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Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Hell

A question from the Reddit thread of questions we theists supposedly can’t answer (but we really can, but if we do, then we’re full of it because we’re not supposed to have all of the answers, but if we don’t have all of the answers theism is false; atheism makes my head spin–I’m way too consistent in my personal judgments to ever embrace atheism!).

This question concerns hell, and it’s a common one:

How can God’s love be unlimited if there is hell?

Hell is a fate to which humans consign themselves.  God is basically the ultimate respecter of persons.  He has laid the cards on the table–no matter how deeply we penetrate the black box of existence, it becomes increasingly complex and ordered.  No matter how far we probe the cosmos, the evident beginning of everything is found.  Ultimately, it all points to a First Cause that is itself an intelligent creator–a person, God the Father.

Jesus, the second person of God–the Son, has revealed the Father to mankind by becoming one of us.  The wrath of God against ungodliness has been appeased in the sacrifice of the Son to those who have faith (active faith, faith that does something; different from mere assent to a certain worldview).

From the Father and the Son comes the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of God’s action in the world.  He calls us, convicts us of our sin, and regenerates us in faith to become sons of God and conform to the image of Christ.

The cards are on the table, and they are many and obvious.  But no one is  coerced to love God.  I don’t believe loving God is choice per se; rather, it is a revelation of something already inside you from the start.  Being a Christian isn’t something that you do once in an altar call, but a lifelong journey of self-discovery.

If you refuse the free gift of grace, living life apart from God, God doesn’t snuff you out of existence (though we could argue that he would be justified in doing so).  Instead, he allows you to remain in tact, living both on earth and into eternity.  The soul was created for eternal fellowship with God, to snuff a person out of existence would be to violate the ontology of the soul.  Make it something that it isn’t.  So, what to do with the soul that rejects God?

Well, heaven with God wouldn’t be nice.  If you rebel against and ultimately reject the fellowship of someone (such as divorcing a spouse), you don’t want to spend a solid second with that person ever again–let alone all of eternity!  It would be worse torture than, well, hell.  Cruel, even.

I’ve heard many an atheist express sentiments like this.  Over the course of keeping this blog and venturing into discussion forums with various atheists (such as Theology Web, the Rational Response Squad discussion board, the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees forums, and the Is God Imaginary forums), I’ve heard several times over things like, “I’d rather spend eternity in hell than be in heaven with your God!”

This is predicted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-31).  In it, a rich man dies and goes to (presumably) hell, while a beggar named Lazarus ascends to (presumably) heaven.  When the rich man realizes that he’s lost, does he try to alter his fate?  Nope–all he does is ask for a drink of water, something that would satisfy his immediate need only.  Then, he wants to warn his family so that they won’t suffer the same fate.  Notice: he doesn’t want out of hell!

This is why C.S. Lewis observed, wisely I think, that the doors of hell are locked from the inside.  No one is there that doesn’t want to be there.

Hell is perdition and separation.  It is, ultimately, what the sinner wants–total separation from God.  God is giving him his way.  However, for those who submit to God’s way rather than their own, glorification in heaven awaits, and eternal fellowship with God.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on April 25, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Sin, Theology, WWGHA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. To me, the concepts of a “hell” and “god” (gods) are flawed.
    These conversations arise out of frustation, fear, and possibly lack of anything better to do. People decide to wade into this meaningless fray and discuss these non-issues. That’s my opinion which I know as fact.
    Out of this, I’m genuinely happy that you are delighted to believe you have provided some penetrating truth.
    As a human being you have my respect and freedom to believe what you want to believe, without ostracizing those that do not or forcing your beliefs on them. I am under no obligation to pretend any of this has any meaning, but I recognize you as a fellow human and do not wish you any harm/displeasure.

    • I probably should just let this go, since I literally have nothing nice to say and I’m probably just going to get the “turn the other cheek” verses thrown in my face by your fellow atheists–all of whom I appreciate far more than you because they have much more intelligent and probing comments to leave.

      So, I talk about God and hell because I’m frustrated, afraid, and perhaps even bored? Wow.

      If these are non-issues, and you are so convinced that your opinion is actually fact, then why bother reading my replies at all?

      I don’t believe for a second that you actually respect me. You appear to hold me in utter contempt. You believe that I’m either deluded or bored, the only conceivable reasons (in your mind) that I have to discuss these non-issues. If you ever open your shut-tight-and-deadbolted mind a centimeter or two and suddenly become willing to entertain what I have to say, then stop back and we’ll talk. Until then, I suggest you move on.

  2. You think you’re able to sufficiently answer the unanswerable questions we ask theists, but when you do, we don’t think you’re full of it or not supposed to have the answers, we’re just easily able to find logical flaws in your answers and every time we point them out, theists ignore us, hurl insults, call ad hominem attacks and straw-man arguments, and storm off. It gets frustrating for us to keep dealing with people like that. BTW, atheism is not something you embrace. It’s a conclusion that you come to after taking off your religion goggles, learning to question your beliefs and to follow all roads of inquiry even if you don’t like where it leads. It usually starts and ends with a choice not unlike the blue pill/red pill from The Matrix, where the red pill is science and reason, and the blue pill is turning a blind eye to science and reason in order to cling to your blind faith. I’m not saying you’re unreasonable, just that you let blind faith cloud your judgement of what is fact.

    “No matter how far we probe the cosmos, the evident beginning of everything is found.”
    Religious people always assume they have the answers to currently unanswerable questions when, in fact, it’s just a guess. I’m not gonna argue about how you know that what you know is true (which I’m assuming is the Bible and personal subjective experiences), but science doesn’t claim to know what the beginning of the universe was or that it’s unfindable without faith.

    “Ultimately, it all points to a First Cause that is itself an intelligent creator–a person, God the Father.”
    Leap in logic. Firstly, no evidence suggests the First Cause was an intelligent creator, that’s just a random guess. Secondly, even if we assume that there was an intelligent creator, that doesn’t automatically make your god that creator. You have no grounds to single out your specific god out of all the hundreds of gods that have been conceived of in all of human history.

    Lastly, the idea of heaven and hell are both equally undesirable. Hell is obvious. The reason other atheists say heaven is undesirable is because no one wants to spend eternity in submission to a god that condones slavery, sexism, rape, murder in his own name, etc. God has done nothing worthy of submission but he’s done much to call him a tyrant and not even Jesus’s word and “sacrifice” can change that.

    Further, living for eternity, in itself, takes the meaning away from life. Atheists believe life is all the more precious because it’s so short and it’s the only life we have. Therefore, we want to enjoy our lives and make life enjoyable for other people too. Many atheists make that their life purpose. To create heaven on earth. No need for god to be good.

    • Your answer leaves me to wonder if you’ve actually read anything that I’ve wrote, or that other theists have wrote. The vast majority of what you’re writing is immature reasoning; typical talking points that lack any sort of depth. When an atheist first enters the atheist/theist debate at age 14, right after reading The God Delusion, he typically says exactly what you are right now. So, I’ll try to make this quick so you can digest everything before mommy and daddy make you go night-night.

      You think you’re able to sufficiently answer the unanswerable questions we ask theists, but when you do, we don’t think you’re full of it or not supposed to have the answers, we’re just easily able to find logical flaws in your answers and every time we point them out, theists ignore us, hurl insults, call ad hominem attacks and straw-man arguments, and storm off. It gets frustrating for us to keep dealing with people like that.

      Welcome to my world. I feel the exact same way about atheists! Now, I don’t think that I’m able to sufficiently answer everything, since most of the time when I state my case all I get in reply from atheists are a bunch of red herrings. Maybe, in your opinion, your replies aren’t red herrings. But trust me, that’s the way most of us theists view your “logical” replies to our responses.

      BTW, atheism is not something you embrace. It’s a conclusion that you come to after taking off your religion goggles, learning to question your beliefs and to follow all roads of inquiry even if you don’t like where it leads.

      Talking point #1.

      It usually starts and ends with a choice not unlike the blue pill/red pill from The Matrix, where the red pill is science and reason, and the blue pill is turning a blind eye to science and reason in order to cling to your blind faith. I’m not saying you’re unreasonable, just that you let blind faith cloud your judgement of what is fact.

      Faith doesn’t have to be at odds with reason; reason can inform faith and strengthen it.

      Of course, you’re probably operating from a faulty definition of “faith,” believing it to mean “belief without (or in the face of) evidence.” Not what faith means. J.P. Holding has the best definition of faith right here. The sort of faith J.P. speaks of can be informed by, and arrived at by, reason.

      Religious people always assume they have the answers to currently unanswerable questions when, in fact, it’s just a guess. I’m not gonna argue about how you know that what you know is true (which I’m assuming is the Bible and personal subjective experiences), but science doesn’t claim to know what the beginning of the universe was or that it’s unfindable without faith.

      Science and reason don’t claim to have definitive answers (by your own admission), those are also guesses (albeit educated ones). At least the religious person is making educated guesses on the authority of God rather than the deductive reason of man. Current findings in psychology, cognition, and neuroscience say that man is not a reasonable creature. So who is really better off? I know, you don’t believe that God exists. But standing on your own reason is little better for the reasons I’ve just outlined.

      Firstly, no evidence suggests the First Cause was an intelligent creator, that’s just a random guess.

      No, it really isn’t. We base the idea of an intelligent creator on several observations and deductive conclusions. First, the external cause of the universe must have volition—it must be able to choose to will and do something. The ability to will and do something is a mark of intelligence.

      Second, the design of nature reveals an intricacy that belies intelligence. Intricate systems are the mark of an intelligent design (to use a derided term). No matter how far we dive within the structure of nonliving matter, it becomes ever more intricate, made of thousands of molecules that all work together in amazing ways.

      Third, life itself is always the product of a previous lifeform, which means that at the core of the universe itself should be a lifeform. Given that some life within the universe is intelligent, it isn’t such a stretch to think that the lifeform that caused the universe is intelligent.

      Fourth, peeling the layers of organic matter aside we find DNA. DNA is a language, like a computer program, that describes how living things are put together and how they should function. No language I’m aware of assembled by chance; it was intelligent agency that wrote it and programmed the machines which are run by it. Therefore, we would expect to find an intelligent agent behind DNA.

      In conclusion, assigning intelligence to the First Cause of the universe isn’t a random guess. It’s a reasonable conclusion given numerous observances within the universe itself.

      [E]ven if we assume that there was an intelligent creator, that doesn’t automatically make your god that creator. You have no grounds to single out your specific god out of all the hundreds of gods that have been conceived of in all of human history.

      Talking point #2. You are dead wrong, now let me tell you why.

      In almost all religions, the gods they worship are material beings that personify powers of nature. The ancients didn’t necessarily think these gods existed. Instead, they worshiped the force of nature that god represented by anthropomorphizing it and naming it. This is what modern Wiccans continue to do today.
      Contrast that with the three monotheistic religions, which embrace God as the plurality of all the powers, the intelligence behind the powers, and the creator of the universe. God isn’t a personification of self or of a force of nature, he is the Creator of all of that is. He was before it, and will be after it (the alpha and the omega, first and last). He is outside of it and transcends it. He holds it together.

      To the extent that the ancients had any God that did all of that, he was always seen as a sky god (hmmm… where is the abode of God according to the Bible?) and the Father of all of the other gods which ultimately serve him (hmmm… angels?). Monotheism, therefore, is the core of truth that survives the legendary development of all of the other gods and goddesses invented by man.

      The concept of God which I embrace is superior to the others, since I worship the God who created all of the universe, who designed nature, and who subjugates the powers of nature, bird, beast, and human. (More on this concept here).

      Lastly, the idea of heaven and hell are both equally undesirable. Hell is obvious. The reason other atheists say heaven is undesirable is because no one wants to spend eternity in submission to a god that condones slavery, sexism, rape, murder in his own name, etc. God has done nothing worthy of submission but he’s done much to call him a tyrant and not even Jesus’s word and “sacrifice” can change that.

      Talking point #3.

      God doesn’t condone the slavery you’re thinking of (check here). He condones an employer/employee relationship, which was the “slavery” in the Bible with some modifications we now have (such as the idea of “at will” employment). The slavery you’re thinking of is the African Slave Trade, which was condemned by any consistent hermeneutics (see here).

      God doesn’t condone sexism (see an extended series here and my own reply here).

      God doesn’t condone murder (see here about the Midianites or more general comments here and a few additional comments here). He condones the judgment of sinners who deserve his wrath, which is really what hell is all about.

      God doesn’t condone rape (check the Midianite article, above). Sorry to go all Judge Judy on you, but you’re an idiot for suggesting that.

      Apparently, creating you, blessing your efforts, and sustaining your existence don’t rate on your scale of things to praise and worship God for. Ingrate. Here’s an idea: stop thinking of God as a magical genie who can give you a pony or a million dollars by blinking it into existence at the beck and call of a simple prayer. In other words, grow up. If you’re not 14 fresh from reading The God Delusion, then I’m even less impressed with you at this point.

      Further, living for eternity, in itself, takes the meaning away from life. Atheists believe life is all the more precious because it’s so short and it’s the only life we have. Therefore, we want to enjoy our lives and make life enjoyable for other people too. Many atheists make that their life purpose. To create heaven on earth. No need for god to be good.

      We theists want to enjoy our lives and make life better for other people, too. We do this by charitable missions, sponsoring children in less developed nations, creating hospitals, universities, and feeding the homeless within our own borders as well as providing them with free medical care. What do atheists do, besides taking out stupid bus ads promoting reason. And aside from suing to block the National Day of Prayer, to get “In God we trust” off the money, or to strike “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Because all of those things will help stem the spread of AIDS in Africa or prevent the needless deaths of starving children.

      Start doing the critical thinking you accuse me of not doing, and then get back to me.

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