Escaping Hell (part 3)

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 5, 2009 in Christian Theology

escape3Recently I summarized an article by Buckareff and Plug defending escapism, the doctrine that God allows people to “escape hell” if they choose to convert after they are dead. In my last post, I summarized one critique of escapism, by Russell Jones. Today I discuss another crituque: Hell and divine reasons for action (2009) by Kyle Swan.

Buckareff and Plug argued that:

…if God longs for reunion with us this side of the [afterlife], then it would be arbitrary and out of character for God to cut off any opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness at the time of death… God never gives up on the unsaved after death.

The most common response to arguments like those given by Buckareff and Plug is the “Job objection,” the claim that “our limited, mortal perspective does not allow us to make judgments about what God can or should do.” But, Buckareff and Plug argue:

Given that we do not have any other standards of moral goodness apart from those we apply in human situations, we should apply those standards to God… Why should anyone desire to worship or… respect the concept of a being who appears not to be obligated to act as morally as some humans? And if we believe that a parent is morally obligated always to be willing to receive her estranged child, and forgive him if he asks for forgiveness, then why shouldn’t we expect the same from God?

God is Mysterious

Swan replies that God’s seemingly unfair choice to not let people reconcile with him after they die “could be responsive to other normative reasons that God has, but which are anything but obvious to us.”

This is what I call the “God is mysterious” defense. Why would an all-loving God allow so much pointless suffering of innocent people? “God is mysterious; he must have reasons that our puny human brains could never understand.” Why would God allow life to evolve for billions of years in meaningless waste and violence, only to intervene a few thousand years ago by backing one Semitic tribe against the others, and then change his mind about everything a few thousand years later? “God is mysterious; he must have reasons that our puny human brains could never understand.” Why would an all-loving God come to earth and do magical party tricks instead of imparting basic medical knowledge that would save billions of lives from easily avoidable suffering and death? “God is mysterious…”

Here, Buckareff and Plug ask, “Why would a just and loving God yearn for reconciliation with us while we’re alive, but then slam the door on us forever when we die?” Swan’s defense is, “God is mysterious; perhaps he has reasons that our puny human brains could never understand.”

Swan delivers the “God is mysterious” defense with all kinds of philosophical jargon about “reasons internalism” and such, but his purpose is only to show that the analogy from human reasons for action to divine reasons for action is weak. That is, “God is mysterious. He may have motivations or purposes that we just can’t understand, so perhaps it is just and loving for God to lock people in hell forever and never let them be reconciled with him, even if they want to be reconciled.”

I have not yet said how Buckareff and Plug have responded to the criticisms of Jones and Swan. I will discuss that in my next post.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Democritus May 5, 2009 at 5:53 am

The big problem with the “God is mysterious” response is that it is a “wildcard” answer that does nothing to answer the real question. Actually, it raises more questions than it answers – if God is so mysterious, how likely is it that we have a completely wrong impression of him? He may be evil, he may be indifferent, and we wouldn’t know for sure, because he’s “mysterious”.

So, the answer “God is mysterious” exists basically to protect those who believe in a just, loving, all-powerful God from the questions they can’t answer, but at the same time, it effectively destroys (by its very nature) all the assumptions one can make about God or God’s nature.

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lukeprog May 5, 2009 at 7:07 am

Yes, when asserting all kinds of things about God’s nature, theists seem confident of his attributes. But when the world or logic suggests some heretical facts about this supposed God, God quickly becomes “mysterious.”

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Mark May 6, 2009 at 3:18 pm

In these recent articles, there is a confusion of justice and mercy.  God is just.  Mankind chose death when given the choice of obedience to God+life or disobedience+death, and all people continue to choose death and disobedience over obedience+life.  God would be perfectly just to leave everyone in hell (spiritual death).  But He has mercy on some.  By definition, mercy is a free choice of the one who gives the mercy.  If mercy were “required” it would be justice.  When you say “God MUST be merciful to everyone in the exact same way”, then you are saying that His justice demands He be 100% merciful – but it doesn’t.
Folks see that God is merciful to some and demand that He be merciful to all.  But mercy is freely given and thus can never be demanded.  God is always just, sometimes merciful, never unjust.
My response is to ask for mercy, rather than demand that God be just to me.  If God is just to me, I am doomed.

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Lorkas May 6, 2009 at 3:42 pm

If two children both disobey their parents in the same manner and have otherwise identical behavior, is it moral to punish one and not the other?

Suppose that child 1 has a history of good behavior before this particular disobedience, while child 2 has a history of bad behavior, but constantly praises his parents. Is it then moral to punish child 2 less for the same disobedience?

This is the story we hear from Christians–it does not matter how much you love or hate, how much you give or steal, how much you serve others or demean them–what matters is whether or not you praise God and accept Jesus, when there is no good evidence that either even exists (the Bible is not good evidence, and if you don’t understand why this is, then ask yourself why the Qur’an is not good evidence for the truth of Islam).

Belief without evidence (or ambiguous evidence) is not a good criterion for determining someone’s eternal fate. If it is true, then the god who set up such a system is unjust.

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Taranu May 6, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Mark:  God is always just, sometimes merciful, never unjust. My response is to ask for mercy, rather than demand that God be just to me.  If God is just to me, I am doomed.

But God’s justice is ultimate, so how can he be sometimes merciful. Ultimate justice leaves no room for mercy.

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Adiel Corchado May 7, 2009 at 6:23 am

Taranu: But God’s justice is ultimate, so how can he be sometimes merciful. Ultimate justice leaves no room for mercy.

The answer is the cross of Christ.

By Jesus’ substitutionary death for sin God’s justice against the believer’s sin is perfectly satisfied, and His just mercy is perfectly revealed toward those who believe. 

This is what happened at the cross. God credited our sins to sinless Jesus’ account— and crushed Him. Jesus’ last words on the cross were “It is finished”. The debt for our sin was paid in full. In return, through faith in Christ, Jesus’ perfect obedience and righteousness is credited to the believer, by faith, securing him eternal life in the favorable presence of God. In other words, a swap takes place, Jesus got the judgment, believers get eternal life, and all we have to do is repent and place our trust in Christ.

How do we know that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf? He raised Him from the dead.

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Lorkas May 7, 2009 at 6:58 am

Adiel Corchado: How do we know that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf? He raised Him from the dead.

Non sequitur.

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Reginald Selkirk May 7, 2009 at 7:03 am

Adiel Corchado:  By Jesus’ substitutionary death for sin God’s justice against the believer’s sin is perfectly satisfied, and His just mercy is perfectly revealed toward those who believe.

But not to me. Substitutionary death is immoral. Killing one person for the transgressions of another is immoral.
And how does anyone dying make up for sin? Couldn’t God just forgive all our sins with no death? Who sets these rules that God must follow?

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Lorkas May 7, 2009 at 7:16 am

Reginald Selkirk: Who sets these rules that God must follow?

Is there a King of Kings of Kings? There must be–where else would God get his sense of morality? Plus everything needs a maker, so God needs a maker therefore ergo therefore Supergod exists, QED.

No, Supergod doesn’t need a creator! What a ridiculous question!

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Jeff H May 7, 2009 at 2:20 pm

All I can say is that if you sat in on a court case where someone was being given the death sentence for murder, and one of the murderer’s friends stood up and asked to take the punishment instead – and the judge allowed it! – I don’t think any reasonable person could say that justice had been served. If the judge sentenced Person B to death for the crimes of Person A, and let the murderer go free, it would be a grave injustice indeed.

What’s more, if two murderers were on trial, and one murderer was allowed this substitution while the other wasn’t, simply because he gave the judge 10% of his income and mowed his lawn, it would be injustice piled upon injustice. Such a judge is now not only responsible for a perversion of justice, but also bribery. All else being equal (and according to the Bible, it is because our good works are as “filthy rags” anyway), two people committing the same crime should be given the same sentence – and they should serve that sentence themselves.

The idea that salvation is in any way a method of performing justice is absolutely false. It certainly may be beneficial for Christians, but it is not an example of justice by any means.

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Mark May 7, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Taranu/Lorkas, Adiel mentions the cross as the answer.  In this way God is just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.  There’s mercy, yet no sin is left unpunished.

Reginald, the atonement costing the death of the Son of God shows the measureless nature of God’s love for His people:
Romans 5:6-10  For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.   But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Lorkas, everything made needs a maker.  God is not made.

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Lorkas May 7, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Mark: Lorkas, everything made needs a maker. God is not made.

lol… I can’t believe you took that seriously.

How do you know that God is not made? What methods did you use to investigate this question?

Would you also claim to know that the universe was made? If so, how do you know?

Show your work.

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Adiel Corchado May 7, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Reginald Selkirk: But not to me. Substitutionary death is immoral. Killing one person for the transgressions of another is immoral. And how does anyone dying make up for sin? Couldn’t God just forgive all our sins with no death? Who sets these rules that God must follow?

Hi Reginald.

At the cross, the offended Party, that is, God, did not kill another unrelated person, but took the blame upon Himself and gave His life as ransom for many.

No, God could not have forgiven our sins with no death. Every sin, no matter how small, is a detestable transgression, cosmic treason if you will, and incurs a debt to divine justice that must be paid. A debt of which God insures that every cent will be paid, either by Christ on the cross on your behalf, or by your eternal soul and body deterioration in the fires of hell.

I encourage you, listen to the following small clip which explains this well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zchiInEECs . It is good, it also answers your question about whose law is God vindicating when He punishes sin? Listen then comment on it!

Adiel

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Lorkas May 7, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Adiel Corchado: No, God could not have forgiven our sins with no death. Every sin, no matter how small, is a detestable transgression, cosmic treason if you will, and incurs a debt to divine justice that must be paid.

Only because God demands it. If you punch me in the face, then your crime is against me. If I don’t press charges, then you don’t have to go to jail. In the same way, if I loan you money, I can choose to forgive the debt you owe me without giving myself $10 to convince myself that your debt is paid.

It makes no sense at all to claim that God had to sacrifice himself to appease himself, because he is the one demanding blood in the first place. If he has any free will at all, he could have just said, “I forgive you” and been done with it. Surely God has the power to do that?

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Adiel Corchado May 7, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Lorkas, think about it, at the end of the day someone always has to pay.  If your son crashes your car, and you forgive him, who pays for the damages? If you lend me $100 and “forgive my debt” whose bank account is depleted of $100?

If someone sins against God, and He forgives him, how is His law going to be vindicated? It was God Himself who said, “He who justifies the wicked… is an abomination”. What you are asking is for God to become abominable to Himself.

God’s Law, the perfect reflection of His just and holy nature, is absolutely inflexible. It demands the death of the sinner. The just Judge of the universe demands the death of the sinner. His justice must be upheld in the fullness of its awful glory. He will not budge not even once centimeter. All God’s Law knows is: You sin, you die. Period. It demands absolute, impeccable, flawless, immaculate, spotless, moral perfection!! It requires nothing less than the very righteousness of God Himself!

The Lord Jesus put it this way, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”.

This is why we need the Savior.

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Taranu May 8, 2009 at 12:33 am

Adiel Corchado: God’s Law, the perfect reflection of His just and holy nature, is absolutely inflexible. It demands the death of the sinner. The just Judge of the universe demands the death of the sinner. His justice must be upheld in the fullness of its awful glory. He will not budge not even once centimeter. All God’s Law knows is: You sin, you die. Period.

By “death” you actually refer to eternal torment. So you are punished forever because of limited crimes that would not affect God given His attributes. Even if these are made against the Ultimate Judge it is still unjust of  God to judge you based on His status rather than your crimes.  

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Reginald Selkirk May 8, 2009 at 5:17 am

<i>No, God could not have forgiven our sins with no death.</i>

So you claim to know the ways of God? Whatever happened to the “mysterious ways” BS?

another odd thing about Christianity: If God the Father and God the Son are one and the same, and God the Father knocked up Mary, who gave birth to God the Son, then isn’t the Christian God a mother-****er? Literally?

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Jeff H May 8, 2009 at 5:18 am

Adiel Corchado:
God’s Law, the perfect reflection of His just and holy nature, is absolutely inflexible. It demands the death of the sinner. The just Judge of the universe demands the death of the sinner.

Wait, are you talking about the “first death” or the “second death” that God is demanding? If the penalty for sin is for our bodies to die (the “first death”), then a) we are all going to pay that penalty ourselves anyway, and b) after we die, our penalty should be paid and we should all go to heaven. If the penalty for sin is the “second death” – in other words, eternity in hell – then Jesus never paid it because he never spent eternity in hell. He spent about three days there and then got to go back to heaven. If that’s the case, the penalty hasn’t been paid and we’re all going to hell anyway.

I think the entire doctrine of salvation rests on internal contradictions that are simply asserted away by saying, “That’s the way it is.” But if you have any chance of converting any of us, you need to define your terms - the simple ones such as “death”, for instance.

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Mark May 8, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Lorkas: How do you know that God is not made? …Would you also claim to know that the universe was made? If so, how do you know? Show your work.

Here’s my work

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Zeb July 13, 2010 at 5:14 am

I’m sure my own theology looks as crazy to others as Mark and Adiel’s looks to me, and I wish I could see it that way. Because holy cow, Christianity as these guys present it looks crazy at best and possibly flat out wicked. If God as they describe him exists, I would proudly fight a pyrrhic battle against him, as much as a human could. But God as I imagine him seems a lot more worthy and reasonable, and I can’t see how my own belief is as crazy as theirs.

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