Why Did God Create Atheists Knowing they Will Go to Hell? (Part 1 – Opening Thoughts)

In my time debating the truth of Christianity, I have observed some skeptics (not all) ask questions for the same end to which Rumpelstiltskin asked people to guess his name. They ask questions not expecting an answer, but rather to watch the people asked squirm; i.e., they ask questions with unwarranted confidence that the people asked will not have the answer. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that the questions they ask aren’t worth asking. Rather, the motivation is false; the questions are being asked not to get information to make an honest evaluation of the facts, but rather they ask because they want to hear the Christians stumble about trying to answer.

I heard one such Rumpelstiltskin call in to a talk radio program a few days ago. His words were something to the effect of: 
Hey, Jim, I can prove that God doesn’t exist. God’s omniscient, right? Well I’m an atheist and that means that God knew when he created me that I would be going to hell, right?
I have a question: what are the chances that this particular skeptic was looking for an answer to his question? This Rumpelstiltskin, like many of his kin, asks the question because he thinks that he alone, among the millions of skeptics who are collectively infinitely smarter than he, has found the Jenga block which, if removed, will cause the entire Christian edifice to collapse. So Rumpelstiltskin asks his question and laughs while the poor Christian stumbles about seeking the answer. He knows that the Christian will not have the answer because there is no answer – or so he thinks. But until he gets answered, he will run around spouting his question to unsuspecting Christians.

Let me be clear: the question Rumplestiltskin asked would be legitimate if asked honestly. Rumplestiltskin didn’t ask the question honestly seeking an answer. Rather, he used the question as a sword to slash at Christian belief. To that extent, responding to Rumpelstiltskin ultimately proves pointless because Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t want an answer. But what about the honest skeptic who wants to know if an answer to this question exists, or the church member who hears the question and wants to understand how the God who she knows exists could do such a thing? Should there be an answer for him or her? I will try to respond to this question not for the sake of Rumpelstiltskin, but rather for those who want to engage in real conversation.

First, let’s acknowledge that the answer to the question posed by Rumpelstiltskin is not easy. There is no single Bible verse of which I am aware that answers this question. The Bible is not intended to answer every question about God, but rather exists to tell us some of God’s attributes and to explain his plan of salvation. Keep in mind, God (assuming He exists) is not obligated to answer our every question. Rather, as Paul noted in Romans 9 and as the Book of Job points out, if God has chosen to not reveal detailed answers to man as to his reasons for doing things, mankind has no cause to complain. 
[W]ho are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
This is similar to the answer that God gave to Job when he sought an answer to why he had suffered. In the final chapters of Job, God appears to Job, but rather than answer the question directly, God pointed out to Job that Job was not God. God, being God, can do as He pleases, and mankind does not have the right to question Him. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, 
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Moreover, mankind’s thoughts are often flawed especially when it comes to the ways of God and the flaws are even more pronounced when trying to understand those things that God has not chosen to reveal. Consider the many disagreements that occur even within the Christian church about what He is like and what he desires or commands. Must baptism be full immersion or is sprinkling acceptable? The answer is disputed. Is communion symbolic, actual transformation or real presence? Again, it depends upon the denomination and the individual.  Will there be a rapture and if so will it occur pre-tribulation or post-tribulation? We don’t know. We can make arguments, but the simple answer is that we won’t know until God does it. So, when you hear a question like Rumplestiltskin’s, even when asked honestly, it appears that the answer can change depending from which tradition the answer comes.

Thus, anyone seeking to answer Rumplestiltskin’s question must approach it with humility and a willingness to admit the possibility that the proposed answer could be wrong. Those reading the answer I will propose and disagree: I ask that you approach my response with the understanding that I am making my best effort to answer a question which, to my knowledge, is not directly answered in the Bible. If I am wrong, I welcome appropriate and respectful critiques.

I will continue this in part 2


Anonymous said…
Well, to answer this, I think that God knows that certain souls will be destroyed, but there is no one soul or entity that is sentenced to perish.

The only one that has that sentence is Satan. He is called the Son of Perdition in 2 Thessalonians.
Jason Pratt said…
Well, considering the topic of my Christmas sermon this year, I'd say it's fair enough for Bill to go for this topic in another direction. {g}

Atheists don't bother asking me this question anymore, once they figure out I'm a Christian universalist (and I don't regard atheism in itself as being damnable behavior), although that might be because they haven't figured out that I still believe in post-mortem punishment (including for nominal Christians!)--into the ages of the ages where appropriate.

There are certainly other goofy challenge questions they can (and do) throw at me; and after all, Calvinist Christians would tend to answer Rumple "Yep, assuming you're one of those not elected for salvation by God, which strictly speaking no one knows but God yet--you might still be led to salvation someday."

So for two out of three basic Christian soteriologies it isn't any kind of slam dunk question at all to begin with; and (as Bill will indicate in Part 2+ I expect) Arminians have their own ways of going about it. (I'm going to bet Boethian omniscience, as taught by C. S. Lewis and which I also agree with, factors into Bill's reply.)

Anyway, since Bill invites critique, I may or may not mention some things later.

What I will mention now (not necessarily in critique of Bill, since I'm not sure he meant to go this route) is that the OT verses cited by Paul in that quote from Romans 9 (there are several contenders, including near areas of Isaiah Paul obviously had on his mind because he cites them soon afterward in Rom) tend to concern God chastising people for expecting that God has hopelessly punished rebel Israel and won't save her from her sins after all.

Repentance and the graciously free offer of reconciliation and salvation is also the very explicit context of Isaiah 55:8-9: the reason why God will have compassion and will abundantly pardon those who repent of their sins is because God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither our ways His ways, but His ways are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth's, etc. And God promises a few verses later, that His evangelical Word will surely succeed.

To quote those verses in explanation for why God won't save some people from sin, even if that was otherwise true, would run against the contexts of the passages. Quoting Isaiah 55 for purposes of positively reassuring people about God's intentions and capabilities in salvation would be far more appropriate: we sinful humans might refuse to forgive our enemies or seek their salvation, even if they repented, but God is better than we are, and we can be sure He'll accomplish saving whoever He intends to save from sin.

(But possibly Bill knew all that and is intending to bring it out later. I know careful Arminian exegetes appeal to the verses before 8-9 as evidence that God seriously calls everyone to be saved from sin; just like careful Calvinist exegetes appeal to the verses after 8-9 as evidence that God will surely save from sin whomever He seriously intends to save. I think they both have good points. {g!})

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Anonymous said…
I can answer your question easily, god didnt create atheists. Christians did. the bible is an interpretation of gods will made by MAN. sadly enough though the early catholic church was still surrounded by pagan religions, so the catholic church created atheism in order to eliminate enemy religions. Read the da vinci code it will explain it further.
Sincerely mary magdalene
BK said…
That immediately preceding comment is among the most ill-informed I have ever read. Is this a joke? Or, Steven Carr, is this you?
Anonymous said…
On the contrary, the one who is ill informed is the one who follows a ideal that they did no investigation upon and automatically assume its right. Do the research, it all adds up.
-mary magdalene
Anonymous said…
You even said so yourself on your introduction, you enjoy proving common thought wrong. Therefore it stands to logic in order to prove something wrong or right you must have evidence.
Jason Pratt said…
Dan Brown certainly knows how to train trolls. ;)

Dan Brown, incidentally, did not do the research, Anon, as has been proven extensively time and time again, even by other non-Christians. Nor did he really intend to: he knew he could make a lot of money effectively trolling the world and provoking them to answer.

Modern atheism, for better or for worse, is a creation of philosophers during the early Enlightenment period, lonnnnnng after the activities of the early Catholic church.

At the time of the early CC, atheism was similarly the province of a few more-or-less well-respected philosophers. Otherwise it was an inflammatory charge thrown around as a term to mean a lack of respect for divinity, not a denial of the existence of any divinity.

It's possible that the early CC called pagans "atheists" in that sense (although I don't recall that charge being brought up offhand in the patristic literature I've read), but no one on any side would have regarded that (in such a context) as meaning that the people so charged didn't believe in the existence of any deity; much less would the people so charged have actually agreed to stop believing in any deity as a result.

And the CC didn't start the practice, assuming for purposes of argument they practiced such charges at all: the CC itself was regularly the receiver of such charges by pagan Romans dating back at least as far as (and no doubt further than) the mid-2nd century when Justin Martyr defended Christians against such a charge in his (First) Apology.

The pagan Romans didn't thereby "create" "atheism" in any conceivable sense by charging Christians with "atheism", in competition with Christianity as an enemy religion; there is no reason why any similar charges leveled against enemy religions by Christians would have created "atheism" either.

Since there is evidence (well known to both Christian and secular scholars) that competitive "atheism" charges clearly didn't create "atheism" in one case; and since you have presented exactly no evidence (not even citing Dan Brown chapter and verse--whom offhand I don't recall addressing the topic, but it's been several years since I read his book) to support your contention otherwise in regard to the early Catholic Church "creating" "atheists" by a similar method, I recommend you stop trolling the comments for your own amusement, and go find something more productive to do with your time.

(Reading that atheist historian's well-sourced and detailed collection of historical comments on TDVC, which I linked to above, for example.)

Anonymous said…
Good show, good show. I actually do appreciate the fact that you did research on your faith. Plus calling me out on trolling is another very good observation. People on the internet anger so easily, so its great to see someone with a calm look at things. A breath of fresh air you might say, and a worthy farewell to this community.
Signing out for the last time
-mary magdalene

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