Hi everyone! I have always struggled with the popular Christian line of ‘if you were the only one on earth, Christ would die for you.’ I guess I’m hoping to find Scriptural evidence for this concept. In the Old Testament, it seems like many people were kind of disregarded by God. He showed great love and patience for Israel but killed other nations (which I understand is a whole new topic), but I’m trying to figure out if this thought aligns with God’s unchanging character. Thank you!!
@Chelsea_Casali That is a great question. My short answer would be that God is and always has been and always will be both just and merciful - just to punish wickedness and merciful to all who call upon His name. In the case of the Canaanites, they refused to repent for hundreds of years while God patiently allowed His own people to suffer in Egypt and so judgment came upon them at last.
I think that this specific idea that Christ would die for you even if you were the only sinner comes from the idea that God loves all people and desires them to repent. As we see in Romans, God proves His love by dying for us. And of course this includes every single one of us.
Romans 5:8 - But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!
I Timothy 2:1-4 - I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Acts 17:26-27 - From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
Romans 2:14-16 - (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
God created the world intent on us belonging to His family. He has done everything within His power to show us His love and glory. He does not write anyone off. He looks upon the heart of all men. You may find the following thread helpful in terms of how God judges all people fairly because He knows their heart and what opportunity they have had to be exposed to the truth.
Did God Write Off the Canaanites?
One thing that we all need to understand about God is that He judges nations. He raises them up and He brings them down. In the case of the Canaanites / Amorites / Perezites God gave them a few hundred years to repent, but they only grew more wicked during that time - sacrificing their children alive to idols and committing many other evil deeds.
Daniel 7:20-22 - May the name of God
be praised forever and ever,
for wisdom and power belong to Him.
21 He changes the times and seasons;
He removes kings and establishes kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those
who have understanding.
22 He reveals the deep and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
and light dwells with Him.
Genesis 15:16 - In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.
For a fuller answer to this question about the Canaanites, please see the following thread.
Wow @SeanO, your response is so helpful. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed reading through your comments on those previous posts, as I have always struggled with the “harshness” of God in the Old Testament. Reading those Scripture passages and the history of the Canaanites helps me to see the character of God in a different light. I have struggled with questioning the justness of God very much this year, so your response was helpful. Thanks again!
@Chelsea_Casali Glad it helped I’m always amazed that whenever I encounter a roadblock in my understanding of God’s character - patient study always sheds light and puts me once again in awe of God’s mercy, love and justice.
@Chelsea_Casali, I’m glad you were able to find some helpful answers from the linked threads and @SeanO’s thoughts. How God reveals Himself in the OT always seems a bit harsh to me, so it’s something I, too, have had to wrestle with…esp. when trying to explain to His consistency of character throughout the ages to those who see the OT narrative as immoral!
But I was curious about your question in the title of this thread as well, as it was an interesting thought experiment for me. I personally find the statement ‘If you were the only one on earth, Christ would die for you.’ really unhelpful and not a great way to illustrate how God loves humanity, so I can see how you would struggle with it in more ways than one!
I personally do not see any evidence for that concept in either in actual life or Scripture. That is, I am not alone on this earth, and who’s to say what would be if the world was any different. The world that is conceptualised in this question/statement is a world that does not exist. Not one of us, even Adam was not meant to be alone! I mean, my question in response to that one is, if there was only one human on earth ever, would Christ (the second person of the Triune God) need to die at all?
Jesus came to live and die not just to fix our individual relationship with God, but to renew our earthly relationships as well. I believe that we can think about our salvation in individual terms, but we can’t only stay in the individual. We weren’t meant to be separated from the whole. God loves and is renewing his whole creation, which includes all of humanity.
All that to say, I can see how you’re confused!
@KMac actually this is really helpful to see that this question is thought experiment about a world that does not exist.
If there is one thing we want very deeply as humans it’s relationships - to know and be known by people very deeply. We seem to keep mucking them up very badly,
I also resonate with your statement and it has troubled me somewhat over the years - especially growing up in a denomination that in retrospect, probably leant towards ‘hell fire and brimstone preaching’, and not quite enough about God’s unconditional love through Jesus Christ. I liked how theBibleProject put it in some of their videos - that God is committed to bringing about restoration of his Creation, first through individuals such as Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, and then through Abraham. Also, when I learnt later on about the Canaanite practice of sacrificing children to Molech, it make me recoil in such horror at the thought of ‘How could they!!’ (I have one daughter, and am uncle to 8 other of the most beautiful kids) - it rocks me to the core at this practice . Consider how brutal the Canaanite society was at that stage - and what would happen if God left things unchanged and did not step in. As the BibleProject puts it, man without God just become brutes and beasts…
In particular, I’ve now started to understand that actually God was just as fair to the nation of Israel - and used the most pagan and violent nation on earth to judge them - the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. As part of a parable, In Luke 12:48, it says basically ‘to whom much has been given, much will be required’. I won’t re-hash the whole parable: https://www.gotquestions.org/much-given-required.html
Actually, come to think of it that is a phrase repeated in so many of the ‘hero’ movies. ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’, I think its the line from the Spiderman movie…
Anyway, I digress, what I was trying to say was God gave Israel much privilege and responsibility, and then He also allowed them to go into Exile under many harsh and pagan nations, including up to the Roman empire under which Jesus ministered.
Also, I have a question which I’m hoping @SeanO will see (but understand you do so much on this forum so I completely understand if you don’t have time to answer ) - I have been troubled also by the passage in 1 Samuel 15 (whole chapter) where the Israelites were commanded to wipe out the Amalekites during King Saul’s day, and Saul got into trouble by the prophet Samuel for not killing everything, including the cows and the sheep. Saul’s reason for not doing this was he was keeping the cows and sheep for sacrifices. This seemed to be one of the key turning points in Saul starting to spiral down from his very good start of his Kingship. I have wondered basically why God would want King Saul to kill the sheep and cows? Is this hyperbole or litteral? I have read your posted links, and have also seen the use of hyperbole explained in the Joshua video from 5:03 onwards… question 2) Did God initiate a Genocide?
Some of these areas, I’ve had to put into the ‘I have no idea basket’ temporarily - and I recognise that I’m not God. In the conclusion of the Book of Job video - where God takes Job on a virtual tour of the universe: and doesn’t answer his questions directly, but says ‘imagine the complexities of carrying out justice and mercy in an entire history of the human race’. Like today, consider the size of the world, all the interlocking relationships that we have with each other, and how incredibly complex all these relationships - and how complex it is for the Sovereign God to allow human free will completely - but up to a point - like the Canaanites where ‘Their iniquity was not yet full’.
Like @SeanO said in a previous discussion about the Law - Jesus summarized it so perfectly: Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbour as yourself. On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Sorry to quote the BibleProject guys so much, but I love them as I’m a visual learner and really enjoy their podcasts etc) they summarize it by saying God is primarily concerned how we treat each other - showing Jesus unconditional love to another. Imagine heaven, it’s going to be incredible: where we are able to have this deep longing for perfect relationships with each other fulfilled - to know and to be known by others eternally - and to know the love of Jesus face to face!!
I hope this is a helpful contribution…
@matthew.western There are three reasons I have personally encountered that the animals may have been killed. I think (1) or (2) is most likely given that, as you mentioned, the language of wiping out ‘all’ is often hyperbole. Bestiality would explain why they had to kill the animals in some cities and not in others - if one city was notorious for that practice, they would not want to keep the animals.
1 - bestiality was common and the animals may have been polluted in a very vile manner, leaving them unfit to be kept alive
2 - the Israelites were executing God’s wrath, but if they had kept the spoil other nations could have accused them of attacking them for selfish gain - to avoid this misunderstanding the beasts also had to perish
3 - to show that God’s judgment was total
The reason, perhaps, of God’s ordering the beasts to be all killed, upon this and some other occasions of this sort, was, that the neighbouring nations might know that these terrible executions of the Israelites upon some particular nations, did not proceed from any views of profit or interest to themselves, but were done in obedience to the commands of the Lord of all, to punish those whose iniquity was full. For, had the Israelites been allowed to spare the cattle (which were then the chief riches of the nations) on these occasions, they would have appeared rather as the murderers of these people, for the sake of their riches, than the ministers of God’s wrath, to punish nations whose abominations made them ripe for destruction. - Benson Commentary
an ox, or any other creature, might not be spared, lest it should be said, as Kimchi observes, this was the spoil of Amalek, and so the name and memory of Amalek would not be blotted out. Gill’s Commentary
As the following two articles point out, bestiality was common in some of these societies and it would hardly be fitting to keep animals that may have been polluted in this manner.
Probably the ultimate sexual depravity is intercourse with animals. Hittite Laws: 199 states, “If anyone has intercourse with a pig or a dog, he shall die. If a man has intercourse with a horse or a mule, there is no punishment.”18 As with incest, the penalty for having sex with animals decreased about the fourteenth century BC.19
There should be no surprise that bestiality would occur among the Canaanites, since their gods practiced it. From the Canaanite epic poem “The Baal Cycle” we learn: “Mightiest Baal hears / He makes love with a heifer in the outback / A cow in the field of Death’s Realm. / He lies with her seventy times seven / Mounts eighty times eight / [She conceiv]es and bears a boy.”20
There were absolutely no prohibitions against bestiality in the rest of the ANE.21 In fact, in an Egyptian dream book it was a bad omen for a woman to dream about embracing her husband, but good things would happen if she dreamed of intercourse with a baboon, wolf, or he-goat.22 In short, their sexual fantasies involved everything that breathes.
This explains why, in certain cities, Yahweh sentenced to death everything that breathes. If they had sex with just about every living thing they could get their hands on, and they did, then all had to die. Dawkins objects that it adds “injury to insult” that “the unfortunate beast is to be killed too.”23 But Dawkins doesn’t seem to grasp that no one would want to have animals around who were used to having sex with humans.24 Moreover, this might also explain why God used a flood to destroy what Dawkins called the “presumably blameless” animals in the days of Noah.25 If pre-flood humankind frequently had sex with every imaginable animal, then even though it wasn’t the animals’ fault, it would be harmful to allow these animals to be a part of God’s start-over society.
canaanites.pdf (873.7 KB)
Thanks @SeanO, again for the very in depth answers.
This would also make sense why God would not want any of the animals in King Saul’s conquest in 1 Samuel 15 to be used in the sacrificial system. Saul’s excuse that he wanted to use them for sacrifices was invalid because using them would not have been unacceptable anyway.
The sacrifice of a lamb, without blemish, was required for the sin offering - this pointed forward the perfect Saviour, Jesus Christ - who died on our behalf.
This also reminds me of what Andy Stanley said in a message series - sorry i forget which one exactly - That of the 19 laws in Leviticus in relation to Israel having purity in sexual relations, 17 of those laws are still considered ‘socially unacceptable’ in our modern culture. It might have been the series ‘The Bible for grownups’ from memory…
thanks again for the answers - extremely helpful and answered my question completely.
@matthew.western Glad to hear it was helpful Hadn’t heard that statistic from the Andy Stanley message - that is an interesting point and a reminder that the law of God is written upon the human heart.
I’m encouraged by your desire for biblical support here. All of our beliefs as Christians should be born out of, and therefore supported by, the Bible. But, because of our nature, it can be so tempting for us try to read something we want to be true into what the Bible says (eisegesis), rather than going to the Bible and letting it tell us what the truth is (exegesis). As someone who used to use the phrase you mentioned but no longer does, perhaps I can share why.
In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, Paul warns us against making confident assertions based on unsound doctrine because it can result in speculation and vain discussion. As you know, the Bible tells us what is rather than what could or might have been. Put another way, the Bible deals in truth rather than speculation. Specifically, the Bible tells us how things are in the world God actually chose to create.
As you rightly said, God’s character is unchanging: his holiness, his lordship, his sovereignty, his love, his justice, et al. He is always these things and cannot not be these things. However, what we’re talking about here with God saving people pertains to God’s mercy. And, by definition, mercy is never obligatory. As God said to Moses in Exodus 33:19, and as Paul references in Romans 9:15, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone, but he is always just. And it’s this very truth that makes the mercy and grace displayed at the cross so stunning and such spectacularly good news.
From Scripture, we know that God has chosen to save people in this world. But, as Kathleen rightly pointed out, Scripture doesn’t speak of a possible world with only one person, so I don’t think we can know if God would have saved the only person he created in this speculative world. And the reason why I don’t think we can speculate out God’s mercy to another possible world is because, again, God is not obligated to save anyone. If God had chosen to create a world with only one person in it, he could have chosen to give this one person justice rather than mercy and this wouldn’t have violated any of his unchanging attributes.
However, my concern lies more with the reason behind this statement. What are we trying to accomplish when we use this phrase you’re asking about? I used it to try to better communicate God’s mercy and grace as displayed through the cross of Christ. However, by going beyond what Scripture says, I was assuming and implying that what God chose to reveal in his Word was insufficient to communicate his mercy and grace.
With respect to God’s justice and mercy as displayed in the Old Testament, we do see both, just as we do in the New Testament as well as today. And I find it helpful to keep in mind that God could have ended humanity with Adam and Eve immediately after their first sin, or at any point in the Old or New Testament. But, out of his mercy, he didn’t. In the Old Testament, just as in the New Testament as well as today, we have two groups of people: those who receive God’s justice and those who receive his mercy. But no one receives injustice. God is always just. No sin enjoys impunity. Yet, when we see our holy God’s justice displayed towards deserving people in the Old Testament or New Testament or today, we can tend to be more astonished by it than we are by his mercy towards undeserving people.
So, to your question about God’s unchanging character, God is always just, but he does not always have to be merciful. And so, we can see him choose to exercise his justice towards some, and choose to show his mercy toward others, all from an unchanging, just and holy God.
@Brian_Weeks When you say that God ‘is always just, but he does not always have to be merciful’ and describe Him as ‘just and holy’ I agree in a sense, but I think the emphasis is in the wrong place. When God revealed Himself to Moses - which is one of the few places God describes His own attributes in the Bible and therefore a very important passage - the emphasis is on His graciousness and love. God chooses to place His love and mercy first - and then to conclude with a warning that the guilty will not go unpunished. God never ceases to be compassionate and never desires the wicked to perish, but He cannot let evil go unpunished.
The way you phrased it makes it sound like God is only compassionate sometimes but generally is more focused on justice, but I think God clearly emphasizes that His compassion never ceases and that He is faithful even when we are faithless. I agree it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God - but I think we must be very careful to emphasize God’s attributes in the same way that He does.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem even though it was wicked and would soon be destroyed. Even in His justice God never ceases to have compassion - even for the wicked. I expect we agree on this point, but I think the way you phrased that did not communicate the correct emphasis.
What it communicated to me is ‘God is always just, but He is not always merciful’. However, I think it is more accurate to say God is always both righteous and compassionate - sometimes He is executing justice and sometimes extending mercy - but He never ceases to be either righteous or compassionate. In a way, I think you could say that God is merciful in His judgments. I do not think mercy must be set aside while justice is done. God waited 400 years for the sin of the Amorites to reach its full measure while His own people were in Egypt to give the Amorites (an evil people) a chance to repent and turn from evil - that is merciful. But in the end He still had to enact justice because He is righteous. His judgment was both gracious and compassionate.
Exodus 34:4-7 - So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Hey Sean! How was your Christmas? I hope it was a joyful one.
Thanks for the opportunity to clarify my terms. By justice, I simply meant punishing deserving sinners. And by mercy, I simply meant withholding due punishment from undeserving sinners. Amazing grace, indeed.
I hope this helps shed some light on what I had in view here. Thanks, again, for the opportunity.
@Brian_Weeks It was very enjoyable - lots of food, family and friends. I think I gained a few pounds How was yours?
Thanks for clarifying. I think that those definitions may be a bit narrow - even if I look up ‘justice’ in a Bible dictionary the definition actually includes equity and patience. Justice and mercy mean more than withholding punishment or punishing. I’m not sure of the best way to rephrase that idea - maybe ‘God’s grace in the lives of believers should surprise us more than His wrath upon those who reject His offer of mercy’.
Psalms 30:5 - For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Justice: Conforming or conformable to rectitude or justice; not doing wrong to any; violating no right or obligation; upright; righteous; honest; true; – said both of persons and things. (Websters)
Justice (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary): God, the Righteous Judge . Justice is rooted in the very nature of God ( Isa 40:14 ). He evenhandedly rewards good, and he does not ignore the sins of any ( Psalm 33:5 ; Psalms 37:6Psalms 37:28 ; 97:2 ; 99:4 ). Human judges do well to remember God in their courts. God does not take bribes ( Deut 10:17 ) or pervert justice in any way ( Gen 18:25 ; 2 Chron 19:7 ).
At the same time, God rarely delivers instant justice. The world does not seem fair while evil still abounds, and so the oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf ( Psalm 7:9 ; Prov 29:26 ). Their prayers may even take the form of a complaint ( Hab 1:2-4 ),although people must not challenge God’s essential justice ( Job 40:8 ; Mal 2:17 ). That God will decisively intervene in the future is the biblical hope.
Is this the appropriate place to apply James 2:13? “For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”
@monicahall2448 How do you personally see James 2:13 applying in this situation? When looking up that verse in commentaries I actually ran across a Shakespeare quote about ‘mercy seasoning justice’ - I thought that was helpful poetic language.
“Earthly power doth then shew likest God’s, When mercy seasons justice.”
Shakespeare. Merchant of Venice, iv. 1.
If we consider Jesus’ own teaching, it seems James is referencing two places specifically. Jesus was clear that mercy will be shown to those who show mercy. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus is also clear that those who show no mercy will not receive mercy. This seems to be the point that James is making.
Matthew 5:7 - Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
In Matthew 18, the master forgave his servant a great debt, but then that servant went and threw his own servant in jail for owing a much smaller debt. When the master found out, he did to that wicked servant just as he had done to his own servant - threw him in jail.
Matthew 18:32-25 - “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
So, it seems that James is here telling us that if we show mercy to others we may receive God’s mercy. This statement makes sense in the context of James 2, since James is addressing those who favor the rich over the poor in the Church. Such favoritism is a lack of mercy and not in keeping with God’s character.
I don’t necessarily think this passage from James is directly addressing God’s character, but rather addressing how God judges us in light of our treatment of others. However, it does indirectly reflect the value God places upon mercy in our dealings with others since we have received such mercy from Him.
Since being created in the image and likeness of God, anything good in me is obviously a reflection of Him since in Genesis we’re told man’s heart is evil from his youth. Thus while in James is concerned with horizontal relationships it seems we can learn something from it about the Lord.
Thanks for your reply. The aim in my thoughts behind the words justice and mercy was to respond to Chelsea’s original question. It seems one could speculate, but not know. But, I wonder, is there a benefit to speculation? And, in the interest of clear communication, if my use of the words justice and mercy are a stumbling block to the ideas I shared above that are behind them, I’m happy for them to be ignored and replaced with the ideas.
So, with respect to the original question in view, it seems one could respond with:
Yes, with certainty.
No, with certainty.
I’m interested in your response! I read your replies, but I’m not certain I understand your answer. It seems your short answer is, Yes, with certainty.
Am I misunderstanding your short answer? If so, could you help me better understand your short answer? If someone asked me this question, what might be some good follow up questions I could ask them to help me better understand the reason they’re asking their question?
And our Christmas was good! I even lost a few pounds, if you count adjusting the calibration on the scale before stepping on it.
@monicahall2448 Yes, I certainly think we can concludes something about God’s character. Would you agree that we can conclude something similar to what we find in the following verses? That God shows no favoritism, so we ought to treat others with the love and grace He has treated us.
Ephesians 6:9 - And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Acts 10:34 - Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
Colossians 3:25 - Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
@Brian_Weeks Ah, I forgot to adjust the scale before weighing myself Knew I was missing something.
I agree with @KMac that the question itself is based on the false premise that you could ever be the only person on earth. There is no such world. Christ died for the Church - the community of faith.
The answer that I gave was attempting to get behind the question and answer the questioner. Clearly the person posing this question is asking another question - does God really love me as an individual? Does God care about me? And for that question, we have lots and lots of Biblical evidence that the answer is yes, definitely. The cross proves God’s love.
Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.