Oftentimes when I engage unbelievers in dialog, it’s common to hear a litany of complaints about the Church, the hypocrisy of Christian’s behavior, and so on, with some of the criticisms being valid and others being without merit. However, because Christianity isn’t based on those things, but rather a Person, I do my best to bring them back to Jesus and have them focus on Him instead. A question I typically ask to do this is, “I hear what you’re saying, but let’s talk about Jesus for a minute. Tell me, what don’t you like about Him?”
The vast majority of the time there will be a very pregnant pause in the conversation, and for good reason. When Jesus was illegally put on trial by His enemies, Mark tells us: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any” (Mark 14:55). Christ’s enemies had literally dogged His every step, sent false disciples to try and trick Him into some verbal gaffe, and yet at the end there was absolutely no dirt they could drudge up against Him.
But every now and then, someone I’ve put my question to will bring up something they don’t like about Jesus. The two complaints below are the most common I’ve heard.
Jesus called a woman a ‘dog’
In the gospels, we find the following account:
“Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”” (Matt. 15:21–26).
One objection I’ve heard against Jesus is that he disrespected this particular woman who had come to Him for help. Isn’t His initial silence and following response insulting?
A couple of things are worth noting in this encounter. First, Jesus deliberately went into Gentile regions (Tyre and Sidon), which no pious Jew would think of doing. However, He didn’t go there so much to minister as to take a break from the pressure put upon Him by Herod and the Jewish religious leaders.
In fact, He had previously and explicitly told His disciples to – at this time – focus on Israel and not the Gentiles (cf. Matt. 10:5). Non-Jews were not to be forever ignored, but rather Israel was the primary, initial target of Jesus for He was their promised Messiah who would unfortunately be rejected.
Next, His initial silence is likely due to her “Son of David” remark, which was a Jewish Messianic title. When she, a Gentile, came to Him on Jewish ground/terms, He was silent, but that silence would not last for long.
When the woman addressed Jesus as “Lord” (a respectful ‘sir’), He then likens her to a ‘dog’. However, the term Jesus uses for the woman is not the slur used by the Pharisees when referring to non-Jews. Whereas the Jewish religious leaders called Gentiles “kyōns” that were despised eastern street animals known for eating garbage and human waste, Jesus uses the term “kynarion”, which refers to a family pet or lap dog that is lovingly cared for by its owners.
Jesus is not insulting the woman, but delaying His answer. Why the delay? We should always remember that every accepted prayer is not immediately an answered prayer. In much the same way that Jacob wrestled with God and would not let go until he was blessed and made Israel (cf. Gen. 32:28), this woman’s tenacity is being tested and will also ultimately be rewarded.
The story concludes this way: “But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once” (Matt. 15:27–28).
The woman’s answer produces her desired end result. Moreover, Jesus lauds the woman by telling her that her faith is great. Interestingly, only two people are praised in this way by Jesus – the centurion whose servant was healed (cf. Matt. 8:5-13) and this woman – both of whom are Gentiles.
This particular story in the gospels showcases the distinction between the Pharisees and religious Jews, and someone not belonging to the covenant people. The religious leaders rebuff Jesus’ authority, are offended by His and His disciple’s conduct, and know the letter of the Law but fail to understand its application. This woman, however, is a descendant of the Jew’s ancient enemies, but approaches the King of kings with great faith asks only for grace; and receives her request.
Jesus taught about and believed in Hell
The skeptic Bertrand Russell wrote the following about Jesus in his Why I am Not a Christian: “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and it is that He believed in Hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment . . . one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching. . . . I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty.”
There’s no question a plain reading of the gospels shows that Jesus believed in a literal Hell and that He taught some people would spend eternity there. Some Christians who hold to what seems to be a disturbing and rising trend of universalism (that teaches all will spend eternity with God) try and diffuse the issue by referencing the early Church father Origen who claimed Hell was simply a ‘tutelage’ and sanctifying process of purging fire. The most recent and visible example of this was Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.
However, no exegesis of Scripture, no matter how tortured/distorted, can overcome the clear teaching of Jesus on the subject. It may be something as explicit as Jesus’ end to the Sermon on the Mount where He says: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13–14).
Or, it may be something more subtle as when Christ quotes the Psalms, “For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet’” (Luke 20:42–43), where the illustration referenced kings who put their feet on the necks of their enemies as a sign of their impending execution.
Jesus consistently and constantly referenced judgment and Hell, and for that, some people turn away from Him. But they shouldn’t; instead they should rush to embrace Him.
Those who question how a loving God (Jesus) can send anyone to Hell overlook two key things. First, they fail to realize that all sin is vertical before it is horizontal. Such sin is committed against an eternal God, and thus, that sin is eternal and demands eternal punishment.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone as justice and the degree of punishment are often linked to the status or importance of the person who is the target of the offense. As an example, threaten my life and no real legal action will be taken against you. But, threaten the life of the President, and you will find yourself quickly arrested and go missing from society for a long time.
Second, anyone doubting Jesus’ moral compass on the topic of Hell should understand the unique linkage between God’s mercy and justice. It’s a fact that in every religion/faith in the world – other than Christianity – the deity/god in question dispenses mercy at the expense of its justice. For example, in Islam, if Allah grants mercy to a person, he does so by weighing their good against their bad, overlooking the crimes they have committed, and never requiring any payment for those committed crimes.
But such a thing goes against our natural moral framework as well as our legal system. We would never think a judge righteous who let a thief or murderer go free simply because they have done good works in the past. The offender needs to pay for his/her crimes.
Christianity is different. In Christianity, God dispenses mercy through His justice. The truth is, we have all sinned against an eternal God and deserve the Hell Jesus spoke of. But because God is love and loves us, He provides mercy and a way to escape eternal punishment.
But, God is also just. Someone has to pay for sin, and Jesus willingly took that bullet for those of us who put our faith in Him.
In essence, Christ did die for His Church, but He also died for God in order to satisfy His justice. Paul spells out this fact when he says, “God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25–26).
Is Jesus ‘bad’ because He taught about Hell? No, He is infinitely good in that He spoke the truth, and provides the mercy and love of God on the one hand and satisfied God’s justice at the same time for those who put their faith in Him.
What’s not to like about Jesus?
After His enemies had thrown everything and the kitchen sink at Him, the end result of Jesus’ six illegal religious and secular trials is summed up in Pilate’s words, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). Although some still try to deface His character, the same conclusion is arrived at today by those who approach Him with an honest heart and mind.
When deciding how to portray Jesus in his famed Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis chose the following way, which I think does a great job of depicting Christ’s nature and goodness: “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
 For a full refutation of universalism and Bell’s book, see my 3-part PPT presentation on slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/schumacr/heaven-hell-universalism-and-rob-bell-part-1, http://www.slideshare.net/schumacr/heaven-hell-universalism-and-rob-bell-part-2, http://www.slideshare.net/schumacr/heaven-hell-universalism-and-rob-bell-part-3