It’s Halloween and many people celebrate it by wearing depictions of hell’s denizens — demons, witches, ghosts, zombies, vampires, and so on. As a child I grew up believing in heaven and hell, as taught to me by my elders. As a teen trying to understand my faith, I raised a lot of questions about it, trying to understand how a loving God could create such a cruel fate for the unfortunate souls that get sent there (of course, I wasn’t one of those because I was “saved”).
A friend of mine posted an article entitled “What Kind of God Would Condemn People to Eternal Torment?” by Tim Challies, and it contains the usual sort of justification that moderate or conservative Christians would have of hell. These are the salient points of the argument:
- A God who is totally just and holy must necessarily have a hell. Or according to Challies, “God’s goodness doesn’t negate eternal punishment in hell. It demands it.”
- The punishment is eternal because humans have sinned against an eternal God. “When you sin against an infinite God…you accrue an infinite debt.”
- The punishment must also be conscious and must be in the form of torment because God’s holiness is “unable to tolerate anything or anyone that is unholy” and because all sinners are “active rebels” against God (there are no passive unbelievers) — because the Bible says so.
- Challies then concludes by saying that “To wish away eternity in hell is to wish away eternity in heaven. It is not that they exist in some kind of mutual dependence so that one can only exist alongside the other. But sin demands eternal punishment, while grace calls for eternal love and joy, the re-establishment of the good and holy relationship that our Creator intended to enjoy with us forever. How can I believe in a God who condemns people to hell? I must believe in this God, for He poured out the punishment of hell on Jesus Christ through whom I have hope.”
I wholeheartedly disagree on all points.
First, no justice system in any civilized society condones torture and active torment of its criminals. In fact, a better justice system would focus on correction and rehabilitation instead of merely punishment and torment. If someone were to start taking hardened criminals from their cells, and strap them to a table, and burn off their skin with a lighter inch by inch until they die — with no hope of reprieve or redemption, would we see that as an act of justice or as an act of sadistic perversion? Yet millions of people take delight in a God that does that. Why is that so?
The second point may seem to make sense but it really doesn’t. Your debt does not depend on the nature of the debtor but on the debt itself. In other words, if I borrow 20 pesos, then my debt is 20 pesos regardless of whether I borrowed it from a poor man or a wealthy man.
A finite being cannot produce anything infinite, thus his sin is also finite, regardless of whether he commits it to a finite or an infinite being.
The third point is strange because Jesus was supposed to be God and thus holy, yet he was more “a friend of sinners” than those of the so called holy men of his days. So that claim pretty much shoots itself in the head.
Also, it’s quite a stretch calling passive disbelief (or even ignorance) as willful disobedience or active rebellion. It’s such a stretch that the only justification the author has for it is to appeal to the correctness of his holy book, of which he has no proof whatsoever.
The conclusion is wishy-washy — to wish away hell is to wish away heaven, he says. In other words, he is not willing to give up his dream of living it up in paradise for the sake of those suffering eternal damnation. Is this the vaunted, unselfish Christian love that he so self-righteously preaches?
If I were given the choice, I would choose annihilation for everyone in a heartbeat, never mind heaven or hell. Just wipe the slate clean after death. How can I enjoy eternity, singing and dancing in heaven, knowing that some of the people I dearly love are suffering excruciatingly in hell?
So what kind of a God would condemn people to eternal torment?
I have but one answer — the worst kind.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.