Hell, Ghandi, missing the mark and sloppy thinking

In a recent post by Apologia Christi (which was cross-blogged on his own excellent site Apologia Christi), AC made the point that the Christian teaching is that God does not consign people to hell for simply failing to have the right belief system. Your eternal destination is, as Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason so aptly stated, not based on a cosmic pop quiz where if you get the answer wrong you go to hell. I want to spell out my own way of looking at the issue, and point out where people often go wrong.

Christian belief on whether we deserve to go to hell is summed up in Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." So, taking Jesus out of the picture for a moment the question is: who is going to hell? The answer is everyone. Why? Because we have sinned -- every single one of us without exception. But what about Gandhi? Wasn't he a really good person? I'm not old enough to have known Gandhi personally, but everything I read suggests that he was a really good guy. But the fact that Gandhi was, relatively speaking, a better person than the rest of us does not mean that he was without sin, and the standard to get into heaven, according to Christian teaching, is that one must be completely without sin. As nice of a guy as Gandhi may have been, he was not without sin.

Some object that consigning someone to eternal punishment in hell is overkill for the "small sins" that most ordinary "nice" people commit. The argument goes something like, "you mean I am going to be sent to hell for eternal torture because I told a white lie?" There are several problems with this objection. First, it assumes that throughout their life, someone is going to sin only once (a little white lie, in this case). But that is not the case. I suspect that most people cannot go an hour without committing a sin of some type. It is like the old joke where a parishoner walks into his pastor's office and says "Pastor, I have completely given up drinking, gambling, lying, swearing, and every sin imaginable." The pastor says, "You must be very proud of yourself." The parishoner responds, "Yes, I am," not recognizing that pride is identified by Jesus as a sin in Mark 7:21-23. We sin often, not only by what we do, but by what we have left undone.

Second, the argument misunderstands what it means to sin. Sin means "missing the mark." In this case, God is the mark. Living in concert with his will and in communion with him is the only way to live a sinless life. When a person looks to things other than God as the source of what is good, they are living in sin. So, when people try to identify "sin" merely by looking at their actions, they are looking only to the tip of the iceberg of their sins. The real nature of sin lies in the fact that they are separated from God and trying to live their life apart from Him.

Suppose that a person wanted to balance her checkbook but didn't want to use math to do it. How do you think she would fare? The same holds true for a person who tries to live a moral life apart from the standard for determining morality, i.e., God. Trying to live morally without considering the standard of right and wrong as seen in the true moral law giver dooms one to failure because trying to determine right or wrong from our own personal standards "misses the mark".

Third, God's standard is perfection not because He is a mean guy, but because His nature is perfect. Just as one cannot be admitted to the best colleges without the proper credentials, one cannot enter into the presence of God without the proper credentials. In the case of God, the credentials one must have is perfection. One failure may not count for much on a relativistic plane such as earth, but in the presence of a perfect and holy God, perfection is the price of admittance.

So, what does one do with people who don't meet the standard for perfection? The solution seems quite obvious: you don't let them in. It seems to me that hell is nothing more than the place where one is completely excluded from the presence of God stripped of even the "likeness of God" that was given to humanity in Genesis 1. What would it be like to be completely outside of the presence of God? A few analogies may help. If God is seen as the light of the world, to take God away would be to leave someone in utter and complete darkness. If God is seen as the source of all that is good in the world, then to take away God would be to take away all that is good from that person. If God is the joy and delight of existence, then taking away God leaves one joyless and without any delight whatsoever. If God is peace and love, then being apart from God is to be without peace and without love.

You see, hell -- stripped of the Biblical language that seeks to give readers an understanding of the horrible feeling that comes from being there -- is simply existing for eternity apart from God. The farther you have fallen short of the perfect life, the more horrible the continuing existence apart from God is because all you are left with in hell is your own sinful decisions. Hitler is suffering worse than most not because God sends demons to torture him, but because he has to live for all eternity alone with the knowledge of the terrible evil actions that he committed and apart from all goodness, joy, delight, love and peace. Hell is a terrible place for evil people.

But the good news of Jesus Christ is this: You can come before God as if you are perfect because Jesus died for your sins. His blood paid the "wages of sin" for you, and you can spend eternity in perfect goodness, joy, delight, love and peace merely by accepting the free gift He offers -- the gift of salvation. All you have to do is acknowledge the gift. To turn down the gift is, quite simply, the biggest sin of all because it is God's will that all people come to Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4), and if you reject the gift you are continuing to "miss the mark." God doesn't want that. As the old hymn says:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me;
see, on the portals he's waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tary when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me?

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
passing from you and from me;
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
coming for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

O for the wonderful love he has promised,
promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
pardon for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

May everyone who reads this who has not yet acknowledged their own "missing of the mark" and their own need for salvation begin on that road home, today.


Steven Carr said…
How many newly born babies have 'made the mark'?

Luke 1

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.

What does 'blamelessly' mean here? What did God blame them for?

If they obeyed blamelessly, all the commandments of the Lord that they had learned about, did God blame them for not obeying the commandments He had not told them about?

I did like the story in the posting about the man who made a free will choice not to commit any sin. God blamed him anyway.

I think Job had it right. Job 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.

God creates imperfect creatures and then blames them for not being perfect.

And if Satan deceives you, God will blame you for that as well (just as God cursed serpents in Genesis 3, even though the serpent was actually Satan in disguise)
BK said…
Ah, Steven, you hear but you don't comprehend. With respect to the newborn babies, there are several possible answers to that question (making a quick response in a comment impossible), and so I will leave for another time the answer to that one.

Regarding Zechariah, they were walking with God at the time of Gabriel's calling. They were, therefore, blameless. You see, God can forgive, and he does forgive, those who believe in His word. When a person seeks after God and follows Him, then one can be blameless. It really isn't any more complex than that.

You miss the point on the joke. A person who is prideful is sinning. If a person is like Zechariah and gives up all of the vices in the world and walks blamelessly with God, then they will recognize that the ability to give up all of those vices comes not from themselves, but from God. Thus, no pride.

Regarding the "God blames them for not being perfect," once again you are aiming at the wrong target. Each and every one of us had within us the ability to be perfect -- we just aren't.

Finally, go back and read the account in Genesis 3 -- Eve knew what God had said. She chose to ignore it when her own desire to be a god took over. She was deceived only because she wanted to be deceived, and there lies the sin.
If I might add this: Notice what Carr is doing. He is trying to cast doubt on your theodicy by (as far as I can tell) arguing that the Bible has contradictions. But clearly this is unjustified. Many philosophers and theologians believe that a person can be a moral realist without the Bible (or any special revelation). Casting doubts (or inconsistencies) on the biblical text doesn't prove that mankind doesn't go to hell because of their own choices. Surely it's because of a person's will to believe (ala William James) that a person goes to hell. It's not because of any particular sin that pushes him into the domains of hell, but rather, it's because mankind has a will (and an innate frame of reference) that necessarily chooses not to follow God. But is this just? Surely it is just! For an infinitely perfect and just, God would necessarily have sufficient reason and justification for his actions. Who are you, oh man, to question God? Is our finite and sinful nature wise enough to recommend God don’t send people to hell? Look at Adam and Eve for example. Was it just for their sin (and willful choice) to condemn and poison the whole human race? How would atheism make this pronouncement? Adam and Eve weren't merely the first of humans; they were the representatives of mankind. If Christianity is possibly true (which I think it's at least plausible true) then you must understand things like hell, sin, and choice in this proper context, less we take a text out of context. Atheism and radical skepticism aren’t the context from which to do proper interpretation. Sometimes we must think outside a box, more so even with a box that doesn’t include even the mere possibility of God. Thus, we shouldn't scoff at a text because it's not explicit enough (Islamic theology), not sensible to modern sexual sensibilities (feminist theology), or simply is outrageous and incoherent (in atheistic and radical skeptical thought). Again, like I have been saying, leave open the real possibility that God could have preserved an inspired biblical text and then you may do exegesis through this presupposition. Until then, your condemnation of anything Christian will surely be, well, a woolfell attempt, not less so because of your dubious Platonic hope at attaining absolute certainty. Because the affairs of life aren’t based on certainties and guarantees, your worldview is simply inadequate. A person must make a choice, as Kierkegaard believed, between two paths. The Christian path may be the harder of the two paths, finding with it back trails and shortcuts all along the way, each making the journey easier. Liberal theology, for example, has taken this easier way. But make no mistake, both of us choose a path. A loving God would help us get there. I hope you choose the right path. Time is not out for you yet.
Steven Carr said…
As Christian Apologist's worldview is that humans such as he might well be being deceived in their reasoning by a powerful, supernatural demon, there seems little reason to accept what he says, based as it is on a worldview that provides no basis for justifying human logic.
Seeker said…
I'll refer back to my last reply to the previous post, which was not addressed.

I know the stated theology of the "scheme of redemption". I studied it in seminary for years. The outstanding question is why did God the designer create a system that's designed to let the majority of mankind fall through the cracks out of ignorance? And is enforcement of said system just?

We have conjured an ideal of God's nature and the reasons behind his behaviour to fit our day's tenor, but those are not necessarily Biblical, they are our own inferences. Men might have simply inferred he was an angry God who laid it on the line in another era. The Israelites certainly saw him as such. They just considered him the biggest, baddest God of many gods and were motivated by fear of punishment. But even in their burgeoning theology, God just smashed their enemies. He never condemned them to an eternity of torture.

We've formed this situation in our minds where God is somehow reluctantly forced to punish us, but men have not always seen it that way - and the Bible doesn't present it in such a manner without a lot of theologians hashing things out around a table together somewhere. I've heard the analogy used before that mankind is somehow drifting down a river toward the deadly falls, and Jesus calls us from the banks to take his lifeline and be saved. But read Jesus' own concept of God's wrath as represented in the Gospels. Yes, he says God would have all men to be saved, but be clear that God is the guy who will be actively smiting all those who don't meet the standard. He will be the guy who turns away their good deeds with "depart I never knew you".

Your analogy of hell as seperation from God makes him sound much kinder and gentler, but that's a 20th century construct. If you take the scriptures at their word, it's not about the seperation that's so much to be dreaded, it's about the lake of fire and the worm not quenching and send Lazarus to give me a drop of water while I'm still here in pre-hell. Watered down theology to suit a more civilized audience.

About your checkbook analogy - the scriptures address this somewhat, in stating that the heathen achieve a state of respect from God for following what they understand in their nature to be right - a "law unto themselves" (sorry, I don't have the reference). Yet according to popular belief, they're going to be respectfully toasted.

If God's standard is perfection and he just cannot bear sin, how did he manage to put up with it for these several thousand years? If he cannot be in the presence of the sinful, how did he interact with the partriachs so closely? I've heard it stated before that it's his great sense of justice that will one day require the end of his patience and some action. But is that great sense of justice in play when all the heathen are tossed away crying "Hell? What is that? Who was Jesus? You mean I guessed wrong on the whole religion issue?".

My point is that punishing someone for a crime that they are not aware of or do not understand may be legal, but is it just? The focus of Jesus' ministry was almost completely love for your fellow man and the support of the financially oppressed. So is it just to condemn Gandhi for reaching for what he believed was God in light of the tremendous humanitarian work he accomplished in India and the moral means by which he accomplished it?

"Because the affairs of life aren’t based on certainties and guarantees, your worldview is simply inadequate." Think about this statement for a minute. You are basically stating that anything that doesn't make sense to us is because we have just not digested it enough or put enough faith in it. By this argument I can prove any school of religion, or any idealistic concept. Are you saying there is no way to determine what is right because we might not understand it properly? Are you not underlining my point that it's impossible for us to know truth? Are you stating that God will torture a man for eternity for having an inadequate worldview?

Is it possible you do not hold your religion up to the same glass you hold others to?
BK said…

I am sorry you didn't get a response to your last comment. I will attempt to give you one now.

First, of course I hold my religion up to the same glass I hold others up to. It is simply that Christianity makes more sense to me than other religions, and while I am not going to use this post to make a point by point comparison of religious claims, I will try to explain why it makes sense even in light of your particular objections.

You object that I am trying to water down hell to suit a "more civilized" audience. Personally, I think that I have not done that at all. Reading the Bible as a whole (which is a good approach to the Bible) you will find that there is very little about heaven that is not spoken in terms of figurative language (streets of gold, God as the lamp, etc.), which leads me to reasonably conclude that the language about hell is also figurative. Thus, e.g., "lake of fire" is a way of describing absolute agony -- not an actual lake of fire.

But if you think that what I have proposed about what hell will be like is somehow better than the "lake of fire" imagery, than that is due to your lack of appreciation as to what I am saying. It will be very bad for those who go there. All I have done is remove the belief that people have that God is sending the non-redeemed to a place where they will be tortured by demons. It is not that at all.

The checkbook analogy is based on Romans 2, where Paul speaks about those who have never heard about God. But you ignore the fact that Paul states prior to that verse that all men have the law of God written on their hearts, and they will be judged by the extent to which they follow the law of God written on their hearts. The reason that this is so problematic for the non-christian is that they instinctively know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone is going to meet the test -- even a Gandhi very well could fail. That is why the Gospel is such good news to those who will hear and accept it.

Regarding your paragraph about God's standard of perfection and bearing sin -- God is in heaven, not on earth. The rest of this paragraph shows that you really didn't read or didn't understand what I was saying in my original post.

Regarding whether people are judged for a crime they were not even aware of, you completely miss the point of Romans on this. Paul (hence, the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul) states that we all have the law of God written on our hearts so that we are without excuse. That's pretty clear. Gandhi, nice of a guy as I will concede for purposes of this essay he was, falls way, way, way short of the standard demanded by God. Now, God may be able to forgive his sin in a Romans 2 situation, but that is the hard road, isn't it?

I will let Christian Apologist respond to your last full paragraph if he thinks it appropriate or necessary to do so. I, for my part, would simply say that I agree with him to this extent: there is no worldview which can be known with 100% certainty -- none. Your supposed solution would apparently be to revert to cynicism. I prefer to be skeptical about claims, but not so skeptical that it is impossible to come to any conclusions. I think that the evidence is clear and convincing; you are free to reject the evidence -- that is free will. But I think you do so against the better evidence.
Seeker said…
Thanks for your patience. My purpose in commenting is not to attack the faiths of others, but to improve my own knowledge by posting the questions I ask myself to others.

I make mention of "holding up to the glass" because I always felt I did the same. It was not until I actually began to hold the tenets of my own faith and the basis for my own beliefs to the same degree of accountability that I began seeing problems with the Christian religion. When I ceased reading the Bible beside interpretive commentaries and began to read it literally I came to quite different conclusions. But that is not the point of discussion.

I appreciate what you're saying about considering hell to be seperation from God as opposed to a lake of fire. The problem I have with taking it as gospel is that it's not detailed that way in scripture. You can make an assumption that streets of gold and lakes of fire are symbolic, but the Bible doesn't drop that hint. We choose to make it symbolic because it seems fantastic, or improbable, or unlikely. I would say the same thing about needing baptism for a mental commitment. But most regard one literal, the other symbolic. Maybe I did not receive your point as it was intended, but it is common today to water down the message. Seeing hell as "seperation from God" vs "boiling in fire" seems much more humane and easier to digest. But as you're stating that you intended it to mean the same degree of agony, we have no disagreement. It also makes God seem more detached from the punishment process, which is why I objected originally.

My point with God's standard of perfection/bearing sin. God made the rules. He set up the system. If he can set up a system by which he tolerates sin temporarily, could he not do so indefinitely? Leading to the question, is it just to declare an arbitrary path that the lucky must find and follow to avoid being punished eternally?

I read from your statements that a) all men have the law of God in their hearts b) all men can be saved by following that law in their hearts c) no man can meet that standard, so they need Jesus. Does it in any way change the original question - is it just to condemn men for their ignorance of God's non-moral rules?

Take my children for example. The two of them mess up their room. I tell the older one that if he wants to escape grounding, they should pick up their own toys - and that he needs to relay that information to his sister. The child cleans up his part of the room, but doesn't tell his sister. By the laws I have laid down, the sister is due a grounding. But is it just to do so, given that she did not understand the situation?

Your statements _seem_ to propose a worldview in which God is helpless except to respond to his nature, which includes a narrow, particular path to offer man to salvation. My point is that he is God and can establish whatever system pleases him. According to the Christian religion, God decided that Jesus was the only sufficient sacrifice. God decided to have the message carried unsuccessfully by fallible men. God decided not to detail his system of religion in a volume all men would understand equally. And God decided that anyone who didn't hear that message, understand it, be invested wholeheartedly in it and follow it for the rest of their lives should be condemned. He also decided that to make things interesting, a lot of evidence that contradicts his Bible would be dropped into natural data, his Bible itself would be shown inconsistant, a lot of other religions that were equally regardable would be promoted alongside it and heck, why not let the underworld forces be given power to really mix things up. It ends up being rather like a very high stakes shell game. At least in my opinion.

And finally in regard to CA's statement, I'm not proposing that 100% certainty is possible. But we do rely on some amount of certainty in our life decisions. The reason I asked if Christianity is held under the same glass as other religions is because what I know of it. Without going into an utter criticism/defense, I say that I and many others see in Christianity a contradictive and massively edited holy text, demonstrated disallegiance to its stated precepts and an inconsistant view of its own God. Given that observation, how is it superior to any other religion on earth with the same failings? If you are not willing to defend Christianity on an even ground with other religions, the defense is worthless.

Yes, if you assume Christianity is correct, you can make sense of all the problems that others. The same is true with most other religions. If you accept that Mohammed was correct, the rest of Islam can be rationalized. If you accept that the Bible is correct, you can rationalize its inconsistencies.

What I (and Mr. Carr I assume) am interested in exploring is whether enough of the Christian religion is provable under the same glass as is held to other religions. I don't want to confound either of you as writers or theologians or try to win an argument. I want to understand what you see in Christianity when the faith blinders are off that makes you hold to it above others.
I think you post has much confusion. First of all, is truth knowable? For this, I said, and as you quoted "Because the affairs of life aren’t based on certainties and guarantees, your worldview is simply inadequate." This comment by me was referring Seven’s rebuttal to BK’s article. It attempted to show that even if all the facts and evidence aren’t available for something that must not keep us from, in Kierkegaard’s words, “appropriating” those facts to our daily life. Thus, my comment was to Steven’s radical skepticism. I merely tried to show that his skepticism doesn’t engulf all of his life, less he wouldn’t get up in the morning. After all, we might get killed tomorrow for tomorrow is hasn’t a guarantee on life. But this doesn’t keep Steven (or all of us) from getting up in the morning and going to work! Now, how does this pertain to you? Even if I did have an absolute, necessary proof for Christianity, it still wouldn’t be enough under your worldview! Why? As you state, “Are you not underlining my point that it's impossible for us to know truth?” If it’s impossible for truth to be known, then of course I can’t offer Christianity to you as truth! But this is surely an inadequate view. Let me ask you this question: is you statement (me quoting you) a meaningful one or should I take it as a meaningless question? If you take it as ultimately meaningful then your worldview is inconsistent. If truth is knowable (which our conversation speaks to) then your comment is self-refuting. Surely you would be right that punishment in hell would be unjust if truth could not be known! But I (along with BK, I’m sure) am adamant that truth is knowable. Now, we many not know all truths and thus we lack certainty, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t know truth! For to even deny truth, affirms it. But the truths we do know (without certainty) are enough for a person to live by and to hold. Surely it’s possible that the resurrection is false, but so is all of history. Historical matters deals with plausibility’s and probabilities, not certainties. Thus, I think your last paragraph missed the point. Frankly, I’m not even sure that you understand what I was talking about. I wasn’t saying that because absolute certainty hasn’t been reached, therefore Christianity is plausible. Rather, I tried to make it clear that Steve is inconsistent with his methodology. His radical skepticism is simply unlivable. There is historical evidence for Christianity (Steve sought Platonic proof), but the evidence only leads so far. For something to be true doesn’t mean you must have absolute proof, enough proof to calm radical skeptics like Steve, down. We can’t live that way. A person must transcend the evidence (again, see Kierkegaard) to appropriate it to his life. Otherwise why would he get out of bed in the morning. This morning may be his last. I don’t think either of your worldviews (you as Carr’s) are consistent.

Now, if truth is knowable (the radical post-modern skeptic may concede this, but thinks it’s unattainable because of his skeptical baggage, which I think you are still carrying) then there is a definite context from which to place hell in. It’s not an arbitrary Greek dictum where individual sins against the gods must be accounted for. Neither is it based on a person’s good or bad works’ ratio. Rather, hell is the just penalty for not meeting God’s absolute perfect standard. This standard isn’t above God (see the Socratic dialogues) and neither is an independent standard that God himself must abide by. On the contrary, the Socratic and Platonic horns can be split down the middle by holding that God’s standard isn’t arbitrary or contrived. Indeed, his perfect standard flows from his essence. Because of the first man’s sin, sin has polluted all of mankind. By God’s goodness and holiness he set out a means by which mankind could fellowship with God again. But why couldn’t God just forgive mankind’s sins? Narnia’s Aslan depicted this very good. To forgive mankind’s sins without a just sacrifice, God’s holiness and perfection would be compromised. But nevertheless, God’s love found ad adequate and righteous sacrifice in the person, Jesus. But why couldn’t God just prolong the time indefinitely, as you said. That’s indeed the problem! Prolonging the situation would not have done any good. Indeed, mankind would still not have his guarantee of a future resurrected body if that was done. Neither could he have fellowship with God for the unholy would then be present with the holy. Thus, a prolonged indefinite time simply won’t do. Thus, God didn’t make up the rules, except in so much as he is bound by his holiness and perfection. But that is God’s essence. Your criticisms of why couldn’t God do it this way other then that way indeed misses the point. A thing’s essence is restricted to itself. It’s itself and not something else. For this, your criticism isn’t aimed at God, but rather it’s aimed at the Law of Identity. Instead of looking at all the possibilities of how God could have saved mankind (if indeed there are real possible worlds in which he could and no less, feasible worlds) look at what God actually did. Indeed, this methodology of questioning what God could have done is itself carries with it unjustified skeptical baggage, baggage which the Enlightenment and Romantic period sadly gave us.

As to whether it was just for God to save the few, this rests on many unwarranted assumptions. For this, see Craig’s many articles on Christian Particularism. http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/particularism.html By ridding ourselves of the radical skepticism (and your postmodern leanings) baggage, maybe a fair hearing can be given to Christianity. Only then can its chief argument, the resurrection, be given a fair hearing.

I think one last thing needs to be discussed. You said in your closing, “I want to understand what you see in Christianity when the faith blinders are off that makes you hold to it above others.” I have never worn faith blinders and don’t intend to. Sadly, many so called Christians, not least liberal Christians, do wear some sort of colored lenses, but I simply look at the Bible with an open heart and an open mind (not as open as you, however. I do think truth is possible) do interpretation this way. The case for Christianity doesn’t need any faith blinders. Its jacket of chain male does quite a good enough job. A simple stab at a single piece of evidence here and there doesn’t make the whole system crumble to pieces. On the contrary, it’s built on a firm foundation and its core doctrines, including the doctrine of hell, have a proper context from which they stand. Thus, the evidence for Christianity doesn’t fall lack a set of dominoes stacked side by side, but each doctrine supports one another. The resurrection though, is the center piece. For this, we have a myriad of articles for you to browse through.
I think I should also add that an inspired Bible doesn't have to be assumed, and shouldn't. Rather, a proper interpretive framework will leave open the possibility that the Bible could be an inspired text. Now, must I prove all the particular pieces of evidence (inspired Bible, etc...) to be justified in my Christian beliefs? The answer is no. This possibility is an inference from the very nature of God and what He would do. Literary criticism can (and has) shown the biblical text to be very trustworthy and reliable. The possibility that miracles can happen or even that God could preserve an inspired text down through the ages is denied, often covertly, in both of your dialectics. Again, let’s rid ourselves of this skepticism. It’s unjustified an archaic. Once this is done, we can look at the text.
BK said…
*Whew* Seeker, you ask a lot of good questions. I trust that you are not being disingenuous in your questions but are really being what your name claims -- an honest seeker.

I think that you make a mistake in reading the Bible too literally. I think that much of the Bible is in figurative language (especially prophesies), and to read the Bible too literally leads to the more problematic veins of Christianity. Some of the Bible is so clearly poetic and figurative that it begs common sense to read it too literally (and it seems quite apparent to me that the Bible is meant to be read from a rather common sense point of view). Certainly there are places that the Bible is literal in meaning, but that does not mean that one should read the entire thing in a stilted literalism.

The descriptions of the agonies of hell, in my view, is one of the items that is meant to be taken figuratively. Given that I don't think that when I get to heaven that the streets (if there are such things there) are going to be paved in gold with diamonds. It seems quite apparent to me that that is simply a way of talking about the richness and leisure that those in heaven encounter. Of course, you are free to demand that the Bible be read in a more literal fashion, in which case you will certainly have trouble with the concept of hell. I don't because I don't read it in that fashion.

Regarding the God who is punishing, I don't think God actively punishes. Rather, God exiles us which takes us away from all joy, etc. In that half-life, the sinner is left alone with the knowledge of what he has lost and the evil he has done resulting in the person having their own punishment. Again, if you want to conjure up images of demons with pitchforks torturing people because God commands them to do so, I suppose you can, but I don't see anything in the text that requires it (in fact, since hell is the place where the demons are exiled, too, I doubt they will be doing any punishing at God's behest).

I am going to write up something about God setting up the rules later. I think that there is understandably a great deal of confusion about how God could be both the moral lawgiver yet constrained by the moral laws, and I want to flesh that out more. For purposes of this response, let me simply say that I disagree that God could have set up the system anyway he would like.

Your question: "is it just to condemn men of ignorance of God's non-moral rules?" What non-moral rules are you referencing? After all, I stated that all men have the law of God in their hearts. So, on what basis are you positing ignorance and of what are you positing ignorance?
Seeker said…
Whew. Both of you speak a bit above my understanding, so maybe I won't sully the conversation by bringing it down to the more practical. We can take this offline at any point if you'd prefer. I'm not trying to disrupt your postings. I'm a regular RSS subscriber who saw some items that hit on some of my questions. And it appears I may be swiftly treading to waters over my head.

I am a seeker, BK. I was raised to serve in a very conservative denominational background, one most would see as legalistic. I shed that legalism when I felt I could not logically justify those predjudices. I continue that struggle applying the same attitude to Christianity. If I missed the boat once, I could have easily done so again.

I was raised to believe Christianity was a religion confirmed by verifiable evidence, available to all to accept. That's what differentiated us from every other faith. But the more time I spent in researching the dogma, the less I felt confident. The Bible was long presented to me as a perfect work, but when I discovered errors and inconsistancies I could not deny, I began to read it more critically. Increasingly I find that it reads less like the construct of a perfect being, and more a cultural/national religion with its own evolution and inconsistancies. Which leads me to ask why it is superior to any other. And thus the thrust of my questions. I don't really care about philosophical debates - I'm just concerned with the basic question - is it true? I'm looking for the little glint in the religion that says it's obviously from a higher source and thus trustworthy. And deconstructing your statements in the hope that you can defend them in a way that I can get behind.

My life is tied up in church. It is the greatest of human strains to stand behind a pulpit regularly with dwindling confidence in the message you share. So I'm really on your side :)

One item I have improperly stated. I personally do not reject the concept of absolute truth, particularly in a postmodern sense. My statement was a reaction to the quote I pulled, which in reflection I probably read hastily. I originally believed you were stating "you can't explain the inconsistencies of Christianity without being a Christian" and was responding "didn't you just confirm my statement that it's not justifiable without blind faith". That's what I get for hasty posting.

I'm not really interested in debating absolute truth, or trying to speak for Mr. Carr; sorry if I led the conversation down that road. I'm just looking for common sense answers, childlike terms. Previous posts touched on natures of God that do not seem consistent to me. That may be my own limited scope. So I'll step away from some of the jabbering I offered across the topic. Good points to consider concerning a need for sacrifice. I still get uncomfortable making inferences about the nature of God from his reported actions - it seems a rather backward and potentially dangerous way to construct a concept (re. the three blind men & the elephant)

I'll examine the link you offered, which does indeed hit the nail on the head of my original objections about God's justice. Will take a bit to digest.

CA, I am most intrigued by your last paragraph, which speaks directly to the nature of my questions. Can you expand on this? I would certainly accept the framework that a text could be inspired, miracles could happen and a text could be providentially preserved. My question being are these things demonstrated? My initial dissapointments revolve around these particular precepts. Questioning the Bible's inspiration (contradictions, changing nature of God, prophetic misfires and assumed fulfillment), presence of miracles (none verifiably occurring today, at least at the Biblical magnitude) and preservation (periods of inaccessibility, disagreement and selectiveness of canon, missing books refered to within Bible). I'd be really interested in following that path. Links are fine if you don't want to reiterate.
BK said…

First, I don't believe you are treading in waters over your head. I appreciate the false modesty, but I can tell by your writing that you are certainly a bright individual who understands what I have said even if you find you cannot agree.

I really don't know what to say in response to your statement that "the more time I spent in researching the dobma, the less I felt confident." My experience was just the opposite. The more I have researched and responded to objections to claims, the more that I have found my faith in the historical reliability of the Bible and the truth of the Gospels confirmed.

I don't want to turn this into a "spot the error" blog, but when I first started debating Christianity on the Internet, I was pounded by skeptics with the "thousands of contradictions" in the Bible. Since I don't have the time to review "thousands of contradictions", I always told them to give me their top three contradictions that they felt were unanswerable. Not once did I find one that was really a contradiction, but they were all, at worst, merely explainable inconsistencies.

Now, you may be being troubled not by what are, in fact, logical problems in the Bible but by your own inferences onto these problems. For example, in this case of the "hell" problem, you seem to be of the mind that God is sending people to hell where he is going to actively punish them for all eternity. While I can understand why you may draw that inference from the text, I don't think that the text, if understood as figurative as I am saying it ought to be taken, supports that viewpoint.

I think that God has given us minds with the ability to reason. Reason, however, is a tricky thing. People can reason wrongly and rightly, and it is important that we try to discuss openly our different reasonings to try to arrive at the truth. In this case, my contention is that my construct that the Biblical descriptions of the sufferings in hell as analogies for the actual suffering that occurs naturally from the separation from all hope, life, light, joy, peace, love, etc., is consistent with the text and makes sense in light of the rest of what the Bible reveals about God and His perfect character. If I am forced to concede that the Bible teaches only that hell is a place where God throws people into a literal lake of fire so that they burn forever as active punishment for sins, I have a problem with that because it doesn't seem to be in accordance with all of God's character. In other words, I would be in the same place you apparently are.

You can say that I am rationalizing away a problem, but I think that you are creating the problem with a literal reading of a text that is meant to be taken figuratively. You are not alone as many people have taken these texts literally for centuries. But I think that this is one of those cases where there exists no strong reason to read the texts literally and very strong reasons to take the texts figuratively.

If you want absolute proof that Christianity is true, I cannot give you that because even if God came down from heaven and personally appeared to you, you could reject the appearance as a bad dream or (as Scrooge put it) as a bit of undigested beef which fooled the senses. But I think that when you sit back and think rationally about all of the evidences that suggest God is present (the Kalam Cosmological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, the teleological argument, the argument from history, the argument against materialism, the argument from religious experience, the argument from first cause, etc.) and take these arguments as a holisitic case, it certainly makes a very strong argument indeed.

By the way, I would add that I don't think that it is a requirement that one accepts the Bible as inerrant to be a strong Christian. Greg Koukl has written an essay about the essentials of faith that can be found on his organization's website (http://www.str.org) where he said one does not have to believe in inerrancy to be Christian. Many members of the CADRE don't hold to a Biblical inerrancy. While I do, my belief in God does not start with the idea that the Bible is inerrant, but rather Biblical inerrancy follows from the belief in God. If you find that you cannot accept the idea of Biblical inerrancy, then don't beat yourself over the head trying to reason it out -- it is not a prerequisite to faith.

I don't know the extent of your struggles, but I will pray for you. If you want to continue this conversation in private, please feel free to email me privately through the CADRE e-mail (christiancadre@yahoo.com). I would be happy to continue the discussion even if I am just a sounding board for some of your concerns.

God bless you in your struggles.
Seeker said…
I agree that 99% of what is circulated as Biblical inconsistancies/errors on the Internet is just a failure to give the text a fair contextual reading and/or well documented scribal errors that Christiandom has long been aware of. I debunked many of them debating in years past in various USENet groups and created a number of documents where I would answer all 99 or whatever "proofs" offered. I think a few still circulate the net, although I've ceased chasing them. The few that remained were disconcerting (numerical discrepancies in Kings/Chronicles and my favorite - "Who killed Goliath"), but the one that stuck in my craw is harmonizing the gospel accounts. I've never seen an attempt to harmonize that didn't fudge or make extremely unlikely rationalizations. In the end, you can always discount these items as incorrectly preserved (but valid in the original autographs), but more on this in a minute.

Logically, my problem has mostly been with the representation of God. For years I formulated and absorbed theories of the advancing revelation of an unchanging God, but the more I discount outside opinions and guidance, the more the text reads like an evolving God concept and the evolution of a cultural religion. Aside from whether the hell concepts are just, moral or appropriate, my bigger problem is that it's just never mentioned before intertestamental literature,and it's never well defined until we hit the NT. In years past I was taught to rationalize that mankind was somehow not ready to receive this truth, or God's focus was elsewhere. Nowadays it reads like hell was invented because the "falling before your enemies" threats were no longer effective to people of a devastated nation.

I have been trained all my life to approach the Bible as a theological work and that's helped me to rationalize a lot of what I digested. Since those years I have taken to reading the record like I would read any other historical/philosophical volume (or opposing religion's holy text) and my opinion has shifted radically. When I take off my theological "blinders", I no longer see the playing of a scheme of redemption - I see an invented god that was fully nationalistic who evolved into a moral overseer when nationalistic aspirations were beyond hope. The progression is not all that different from the JW's miscalculated dates for judgement and the rationalization/reinterpretation of prophecy that followed.

Space limits my objections to many of the extraBiblical proofs for God that are in place, but suffice it to say I do recognize the possibility for a superior guiding force or persona. I don't think the honest thinker who's chased the arguments can honestly state they know "there is no God". But it seems to me that most of these arguments debate ANY superior force, and Christianity's claims are cornerstoned by the Bible's validity. I am looking forward to chasing the link provided, because it seems to me if the Bible can't be proven to be supernaturally inspired and ultimately trustworthy, then any schema that recognizes a superior being is equally valid.

My concern with Bible validity is not with textual preservation - I think it's been proven beyond doubt that we have a pretty good shot at the original documents' contents. My concern is whether the original documents were actually true, or just common folklore and evolving mythology. It would appear to me the only way you could differentiate the Bible's claims from Mohammed's, Buddha's, Krishna's, etc. is to show there's something beyond humanity within the documents. I once believed that was accomplished through the consistency of the text across the years, prophetic fulfillment and other internal proofs. However as mentioned, when I read the text without Christian presuppositions, I don't see the consistency - rather I see radically changing worldviews understandably in line with the Hebrew nation's evolution. And in history, I see the elimination from canon all documents that were seen as inconsistent in that day. When I examine prophecy, it reads more often as "after the fact" prophesying (the Penteteuch), appropriated unrelated quotes (most of the Messianic statements) or generalized "Nostradamus" level appropriations. Dead level, I just don't really see what's special about the Bible anymore, or how it's supernaturally superior to any other religious text.

I do appreciate your prayers. I can honestly state to you nothing would make me happier than to be overwhelmingly proven wrong and to go back in contentment to my Bible-belt life. In periods of questioning in years past the shock of discounting that life has driven me to put away my questions for blind obedience. But at least at this point I cannot and be truthful to myself.
Seeker said…
I think I've found some of the inerrancy essays you're referring to - I read in particular:


I don't want to give you the impression that I'm just arguing by the speedy reply - these are arguements I've considered at length in the past.

The one big hole in this approach that I don't see considered is that the Biblical documents, while historically trustworthy, may just be folklore and mythology. Consider the next best historically represented book to the Bible - Homer's Iliad. We are pretty sure that it has been transmitted accurately. But we don't regard it as universal truth just because it's old.

Isn't it very possible that God was another nationalistic god that proved himself alongside Baal, Asheroth, Baphomet, etc. by whoever was winning the battles this week? Who became a moral force that would return them to glory that people became increasingly discontent with after years of oppression? That Jesus was a positive social persona that the common man was looking for and subsequently mythologized after martyrdom? After all, most of what's recorded from his mouth is about social change and Jewish reform, not the radical shift of thought that is to come. That Paul came along and expanded the religion to Gentile converts (would certainly explain the conflicts with the Jerusalem church and original disciples) and incorporated more of the day's existential views to increase the audience? If you regard the Bible as another historical document, that's the way it reads - at least to me.

So it seems to me that despite Koukl's comments that you've got to have some sort of way to validate the text as supernatural to flag it God's word. Koukl says he believes this, but doesn't debate it because it's hard to do. Koukl says he relies on Jesus' miracles as the foundation, but those are easily represented on a biased piece of paper.

I'm still looking for the glimmer of God in the works.

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