God Doesn't Damn Anyone to Hell

God is love. It's such warm and fuzzy, comforting thought. Even Christianity with its emphasis on forgiveness and loving our neighbors is undeniably beautiful. Until God goes and damns people to hell.

Christians try not to think about it, but the verses are there. We use our theology to anesthetize our fear by reducing our sovereign God to a passive figurehead who merely allows the things we don't understand. Yet Scripture says what it says, and it says that God predestined some people to destruction.

The passage in question is Romans 9. I don't blame you if you missed it in your daily devotions or weekly Bible studies. The preceding chapter and its whole "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ" schtick can be very distracting, especially to pastors and teachers who would rather cultivate ignorance than risk apostasy. Someone has to pay for their salaries.

By chapter 9, Paul had just finished encouraging the Christians in Rome that there was no condemnation for those in Christ. We have God's Spirit within us who intercedes for us and the promise that he works all things for the good of those who love him. Again, so much good stuff that it's tempting to ignore the other half of the letter and park yourself here indefinitely.

But Paul continues by addressing our Jewish forebears in the faith who many assumed were now replaced in God's eyes by the church. He wrote about the rejection of Esau in favor of Jacob and how some people are vessels of mercy and others are vessels of wrath. He even ponders how God can find fault in us when we're incapable of resisting his will. His answer leaves us all wanting: who are we to question God?

The implication to many is first, God rejected his own people because they rejected his son and second, no one is safe from God's jealous caprice. Despite his promises that nothing can separate us from his love, God is mercurial and we are helpless against the fate he chooses for us. Some will go to heaven and some will go to hell, no matter what they do.

The term for this theological cousin of fatalism is double predestination (or supralapsarianism). While many ascribe to predestination, or the belief that God predestines his children to heaven, few accept that he doubly predestines the rest of humanity to hell.

For good reason.

Chapters 9-11 are actually a lengthy treatise on the nature of God's promises. Evidently, before getting into the practical, day-to-day aspects of being living sacrifices, Paul thought it necessary to explain why we should bother if God was going to do whatever he wanted with us anyway. Good call on his part.

Like the prophets before him, Paul rebukes his Jewish kinsmen for their lack of faith but he says this was part of God's plan to include the Gentiles. They didn't replace the Jews; they were grafted into the faith of the Jews. Yes, there was a hardening for a time, but it was only temporary. The point is God's promises are irrevocable.

The other point is that God's condemnation is also temporary. Paul closes chapter 11 by stating that God bound everyone over to disobedience that he might have mercy on them all. In another letter, he clarifies that all of us were at one time children of wrath. Or simply, vessels of wrath describes the past state of believers, not the present state of hopeless souls.

There is no condemned group of people who are barred from heaven because that was everyone before Christ. Rather, his sacrifice made us vessels of mercy who are no more privileged than anyone else. It's a temporal distinction, not a categorical one. Because that's how God sees us: not as believers or unbelievers but as future children.

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