Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Regarding Heaven & Hell

A common question of the skeptic to a Christian is the conundrum of how one can believe in a loving God who “sends” people to hell. I can understand how a person could view this belief as unreasonable. However, if one truly thinks through this matter, one can understand it is not unreasonable at all.


First of all it is not difficult for one to believe in a loving God and heaven. It is when the idea of hell enters the picture that a person begins to question God's love. Now if heaven exists as a place where people who have passed from this earth reside with God in all splendor and majesty it would follow that this place would be a desirable place to be. If there was no hell and all people went to heaven it would follow that heaven would not be "heaven" at all, but simply a new place of existence after death with the same people and problems as life on earth. There certainly would not be peace and harmony if people who were lovers of themselves and not of God were then forced to live with God. This would not be heaven for them.


So for heaven to be a place of harmony with God there must also be a place where there is no harmony with God, for those that refuse to accept harmony with God. If one rejects God would it only stand to reason that they would not want to be in a place of God for all eternity. Would a loving God force them to do so?


Moreover, if we start with the presupposition that God is a loving God what does that look like? Would God be a loving God if He forced people to love Him? He would only have one option that would exclude the necessity of hell. Namely, to create robots who have no freedom, but must obey Him and love Him.


So, what does a loving God do? The only way a loving God can exhibit that love is to allow us to have free will that He does not overpower. He gives us plenty of signs of His love, but He does not force us to accept that love or to love Him back. He does this even though it causes him pain, just like a loving earthly father would be hurt if his child rejected his love. He does all that a loving God can do to love and provide a free way for us to have communion with Him forever. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) He is always in pursuit of us with His love.


Now you may be objecting that it is unloving for God to dictate that we love Him and have relationship with Him or suffer. However, the truth is that it is good for us to love God. It is our need that is fulfilled when we love Him. We only hurt ourselves when we reject His love. We do not hurt Him. He doesn’t become less God when we reject Him. He doesn’t need our love to sustain Himself. But He loves us and knows that in Him all things have the fullness of life. He is the life giver. In Him is life. When we fight that reality we encounter suffering, death, and trouble in this world because we are living in opposition to how we are designed to live. It’s like a fish trying to live on dry land. It wasn’t designed to do so, plain and simple. The best habitat for a fish is water. The best habitat for humanity is living united with God through an amazing love relationship. But if we refuse it, as we have the freedom to do, we naturally are the fish flopping around on dry land. We lack the necessary components of the fullness of life. Naturally that creates a problem for us. The problems we face on earth due to our separation from Him are there to point us back to Him. For instance, when a child puts his hand too close to a flame, he feels heat and pulls back knowing that to go further would hurt his hand. However, if the child had no pain receptivity, as some have such a rare condition that they feel no pain; he would burn his hand off and not know he was doing it. The pain is a protection to one’s life.


When things aren’t going right, it’s time to look around and find out why. We all have this sense of how things ought to be, and yet we often ignore that sense and think things are as good as it gets. If so, we wouldn’t have this longing for something greater. That desire is there, because that desire has a fulfillment. People try to fill that longing in all kinds of different man made ways. But the only way to fill real longing in one’s heart is through knowing God and coming into His Kingdom.


God gave us free will and man chose to break communion with God and go his own way. Still God provided a way that man could be forgiven and find communion with God again. That way was by sending His own Son, Jesus, who is blameless in every way to pay the price for the sins of mankind.


The Bible says that Jesus, while being God, humbled himself to take human form and even humbled himself to die via crucifixion to pay the price for sins that He did not commit to bridge the divide between God and man. Man need not and cannot work his way back to God. Nor does man need to die for his own sins, but man simply needs to accept that there is nothing he can do to come to God, but to surrender his heart freely and accept God's free and gracious gift of salvation.


Doesn't this sound like a loving God? Just to recap, He gave us free will. We rejected Him. He then sent His Son to die in our place so that we can still enter into the love He has for us if we so choose. And He won't force anyone to have relationship with Him. But He stands at the door of our heart and knocks. He lets us know that He is there, but He won't force the door open. He waits for us to choose to open our heart or close it to Him. The choice is ours, not His. He gave us the choice because He loves us. He desires that none perish, that is His heart, but because He loves us He has to allow us to choose to have life in Him or to perish because our life is not in Him. We can live now with Him forever or we can never live with Him forever. What more could a loving God do to show His great love?


18 comments:

Kevin DeGraaf said...

Heaven is nonsense. See Those Old Pearly Gates.

Hell is nonsense. See Infinite Punishment for Finite Sins.

If you want to engage us in a fruitful discussion, you can try to rebut the arguments contained in those two essays, rather than babbling nonsensically about how "God is love", etc.

Karla said...

Okay. I'll respond to those articles. Give me some time, I will do it soon and post it on this blog.

CyberKitten said...

karla said: The best habitat for a fish is water. The best habitat for humanity is living united with God through an amazing love relationship. But if we refuse it, as we have the freedom to do, we naturally are the fish flopping around on dry land.

Or we could evolve lungs over time and stand on our own two fins - without the need or desire to believe in comforting fictions. If it is a choice between submission to God or living Free then I choose Hell. At least it will be warm and most of my friends will be there.

Quixote said...

Kevin,

I'd like to weigh in on this for a moment. Ebon is a class act, a gifted writer, and a clear thinker. I've got great respect for him.

In the essay on hell, however, I think he has in mind to rebuke sinister or cruel depictions of hell. I don't believe he, or any atheist who values reason, will object to the following propositions regarding hell I offer (maybe I'm wrong). Interestingly, I don't believe many Christians would object either, and these propositions appear to be supported by the Bible:

1) The only people that populate hell are those who deserve to be there.

2) The punishment in hell must be commensurate with the sin committed.

3) The punishment in hell is less severe for some than it is for others.

Ali P said...

Quixote said...
1) The only people that populate hell are those who deserve to be there.

From my understanding, I'm heading straight to hell (I sin quite a lot, I'm and atheist, etc). But I'm also generally quite a nice person and I probably wouldn't 'deserve' to be there.

Quixote said...

"But I'm also generally quite a nice person and I probably wouldn't 'deserve' to be there."

You seem a nice enough person to me. I think it helps to get the emotional content out of the doctrine of hell--that way we can actually talk about it :)

So, we are agreed then? If you don't deserve to be there, you won't be there. If you do, you will.

Karla said...

Quixote, I am not sure where you are going with that yet, but I'll sit back and watch for now.

Karla said...

Cyberkitten, living free is living in truth, not in opposition to it. Would not a fish be more free in water than on dry land?

CyberKitten said...

karla said: Cyberkitten, living free is living in truth, not in opposition to it.

Indeed. That's one reason why I'm an atheist [grin]

karla said: Would not a fish be more free in water than on dry land?

A fish on dry land would be free of aquatic predators....

Quixote said...

"Quixote, I am not sure where you are going with that yet, but I'll sit back and watch for now."

Well, nowhere, really. There's an emphasis here on one of the top disagreements between atheists and Christians. Christians believe that sinners are deserving of hell, most atheists do not.

It boils down to the de facto outcome, then. If Christianity, or similar theological constructions are false, then what Ali is claiming may very well be true, and no one will be in danger of hell.

However, if Christianity is true, then the objection to hell that people do not deserve to be there is plainly false. I don't see how any reasonable Christian or atheist could take exception with this.

So, if we can get past emotional conceptions of hell, there's not that much to argue about, but I'm willing to be shown where I'm wrong.

Just out of curiosity, are you satisifed with my three conditions for hell, or would you add or subtract something?

Karla said...

Hey Quixote, actually I misread your first proposition. I'm good now. I thought you had said something else. I think we are on the same page.

Ali P said...

Quixote said...
However, if Christianity is true, then the objection to hell that people do not deserve to be there is plainly false. I don't see how any reasonable Christian or atheist could take exception with this.

It's not really possible for me to comment on this. As an atheist, I believe in Christianity, let alone hell - plus I don't have too much knowledge of Christians understanding of Hell.

Why I realise this now, after I already commented, is a mistery.

Karla said...

Ali P, I take it you meant to say you "don't" believe in either.

Karla said...

Kevin, I will be posting up a response after reading some of Ebon Musing. I will read more and respond more later. I only have a little time available to me right now. Also if there is a particular point Ebon makes that you would like me to address specifically please tell me what that is.

Ali P said...

Doh!

Karla said...

Ali my newest post explains more about what Christians think about heaven and hell. If your interested.

Anonymous said...

Quixote,
"1) The only people that populate hell are those who deserve to be there."

I object (and Ebon would too). No one deserves hell, even the most bloodthirsty, evil tyrant the world has ever seen. Hell is infinitely unjust as it is infinite torture/punishment for finite crimes.

"2) The punishment in hell must be commensurate with the sin committed."

I object again. Infinite punishment is infinitely non-commensurate (is that a word?) with finite crimes.

"3) The punishment in hell is less severe for some than it is for others."

I object once again. How will you differentiate between infinite torture A or infinite torture B?
"So, we are agreed then? If you don't deserve to be there, you won't be there. If you do, you will."

This is not supported by the Bible unless you wish to argue that we all deserve hell, which is supported by the Bible (and is an especially immoral and vicious teaching). However, this does not square with reality as stated above.

Anonymous said...

Karla,
Your post has some serious logical errors.

"If there was no hell and all people went to heaven it would follow that heaven would not be "heaven" at all, but simply a new place of existence after death with the same people and problems as life on earth."

It doesn't follow at all (non sequitor) that god could not create a heaven that includes all people and is blissful for all.

"So for heaven to be a place of harmony with God there must also be a place where there is no harmony with God, for those that refuse to accept harmony with God."

Again, this is a non sequitor and a false dichotomy. It does not follow that the existence of heaven necessitates the existence of hell.

"If one rejects God would it only stand to reason that they would not want to be in a place of God for all eternity."

Whether one believes in god or not is not the same as rejecting god. One is a statement about whether one ascertains facts correctly or not, the other is an act of rebellion. god, however, is judging us on the former and conflating it with the latter.

"He would only have one option that would exclude the necessity of hell. Namely, to create robots who have no freedom, but must obey Him and love Him."

False dichotomy. There are actually many (maybe even infinite) numbers of options open to god short of torturing people for eternity. In fact, torturing people for eternity is one of the worst, if not the worst, option that god has available to him. Further, we can all want to love god and still have freedom. Lastly, isn't that what heaven is? That you give up your free will to follow god? Do you think that you can disagree with god in heaven? Do you think that you can feel sad for those who you know and love that don't make the cut and end up in hell? The only way that you can be truly blissful while knowing that people are suffering eternal torment is to give up your freedom (of choice, conscience, etc.) or else be a self-centered sociopath.

"So, what does a loving God do? The only way a loving God can exhibit that love is to allow us to have free will that He does not overpower."

How loving is it to create beings that you know will suffer for eternity? You've never answered that question by the way. If you knew someone would drown if you let them go swimming, would you allow them to do so and simply shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, they used their free will to go swimming and they died. C'est la vie." With god, giving him the maximum benefit of the doubt, he at least knew ahead of time that some of his creations would suffer an eternal fate in hell, yet he went ahead and created them anyway. Is it better to have a lifetime of freedom that leads to sin and eternal torment or to simply be in heaven from the start...or even not have freedom but get to go to heaven for eternity? Why even put us on the Earth to begin with?

"Now you may be objecting that it is unloving for God to dictate that we love Him and have relationship with Him or suffer. However, the truth is that it is good for us to love God."

Then he should make his presence/love more easily known for our own good. By not doing so, at no cost to himself, he is guilty of negligence at least.

"However, if the child had no pain receptivity, as some have such a rare condition that they feel no pain; he would burn his hand off and not know he was doing it. The pain is a protection to one’s life."

Only because god set up a system where we have to feel pain in order to receive those danger signals. Would it not make much more sense to have a signal that doesn't cause us discomfort but is compelling to us all the same? Why did god decide that we have to feel pain?

"...Jesus, who is blameless in every way..."

Except assault...among other things.

"Man need not and cannot work his way back to God. Nor does man need to die for his own sins, but man simply needs to accept that there is nothing he can do to come to God, but to surrender his heart freely and accept God's free and gracious gift of salvation."

This is contradictory. You are claiming that we need to make a positive action of "accepting" and "surrendering" (why should we "surrender" if we are to maintain our freedoms?) yet you also claim that there is nothing we can do.

"But He stands at the door of our heart and knocks. He lets us know that He is there, but He won't force the door open."

Demonstrably false, as shown by the numerous Xians who sincerely wanted to find god and became atheists. Even Mother Theresa said that she did not feel god's presence.

"He desires that none perish..."

If that were true, then none would perish. Since the Bible claims that most do perish, I think we can safely conclude that it is not his desire that none perish.

"What more could a loving God do to show His great love?"

He could come around every once in a while for a chat. He could stop sending hurricanes and tornados and earthquakes. He could stop our bodies from being ravaged by cancer, ebola, and other such things. He could end world hunger. He could do lots of things that he simply doesn't do.