Is God Petty?

Is it wrong for God to expect us to worship Him? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, I found myself in a discussion about the question of how can people be happy in Heaven knowing that they have loved ones in Hell. As the discussion went on, I focused on one point which got us to a different area. I pointed out that if Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is true and there is an answer to the question. If not, then it’s just trivia. I could even be willing to say “I don’t know” but it would be foolish to say “I’m abandoning Christianity because while I’m convinced Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t have an answer on this question.”

Instead, we wound up discussing if God is petty or not. After all, God expects us to love Him and worship Him. Wouldn’t a loving God just give everyone a break? Life has enough suffering as it is. Isn’t it petty to have the whole turn or burn mindset?

Keep in mind, my view of Heaven and Hell is quite different. Still, it is a question we all have to deal with. Even those who profess conditional immortality would have to answer how it is they can be happy if they know they have loved ones who they will never ever see again.

Yet now, I want to focus on the whole charge of God being petty, because it is something we come up against. On the surface, it does look that way. God wants us to worship and adore Him. If we don’t, we are cast aside from Him. Loved ones are separated in that sense. How does this make sense?

Part of our problem is we have a view of God where we just make God a big person. He is just like us, except He has the omni-attributes. If you’re going to study this, you need to realize that God is very different. Whatever the view of God is we have in our mind, it’s in some way inadequate.

Second, we need to ask people where they are getting their theology from. If you make claims about God, how do you know this? If you think God is fair and loving and things of that sort, how is this known? Any claim about knowledge of God needs to be backed. If one wants to turn the question to me, it’s my position that if Jesus rose from the dead, He’s someone worth listening to and I do believe the Gospels are reliable.

So let’s look at the question. For one thing, at the start, Christians were always exclusive. This was even the case when they gained nothing from it. They were on the outs with the Roman Empire and with the Jewish people as well because they said Jesus was the true Lord of the universe.

We often think love cannot be exclusive. This is false. Not only is love exclusive, it has to be exclusive. If you love anything, you will exclude that which is contrary to it. This is one reason I don’t like “hate” being described always as a negative. Hate is not always bad. There are plenty of things we ought to hate. We ought to hate the great evils that we see in the world.

When it comes to the question of God, there are benefits for loving God. There is nothing wrong with this. If a man and a woman love each other, then in a marriage bond, there are benefits they share that others don’t have. There is nothing mercenary about that.

Likewise, if you do not have that commitment, then you do not get the privileges of the commitment. Other people, including other men, can love my wife in some sense, but they are not to love her in the exclusive sense that I do and only I get the benefits of that kind of love. If they had made a covenant instead, they would be having those privileges instead of me.

There are also costs in the case of God. If one rejects the revelation of Jesus knowingly, then one is in essence not only saying Jesus is a liar, but saying that God has not revealed Himself in Jesus. That’s a big claim and one had better be right on. On the other hand, if someone like myself is wrong, then I am guilty of the worst kind of blasphemy against God. I have to be willing to accept that.

If one does not accept God’s way, then one is going their own way. It is a rejection of God. If they don’t want to be with God, then God will honor their request. He will not force Himself on them.

Many of us also assume that we are innocent. It’s not that way at all. No one of us lives a perfect life. We all know that. We all know ways we can do better. God could have just been just and said none of us will be with Him for eternity. He did not.

We also have to ask that if God is going to be loving and forgive all, then what about evil here? Will there never be justice? Do those who lived their lives consistently going against God get all the benefits of those who did the exact opposite?

Once again, all of this depends on if Jesus rose from the dead. If He didn’t, then we could be discussing trivia. We might just have to see if another religion is true or if God revealed Himself some other way or just hope for the best. It is a tough situation then.

But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then we do indeed have great hope. We are forgiven and we will be in the presence of God. Not only that, all the suffering we undergo will be redeemed one day. God does not waste our sufferings in this life. Death itself will be overcome.

That is good news.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


  • Kshos23

    1) One thing about the objection that some will have loved ones in Hell is exactly that, that SOME will have loved ones in Hell.

    If your family and friends are believing Christians, then they are most likely going to end up in Heaven with you, so you really don’t have to worry about them going to Hell at all.

    And even for those who have family that isn’t Christian, one can always hope that God in some mysterious way save them through Christ, perhaps at the moment of their death in some way.

    2) If Hell really is just shame, then we might be able looking at a more merciful view of Hell than most people think. After all, if everyone deserves Hell naturally without God, then it would make sense to look at Hell through the eyes of justice and see how it’s perfectly acceptable as a doctrine.

    If one views Hell as shame, then one can perhaps imagine Hell as being not really that bad for most people. Not a comfortable place to be sure, but not really that bad either, so much so that it makes perfect sense when we consider how the shame experienced is proportional and a direct consequence of the sins one has commited.

    So even if one does have loved ones in Hell, one can feel bad about that, in the same way one would feel bad about having a loved one do something embarassing and feeling bad because of it, yet still knowing that it is completely their fault and as such have complete understanding for such a sentence.

    3) Since God is the source of all good, it might be the case that those who have family members go to Hell will be comforted by the fact they can enjoy everything good about their family that is and ever was possible through knowing God directly. In other words, the goodness that their family would have supplied for them will be supplied by God in some way or another.

    4) Some Catholic theologians in the 19th century have held that the punishments of Hell will get lesser and lesser as time goes on, without ever actually ending though.

    Combining this with the view of Hell as simply shame will increase the acceptability of the doctrine and provide a good way of accepting and seeing the justice of Hell even without having to defend any physical torment.

    5) Complaining that God wants praise is self-defeating, precisely because God is the source of all good and no creature can have any good without God imparting it to them.

    This means that absolutely nothing would be wonderful, beautiful, or praiseworthy without God. If there is no God, then life cannot be coherently called wonderful, or worthwile, or enjoyable. No person can be called nice, kind or good, and nothing would be worthy of compliments or praise, including, but not limited to, human beings, in any way.

    6) Your point about our relationship with God bringing us benefits is spot on.

    In both Catholic and Orthodox circles, sermons often exhort people to do good works or mortifications in order to get great rewards from God in Heaven. Likewise, repentance that is based on not just love for God but also fear of Hell is perfectly fine, because self-interest is natural and, if properly ordered, a good motivation to complete our salvation.

    Even if one repents primarily because one is afraid of going to Hell and not primarily for the love of God, forgiveness is possible because of the sacraments, so even though fear of punishment is a rather servile fear (which is why it is called imperfect contrition), it is still nevertheless accepted when reconciling with God, since self-interest is not necessarily viewed as bad per se, only when it has become a primary motivation over and against love of God.

    7) As for universal, simple forgiveness leaving open the question of justice, I think Christian universalists would say that sinners would still be punished in some way, though the punishment won’t last forever and they will be reconciled to God in the end.

    In order to prove the eternity of Hell, one would need to make a few metaphysical explanations as to how the soul cannot change it’s fundamental choice after death in order to see our way out of such objections.

  • Sean Michael Killackey

    The question of how one can enjoy heaven with lived ones in He’ll is somewhat like asking how can I enjoy beautiful art or music even though my cousin poked out his eyes or jabbed a knife into his ears. In what way does the diminish the beauty of the art?