Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Nature of Hell

Hell is one of the more controversial subjects in Christianity. A lot of non-Christians use this as an attacking point (I've heard quite a few say that they could never believe in a God who would send people to an eternal torment like Hell, so we never even get into the evidence for God because they can't get past this starting point). Complicating this is the different descriptions of Hell contained in the Bible. Sometimes it is referred to as a place of eternal fire and torment. Other times it appears to be a place of destruction or separation from God. So what exactly is Hell?

Anyone who claims to have an obvious answer to this question probably doesn't have a good enough understanding of the scriptures. After all, this is a tough question, and we cannot be afraid to admit that it's tough. But for what its worth I'd like to put my two cents in and offer up my personal interpretation. By no means do I claim that this is 100% the "right" answer. But hopefully it will give you some food for thought, and I believe it is completely consistent with the scriptures.

When analyzing Hell you have to remember two things. First, the name "Hell" is actually our English translation of the word "Gehenna." Gehenna was a real place, not just some spiritual realm. Gehenna was the name of a burning trash dump. People who practiced paganism used to throw their children into the fire as a sacrifice to Molech, a pagan "god". So when Jesus said that people would be cast into "Gehenna", this would have conjured up a very specific image in the minds of His contemporary listeners. They would immediately have thought of themselves being thrown into this burning trash pit for all eternity. Now did Jesus literally mean that people who rejected God would be thrown into this earthly fire pit? No, of course not. It's a metaphor, designed to generate a particular image in people's minds. What image is that? Is it necessary to conclude that Jesus was telling people that Hell was a place of literal fire? I don't think so. My personal feeling (especially when we read these Biblical passages in conjunction with those discussing separation from God) is that Jesus was merely trying to convey that compared to the option of Heaven, Hell is a VERY undesirable experience.

The second important thing you need to remember is that many times the Bible ascribes things to God for which He is only INDIRECTLY responsible. In other words, it will say God did something, but what it really means is that God allowed that thing to happen. After all, God is in control of everything, so He could stop anything from happening. So when something happens, by necessity this means that God allowed it to happen.

In my opinion, this is precisely what is happening when the Bible says God casts people into Hell. He has the power to stop it, but He allows it to happen. Therefore the Bible attributes it to Him. Let me explain in more detail.

God is perfect. Heaven is essentially spending eternity with God. But because God is perfect, we can only spend eternity with Him if we too are perfect. Of course, we are far from perfect, which means that left to our own devices we cannot spend eternity with God. Hell is separation from God. Without divine intervention, Hell is the default destination for all souls after death. So it isn't that God makes an affirmative decision to send people to Hell. That is where we are headed anyway. However, God intervenes to allow us to thwart this default destiny and get into Heaven with Him. He gives us a way to be declared perfect in spite of our flaws. We can do this through faith in Christ, allowing our sins to be transferred to Christ so that He paid the price for them on the cross.

You also need to remember that Heaven is not only being in God's presence for eternity, but it also means submitting to God eternally. For believers, this prospect gives us joy. But someone who spends his or her life rejecting God, and certainly not submitting to Him, would have no interest at all in submitting to Him for eternity. Given the choice between Heaven and Hell, non-believers would probably choose Hell. At least there they could continue to be their own masters instead of having to submit. So it's not necessarily true that Hell is a place of literal flaming torment. But the only way to compare the enormous gap between the experiences of Heaven and Hell is to compare Hell to Gehenna. The difference between our normal life and burning in Gehenna captures the image of the difference between the ecstasy of Heaven and existence in Hell. But in order to appreciate that ecstasy you have to love God. If you don't love God, Heaven actually may be even a worse fate for you than Hell.

So when people say that God punishes people eternally simply because they don't believe in Jesus, they really are missing the point. It's not that God punishes them for unbelief. They are headed for Hell anyway. God actually saves people by offering them a way out of their predicament. Hell is the default. Heaven is the result of God's action.

For what it's worth, that's my opinion. Take it or leave it. It may be completely wrong, and there are certainly better theologians than me who may tell me I've got it all wrong. But if this brief explanation gives you some food for thought, then it has accomplished its goal. God bless.


DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

How do you get around Matt. 25:31-46? Especially vs. 41 where the word “fire,” if properly translated means…well…fire. Further, it says it is an everlasting fire (or punishment) prepared for the devil and his angels, conforming to Rev. 20:10-15. While it may be a metaphor for some supernatural punishment, the closest natural comparison being fire, it still sounds pretty terrible.

Ten Minas Ministries: So it isn't that God makes an affirmative decision to send people to Hell. That is where we are headed anyway. However, God intervenes to allow us to thwart this default destiny and get into Heaven with Him.

Mmmm, yes and no. Depends on how one has God “creating” time. Perhaps you could claim that at one point, prior to creating any humans, God foresaw (and arguably predestined) that all humans would go to Hell. And subsequently, God foresaw (and absolutely predestined) that some humans would go to heaven. And then God started creating humans.

God made the affirmative decision to create humans, some of which he knew would go to hell, some of which he choose to go to heaven. While you may not like the strength of the word “send to hell” it has to same results. (I get this from Eph. 1:4-5 which indicates predestination happened prior to creation and Matt. 25:34 stating heaven was prepared for them since the beginning of the world.)

Honestly, if I had a choice in the matter (which I clearly did not) I would prefer to not exist than be created with the necessary eventuality of eternal punishment. Who would want that in their future?

More: But someone who spends his or her life rejecting God, and certainly not submitting to Him, would have no interest at all in submitting to Him for eternity.

Why not?

As a human, I could spend years in a certain direction or intention, and upon learning new information, change my mind relatively quickly. If I retain that ability post-mortem, I would see no reason to blindly cling to a belief I had for only 70 years or so.

Think about it. We die. We learn of a god—whether the god of the Muslims, Mormons, Moonies or Methodists—we have just gained a huge new piece of information. Taking heaven and hell out of the picture—if you learned that the Catholics were correct, are you going to “reject” the God of heaven, or would have “no interest at all” in submitting to Him, since you were not Catholic on earth?

Or if you learned that God was something completely different than anything you imagined, would you have “no interest at all” in submitting to Him?

Of course not! Because you have gained knowledge, and will make a decision on that knowledge. Why would we be any different?

I cannot fathom a person seeing God, and saying, “Sigh. Well, up ‘till now I had a completely different picture. Guess I will stick with my old information.”

Personally (and you are more than welcome to take this or leave it) when I read statements like this, I presume the argument is “preaching to the choir.” Convincing those that already believe. Because to me—this statement makes absolutely no sense, and is completely contrary to my being. It is unpersuasive to everyone except to those already persuaded.

More: Given the choice between Heaven and Hell, non-believers would probably choose Hell. At least there they could continue to be their own masters instead of having to submit.

I have no clue why you would say this. None.

Regardless of the God involved, who would choose eternal torment? In one light, it is kinda funny. We infidels are often painted a self-centered, self-willed, selfish people consumed with ourselves and our own comfort. So the one time we could make the most important decision EVER as to our own comfort—we become idealistic? I hope you see the humor in that!

Besides, we submit to the wants and needs of our spouses, our children, our friends and family. We submit to our employers, our clients, our landlords, our mortgage holders. We submit to our local governments, our county governments, our state and federal authorities. We submit to the theory of gravity, to nature, to time, to space, to abilities.

You may be stunned at how cognizant we are to all the things we are subordinate to, and in submission to, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

If we met a god—a true GOD—why would we care about submitting to it? We are not entirely stupid—we recognize that a God has an awesome power, has the power to create, and would be responsible for the universe. In the same way we recognize the inevitability of growing old, we recognize the inevitability of such a god.

In fact, to some extent it would even be a bit of relief.

No, our problem is that here on earth we are being careful. We are more than willing to submit to a god, or believe in a god, or have faith in a god. That is not the problem. The sticky wicket is to determine which one. Which concept of God that the various humans are telling me exists is the correct one?

We have just searched so long, and been so sorely disappointed with the lack of viability of any god concept, that we have come to the conclusion there is no god. Always willing to look at new proof of a particular God concept, but it has absolutely nothing to do with motivations centered around submission, and has everything to do with motivations centered around determining what is reality.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond. I am hoping that after the next two weeks or so, my medical appointments will slow down a bit so I will have more time to respond to comments in a timely manner.

As to your comments, you seem to be missing my point. You keep talking about Hell as "eternal torment", and using the old fire and brimstone language. But my point is that this is not accurate. It's not so much that the experience of Hell is so torturous in a literal sense. It's that the experience of Heaven is so incomprehensibly exquisite that it is inconceivably superior to the experience of Hell. We earthly beings cannot fully grasp the spiritual experience. We are limited by our physical existence and preconceptions. The best way to make people of Jesus' time understand this enormous experiential gap was to compare Hell to the worst thing they could draw from in their earthly experience, that of Gehenna. Many of your arguments don't seem to make sense to me when we keep this view of Hell in mind.

As to your question about Matthew, you already answered it yourself. I believe it is figurative. The fact that it corresponds so perfectly to the passage in Revelation, which contains a plethora of imagery, actually supports this view. So I don't "get around" it. I view it from the perspective of what I described in the last paragraph.

Your comments about how God "created time" are not quite on point either. I didn't really get into this in my original post on Hell, but in many of the articles on the Ten Minas site I make the point that God exists outside of time. There is no "one point" prior to God's creation because there was no time prior to God's creation. You see it is my position that God exists outside of time. He created time so He is not subject to it. We live linearly. God does not. God does not "predict" the future in the sense of foreseeing things that have not happened yet. To Him, all times are equally accessible. He does not "predict" the future, He simply looks at what is right there in front of Him.

So it is incorrect to view God as sitting back in His easy chair prior to creation saying, "Hmmm...I think I'll save this person and let that one burn eternally." Hell is separation from God. God knew that in our linear existence we would rebel and not be able to spend eternity with Him. Of course, He wanted to spend eternity with us. So He created a way for us to spend eternity with Him, but without violating our free will.

Is Hell punishment? Yes, you could certainly view it that way. After all, if there is an objective moral law, God would not be just if He did not punish violations of it. If we violate the civil law, we get punished. If we violate the moral law we also must be punished. And remember that everyone has violated the moral law (probably more than we would like to admit). None of us has been perfect all our lives. And recall that God exists outside of time, so what we did when we were 15 is just as readily apparent to Him as what we do when we are 60. The passage of time since our last "biggie" is irrelevant.

But does the mere fact that Hell also serves as punishment necessarily mean that it must be torturous? No, I don't think so. I have a four-year old daughter, and needless to say she does not always behave. There are different ways I can punish her. Spanking is certainly an example of a punishment that involves physical pain. That would be analogous to a fire and brimstone picture of Hell. But I can also punish her by depriving her of something. For example, she has a playroom with all her toys in it. Sometimes I will punish her by taking her playroom away for a period of time (it gets locked up and she is not allowed to play there). One instant she is standing in the family room listening to me, still with the right to use her playroom. The next I have told her she is no longer allowed to use her playroom. She is still standing there in the family room. Her present existence hasn't really changed at all. But she has been denied an opportunity. You can use this analogy for any kind of deprivation (such as not giving a child dessert or taking away some trip to a park or something else the child wanted to do). So deprivation can also be a punishment. This is how I see the punishment role of Hell. It is not that Hell itself is per se so torturous, but rather the punishment is the fact that we are not allowed into Heaven, which would be oh so much better.

You say you would prefer not to exist in the first place than to exist eternally in Hell, to which I have two responses: (1) How can you possibly know this if you do not fully comprehend the nature of Hell? You say you would rather choose one alternative, but you really don't fully know what the other alternative entails. Under my interpretation of Hell (this is another time when you get stuck in the fiery images), non-existence isn't necessarily preferable. (2) If you don't want to spend eternity in Hell, don't! God gave you a way out. Take it! The whole concept of "predestination" is an attempt to describe God's non-linear existence to linear beings. Because all human language formed in the context of linear time, and is describing things from the perspective of existence within linear time, it is really insufficient to adequately describe existence outside of time. Bu we do the best we can. As I said before, God did not sit back and make a conscious choice before time began because all times were already equally accessible to Him. But God is ultimately in control of everything (as I explained in the original post), and He certainly knew who would take Him up on His offer and who would not. He has the power to make people choose Him, but that would be violating their free will. So it is in this sense that people are "predestined" one way or the other. But this does not eliminate the choice that you have to make. God sends the Holy Spirit to make it possible for us to choose Him, but we still have to make the choice. If you don't, how can you complain that you have not been "saved" from Hell when you had the chance to do so?

You think that people who spend their lives rejecting God would be willing to submit to Him after death once they learn that He really does exist. Really? As you can probably guess, I don't agree. What you are talking about is the ability to have intellectual certainty about God's existence. You seem to argue that if people could have intellectual certainty of God's existence they would be willing to change their ways and submit to Him. Let me ask you some simple questions: Do people who are smokers intellectually know that it could lead to cancer? Do they know that cancer is a very unpleasant alternative? I would think that in the vast majority of cases the answer to these questions is "yes". Does this cause them to stop smoking? No, it doesn't.

You see, our lifestyles can be very addictive, and Christianity teaches that our unwillingness to submit to God is far more addictive than any addiction to nicotine. Mere intellectual knowledge of a fact is not enough to make us change our ways. Humans routinely live in a manner that they know is damaging to them in the long term.

In order to really be willing to submit to God, you have to love Him. Belief in His existence is one step, but it is just that, a step. That alone does not save you. You must have faith in Christ's sacrifice to be saved. You can see the last two articles in the "Argument for Christianity" on the website for how this would lead to love and gratitude for God. I know on an intellectual level that 2+2=4, but I do not love 4.

Finally, you say that you cannot understand why I would say non-believers would choose Hell. Again, though, you seem to get stuck in the fire and brimstone concept. As I have said, Hell is separation from God. If you are not willing to submit to God, as I explained above, having to live out eternity in submission to God in Heaven would be a far greater Hell to you than living eternally separated from Him. That is why I say non-believers would likely choose Hell. I am not saying they would choose eternal torture. I am saying that they would choose to be separate from God.

I hope this clears up my position. I am more than willing to be proven wrong by better theologians than myself. I make no claims to have the 100% "right" answer. It's just my personal opinion based upon my studies of the subject. Thank you for your comments and questions. I encourage you to try to view the descriptions of Hell as describing the experiential gap as opposed to a literal torture place, then see how it effects your view of God's "punishment" of non-believers.

DagoodS said...

But Ten Minas Ministries, I do not think you are staying consistent within the claimed analogy. I understand you are stating that Jesus was attempting to make a point of hyperbolic reference, like, “the difference between night and day”--the problem being that Jesus does not paint an after-life for some as merely “existing as they are.”

Imagine a person comes to us from a different culture. They realize that due to our complete differences, they cannot fully explain the results of a choice we make. They attempt to put it in terms we can understand. “If you choose door one, it will be like eating your favorite desert, without calories, without fat, without harmful effects of any kind as long as you want. If you do not choose door one, however, it will be like sticking a red-hot poker in your eye!”

Are you saying that, in the same way, all the person is claiming is that door one is SO great, that failure to take it is a huge difference? Or is the implication that if we do not choose to take door one, our life does not merely continue as before, but rather, bad things happen.

If what happens to me in the after-life is something God could not explain, but the closest thing he could come to it is eternal fire, darkness, gnashing of teeth, weeping, wailing, begging for a drop of water, and begging to let everyone I know NEVER, EVER come to this place—I think it has to be bad.

It seems this argument tries to take the “teeth” out of Hell, yet fails to provide any reason why we should. Other than a “toothy” hell is not a very pleasant selling point.

Whether there is actual fire, or something else is not the point—the point is that it is BAD. You, yourself, refer to it as punishment. Punishment, by definition, is never something we prefer.

God and Time

I am familiar with the “outside of Time” rationalization for God. Unfortunately, this defaults to a predeterminate God, that is obligated to let time play out, without an inability to interact. Regardless of your position on God and time—could God intervene and prevent a person from going to Hell?

Free Will

Hey, I’ll place you, or God, or anybody else on notice—feel free to violate my free will as much as possible to prevent me from having such a bad after-life.

Frankly, the free-will defense breaks down before it even gets started. The God of Christianity does not limit free will, he limits knowledge. Because the Christian has the same limited knowledge.

Do I have free will to fly? Obviously not. Do I have free will to swim, unaided, to 3 miles below the surface of the sea? Nope. Do I have free will to exist in space without a space suit? No way. There are limitations to my free will, by the fact of my humanity.

In the same way, as you write, I have no free will to have a choice as to heaven vs. hell. My “free will” starts off impinged in that I am bound for hell. I never made the choice—It is as ingrained in my humanity as my inability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

God only imparts certain knowledge. What is the “free will” in that? By failing to provide the knowledge in the manner to which I am accustomed, God limits my free will. By requiring us to believe certain things prior to entry limits our free will.

Don’t misunderstand me, I fully appreciate that a concept of a God would mean a creature that has the ability to impinge free will at its discretion. But on the other hand, we can’t use it as an excuse, either, for why God doesn’t get involved. My freewill does not trump God’s omnipotence.

God is Just

Ah, yes. The ever-present rationalization as to why God sends people to hell. The impression I get is that Christians feel a bit of uneasiness as to what they perceive as the unfairness of God by putting humans in a position of automatically going to Hell, then not providing very forthright information as to how to avoid the prospect.

Somehow saying “God is Just” seems to impart some dignity on the premise, as if God has this holy concept of “Justness” by which He is constrained, and it is not so much a God that wants to send people to Hell, but He is reluctantly doing the job by which He is bound.

“Just,” as you know very well, means “in accordance with a law.” What is the law that God must follow? Who set up this law? How can we tell whether God is being “just” and following this law or not?

Further, the Bible speaks of God’s mercy. “Mercy” is the exact opposite of justice. It is recognizing the law, and deliberately NOT imposing it. If God has the ability to be merciful, then claiming it is His justice that sends people to Hell is not persuasive. God could be merciful and keep people out, he chooses to not do so.

It is meaningless to me to hear “God is Just” when the reality would have to be that God is making a deliberate choice as to whether to follow the law or not. He is not mandated by any justice to send me to hell—he chooses to do so!

Further, if God’s “justice” requires payment of violations to his moral law, wasn’t Jesus’ death sufficient? I presume you fall squarely on “Limited Atonement,” then.


Ten Minas Ministries: You think that people who spend their lives rejecting God would be willing to submit to Him after death once they learn that He really does exist. Really? As you can probably guess, I don't agree.

*shrug* O.K. But Jesus agrees with me. Luke 16:19-31. Does the rich man sound as if he doesn’t want to submit to God post-mortem because of how he lived in life?

I’ll ask again—you wake up from a horrific car crash and you are in Purgatory. You—a Protestant that is firmly convinced that Catholicism does not have it quite right. But you recognize and even expect to learn some things are much, much different once you find yourself in the after-life.

Because you find yourself in Purgatory, do you refuse to believe it, simply because you were a Protestant on earth—or do you assimilate this new knowledge (again, not surprisingly, since you expect new knowledge in the after-life) and deal with as best you can?

Secondly, let me expound on your cigarette analogy.

For 37 years I was informed that I should not smoke because it causes cancer. For 32 years I believed that smoking causes cancer. For 32 years I was convinced I was not going to hell.

However, after doing some research, investigation and developing a methodology that was as bias-free as possible—to my complete shock I found out that smoking does NOT cause cancer. Now, I continue to not smoke, I have no inclination to do so. But the difference is that my refusal to smoke is NOT based upon the possibility of cancer, but other reasons. I am still convinced I am not going to hell.

If someone came along and presented me with a new study which showed that smoking causes cancer, I see no reason why I would not subscribe to it. I believed that way for 32 years, to do so again would not be that big of a deal.

Christians paint this picture as if we would be miserable submitting to a God, or living with a God, or having a creature such as a God exist. As if we do everything we can to run away from such an idea, and hide from it and repel it.

Not at all! I believed it for 32 years—there is no reason why I would not want to believe it again. I am not running from it, nor repulsed by it! I would gladly embrace it—just be convincing, is all I ask.

Ten Minas Ministries: If you are not willing to submit to God, as I explained above, having to live out eternity in submission to God in Heaven would be a far greater Hell to you than living eternally separated from Him.

Why? I can say, as someone that submitted to a particular God for the vast predominance of my life, and is now firmly convinced there is no such creature, this claim made absolutely no sense to me.

What is it that you think we find so horrible about submitting to a God?

Anonymous said...

What is hell?

It seems at least to me, that I read a lot of commentary on what hell "is not" but little on what hell "is."


Ten Minas Ministries said...


My position is that Hell is eternal separation from God. We all exist eternally is some form. The question of Heaven or Hell deals with how we will spend that existence, either with God or without Him.


I haven't forgotten about you. I just haven't had time to write a thorough reponse yet. I will get to it, I promise.


Anonymous said...

Okay, and please, call me Lyndy if you like.

So, what does being separate from God look like, feel like? Why is being separated from God considered hell or hellish? What makes it so?

If not with God, then what? What does the unbelieving eternal soul do if not with God?

Again, thank you.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Thank you Lyndy.

I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers. Inevitably, we will always come back to the fact that we are talking about a spiritual existence when our only frame of reference is a physical existence. So in all likelihood we will not be able to fully comprehend in this life what the next one will be like. And considering we have no adequate frame of reference, we shouldn't expect to.

I can try to explain as best I can, but I really don't know if it will be adequate because I am describing my personal experience which you may or may not share (I do not know if you are a Christian, and I'm not going to pry).

When I go to church, I am happy. When I dig into God's word, I'm thrilled. Every now and then (including for tomorrow morning) my pastor asks me to fill in for his Adult Sunday School/Bible study class. When I get to stand up and talk to people about God's word, I'm ecstatic. When I talk to God and feel His presense, I couldn't possibly be happier.

For someone who really finds such overwhelming value in all these things, we want nothing more than to feel God's presence in our lives. That is where we find true happiness. Yet as long as we are in this world, as long as we are sinners, that connection to God is always weakened. It is completely severed by sin, but God makes it possible to reconnect through faith in Christ. But even after we are saved, we are still human. We still sin (although we try to do better and sincerely repent when we do wrong). The reconnection with God is still not perfect. It is not made perfect until we are made perfect. Jesus promises us we will be raised in glorified bodies. We will be declared perfect before God when we are judged. And when that happens, we will finally be able to enjoy that perfect communion with Him that is our deepest heart's desire here on earth. That is the eternal bliss of heaven.

As I have said before, I do not think that Hell is necessarily a literal place of fire. But when you are missing out on such an incredible eternity, it pales in comparison, and it is comparatively a miserable existence.

If you have never experienced communion with God (even in the imperfect form we enjoy on Earth), or if you have never felt that deepest desire to want nothing more than to feel God with you, with nothing separating you, then what I am saying will probably sound like a bunch of insane ramblings. But it is the fulfillment of your deepest longings, the one true passion of your heart, the one thing that brings meaning to your entire existence, that makes Heaven so heavenly.

Thank you for writing.


DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

I have been puzzling and contemplating how to respond to your last comment in a delicate manner. I hope you can appreciate the genuine concern I have to your position.

If your belief is going to damn someone to something that the only physical frame of reference you can compare it to is eternal fire, gnashing of teeth, and deep desire to be anywhere but there, a place so terrible a drop of water is relief—you might want your facts straight.

I, too, loved what I thought was God. I had great moments, alone, in groups, singing, walking in nature, studying, one-on-one, in about very facet of my life. I watched what seemed to be fantastic prayers answered. I had mountain top experiences, moments of doubt, days I took God for granted, days I was certain I would not have made it through without him.

In other words, I believed the same as you. I, too, was asked to substitute for Sunday School. (Nuts, my last adult Sunday School position, the pastor attended, as he enjoyed it.) I, too, was thrilled to study the Bible and live the Christian life.

I was not convicted by limitation on my sin life; I was not repulsed by the Bible; I was not hurt by Christians; I was not hostile toward God.

I continue to study the Bible, and enjoy it. (In many aspects, its loss of divinity gained a richness of character, oddly enough.) I continue to interact and love Christians. I continue to not be hostile toward God. Nothing’s changed in the sin picture, either.

So…when you tell the world that the reason I am going to hell is that I am not willing to submit to God, or that submitting to God would be the equivalent of hell, or that I am spending my life “rejecting God,”—all I can say is that you are not listening to me.

Now, I will grant you that for all you know, I am a 12-year-old girl, and am making all this up. That I am living some secret life off-line that is not in conformity with what I write. Obviously, in this day and age—a real possibility.

There are only two things I would point out. I have written 100’s of 1000’s of words on the subject of theism. (Wow!) My character and passion shows through. Secondly, I notice that none of my family nor friends EVER say this to me. Not even in private conversations with my wife. Not even a hint.

Every person that knows me personally has recognized it is an intellectual pursuit. They knew me before; they know me now. The idea that I would be against submitting to a god is laughable to them. They know me. True, they damn me to hell for my unbelief—but they would NEVER claim that my living out eternity in submission to a particular God would be the equivalent of “hell” and thus my inability to do so.

You have fallen into the newbie trial lawyer trap—you know the one. Where the young lawyer presumes if the other side wants it into evidence, simply by virtue of being the opposition, the young lawyer must NOT want it in evidence, and will oppose it, regardless of what the evidence is. (And yes, old trial lawyers can fall into that rut, too.)

Before even thinking what the evidence shows, or whether it would actually help or hurt them, they are busy objecting to it. If the other side wants an adjournment, just because the other side wants it, they object. If you want to do it in the morning—they insist on afternoon.

They insist on “opposite world” where if you want it, they presume they don’t.

Here (and I am trying to be as delicate as a tactless person can be) you have done the same thing. You presume that since you do want to submit to God, those of an opposite nature must not want to submit to a God. Far, FAR from the truth. We just want to submit to the correct God.

You presume that, as a Christian, living with God is the equivalent of heaven, and therefore those who are NOT Christian; to them living with God is NOT the equivalent of heaven.

What I am telling you is that it is not a question of wanting or not wanting to live with a certain God—it is that we are unconvinced any such God exists. If it does, many of us would have no problem living with, submitting to, and fellowshipping with it. Again (and again) we did before with no troubles—why would we not do it again?

Look, you can damn me to your particular version of hell. (Shoot, I am an atheist. They ALL damn me to their particular version of hell. *grin*) You can blog to your heart’s content if all you are trying to do is convince those that believe we are unwilling and undesiring to submit to a God. (I’ll bet you do pretty well convincing them!)

BUT. If you want to do the difficult work, the tough job of convincing the non-believer, you would probably be better served to drop the opposite world routine. To actually listen to what we say. Oh, you can point out inconsistencies—that is fine. But to claim we are doing something for a motivation that is entirely foreign to us is not inconsistent.

Again, I hope you take this comment with the understanding that I would like to see you improve. Get better at discussing with infidels. Learn how we think. Actually try and convince us, rather than convince the all-ready convinced.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

OK. I finally got enough time to prepare a response. I'm treading somewhat delicately here. The subjects you bring up are very good ones. But they are unfortunately also topics that are hard to discuss without offending people. We are getting into matters of the heart. Let's face it, Christianity teaches that we are all sinners at heart, and people generally do not like to be told that about themselves. So I will try to express myself as diplomatically as possible, but I also will not shy away from telling it as I see it. If I do not succeed, please accept my apologies in advance and understand that no offense is intended, but I must speak honestly about Christian theology, as I am sure you would want me to do in an honorable intellectual debate. That being said, let's get down to the "nitty gritty."

You say, "Jesus does not paint an after-life for some as merely 'existing as they are.'" Perhaps this was my failing in that I did not adequately explain the relevant points of my "deprivation as punishment" example (i.e., the one of depriving a child of something as punishment). The point of this example was merely to illustrate that deprivation of something can serve as a punishment. However, I did not say that Hell is nothing more than "existing as we are." Obviously this cannot be true. We're dead! Something has to be different (although the Bible does teach that all will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment). There are spiritual truths at play here that will be different than the physical truths by which we currently live.

My point is negative, not positive. I do not claim to know to absolute certainty what Hell is like. My point is simply that I believe it is a mistake to say with any degree of certainty that it is a literal place of torture. I do not believe that is a necessary conclusion. You could adequately reply, "Then what is it?", to which I would say, "With the exception of absence from God, I don't know." It could well be very different from our current physical existence. But "different" does not by necessity mean "torturous."

I believe your example of the doors is inadequate. Your participants are two earthly beings. Each has at least the necessary "ingredients" to understand the other culture. After all, if the second person had grown up in the first person's culture, they would see things the same way. All the "raw materials" are there in both people, so one person is trying to understand something that they at least have the ability to understand, although it may be difficult and they may have to "unlearn" much of what they have learned (OK, I was channeling a little bit of Yoda with that comment).

But with the Hell example, we are talking about a physical being trying to understand a spiritual reality. There will be changes in our existence after death. Jesus made that clear. He rose in His physical body, but it was a perfected body. It was a glorified body. It was not the same. Some changes had to take place in order to prepare that body for an eternal Heavenly existence. So when we try to get a full grasp of eternal existence in Hell, we do not have the necessary "raw materials" to come to such an understanding. So your example describes earthly realities with earthly terms. But what Jesus does is describes spiritual realities in earthly terms, which will inevitably be inadequate to capture the full picture (which is why He often spoke in parables).

You say that I refer to Hell as punishment. I said that it serves a punishment role, although this is not the only role it plays. And yes, I believe that people who violate God's law deserve punishment. Jesus tells us that if we come to believe we will realize that Heaven is by far preferable. But if you do not believe, the position I have advanced is that you will never recognize this potential and may not realize how much you are missing out on.

You say that if God exists outside of time, He is a "predeterminate God" and has no ability to interact with those of us within time. But you never explain your conclusion. I've seen this argument before, but I have yet to see any adequate explanation of it. It seems to be that people just take this as a given. Why do you conclude that the mere fact that God exists outside time means that He cannot interact with those of us within time? Do you have any first hand experience about what it is like to be a God and to exist outside of time? How do you know that a divine being outside of time cannot interact with beings within time? I see nothing that makes this a necessary conclusion. And seeing as human kind has lived its entire existence within time, I think it is impossible for us to ever have adequate knowledge to draw this conclusion.

You ask if God could intervene and stop someone from going to Hell, to which I reply, Yes! Of course! That is precisely what He has done through Jesus. The tricky part, though, is that He must do this in a manner that is consistent with His justice, which we'll get to momentarily.

Your argument that God limits knowledge puzzles me. How does He limit knowledge? He does not hide anything from us. He is infinite, so He will be capable of infinite knowledge. We are finite, so by definition we will only be capable of finite knowledge. What has God withheld from us that is within our capacity to understand? Actually, I do not believe it is possible for you to even answer your question (and thereby support your argument) because to do so you would have to advance something that you DO NOT KNOW. Your argument fails if you cannot identify what knowledge God has withheld, because if you cannot identify it, then you cannot claim something has been withheld from you. But if you DO identify something that has been withheld, you are thereby proving that you know it and it has not been withheld. I guess you could identify some general topic about which you believe knowledge has been withheld, but then you are still in a pickle because how do you know it has been withheld as opposed to you simply haven't learned it yet? This argument really makes no sense to me.

Your example regarding free will is not on point either. The examples you give have nothing to do with the ability to choose. They are a matter of physical capability. You are perfectly free to choose to do whatever you want. You just aren't physically capable of doing it. Just ask anyone who thinks they can fly and has jumped off a tall building. They were perfectly free to choose to take that flight. They just didn't have the ability to follow through. In no way did God limit their free will, though.

Equally puzzling was you comment, "By requiring us to believe certain things prior to entry limits our free will." How? God does not limit your ability to choose whether or not to believe at all. Do you deny that you have examined the evidence for God and have CHOSEN not to believe it? Your examples have nothing to do with free will. God gave you a way out. You can read the articles on the Ten Minas website titled "What is a Messiah?" and "How Can I Be Saved?" for a detailed explanation of how I believe this works. But God does not force you to either believe or disbelieve, so your free will is intact.

Moving to your discussion of justice, you said, "The impression I get is that Christians feel a bit of uneasiness as to what they perceive as the unfairness of God by putting humans in a position of automatically going to Hell, then not providing very forthright information as to how to avoid the prospect." I couldn't disagree with you more. Obviously I am a Christian, and I have no uneasiness whatsoever. I do not believe for even a fraction of a second that God is unfair. And I do not believe He has been at all unclear. Frankly, I believe that people who think of themselves as "good people" are kidding themselves. Remember that God exists outside of time, so the passage of time since our last moral transgression is irrelevant. He sees what we did when we were 16 just as apparently as what we did yesterday. People who think of themselves as good people are judging themselves by a human standard. In other words, they compare themselves to other humans and conclude, "Well, I'm better than most, so I'm a pretty good person." But if EVERY human is sinful, then comparing yourself to other sinful beings gets you nowhere. When you compare yourself to a perfect God, you will fall way short. We all do. Even a cursory understanding of the Ten Commandments shows us how short we all fall. I say that I do not believe God has been unclear on how to avoid the prospect because EVERY BRANCH OF CHRISTIANITY believes that faith in Christ's sacrifice is the key. This is true of both Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholicism may have some different beliefs as far as what happens AFTER you come to faith, but faith is still the initial key (in fact I find that most Protestants have a woefully inaccurate understanding of Catholic theology). Again, we are finite beings capable of limited understanding, yet we all see the role of faith.

I disagree with you definition of "justice" because it is too narrow. Actually, I believe a better definition is the first definition contained in the Microsoft Word dictionary:

"Fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made."

In the end it really doesn't matter, because these are all qualities contained in God's character, which is the source for the moral law. The answer to your question, "Who set up this law?" is "No one. God's character is eternal and has always existed."

Your next question is probably one of the most illustrative things you've said in our dialogue. You asked, "How can we tell whether God is being 'just' and following this law or not?" You assume, for the sake of this question, that God exists. Then after making that assumption, you believe that it is still a legitimate question to ask whether or not He is acting justly. We'll get to the full implications of this question later.

You say "mercy" is the exact opposite of justice. "It is recognizing the law, and deliberately NOT imposing it." I don't know why you conclude this about mercy. It certainly is not the Christian conception of "mercy" as applied to God. Mercy is showing compassion in administering justice, but JUSTICE MUST STILL BE SATISFIED. Perhaps a judge will show mercy by using one sentencing alternative as opposed to another (ex: home detention, probation, etc.) because it will allow a defendant to keep their job, continue to raise their children, etc. But the judge does not do this INSTEAD of administering justice. In fact, if you get probation it often comes with a trade off, i.e., more time "hanging over your head" than you otherwise would have received (in other words, if you just served your time you may have gotten off with 30 days, but because the judge gives you probation, you actually have 12 months hanging over you if you violate your probation). By giving you probation does the judge violate the concept of justice? Of course not. If he did not believe justice was satisfied he would not have given you that sentence.

In the Christian context, God is merciful because He didn't have to do anything. He could just leave us all out of Heaven because of our sin and His justice still would have been satisfied. But in His mercy He found a way for His justice to be satisfied AND for us to still get into heaven. God does not make a deliberate choice to follow the law or not. He always follows the law. When you say that God chooses to send you to Hell all you are really doing is trying to shift the responsibility for your own personal choice. When it all comes down to it, you have chosen not to believe. You cannot blame that on God.

You ask if Jesus' death was sufficient. The answer to this is "yes, but we still need to transfer our sins to him." Again, I encourage you to read the article, "What is a Messiah?" Under the Old Covenant the High Priest had to lay his hands on the sacrificial animal prior to sacrificing it. This transferred the sins of the people to the animal so that the animal was now under the death sentence instead of the people. Without transferring the sins all we've done is killed an animal. The same is true with Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus had sufficient merit to cover everyone. After all, He is God and has infinite merit. But if we do not choose to take advantage of that merit, we still die in our sins. Under the new covenant we transfer our sins to our sacrificial lamb by faith in the sacrifice. So yes, Christ's sacrifice was sufficient in the sense that He had sufficient merit to cover ALL sins. But that does not mean that all sins are ACTUALLY TRANSFERRED to Him even though He could have covered them.

Next you turn to my cigarettes example and claim that the parable in Luke 16:19-31 proves that Jesus agrees with you. I think you have completely missed the point of that parable. Parables are designed to illustrate a particular point, and it is a mistake to take anything from that parable that is irrelevant to that point and try to draw conclusions from it. That is trying to learn things from the parable that it was never designed to teach. The point of the parable is not the man in Hell. It is his 5 brothers. The man in Hell asks for a spirit to be sent to His brothers who are still alive so that they will believe. The point Jesus is making is that they already have enough information. No matter what He sends them, they will just find ways to explain it away if they truly do not want to believe. So I agree that this parable is very relevant to our conversation, but you have missed the point.

As somewhat of a side note, I think verse 26 is pretty interesting. It has Abraham saying, "those who want to go from here [i.e., Heaven] to you [i.e., Hell] cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." When does the word "want" appear in this verse? It ONLY appears when discussing people in Heaven who may want to go to Hell (presumably, given the context, to comfort their loved ones). But when discussing people going from Hell to Heaven, Abraham NEVER says they "want" to do so! I don't draw too much from this little tidbit, but it is at least interesting.

Your example about purgatory is still making the same mistake you made before. You are STILL focusing on intellectual knowledge alone. I sincerely want to submit to God. So I would not have a problem admitting I was wrong if I end up in purgatory because purgatory has nothing to do with the command to live out eternity in submission to God. Your example does not address the relevant point.

In regard to the smoking you said, "If someone came along and presented me with a new study which showed that smoking causes cancer, I see no reason why I would not subscribe to it." Again, that's not the point. Would you stop smoking? You may intellectually believe you SHOULD stop smoking. But that does not mean you WILL stop smoking. Your addiction may still get the better of you. You keep coming up with examples of intellectual knowledge, but you fail to acknowledge that intellectual knowledge alone is not necessarily enough to change our behavior.

Now we get to my last point, and like you I will try to be as delicate as possible. You are right that I don't know you. But let me be abundantly clear that I firmly believe that you sincerely believe everything you have told me about yourself is true. Unfortunately, human beings, though, are not always the best judges of ourselves. I am sure you genuinely believe that if you only had intellectual knowledge of God's existence, you would be more than willing to submit to Him. But I think your comments in regard to this post show otherwise.

You asked, "How can we tell whether God is being 'just' and following this law or not?" As I said before, you assume, for the sake of this question, that God exists. Then after making that assumption, you believe that it is still a legitimate question to ask whether or not He is acting justly. If God exists, what right do you have to question whether or not He is acting justly? Who are you to question Him? Why does the finite believe that the infinite must submit to the finite's understanding? By questioning God are you really submitting to Him?

You see, you repeatedly say that you would be willing to submit to God if only you could know that He exists. And just for the record, I believe you honestly believe that. But if that were true, you never would have asked this question. If you would truly be willing to submit to God (if you only knew He existed) then it would make no sense whatsoever in your mind to even CONSIDER questioning His justice if He exists. You assume He exists, but by the nature of your question YOU HAVE STILL REFUSED TO SUBMIT TO HIM. Imagine standing before God, seeing He exists, then asking Him, "But God, how were you really acting justly when you did x?" Is that submitting to Him? No. Now you may say now that if you were really standing before God you wouldn't ask Him that, but your question assumed He existed, but you still questioned Him. I think you need to look a bit deeper before deciding whether you would really submit to Him. If you continue to think you would, then you need to ask yourself why this question even popped into your mind to begin with.

You may or may not have read my profile (and I know I've mentioned it at some times in the past), but I actually am a trial lawyer. I don't know if you intended to make such a relevant comparison in your last post, but you did. I did not fall into the "newbie trial lawyer trap." In fact, if you have read enough of my writings you would see that I am never afraid to concede common ground. I will never disagree with someone just because we are on opposite sides of the "battlefield." There is always some common ground.

I understand fully what you are saying. I know you believe it to be true. But I am trying to explain in as delicate a way as possible that what we believe to be true about ourselves is not always what is actually true about ourselves. And many times the truth peeks out, as I believe it did in your comment questioning God's justice. I believe you THINK you would be willing to submit to God. But I think you are in for a surprise.

Thank you for your advice about trying to convince non-believers. And I do hope to bring some new people to Christ. But I cannot do it on your terms. Essentially, what you have asked me to do is refrain from telling people that they are denying God, and that if they do not accept Him in their hearts, they will continue to deny Him in the next life. If I bring people to Christ under these terms, then I have not brought them to the true Christ.

This is one of the things that is most wrong with many Christian churches today. They sugar coat the message to make people comfortable and avoid the hard subjects. True Christianity requires people to look inward and acknowledge that they are defying God. Until they come to this point of recognition, they will not recognize their need for a savior. I know this will not make me popular, so I try to do it as delicately as I can. But my first loyalty has to be to God. I am sorry if this offends you. That is not my intent. It is not my job to convict you or anyone else for that matter. That is God's job. I do not convince anyone of Christianity. God does. I am at best a mouthpiece.

I appreciate your candor. You told me what you believed, even though you knew it may offend me, and you tried to do so with tact and respect. But in doing so you never compromised what you believed. You succeeded in this goal. I only hope that I have managed to do the same. Thank you.

DagoodS said...

*shrug* Please—always feel free to not take my advice. It is worth the price you paid for it. And I recognize that one person’s situation is much different than another’s.

It has nothing to do with popularity. (You are a lawyer. I would think, by now, you would be resigned to unpopularity.) It has to do with effectiveness. This argument is not effective. Plain and simple.

What if I told you that the reason you are a Christian is that you were born in America (I presume you were) and that if you were born in Iran—you would be Muslim. I am sure you would start to point out all the intellectual study you have done on Christianity, as well as Islam, and you would give your reasons for why you believe that Christianity is the more reasoned position.

And I respond—“Nu-uh. If you were born in Iran, you would be Muslim, because the statistics demonstrate it.”

Again, you go through your reasoning, again you point it out, and you even point out how statistics are wrong, and just an indication, not an edict.

And I respond,-- “Nope. You are Christian because science demonstrates the viability of statistics, and statistically speaking you have a higher chance of being a Christian by being born in America.”

You point out your biography, and your emotional reasoning and spiritual experiences and yet I still insist the reason you are a Christian is a matter of your birth. That you may believe it is different, but it is a matter of locale—not conviction.

While you may respect my ability to argue in such a fashion—is it effective? Is it compelling? Does it cause you to even pause for a moment to re-consider your position? Of course not! I have the reasons wrong for where you are at, and by dogged assertion that I am correct, I have had completely shut down effective demonstration with you.

Whether I am popular by doing so, or maintain my convictions, or uncompromising, in the end, it was useless. I didn’t listen to you—I didn’t even provide a new thought for you to consider since my jumping off point was so wrong.

That is as effective as this argument is to us. Sorry.

Taking it back to the top of the circle. Hell. You state that your argument is negative, in that it is asserting what Hell may not be like. When Lyndy asked what Hell was like, you said you don’t know; all you claim is what Hell is not.

If you don’t know what Hell is, how can you say what Hell is not?

Look how you qualify your answer. First, you say we cannot know with absolute certainty what hell is like, and then you state (with apparent absolute certainty) that it is an absence of God. If you don’t know, how is it that you make assertions about it?

And, I could point out the incomprehensibility of a place of existence that God cannot go (How would the atoms stay coherent, for example?) At best, it is a reduction of God’s presence, but not a complete withdrawal. And, you could then respond, “But DagoodS—you don’t know.”

True. But how persuasive is this conversation? Look at the repeated form. We do it over and over. (Understand, as an atheist, I have to wait for the theist to make a proposition about their God before I can respond.)

Christian: Hell is not a torture.
Me: But the Bible portrays it as such.
Christian: You don’t know.
Me: How can you make an assertion about something, but when we try and inspect it, retreat the claim to an unverifiable realm—the spiritual plane?

Christian: God is just.
Me: But how can we determine what is just when it comes to God?
Christian: You don’t know.
Me: How can you make an assertion about something, but when we try and inspect it, retreat the claim to an unverifiable realm—the spiritual plane?

Christian: God is outside of time.
Me: But then we have a being that is determinate.
Christian: You don’t know.
Me: How can you make an assertion about something, but when we try and inspect it, retreat the claim to an unverifiable realm—the spiritual plane?

I use an earthy example, and you say it is inadequate because we are talking about a spiritual situation. Uh…I thought your original argument was that Jesus was attempting to use an earthy example to talk about a spiritual example. So you can, but I cannot?

Over and over you make claims about what God is, what God does, what God must do, what God does not do, and yet when I attempt to inspect them, I am informed that I since I do not know, my inspection is irrelevant.

That’s fine, but do you see how that takes ALL of the wind out of your original claim? I’m not entirely unintelligent. I get that the more you claim I can’t know (because it is unverifiable) the more I realize that equally you can’t know either. Making your claims…well…guesses.

Ten Minas Ministries: Your argument that God limits knowledge puzzles me. How does He limit knowledge? He does not hide anything from us.

He He He. Go back through your blog entry and your comments. How many times do you say, “I don’t know,” “You don’t know,” “We don’t know” or “We cannot claim” or statements that equally qualify our knowledge? In fact, in the same paragraph you continue on and even capitalize it with “you DO NOT KNOW.”

There you go. Limited knowledge. Hence the reason for all the “I don’t know’s”

In my past, there were things I did not know, but over the course of time, I learned them. Upon new information, I learned that numbers can add, numbers can subtract, numbers can divide and multiply.

By third or fourth grade, it was pretty conceivable to me that there were things numbers could do, that I did not know, but it could possibly learn in the future. I didn’t have to “know” what the numbers could do before realizing that I did not know everything about numbers.

Sure enough, I learned about exponentials.

In the same way, I look about me, and realize I only know so much about theism. Looking back over my past, and how I have learned more and more about theism, it sure seems conceivable to me that in the next few years, upon gaining new information, I will learn more about theism.

It is even possible I will learn some argument or proof or evidence that is compelling enough for me to become a theist.

How do I know that there are things I don’t know, but could learn? Because I look back on my (and most other people’s) history and see that it has happened trillions of times in the past—it seems obvious to me that it is very likely to occur in the future.

Are you saying that we cannot conceptualize the concept that there are things we don’t know, but will learn in the future? You seem to say we can learn in some general field—couldn’t we learn something brand spanking new in some new field? 1000 years ago nuclear bombs would be completely inconceivable. But by repeating our past, I think something will exist in 3007 that someone will say “1000 years ago, ___ would be completely inconceivable.”

We recognize that we do not know things that are physically possible yet do not the knowledge to even recognize we do not have the knowledge as to their existence.

If I die and there is an after-life—I have gained knowledge. Upon being introduced to the reason for the after-life (if ascertainable) I have gained more knowledge. You seem to indicate that, even with this knowledge, I will refrain from acting upon it, if given the choice.

The questions that perplex me are this: 1) Why would I, for the first time in my (after-)life NOT do something I have always done before and 2) Why not provide the same knowledge now, rather than wait ‘till after we die?

If Jesus appeared physically and performed miracles in front of others, is there anything preventing him from doing so in front of me? Wouldn’t that be new knowledge to me? Not just reading what someone else claims, but actually seeing it?

Moving on to God and Justice, since that is a topic that always interests me. Hereis an article I wrote more thoroughly on the subject.

You didn’t like my definition of “just”? Kinda amusing. Directly from Black’s Law Dictionary. But looking at Microsoft word: “Fairness or reasonableness”…

More: After all, if there is an objective moral law, God would not be just if He did not punish violations of it. If we violate the civil law, we get punished. If we violate the moral law we also must be punished.

So you are saying it is “fair” or “reasonable” to impose punishment on violations of law? Or is that acting in accordance with a law? (Black’s Law’s definition of “just.”) Never sure how we can understand what is “fair” (who makes the determination?) within our world, let alone God’s. Anyone with children recognizes pretty quickly that “fair” is an impossible goal. Letting three children have a window seat in a sedan for equal amounts of time is never “fair.” What harms your new definition is the comparison to the civil law.

As you are well-aware, civil law has nothing to do with being “fair.” One city can impose a 2 meter sign restriction; an adjoining city can impose a 3 meter sign restriction. Is it “fair”? Obviously not. Is it “just”? Sure—they can impose whatever law they desire. The punishment for sign violations does NOT depend on what is “fair” but rather what the law is.

When we use the term “justice” we are referring to following a law. A Judge following what the statute or rules state. Otherwise we would use the word, “fair.”

Mercy means to deliberately not impose the law. Sorry, but that is what it means. Not kindness (although it can be as a result of kindness) not “being nice.” But deliberate restraint from imposing a mandated punishment. If the law allows an exception (say, for having faith) then it is merely justice, not mercy. Giving probation, if allowed by the law, is justice. Not mercy.

If Christianity needs to survive by re-defining terms, how viable is it?

And yes, I assumed that God existed when discussing the idea of God and justice. I have to—otherwise this conversation gets pretty boring.

If every time you mention “God”—I say “prove he exists” how far are we going to go in our conversation? I’d think you tire of it pretty quickly. I could also add “under this alleged God” or “your human construct of what a God is” rather than simply say “God,” but that, too, gets pretty tedious.

You can take it for granted that I am convinced by the evidence that God does not exist. When I refer to “God” I am referring to the entity that particular theist is talking about.

More: You asked, "How can we tell whether God is being 'just' and following this law or not?" As I said before, you assume, for the sake of this question, that God exists. Then after making that assumption, you believe that it is still a legitimate question to ask whether or not He is acting justly. If God exists, what right do you have to question whether or not He is acting justly? Who are you to question Him? Why does the finite believe that the infinite must submit to the finite's understanding? By questioning God are you really submitting to Him?

Oh, boy! There are numerous different ways to answer this. I’ll limit myself to two.

First. Let’s be clear. I am not asking God anything. (Albeit, I would dearly love to.) I am asking a human that has proposed a certain God concept (i.e. one that is Just) as to how that human proposes to support that claim. It looks like:

Christian: God is Just.
Me: According to my understanding, “just” means to follow a law, and I have some questions as to how this claimed idea of God of yours could be “just.”
Christian: Who are you to question God?

Do you see? I didn’t question God—I questioned you! I see this, too, over and over. When I ask a genuine question, the Christian, unable to answer, tosses out, “Who are you to question God?” While that is what they say, what I hear is, “I don’t have a clue, so I will grab God as a paper shield, and claim the skeptic is questioning God.”

If the best you can do to support this claim is either, “I don’t know” or “You are questioning God” then I will move on.

Secondly, what is the correlation between submission and asking for information? You seem to equate submission with blind, unthinking adherence. A wife is to submit to her husband. Can she not even ask “What the heck do you think you are doing?” Can’t children reasonably question the thinking behind a parent’s actions regarding them?

Haven’t you ever had a judge rule against you, and you say, “Your Honor, I will follow what you say, but could you give me the reason behind how you ruled to clarify?”

While the wife, the child and the lawyer may all freely and willingly submit to the authority over them, have they lost the ability to even ask for information?

(Oh, and you use the curious word “right” to ask a question. Usually when we refer to “rights” we are referring to liberties granted under the form of cooperative rule. Typically a Constitution. Albeit there are claims of “inalienable human rights” which are nebulous.

I have no inkling of an idea, let alone a claim, that I would have any “right” to ask a question. We are talking about an unknown entity, guided by an unknown set of rules, in an unknown realm, with unknown knowledge. It seems almost silly to use the word, “right.” For all I know, if there was a God, upon viewing it, whether I had the “right” or not may be irrelevant because I no longer care. Or God may forbid me to speak entirely. Or God may sit down for biscuits and tea and I can ask anything I want.

We DO understand the concept of a God, Ten Minas Ministries. We really do. We get the idea that it could snuff us out with a thought, it could implode our atoms, OR it could go water-skiing at noon on its whim. It is a God. An entity that created the universe.

For me to claim any “rights” (or for you to, either, for that matter) is a bit laughable, don’t ya think?

Hence the reason I asked the question of the human that proposed the claim.)

Thirdly, (I told you there are numerous ways to answer this claim) what does your Bible say about asking humans that propose statements about God?

“Test all things, hold fast to what is good.” 1 Thess. 5:21

“Test the spirits, whether they are of God” 1 John 4:1

Or even of asking God himself?

“Ask and it will be given you. Seek and you shall find.” Matt 7:7-11, Luke 11:9

“Whatever things you ask for, in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Matt. 21:22, Mark 11:24

“Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do.” John 14:13

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John. 15:7

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24

Now, you may claim that YOU would not ask God what law He is following. You may claim that every Christian you know would not ask. But are you saying that no Christian, anywhere, at any time, while fully submitting to God, would not even be remotely curious as to what law God was following and ask him?

It also seems odd, the double picture painted of this God by Christianity. Almost as if it is bi-polar. On the one hand, it is this awesome creature, able to create time, space, the universe, life, moral decisions, free will, laughter, joy, consciousness, and things we cannot even fathom. On the other hand, it is so intimately concerned about humans, and loves them so much, it is willing to literally die, and perform the greatest act of love imaginable for them. Yet on the other hand, humans are able to offend it so easily merely by asking questions? I can upset this God by attempting to search it out? Odd.

Again, what is the correlation between searching for knowledge and unwillingness to submit?

More: But I am trying to explain in as delicate a way as possible that what we believe to be true about ourselves is not always what is actually true about ourselves.

I heartily agree. In fact, it is one of the few axioms I live by—we can never completely be objective in determining our own motivations. Even by the initial inquiry, we have modified them.

So what do you propose I do, to determine whether I am willing to submit to God?

Unfortunately, to give you an adequate ability to respond, I have to give you some background. I was blissfully, completely, totally happy with the Christian worldview. I loved (what I thought) was God. [See how the qualification gets tedious quickly?] I love the Bible. I love Church. I have a lovely Christian wife, Christian family, Christian friends.

Oh, I had some questions about some of the troubling aspects, such as predestination vs. free will, and limited atonement, but, like you, I was happily going to heaven, so I figured some day God (if I cared to know) would explain it all so it made sense.

I am extremely knowledgeable in the Bible. Read it regularly. Taught classes, worked in the church. God was as much a part of my life as lunch.

I began to interact with non-believers, which opened my study, and my eyes. Fast forward a half year or so.

I found myself literally on my knees, crying, begging God to show me something, anything that he possibly existed. I didn’t care whether it was sufficient to demonstrate to someone else. I didn’t care if it was proof, or experience, or the right book, or the right moment, or a person or WHAT—I simply wanted God.

For a long, long time, what seemed like every night, from 2 a.m. ‘till I was too exhausted to even lift my head, I prayed that prayer. I prayed prayers I didn’t even have words to express my desire for God, in the hopes of some response.

Fast forward a few months, upon coming to the realization I no longer believed in the God of Christianity, I revealed it to my family and friends. My wife, who I love with every heartbeat, has assured me her single greatest regret was marrying me. It was suggested to her that divorce would be appropriate. My friends abandoned me. My church life was denied to me. My family disowned me.

I am not saying this for some sort of pity-party. Nor, of course, do I blame any of them. They had never dealt with a person in my situation before, so not knowing what to do; they did the safest thing by retreating.

Fast forward two years. We all waited. What would happen? Would I finally reveal some secret sin? Would I demonstrate that I always hated God? Would I show something as to the “real” reason I became an atheist? Even I must admit some curiosity to that effect. Recognizing I may have some unrealized motivation, I wondered what would manifest itself.

And nothing happened. I was the same person. Same morals. Same friend. Same father, husband, brother, acquaintance. The only thing that had changed was my knowledge.

A few friends returned. Some family members re-invited me back. (I still have friends that will not speak to me. And a brother that refuses to have anything to do with me. So be it.)

And I ask them—“Do I hate God? Is there something there that I did wrong, in looking for God?” And they have all acknowledged that it would seem to be a purely intellectual pursuit. I ask why their God didn’t answer me, to which they reply in very small voices, “We don’t know. That makes no sense to us, either.”

They knew me as a Christian. They knew me in the process of deconversion. They know me as an atheist. And even THEY cannot find anything that would hesitate to submit to God. They (like you) maintain there must be something because a human told them God says so in Romans 1. But they can’t find it.

I tell you all this for two reasons. So that you understand, after all I have gone through, after all I have given up, after all I have exerted in the endeavor—so you understand why when you say “You don’t want to submit to God” that particular claim does not resonate with me at all. You may as well tell me that secretly I believe in aliens. It is that foreign to me.

Also, out of genuine curiosity. I tried finding God as best as I could. I tried everything within my knowledge and ability as a human that I could. I have asked everyone I can think of as to what they recommend, and the extremely rare occasion in which they propose something I have not tried—I try it. (What’s the harm?) So, Ten Minas Ministries—it is your position, based upon a sentence in a blog comment that I am kidding myself when I say that I would be more that willing to submit to a God. Fair enough.

How do you propose I remedy the situation?

More: Do you deny that you have examined the evidence for God and have CHOSEN not to believe it?

As near as I can tell—yep. I have examined all of the evidence for God that I have examined. Almost every day, I review some other person’s perspective as to their evidence, so I am sure there is more evidence out there I have not examined. (The learning thing again.)

What I have examined is overwhelmingly convincing to me that there is no God. I cannot get my brain to believe otherwise. But no—I have not “chosen” to believe there is no God. Part of the reason I told you my tale above is to explain how, if I had the choice, I would gladly believe in a God. I would prefer it.

Did you know that cars don’t REALLY need gasoline to operate? It’s true! It has all been a government conspiracy to fund the oil companies, and if you didn’t fill your car with gas, it would operate just fine.

Do you believe it? No? Well, then, you have chosen to not believe it, right? OR, is it more accurate to say that based upon your knowledge and past experience and observation, you couldn’t force your brain to really, TRULY believe it if you tried?

Look—Aliens are kidnapping your family! Did you just choose to not believe it, or are you unconvinced by the evidence?

I abhor the trite comparison, but unfortunately it is the easiest thing to relate. A man puts a gun to your head. He demands, “Believe in Santa Clause or die.” (Obviously this is a weak analogy, but flow with me on this.) Could you force yourself to believe in Santa Clause? You could say it, sure, you could even have the thought cross your mind and suppress any conflicting thoughts.

But could you REALLY believe it? Can you force your brain to buy into a concept that all of the evidence speaks against? Can you choose to believe in Santa Clause?

If he let you go, convinced you believe, and I visited your house three years later on Christmas Eve, would you be waiting for Santa, still? Or would you have bought gifts for the kids? Did you chose to believe and then chose to not believe? Or did you not believe in Santa the whole time?

Yes, I know. You are not convinced. I have had this same conversation what seems like 100’s of times. That somehow I “chose” to not believe.

I wonder how I can get through to explain I had no choice in the matter. I had a preference, and even that did not prevail.

I guess all I can say is this—you believe what you want, Ten Minas Ministries. You believe that I don’t want to submit to God, that Hell is…well…whatever you want Hell to be, I guess. You go ahead and make claims to your Christian friends as to what we heathens are like, despite our honest attempts to tell you otherwise. Go ahead and make broad claims about your God, and when we question them, claim we are questioning God.

And yes, I fully understand that you believe it isn’t you speaking, but that this comes from God. (And yes, I even understand that you cannot choose to believe otherwise. Not that you “think” you believe, but that you genuinely believe.)

But please, PLEASE do not be surprised when your arguments are ineffectual to us.

Well, I tried to help as best I could. Safe to say I (or we, if you want part of the blame) have beaten this blog entry into the ground about as far as it could go.

Have the last word, my friend, and we shall discuss other topics anew elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Well guys, I haven't pounded it into the ground yet, so I will continue to say that I still have no answer to my questions. And I think I see now that they are not forthcoming.

It seems to me TMM that if one says it/hell is not likely fire &/or torture, that just saying it is separation from God is not enough.

You say you know God & are filled with joy over it & to be separated from God would be hell.

What about the unbeliever who is filled with joy living their life, never knowing your God? How can separation from God be hell for them?

It seems that Christians who step away from the belief in literal hellfire due so in order to relieve the overwhelming possibility that it is true, souls will be toast for all eternity.

I don't believe in hell but at one time I did. It is what motivated me as a Christian to bring other people into the Kingdom of God. Then, in taking a closer look at the Bible & studying the concept of hell, it's origins outside of Christianity, the countless interpretations within Christianity itself I simply could no longer believe in this eternal furnace description of hell.

Then as time passed, if no hellfire, then what? I couldn't answer it, much like you can't now, other then to say that you think it's separation from God & in your opinion that must be hell.

I ask what then you think it is, beyond this idea of separation?

Seems one can only be separated from something or someone if they were first connected to them/it. How is it that those never connected are then separated?

Thank you.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Dagoods, I'll get back with you soon. Obviously I need a bit of time to write up my response.

I'll also let you guys know that I'm doing my best, but I'm sure you've noticed the typical long delay in my responses much of the time. I may get to a point where I have to call it off for time constraints, but I will do my best to stick with it at least until we reach a point of "agreement on disagreement." I think we may almost be there because both sides are starting to re-hash some of the same ground.


Briefly in response to your comments I would point out 2 things:

(1) While I disagree with your assertion that you must at one point be connected to something to be separated from it (we are physically separated from the planet Pluto, but we've never been connected to it), mankind WAS at one point connected to God under Christian theology. We did live in harmony with Him prior to the fall. So this argument doesn't hold up. It may just be a matter of yoru definition for "separated", but even under your definition, we were connected at one time.

(2) Why are you so determined to know every detail about Hell? I've already pointed out that God tells us it is certainly not the alternative we should be striving for. Faith is not a matter of fear. Maybe that was your problem when you were a Christian. I don't know. But God does not want us to come to Him out of fear of the alternative, but out of love. If all that motivates us is fear, that motivation will not last. Just look over history at political regimes that thrive on fear. The history of these regimes also shows a history of rebellion against them. For God to give us a detailed analysis of Hell, even assuming finite creatures were capable of such an understanding (which I have argued before that I do not believe they are), would be wrong-headed. He gives us enough information to know Heeaven is superior to Hell, but not too much information so that we do not start to think that avoidance of Hell should be our primary motivation for coming to Him. Is it a consequence of which we should be made aware? Absolutely (otherwise this would give Dagoods even more ammunition for saying God is withholding information from us). But He also wants to keep our focus on love, not fear. So again, He really has told us everything we need to know on the subject. Your curiosity may be asking for more, but do you really "need" to know it? It's not fun. Enough said.

Also, I would remind both of you gentlemen that when this whole exercise started, I said thaht I was putting in my "two cents" as for what Hell is, as best as we can tell. This is a point of intellectual curiosity, but it is by no means an evangelism technique. Like I said before, I believe it is inappropriate to use fear of Hell as a means to bring people to God. But I believe that this interpretation, if true, answers many of the criticisms people often lodge against God. That is the entire extent that the argument was ever intended to go.

Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

I don't wish to go in circles with you, or venture out in the netherland of blog trails and it is evident that is happening.

I do not believe it is enough to say that hell is bad without giving more information.

I do not think it is enough to say, this is what I think "it is not" but other then a type of separation, I don't know what it is.

You don't know and perhaps that's my point and far too many people in ministry set themselves up as authorities on such subjects and when they are asked about it, they side step and give standard answers like, "All that matters is God knows and don't worry about it, focus on God's love." I know TMM, I was in ministry as well and I won't answer any questions about that other then to simply say, I know where you are coming from, I was there too.

It is important because countless people do come to Christ because of fear and to deny such a thing is sticking one's head in the sand. Children especially are very vulnerable to hell rhetoric/topics/suggestions and not wanting to go there. Who in their right mind wants to go to hell?

What happens though is children and yes adults, hear the so-called Gospel according to whoever is preaching it (and imagine all the "ways" that are out there just under the title of Christianity alone and for the most part, if they are Christian ways they've got a hell in there somewhere) and those children and adults take the leader's, the pastor's word for it without examining the evidence themselves.

People need to ask the hard questions. Is hell real? Where did the idea of hell originate? Who is Satan? Did a type of Satan or hellish prototype exist prior to the Christian era? There is much that must be considered about history and belief systems that predate Christianity. People don't know that, they are not educated about it. Many pastors are but they don't discuss it with their congregants.

I won't go on about this any longer. Just wanted to, like you, add my two cents worth.

Thank you again for your time and attempts to answer my question. Dagoods, it was a pleasure reading your discussion with TMM.

Thanks to both of you.


Ten Minas Ministries said...

Just a couple of quick notes for dagoods. As I said in another string, unfortunately I am swamped right now with medical issues and preparing for my son to be born in two months, so I can't repond as thoroughly as I'd like.

I agree that the argument may not be effective. That is why Christians say that we must first be convicted by the Holy Spirit. You have to look into yourself to realize these things are true. I can't do it for you.

Actually, we can say what something is not without knowing what it is. I fall back on an old Sherlock Holmes saying. "When you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth." Quite often we reason by eliminating what we know is not true in order to figure out what is true.

As I believe I have said before, your statement that a God who exists outside of time is necessarily a determinate God I believe depends upon an assumption that you have not provided evidence for. Simply because humanity requires time to make decisions, etc., why do you assume that is the only possible form of life? How can you possibly know that it is not possible for a God to act when He exists outside of time, or for Him to insert Himself into time in order to act?

My claims about our inability to fully understand God are just that, claims that we cannot FULLY understand Him. Logically, this is REQUIRED for an infinite God. Otherwise He would not be infinite. I never said, however, that we could not arrive at some level of understanding. As for the "earthly" examples discussion, I believe my point has been made pretty clearly that I argue that even Jesus' earthly examples did not fully capture the essence of Hell because it is impossible to fully exaplain a spiritual reality in earthly terms. It is the best that could be done in earthly terms, but it does not fully capture the essence. You cannot separate the comments from the surrounding culture, and I believe too many people today make that mistake.

Your argument about our ability to learn misses the point. Have you ever been able to fully learn an INFINITE concept? No. That is not possible for a finite mind. So it is irrelevant that we do not currently have a full understanding of God. My point is that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the finite to fully understand the infinite God.

Unfortunately, I just don't have time to go into more, so I will close with this. You asked how we know whether what God does is just. There are two possible assumptions underlying this question:
(1) God exists
(2) God does not exist
If you assume (2), your question is fully phrased, "Assuming God does not exist, how do we know that what He does is just?" Obviosuly this is a non-sensical question.

If you assume (1) your question would be fully phrased, "Assuming God does exist, how do we know whether what He does is just?" I'm not saying that you can't ask this question and look for an answer. As a skeptic I would expect nothing less from you. But you cannot ask this question and at the same time insist that if God exists you would be willing to submit to Him. Because if He really were to exist, and you were in fact willing to submit to Him, then you would already have your answer. You would not even dream of questioning His justice because you were submitting to Him. I did nto raise this to say that you cannot seek an answer to your question about justice. I am only pointing out that the fact that you are seeking this answer demonstrates that as you are currently situated, you would not be willing to submit to Him as you claimed. Just my two cents. Take it or leave it.

Thanks again.


Ten Minas Ministries said...


Thank you also for your participation. I agree with you that there are people who come to Christianity out of fear. But I also do not believe that commitment will last if that is all it is based on. Liek I said, I do not believe that evangelizing people out of fear is the way to go. Until we recognize our own moral bankruptcy and rebellion, and our need for Christ, our house will be built upon sand instead of solid rock, so to speak.

So I understand your point, but because I do not believe fear of Hell alone is an appropriate way to bring people to Christ to begin with, I do not put a full understanding of it as high on the priority list as you. Thanks again.