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Author Topic: Does the Orthodox Church teach that God is too kind?  (Read 2202 times) Average Rating: 0
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The Iambic Pen
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« on: July 24, 2009, 01:39:52 AM »

I hope no one will be offended by the title.  I have been doing some more reading (and watching YouTube videos from Holy Family Monastery) on the difference between the Orthodox and the Western views of humanity and the atonement.  I just watched a video by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, in which he said that the Western view, that man had infinitely offended God and that therefore God demanded an infinite payment to satisfy the demands of justice, was incorrect.  This reminded me of other books and articles I had read about how the Orthodox view Christ's sacrifice as a rescue mission sent by the Father and not a case of Christ taking our place to satisfy the Father's wrath.

This Orthodox view certainly portrays God the Father in a better light than some Western views do.  It reconciles the will of the Father and the Son, whereas some Western views made the Father our wrathful enemy and the Son our Savior who desired to save us from Him.

I like the Orthodox view better, I really do.  I am concerned, however, that it is too good to be true.  I see the Old Testament requirement for blood sacrifices, where sin had to be paid for with death, and I see God's fierce vengeance on the Israelites for their unfaithfulness.  The actions of God the Father in the Old Testament seem more consistent (sadly) with a Western view of God.  I am concerned that the Orthodox have attempted to "soften" God by maximizing His mercy and minimizing His wrath.  This can be seen, for example, in the often hopeful statements about the salvation of non-Orthodox, or the tendency by some Orthodox (thought it is not an approved or official teaching, by any means) to hope that even Satan and the demons could someday be restored to God.

The past few years have been very educational for me, as I have searched for the Church.  However, they have also been discouraging.  I have come to discover that much of what troubled me about my Christian faith before (and helped put me on this journey) was not strictly the fault of my particular sect, but was within the very pages of Scripture.  God, as portrayed in parts of Scripture and in Western Christian teaching, is not a being who seems very good, to be honest.  Finally, I have found the Orthodox view of God, which is a view of a God who is loving and kind and who took human form to save us, not to condemn us.  I worry, however, that I have found a view of God that appeals to me and not necessarily a view of God that is true.

I appreciate your thoughts and especially your prayers on this issue.  Thank you.
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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2009, 02:35:35 AM »

I second the question.  It's often something I've often wondered myself.  Also, why are the views of salvation mutually exclusive?  Could not the Church embrace both views as ways of understanding the mystery of the ransom?  As I understand it, that is the perspective that the Roman Catholics and Oriental Orthodox take with regard to the two salvation models.
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« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2009, 03:20:53 AM »

Iambic Pen and Alveus, a look at the Orthodox liturgical texts for Holy Week will answer many of your questions, as will the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. Let's not also forget the parable of the Prodigal Son, perhaps the clearest exposition of the relationship between God and fallen humanity.
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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2009, 08:39:13 AM »

This Orthodox view certainly portrays God the Father in a better light than some Western views do.  It reconciles the will of the Father and the Son, whereas some Western views made the Father our wrathful enemy and the Son our Savior who desired to save us from Him.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that all Christians, Orthodox and Heterodox alike, belive that in the Person of Christ there are two wills, divine and human (to believe otherwise would be a heresy called monothelitism), and that His divine will is ONE with the will of the Father abnd of the Holy Spirit (to believe otherwise would be also a heresy because it would mean separation of the Most Holy Trinity, which we believe to be One and Unseparable)?

I like the Orthodox view better, I really do.  I am concerned, however, that it is too good to be true.  I see the Old Testament requirement for blood sacrifices, where sin had to be paid for with death, and I see God's fierce vengeance on the Israelites for their unfaithfulness.  The actions of God the Father in the Old Testament seem more consistent (sadly) with a Western view of God.  I am concerned that the Orthodox have attempted to "soften" God by maximizing His mercy and minimizing His wrath.  This can be seen, for example, in the often hopeful statements about the salvation of non-Orthodox, or the tendency by some Orthodox (thought it is not an approved or official teaching, by any means) to hope that even Satan and the demons could someday be restored to God.

I think the issue here is, TO WHOM shuld sin be "paid by death." Those Western views that you mention, aren't they, essentially, coming from St. Anselm of Canterbury's writings about some sort of juridic relationships between the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity? Again, if we are to be truly Trinitarian, can we even imagine that the Son PAYS TO His Father with His blood (or life)? And the Father accepts this "payment?"

The past few years have been very educational for me, as I have searched for the Church.  However, they have also been discouraging.  I have come to discover that much of what troubled me about my Christian faith before (and helped put me on this journey) was not strictly the fault of my particular sect, but was within the very pages of Scripture.  God, as portrayed in parts of Scripture and in Western Christian teaching, is not a being who seems very good, to be honest.

Yes, that's true! And that, I think, reflects the very HUMAN, very imperfect, very sometimes perverse visions of God that were held by ancient tribal people (particularly Israelites). That's why the Bible alone can never give you a good picture of God. The Orthodox are taught to abstain from reading the Bible apart from the Holy Tradition of our Church. And the reason is, again, that such a reading can, and does, lead people to a distorted idea about God. On the other hand, reading the Bible "through the eyes," so to say, of our God-inspired Fathers gives one a far more complete - and actually a lot more attractive picture.

Finally, I have found the Orthodox view of God, which is a view of a God who is loving and kind and who took human form to save us, not to condemn us.  I worry, however, that I have found a view of God that appeals to me and not necessarily a view of God that is true.

Fr. Sergius Bulgakov in his book "Pravoslavie" (Orthodoxy) said, in this regard, that it is impossible to say "not true" to something that the Church teaches, exactly because the Church Herself IS Truth. But I think I do hear you, because indeed, there sometimes seem to be so many different voices within the Church. In this case, we should seek advice of our priests and bishops.

I appreciate your thoughts and especially your prayers on this issue.  Thank you.

Any time, and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!
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« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2009, 09:10:42 AM »

Coming from my protestant background it seems like wrath against sin takes center stage; and thus the death of Christ boils down to the wrath being assuaged. It seems to me that in Orthodoxy, it's not that God doesn't have wrath, but that His love forshadows all- which to me makes it seem as if the wrath dissappears altogether. Conversely as I look at the faces of my protestant friends, who do believe God loves them, they see nothing but His wrath at the cross. Last night they looked so surprised when I suggested that God's wrath (which seems to me to be directed at sin and evil) was not the focal point of the death of Jesus. Death itself was destroyed as in Hebrews 2:14.

But am I putting words into the mouth of Orthodoxy? Not that I think myself qualified in any way, but again to reiterate; it seems as if we can't escape mentions of His wrath, the word propitiation is used and I think even Jesus mentions how He drunk the cup of God's wrath to the dregs (I could most definitely be wrong in that recollection). BUT- this cannot be a primary focus or lense for us to view God- lest He become bloodthirsty and petulant. And really I personally don't think He even appears that way in the Old Testament- even without that most helpful guide of Holy Tradition. I feel like from beginning to end His Mercy endures forever, not His wrath. And truly, if God was so enraged, so offended, why did He seek out Adam and Eve and speak with them relationally? And later, why did He not say thru the Apostle "For God was so angry and filled with wrath, and just had to kill somebody to exact revenge, that He sent His only begotten Son..." If there is in fact, a central lense in which we should view Christ and His being sent, John 3:16- that would seem to be it.
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« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2009, 09:34:57 AM »

Coming from my protestant background it seems like wrath against sin takes center stage; and thus the death of Christ boils down to the wrath being assuaged. It seems to me that in Orthodoxy, it's not that God doesn't have wrath, but that His love forshadows all- which to me makes it seem as if the wrath dissappears altogether. Conversely as I look at the faces of my protestant friends, who do believe God loves them, they see nothing but His wrath at the cross. Last night they looked so surprised when I suggested that God's wrath (which seems to me to be directed at sin and evil) was not the focal point of the death of Jesus. Death itself was destroyed as in Hebrews 2:14.

But am I putting words into the mouth of Orthodoxy?

No, I don't think so. AFAIK, according to the Orthodox faith, God is love. All other features that we ascribe to Him always include in themselves a measure of "anthropomorphism." So, we, humans, passionate creatures, say that God has "anger" (a passion?), "wrath" (a passion?), "rage" (a passion?), etc. We project OUR passions on God, while God is, according to the Father, the Being without passions. That's why, to avoid anthropomorphisms, Eastern Fathers gave a great value to the "apophatic" theology, characterizing God by saying what God is NOT (limitless, bodyless, passion-less, has no end and no beginning, transcends time and space, transcends all our understanding of Him, etc.).

Not that I think myself qualified in any way, but again to reiterate; it seems as if we can't escape mentions of His wrath, the word propitiation is used and I think even Jesus mentions how He drunk the cup of God's wrath to the dregs (I could most definitely be wrong in that recollection). BUT- this cannot be a primary focus or lense for us to view God- lest He become bloodthirsty and petulant. And really I personally don't think He even appears that way in the Old Testament- even without that most helpful guide of Holy Tradition. I feel like from beginning to end His Mercy endures forever, not His wrath. And truly, if God was so enraged, so offended, why did He seek out Adam and Eve and speak with them relationally? And later, why did He not say thru the Apostle "For God was so angry and filled with wrath, and just had to kill somebody to exact revenge, that He sent His only begotten Son..." If there is in fact, a central lense in which we should view Christ and His being sent, John 3:16- that would seem to be it.

Cannot agree more...
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« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2009, 12:55:49 PM »

Coming from my protestant background it seems like wrath against sin takes center stage; and thus the death of Christ boils down to the wrath being assuaged. It seems to me that in Orthodoxy, it's not that God doesn't have wrath, but that His love forshadows all- which to me makes it seem as if the wrath dissappears altogether. Conversely as I look at the faces of my protestant friends, who do believe God loves them, they see nothing but His wrath at the cross. Last night they looked so surprised when I suggested that God's wrath (which seems to me to be directed at sin and evil) was not the focal point of the death of Jesus. Death itself was destroyed as in Hebrews 2:14.

But am I putting words into the mouth of Orthodoxy?

No, I don't think so. AFAIK, according to the Orthodox faith, God is love. All other features that we ascribe to Him always include in themselves a measure of "anthropomorphism." So, we, humans, passionate creatures, say that God has "anger" (a passion?), "wrath" (a passion?), "rage" (a passion?), etc. We project OUR passions on God, while God is, according to the Father, the Being without passions. That's why, to avoid anthropomorphisms, Eastern Fathers gave a great value to the "apophatic" theology, characterizing God by saying what God is NOT (limitless, bodyless, passion-less, has no end and no beginning, transcends time and space, transcends all our understanding of Him, etc.).

Not that I think myself qualified in any way, but again to reiterate; it seems as if we can't escape mentions of His wrath, the word propitiation is used and I think even Jesus mentions how He drunk the cup of God's wrath to the dregs (I could most definitely be wrong in that recollection). BUT- this cannot be a primary focus or lense for us to view God- lest He become bloodthirsty and petulant. And really I personally don't think He even appears that way in the Old Testament- even without that most helpful guide of Holy Tradition. I feel like from beginning to end His Mercy endures forever, not His wrath. And truly, if God was so enraged, so offended, why did He seek out Adam and Eve and speak with them relationally? And later, why did He not say thru the Apostle "For God was so angry and filled with wrath, and just had to kill somebody to exact revenge, that He sent His only begotten Son..." If there is in fact, a central lense in which we should view Christ and His being sent, John 3:16- that would seem to be it.

Cannot agree more...

This is true. I only add one thing: if you love a sick person, wouldn't you try and cure him? Wouldn't you be enraged that he doesn't understand how you are taking care of his sickness? God is the same: He is love, and He so loves us that He burns in anger when he sees that we refuse the medicine of his grace. He's not offended by our sins, but by the persistence in rejecting his help!

In Christ,   Alex
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« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2009, 06:45:37 PM »

I offer these articles to the discussion:

http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2006/07/divine-justice-substitution-and.html

http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2006/03/angry-and-gentle-god-in-hands-of-fr.html

Our loving God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to be in His Hand. His love and His justice is one, because He is one.
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« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2009, 10:17:33 PM »

Grace and Peace,

As one who is very Western yet very respectful and appreciative of Eastern Christianity I understand where you find yourself but let us remember to look upon Christ was to look upon the Father. Ponder and know the Father through knowing the Son.

But let us not forget that there will be a Judgement Day and on that day we will all stand before the Judgement Seat but let us not shutter now but be ready. Our Faith in Christ should engender a Holy Fear (i.e. Awe as in "Awe-Full"). The Awe of God is a purifying and energizing encounter with the Divine that purges the baser nature of our being. If we are prepared we it will be a moment of joy, if we are not prepared it will be a moment of great pain and purgation. In some ways we encounter this even now and here on our journey of Faith. I try to not be judgmental and I look upon our God with fear nor do I try to rationalize what I find in the Sacred Scripture when God is seen as Terrible. I don't see it as a Wrathful God but a God of Purifying Love like Fire. To some it feels like Wrath but to others it is the warm healing glow of God's Love.

I encourage you to simply ponder in what you find and honestly struggle within it and continue on but don't take the quick route to one side of a caricature of God for He is deeper than we can perceive at any moment on our journey. I would not encourage you to leap to some comfortable ideal of God one way or the other but to glimpse into the mystery of Him how has been revealed in Our Lord.

Peace.
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« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2009, 01:50:03 AM »

Thank you all for your thoughts.  There is much to think about.  I'm going to check out those articles.
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« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2009, 02:04:46 AM »

Having read the articles posted by Rowan, it appears that the Orthodox view of God may not be so different from the Catholic view, after all.  There is complexity at work here.  Perhaps this is a both/and situation, rather than an either/or situation.
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« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2009, 11:03:21 AM »

It reconciles the will of the Father and the Son, whereas some Western views made the Father our wrathful enemy and the Son our Savior who desired to save us from Him.
I don't want to come off as offensive, but doesn't this sounds like a pagan myth to you? The usual god who needs to calm down his anger. Someone who's angry with humans, because they didn't listen to him, so he wants to destroy them. We often misunderstand our God.

Quote
I like the Orthodox view better, I really do.  I am concerned, however, that it is too good to be true.
But almost everyone in here can testify about it being true. Smiley

Quote
I see the Old Testament requirement for blood sacrifices, where sin had to be paid for with death, and I see God's fierce vengeance on the Israelites for their unfaithfulness.  The actions of God the Father in the Old Testament seem more consistent (sadly) with a Western view of God.  I am concerned that the Orthodox have attempted to "soften" God by maximizing His mercy and minimizing His wrath.  This can be seen, for example, in the often hopeful statements about the salvation of non-Orthodox, or the tendency by some Orthodox (thought it is not an approved or official teaching, by any means) to hope that even Satan and the demons could someday be restored to God.
To make something clear, the only official teachings can be found in the Ecumenical Councils. The rest are just widely held beliefs and/or theologoumena (debatable, that is).
Our Church does not hold the belief that God can change, but His actions are different depending on the situation and the person. Thus our beliefs about Heaven and Hell being one place, but different persons experiencing it differently. Also, let us not forget anthropomorphism, which was necessary for people back then (but now too!), so that they can have a better understanding of God, lots easier.

Quote
Finally, I have found the Orthodox view of God, which is a view of a God who is loving and kind and who took human form to save us, not to condemn us.  I worry, however, that I have found a view of God that appeals to me and not necessarily a view of God that is true.
I do not encourage acceptance of something as a fact just because it is appealing, but I will not prevent myself from attributing this to God talking to your heart. Smiley

The difference between Orthodoxy and Westerners is that we try to be good because we don't want to let Him down, while the second ones do it because they're afraid of Hell.
(That's why atheists often say "I do things out of my good heart, I don't have to be afraid of Hell, fundie!", while they are rendered speechless in front of Orthodoxy. Cheesy)
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« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2009, 11:20:00 AM »

Here's some of what our saints have to say:

http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2005/06/some-patristic-quotations-on-divine.html

http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2006/03/more-patristic-quotations-on-divine.html

From what I've read so far, Iambic Pen, the both/and approach to studying this is more consistent with Tradition reflected in The Scriptures, Patristics, and the councils.

GammaRay, I don't want to let our Father down, but I am still afraid of hell.

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« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2009, 06:04:16 PM »

GammaRay, I don't want to let our Father down, but I am still afraid of hell.
I am afraid of Hell because of humiliation and embarrassment  too, if you mean that.
But do you even have time to think about it with all that love going on?! Wink
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« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2009, 04:59:50 AM »

The compassion of God is infinite and Saint Isaac the Syrian goes so far as to say that it outweighs His justice.


"Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the
things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His
Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. 'He is good', He
says 'to the evil and to the impious.' How can you call God just
when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the
workers? How can a man call God just when he comes across the
passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous
living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father
ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his
wealth? Where, then, is God's justice, for while we are sinners
Christ died for us!"

and

"Among all God's actions there is none that is not entirely a
matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning
and end of His dealings with us. ...God's mercifulness is far more
extensive than we can conceive."

and

"Just as a grain of sand will not balance in the scales against a
great weight of gold, such too is the case with God's justice when
it is weighed against His compassion. When compared with God's mind,
the sins of all flesh are like a grain of sand thrown in the sea.
Just as an abundantly flowing fountain is not blocked by a handful
of dust, so the Maker's mercy is not overcome by the wickedness of
those whom He has created."

and

"Mercy and just judgment existing in a single soul
is like a man worshipping God and idols in the same house.
Mercy is opposed to just judgment.
Just judgment is the equality of the balanced scale.
For it gives to each as is meet,
and does not incline to one side
or show partiality in recompense.
But mercy is pity aroused by Grace
and inclines a man compassionately to all;
and just as it does not requite the man who deserves harsh treatment,
it fills him to overflowing,
the man who deserves what is good.
And if mercy is on the side of righteousness,
then just judgment inclines towards evil;
and just as grass and fire cannot abide in the same house,
so neither do just judgment and mercy abide in the same soul.
Just as a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a large quantity of gold,
so God's necessary justice cannot, in like manner,
counterbalance His mercy."

- St. Isaac the Syrian

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« Reply #15 on: July 26, 2009, 04:49:14 PM »

GammaRay, I don't want to let our Father down, but I am still afraid of hell.
I am afraid of Hell because of humiliation and embarrassment  too, if you mean that.
But do you even have time to think about it with all that love going on?! Wink

See, it's like this:

"...I hasten unto Thee for healing and take refuge under Thy protection; and Thee, before whom as my Judge I cannot stand, I long for as my Savior. To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know my sins are many and great, for which I am afraid. My trust in Thy mercies, of which there is no end..." - a preparation for Communion prayer by St. Ambrose.

I agree with ignatius, we must remember how God has revealed Himself to us as rightful Judge and merciful Savior (and so much more...).
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« Reply #16 on: July 26, 2009, 06:11:32 PM »

Then we're not that far, Rowan. Wink
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« Reply #17 on: August 09, 2009, 03:31:19 AM »

You may very well be right that the Eastern view of Atonement is too soft, but you simply can't say that they have "tried to soften". The Eastern perspective of the Atonement is clearly of greater antiquity, and the Western conception of the Atonement clearly shows up much later in Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. While you might be able to argue that their views are "more scriptural", you cannot argue that the Easterns are the ones that have introduced innovation.
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« Reply #18 on: August 09, 2009, 04:13:11 AM »

@The Iambic Pen
This is exactly what Elder Porphyrios (who will be certainly glorified shortly)used to say about Christ. He said, that He is kind, gentle maybe, because He always respects our total freedom over everything.
The wrath of God is basically something that mystic and philosopher of the West Jacob Boheme got so close. He said, that the wrath of God is something that occurs when His Love reflects upon the darkness. Even Hell, according to St. Isaac Syrian is sth that is a "torture of Love", which means that when the "rays" of God's infinite Love fall upon an unpure heart, they make it suffer! And this is actually Hell. Of course, it does not have anything to do with Dante.  laugh Or Anselm of Cadbury. Smiley

Another issue is the holy wrath/rage/fury of man and how it should function. Fathers such as St. Basil the Great or Elder Paisius have spoken about this and say how precious it is, but this is another subject.

Regarding fear of Hell or "punishment": Fathers say it's the lowest "acceptable" motive. This makes you a servant(maybe "slave" -don't know ehich would seem more proper) of God. The upper motive is love and its "fear"(which is the fear of hurting someone deeply beloved, if I could put it this way) and it makes you a son of God. St. Gregory Palamas has spoken about all these issues in great detail.  Wink Smiley
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« Reply #19 on: August 30, 2009, 10:43:25 PM »

Oh, my dear,Imiss you very much,I think everything will better,That good things!

A good husband makes a good wife.
   











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« Reply #20 on: August 31, 2009, 02:58:06 PM »

I personally don't think that the Orthodox Church teaches that God is too kind.

I think what needs to be emphasized more than anything is that God is holy and just. God is glorified when He judges sin, and God is also glorified when He forgives sin. God's wrath and mercy can actually be seen together when He judges sin, eg: when He told the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites (which they didn't completely). The Canaanites were ingaging in horrendous sins, and sin always causes suffering, I can only imagine what nasty veneral diseases must've been rife among them. So while God was clensing the land of abomination He was also at the same time 'putting' the Canaanites 'out of their misery'. Same scenario with Adam & Eve, He didn't allow them to eat from the tree of life, not only because they didn't deserve it, but also to prevent them from suffering for all eternity in their fallen state, hey you know how well your body functions at 80, imagine how you'll feel at 800!

What also helps to put things into perspective is that God is extremely patient and gives mankind generaous amounts of time to repent, do you know anyone who is willing to wait for 120 or 400 years just hear an apology? God also will never shun anyone who repents, He always forgives, and God doesn't get kicks out of wiping nations off the planet or sending people to hell. He the real reason He does these things is because the people are stiff-necked, He's actually giving them what they want - an eternity apart from Him. God is love, and He will do anything He has to save His creatures, and that's why He sent His son to die for us. And finally God loves us so much that He even gave us the right to choose an eternity with Him or without, God doesn't celebrate when a soul chooses "hell" over "heaven", He mourns. But if He didn't give us free will, He would be selfish, and selfishness is the abscence of love and it's impossible for God to be selfish because He is love.

God is love, and everything He does is out of love.
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