CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


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.

11 comments:

In Romans 9:22-23, it says:

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

And that might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.

In this one bible study I use, the person who wrote it said that these verses have nothing to do with our will to accept Christ or reject him(which everyone has), but about people like Pharaoh and Esau, who had the promise of God's word, and who God used to bring his word to pass as written.

So, when a Calvinist says that it isn't what we say or do, they have a point, because it isn't from works. However, it is what we believe that saves us or doesn't save us.

Of course as Wesleyan I don't believe he did create people to go to hell. I'm not a Calvinist so certainly I don't buy he double predestination. I think God could know our future if he chooses too but he may not choose to. Or it may be that there is no such thing as being outside of time. All of this depends upon some real problematic theoretical positions.

To clarify, I do in fact believe people go to hell (an old English/Germanic term translating Hebrew sheol and Greek hades fairly well); also to Gehenna (the lake of fire, the eonian fire, etc.); both of which may easily overlap although they aren't quite the same thing.

By which I mean I do believe in directly active post mortem punishment by God (not merely as an incidental side-effect of people trying to get away from God either), at variant levels ranging from what amounts to a stern talking-to, up to severe physical and spiritual torment into the ages of the ages, through spiritual hades and after the resurrection of impenitent evildoers (where applicable).

What I don't believe in, is hopeless punishment from God. I also don't believe God ceases punishment before leading the soul to repentance.

So, hell yes. {g} Hopelessness, no.


My position on whether being a non-Christian is what sets off this punishment is quite distinct from my belief in hell. I don't believe in salvation or damnation by doctrinal assent or denial, and didn't long before coming to be a Christian universalist. Christ had some very strong warnings of coming eschatological punishment for people who by almost every standard, including praise from God, and miraculous authority in Christ's name, and doctrinal purity, counted as Christians; whereas the sheep in the judgment don't even realize they've been serving Christ at all. The Gospels themselves warn me that "being a Christian" is not the passcard to salvation, or so I find.

Anyway, I would deny Premise 3, in some important senses, even if I wasn't also a Christian universalist. Of course, I fully agree that people whom Christ counts as being truly Christian aren't punished, or not significantly so (as impenitent rebels), after death. But that isn't a categorization I worry about in regard to other people, seeing as the only person whose heart I'm responsible for knowing much about is my own. ;)

JRP

Also, I'm pretty sure I meant "tolerate" in a much more positive way (although I can't find the reference on a search). {g} I very gratefully appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the Cadre over the years and to contribute to the common defense of Nicean orthodoxy; I would never think my fellows and predecessors here, merely tolerate me. {bow!}

After all, it wouldn't be hard to throw me out! {lol!}

JRP

Well Jason, you can rest easy. we don't tolerate you. (just kidding).


you said:

"To clarify, I do in fact believe people go to hell (an old English/Germanic term translating Hebrew sheol and Greek hades fairly well); also to Gehenna (the lake of fire, the eonian fire, etc.); both of which may easily overlap although they aren't quite the same thing.

By which I mean I do believe in directly active post mortem punishment by God (not merely as an incidental side-effect of people trying to get away from God either), at variant levels ranging from what amounts to a stern talking-to, up to severe physical and spiritual torment into the ages of the ages, through spiritual hades and after the resurrection of impenitent evildoers (where applicable)."


that's sort of the general idea I believe in.

{lol!} Y'all don't tolerate me extremely well! {bow!}

JRP

I don't believe in a place of torment where people feel bad forever. I believe that those who die at enmity with God cease to exist (the destruction of the soul). But, no before they learn why they were wrong and feel a sense of guilt.

Also I think the sense I get for Sheol is "the grave." Just being dead or what in the ancient was "the pit" sort of a half life veg shadow existence is what is meant by that term. It's not the same as the place of torment.

There is no specific place of Torment in the OT that came from the Greeks.

I believe the place of fire and eternal punishment and that concept is a metaphor. It's a metaphor for spiritual death. It's sometimes put in terms of formal punishment but usually that image in only in the context of a metaphor.

there is no clear prose-based exposition of any detail that explains what it is. Most reference to torment are in the context of figurative language, metaphor, parable or apocalyptic.

While the details may not be literally true, the figurative language usage would be simply false if the principles weren't true; and two of the (almost) constant principles is that God is active in the punishment and those being punished feel the results inconveniently.

Of course, someone could be tormented into the eons of the eons and then annihilated. Just like sinners could be impenitent and thus tormented for eons of eons before finally giving up and repenting of their sins. The difference being that God has a clearer goal in mind for the extension of the punishment, whereas I've never yet heard or read an annihilationist clearly explain what the point of extensively punishing someone before annihilation would be. (Or not one that didn't amount to Ming the Merciless from the 80s Flash Gordon movie. "I like to play with things awhile!--before annihilation. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA...!" {g})

But still, I acknowledge that an annihilationist doesn't have to propose immediate annihilation. ECT proponents, similarly, don't necessarily have to propose extreme eternal torment. The Roman Catholic Concept of limbo from as far back as late antiquity (at least, if not even earlier) is that it's practically heaven by any earthly standard, the only difference being a permanent lack of fellowship with God. (Which those in limbo experience as a lack, thus are 'minimally' tormented forever.)

So yeah, lots of variant possibilities.

I think it's worth asking, though, whether the call-in Rumple whom Bill is taking as an example would really regard our variations as sufficiently significant.

So for example, "Hey, Jason. I can prove that God doesn't exist. God's omniscient, right? Well don't intend to stop doing whatever you or your religion regards as 'sin', and that means God knew when he created me that I would be punished post-mortem, right?"

I know how I would answer that, but it might be worth a Part 2.n series of entries from Bill. (I'd do it myself but I don't want to hijack Bill's series, and I think the principles of the answer would fit in well with where I expect he's probably going. {s!})

JRP

Note: I'm talking in the previous comment about NT eschatological punishment, of course. OT eschaton punishment also definitely involves action by God to punish and experientiality of the punishment, but is very much less clear about whether the experientiality takes place any further than the experience of earthly destruction.

Ironically, I find that evidence from the OT for post-mortem experientiality of punishment tends to also involve the sinner repenting after being punished, and being restored to God!

JRP

Don't blame God. It's our fault because we ignore him at many times, so that he sent his Son Jesus to give us an option. If we choose to accept him in our lives, then we are save. The option is in us and we really unfair to God.

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