By Dave Armstrong (5-24-06)
A fellow Christian has stated on my blog that he is troubled by certain objections raised by a certain atheist, concerning hell (the ones listed below). At that point, my duty as an apologist kicked in: if someone is struggling with the reasoning behind some false teaching and is honest enough to admit this (even publicly, which I greatly admire) in an effort to get some encouragement and assistance from his Christian brethren, then I must respond, even if I feel that the source of the conflict is a nutcase (as this person pretty much is). So here we go. I'll deal with each one (the atheist's words will be in blue):
3. If Hell is very painful then surely the time must come when the souls there will think that they have had enough and repent and go back to God. If there is free will in Hell then the souls there would repent and go back to God.
This rests on several fallacies:
1. Concerning what it truly means to have a free will.
In Christian terms, to be truly free is to follow God and to become more and more holy by His grace, because that is our purpose: why we were created, and therefore what makes us the most happy and fulfilled. Human beings, however, do not have a free will apart from this grace of God, because they are in rebellion against God (the Christian doctrine of the fall and original sin). Now, rather than always desire to follow God and achieve freedom to be what we were intended to be, we have a strong tendency to sin and rebellion against God. The grace is avaialable to all, yet some reject it. The ones who reject this grace and the God Who freely gives it, in love, are simply not free. They are in an abnormal, fallen state. Therefore, souls in hell no longer even have the capacity to freely choose God, since that very choice is made possible only by God's grace, which is no longer available in hell, by definition, because hell is existence without God at all, by the choice of the persons who end up there.
2. The denial that there can be a profoundly, utterly obstinate will, even if "free" and the myth that a "free" will would always, naturally choose to follow God (that being a far better and more rational choice than hellfire and eternal punishment).
This is closely related to #1. Setting aside the important question of whether a rebellious will is truly free or not, we can also argue that there is such a thing as a will so stubborn and rebellious that it has essentially created its own demise, in terms of no longer being able to change and repent while in a damned reprobate state, in hell. C.S. Lewis made a very famous statement that "the doors of hell are locked on the inside." The person in hell wanted to live separate from God. That was his or her choice.
Now, granted, they didn't fully think through what hell entailed. This was part of the devil's deception and game that he plays, so that people will reject God and actually think that the alternative: life without God, is preferable; even far better than life with God. We see this mentality in off-the-cuff remarks of "great parties in hell" or "the saints are boring and no fun at all" or the infantile mindset that we find in, for example, atheist Billy Joel's song, Only the Good Die Young.
This life is a period of grace for all men. God makes the choice to follow Him freely available to all (universal atonement, over against the heretical and unbiblical limited atonement of Calvinism). We don't yet know what life truly without God is actually like. That remains to be seen and experienced in hell. But God simply lets those who wish to reject Him do so. It has consequences; people are warned about it in the Bible and in sermons. They know enough to know that it is undesirable to go to hell. So what grounds do they have to want to get out of it, having achieved their wish?
That is simply how reality works: life without God in eternity is a dreadful, horrific thing called hell. The guy who wrote these objections has been fully warned about hell, because he writes about how he disagrees with the doctrine. So he knows about it, but rejects it and God. So he may end up there himself (if he willfully rejects God and the gospel with full awareness that it is true), but if so, he won't have any grounds in reason or justice to be allowed out of it.
3. The notion that the punishment in hell somehow becomes unjust simply because persons there figure out that they messed up in rejecting God in the first place, therefore ending up in torment, and that God ought to "change His mind" and let them out.
This is a fallacy (which lies underneath the claim above) because it presupposes that God's mercy and forgiveness must necessarily last forever. But why should that be the case? On what reasonable or moral grounds? If indeed, God has freely provided mercy and grace and the ability to be saved and go to heaven, during our entire lifetimes on earth, why would He be obliged to do so forever? Why must we assume that this isn't sufficient or that it doesn't allow adequate recourse or access to the knowledge of what it takes to avoid hell and attain eternal life in heaven (entirely by grace, but requiring also our assent)?
In fact, there is no basis to this objection at all. It may falsely assume that people end up in hell due to ignorance and no particular fault of their own (which might conceivably apply as a critique of supralapsarian Calvinism) and deny original sin and the rebellion of the human race, but the biblical and Catholic and Orthodox and non-Calvinist Protestant teaching is that sinner freely reject God after having been given ample opportunity to repent and follow Him. So why must God give them another chance, when they have had a lifetime of chances already? Irrevocable reality intervenes at some point. In this instance it is called hell: life without God: with no love or grace or good or true or righteous.
8. Hell implies that God and the saints cannot want you to be released from Hell for God keeps you there for you would leave eventually if you were there of your own free will which glorifies hatred.
The second clause was dealt with in my reply above. As for the first part: it is irrational, based on the above, on the following grounds: it presupposes the fallacy that God and the saints don't want someone (or any and all of the damned) to be saved simply because there was an irrevocable decision that a person would be damned, made after an entire lifetime of opportunity to avoid such a fate. It doesn't follow that they don't desire the salvation of all because (in the end) some reject that salvation. God merely leaves them to their desires and fate. One might argue that this is the utmost honoring of man's dignity and free will, on God's part: He values free will so much that He even allows men to reject Him. He doesn't force anyone to follow Him.
They don’t want you to leave then they either do not care about you or they hate you
This doesn't follow at all, because it is based on the same fallacious reasoning: that an obstinate rebellious free will must somehow (by some weird logic) "prove" that God and the saints didn't want the obstinate soul to become open and enable itself to be saved by God's grace. That doesn't follow at all.
but since they are happy they must simply not care for hate is painful.
Happiness in heaven is first and foremost because the saints are with God, for which they were created. So they will obviously be happy. As for regret about damned people, we don't know all the ins and outs of that from revelation alone, but we know that God must at some point wipe away memories (just as He will our "tears"); otherwise we couldn't be totally happy in heaven (we would be mourning the lost forever). In any event, it doesn't follow that the happiness in heaven involves a callous unconcern for the damned. We are showing our great concern now by warning people so they can avoid this fate, But we are mocked and laughed at, precisely by people like this atheist who cry out against the supposed "injustice" of hell the most.
If this atheist died an hour after reading this paper, then God could very well say to Him: "did you not read Dave Armstrong's paper on the last day of your life, which warned you about hell and showed you how your objections are irrational and groundless?" And he will say (head hanging down low in shame) "yes." Then God could say something like: "then on what grounds do you accuse Me of being unjust and unmerciful and cruel, when I have sent you messengers of warning and heralds of my gospel of salvation throughout your entire life - even on your last day, an hour before you died - , so that you could follow Me and be saved?" And he won't be able to say anything. He chose to reject God, and now the time has come to start being so free that He will be able to live absolutely apart from God, and to see what that is really like. It's a very tragic thing, but neither God nor Christians can be blamed for it. The blame lies with every obstinate, rebellious sinner who continually spurns and rejects God. It is the sad aspect of allowing free will. With free will, you have some people making stupid, tragic choices.
But indifference is worse than hate and is the real opposite of love.
That's true. See; even within this absurd post there is some truth to be found. Even an unplugged clock is right twice a day!
Also, they have to decide to be indifferent
There is no indication in the Bible that saved persons decide to be indifferent (that's simply more irrational, wishful thinking on the atheist's part). It is perfectly acceptable, then, to posit exactly what I did, above: God removes the memory of damned loved ones out of love for those who are saved, so they won't suffer indefinitely, just as we do on earth when loved ones go astray.
and that is an act of easy hate so hate and indifference are connected. If you should hate the damned you should hate the living sinners as much because many of the damned are people who committed relatively harmless sins.
Christianity doesn't teach us to hate anyone (with the possible exception of the devil), so this is a red herring which need not be replied to. It assumes what it is trying to prove. The nature of the depth and blameworthiness of sins is another huge topic beyond our purview here.
10. If God really hated sin and suffering he would give us a second chance to repent after death.
This was already covered above. But I could reply further by asking, "why is God required to give 'one more chance' at death after He has given chances to repent for 50, 60, 70 or more years, throughout a person's entire lifetime?" This is an irrational requirement. I think all it is, is the atheist saying, "hey, I didn't know enough to follow You during my life because of my stubbornness and illogical, silly ideas I picked up from my atheist friends and secular propaganda. But now I know enough because I am standing in front of you and can no longer deny that you exist and that there is a hell for those who disbelieve you."
But again, this wrongly presupposes that 1) the person didn't have enough information to decide for or against God previously (which Christians absolutely deny), and/or 2) that the person was treated unfairly in being damned, and/or 3) that his sin was not sufficient to warrant damnation, by its very nature. So premises are questionable and by no means self-evident or strongly supported, all down the line here.
Lastly, I have asserted that God is not required to do give a "second chance" after death, and that if He didn't allow it, there would be no grounds to accuse Him of injustice, cruelty, or unfairness. I could just as easily argue, however, that God (knowing everything) gives every person a special amount of grace just before they die, so they have every chance to accept His grace and salvation. That would be no different from such a moment immediately after death.
But in any event, Christians hold that all men have sufficient knowledge to attain salvation, either through outward revelation and witness or one's conscience and a simple observation of the world, which reveals a Creator (Romans 1:18-23), thus leaving no "excuse" for those who reject God (1:20); who do so willingly, knowing the truth (1:21-22).
That is Christian, biblical teaching, agree or disagree. Since the relentless critique of this atheist (and most irrational skeptical types) concerns a supposed internal inconsistency of Christianity, then it is required that the critic at least know what we teach in the first place. But of course they rarely properly understand Christian teaching (and know less than nothing about sensible biblical interpretation, leading to many ridiculous, laughable arguments and "proofs"), which causes 90% of the problems in dealing with them (along with their endless false premises and illogical, incoherent thought).