Can A Good God Send People to Hell?

feature-01The modern skeptic often takes an aggressive stance against theism generally, and Christianity in particular. In recent posts, I have examined one such “attack” on God: the challenge that God cannot be considered a “loving” parent because He allowed his “children” to be subjected to temptation, knowing that many would succumb and end up in Hell. Though emotionally charged, the challenge lacks cogency when one considers the true nature of “free will.”

But the challenge cannot be lightly dismissed, because the hidden emotional content is quite powerful. In its extreme form, the claim is that a God who could allow any of his creatures to suffer eternal torment is, by any standard, a monster who should be resisted, not worshiped. After all, no human parent would ever subject a child to such a punishment.

No, they wouldn’t but not for the reason that the skeptic thinks. Parents can, and do, separate themselves from children who use their free will to harm them. Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system knows that this happens increasingly – and far too often. Perhaps elder abuse was always a problem, but my sense is that the permissive culture of the past few decades has mislead many parents into wanting to be their child’s friend, rather than the authority figure they were meant to be. Adolescents without self-discipline often turn to drugs and alcohol, and as they waste their most productive years playing or getting high, they fail to develop the skills that would allow them to remain gainfully employed.

And then reality steps in. Fewer and fewer options for gainful employment appear, as they spiral further downward. And where do they turn for financial support? All too often to the parents whose remaining years stand in the way of the windfall of inherited wealth that they come to believe is rightly theirs. What follows is, simply put, ugly. Parents whose later years are lived not in peace and quiet – those anticipated “golden years” of retirement – but in fear, as their once precious children turn against them. There is little as heartbreaking as watching the anguish of such parents, who after a lifetime spent bailing out their children finally realize that they need the help of the authorities if they are to remain safe. Restraining orders lead to arrests and angry confrontations in court, in which the parents, reluctantly and with heavy heart, tell the story of how their sons or daughters stole from them, battered them, threatened them to keep silent… and many times wished them dead.

What is a parent to do in this situation? Is not their first step to separate themselves from their rebellious offspring? To use the force of law, if necessary, to keep those whose wills have turned against them from having access to them… and any wealth or other goods they may have accumulated? To seek justice for the wrongs that have been done, justice that entails some form of punishment, in which wrongdoing is recognized and redressed? And what would be said of a judge who refused to grant the restraining order? Who insisted that the parents remain subjected to the greed-driven violence of those offspring, or who ordered them to turn over their wealth, regardless of their wishes or the justice of their cause? Would this not be considered barbaric?

What does any of this have to do with God? After all, he is all-powerful, isn’t He? He cannot be victimized by us, His children. This is true, of course, but it misses the point. While God has no frailties and no weaknesses, like human parents He is interested in relationship. After all, that’s why He created any of us, just as the desire for relationship is the reason parents have children in the first place and don’t give them up for adoption. And when His human children use their free will to sin against Him, to take what He has given without thanks or appreciation, to constantly demand more without acknowledging that they have no right to it – when they shake their fist at Him in rejection and rebellion – what is God to do? Should He reward them nonetheless, giving them more and more? Should He override their will and make them into robots, seemingly human on the outside but incapable of free choice and, consequently, of love?

The separation that a parent in this situation can seek is limited. It will either end when the son or daughter genuinely repents and seeks forgiveness… or when the parent’s life draws to a close. This perfectly tracks the “good news” and the “bad” of Christianity. God offers us reconciliation, but it most be done on His terms. With repentance and trust in His saving power, we can be restored to right relationship with Him. All can be put right. In this there is mercy and unmerited grace. The bad news, by contrast, is that God doesn’t die – the separation from all that is good and pure and worthy of praise continues without end. A horrifying thought – the prospect of forever spent alone, aware of God but unable to join with Him, consumed with hatred and self absorption, in a place where the “fire” is never quenched.

This is unpleasant business, prompting some to argue that God should not have created at all. Really? Would parents of ten children turn back the clock and eliminate them all, if one rebelled against them? How about if two, or four or eight rebelled? Would not one loving relationship – freely entered and freely sustained – be embraced by the parents who seek relationship, despite the sadness at realizing that others have been lost to their own perverted self-will.

I suppose we each must answer this question for ourselves, but seeing the skeptic’s challenge in proper context – in the context of loving relationships based upon free will – helps to demonstrate that God’s ways, however seemingly harsh, are indeed just.

Posted by Al Serrato


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