Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Recommend-a-blog (31)

Do you have difficulty with the concept of hell? Or, even if you are personally okay with the idea, would you have difficulty defending the reasonableness and fairness of eternal damnation to the unsaved?

Tim Barnett at Stand to Reason has written an interesting and thoughtful post on the subject called “Hell: A Solution, Not a Problem” in which he points out that the existence of hell solves two problems: the problem of evil, and the problem of our existential longing for justice. I’m glad he took the time. It’s worth a read if only to prompt our own reflections on the subject and to consider how we too might make such a case.

Rationalizing Hell in a Single Blog Post

Now, nobody could possibly be expected to rationalize everlasting torment in a single blog post, so don’t expect miracles from Barnett, but one of the stronger points he makes is that the intellectual difficulty with a God who punishes is largely a secular Western phenomenon, the product of generations of reasonably well-protected lives and the expectation of “rights”. In societies where people are regularly subjected to barbarism, chaos and murder, the cry for justice is real and acute. Western discomfort with the idea of eternal punishment for sins committed in time may simply be a product of our inability to get our heads around how unbelievably evil men can be.

But there is a third problem eternally resolved by the existence of hell, and that is this: What should God do with people who want nothing to do with him? The argument that everybody would want to go to heaven if they really understood the alternative, or if they really understood God, will simply not do by way of response. We already have on record the existence of untold numbers of beings who have experienced the joys of the presence of God, the love of God and the governance of God, and yet prefer the illusion of autonomy and the ability to choose wrongly rather than have someone else direct their choices. To imagine that this spirit of rebellion and wilfulness is absent from humanity is hallucinatory. Consider this passage in Ezekiel:
“You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.”
So then, it is absolutely possible to have righteousness laid out before you like the endless blue sky on a winter day, and to despise it and want nothing to do with it. It is absolutely possible to see God in his glory and want nothing to do with him. It is possible to know of the existence of eternal torment and still determinedly work your way right into it.

Little Princes of Tyre

And this is not merely an angelic phenomenon. The same spirit of wilfulness and pride is exhibited in the very same passage by the human prince of Tyre (“yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god”). As John Milton put it, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Some people genuinely think this way and will continue to think this way, and no amount of argument, persuasion or evidence will move them from their position. The only torment more exquisite for Lucifer than the fires of hell prepared for him would be to be made to live eternally in the presence of God. I believe he has plenty of company among our neighbors, co-workers and even friends and relatives, sadly. The world is full of little princes of Tyre who are determined to do it their way, and for whom submission to the will of another, no matter how loving and wise, is a non-starter.

We sometimes imagine that everyone will come around eventually if they are exposed to the right information. If that assumption is not demonstrably false, at very least it is made in the face of all sorts of evidence to the contrary from human history. But what when re-education fails? People who are determined to continue to do evil cannot be allowed to endlessly make victims of others. And why should men and women who want nothing to do with God be taken into his presence and service by force? Ultimately, they need to go somewhere else. Somewhere apart.

So what should God do with these people who hate him and want nothing to do with him, or with any society ordered by him? The obvious answer is to put them somewhere God does not reside and where his influence is absolutely minimized.

What would such a place look like? Well, I suspect it looks awfully like the biblical description of hell. So then, if anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be anathema.


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