy for His presence. Is this scary? Yes! Facing God should be scarier than anything else! There’s a reason why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). But does it make God a monster? Not in the slightest. It’s scary to face Him not because He’s a monster, but because He’s unflinchingly good, and we’re not.
Did Jesus’ death make God loving?
But, it’s not as if we say that God only judges, curses, and punishes us. After all, God showed His love by sending His Son to die for us sinners (Romans 5:8). God sent His Son out of love for the world (John 3:16), which also shows He wasn’t some angry tyrant who was only made loving by Jesus’ sacrificial death. God always was loving, and Jesus’ death was the way that God showed He is both just and loving (Romans 3:26) (Is God inconsistent?). Indeed, as 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” People who believe in penal substitution don’t think Jesus’ death made God loving; we think God showed His love while fulfilling His justice through Jesus’ death. See An infuriated and vindictive God?
How is Jesus’ death loving?
But how is Jesus’ death a humble, self-sacrificing act of love of both Jesus and the Father? You offer no explanation. But it was (on the part of the humans involved) a gruesome judicial murder, but God specifically planned it to happen (and Jesus willingly succumbed to it). Remember, those are some of the facts any explanation of Jesus’ atoning death must account for. If you don’t like them, then don’t read the New Testament. It talks about them everywhere.
But why would God ever subject His Son to such humiliating torture? Why would Jesus ever agree to go through with it? Jesus’ death of itself can’t inwardly heal us physically or spiritually. The Spirit does that. If that’s all God did for us, God wouldn’t need to send His Son to die. Letting your enemy beat up your Son doesn’t achieve anything for us. And it’s pointless as an example of love unless there’s a reason why it’s a loving act.
Rather, the Bible paints Jesus’ death as an act of reconciliation between us and God (Romans 5:10). In this reconciliation, there’s only one offending party—us. Still, why would the death of God’s Son be a loving act of reconciliation? For instance, if some mobsters said that if I killed my son we’d be reconciled, it clearly wouldn’t be a loving act to kill my son. There’s got to be more to it than that.
And there is. We haven’t just offended God; we’re all accountable to God (Romans 3:19), and we’re all under sin (Romans 3:9). Thus, there’s a legal dimension in our relation to God (Romans 2:6–11). And according to that legal dimension, we deserve punishment. God’s original punishment for sin was death (Genesis 2:17, 3:19, 22–24). Therefore, the death of an innocent is a fitting substitute for the punishment we deserve (if God wants to save us, which thankfully He does).
But how can one man’s death be a fitting substitute for many? What the one man lacks in numbers, He must make up for in worth. And, the man who died wasn’t a mere man. Jesus is a divine person, having divine worth. One drop of His blood is worth more than all the creation combined. So, His death is more than enough to pay the legal penalty for as many people as will believe.
Thus, Paul says quite bluntly in Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”. How is that not penal substitution? The punishment we deserve is the curse of the law. Jesus saved us from that. How? By being cursed under the law for us, as per Deuteronomy 21:23. He suffered the curse of the law so that we wouldn’t have to. That just is penal substitution. See Dawkins’ dilemma: how God forgives sin.
The benefits of PSA
And consider the effects of PSA. God declares us righteous because, through faith in Christ, we are incorporated into Christ, through which our sins are imputed to Christ (and He discharged the penalty for them in His death: 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Galatians 3:13), and His righteousness is imputed to us (He becomes our righteousness; 1 Corinthians 1:30, and we are ‘justified in Christ’ (Galatians 2:17)). Thus, we stand before God’s judgment without condemnation (Romans 8:1) declared righteous (Galatians 2:17) in Christ. This is the best legal deal one could ever imagine! God internalized all the consequences and punishment for our sin into the Godhead, and made the righteousness of His Son count for us, so that we sinners could join His family! How is this a bad deal?
But you want the internal healing, right? It’s because of Jesus’ penal substitutionary work that the promised Spirit comes (Galatians 3:13–14) and transforms us to be like Christ. Of course, there’s a mimetic aspect to Jesus’ work that the Spirit applies to us in sanctification (after all, the one through whom Jesus did all His good deeds was the Spirit, and we get organically connected to Christ through the Spirit). But it comes through the Spirit, and He does His subjective work in the believer based on Jesus’ objective legal work on the cross. Therefore, PSA gives a ground for seeing how God is just in transforming sinners into the image of Christ. By affirming PSA and God as judge, you lose nothing of what you want, and gain the justice of God as well. What is there to lose?
A lot of vitriol gets thrown at penal substitutionary atonement these days, even from ostensibly ‘Christian’ places. But it’s all based on a bad definition of ‘love’ and a worse reading of Scripture. God is not ‘all forgiving’ in the sense that He will give everyone eternal life regardless of their response to Him. Reconciliation doesn’t work like that. Even at the human level, we know this. My enemy might be willing to forgive and reconcile with me, but if I don’t want to reconcile with them, no reconciliation is achieved. See God’s justice, mercy, and creation.
For reconciliation to happen, both parties must come to the table. God has. He has brought everything He can to the table—even the death of His Son for us. And God is the judge, and the only offended party! But because He’s perfectly just and holy, such that one sin makes us unworthy for His presence, He must deal with the ‘legal condemnation’ issue. God is not a monster for doing this. Even when Jesus was extremely stressed about facing His death, He submitted to the fact that He needed to die to save us (Matthew 26:39). The Father implicitly said that it was not possible for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from Jesus, if we were to be saved. God is both just and loving, and both always motivated the plan to send Jesus to take the punishment we deserve.
Postscript: do we make God out to be a monster?
I also need to address the language with which you disagree with us. I am appreciative of your compliments. Still, you portray our understanding of God as if we accuse God of being the Devil omnipotent!
For instance, you say “God is exactly like Jesus, he is innocent of your accusations [emphasis added]”. Where have we ever accused God of anything?
And then there’s this: “Creation ministries promotes a lawless, judgmental, vindictive, retributive, revengeful, unloving, unforgiving, cursing, punitive God who tortured Jesus on the cross as a live innocent human-blood-sacrifice, and, accepts into his kingdom only those who partake of Christ’s murder (those who will not approve of the murder an innocent man obviously cannot be saved)”. Dawkins would be proud! But have you ever seen us say these things of God? Of course not! Rather, you’re spinning (terribly!) what we say according to what you think the implications of our views are.
You may hate our views on this. But please represent them as we give them, not according to the implications you think they have. I trust that, since unlike Dawkins you have some respect for our material, you can at least offer us that courtesy.