I wrote yesterday that the human mind has a hard time understanding grace. On one side of the issue, we are so justice-oriented that we don’t see how God could just forgive and forget our sin. We try to work off our debt to Him, many times even after we accept His grace. I think this is human nature – that would explain why any man-made religion would be a works-based religion (i.e., Islam). On the other side of things, our misunderstanding of God’s grace also makes it hard to believe that God would allow any of those whom He loves to go to hell. That would explain why so many people refuse to believe in the existence of hell. Today’s study talked about how grace is completely undeserved (that’s what make’s it grace!), and how hell is completely deserved. I want to take these ideas a step further, looking at grace from both our perspective, and then a Biblical perspective, in hopes that we can come to a better understanding of grace as a whole.
Wrapping Our Minds Around Undeserved Grace
Randy Alcorn wrote about a person today whom I had never heard of – Wesley Allan Dodd. Alcorn wrote that Dodd “tortured, molested, and murdered three boys in Vancouver, Washington” in the late 1980s. I read further about him, learning that he stabbed to death 2 brothers, 10 and 11 years old, and then shortly after murdered a 4 year old boy by hanging him. He was caught when he attempted to abduct a 6 year old boy in the restroom of a theater – the boy kicked and screamed and eventually got away, and his mother’s boyfriend chased Dodd down on foot and restrained him back at the theater until the cops arrived. After interrogation, Dodd confessed to the murder of the 3 boys, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. Most people were quick to point out how incredibly horrible Dodd was, and how he deserved to die a torturous death. On the night of Dodd’s hanging, Alcorn says his daughters prayed that Dodd would repent and place his faith in Christ. Alcorn said he agreed with their prayer, since he knew it was the right thing to do, but he says that he struggled with the thought of Dodd receiving salvation after his horrific acts. I’ll also admit that after reading about him, I struggle with the idea of a guy like this being in heaven when I get there.
But Alcorn points out that right before he was executed, Dodd stated “I had thought there was no hope and no peace. I was wrong. I have found hope and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.” People gasped at the thought! The writer of the article I read said:
As his execution date approached, Dodd professed remorse for what he had done. “I have confessed all my sins,” he told a reporter in his interview. “I believe what the Bible teaches: I’ll go to Heaven. I have doubts, but I’d really like to believe that I would be able to go up to the three little boys and give them a hug and tell them how sorry I was and be able to love them with a real true love and have no desire to hurt them in any way.” We can only hope that Dodd’s final destination provided some permanent distance between himself and the boys he hurt.
We just can’t fathom God blessing a person who did these horrific things in any way, much less allowing them into heaven. But as Alcorn points out, the reason we struggle with this is because we think too much ourselves and too little of God. Take these passages on grace:
- Romans 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Everyone has sinned, everyone falls short, and everyone has the opportunity of receiving justification by God’s grace.
- Romans 5:6-8: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ’s death was for the ungodly – you, me, and even Dodd – and His grace demonstrates His love for us.
- Galatians 2:21: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” The things we do to please God (i.e., keeping the law) are good, but they are worthless in justifying us before God. Only Christ’s death and our belief and trust in Him can do that, by His grace.
I’m sure there are many other, perhaps even better, passages to explain this – that God’s grace is undeserved. I don’t deserved it, you don’t deserve, and Dodd didn’t deserve it. But God offers it to us anyway – all of us, even serial killers.
Reconciling Grace and The Existence of Hell
Alcorn makes a very pointed statement in today’s lesson. People often give a sigh of relief after a person like Dodd is executed, and they often say things like “he got what he had coming…” Alcorn asks, “are you also willing to take what you have coming?” Be careful how you answer, because what we have coming is hell. Every person on earth has sinned, every person on earth has fallen short of God’s standard (see Romans 3:23, listed above). God showed us what His standard was when He gave us the law. The Jewish sect called the Pharisees tried their best to keep the Law, and set up 613 religious rules and regulations based on the Law. 613 rules? I can’t even keep the 10 commandments! No one can – that was God’s point. It’s impossible to meet His standard, so we have to rely on His grace.
Regardless of this, when people think about all the “good” that goes on in the world, they can’t reconcile that with the fact that people go to hell. So they reason in their mind that there is no such thing as hell. The problem here is that, as I explained before, no one is “good,” as far as God’s standard goes. It’s only by His grace that we are saved from hell. The best way I have ever seen this described is the illustration given by Alcorn in yesterday’s lesson, which I will repeat here:
“Imagine a great and generous king who, in spite of his benevolent reign, hears that his subjects have revolted. He sends messengers to investigate, and the rebels kill them. So the king sends his own dear son, the prince. But the people viciously murder him, hanging his body on the city wall. The king has both the power and the right to [take revenge on these rebels]. But instead, he offers these criminals a full pardon: ‘I will accept my son – whom you murdered – as the payment for all your rebellion,’ he declares. ‘You may go free. All I require is for you to admit your transgressions…I invite any of you to come live in my palace, eat at my table, and enjoy all the pleasures of my kingdom. And I will adopt you as my own children and make you my heirs; everything that’s mine will be yours forever….I won’t force you to accept my offer, but the only alternative is spending the rest of your life in prison. The choice is yours.’ “
During yesterday’s lesson, Alcorn asks “Could you imagine anyone responding, ‘How dare the king send anyone to prison! What a cruel tyrant!’? ” Of course not! But that is what people do. Even though God has offered to pardon us from rebellion and murder, and has even offered us blessings for eternity and adoption as an heir of His kingdom, people still say that God is cruel by sending people to hell. The problem is that they don’t understand grace. God is giving us what we don’t deserve and keeping us from what we do. Anyone who doesn’t like that is certainly permitted by their free will to take what they do deserve. God doesn’t want that happen (see 2 Peter 3:9), but he loves us too much to take our free will away from us. God doesn’t send people to hell – people choose to go there by rejecting His offer of grace.