As noted in my previous article, I will be detailing important points from each chapter of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith, in subsequent articles. These articles, by nature, are going to be a bit longer, so I’d grab a snack and some coffee or tea and get ready for some mental exercise!
OBJECTION #6: A Loving God Would Never Torture People In Hell
Lee Strobel continues his search for answers to eight of the most emotional objections to Christianity in his seventh interview and sixth chapter of The Case for Faith with J.P. Moreland, PH.D. Dr. Moreland received a chemistry degree from the University of Missouri, a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from the University of Southern California. Upon sitting down with Dr. Moreland, Strobel confesses that he doesn’t even know where to begin. Dr. Moreland suggests they should first begin by distinguishing between liking or disliking something and judging whether something is right to do. He explains that although to some people adultery may seem pleasurable, most people agree that it is morally wrong. He asserts that oftentimes doing the right thing can be unpleasant. Dr. Moreland acknowledges that although many people’s responses to the appropriateness of hell come from feelings and emotions, “the basis of their evaluation should be whether hell is a morally just or morally right state of affairs, not whether they like or dislike the concept.” He then continues, “And it’s important to understand that if the God of Christianity is real, he hates hell and he hates people going there. The Bible is very clear: God says he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”
Dr. Moreland’s first point after his and Strobel’s introductory conversation is that God doesn’t torture people in hell. God has made us creatures with free will and if we continuously live without our creator’s purposes for us in mind, we will eventually get what we’ve asked for, which is separation from God. That is hell. He then states that God is not simply a loving being, especially if the meaning of “loving” is taken from current society’s meaning. “Yes, God is a compassionate being, but he’s also a just, moral, and pure being. So God’s decisions are not based on modern American sentimentalism. This is one of the reasons why people have never had a difficult time with the idea of hell until modern times. People today tend to care only for the softer virtues like love and tenderness, while they’ve forgotten the hard virtues of holiness, righteousness, and justice.”
Dr. Moreland continues to elaborate on the intrinsic nature of hell, which he says is relational in essence. “Actually, hell was not part of the original creation. Hell is God’s fall-back position. Hell is something God was forced to make because people chose to rebel against him and turn against what was best for them and the purpose for which they were created.” The punishment endured in hell is not that of torture but of separation from God, “bringing shame, anguish, and regret.” Although it is a just punishment, it is also “the natural consequence of a life that has been lived in a certain direction.”
Next, Strobel and Dr. Moreland agree to tackle nine tough issues regarding the “aspects of hell that seem to violate our sense of justice.”
Objection #1: How Can God Send Children to Hell?
“…in the Bible children are universally viewed as figures of speech for salvation. In all of the texts where children are used in regard to the afterlife, they’re used as pictures of being saved. There’s no case where children are ever used as figures of damnation.”
Objection #2: Why Does Everyone Suffer the Same in Hell?
“Actually, everyone doesn’t experience hell in the same way. The Bible teaches that there are different degrees of suffering and punishment.” He cites Matthew 11:20-24 as proof of his statement.
Objection #3: Why are People Punished Infinitely for Finite Crimes?
“…the degree of someone’s just punishment is not a function of how long it took to commit the deed; rather, it’s a function of how severe the deed itself was.” “As Alan Gomes has pointed out, the nature of the object against which the sin is committed, as well as the nature of the sin itself, must be taken into account when determining the degree of heinousness.”
Objection #4: Couldn’t God Force everyone to Go to Heaven?
“If God has given people free will then there’s no guarantee that everybody’s going to choose to cooperate with him. The option of forcing everyone to go to heaven is immoral, because it’s dehumanizing; it strips them of the dignity of making their own decision; it denies them their freedom of choice; and it treats them as a means to an end.”
Objection #5: Why Doesn’t God Just Snuff People Out?
“What hell does is recognize that people have intrinsic value. If God loves intrinsic value, then he has got to be a sustainer of persons, because that means he is a sustainer of intrinsic value. He refuses to snuff out a creature that was made in his own image. So in the final analysis, hell is the only morally legitimate option.”
Objection #6: How Can Hell Exist Alongside Heaven?
“C.S. Lewis said hell doesn’t have veto power over heaven. He meant that people in heaven will not be denied the privilege of enjoying their life just because they’re consciously aware of hell. If they couldn’t, then hell would have veto power over heaven.”
Objection #7: Why Didn’t God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him?
“When God chooses to create somebody, he or she has an impact on other people’s choices and it might be that they have an impact on their decisions to trust Christ or not…His goal is to get as many people into heaven as possible…And it may be, sadly enough, that he’s going to have to allow some more people who will choose to go to hell to be created in order to get a larger number of people who choose to go to heaven.”
Objection #8: Why Doesn’t God Give People a Second Chance?
“The Bible tells us God is delaying the return of Christ to the earth to give everybody all the time he possibly can so they will come to him…People who would ‘choose’ in a second chance would not really be choosing God, his kingdom, or his ways–nor would they be suited for life in his kingdom. They’d be making a prudent ‘choice’ to avoid judgment only.”
Objection #9: Isn’t Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell?
“Reincarnation says that I could come back as a dog, as an amoeba…if that’s true…there’s nothing essential to me—reincarnation says that what is essential to me isn’t really essential at all.” “Jesus says reincarnation is false, and that there’s one death and after that comes the judgment.”
Even though hell is morally just, Dr. Moreland asserts that he doesn’t feel comfortable about it “because it’s sad.” He says the proper response to feeling uncomfortable is to “admit that hell is real and to allow our feelings of discomfort to motivate us to action.”
What motivates YOU to share the Gospel?
*Stay tuned for objection #7 next month!