Challenge: What Kind of God Saves a Murderer?

Posted: January 18, 2011 by Amy Hall in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

The challenge this week comes from a question submitted by Jesse:

Can a serial murderer or someone who has raped and tortured children, enter heaven and be forgiven by God? If the answer is yes, then how would you justify this or be able to explain the reasoning behind it to a non believer? Seems like a real emotional problem but also a difficult intellectual one as well.

Everyone understands that God will forgive the liar, thief or fornicator. But the rapist, murderer and pedophile? Those just seem on to be on a whole other level. Probably every single person has lied, but not every single person has raped.

This question phrased in another way would be “So are you telling me that an atheist who lives a decent moral life trying to love others will not go to heaven, but the rapist or murderer can? What kind of a God would allow that?!”

I understand that even breaking one law (stealing when you were a kid) is enough to send you to hell. But the hard part is that, aren’t some sins more severe than others? Shouldn’t some sins require harsher punishments? In court, a thief doesn’t get the same sentence as a murderer. But with God they both get the same sentence? It’s hard to wrap my head around this one!

There are two sides to this question: 1) How can people who have done evil things enter heaven over good atheists? and 2) How can really evil people and not-so-bad people both go to hell, getting the same punishment? So what do you think? Can you help Jesse out? Can you defend God’s justice? What is the horrific sin that everybody shares? You’re going to need some knowledge of theology for this one. Give us your ideas, and Brett will let you know how you did on Thursday.

(Photo by Andy Hares)

  1. The Bible makes it clear that we aren’t saved by our works, we’re saved by grace alone apart from works (Rom. 3:28, Eph. 2:8, Gal. 2:15-16). Yes, the rapist has committed more severe sins than an atheist who has only lied, but how could either of them live up to the standard of a holy God? Everybody shares the sin of rejecting God, which might not seem that bad to us, but that’s just due to our hardness of heart.

    I think the Bible makes it clear that punishment is different for different people. Revelation says, “the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done,” (20:12, repeated in v. 13). Other verses also seem to indicate degrees of punishment, like Rom. 2:6, Luke 12:47-48, and Matt. 11:22

  2. Luke Nix says:

    I recently posted a blog on this issue. Here’s the link and the text:

    On a few occasions, I’ve heard people complain that the Christian worldview allows people to avoid the consequences of their actions. By accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they are able to have all their sins forgiven and escape eternal punishment. This implies that someone may live a life of sin, then on their death bed repent and be able to escape eternal punishment.

    The naturalist, specifically, points out that all people face consequences of bad actions (whether the consequences are carried out naturally or by the state). They state that the Christian worldview not only does not offer any better “justice” than naturalism, but even offers people a way to escape consequences.

    I understand this concern. However, I want to look at it a bit more closely, because I hear it from both unbelievers and believers.

    First, I want to point out that not all actions that we would consider “wrong” has a natural consequence. Some do have natural consequences, but a lot of times, those consequences are delayed and are not tied to the original action. And others (if perceived) may be interpreted differently by different individuals or cultures. Nature is not a good place to look for moral guidance.

    Second, even if I were to grant that nature should be left to carry out consequences, what about the mass murderer who shoots himself before the authorities arrest him? That person will never suffer natural consequences of his “wrong” actions, not to mention any consequences from the state.

    Third, let’s consider that this concern may originate from our desire for revenge, not justice. We have problems identifying what “justice” even is. I mean, a person can commit murder, yet only be locked away for life; while another murderer is killed for his action. Can you identify which consequence was “just”? If the former, then the second might be seen as overkill (no pun intended). If the latter, then justice was not served in the first situation. Each of us needs a different reaction from those dispensing “justice” to feel that the offender has been served appropriately. I think that this is better described by the word “revenge”.

    Fourth, let’s continue with the idea that our desire for revenge is actually justice. A person commits a murder; every person who has been affected would need to carry out their individual justice on that murderer. The result would be that the murderer may end up dying 100 deaths (certainly more than the one he was responsible for), many may be in the same manner that he killed his victim. But has “justice” been served since he suffered much more than he caused? Who is to say that it is or is not justice?

    When Christians express the concern that someone may be forgiven for a life of sin on their death bed, we are expressing a desire for revenge. We know that they will escape eternal punishment, and that doesn’t seem “just” to us. I might even say that some Christians are jealous because they have the desire to do something that they think would be really pleasing, but is not moral. The person who repented on the death bed probably got to carry out that desire, and is still forgiven. As Christians, we need to examine our own hearts if we ever express this concern.

    When naturalists complain about this, it is normally because they are pointing out what they believe to be an inconsistency, contradiction, or injustice. We have to remember that sincerity and authentic desire to spend eternity with a just God for all of eternity is required (See my post about hell). God knows the heart; He knows if the person is just saying certain things because they think that by doing so, they can avoid eternal punishment. Just saying words is not going to save someone. Just because someone says that they believe, does not mean that they actually do. They may just be speaking a few trite phrases when they’re about to kick the bucket in an effort to avoid eternal punishment. God knows their heart and cannot be manipulated. If God could be manipulated in this way, I would agree that a great injustice is being committed, but then I would also have to examine if I agree with that because of my desire for revenge and not justice.

    We have a responsibility to God (read my post “Does Responsibility Exist?”) to act morally. We act offended and desire revenge because we believe that we hold objective value and that offending something of good value is wrong. However, we derive our objective value from God (read my posts about Human Equality). We have not been offended by evil (even though we think that we are because of the value we place on ourselves). God is the one who is offended. God alone has the authority to carry out punishment. That means that God alone knows when and how to execute justice. The fact that He is a just God, means that He will execute perfect justice…not revenge.

    The hardest idea for people who raise this criticism is that God is a merciful God. Perfect justice includes mercy. Since God is the one responsible for holding us responsible, He may choose to show mercy, but mercy is not the opposite of justice (revenge is), so they are not incompatible. Mercy does not undermine justice; it does undermine revenge. Justice is not the concern of people raising this criticism, its revenge.

    Natural consequences exist to keep the level of evil the human heart is capable of in check, to a point. Those placed in authority should act according to the moral law given by the One who has placed them in power, to also mitigate the evil in man’s heart. Of course, those in authority are men full of evil just as those they lead and judge; that is why a governmental system of checks and balances is so important (but that is another story).

    Funny thing is that if there is no afterlife for consequences to be served, someone can commit mass murder and only experience justice for a maximum of one of the people murdered. The murderer can even escape that punishment by committing suicide. On the naturalistic view, many consequences can be escaped and are escaped. But this shouldn’t bug any naturalist, because morality is not objective; the offended have no intrinsic value, and there is no foundation for the responsibility to act “morally” or be “punished”.

    The Christian worldview, properly understood, does not allow anyone to escape consequences, while naturalism, properly understood, allows anyone and everyone to escape consequences whenever they desire to.

  3. Wanda Zippler says:

    Our government pardons people all the time, but they never pardon people for speeding tickets, they pardon people for serious crimes. So we do have a human equivalent.

    Sin is allot like an addiction it starts out quietly a small glass of wine. No one goes to AA over a glass of wine, why should we? We don’t realize that we need help to get away from alcohol until we wake up one day in a ditch and realize that our loved ones may never talk to us again. People often wait till they hit rock bottom before they call out for help. Their pride prevents them from recognizing that they need help earlier than that.

    It is the same with sin. If most of your sins are stuff like saying you are to sick to go to work, when you are actually at the beach you are never going to call out for deliverance from those kind of sins.
    A mostly “good” atheist may never realize he/she needs help.

    The murderer that hits rock bottom will know how desperately he needs help and will be ever so grateful when he gets forgiven.

    As someone who has been a victim of some of the most horrible crimes, it is not easy knowing that the nightmare givers of my life might one day be forgiven. But if they are in Heaven I know they are truly sorry for what they did. And a sincere apology makes up for allot!

    While there will be all kinds of people in Hell some will have committed small sins, some will be like Adolf Hitler they will all have two things in common. They will all be guilty of the sin of pride which stopped them from recognizing their sin, and the greatest sin of all rejecting the creator of everything wonderful in your life including yourself. And that is the biggest sin of all

  4. Adrian Urias says:

    sinful christian vs good atheist…well, no one is good but God alone. All have sinned and deserve death. all our righteousness is like filthy rags. So its a sinful christian versus a sinful atheist. that should even the playing field a bit. Kind of a false dichotomy there.

    There is a tendency to try to say that some sins are smaller than others, and so don’t deserve the same punishment. All sin is equal. Even lying will get you sent to hell. the grace that saves the liar is the grace that saves the rapist. No grace for the rapist, no grace for the liar. Of course, you dont have to accept this grace. But it is available. If you dont like it, dont accept it. If you don’t, then God will be perfectly just.

    another point on the “good” atheist. Saying you don’t need God may be one of the biggest crimes against God. A cosmic slap to the face. So that may outweigh anything the atheist tries to do as good. But then that leads into works, and thats not how God rolls. Grace.

  5. Mark says:

    To begin with, even if you don’t believe that there is the God that I have my faith in, would you agree that if there would be that God, He would be smarter than us? While we only see temporary situations, not only smarter, God made a plan for all time.

    If someone is a murderer and another, like me, told just one lie in their life (okay, that makes 2 now), neither is perfect, correct? Well, God only saves those that are perfect!

    FOREVER GREAT (my lyrics online @ the Christian Songwriter’s Network)

    My God and Lord, beyond my comprehension,
    You made a plan to glorify your Name.
    It’s bad for me, when I shall stray and wander.
    But even so, you love me just the same.

    Forever great, your wisdom is supreme.
    How could you choose, a child like me?
    Forever great, your wisdom is supreme.
    The Lamb of God, the Lamb of God.

    The only way, oh yes, there is no other;
    Not anyone, nor an imperfect me.
    Not works but faith, will bring us your salvation.
    So let us boast for all eternity.

    Good news to share, You give to me that honor.
    The first step’s hard, but what a joy I’ll see
    When I proclaim, that You intend,
    It’s more like You, that You want us to be.

  6. Dawn says:

    I’m probably just repeating things that have already been said, but I’ll give it a shot.

    For starters, there is no such thing as a “good” atheist. No one is good. No one is righteous, not one. All have sinned, and as a result deserve death and are headed to hell. The real question is not “Why would God allow one kind of sinner into heaven over another?,” but “Why would God allow any kind of sinner into heaven?”

    I was just listening to Luke 7, when Jesus visits a Pharisee and has a “sinful” woman wash his feet with her tears. The Pharisee, who probably considers himself to be much less sinful than this woman, can’t believe that Jesus would let her touch him. So Jesus tells him a story: “‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.” Then Jesus says about the woman: “‘Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.'”

    As for the idea of a really evil person and a not so bad person both going to hell, Kyle mentioned the scriptures that indicate degrees of punishment in hell. But ultimately, they are both guilty of being – as I have heard Greg describe it – rebels in God’s kingdom; living in continuous, ongoing rebellion against their Sovereign. I think all other sins pale in comparison to that one.

    I hope I answered the challenge. Incidentally, I am aware that while this response may be theologically accurate, it’s probably not very emotionally satisfying to a non-believer. But I’m not sure what can be done about that.