Could a “loving” God really condemn so many people to Hell? That question causes most skeptics to stumble as they consider the truth claims of the Christian faith. It makes little sense to them, as they view God as cruel rather than caring. As one non-believer summed up:
“Since the majority of people in this world aren’t Christians, may not even know about God/Jesus/Christianity, the problem I have is that according to your religion, the majority of this world’s population throughout time will be dammed into hell. A god that will torment/torture these souls for eternity just because the don’t know God, believe in the Christian God or even heard of His possible existence, is not one I want to believe in.”
How can the Christian apologist respond?
The first step, I submit, is to focus on what the skeptic is really saying – while he may have reasons to question God’s goodness or his love, his conclusion appears to be emotional rather than logical – he does not want to believe in a God who would condemn people to hell “just because” they don’t believe in Him, or perhaps have never heard of Him. There are indeed answers to the challenge, answers that have been formulated, debated and discussed for centuries, but first it bears pointing out that the skeptic is asking the wrong question of himself. He’s asking whether he “wants” to (or should) believe in a God who he thinks is unnecessarily harsh or mean spirited. The better question, I would submit, is whether the Christian God is the true God. In other words, are the Christian claims about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus historically true and therefore worthy of belief? Once I settle that question, I can try to make sense of whether my God is “fair” or “loving” or whether he possesses a whole host of other attributes that I may find desirable. But whether I “like” him – or at least my impression of him – or not, is not really the issue.
Perhaps an analogy might help. I don’t want to “believe in” a world in which innocent people suffer as much from the effects of gravity or floods or sunlight (or whatever other natural force) as guilty people. In other words, if someone accidentally falls off a cliff, I think it’s unfair that they fall and die, just as often as the person trying to commit suicide. I don’t think its fair that people accidentally drown or get skin cancer from the sun. The notion that these things happen doesn’t sit well with me. And I think it’s unfair that millions and millions of people throughout the world and throughout history died of infections simply because the learned people of their place and time had no notion of antibiotics. I don’t want to believe in human bodies that are unable to fight infection until someone in some remote part of the planet “happens” to discover antibiotics. It just doesn’t seem right.
The point is obvious, and it sounds awfully silly when articulated. If I come down with an infection, wherever I happen to be in the world, you can bet that I will seek antibiotics – because they conform with the way things really are, that is to say, they work – whether or not I think the circumstances of who discovered them or who else might have access to them is “fair.” So, whether I think the Christian God is what he should be is rather beside the point; the question is whether there is good reason to believe that the Christian description of God “gets it right.”
If there is a God, he is the creator of the universe and the natural order we find within it. This much the skeptic should concede. And what conclusions will a study of nature support regarding its creator? Well, despite the fact that nature is stunningly beautiful – from a sunset to a seascape to mountains covered in snow – it is also largely uninhabitable to us. In a universe beyond comprehension, there is only a sliver of air in a remote planet that can sustain life as we know it, and most of that sliver of air contains things which can do us great harm. If there is a God, he is the God that created all this – and us in the midst of it all. Given this obvious fact, why should I doubt for even one moment that his approach to the after life may be rigorous as well? Why would I think that in this one area – who achieves salvation – he all of sudden doesn’t have any rules to speak of and “everything goes?” All you have to do is “be nice” and believe “sincerely” and you’re in? Really? Nothing else in nature operates this way, so why would this most important of things be any exception?
Now, I would hasten to add that this observation can be easily misunderstood. Many will conclude that Christians are simply afraid of God. This would badly miss the point. Yes, the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord. These reflections may help me begin to understand what that passage means. But God has so much more in store for us; what he offers us in return for our acceptance of his gift is infinitely greater and more wonderful than anything we can presently imagine. But should we not also tremble when we think of God’s righteousness and holiness?
Dealing with the skeptic who doesn’t “want” to believe in the Christian view of God can be challenging. Perhaps the direct approach offered above can put a stone in his shoe to get the conversation started.
Posted by Al Serrato