It’s not a secret that I like answering questions about Christianity. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in this field and I would not be putting my thoughts out regularly for readers to critique. I will state that I enjoy far more the philosophical and theological questions more than any other kind.
However, that being said, in my position. One sees many different types of questions. It is amazing that people who are brilliant thinkers in other areas make intellectual blunders when it comes to theology and philosophy. Richard Dawkins I’m sure is a brilliant scientist, for instance. However, he is not a philosopher or a theologian and too often, he wants to act like he is.
Thus, there are some questions that I really do show some desire to know the truth. On the other hand, there are some questions that are given with the intent to try to embarrass the faith. I will answer both, but rest assured, I much more prefer the former. If the latter, I will sometimes call a spade a spade. Let’s be clear friends. Idiots exist out there and people are going to ask questions thinking they’ve raised a point no one has considered for 2,000 years.
If they think such, I have some seaside property in Montana I’d like to sell them….
The question I have before me today though does not seem to be such a question. There are some questions that do seem to want to find answers. There is nothing wrong with raising the questions after all. It is the attitude with which they are raised.
The question relates to the mercy of God and the fear of the afterlife. Wouldn’t it be great if instead, God had mercy on everyone and no one had to go to Hell? When we hear a question like that, it does get at us emotionally. “Yeah. I like that. That would be good. Why doesn’t God do that?”
And that is the first error we must avoid.
We cannot make this decision based solely on emotions. If something strikes us as odd on an emotional level, we must ask if there is a reason for such on the deeper level of reason. It does not follow to say “I would like everyone to go to Heaven. Therefore, God must like it also and it will happen.”
Now this is not a simple question really and I will not be able to give an exhaustive answer I don’t think. There are many fine works on Christian apologetics that a reader can go to. One is “Beyond Death” by Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland. (It has also been put out in another edition called “Immortality.”) Another interesting one is “Hell Under Fire.” The editor of that one escapes me at the time.
Now I’m going to take a stance that in a question dealing with the attributes of God, that it might just be best to start with God. Also, since this is a question relating to the Christian paradigm, it is legitimate of me to assume the Christian concept of God and all things in relation to him and see how the question fits in.
In the Christian worldview, I believe it inaccurate to say that God possesses wisdom or beauty or goodness as if these were things outside of himself. Instead, God is wisdom, beauty, goodness, etc. It will also be added in that God is truth. Whatever that is truly good in virtue is found in perfection in God. (I also see this as including the relational virtues as God is a Trinity.)
So what sayeth Scripture? We are told in Scripture that if we seek, we will find. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek after him. Christianity says that God has already extended the invitation. I refer to these as the four Words of Christianity.
In passages like Romans 1 and Psalm 19, we read of the creation testifying that there is a creator. This is Word #1. It is general and goes out to all. You can know he exists and a few things about him, but you cannot know, for instance, that he is a Trinity solely from the creation.
There is also mentioned in Romans 2 and presupposed throughout the whole of Scripture, the law written on our hearts. This is the law whereby we know that some acts are evil and some acts are good. We may not be able to explain why they are so, but we just know that they are. This is a testimony to the lawgiver. Again, this is general and given to all, but it cannot tell you what specific revelation can. This is word #2
Word #3 is the one in John 1. The Word became flesh. The Word that was with God and was God. This is, of course, Christ. This is an incredibly specific revelation, though it was limited to a time and place. (I can grant exceptions to people in often Eastern religions who upon seeing a vision of Christ have become Christians. I am speaking on a more permanent basis.) This was a Word that was specific and could give us detailed information about this God. Evidence of this can be found in the resurrection, which is open for all skeptics of Christianity to investigate.
Word #4 is the Word of God in Scripture. This is specific as well, but limited to those who have it, and if some do not have it, we only need to look at the Christian church in not doing our job with the Great Commission. The account though is specific in the information it gives about God including information that we could not find on our own.
The Christian answer is that God’s existence is not hidden. He has made it known. Even the problem of evil shows it as it presupposes two things. First, it presupposes that this world ought to be a certain way and it is not. As soon as it is said that it ought to be a way though, it implies a design that the world has fallen short of. If you imply a design, it implies a designer. Incidentally, Christianity would agree. This world has fallen short so this can hardly be an argument against Christianity.
Secondly though, it presupposes a moral standard. The only way you can recognize good and evil is to have there be some distinction between the two whereas evil is not good and good is not evil. If there is no distinction, then what Mother Teresa did on the streets of India or what the 9/11 attackers did is neither good or evil. It simply is. If there is a moral law though, there is a moral lawgiver. This is what we mean by God.
Now we have some parameters set. Naturally, there are other religions out there, but the question is, do those truly reveal God as he is? I could say why I think the Christian one the true one now, but that is not the point. The point is not to show whether the Christian system is true per se but rather if it is consistent. Of course though, if it contains a logical contradiction at its core, it is not true.
So let us go back to the first point. What is God? He is goodness, beauty, truth, etc. What does it mean to not accept him as he has revealed himself? It means a rejection of beauty, truth, goodness, etc. If one is truly seeking good things, then one will eventually find God. If one is settling though, one will not.
G.K. Chesterton once said that a man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God. Why? Most people would say “I know what a man is looking for if he is knocking on the door of a brothel, and it isn’t God.” Chesterton would disagree. He’s not the only one. I’d disagree also.
The man knocking is looking for pleasure, no doubt, but he is not looking for any pleasure. He wants what he deems the highest pleasure. He wants to find a transcendent pleasure. He wants it to be so powerful that he can escape who he is. This could be the height of true sexual experience. We get so caught up in the joy of the other that we lose sight of our own joy, in which case, we truly find joy. That may be hard to follow, but anyone who has ever truly been in love I think will understand it.
But what if this man settles for this pleasure instead? This pleasure is designed to remind him of God, but he does not follow it. Instead, he treats it as the highest good. In the Christian system, the highest good is God and to treat anything as a higher good is idolatry. It is making sex an idol.
This doesn’t just happen with sex though. It can happen with anything, even morality. It can happen when we look at the good people in the world and think “They’re not Christians, but surely they must go to Heaven!” Why? “Because they’re so moral?” So? As if God simply wants us all to play by the rules indifferent to his own existence? What does it say of a man who does love his neighbor, but shows no regard to God, who is love. He is treating morality as an idol. Sex and morality are good things both, but let us not treat them as the highest good.
In this case then, the unbeliever is the one who is treating God as less than he is. Since he is disregarding God, he is in turn disregarding beauty, goodness, truth, wisdom, etc. The Christian view is that if he was truly seeking these things and in doing so went back all the way, he would find God at the end. If they do not find him, they were not really seeking. If they were not really seeking, they do not really love those things. They might love what those things do for them, but they don’t love those things themselves. The person may value beauty for the pleasure it brings him, but does he love beauty itself?
What is God to do? These people have sinned against him. God must treat himself as the highest good. Why? Because he is, and God cannot deny truth. If he decides, “Your sins don’t matter. I’m just going to forget them,” then he is not treating himself seriously. He is allowing his glory and goodness to be lessened for the good of the creation. In essence, it would be turning God into an idolater.
This is where Christ comes in. Christ is the way whereby that price has been made as he has accepted the penalty of sin on our behalf. In doing so, we are allowed to have his suffering count for us and he gives us in exchange his perfect life that he lived. God no longer sees our sins that are paid for, but rather sees Christ’s righteousness.
If we do not accept that, then we have snubbed God and are back in the same position. Now consider the person who truly does not love truth, beauty, goodness, etc. What if this person was stuck for all eternity in the very presence of one who is truth, beauty, goodness, etc. For such a person, even Heaven could be Hell.
For people who simply want to live their life without the interference of God, he gives them what they want. He leaves them alone. Now my view of Hell is not one of fiery flames. It is not a torture chamber. The flames are a figure of speech. Instead, it is a view of an eternal quarantine as it were. I am open though to the view found in C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce,” which I recommend to the reader. To the more skeptical reader, I definitely recommend his work “Mere Christianity.”
Now what about the happy pagan who is seeking but never finds before he dies? God knows of that. Scripture tells us repeatedly that the judge of all the Earth will do right. No one on the last day will be able to say that it wasn’t fair. Do I have a certain answer? No. I have a biblical one though. Trust God.
Also, if you know that those inside the circle are safe and you do not know for certain about those outside the circle, Lewis will tell you there’s only one rational thing to do. Come inside the circle. We may not know about the pagan who’s never heard, but we do know about the pagan in L.A., New York City, Tokyo, London, etc. who has heard.
Ultimately though, God will give you what you want. As Lewis again says, There are some people who say to God “Thy will be done” and there are people to whom God will say “Thy will be done.” He also reminds us that John and Judas both served their role in the plan of God. One did so knowingly and one unknowingly. Whatever you do, your actions will serve the glory of God. Why not do so in a way that you can partake of the joy of God as well?