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Recently during a discussion I got smacked with the "Cosmic Child Abuse" argument. I had heard of it before, but never really had to wrestle with it in real life. I discovered that I don't actually have a satisfactory answer.

The situation: Assume Universal salvation for the sake of argument. So God loves everyone, is able to save everyone, is willing to save everyone, and will in actual fact save everyone. That's all well and good, but in order to save everyone, the father sent his son to be tortured on a cross and also (for the sake of argument) descend into the deepest depths of Hell and endure further ineffable tortures there too.

The problem: Doesn't this compromise both God's love and his justice? How was it loving for God to torture his own son? How was it just/fair for Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve?

Scope: I would be happy to hear apologetics from any tradition, seeing as this is a problem which plagues almost all if not all Christian traditions.

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    Many Christians would say that if God turned a blind eye to sin without a sacrifice , it would make him unjust.
    – aska123
    Feb 24 '18 at 1:38
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    @Chuck Well to be fair, many universalists don't think that sin is much of a problem, and your question didn't mention sin at all either. The cosmic child abuse argument is usually leveled against penal substitutionary atonement believers, not universalists.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 24 '18 at 8:32
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    How is it child abuse if Jesus is about 33 years old when he is crucified? This sounds to me like a dishonest premise is being thrown at you in the first place. Feb 25 '18 at 22:35
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According to the doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus being the Son of God means that He is fully God made manifest in human form (John 1:14). Jesus is simultaneously both fully God and fully man. As such, Jesus' crucifixion wasn't God sending someone else to be punished, but instead God taking the punishment Himself.

This, therefore, does not compromise God's love and justice, but instead is exemplary of it. It is loving because God has saved us from punishment, and it is just because "as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." (Romans 5:18-21)

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From a Christian perspective, your question contains two erroneous premises: first that every person will be saved (universal salvation) and second that “Jesus descended into the deepest depths of Hell to endure further ineffable tortures.” According to the Bible, only those persons who come to saving faith in Christ Jesus will be saved.

God is certainly full of love and mercy; it was these qualities that led Him to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die on the cross for us. Jesus Christ is the exclusive door that leads to an eternity in heaven. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If we choose to reject God’s Son, we do not meet the requirements for salvation (John 3:16, 18, 36). Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/universalism.html

The place Jesus went to after his death was not a place of torment or torture. Jesus’ suffering ended the moment He died. The payment for sin was paid. He then awaited the resurrection of His body and His return to glory in His ascension. Did Jesus go to hell? No. Did Jesus go to sheol/hades? Yes.

Some have the viewpoint that Jesus went to “hell” or the suffering side of sheol/hades in order to further be punished for our sins. This idea is completely unbiblical. It was the death of Jesus on the cross that sufficiently provided for our redemption. It was His shed blood that effected our own cleansing from sin (1 John 1:7–9). As He hung there on the cross, He took the sin burden of the whole human race upon Himself. He became sin for us: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This imputation of sin helps us understand Christ’s struggle in the garden of Gethsemane with the cup of sin which would be poured out upon Him on the cross. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/did-Jesus-go-to-hell.html

As far as the argument of Cosmic or Celestial Child Abuse goes, below is a link to a U.K. 2004 article that soundly exposes the error of the claims made by Steve Chalke. Part of the article says this:

Steve Chalke is caught in a contradiction. He wants to affirm God’s anger in some sense, but is intent on redefining God’s holiness and downplaying the seriousness of sin (p. 173). Nevertheless it is right to say that anger is a legitimate expression of God’s love. Because the Lord is righteous He loves righteousness and hates the wicked (Psalm 5:4-5; 11:5, 7). The Bible speaks plainly about God’s anger against all sin being expressed in the present and at the day of judgment (Rom. 1:18ff, 2:5-11; Eph. 5:3-6).

God’s love is not a moral weakness. If sin ought to be punished then there is nothing in God that impels Him to leave it unpunished. If God loves sinners then some way must be found for His justice to be satisfied as well.

Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Is it true that penal substitution contradicts the statement that God is love? If it is then the New Testament writers were not aware of it. Paul tells us that the God who justifies those who believe, by his grace, does so by setting forth His Son as a propitiation (Rom. 3:25). The writer to the Hebrews says that it was as a merciful High Priest that Jesus made propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17).

The apostle John tells us that God is both light (1 John 1:5) and love (3:16). ‘In this is love’, writes John, ‘not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (4:10). On the basis of this wrath-averting death Jesus acts as our advocate with the Father when we sin (2:1-2). Rather than being incompatible with love, God’s love saves sinners from His own wrath through the death of Christ (Rom. 5:8-9).

By pitting Jesus’ teaching about not ‘repaying evil for evil’ against the idea of penal substitution Steve Chalke makes a basic but telling mistake. Consider Romans 12:17, 19: ‘Repay no one evil for evil… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”‘. Retribution belongs to the righteous Judge not to private individuals. But the state is given the limited remit to punish wrongdoers, ‘For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer’ (Rom. 13:4). Source: https://banneroftruth.org/uk/resources/articles/2004/a-scandalous-attack-on-the-cross/

That is one Christian refutation to the accusation that God is guilty of “child abuse” with regard to his Son. Bear in mind that nobody forced Jesus to lay down his life for us. He did so willingly:

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:17-18).

As Cerulean Chelonii pointed out, because Jesus is part of the One Being of God, fully man and fully God, it was God who took the punishment we deserve upon Himself. Such love!

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  • I do like a lot of what you said, but one criticism on your remarks on universalism. Universalism agrees that only by a relationship with Jesus shall we be saved. Got questions doesn't seem to understand this. Universalism generally holds that people are given an eternal amount of time to accept Christ and come to him. That includes this life and after death.
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 7 at 3:38
  • @LukeHill lAppreciate the point you are making, but another comment you made (below) says "Christian universalists are not the same as Unitarian Universalists. Christian universalists do believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven". I didn't know there was a difference.
    – Lesley
    Oct 7 at 9:12
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As curiousdannii commented, "The cosmic child abuse argument is usually leveled against penal substitutionary atonement believers, not universalists." For clarity, it would be best to leave out all universal salvation ideas, for that is not necessary to give an answer. The bare bones of the question remain as: "the father sent his son to be tortured on a cross and also (for the sake of argument) descend into the deepest depths of Hell and endure further ineffable tortures there too. The problem: Doesn't this compromise both God's love and his justice? How was it loving for God to torture his own son? How was it just/fair for Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve?"

Those who do not grasp the total righteousness of God, and his requirement for cosmic justice, will never see the point of Christ's loving sacrifice on the cross. However, it is true to say that it was not 'fair' for Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve. Jesus chose to do that out of pure love for us helpless sinners.

Although God requires total, cosmic justice, he does not stick to cold-blooded justice that gives sinners only what they deserve - and all sinners deserve hell. So, for God to show mercy and love, he had to ensure that his perfect law was carried out on the cross, that everything done there fulfilled every legal requirement throughout the cosmos. And that is why the sinless Son of God submitted himself to bearing, in his body, the punishment we sinners deserve, in our place. He paid the price, as it were, because no sinner is able to do that for themself, let alone for others! As these scriptures state:

"None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever) that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption... But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me" (Psalm 49:7-9 & 15).

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law if manifested... even the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth. Jesus Christ is propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:20-28).

"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly... God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us... For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:6, 8 & 6:23).

"God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved)... But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace... that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Ephesians 2:4-16).

This destroys the Cosmic Child Abuse attack because God has satisfied his justice by showing himself entirely righteous at the cross. There was no other way to rescue sinners but by the sinless one becoming sin, in his own body, on the cross, and being punished for all sin. Having satisfied himself that sin had been punished, as his law demands, God then raised the Son from the grave, for the grave can only claim sinners, but the Son had not sinned. Now all who put their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross stand cleansed before God. The Saviour and their Lord has been punished in their place, and God will not require punishment twice!

Given how nasty the Cosmic Child Abuse attack is, how it implies that God is cruel, unjust and unloving - when the exact opposite is the case - it has all the hallmarks of coming out of the pit. It twists and deceives. But that is why I have quoted so many scriptures, so anyone can read for themselves the righteous logic of the truth, and be amazed. For it was God, in Christ, being tortured by us, not God torturing Christ. And the Father and the Son did it to vindicate God's righteousness, and to show amazing love to undeserving sinners who will bow their knee in Jesus' name once the truth dawns on them. The Holy Spirit will lead sincere ones to that point of salvation.

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Cerulean Chelonii already covered my response (as a Trinitarian) by saying that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and thus that his death is an expression of pure love and mercy while also fulfilling the requirement of justice in that punishment for sin has been exacted.

However, from a Unitarian universalist perspective, the premise seems to be flawed anyway. Sure, God will save everyone, but by what means? By the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John‬ ‭14:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

The justice of the sacrifice can be justified simply in that Jesus underwent the punishment voluntarily. This is also consistent with God's love in that God did not force His son into anything.

Additionally, since sin entered the world through one man, it is just that one man ought to be able to save the world:

“For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

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  • As I continue to point out, Christian universalists are not the same as Unitarian Universalists. Christian universalists do believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 7 at 3:40
  • I'm not seeing your point. Isn't that the belief I work from in my answer? Oct 10 at 23:59
  • Oh apologies, I'm not sure what I thought I was reading in my original comment. Ignore that, I think I just misunderstood what you were saying.
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 11 at 1:43
  • Ah, no worries! Oct 11 at 2:01
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How was it loving for God to torture his own son?

God didn't torture His own Son. We did.

How was it just/fair for Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve?

It wasn't fair, but it was God's demonstration of love.

Humanity was cursed for our sin which resulted in the consequence of death. Jesus took that curse upon Himself, on our behalf, which means if we embrace His offer on our behalf we can be given life and not have to die separated from God.

God's Justice - all sin gets punished, and love intersect perfectly on the cross.

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I tend to think about this objection in a few different ways.

Firstly, the Son isn't really like the biological child of God. It's not if you were to give birth and send your son to the cross to be sacrificed. A better way to think of the crucifixion is God making a reverse sacrifice. I don't remember where I read this, but someone made the point that the crucifixion is a parallel shift. No longer must people sacrifice to God to appease him, God is sacrificing himself to give us direct connection to him. In a way, he is sacrificing himself to us.

Secondly, Jesus willingly allowed his crucifixion. He prays in the Garden for God to take this responsibility from him, but he eventually comes around to fully accepting his responsibility. Jesus is consenting to this fate.

Hope this helps!

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As a crude analogy, God sending his Son to die on the cross is as much child abuse as a father sending his son to war. He didn't kill his son; others did. Though he knew his son would be killed, it was for a righteous cause.


How was it loving for God to torture his own son?

God didn't torture Jesus. Mankind did, with the acceptance of Christ.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5, KJV


How was it just/fair for Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve?

It's not fair. It's merciful. Our relationship is not reciprocal; we benefit from him more than he does from us.

We love him, because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19, KJV


the father sent his son to be tortured on a cross

There was desire but no coercion; Jesus did out of pure love. Like all men, Jesus had free choice and he chose to yield his will to the Father's. And the Father's desire was that he redeem mankind.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Matthew 26:39, KJV


Doesn't this compromise both God's love and his justice?

Justice is what demanded an atonement for the sin. Love provided the atonement by a divine being.

The specifics get into various theories of justification in Christianity. For example, the Book of Mormon offers a version of satisfaction theory:

What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.

And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.

And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.

Alma 42:25, 42:14-15, Book of Mormon

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