How can a loving God damn people to hell?: a response

I won’t attribute the source, since I can’t now find it; but in the blog of a friend of mine the question of damnation came up as an example of a religious dogma which cannot be accepted.

I beg to differ. If one accepts at least for the purpose of this discussion certain propositions about God, and heaven (I will reference these propositions as we go along) then some sort of doctrine of damnation is inevitable. The only other alternative is for our independence and autonomy to be an illusion.

 

Orthodox Christians may object that my argument is very short on appeals to the Bible. That is by design. In our current climate, appealing to Holy Scripture is mostly preaching to the choir. While I do regard the Bible as God’s Word, written, and that it accurately and reliably contains what God intends to say to me thereby, my contention is with those who don’t share that view. If I am going to appeal to an authority, it must be to an authority to which both sides yield. I choose for this purpose natural reason. For me, reason is a gift of God and sign of His presence. It thus must stand under an even higher authority. As Hooker said, it stands underneath Scripture. But whereas my ideas are thus subject to correction from the witness of the Bible, others may not be impressed by that witness. I would wish to show that even natural reason joins with the Bible in asserting this doctrine as true

 

The first proposition I will claim about God is that God is truth. We are told that, when He was asked by Moses to give His own name, He said “I am that I am… Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you”

A nonchristian diest (or even in my limited understanding, a Taoist) may well define God as “that which is” without getting into any issue about whether or not God is personal, or has intelligent awareness, or even might be a Wordsworthean/Star-Wars “Force” that rolls through all things. God is what He is. He is not what we imagine Him to be, not what I understand Him to be, not what all the great thinkers, theologians, priests, and philosophers, individually or by collective agreement, say that He is. God is what He is. God is truth, and undivided, unlimited truth. “The whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Kind of makes the “… so help you God” part of that swearing seem pretty appropriate.

 

A second proposition is that I believe that there is an existence after death. My full belief goes a great deal further than that, but for the sake of this article, this is enough to claim. I believe that this existence involves a reunification, or a unification if you prefer, with God, with “that which is.”

 

One of the truths in this life has been that we are free to acknowledge, disregard or reject any fact we wish. We can reject or ignore facts ranging from our obligations to our creditors to the laws of gravity. But we are not free from the consequences of the actions we then take. If I ignore my debts, I can expect to be sued, or foreclosed upon. If I jump off the house, I will fall to the ground. I can ignore or deny reality, but reality will act upon me in a way consistent with what it is, not with what I proclaim it to be.

 

As to “What is Heaven like?” I have very little opinion. I think we have been given some peeks in the Bible, but I’ve already declared that authority outside the scope of this discussion.

I do differ with what seems to be the prevailing unexamined view of many people. That view seems to include some sort of really nice place to live, and some sort of ability to interact with the other inhabitants, perhaps some sort of activity or occupation, but otherwise pretty much like the life we know. I don’t believe this.

Or rather, I don’t believe it sufficient. If the goal of this creation is as I believe union with God, then it means that we are to be united with total Truth, with all that is, total light and no darkness at all. In the words of St. Paul, “we shall know as we are known.”

 

So, is all this clarity to be presented to us inexorably, as inescapable as the light of day washing over us in the morning? Well, I think yes. Will everyone just automatically accept that truth? We often don’t accept it here. I have more than once put my head under my pillow and tried to deny the dawn.

If we continue as ourselves, with our independence, then we continue in that ability to deny the truth.

 

But what are the consequences of that denial? It is tempting to say that God should “let them in” anyway, that He can and will consider our difficulties, know we did the best we could, and let us in. I share that sentiment. But if I think it through, what do I mean by “let us in”? Let us in to what? How can I be let in to a union with all truth while at the same time saying that truth isn’t true (while knowing the truth)? Insisting on bringing the falsehood into Truth would destroy truth. I cannot insist on truth and reject it at the same time. I cannot be united with God and deny Him with the same voice. Now, it may be that God will continue to work with each of us until everyone accepts the truth. I deeply wish this to be true. I cannot think it likely, but that is another discussion. My point though, is that we cannot be united with the ultimate reality of the universe while also rejecting reality. That ultimate, final separation from God is damnation.

 

So, then, what is meant by the talk of Christians such as myself when we say that those who accept Jesus are the only ones who will be saved? Well, we mean quite a few things, but for this discussion, one only. Let’s say, again for the sake of argument, that God did in fact do certain acts so that we could be set free from all the lies we have told ourselves and others, in thought word and deed. If I find myself in that realm of perfect light, truth and clarity I will know beyond doubt exactly who I am, what I have done and the falseness in me, and how God has brought me to this place. What if that knowledge is so unwelcome to me that I say “NO! It CAN’T be that!… I know the truth, and it is —–” If I, with Truth seated right before me insist on my own imaginings of fables, haw can I be united with that which I reject?

 

Some will likely point out that this sword cuts both ways: if on that day Truth is much different than I believe, if my theology is all wrong, I will be in deep trouble. Well, they would be right. But it is not the rightness or wrongness of my theology that matters. It is rather how tightly will I cling to my own thoughts, my own imaginings, my own opinions, my own lies, my own…, my own…, my, my, my,…” for infinity. Will I bow my head and my heart to the one who said “I am the Truth” and accept Him instead? It isn’t about right doctrine, it’s about accepting the truth, in preference to ourselves, when we are invited into it.

 

Does God damn? Yes. Can we damn ourselves? Yes. I think that ultimately those are the same questions. Our refusal to accept the only reality that is, and this includes who God is, who we are, and what He has done for us; Our refusal to accept the only Truth there is means we cannot be joined to it. And being outside of truth is damnation however ther rest of the details are filled out.

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8 Comments

Filed under ALL, Christianity, Heaven and hell, Theology

8 responses to “How can a loving God damn people to hell?: a response

  1. Sam

    Wonderful…I’ve been searching for articles that show I’m not alone in thinking this. So many otherwise rational people, still seem to hold onto the belief of a so called loving God damning any of his creation who fail to subscribe to the ‘correct’ theology.
    I think it was C.S Lewis who said that there are only two types of people in the end: Those who say to God, “thy will be done”; and those to whom God says, “thy will be done”.
    I instinctively feel this to be the truth, whereas I cannot reconcile the other view with the message that Jesus taught.
    Thank you, it was a well written article.

  2. Thank you Sam! Yes, that was Lewis, “The Great Divorce” in the Prologue if I remember right.
    It sometimes seems that God should be able to do anything He wants to, and therefore can “let us in” no matter what. That his sovereignity (I’m sunk without spellcheck!) should trump our obstinancy. But how does that work if his sovereign will is to create beings capable of free choice, whose choices are effectual in the ordering of this universe? Even God can’t have it both ways.
    At the end of the day, all He has to offer us is Himself and all Reality. And it’s a package deal, we can’t pick and choose what parts of reality we want. If we turn down His invitation, what is the alternative?

    Again, it isn’t about any particular theology, it’s about accepting truth. Theology is about my understanding of the truth. It is important. But the rub comes when I begin to prefer “my understanding of the truth” to Truth itself. No matter how good or accurate my understanding is, it is not perfect (in truth, I expect I am miles off, particularly in places I feel pretty accurate!). Wherever, and whenever I prefer “my vision” to reality, I am moving away from God, Moving from God who said “I am that I am” to a god of my own construction: “I am as I seem to you to be”

    -blessings

  3. Good response Eric.
    I wonder how to put grace into the equation of damnation (which I believe in) and hell (which I also believe exists).
    Any thoughts?

  4. Welcome Chris! There is a place where CS Lewis quotes (I believe) George McDonald: “God threatens terrible things, if only we will not be happy”

    I think God’s grace concerning hell and damnation is at least two-fold:

    First, there is nothing in me that has earned the right to be a causative agent in this universe. I past no exam, proved myself in no study, demonstrated by no means at all that I am competent to be, not just a reactor to events, but an initiator. In a high-school physics lab, we roll balls on a pool table, demonstrating how the movement of each ball is fully and accurately determined by the motion of the other balls that strike it. Yet I believe that God intends something greater than this for me, and for us. I don’t know what “we have not yet seen what we shall be.” But I was given this right, this promotion, this dignity as a gift, by grace. It is a powerful gift.

    And with that power comes danger. If I give my grown son a plastic chain-saw, he can’t get in much trouble with that! And he probably wouldn’t see it as much of a gift. God intends us for power and authority, but that means our choices matter. They are not play-choices, the gift of authority is not an illusory gift. It is real, the Grace of God releasing His authority (which He manifests over rocks and solar systems etc.,) involves by necessity the possibility of wrong choices with real consequences. The gift that God wants to give me, the gift which He intends me to be to myself and to Him demands the possibility of choosing wrongly. I am not free to choose YES unless I am also free to choose NO, and for my choice to be effectual. If I choose “not God” I will have whatever is “not God” That is Grace, and an incredible thing for a creator to offer the created thing.

    The second grace is that God gave me that gift, knowing that I would get myself in trouble, and yet His design for me is that I come out on the other side of my trouble still possessing the gift, still intact; still, and more freely so, able to choose. He did this by offering that any damage I did with that “chain-saw” of causative power, that the wreckage I made of things, He took upon Himself. Not by simply “undoing” anything -that would be to declare the gift only “pretend” free-will -but by taking the damage, paying the cost, and making it right. And the reason for this second grace is that He really does want me, wants us, to be creatures who cause events to happen- not simply reactive links in a causative chain, but true initiators of things.

    I am almost totally convinced that this is at least part of what He meant by “Let us make man in our own image.” I of course refer back to the descriptions of God as prime cause, or unmoved mover. I think that somehow in the age to come, that is what He has planned for us. There is work to do that we will share with Him, and that all this will be prologue to the real story. And THAT is grace.

  5. Bruce Baker

    Good to see you doing some theology. I am too, I suspect few people read mine and it’s not going to change the world. I think I do it mostly for myself as a forum for straightening out my thoughts.

    Thoughts don’t truly jell until we put them to writing.

    It looks good to me Eric and FWIW I agree with you.

  6. Hello Eric,

    Thank you for my first comment on my first blog.

    Although I am a Christian in an evangelical church, because of my interfaith and interspiritual experiences and my personal experience of God, I have come to question not hell, but its purpose. Some church fathers as early as Origen believed that hell is purgative and all souls are eventually saved. Origen himself even allowed for Satan to be saved in the end.

    Although this does not seem to agree entirely with Scripture, there is Scripture that supports that unity is the final destiny of the universe and that all things–all,not some–will be reconciled through Christ’s sacrifice. For example, in Colossians it says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”(Colossians.1:19-20)

    The final destiny of the universe being divided into heaven and a place of eternally tormented souls is not a reconciled universe. Complete reconciliation is the salvation of all souls for the glory of Christ. This does not mean that people are not held accountable and are made to experience the pain that they have inflicted on others. But we must admit that eternal torment is not what our God of grace who sacrificed himself would confer upon his creation. He is not willing that anyone be lost; if one sheep was lost, he would leave the 99 to go out and rescue him.

  7. I would think that hell is, almost by definition, without purpose –purposefulness being an attribute of God, and thus a mark of His presence. But I do think hell is an unavoidable by-product of creation, at least of what I understand God to be about creating. To put it in short, If God intends to create a being capable of freely loving God, it must be possible to choose against God, against truth, against light. It must be possible for this choice to be made, and for it to be effectual. If God retains to Himself the right to overturn our choice by executive fiat, then free will is an illusion, and we are free to ask why God does not overturn evil choices here and now. To be who He wants us to be, we must be able to choose badly. Otherwise, how can I be united with that which I reject, being yes and no at the same time? How is that truth and light?
    I fully share the desire for universal salvation, based not on divine negation of our choice, but on divine persistence. It solves many difficulties, some of which you mention, I very much desire it to be true. But when we cling to that idea, we need to be careful: we often forget that it still means that anyone who rejects God finds non-God, or hell. Conversion is still needed, whether now or ten billion years of torment from now. Even on the best of hopes, the torments the damned choose for themselves continues until and unless they lay down their rebellion. Truth remains truth, and darkness cannot be united with it while still remaining darkness. If any desire hell eternally, that is how long they shall have it.

    The only real quibble I have with your response is probably minor.
    You said “This does not mean that people are not held accountable and are made to experience the pain that they have inflicted on others. But we must admit that eternal torment is not what our God of grace who sacrificed himself would confer upon his creation.”
    I reject the idea that God confers hell on anyone. One of the ways He graces us beyond our deserts is by conferring on us the grace of causality- perhaps the only non-divine entity in existence designed to be a free agent, God causes our choices to matter, but we choose. Hell is what is left when God is removed.
    Also, about accountability: Grace does limit our receiving that which is the fruit of our sin. I will certainly know the weight of what I’ve done, in every particle, and what it cost our Lord to make it right. But by the grace of God, I will not in my own soul have to settle accounts, be accountable, for them.
    Thanks for a thoughtful, and thought provoking reply!

    -Blessings

  8. Sam

    I disagree with the idea that we have free choice. First, we do not have complete knowledge. And limited knowledge is by definition flawed. With flawed knowledge, we are by definition going to make mistakes. Any choices that we do make will be made because we have flawed or insufficient perception. And the consequences that we face in such a state are nothing but cruelty.

    Second, we do not have the ability to chose to be different. A person cannot chose to stop being an angry person, for instance. Many people try, but fail to change on a fundamental level. Absent the ability to transform oneself permanently and become something different, there is no moral judgment that God can judge with, because we have no ability to chose to be good in a real way. We can want to change, which is what most people do, but how many of them actually do change?

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