Does God Grade on The Curve?

Last week, in the classic Peanuts comic strip reruns, Linus and Charlie Brown are deeply involved in a theological question. Linus asks Charlie if God will grade us on a percentage or a curve after we die. Charlie responds with confidence, “On a curve naturally.” Linus questions Charlie’s confidence to which the latter responds, “I’m always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.”

Charlie Brown’s response reflects the opinion of many people today. I emphasize the word opinion because that is exactly what it is whenever people try to figure out God on their own terms. It usually ends up in the same place: We imagine Him to be like us and think like us.

We have been created in God’s image, and we try to return the favor by creating God in our image. None of us, however, not even the greatest minds, can accurately describe God. Unless God reveals Himself to us, we will fail to understand Him. Note that I use the personal pronoun “Him” with a capital H. That is because I believe God has introduced Himself to us in the Bible. God is a Person, not an influence or part of the creation. He is transcendent, which is another way of saying He is out of this world. He is unique and beyond human comprehension. Yet He is also personal. He loves us and became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

But let’s return for a moment to Linus’ honest question about God grading on a curve. Like Charlie Brown, many people prefer that kind of God. They don’t want a God who is righteous—always doing everything by the book and never bending the rules. In their estimation, that kind of God would be too harsh to be good.

The point of today’s visit on the Front Porch Swing boils down to this: How can God be good if He condemns a person to Hell? To be good, some believe God must grade on the curve. He should look at our good intentions, rather than our words or deeds. He should (if He is really good) realize how difficult it is to never do the wrong thing or always do the right thing. Like an elderly benevolent professor, God should grade us on the curve. Perhaps that is what you believe as well. But let’s think about that.

Would an earthly judge be considered good if they ignored the very laws they had sworn to uphold? Would they be a good judge if they excused a convicted murderer, just because he had also done good things in the community—maybe donating to local charities or volunteering at the public library? If a judge rendered sentences based on the reasoning that a person’s good deeds justified or excused an act of pre-meditated murder, would you respect that judge? Would they be a “just” judge if they put a murderer back on the streets? Of course not! We want the judge to carry out justice, to punish the convicted felon, not to release him just because he had also done good things.

So why would we expect anything less from God? If He is the supreme judge and righteous (always doing what is right), shouldn’t He apply the Law consistently? To expect God to bend the rules and grade on the curve is to make Him unrighteous and unholy. He would not be good. He would be evil.

I illustrate with an extreme example. Would God be good if He judged Hitler based his supposed positive motivations? Hitler wanted to raise Germany out of the depressive results of the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. His nation had been so utterly broken by the terms of that treaty that it seemed she would never rise again. Hitler’s methods and his motivations were clearly evil. Hitler’s hellish attempt to destroy the entire Jewish race and to create a united Europe under the authority of Germany was incalculably evil—and probably satanic. But what about his “good intentions” to rebuild his broken nation?

Should God judge Hitler on the curve and give him less than the F he deserves? Of course not! That wouldn’t be fair or just.

So why should God judge me any less fairly? I too am a law breaker—even though I have never robbed, raped, or murdered. But have I hated and lusted? I certainly have. Have I lied to save my own skin? Guilty as charged. According to the Book, I am guilty. I am a sinner deserving separation from God both here-and-now and for eternity. That is what the Law requires. God, the judge, will not grade me on the curve for the bad things I haven’t done or for the good things I have done. Serving as a pastor for over 45 years won’t earn one point on the final exam. I deserve a failing grade. I deserve death and separation from God forever. I deserve Hell, just like Hitler.

So if God never grades on the curve and if everybody is a sinner, a lawbreaker deserving death and hell, how can I ever hope to enter heaven? One thing is certain; Peter won’t be standing there jangling his keys and asking me what I have done to deserve entrance. There won’t be a cosmic scale there to see if my good deeds outweigh bad behavior. I deserve to hear the righteous Judge say, “He is guilty. Send him away where he deserves to live forever in hell.”

Okay, that sounds harsh. Even in my ears. But that’s also the way it is. I didn’t write the book nor can I adjust the Law to suit my fancy. But I can appeal to God’s mercy and grace. I can admit my guilt and repent or turn away from trying to stack up brownie points. I can and have placed my faith and complete confidence in the fact Jesus died in my place and paid my debt in full. The sentence against me has been served; the Law has been satisfied. The Judge can remain just and righteous when He pronounces me innocent of all charges against me and goes a step further by pronouncing me as righteous as His Son who paid my debt.

That is the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. That is biblical truth.

Here’s the bottom line: God cannot be good or remain good by ignoring or bending the rules. But He was good and perfectly righteous when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to cancel the debt that I owe by serving the entire death sentence in my place. Now that is the most amazing good deed possible!

Sorry, Charlie Brown, God doesn’t grade on the curve, and really, I’m glad about that. Why? Because He can only be good if He is also just. He can only remain just if He enforces the Law faithfully and fairly. And somehow, in the wonder of His mercy, He has found a way for this failing student to pass the test and enter into His heaven.

That’s Reality with a capital “R.”

That’s also Grace with a capital “G.”





Two Essentials

One word, incarnation, describes how we can more effectively serve others—from the man on the corner with the cardboard sign to our next-door neighbors.

The opening words of John’s gospel describe the biblical strategy for really making a difference on our culture. It’s interesting where the apostle begins his account of Jesus’ life. Unlike Matthew and Luke, John shares nothing about shepherds, wise men, stars, or baby Jesus in a manger.

John goes way back before any of those events. He begins in eternity.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14, niv)

There it is in black and white: Our mission, model and strategy for penetrating our culture with the Good News of salvation.

Obviously, you and I can’t replicate the first three verses. We weren’t there before the beginning of time, we don’t enjoy a relationship as God’s equal, and we didn’t create the universe out of nothing.

Even so, our great Example shines with unparalleled beauty and power in the words of John 1:14. The Second Person of the Trinity took on a body of flesh to become one with us. Or to say it another way, Jesus moved in next door. This is the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas.

Jesus’ disciples could clearly see what had previously been invisible. They could touch, even embrace, what had once been only spiritual. They could even break bread with God-in-flesh, drinking out of the same cup!

Jesus chose to live among people with great needs. He came “to seek and to save the lost.” One day Jesus met a man with advanced leprosy and heard the man’s plea for help. He did an amazing thing by reaching out to touch the man, an individual who hadn’t felt another human touch for years beyond memory. Even before the leprosy evaporated, that touch had begun to heal a deeper wound. The leper knew in that moment that he was loved and valued; he was no longer homeless, because Jesus had taken the time and had dared to break cultural taboos against lepers.

I can do that! So can you! There are no lepers where you or I live, but there are plenty of opportunities to touch another person with love and compassion.

Jesus also befriended another man who was considered just as untouchable as the leper. Zacchaeus was considered socially unclean. The “good” people in Jericho never broke bread with Zach. He might as well have been covered with dreaded leprosy. Yet Jesus invited Himself to spend the evening with this social outcast, eventually welcoming him into the very heart of God’s family.

You and I can do that, too. We can spend time with and eat a meal with someone outside the family of God. Yes, it might take a little looking to locate that Zach, Jeff, or Julie. They probably won’t be up halfway up a tree looking for us, but he or she may feel every bit as empty and filled with longing as Zacchaeus did in that roadside sycamore.

Finally, John adds, “We beheld His glory.” He saw God’s glory when he looked at Jesus. That really stirs me. As majestic as the universe is, God’s glory is incomparably greater. What we could never know about God from observing the Creation Jesus has demonstrated through His actions and words. God’s love, mercy and grace were on full display in the Christ. Those tender attributes of God that we love and cherish and sing about blazed from His life like the rising sun. We can, at least in part, do that today.

We can demonstrate God’s grace and mercy in our relationships. We can, in one sense, be Jesus’ hands to touch someone in need. His voice to encourage them in their discouragement, cynicism, or near despair.

Let’s say, then, that we do have such an opportunity. Where do we take the conversation? Some say we should lean toward grace, and avoid speaking words of truth that might offend. We must “adjust” the truth to make it more palatable. Others may lean more heavily on the truth side. If the truth hurts, so be it. Let them have it! Truth, however, is not a weapon to bruise, but a map pointing the way out of darkness into light.

Jesus always held truth and love in perfect harmony. They were not two clashing musical notes. The Bible says that He was “full of grace and truth.” He never ignored a person’s lostness but always pointed the way home. He never diminished the Father’s holiness or minced words that needed to be spoken, and yet He always extended grace and mercy. Jesus was never rude, but He never failed to expose hypocrisy. Every sermon He preached and every conversation He had was always balanced with grace and truth.

If I am going to make a difference in my community, I must deliberately build relationships with grace and mercy but also speak the truth in love. And no one ever said that would be easy.

May I never be like the physician who fails to warn his patient about a terminal diagnosis, so that they can prepare appropriately. I need to demonstrate radical grace while sharing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So help me Jesus.

If you are a Christ-follower today because someone cared enough to share both truth and grace with you why not share your story with us?

Who is your Zach or Julie? What is your strategy for encouraging them to become a Christ-follower?

Thanks for visiting The Front Porch Swing today. Please invite your friends to join us.