Hell is a very sensitive topic to a lot of people. It is one of the most common arguments against the moral character of God. Atheists often use the doctrine of Hell to demonize God and paint him as a moral monster. This is what this article from a blog called Counter Apologist does.
I for one don’t think Hell does any harm to God’s moral character no matter how hard the atheist tries to argue that it does. But let’s take a look at what CounterApologist has to say and see if his arguments have any force to them.
First, Counter Apologist (here on out referred to as CA) gives us a syllogism for his argument that Hell makes God a moral monster. His argument goes as follows
1.) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good
2.) God chose to create the material universe, heaven, and hell
3.) Hell is eternal conscious torture
4.) There is no moral justification for the eternal conscious torture of any being
5.) Therefore, God is not moral (Contradiction, P1)
He then goes to defend the premises of the argument. For the sake of brevity, I will spare you his defense of the argument. You can just click here to read the original article for yourself. I say this because 1; I don’t want my blog post being extremely wordy, and 2; I agree with 3 out of 4 of the major premises.
I agree with premise 1, that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. I agree with premise 2, that God chose to create the material universe, Heaven and Hell. And I agree with premise 3, that Hell is eternal conscious torture. In fact, ALL Christians would agree to premises 1 and 2 and most would agree with premise 3 (with the exception of annihilationsts). The premise I disagree with is premise 4, that there is no moral justification for eternal conscious torture of any being.
Now, if you’ve studied logic, you know that in order to dismantle a syllogism, all you need to do is show one or more of the premises to be false in order to prevent the person you’re talking to from arriving at the conclusion. In order for an argument to be sound, 100% of the premises must be true.
Here’s the reason why this premise is flawed. I can think of instances which, if true, would mean that God is entirely just in punishing someone eternally.
1: We could all agree that sins of finite consequence do not deserve infinite punishment. I think we could all come to an agreement on that. No matter how evil a deed is, it still is a sin of only finite magnitude and therefore, only deserves punishment of finite duration. However, what if a person were to commit an infinite number of sins? If a person committed an infinite number of sins, then I think infinite punishment is just. If a person commits an infinite number of sins, then even though they’re all of finite magnitude, eternal punishment would be just. Now, of course, a person cannot commit an infinite number of sins in the earthly life. But what about the afterlife? If they continue to send after they’re sent to Hell, then each time they commit another sin, they prolong their punishment. If they continue to sin over and over again for eternity, then they'll be punished....for eternity.
It would be like when a criminal stabs an inmate to death in prison, he would have time added to his sentence. If this is the case, it would mean that people could eventually realize that if they would just quit cursing God’s name in deep hatred towards Him and just repent, they would eventually (after their time was served) be let out and into Heaven. Although I’m skeptical that this ever would happen even though it could. Seeing as how many of these people had 50 to 100 years to turn to God in repentance yet continued in their rebellion against him, I’m skeptical that more time would matter. I think that those who end up in Hell hate God so much that they’ll NEVER repent, but keep cursing Him in Hell, and hence continue to have time added to their sentence. The reason I think this is the case is that we have biblical examples of this. One of them is Satan. Satan has been against God for thousands and thousands of years (millions of years if he fell sometime during the creation period, as I am an Old Earth Creationist). He’s had a “Hell” of a long time to repent but still hasn’t.
2: Hell would be temporary for the finite sins committed in this life. But the sin of rejecting Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and His love for them could be a sin of infinite magnitude in which case infinite punishment would be appropriate for a sin of infinite magnitude in addition to their other finite sins. If God is infinitely good, then rejecting Him would be a sin of infinite evil. Hence, infinite punishment would be well fitting.
3: There's also another theory about Hell which kind of goes along the lines of theory number 1 (about sinning in Hell prolonging the time that the people are in Hell). Some people think that the suffering in Hell might be caused by the very people in Hell. Think about it this way; look at how miserable this world is because people treat each other unkindly. People kill, rape, molest, mock and steal from one another all the time. I mean, I practically cannot turn on the news without hearing about another murder or another kidnapping that happened. Imagine a world where a bunch of sinners are doing the same things in Hell that they did while they were alive (like Adolph Hitler for instance). In that kind of world, human beings would create Hell themselves! In this view, the talk about “fire” is merely metaphorical speech, trying to give a description of how horrible living in such a world full of evil people doing harm to one another and no Divine intervention to bring good out of it would be like. Imagine….if you were to place a bunch of serial killers in a locked room with each other, and they all were trying to kill each other! That would be horrible (for them anyway)! Well, some think of Hell like a room full of psychos trying to hurt one another. People are torturing one another in Hell, not God torturing them. God is indeed punishing them, but He's doing it indirectly. And the reason why they have to endure that for eternity is because they're committing sins (against each other)….for eternity. Therefore, they have to continue to suffer at the hands of fellow sinners for a longer period of time because of their own sins. If this theory is true, Hell could be a wonderful place to be, or the worst place possible just depending it is on who's living there. If all the people in Heaven were to be living in Hell, and all the people in Hell were to start living in Heaven, pretty soon, Heaven would be the place no one would want to go! Heaven would be Hell and Hell would be Heaven. lol
Although it might not be possible to repent if God is no longer extending grace to the person once that person enters Hell. Romans 1:24 says that at some point, a person becomes so hardened of heart that God hands people over to their sinful desires. John 6:44 says it's impossible to repent without drawing grace of The Holy Spirit, so if God gives people over to their evil desires and is no longer drawing them to repentance, then it's probably impossible for the people in Hell to stop doing evil. The reason God gives people over is because they're so hard of heart that it's impossible to get them to repent without overriding their freedom of choice. Resistible Grace is no longer effective on such people. I for one hold to a view that God tries to persuade people to come to repentance their entire lives...and that it's only at the moment of that person's death that He hands them over to their evil desires.
If any of these theories are true, then I think that eternal torment would be a just punishment. I don’t have to prove that they actually are true if CA is claiming that it’s logically impossible for God to be good and for Him to eternal punishment. For the one who claims logical inconsistency between God’s goodness and eternal punishment, all one needs to do is show that it at least can be consistent. To show that two statements or beliefs aren’t logically impossible, all one needs to do is show that it is logically possible, which is what I’ve done. Although I don’t just think that these theories I’ve posed are logically possible, I think they’re actually probable. But I don’t have enough time to get into those reasons for my thinking that right now.
Given that premise 4 is false, the conclusion “God is not moral” is unwarranted.
But, we’re not out of the woods yet. For CA gave another syllogism which he said made his argument even more powerful. He said that the argument becomes even more powerful when you consider the following syllogism:
1.) Non-existence is preferable to eternal conscious torture.
2.) If hell was necessary for creation, then before creation, God knew there are beings who will suffer eternal conscious torture.
3.) It would be better for those beings (who will end up in hell) to have never been created.
4.) Therefore, their creation was not for the benefit of creatures who end up in hell, but for the benefit of those who will end up in heaven, God, or both.
What about this syllogism? Does this argument pull through? Well, let’s consider it. Premise 1 is indisputable. I don’t know of anyone who would say that they’re rather suffer eternally than just be snuffed out of existence. The people in Hell likely do wish that they could go out of existence. So I’d say, Yes, this premise is very probably true.
The next premise strikes me as odd. While the latter part of the statement is true “God knew that there would be beings who would suffer eternal torment”, the phrase “Hell is necessary for creation” doesn’t seem right to me. The only reason why God created Hell was in response to the sinful actions of angels and humans. Actually, I don't know if I disagree with any premise of this argument (maybe the third one, depending on what he means by "Hell is necessary for creation"). I don't really know if I need to refute any of the premises though. Is this syllogism supposed to support one of the premises of the prior syllogism? I'm not sure what the point of this syllogism even is.
Counter Apologist writes “In Christian theology, before creation god is the only thing in existence. He exists in this trinity of perfect self-fulfilling love. At some point, decides he will create the angels and heavenly hosts, knowing Satan will arise from that, and a third of the angels will become demons. He also decides that he will create the material universe and humans, but that humanity will fall and need to be redeemed. And he does all of this so that eventually we can get to a state where all of those who freely choose to love god will live forever in the paradise that is heaven. Except there will also be those who reject god, and because of god’s justice, those beings must be tortured for eternity in hell.
But if god has this foreknowledge, why not just create only those beings that would freely choose to love god and go straight to heaven?” ----
The problem I have with this argument is that it places all of the blame on God for what human beings do. CA presupposes that human beings do have free will and therefore do not have to do what they do. The best part about Hell is that no one has to go there. If only they would turn from their wicked ways and live. The Bible says repeatedly that God does not want a single human being to end up in Hell. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is “not willing that any should perish but that ALL should come to repentance.” 1 Timothy 2:4 says that “God wants ALL PEOPLE to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”. Because He wants all people to be saved, He therefore became a man and suffered the most horrific torture for “the world” (John 3:16), “The whole world” (1 John 2:2), for “everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). Because Jesus died for everyone, He therefore sends prevenient/resistible grace (Matthew 22:37, Acts 7:51), this grace liberates every human’s will, overcoming their inability to repent that Jesus mentioned in John 6:44 and John 6:65, and makes it possible for them to either freely choose to accept Christ as their Savior or reject Him. People can choose to serve God or idols (see Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15). Jesus is drawing “all men” to Himself as John 12:32 tells us.
God has paved a way for every person to be saved. He loves all people because His very nature is love (see 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), He loves the whole world and took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to. He’s sending grace to every person, trying to persuade them by His Holy Spirit to repent. If they don’t repent, it’s their own fault. They have no one else to blame but themselves. They can’t shake their fists at God on judgment day and say “If only you had created me in a different circumstance, then I would be saved. But because you didn’t, it’s your fault” or he can’t say to God “It’s your fault for sending to me to Hell because you knew I would reject you before you even created me!”
Here’s an analogy. Let’s say I’m a high school student, and I’m a real slacker. I don’t like studying and I don’t like going to no stupid school neither. One night, I decide I’m not going to do my homework. I decide I’m going to spend the whole night playing video games. The next day, I get in trouble with my teachers because I have no homework to turn in, I didn’t do it! Now, could anyone turn to my teacher and say “You knew he was a slacker! It’s your fault for even given him the homework! You are unjust!” Do you think that would fly? No! Who’s fault is it for me not doing my homework? ME! I’m the free agent who chose to act irresponsibly. If I get in trouble for not doing my homework, it’s my own fault for not doing my homework. I can’t blame anyone else.
To say that God is immoral for creating creatures just because he knew they were going to reject him…seems to me… blaming my teacher if I don’t do my homework. I could not say to my teacher “You should have made me do it!” or “You knew this was going to happen! Why didn’t you do anything!?”
The thing is, for those currently in Hell, God has done everything possible to save them with the exception of removing their free will and forcing them into Heaven. It’s their fault that they are where they are.
Now, why God would create them at all, knowing in advance they’d choose Hell, I can’t answer right now. I’ve already typed a lot and this blog post is getting long. But my point is, no matter how you answer the question “Why did God create those whom He knew would reject Him”, the fact of the matter is that anyone who ends up in Hell, ends up there because of his free will choice. God did everything He could to persuade the sinner to choose salvation, but he “resisted the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51), and “suppressed the truth” (Romans 1:18) until the day he died.
His next criticism is the “Hiddeness of God” objection and the “Why Yahweh, Why not Zeus, Thor, or any of the other millions of gods?” question. I’ve dealt with these in other posts. I can’t go into a lot of the details right now, but if you want to see why these two arguments from CA fail, check out my blog posts “Why Does God Hide Himself” and “Why Yahweh? Why Not Zeus? Why Not Thor? Why Not Zoidburg?”
He says to think of life as like a “demented game show”. You’ve got to pick the hosts favorite color, get it right and you win infinite wealth but if you get it wrong you’re subjected to torture. The host never appears directly but remains hidden (this is where the allusion to the Hiddenness of God argument comes in). He sends his kid out to tell you what his favorite color is, but then also allows in a couple thousand other people in there too (i.e Jesus plus thousands of other so-called deities), all claiming to be his kid (translate: all claiming to be real) and claiming the host has a different favorite color. Counter Apologist asks his readers if that’s any kind of game show they’d be happy to be a part of.
But I think the analogy is flawed. I’d like to offer a better analogy in it’s place.
You’re in a dungeon, and you’re bound and gagged. You have no idea where you are. There’s a mad man named Mr. Sin Nature who’s going to blow up the dungeon in a matter of days. Now, a hero comes along and unties you. He tries to persuade you to come with him. But there are a lot of agents from Mr. Sin also who enter the room with you. They all line up and tell you that they’ve been sent by your father to save you. If you choose one of Mr. Sin’s agents, you’ll be subjected to torture. If you choose the hero (i.e the actual man your father sent), then you’ll be rescued. They all tell you they’re sent from your father. But how can you tell the difference? You could choose one and just hope to get it right, but that would be reckless.
The man your father sent to rescue you steps forward and gives you a letter written by your father written in his hand writing. He also gives you a video recording showing your father telling you that this man is coming. Also, before the hero came, your father sent you a text giving a very detailed description of the man so that you would recognize him. However, in spite of this. You decide that not only are you going to ignore all of the evidence, but you’re not even going to pick one of the men your father sent you. You’re just going to sit in the dungeon and wait. Why? Because you’re too prideful to admit that you’re a captive and are in need of rescuing. No amount of evidence will convince you because you don’t want to be convinced.
Likewise, God has given us plenty of evidence in creation for His existence.
The Bible shows us a Being who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, who created the entire universe and designed the living creatures in our universe, and who exists outside of space and time, at least prior to bringing the universe into being. The Being The Bible describes as God is also a personal agent, that is to say, an agent who is a person instead of an impersonal force.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument, if all of the premises in that argument are true, shows us a Being who is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, supernatural, and is a personal agent. He is the agent that brought all of matter, energy, space, and time into being at The Big Bang.
The Various Telelogical Arguments (I.E The Fine Tuning Arguments, the DNA-To-Design Argument, and The Irreducible Compexity Argument), if the scientific data is accurate, point us to the existence of a Being who designed our universe and local galactic region to permit the existence of life, and once our universe and local area were life permitting, this Being designed the first living cell.
The Moral Argument, if the premises of this argument are true, shows us a Being who is morally perfect.
The Ontological Argument, if all of its premises are true, shows us a being who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Morally Perfect, and Neccesarry in its existence.
Now, I can’t defend the premises of these various arguments for God’s existence given my limited space, but this is one reason why I believe, and why you should believe, that The Bible’s God is the true God and all of these others are phonies.
The arguments from natural theology show us being whose attributes, only the God of The Bible has. All of the arguments from natural theology reveal a being who is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, supernatural, personal (The Kalam Cosmological Argument), intelligent enough to design a life permitting universe, galaxy, and planet, (The Fine Tuning Arguments), intelligent enough to design life (The DNA-To-Design Argument, irreducible complexity), morally perfect (The Moral Argument), and a being that is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, necessary in existence, morally perfect, and all loving (The Ontological Argument). None of the polytheistic religions and none of the pantheistic religions give us a being that has all of these attributes. Only Judeo-Christianity does.
But some people will not accept the evidence because they don’t want to. Not all reasons for rejecting God are intellectual. Now, I’m not saying there are no intellectual barriers to the Christian faith. But I am saying that there plenty of non-intellectual reasons for rejecting God. For example, some just want to continue living in sin. They know that if Christianity is true, they’ll have to give up their porn, their nights out on the town, their homosexual activities, their freedom to sleep with whomever they want. Because they know that if they don’t, they’ll be in trouble after they die. And the thought of Hell would scare them. If there is no God, there is no Hell, if there is no Hell, there’s no need to worry. Just live however you want. This is what Paul was saying in Romans 1. Paul said that God’s existence is so plainly evident in nature that human beings have no excuse for believing He doesn’t exist (verse 20), but he said prior to that that “men suppress the truth in their unrighteousness”. They “suppress the truth”. Now what does that mean? I take that to mean that they talk themselves out of believing that God exists. The evidence is so powerful (verse 20) that they have to talk themselves out of belief (verse 18).
Verse 18 says that man has to talk himself out of believing that God exists (i.e "Supress the truth"). Why? Because the evidence of His existence is clear from everything that has been made (Romans 1:20). It's very hard for the unbeliever to convince themselves there is no God when creation screams that there's a Creator. Especially now...when the scientific evidence points to a universe with an absolute beginning out of nothing (The Big Bang theory) and that subsequent to that beginning, natures laws (e.g gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, dark energy, etc.) fell into a range which permitted life to exist, and the odds of those laws being so fined tuned is on the order of 1 in 10^300^300 (one in 10 to the power of 300 to the power of 300). A beginning requires a Beginner. Fine Tuning requires a Fine Tuner. Paul said to his readers that they had no excuse. THEY had no excuse, and they were 1st century people. How much less of an excuse do we have now? We have powerful scientific evidence that the entire universe popped into being out of nothing about 14 billion years ago! This requires a transcendent causal agent who is beyond space and time, and therefore nonphysical and enormously powerful (see my treatment on the Cosmological Argument).
Jesus also said in John 3:19-20, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”
Now, moral reasons are not the only non-intellectual reasons of course. I’m not saying all atheists and non-Christians are immoral people. But it certainly is ONE of many non-intellectual reasons for rejecting Christianity. I go into more of these reasons in my blog post “Are All Reasons For Rejecting God Purely Intellectual?”
I’m sorry I put you through this wall of text. But complex issues require complex answers. Don’t worry, I’m almost done with my critique.
Well, then CA said that “The real good news here is that there’s no evidence that god exists, let alone that Christianity is true.” – Well, again, I’d disagree with that. We have PLENTY of evidence. POWERFUL evidence for the truth of the Christian faith. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, and The Fine Tuning Argument, and The Local Fine Tuning argument, and The DNA-To-Design Argument, the Irreducible Complexity argument, The Moral Argument, The Argument From Contingency, The Ontological Argument, and most importantly, I think we have powerful historical evidence for Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Again, space does not permit me to delve into all of these reasons, but if you click on the highlighted words above, it will take you to articles I’ve written defending these arguments for God’s existence and for Jesus’ resurrection. If the premises are true (which I argue that they are true in those linked to articles), then God exists, Jesus rose from the dead, and Christianity is true. And the skeptic has no excuse to persist in unbelief…just as the Apostle Paul said in Romans 1.