Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Hell
A question from the Reddit thread of questions we theists supposedly can’t answer (but we really can, but if we do, then we’re full of it because we’re not supposed to have all of the answers, but if we don’t have all of the answers theism is false; atheism makes my head spin–I’m way too consistent in my personal judgments to ever embrace atheism!).
This question concerns hell, and it’s a common one:
How can God’s love be unlimited if there is hell?
Hell is a fate to which humans consign themselves. God is basically the ultimate respecter of persons. He has laid the cards on the table–no matter how deeply we penetrate the black box of existence, it becomes increasingly complex and ordered. No matter how far we probe the cosmos, the evident beginning of everything is found. Ultimately, it all points to a First Cause that is itself an intelligent creator–a person, God the Father.
Jesus, the second person of God–the Son, has revealed the Father to mankind by becoming one of us. The wrath of God against ungodliness has been appeased in the sacrifice of the Son to those who have faith (active faith, faith that does something; different from mere assent to a certain worldview).
From the Father and the Son comes the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of God’s action in the world. He calls us, convicts us of our sin, and regenerates us in faith to become sons of God and conform to the image of Christ.
The cards are on the table, and they are many and obvious. But no one is coerced to love God. I don’t believe loving God is choice per se; rather, it is a revelation of something already inside you from the start. Being a Christian isn’t something that you do once in an altar call, but a lifelong journey of self-discovery.
If you refuse the free gift of grace, living life apart from God, God doesn’t snuff you out of existence (though we could argue that he would be justified in doing so). Instead, he allows you to remain in tact, living both on earth and into eternity. The soul was created for eternal fellowship with God, to snuff a person out of existence would be to violate the ontology of the soul. Make it something that it isn’t. So, what to do with the soul that rejects God?
Well, heaven with God wouldn’t be nice. If you rebel against and ultimately reject the fellowship of someone (such as divorcing a spouse), you don’t want to spend a solid second with that person ever again–let alone all of eternity! It would be worse torture than, well, hell. Cruel, even.
I’ve heard many an atheist express sentiments like this. Over the course of keeping this blog and venturing into discussion forums with various atheists (such as Theology Web, the Rational Response Squad discussion board, the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees forums, and the Is God Imaginary forums), I’ve heard several times over things like, “I’d rather spend eternity in hell than be in heaven with your God!”
This is predicted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-31). In it, a rich man dies and goes to (presumably) hell, while a beggar named Lazarus ascends to (presumably) heaven. When the rich man realizes that he’s lost, does he try to alter his fate? Nope–all he does is ask for a drink of water, something that would satisfy his immediate need only. Then, he wants to warn his family so that they won’t suffer the same fate. Notice: he doesn’t want out of hell!
This is why C.S. Lewis observed, wisely I think, that the doors of hell are locked from the inside. No one is there that doesn’t want to be there.
Hell is perdition and separation. It is, ultimately, what the sinner wants–total separation from God. God is giving him his way. However, for those who submit to God’s way rather than their own, glorification in heaven awaits, and eternal fellowship with God.