In part 1, I noted that a Rumplestiltskin phoned a radio station asking the following question:
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?
Having laid the groundwork, it is first important to understand that Rumplestiltskin’s question has a lot of hidden premises. These premises, if spelled out, might read as follows:
Premise 1: Christianity teaches that God is a loving and good God.
Premise 2: Christianity teaches that God is omniscient.
Premise 3: Christianity teaches that people who are not Christians go to hell.
Premise 4: If God is omniscient, he knows which people will become Christians at least as early as the time that they are created.
Conclusion 1: God knew at the time that I was created that I would not be a Christian and would be going to hell.
Premise 5: A loving and good God would not create people knowing that they would go to hell.
Conclusion 2: God does not exist.
When spelled out, this is a reasonable argument even though I believe it is ultimately unsound. As you may be aware, an unsound argument is one where the logical form of the argument is valid, but the argument fails because one or more of the premises are untrue. As I pointed out in Part 1, different views within Christianity would answer this argument in different ways.
Here, one could first argue that the third premise is untrue. After all, one objection to Christianity both within and outside the church is to the concept of hell. For example, our own Jason Pratt is a Christian universalist who doesn’t believe anyone will go to hell. While I respectfully disagree, I recognize that many people who trust in Christ for their salvation hold that a loving and good God would not send someone to hell preferring the view that allows for universal salvation. After all, the concept of hell as understood by many both inside and outside of Christianity as a place of wrath where God pours out his anger and condemnation on people for their sins. How can a loving and good God allow for that? And more importantly, if he knows everything that will happen, shouldn’t he know that any particular person will reject him and thus isn’t that tantamount to sending that person to hell? If all people are ultimately saved (or if people not going to heaven are annihilated), then Rumplestiltskin’s problem of sending people to hell simply vanishes.
(Incidentally, I noted that at one time in his Universalist forum Jason commented that the members of the CADRE tolerate him. I disagree. Jason is a brilliant man who I personally appreciate and am glad to have as a member of the CADRE. While I don’t speak for the CADRE as a whole – no one does – I view Jason’s universalism in the same way that I view the difference between people who believe that during communion the bread and the wine truly and physically become the body of Christ – not correct but not heretical.)
However, I am neither a believer in Christian Universalism nor am I a person who believes in the annihilation of the soul. Thus, I do not rely upon either of these options as ways to resolve this issue.
Now suppose that the individual is correct in all of the premises. The problem is that the conclusion may still not follow from the premises. Rather, at best the skeptic has shown that God may not be omniscient in the sense that that term is generally understood. Consider this: suppose God’s omniscience covers only those things that have happened and are presently happening. This would mean that God’s omniscience does not extend to those things that have yet to happen. To state it yet another way, God's knowledge may not extend to everything that has yet to happen. He may know everything that has happened, and God may know everything that is happening. But God may not know everything that will happen. Some in the church believe this to be the case. These people point specifically to where Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac at the direction of God, but when God stops him suddenly right before Abraham completes the sacrifice God says “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Genesis 22: 12. To those who hold this view, the verse demonstrates that God does not know in advance what will happen as the result of the free actions of human beings. Thus, Rumplestiltskin’s logical challenge does not disprove God if His omniscience is really of the kind where he does not know the future.
As with the Christian Universalist and annihilationist views, I do not agree with this view. I reject it because in my view it fails to give appropriate weight to all of the verses in the Bible that speak of God’s foreknowledge and predestination such as Romans 8:29-30 and Romans 11:2. It will take longer than I would like to spend here to explain how I (and the vast majority of the church) resolve the conflict and what God means by “now I know” in Genesis 22. But for purposes of this post, I want to express my acceptance of the widespread understanding within the church that God fully knows the future.
Another more broadly accepted alternative is found in the Calvinistic view that God is infinitely just and fair but in his justness and fairness God is the one who decides who will be saved and who will not. For example, Romans 9:15-18 reads:
For [God] says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Under this view, God has created the universe not for us, but for Him. He chooses who will be saved and who will not. Consider the following from John MacArthur:
First of all, He's God and He has a right to do whatever He wishes to do. The question of why God does anything is the ultimate question that is generally not answered except to say this. Since right is whatever God does because God is the definer of what is right, shall not the judge of all the earth do right? I mean, we can't call that into question. So God only does what is right and what God does is what right is. And so, God does what He does because it's right to do it. If you're going to ask well why would God want to send anyone to hell? Why would God not choose everyone? The answer would be because it glorifies Him, cause that has to be the answer to everything, it glorifies Him. That's why Romans 9 says,"What if God desires vessels of wrath? What if...do you have a right to question God? Shall the clay tell the potter how the potter is to behave and what he is to do? Whom he is to shape?" If God is glorified in His wrath, as well as in His grace, then He has a right to that. So the ultimate answer to that question is, God does what He does because it's right and He does what He does because it brings Him glory.
So, the answer from the Calvinist viewpoint (a viewpoint that I don’t fully share, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the correct interpretation of scripture) is that God chooses who to save and who not to save and it is not based on anything that we say or do. Our skeptical friend can complain that a loving God would not send him to hell, but the Calvinist view of the Bible would say (in line with Paul in Romans 9:20-21) that it is not appropriate for the pot to question why the potter would make it in a certain way. He can complain as he wants that God creating him knowing he would be an atheist is not fair, but he is not in a position to understand the ways of God. We may not be able to explain it, but God chooses who he will and is not required to answer to the atheist “why” he did it. In this view, the objection of our skeptical friend fails because he imagines that he knows more than God.
Thus far, I have noted that the skeptic’s argument may fail because Premise 2 (God’s omniscience includes future events), Premise 3 (Christianity teaches that people who are not Christians go to hell) and Premise 5 (God would not create people knowing that they would go to hell) are not necessarily true. But since I am neither a five-point Calvinist nor a person who believes that God’s omniscience is limited, how do I answer Rumplestiltskin’s challenge? That will come in Part 3.