Many atheists reject Christianity because of what they see as a profound unfairness. Why would a loving God, they ask, throw someone in Hell for eternity for a relatively minor sin? The punishment, they conclude, does not fit the crime.
For the modern skeptic, there is a certain irony in this challenge. After all, our culture extols individualism and the freedom of individual expression. Whether it’s the call for “less government” or the demand for greater sexual freedom, we find ourselves ensconced in an “age of consent,” in which giving expression to our choice is all that really matters. The abortion industry has made amazing use of this theme, deploying the euphemism “pro choice” to dress up a barbaric act that runs counter to a mother’s basic human nature. Everywhere we look, the desire to give free reign to our “free will” is a driving force. The corollary, of course, is that we should not be forced to do something which is against our will.
Christianity teaches that this free will we so highly prize was designed into us by God, and this view is seems to coincide with our own personal experience. After all, I know that I am me, and I know that I have a set of desires whose fulfillment I seek. I know also that there are many things I wish to avoid. While not strictly speaking a “thing,” God too is either an object of my will, someone I am moving towards, or someone I am trying to avoid. Either I find within my will the desire to better know him and in so knowing, to worship him; or I wish to run from him, evade him as best I can, all the while convincing myself that he is not really there. In short, two choices appear before me: to bend my knee to God, or to seek to be God, replacing worship of him with worship of self.
Having made us free to reject him, God knew that many would do just that. He could have overwhelmed us with his power, forcing us on our faces in worship. Or he could simply abandon us for our acts of rebellion. Instead, he chose a means to reunite with us, to prepare us to spend eternity with him. But in our present form, we are not yet ready. Like a sickness that calls for quarantine from those who are healthy, God will not – indeed, his nature cannot – allow us back into his presence unless he first perfects us, until he first deals with the requirements of justice.
But there is a problem. God will not do this against our will. We must assent. And so he provides us with the means to assent, by giving us enough evidence of him, enough basic knowledge, to know that he is there, and to know something of his nature. But he does not overwhelm us. He shields much of himself from us, because we are not capable in our present from of reunion with him, so that the choice we ultimately make is both informed and fair. Our own love of “fairness” and of justice, coupled with what reason tells us about the necessary existence of God, these things will testify against us when we one day stand before him.
Consider: if I am ill, a skilled surgeon’s examination may reveal what steps she can take to make me whole again, to allow me to resume a healthy life. But she cannot force me to undergo the procedure, even if she knows with certainty that my refusal to act with lead to death. No law, moral or legislative, gives her such power. Instead, she must obtain my “informed consent.” With that consent, she can to this work in me that only she has the power to complete. Alone, I can do nothing, I cannot save myself. But without my consent, neither can she, regardless of how much power or skill she may possess.
So it is with God. He does not punish us for refusing to “believe” or refusing to accept Jesus’ sacrifice. When skeptics claim this, they demonstrate that they do not understand what Christianity actually teaches. No, God punishes us with separation from himself because that is what our rebellion has earned us. It is the just consequence of our choice. That it is eternal, and that it involves torment, are a consequence of the nature of reality.
Those who direct their will against God do not want union with Him. They want separation from Him. There is nothing unfair in this outcome, just as the patient who dies rather than undergo the operation that could save him cannot blame the surgeon whose touch he refused. In matters spiritual and eternal, a surgeon cannot help. But Jesus can. He has the power to heal us of our present imperfections and to conform our will to what we desire – reunion with God. But, like the doctor, he will only act if we first give him consent.
The skeptic who so highly prizes free will should not object when he finds that God feels much the same way. But this is punishment, and punishment is unfair, he will nonetheless contend. But what would he have God do? Force the unbeliever to spend eternity with Him against his will? Force him to love God by stripping away his freedom, while in his heart he wants only to go on defying God? Force God to reward those who defy Him, even if that is not what God wills? Even if it would cause God to violate his own nature?
Does the skeptic not see that he is speaking a contradiction?
Posted by Al Serrato