Saturday, March 27, 2010

What About Hell?

This is DAY 4 in a seven-day discussion of issues raised on my Facebook Wall by some "non-theist" friends. Because of David’s response to me yesterday, I’ve decided to switch topics. I’ll deal with the topic of hell today. Is God really a God of love, or a vicious monster who delights in sending people to hell?

The idea of hell is a stumbling block to many because we cannot conceive of a God of love sending people to an eternity of torture or torment. This thought makes God seem vicious, capricious, even evil … none of which we can, of course, reconcile with the concept of a God of love.

The Bible (the New Testament, in particular), refers to hell, and so it is a very real concept; however, I think we have read a lot into these references that aren’t necessarily there. So I’d like to deal with several related questions, one at a time.

The first question: is God capricious, vicious, and mean-spirited? Scripture indicates very clearly that the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Scripture over and over again refers to God as “love” personified. For instance: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16). “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes on him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The overwhelming message of the Bible is that God is love. And yet God is also just. When he proclaimed his name to Moses, he said: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished …." (Ex. 34:5-7) He linked love and justice in almost the same breath. And this makes complete sense. If God loves me, I am going to expect Him to be just. If someone wrongs me, cheats me, hurts me, I am going to expect accountability. Without the ability to enforce accountability, either in this life or the next, God is to some extent going to be impotent (not God). And not capable of truly expressing love. For love also implies protection and justice. If I love my two kids, I’m not going to let one of them stick a knife into the other. I am going to try and protect them. And if one hurts the other, wrongs the other, I am going to discipline the wrongdoer. Justice demands it. It doesn’t matter that I love both equally.

All injustice is sin. And God takes sin far more seriously than we do, because he more than anyone knows exactly how destructive it is. It separates us from him, makes us hate the thought of him, makes us unable to have fellowship with him.

All sin requires justice, it requires a penalty to be paid. The fact that God is ultimately love is demonstrated vividly by Romans 5:8 – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. He paid the penalty. Justice came down at his own expense.

And according to the Bible, faith is the method by which we accept that fact that he paid the cost, and that we cannot ever pay it ourselves. If we do not accept that God puts our sin on his tab and forgives us so that we can have fellowship with him, then our only other choice is to not have fellowship with him, to take responsibility for our sin ourselves, and to separate ourselves from him.

And I think that’s a key facet of the discussion of hell. God never sends anyone there capriciously … I think we send ourselves there.

And what do we know about the specifics of hell? Frankly, not a lot. First, it was created specifically for the ultimate rebels, the devil and his angels. (Not for people!) Second, there are a lot of metaphors for consumption used in describing hell. A lake of fire (burning), a place where “the worm” consumes and does not die, etc. We do not know exactly what the fire represents, what the worm represents. Are these physical, literal things in the material world? Probably not, because we’re talking about a spiritual afterlife.

We know hell involves “torment” … but is it the torment of physical torture, or the torment of being consumed by remorse and anguish over bad choices, over injustice, over sin undealt with? We simply don’t know.

I think uneducated people assume the former, but most educated theologians, philosophers and writers assume the latter. Frankly, many are also nihilists. Others say there is good biblical cause to hold that the soul continues to exist, but that hell is the place where the logical results of sin are played out. In the “Great Divorce,” C. S. Lewis depicts hell as an existence ultimately without law, almost like a Wild West town which keeps expanding because those who live there (who have first isolated themselves from God and thus removed themselves from his protections) keep isolating themselves further from other sinners like themselves. Ultimate and eternal isolation (self-imposed).

It’s funny, most people don’t have as much problem with the idea of someone like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or Idi Amin or the 9/11 terrorists going to hell. Especially if your wife or daughter or best friend was brutally murdered by one of those folk. And in these cases, if there were no hell, I think most of us would have a much more significant problem with the claim that God is just. If people are allowed to choose freely (which means they must be allowed to commit injustice and evil, to molest children, to rape and pillage, or whatever), then in order for God to be truly just someone must pay for such actions. There must be accountability. Right?

And as I said in my last post, I think people go to great lengths to try and avoid accountability for their sin. The 9/11 terrorists might have been well intentioned, thinking that God would surely reward them for their actions by giving them 70 virgins in paradise, but imagine these guys suddenly discovering, upon landing on the shores of the afterlife, that God instead of rewarding them is going to hold them accountable for what we think he should hold them accountable for, the brutal murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children! Are they going to hang around God then? I think they’re going to be pretty angry at God about then.

Imagine going to the only place you can go to try and escape God … and discovering everyone else who has gone there for the exact same reason. And by “everyone else” I am including the company named above.

The fact is, of course, that this is a lot of speculation, and we simply don’t know. Yet. A friend of mine I was discussing this question with told me that he sided with the nihilists. But I laughed when he said: “But I really don’t want to test that theory.”

And I think that really is the point. Our future is in God’s hands. He has the power. As a result of progressive revelation I think we probably know more about the afterlife now than they did in Old Testament times. But do we know all there is to know? I would say rather there is probably a lot more that we don’t know than that which we do know. The point to me is, in light of what we don’t know, who are we trusting with our future? Ourselves? Or a God who loves us so much he was willing to die for us?

I mentioned at the onset that the idea of hell is a stumbling block. In Luke 12 Jesus was talking to his disciples about the same religious hypocrites who would ultimately end up crucifying him (the ultimate injustice – torturing, crucifying the most innocent and sinless person who ever lived, for sins that he did not commit … who are the vicious and capricious ones in this story? Is it God, or us?).

Anyway, Jesus said: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

David, in your comment yesterday, you said: “What I found was that the God of the bible was not the caring loving God that I had been told. He was a jealous mean spirited person who would kill men women and children anytime his so called children disobeyed him.” You said you could not respect a God who used fear in his demand to be followed and worshipped, rather than love.

Actually, if this were true (that God kills everyone who disobeys him), we’d all be dead. I disobey God frequently. I would never survive. The truth is found in the numerous Scriptures that tell how patient and longsuffering God is with us. It is His kindness, the Word says, which leads us to repentance.

I agree with you completely, at least the part about not being able to respect a mean-spirited deity. There are lots of people, evil people, who rule by fear rather than love. The religious hypocrites of Jesus’ day were in that number; today, I think the Taliban provide a good example, and I will use them for our purposes. They oppress women, bomb schools, and torture and kill any who oppose their authority. There is no such thing as “free will” in Taliban society. They want to rule (not serve), and to enforce that rule with fear. They are close kin to the religious hypocrites of Jesus' day.

But when it comes to whether or not God loves us, I think you and I are reading different Bibles. Or at least reading the same Bible through dramatically different filters.

If God were like the Taliban, I’m with you 100%, I wouldn’t want to love and serve Him either. I would look at a passage like Luke 12:5 and be very afraid, and very angry.

But look at the context. Obviously referring to God, the passage says, “fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell.” The word “fear” clearly has different shades of meaning. Whenever in Scripture it is used to say “fear God,” it is used in the sense of “have a great deal of respect for.” And this makes total sense: God is the creator of life, He gives it, He can take it away. We all know that. He has a lot of power, by definition. He is God. He also has the power to determine what happens to us, according to this verse, after our material life has ended. What happens to our soul. And that really is a lot of power. That power makes him worthy of respect. If he didn’t love us, if he didn’t have our best in mind, we would truly be up a creek without a paddle. He would be much worse than the Taliban, holding a gun to our head. We would need to be very, VERY afraid of him ... but could not be expected by any reasonable person to love him with our free will.

But the Bible consistently says the opposite! Even the passage above concludes with Christ's appeal to us to not be afraid of God (which is a totally different concept, like being afraid of the Taliban because they will hurt you simply to impose their dominance). Talking about how God even values common sparrows, Jesus assures us: “Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” He cares about us so much he knows the number of hairs on our head. He knows us intimately -- our fears, our struggles, our emotions, our pain. He cares intimately and deeply.

The whole message of the Bible, beginning to end, is that God cares more deeply about us than we could possibly know. “For God so loved the world that He gave …” Of course we should totally respect him (fear him), simply because that makes complete sense. He created us for his own purposes; we will ultimately only be happy and fulfilled when we seek to fulfill those purposes.

But should we be afraid of him because he is capricious and vicious and goes around throwing people into hell? That’s utter nonsense. If you’re reading that into the Bible, you are not reading what it’s saying, just what others may be telling you it’s saying.

Now, in light of this, let’s look at your analogy about our children playing on the freeway. In your analogy, "God’s so-called children" are playing on the freeway, with traffic speeding toward them, and a seemingly unconcerned God writes them a letter and says “don’t do that.” Then leaves them to get squished.

But that doesn’t fit with what the Bible reveals. In Genesis (when God first creates his children), he warns them very clearly about the dangers of playing on the freeway. But they do it anyway.
So, what does God do? Does he just send them a letter and then close his eyes?

No, instead he himself comes down, runs out onto the freeway, and stops traffic with his body. That’s what “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son” means. He sacrifices himself because of his love for us.

And I think he has a right to hope we take that sacrifice seriously. All children grow up. If, when we grow up, knowing how seriously he loves us and how much it cost him to protect us from the ravages of the freeway, if we refuse to listen and keep on going out and playing there, it seems to me there must some day come a point where our blood falls on our own heads.

Tomorrow: Isn’t it the height of arrogance for one specific religion to claim it has the corner on truth?


Elizabeth Grattan said...


I know that you have been following this belief system for a LONG LONG time... I submit, you likely don't realize how illogical this sounds.

First, again, you beg the question with the presumption there is a "god" that exists and an afterlife, etc.

Then, you state men can override this god's will. You can't have it both ways. The biblical text IN NO WAY suggests that man can trump god. Ever. It states the opposite. Taking it to it's logical conclusion, the God of Abraham is "seemingly arbitrary". And has created a being that is destined to separation. Because if that isn't the case, then man can do something this "god" can't foresee or will. Either the god of your belief system is a "god" or not. The minute you let man "choose" something that "god" doesn't desire or will, you make "man" the god.

PEOPLE like the thought of justice. It's the whole "maybe someday it will be fair" selfish nature of our species. So it makes sense PEOPLE would fabricate a story that gives them that "peace" in order to move through life in the midst of what they feel are "evils". But again, without evidence of a universal more... and no moral gene... it's irrelevant.

You bring up Hitler and terrorists. Those folks didn't ascribe to YOUR personal mores or such. BUT, they do align with norms of others. What makes you the judge of their "goodness"? I'll tell you, your own pride that your more is better than theirs.

The logic doesn't work at all.

I submit, you are far too engrossed and indoctrinated in your long standing belief system to get objective about it and see it clearly for the very flawed argument this still is.

Dave Eagle said...

Hi Larry, this was very thought provoking and I remember being taught most of these points back when we went to Foothill. The thought of hell and all of its ramifications are a stumbling block for anyone trying to reason why a loving God would create it. We try to justify it by saying things like God does not want anyone to go there and he loved us so much that he died to pay for our salvation. But I just can’t understand how this same God, who according to what we were taught, knows everything and knew even before he created this world that the vast majority of his children will spend eternity being tortured. We can talk about hell not being a place of torture but I can not find any scriptural reference that says it is anything but torture. So what purpose does hell serve? Why must the unsaved go there? Why not just allow the unsaved to cease to exist? I don’t expect an answer I was just being rhetorical.

I have read the Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and although it is somewhat comforting to imagine hell as a place we send ourselves because our earthly emotions will not allow us to accept God’s love I don’t find anywhere in the bible where hell is described this way. The hell of the bible is described as a lake of fire that burns forever and the people who are put there are in torment day and night. The bible states in Rev 20:15 that anyone not found written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire. It does not say they will wander into it of their own accord.

You are correct in stating that we are reading the same bible through dramatically different filters, in my notes I cover this issue. I stated that once I began reading it without the rose colored glasses of Christianity I saw just how, to me, silly the bible was. God who is all powerful, creates the vast seemingly boundless expanse of the universe, then populates one tiny pebble of a planet in this vast expanse and becomes jealous when we do not worship him, or worse destroys us when we do something that displeases him. By the 6th chapter of the first book you have God unhappy that he made man and he wipes out every living thing on the earth, with the exception a few people and some animals. Sounds like a spoiled child to me.

Justice, ok lets take your example of a child molester or murderer and look at God’s justice. I agree that if some evil person raped and killed my beautiful daughter that I would hope he burns in hell forever. Realistically though forever is a long time, infinite actually, so at what point would this person pay for the crime he committed? God’s justice according to the bible is eternal, but lets change the scenario and say that this same person who viciously raped and murdered my precious daughter decides to pray to God for forgiveness and accepts Jesus as his savior. According to the bible this person would be welcomed into heaven after he dies and enjoy paradise. Lets add one more element to this scenario, because I am an Atheist I have taught my daughter to think rationally and she does not believe in God or Jesus and when she is killed by this perverted monster she slips into eternity as an unsaved person, according to the bible she will spend eternity in hell!

I have been told that God’s ways are not our ways and that we just don’t have the ability to comprehend it. B.S.! we can reason it out, and when we do we find that it is a fairy tale used to scare people into submission. The bottom line when you cut through all the “but God loves you” talk is this; If you don’t obey God you will burn in hell. If I said something similar to a person I was dating like;” Hey I really love you but if you leave me for someone else I will kill you.” That person would call the cops and I would probably go to jail.

I know you think my logic is flawed and that I am just not seeing it the way you are, but believe me I used to see it the way you see it. I just removed my glasses.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

David: Just a note... you do know of course that the bible in no way suggests an "actual" lake of fire or "burning", right?

The bible is written during an honor/shame culture. These metaphors were used often by ancients in many cultures. "Torment" dealt with separation, not actual third degree burning.

Just setting that record straight.

Dave Eagle said...

Hi Elizabeth, many Christians that I grew up around believe in the literal word of the bible so when it says lake of fire they believe it be a literal lake of fire. I am using these passages and references to illustrate why I do not believe the bible anymore. Some schools of thought say that most or all of the bible is figurative and should not be taken literally, but those are not the people that I am talking to.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

David: I understand that there are many people who don't use correct methods of interpretation in reading ancient texts (we already covered that on the fb page)... but that doesn't make it an argument to "not believe". That's all I'm saying. If you are going to deny a story, it needs to be because red riding hood didn't go to grandmas, not because you don't believe her cape was blue.


Dave Eagle said...

Elizabeth, I understand your argument but as I stated I am not directing my points toward non theists. If you talk to a Christian who takes the bible literally then you need to understand that and make your points relevant to their way of thinking. If you tell them that the bible is a fable they will just dismiss you and not listen to reason. You need to show them that believing it literally creates paradoxes and injustices that are not compatible with real morality.

Elizabeth Grattan said...


You are incorrect. And apparently don't understand what I wrote.

I never suggested you tell a believer the bible is fable. Your best strategy is to tell a believer to at least know their subject matter.

It makes no difference WHO you are talking to regarding it. Using incorrect information in any argument makes the argument weak. How can you be expected to be taken seriously when you agree red riding hood wore a blue cape just because someone else says it was? You'll sound just as silly.

Either get informed and argue from facts, or don't. Your call. But you defeat yourself when you pretend you are using reason, and you aren't.


Elizabeth Grattan said...


You are incorrect. And apparently don't understand what I wrote.

I never suggested you tell a believer the bible is fable. Your best strategy is to tell a believer to at least know their subject matter.

It makes no difference WHO you are talking to regarding it. Using incorrect information in any argument makes the argument weak. How can you be expected to be taken seriously when you agree red riding hood wore a blue cape just because someone else says it was? You'll sound just as silly.

Either get informed and argue from facts, or don't. Your call. But you defeat yourself when you pretend you are using reason, and you aren't.


Dave Eagle said...

And you don’t understand what I wrote. You are now just arguing for the sake of arguing and that is pointless.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

Dave: I do understand what you wrote. You seem to think just because your audience thinks red riding hood wore a blue cape, you need to concede that as fact and then counter where riding hood went. It makes you sound silly.

Why concede that your audience is correct about "hell" being a place of actual fire when clearly it isn't. So what if others are idiots about that... how far do you think you will go in being taken seriously when you agree with even one flawed premise?

Either you counter from educated reasoning and logic or you don't. By choosing the latter, you sound like you don't know your subject matter. My guess is, that is because you actually don't.

You make the job of the intellects harder when it comes to countering the mystic thinking of theists.

Dave Eagle said...

Ok so Larry what do and other Christians think? Is hell literal or metaphorical? Bottom line is it real torment or is it just a scare tactic borrowed from other ancient writings?

Elizabeth Grattan said...

Dave: Learn something about the communication and language and story telling of the ancients.

It's nonsense to even ask the question.

To suggest there is an actual lake of fire is to show ignorance.

Larry Short said...

David, looking at your first comment ... I think you make a couple of assumptions that I don't think can be supported by Scripture. You talk about God creating hell, and also about God torturing people in hell for an eternity. The closest thing I can find in Scripture to support the notion that God creates hell, is Christ's statement in Matthew that God has prepared "everlasting fire" (or everlasting destruction) for the devil and his angels. You might infer that is hell, but it doesn't say that.

There are several different words for hell, and a lot of ambiguity between them. In many places in Scripture "hell" is simply synonymous with "death" or "the pit." In fact, in Revelation it says that after the judgment God throws hell itself into the lake of fire "which is reserved for the devil and his angels." It calls this the "second death" and talks about these demons being tormented forever, but I can't find anything that says this is the case for people. (This is the reason I think a lot of theologians are nihilists.)

Plus, it doesn't really say who is doing the tormenting. (I'd guess that demons are probably pretty good at tormenting each other.)

I don't read anything in Scripture that would indicate that God himself goes into hell and tortures people. The only time God ever went to hell, recorded in Scripture, was when Christ died and "went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built." (1 Pet. 3) Here of course you have to assume that "prison" refers to hell, which I am not convinced of. Nonetheless this would seem to indicate that God was on a mission of mercy, preaching to disobedient spirits, rather than there to torment them. But we simply don't have enough information to know for certain about things like this. I think you need to be careful not to make assumptions, especially assumptions that then stand in the way of you believing something that is VERY OBVIOUS and stated plainly all throughout Scripture, and that is the unconditional and sacrificial love of God.

Nowhere does Scripture say that God tortures anyone in hell. I know people torture people. Demons probably torture people. But not God.

You say you took the glasses off, but your distorted view of who God is makes me wonder about the lens through which you are reading Scripture.

Dave Eagle said...

Hi Larry, I did say that God created hell but I never said that God or anything else would be doing the torture. I said that the people not found written in the book of life would be cast into the lake of fire. It has been commonly taught that these are the unsaved people who did not accept Jesus as their savior prior to their death. Not sure where you got the idea that I said God would be torturing anyone.

Elizabeth Grattan said...


Wouldn't make a difference how the torture of separation happens, a sovereign god means the buck stops with that god.

Dave Eagle said...

Hi Larry, you say that the overwhelming message of the bible is love, that he is just and does not leave the guilty unpunished. In my comment I showed you how a murderer could easily get to heaven without paying for his crime so how is this justice? The person who was murdered was never avenged and the wrong was never righted? How can you possibly justify this to me? I am not even talking about hell here, I am pointing out the injustice of your deity.
And as far as the message of the bible being love, I think you have a very distorted view of love. No matter how many times I say I love someone, it would only take one time for me to reach out my hand in anger and strike that person for them to get the message that I probably either don’t love them or have a warped view of what love is. Your God has reached down many, many, many times and either directly killed people, directed people to be killed or approved of the killings. Here is a sample of some of the killings that your God did himself or directed people to be killed for making him angry.
Gen 7:23, Gen 19:24, Gen 19:26, Gen 38:7, Gen 38:10, Gen 41:25-54, Ex 9:25, Ex 12:29-30, Ex 14:8-26, Ex 17:13, Ex 32:27-28, Ex 32:35, Lev 10:1-3, Lev 24:10-23, Num 11:1, Num 11:33, Num 14:35-36, Num 15:32-35, Num 16:27, Num 16:35, Num 16:49, Num 21:1-3, Num 21:6, Num 21:34-35, Num 25:1-11, Num 31:1-35, Dt 2:14-16, Dt 2:21-22, Dt 2:33-34, Dt 3:3-6, Jos 6:21, Jos 7:10-12, 24-26, Jos 8:1-25, Jos 10:10-11, Jos 10:26, Jos 10:28-42, Jos 11:8-12, Jos 11:20-21, Jg 1:4, Jg 1:8, Jg 1:9-25, Jg 3:7-10, Jg 3:15-22, Jg 3:28-29, Jg 4:15-16, Jg 4:18-22, Jg 7:22, Jg 9:23-57, Jg 11:32-33, Jg 11:39, Jg 14:19, Jg 15:14-15, Jg 16:27-30, Jg 20:35-37, (1Sam 2:25, 1Sam 4:11), 1Sam 5:1-12, 1Sam 6:19, 1Sam 7:10-11, 1Sam 7:11-13, 1Sam 14:12-14, 1Sam 14:20, 1Sam 15:2-3, 1Sam 15:32-33, 1Sam 23:2-5, 1Sam 25:38, 1Sam 30:17, (1Sam 31:2, 1Chr 10:6), 2Sam 5:19-25, (2Sam 6:6-7, 1Chr 13:9-10), 2Sam 12:14-18, 2Sam 21:1-9, (2Sam 24:15, 1Chr 21:14), 1Kg 13:11-24, 1Kg 14:17, 1Kg 15:29, 1Kg 16:11-12, 1Kg 20:20-21, 1Kg 20:28-29, 1Kg 20:30, 1Kg 20:35-36, 1Kg 20:42, 22:35, 2Kg 1:10-12, (2Kg 1:16-17; 2Chr 22:7-9), 2Kg 2:23-24, 2Kg 3:18-25, 2Kg 8:1, 2Kg 9:24, 2Kg 9:33-37, 2Kg 10:6-10, 2Kg 10:11, 2Kg 10:17, 2Kg 17:25-26, (2Kg 19:34, Is 37:36), 2Kg 19:37, 1Chr 5:18-22, 2Chr 13:17-18, 2Chr 13:20, 2Chr 14:9-14, 2Chr 20:22-25, 2Chr 21:14-19, 2Chr 22:1, 2Chr 24:20-25, 2Chr 25:15-27, 2Chr 28:1-5, 2Chr 28:6, 2Chr 36:16-17, Job 1:18-19, Ezek 24:15-18, Acts 5:1-10, Acts 12:23, (Rom 8:32, 1Pet 1.18-20).
Any rational person would see that no matter how many times the bible says that God is love or that he loves you, it is his actions of striking down his children that tells you just what kind of deity he really is. Now to me this just proves that the bible was written by men who wanted to control the population through fear, but if you can continue to think that your God is real and that he loves you then you really have a warped sense of what love is.

Larry Short said...

Dave, the Bible says that God is just and that ultimately murder (or any other sin) does not go unanswered. That's the whole point. Blood spilled requires blood. That's justice.

Those who have had children know that love often requires punishment and discipline. The Bible is very consistent in the view that God is the author of life. He gives it, he can take it away. Does this mean he is unloving? Absolutely not. Unlike us, he doesn't take it away capriciously. But he still has the authority to do that. He's the potter, we're the clay. Some day, you and I will both die (at least physically speaking), and that's ultimately because of sin. But I can't see how any of this is inconsistent with the fundamental truth that he is love incarnate.

I think what you're asking is, how could he be both just and merciful? I think as a parent you also know the answer to this. We talked about the freeway analogy. Let's say your child disobeys you and plays on the freeway and somehow escapes being run over. Would you punish them? Yes. But let's also say the next time they do it, the only way you could save them was to let the truck hit you first. As a loving parent, would you? I think you probably would.

"Oh, that's not just," some might complain, "that child disobeyed you and deserved to get run over by that truck." But it was merciful. God himself paid the penalty for our sin in his own flesh, and justice was served, and his mercy was proved. That's the clear message of the Bible.

Dave Eagle said...

Hi Larry, I’m not sure you are actually reading my comments and seeing the arguments I am trying to make. The bible says that salvation is a gift and can not be earned. If we could do something to earn it then what would we need God for? The fallacy here is that ANYONE can go to heaven simply by accepting the free gift of God, if this is not so please enlighten me. So are you saying that the murderer in my scenario will somehow have to pay for his sins or did Christ fulfill all of the requirements for him to get to go to heaven? Either Jesus paid for it or he didn’t.

Now if you read some or all of the verses that I wrote down in my last comment you have to make a choice either to believe that the bible is the word of God or it is just allegory, but either way it states that God, when he gets mad, will smite his creation. Your statement of “he is the potter and we are the clay” has been quoted to me many times by believers who get to the point with me that they can no longer argue for a loving God and just say “oh well, when you die you will see, just remember I told you so”.

The freeway example is flawed also because as a parent I would do everything in my power to keep my child from playing in it. Your example states that at some point you get tired of telling your child not to play there and allow him/her to get hit by the car to prove your point. These examples are from a human point of view but from an all powerful Deity’s point of view it should be very easy for him to place an impenetrable wall between the freeway and the child so that the child NEVER gets hit. If you say but he did and the wall is called Jesus then I would say that his wall is not impenetrable because some of his children get through it, play on the freeway and get run over.

My point is that your God could have made it so that no one gets hurt, but he did not, and that either makes him impotent or cavalier.

Larry Short said...

Dave, please rest assured that I am reading what you are writing, and that I am trying to see the arguments you are making, although I feel there are some significant problems with them.

I agree completely that salvation is a gift -- it cannot be earned. Anyone can therefore be saved by accepting this free gift. How is this fallacious?

I was NOT saying that the murderer (in your scenario) would pay for his own sin. I was saying that SOMEONE had to pay. And that someone was Jesus. King David was a murderer. The Apostle Paul was a murderer. In a sense, I am a murderer, according to Jesus, because in my heart, I have hated. All those sins are paid for by Christ. The condition is that we humble ourselves and accept that gift. Where is the fallacy?

Of course that doesn't mean that we don't experience consequences here on earth. As a consequence of David's sin, for example, two innocent people died (the man he murdered, and David and Bathsheba's first child). Plus David himself went through a lot of agony and remorse. But Nathan said God (against whom David ultimately sinned) forgave David's sin, because he confessed and believed.

The Bible is the Word of God. That doesn't mean it doesn't contain some allegory. Some things are obviously allegory, some are not. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out which is which. But most of the time the meaning is pretty plain, I think.

The "potter and the clay" is not an excuse for God to do anything, it just a metaphor describing the nature of the relationship, and is used both in Old and New Testaments. And it is obviously a metaphor, because even within the metaphor this clay (unlike real clay) has free will and can speak to its potter and say "I don't want to be what you want me to be."

And that's ultimately where all analogies (including my freeway analogy) are imperfect. God binds himself by certain laws. For instance, he is just. He cannot sin. He cannot do the ultimately unloving thing, because he is love. Something he does may not look to you and me like love, but realize that you and I are not love and don't always get it when we see it.

One of those laws is free will, God created us with free will (the ability to choose or reject, or "to play on the freeway" in my analogy) because he is love. He cannot violate our free will and prevent us from making wrong choices, or else he would violate his own rules. You see that, right?

The truth is that the Old Testament (which you are scouring for clues to who God is and what he is like) gives only an imperfect picture, and God has been often misunderstood as a result. The New Testament reveals that one of the reasons Christ came is to be "the representation of the invisible God." So, my challenge to you is, look honestly at JESUS for clues to who God is. Is he an angry, spiteful, smiting and punishing God (as you are claiming)? Or is he (as I am claiming) gracious, just, merciful, and loving?

I don't see how you can seriously (honestly) examine the character and person of Jesus, believe what he said about himself to be true, and walk away misunderstanding God so badly. What C.S. Lewis said is true: An honest look at the person and claims of Christ leads must lead one (logically) to conclude either that he was an utter liar, or else desperately insane, or else who he claimed to be: Lord.

You know that, ultimately, we all will die physically. We chose sin, and we reap death as a consequence. Sin has consequences here on earth, even if it is forgiven by God. But it is of ultimate importance to your soul and mine that we get the God thing figured out before we do. And he has made it so stupendously simple (at least in one sense), by saying, "Simply believe what I tell you."

Dave Eagle said...

I guess my response is too long so will need to do it in two posts.

Hi Larry, in saying that my example of salvation was fallacious I was pointing out that there was no justice for the person who was raped and murdered. The justice you were quoting was toward God and not man. The crime committed was toward a human being and that the criminal’s sin toward God was paid for by Jesus, but the crime against the human being can go unpunished. The mercy and justice you are talking about only reconciles us to God not to each other. In my scenario my daughter, the victim, does not go to heaven and the criminal goes to heaven. This is your mercy and justice not mine, and it is very flawed.

You bring up the consequence of David’s sin and stated that his son died because of it. 2 Samuel 12:14-18 clearly states that it was God himself who struck the child with an illness and caused him to die. Please explain to me what the CHILD did to deserve to die? How is this justice and mercy? If this does not show that God is capricious then I don’t know what will.

I agree with you that the story of the potter and the clay is a metaphor for God’s relationship toward his creation, but if the clay tells the potter “I don’t want to be what you want me to be” then there is a penalty to be paid, so is this really free will?

The part about violating his own laws is like the paradox of the really large rock. Can he create a rock so large that he can not lift it. The problem is; can he break his own laws? Of course he can but he chooses not to break them. So he really is in control of what he can and can not do and if he did not want to send people to hell he could do it.

I do know it is important to get the God thing right before we die and that is why I challenged myself to read the bible from beginning to end. When I read the book of mormon from cover to cover I did not have any preconceived ideas of what I was reading and the errors and inconsistencies were very obvious. As Christians we are taught what the nature of God is and what dogmas to believe. So when we read the bible and come across a passage of scripture that does not fit what we have been told to believe we make up theories to justify them rather than taking them at face value and seeing the inconsistency. It was difficult for me to read the bible this way because I had been indoctrinated in what to believe. I am not asking you to suspend your belief system, what I am saying is that when I suspended my belief system the errors and inconsistencies that are contained in the bible became very apparent to me. Some examples are: We are told that God can not allow sin in his presence, well reading the book of Job tells us that he can and does allow sin to be manifest in his presence. We are told that God did not create evil, Isaiah 45:7 says that he does. We are told that there is only one God, Genesis 1:26 says there is more than one because God says let US make man in OUR image. Christian must evolve elaborate theories (excuses) to reconcile these and many other inconsistencies to fit into their belief system, most I think do not read the bible from cover to cover and are content to ignore them.

Dave Eagle said...

I have scoured the new testament also, and for the most part I do see how it is incompatible with the old testament. The overwhelming theme of the old testament was of a jealous God and the overwhelming theme of the new testament is of a sacrificial God, I get it. But if I put them together what I see is that God demands a BLOOD sacrifice from his creation and the only way that man could ever be reconciled to God was through the BLOOD sacrifice of his Son. What makes your God any different form any other blood thirsty god through out history? The fact that he sent his son to pay the price? He still requires the blood sacrifice! The problem I have is that He is the one who made the rules and the need for the blood sacrifice, he could have chosen some other way but he did not.

Honestly my real problem is that when I look at all of the evidence for the existence of God or a Deity I do not see it, and this brings me back to our original conversation about faith. If God really wanted me to stay off of the freeway and not get killed he could easily show himself to me. The fact that he does not heal the amputee proves to me that either he does not exist or he does not care.

Larry Short said...

David, thanks for your thoughtful posts. A couple of points:

When you say you meant there was "no justice for the person who was raped and murdered" you should have added "in this life." We don't know what kind of justice occurs in the life hereafter. In the Christian worldview, the consequences of sin span both this life and the next.

Remember that if God really is our creator, then ultimately any sin against his creation is also a sin against him. Biblically, it is PRIMARILY a sin against him, and only secondarily a sin against us. This is why David confessed (after murdering Uriah and stealing his wife), "I have sinned against the Lord."

David's child did nothing deserving of death. It was a consequence of David's sin. Like it or not, the reality is that sin always affects and usually hurts innocent people. A good reason for God to hate it so. The fact that he hates it so proves that he is holy and loving.

Just because there is a penalty and consequence for sin doesn't negate free will. We are still free to choose to sin (and we prove it by doing so). If sin is ultimately rebellion against God, then this choice is rebellion against God.

I have a different theory about why you are seeing "inconsistencies and errors." I think you are confusing what people may have told you to believe about the Bible, with a critical look at what the Bible really says. Isaiah 45:7 is a great example. The old King James version says "I make peace, and create evil." But newer versions have a much better translation of the original Hebrew. The NASB, which is generally much more literal, has it as "causing well-being and creating calamity." The NIV says "create disaster." All this is consistent with the role of God in the Old Testament. He gives life, he takes it, he raises up nations, he destroys them. That's quite a different matter than saying God actually is the author of evil; the Bible elsewhere clearly states that he is not. You have to apply consistent principles of interpretation. I think even Elizabeth pointed this out.

Also, I don't think I said the New Testament was incompatible with the Old. It is rather a fuller revelation. It gives a much clearer picture of what God is really like, seeing him as a man. My point was that, as the picture clarifies, it reinforces what both Old and New Testaments say about God -- that he is merciful, longsuffering, gracious, and loving.

I understand your main contention is that you are looking for proof (in this life) of the existence of God. You might get it, you might not. I hope you see the fallacy of the statement: "The fact that he does not heal the amputee proves to me that either he does not exist or he does not care." It certainly proves neither of those things. The amputee is a real person with a real physical problem, not just an opportunity for God to demonstrate something to you that would not serve his purposes anyway. Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" which God did not heal despite his appeals. God's purposes were otherwise, that "his strength would be made known in weakness." Who knows what his purposes are for the amputee? God is God, I am not. He no more has to meet your terms of proof than he does mine. The creator makes the rules.

Dave Eagle said...

Isaiah 47:7 I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.
The word that is translated as evil can be translated as calamity, that is true, but it is the same word that is translated as evil in Genesis 2:9 referring to the fruit of the tree of good and evil.
And in Psalms 97:10 Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.
And in Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the forward mouth, do I hate.
And in Amos 5:15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
And in Zechariah 8:17 And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.
All of these and 600 plus more verses in the old testament use the same Greek word to establish the meaning of this word and it is quite clear that it is something that God does not like. So if you want to say that I am not using consistent principles of interpretation then you may want to take your own advise about confusing what other people have told you about what to believe the bible says. It is clear that what Isaiah is saying is that God is ultimately responsible for everything.

Larry please don’t think that I am saying that God is evil, I am just pointing out that the bible contradicts itself over and over again. I know that the amputee will not miraculously be healed because I ask God to prove himself, but I can make an argument for it by using the biblical principles that many Christians believe to be true.

I know that Elizabeth’s arguments are correct and that no one can not prove the existence of any God. I just like talking about the bible and pointing out the paradoxes and injustices it has in it. Obviously we will just go around in circles with these arguments, you believe what you believe and I do not see even the slightest bit of proof that there is anything supernatural in this universe.

I have very much enjoyed your comments, thanks.

Dave Eagle said...

Larry you said: "David's child did nothing deserving of death. It was a consequence of David's sin. Like it or not, the reality is that sin always affects and usually hurts innocent people. A good reason for God to hate it so. The fact that he hates it so proves that he is holy and loving."

Again you are not listening to what I am saying but prefer to shield your eyes from the words that are written in the bible. 2 Samuel 12:14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. 2 Samuel 12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And Jehovah struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

The text clearly states that it was God who struck the child with the illness that led to his death. In order for you make this text fit with what your preconceived idea of what God is you have to either ignore the statement or twist it to make it fit. The text does not say that God allowed the child to become ill because of David’s sin, it states that God himself caused the illness. This is the same as saying your son or daughter will have to pay the penalty for some crime that you commit. If you think that this is justice then you are blind.

And what about the killing of the first born? Exodus 12:29-30 And it came to pass at midnight, that Jehovah smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

Remember the first born of every household were killed because the parents refused to put the blood of the lamb on the door posts and the mantel. Again this would be like your son or daughter being killed for something that you did.

We can discuss God in light of what is written in the bible but you can not say that he is either just or loving without having to ignore or twist the text of these and many, many more passages of scripture.

Larry Short said...

David, you are right, we could probably argue and go in circles forever without either of us changing the other's minds. I think it's rare when this kind of back and forth actually bears fruit.

But just a couple of things I want to say. You don't know me very well so I don't expect you to pay them a high level of credibility. But I would be remiss not to say them.

First of all, you are wrong about me not listening to you. I have listened very carefully. I think the differences in the way we see specific Scriptures is possibly colored by our respective presuppositions. God has proven himself loving, just, merciful and gracious in my life. So when I read the Bible it reinforces this experience. I understand your point that God takes human life and that sometimes this doesn't seem fair. I respond that it's never capricious, it's always in response to human sin, which always bears a cost; and that since God is the one who created us, he has a perfect right to pull the plug. (Which is where the phrase "playing God" came from, when applied to human beings, right?)

But I understand that from your perspective of distrust of God and whoever has hurt you while claiming to represent him, you read Scripture and you say, "Aha! See how inconsistent it is. God must not really exist." Not sure what I can do to change that. Our perspectives are very different I think because our presuppositions and life experiences are different.

I think if anyone is so inclined, they can pick at the details forever and miss the big picture. Not see the forest through the trees, as it were. Your position ("I don't have any proof that God exists. The Bible is full of inconsistencies." Etc.) leaves a lot of unanswered questions. For instance, how did we come to be here? Who created/designed all that we see (which begs a creator/designer)? How do you account for a unified collection of 66 books each purporting to contain a message from God, with various historical accounts of miracles and supernatural history, which is breathtaking in its wisdom and staggering in its claims? Why do we have this internal sense of right and wrong (what old-timers used to call "natural law") and a guilty conscience when we violate it (which we do frequently)? How can you dismiss Jesus who claimed to be God, did a bunch of miracles to back it up, was crucified, then hundreds of eyewitnesses claimed to have seen him resurrected?

It seems to me that to dismiss all this (and more) so readily one has to manufacture such a complex and nonsensical set of explanations that it makes my head hurt. Moreover I know that it's true because I see evidence of God's activity, over and over again, in my own life. You don't know me so you can dismiss this as wishful thinking, if you like, but my experience is repeated millions of times the world over. Over the course of these communications I have been trying very intentionally to not let subjective personal experience enter into it, but for me personally it does play a huge role.

Of course even though we could sit down and I could spend hours sharing my story and the things I have experienced, none of it is anything I could ever "prove" to you (at least to the satisfaction of a skeptic who is convinced it is all a lie). So I guess if that's the case we are at an impasse.

I still would enjoy sitting down with you for coffee (or a beer), just to catch up, and we could make theology or philosophy off limits if you wanted! :D I probably will be in So. Calif. sometime in July, mid-month, so when I get details let's set something up.

- Larry

Dave Eagle said...

Sounds good Larry, I'm looking forward to it.