how do you have justice without hell?

Question of the day:

Doesn't Love have to include justice? And if hell doesn't exist, where is the justice for victims of rapists and murderers? Isn't it injustice to let everybody have a free pass in the end?

Street scene, Muncie, Indiana 

Street scene, Muncie, Indiana 

A week like the one we just had, with child abuse being perpetrated from the Oval Office in America, definitely leaves us all wondering what happens in the end to people who callously treat human beings with such disregard.

Hell is certainly the easiest answer and one that makes sense when we are confronted with evil in human form, especially when we've been taught from our first breath that hell is What The Bible Clearly Says, no other options available.

But when I breathe through the rage that I feel over the needless trauma these families are enduring, I come again to this: God is not a monster.

No matter how monstrous human beings may be, God is not a monster.

Even when I want to be a monster in order to destory the other monsters, God is not a monster.

If there is a God, I have to believe that this God is better than you or I, and that God's Love is stronger, purer than anything we can imagine.

Because of Love like that, I cannot believe that the problem of human evil is solved by God perpetrating the evil of eternal conscious torment.

Torture is completely inconsistent with Love, and when we interpret the Bible as saying the God is a torturer, then we have lost the plot.

A God who would torture human beings in a fire forever is not a God of Love, but a monster, like I would like to be some days.

God is Love.

We must return to this set-point, to this True North, over and over and over again, correcting our interpretations, our beliefs, our actions until they are consistent with Love.

And I'm not making up this orientation to Love, all on my own. Jesus is the one who said that the law and all the prophets hang from Love. 

So, bearing Love always in mind, correcting always to Love, I think it's good for us to understand that when we look at victims and perpetrators and think of justice, we are often considering retributive justice as the only kind of justice possible: an eye for an eye.

Retributive justice says: "this person did this heinous thing, and they deserve heinous punishment."

Believe me when I tell you, this makes complete sense to me today and many days. Like I said, I've got a list, and my list got longer this past week.

The problem with retributive justice is this:  it's a dead end.

It's just an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye on and on and on and on, until we're all blind and bleeding.

God has to have better ideas that this: ways for true healing, true reconciliation, true justice, true mercy, for everyone.

God has to be better than we are!

In fact, Jesus told us this very thing: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

Matthew 5:38-48

I think Jesus was trying to move us beyond the ideas of retributive justice here, and to consider the possibilities of restorative justice instead.

To move us from a justice that's only "for the good people" to a justice-Love that includes ALL of us, even the ones we don't want to include (which sometimes is even ourselves).

Yes, Love absolutely focuses on the victim for healing and restoration and rest for their souls.

But to believe that healing and reconciliation and justice and mercy are only available to the victim is a scarcity paradigm, and the God of the Bible is a God of infinities, especially infinite Love. 

I believe that Love expressed in restorative justice has the capacity to heal the victim, and Love expressed in restorative justice has the capacity to bring the offender to repentance and healing as well. 

It's not a free pass in the end.

Restorative justice is healing in the end.


Back in 2011, CBS News aired a story about forgiveness that sheds light on what restorative justice can look like in the real world. 

Wouldn't it be awesome to see this kind of justice, where both victim and perpetrator find healing?

That is the very expression of the justice-Love of God.

Will we always see that on this earth? 


We all know better than that.

I am personally okay with a great deal of mystery, and I am personally okay with believing in restorative justice even though I don't always see the end results of it. 

I am okay with the idea that a better way exists, even if I don't get to see it played out.

I can believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

I believe that Love Wins, even though babies are suffering trauma and devastation as we speak.

I also believe that Love Wins THROUGH US, that we are the vine-and-branches, that we are the Body of Christ, that we are the presence of God on this earth, and that we are responsible for what happens here and now, that we are responsible to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly, and not just wait for death to take us all to the magic-wand-place where we can go, "Oh, when you said Body of Christ, you meant ME? Ooopsie!"

It's easy to parse out the damage that doctrinces of hell have done: us vs. them theologies, monstrosities like Westboro Baptist Church, the emotional and spiritual trauma that so many exvangelicals report from their childhood.

But I'm come to see that doctrines of heaven can be damaging too, when heaven becomes a way of avoiding responsibility to be the Body of Christ here and now. For example, lots of church folks won't look at what's going on with the environment because they're going to heaven in the end anyway. I've literally heard people say that. 

Love does not excuse us from doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly on this earth. In fact, Love empowers us to do those very things.

If you're interested in exploring all the theological theorizing about what happens when we don't see the kind of justice we'd want here on earth, and especially the alternatives to hell and eternal conscious torment, here are some great resources on the topic to get you started.

Love Wins, Rob Bell

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, Brad Jersak

Hellbound? documentary on Netflix

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