–Daniel S. Ferguson
Check out this exchange between Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and White House Budget Director, Russell Vought:
So many things went wrong in this exchange. Christians have been absolutely right to call out Senator Sanders for his statements here. They were not only rude; they were unconstitutional. The Constitution is clear that you can’t apply a religious test for any public office (Article VI, Section iii). In that respect, Senator Sanders was way off base.
He does raise an interesting question, though, one that Christians, once they settle down a bit, would be wise to address: Does believing in God’s judgment of sin mean that you hate people?
To Christians, this sounds like a ridiculous question, but to outsiders, it’s anything but, particularly when Hell is part of the equation. For example, Christians understand that many Muslims, particularly radicals, think that Christians stand condemned as infidels, and Christians have no problem calling that hatred. In the same way, when we say that those who do not believe in Christ are going to burn in Hell forever, many others may interpret that as a form of hatred on our part. They’re not necessarily wrong to do so; we often say it quite meanly.
“You don’t believe what I do, so God is right to smite you forever,” they might hear. To be fair, that’s not exactly what we say, but it can be what they hear. And that’s much more important.
So not only was Senator Sanders wrong (he really, really was, on multiple levels), but Director Vought was wrong too. Perhaps not theologically (though Hell is complicated), but certainly communicatively. This was so easy to fix that he could have picked up yardage had he simply thought about it for five seconds.
Question: “Do you believe that people who do not believe in Jesus stand condemned?”
Answer: “Yes, but so do I. I stand condemned because of my wrongdoings. In the face of an all-just God, I am nothing but sin, iniquity, and evil, wholly condemned under God’s perfect justice. But thanks be to God that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to also stand condemned, to suffer and die as a sacrifice for all, that those who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life, for Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. The message we Christians preach is not and ought not be one of condemnation for all, but of salvation for all. So yes, they do stand condemned. But they, like me, also are justified freely by Christ.”
Do you see how that’s different? It accepts the premise of the question, but it goes one step further. It includes the speaker in the condemnation. It says of everyone’s sinful failures, “Me too.” And, most of all, it doesn’t rest anything on the faulty assumption that Christianity is about us v. them, or that Christianity is about distinguishing between believers and non-believers. Christianity is about reaching everyone with the message of the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ, that we all are saved freely by His sacrifice on the cross, and that we all have access to eternal life through His resurrection from the dead.
No more of this who’s-going-to-hell business. It doesn’t help anyone, even the people who ask it. Rather, let’s ask and answer a different question: “How much does God love you?”