The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Five How Can a Loving God Send People To Hell)Posted: September 24, 2013
Skeptic’s Assertion: “I doubt the existence of a judgmental God who requires blood to pacify his wrath. Someone had to to die before God would pardon us. But why can’t he just forgive? And then there is all those places in the Old Testament where God commands people be slaughtered.” (P. 68)
“…I have a even more of a problem with doctrine of Hell. The only God that is believable to me is a God of love. The Bible’s God is no more than a primitive deity who must be appeased with pain and suffering.” (P.68)
“A God of Judgement Simply Can’t Exist”
In this section Keller says Americans largely agree with the idea all people should be able to choose and reach beliefs on their own terms and God should love “us no matter how we live”. (P. 70) He does not cite a source for the former of that statement and I don’t see that in our culture unless you are contending a moral life is one of a Quaker or Amish. Keller seems to be saying Americans believe they can act like sociopaths and God should still love us. I truly hope I am not the odd one out thinking our culture doesn’t think that as a majority.
Here he loses me saying, our issues with God holding us accountable goes back to the Middle Ages when magic and science lived side by side until magic withered and science grew citing C. S. Lewis as an expert. (P. 70) He says we understood in ancient times if we “violated the metaphysical order there were consequences just as severe as if you violated physical reality by placing your hand in fire.” and ” “That wisdom rested largely in developing qualities of character…”(P. 71)
He contends, “Modernity reversed this. Ultimately reality was seen not so much as a supernatural order but as the natural world, and that was malleable. Instead of trying to fit our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires. The ancients looked at an anxious person and prescribed spiritual character change. Modernity talks instead about stress-management techniques.” (P.71)
This statement is paradoxical. Stress-management techniques are based on neurology, peer-reviewed studies, and experiments, while spirituality is by definition based on faith. Moreover if Christianity is correct then the ancient’s subscription to all other myths for comfort is not only flawed but damnable.
Pastor Keller goes on about our hubris for controlling the physical world has spilled over in to the metaphysical one, “it is unfair in our minds… that we should determine that it is all right to have sex outside of marriage and later discover that there is a God who is going to punish us for that.” (P. 71-72)
First off, the Bible’s rules on lawful marriage in God’s eyes is far from moral by almost any standard. Secondly, how Keller doesn’t see how claiming to have information about supernatural desires and what happens after death based solely on a bronze age text isn’t the ultimate hubris. To clarify: An Atheist does not believe in theism. When asked by a Christian what it’s like to be an Atheist, the Atheist should reply, “Do you believe in Allah?” “No.” Will come the reply to which the Atheist says, “Like that.” Skeptics assert nothing without evidence (burden of proof falls to the party claiming something “is”), while the believer makes extravagant claims based on weak evidence. Who is more arrogant in their knowledge?
I don’t actually disagree with Keller when he says it only makes sense that if there is a god, he would judge the lesser beings of his realm. I don’t think most people have a problem with the idea of judgement since we hold our own populace accountable. The problem is with the standard, reasons, and outcome (punishment/reward) of said judgement.
“A God of Judgement Can’t Be a God of Love”
Keller starts his defense of God simultaneously being loving and wrathful by saying loving people can sometimes be filled with wrath. This is paltry defense since by Keller’s own faith’s standards humans are the lowest caste of morality left to its own devices. To say it makes sense a super being would be given to the same follies as we are takes away from the “super” part of supernatural. He says that God becomes wrathful not inspite of his love but because of it. This is like justifying a parent lashing out in anger to their child when they run towards the road. Yes, it makes perfect sense for a human with limited abilities, patience, and overall control but not for the most powerful force in all of existence. If God is driven to such wrath as Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah’s flood, or the massacre when Moses comes of the mountain to find the Israelites worshiping an idol, shouldn’t he, as the most powerful being change the laws of this universe rather than resort to wholesale slaughter of the planet?
“A Loving God Would Not Allow Hell”
Keller approaches this as many apologists do. First saying hell is less fire and more separation from God. Secondly he seeks to say hell is inhabited by the jailers, that is to say anyone who is there is there by choice. Lastly he paints the faithless person as more likely to live a narrow life since there is concern about afterlife, good or bad. Let’s take these one at a time.
1. Separation from God is the punishment, not brimstone.
The most obvious and frustrating idea about Hell being an absence of God’s presence: God is omnipresent. He can’t not be in Hell and be omnipresent. He is either everywhere, including Hell, or he isn’t omnipresent.
Hell not being fire and pain is a relatively new idea in Christian theology that many apologist, including C. S. Lewis who Keller quotes over and over, have jumped on in the last century. In fact there is strong movement in the U.S. amongst Christians to give up the concept of hell entirely (see Pastor Rob Bell). Lets look at the BIble. Keller gets the idea hell is separation from God in 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
“9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
This is more or less the only verse in the New Testament which supports Keller’s position on Hell. Virtually every other verse paints hell as a place of fire, suffering, or both. For time’s sake let’s just look at what Christ said:
New International Version (NIV)
41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So are Christians to believe Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians or Christ? Keller seems to say Paul. In any case there is far more support for the eternal torment Dante laid out in the Inferno than Keller’s separation theory of hell. Why is this important will become more obvious as we go on.
2. Hell Is Inhabited by its jailers.
Most Christians believe people who have not chosen to believe in Jesus have chosen Hell. There are many fundamental problems with this view point both logically and Biblically. Let’s look at the Biblical ones first.
Keller cites Romans 1:24 (God gave them up to their desires) to support this idea that God gave us the way out and by no fault of his own. Acquiring grace is not as simple as John 3:16 says it is, something we will cover in a later chapter. More importantly we need to look at the Trinity’s role in people getting “saved”.
New International Version (NIV)
44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
So unless we are drawn by the Father then we will not know salvation. Doesn’t sound entirely up to us. If this needs to be qualified it is safe to assume getting “drawn” it isn’t a given.
We see this in the Gospel of John, so these are supposed to be Jesus’s words.
New International Version (NIV)
65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Biblically out of Jesus’s mouth we do not come to salvation unless the Father has enabled us. There is no reason for Jesus to say this, and the early church to make it canonical and doctrine unless there is even a possibility God may not do this for someone. Therefore it is safe to assume there has been at least one soul in history who went to hell because God didn’t call them. Unacceptable. Biblically the patrons of hell are not all there by choice.
Now lets look at Christianity’s belief structure in tandem with the concept of hell and see where responsibility falls logically.
Christianity says: God created everything knowing everything about creation’s destiny. God created Hell. God created the rules regarding who does and doesn’t go to hell. Lastly, there is nothing that happens that God did not intend or control. By these “doctrinal facts” God knowingly created souls to go to hell. It does not seem in this paradigm the ball is in our court or that God doesn’t create some souls intending they end in hell.
“Hell and the Equality of People”
Keller sets out to say the Christian is no more narrow than the secularist since they both claim to have unprovable information about the afterlife. The secularist says Christians are different because non-believers will be punished and the secularist don’t claim anything will befall the believer’s soul. Keller disagrees by making an analogy about Jack, Jill, and the nature of a cookie.
Basically Jack thinks the cookie is poison and Jill does not. Jack says it will send him to the hospital and possibly kill him, while Jill says it may spoil her dinner. “Is Jack more narrow-minded than Jill just because he thinks the consequences of her mistake are more dire? I don’t believe anyone would think so.” (P. 81)
First of all, most skeptics have a hard time with why the other choice is more dire. They want proof Christian Hell is real, why Christianity is more right than all other theisms of the centuries, and an explanation as to the incongruity of a loving god and the god of the Bible.
As to his analogy, absolutely it makes Jack a more narrow person. Let’s add a setting to the metaphor. Jack and Jill have the same opinions about the cookie in question, but this time they are at a party. Now Jill is walking around letting people know there is a big dinner later. Its going to be really good so they may want to wait til later to eat those cookies. Jack on the other hand is posted by the cookie plate on a soap box with an ancient book explaining how these cookies are toxic and if you eat them you will become sick and possibly die. People are asking Jack how he knows this to which he simply says it’s the truth. “Why is it the truth?” they ask. “Because the book said it was.” Jack says confidently. “So the book you got this information from is also the proof of its validity and you have no peer-reviewed evidence this cookies is as you claim it is?” They ask. “No, but the book is enough. Are you willing to take the risk in light it may kill you?” Jack asks genuinely. “Has anyone else eaten the cookies in question?” the crowd queeries. “Well, anyone who has left the party as they ate it and haven’t returned.” “So we don’t actually know what happens after you eat the cookie?” Jack holds up the book again shaking it emphatically, “Yes we do! It says what will happen in here.” All the time Jill is walking through the crowd saying, “Save your appetite, there’s a lot to enjoy and we’ll get to the cookies.”
If you were at that party which person would seem more narrow-minded to you? Even if Jill was on a soap box right next to Jack with paper’s from OSHA, the EPA, and the FDAA shouting the cookie isn’t dangerous, but you shouldn’t rush into it who would you think was more narrow?
“I believe in a God of Love”
Keller writes about his struggle with Christian theism in his college days and how he experimented with other theisms and then Buddhism, “the religion I liked best at the time.” (P. 82) but turned away from it because his need for a personal god.
First off, if we are talking about needing a religion based on love, Jainism is the best answer. Fundamental followers take their pacifism to the level of wearing masks to avoid harming very tiny organisms, and while not heavily reliant on deism it does subscribe to a “perfect universal presence,” as well as multiple deities who dwell in the heavens. This religion dates from 3,000 BCE and is far more based in and consistent in universal love, so as with all believers, Keller has chosen his religion as the best through personal justification rather than the best answer to his personal quandaries.
He finishes with saying the evidence for the idea God is love is the Bible itself. Keller points out there is almost no evidence outside of the Bible for that belief and “The belief in a God of pure love – who accepts everyone and judges no one – is a powerful act of faith.” (P. 83) While I appreciate his honesty that faith is the only reason to think this, I am blown away at this assertion God judges no one after he spent three pages of this chapter arguing God only makes sense if he is judgmental! Moreover the God of Bible is loving maybe 65% or so of the time and he rest of the time its genocide and natural disasters. If I was forgiving, gracious, and loving 90% of the time, but the other 10% I was committing genocide, demeaning women, supporting slavery, and creating the worst possible universe to punish people with, would anyone say I was a person of perfect love? Why then should I extend the perfect love attribute to a character who does it 25% more and claims to be perfect to boot?
Keller simply makes it more clear the only way to get past the existence of Hell created by a God of perfect love is faith, which is completely useless in a discussion with a skeptic. I’m concerned he has forgotten half way through the book who he is addressing.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.