O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Discuss: One of the Hardest Questions

posted by Jason Boyett

It’s pretty rare that I ever do a cut-and-paste job here from someone else’s blog post. Not sure why, other than the fact that I figure it’s my blog, and I should supply the content. But courtesy of @imonk from the Boar’s Head Tavern, I clicked over to fellow writer John Shore’s blog this morning and really enjoyed this post from over the weekend.

This is John’s stuff, not mine, but I’m gonna repost it and hopefully see if any kind of discussion develops. The conversation below hits on a handful of themes from O Me of Little Faith, my upcoming Zondervan book about doubt.

————-

[from John Shore]

Sitting at Starbucks yesterday I overheard the following exchange between two men I’ll call Bob and Dan. I recount it here not to make any point of my own, but because it perfectly captures the kind of logjam we Christians so often reach when trying to explain our beliefs to non-Christians.

Dan: But that just doesn’t make any sense.

Bob: What doesn’t?

Dan: That the same God who loves me might very well condemn me to hell for all eternity. If he would do that to me, then what God feels for me cannot be love.

Bob: But it is. God loves you enough to let you determine your own fate.

Dan: But at the last minute God could change the fate I’ve chosen for myself if he wanted to. If God really wanted me to be okay after I die, he could choose to send me to heaven instead of hell. Right? He has that power, right?

Bob: Yes. God can do anything.

Dan: Which can only mean that if I end up in hell, that was God’s will. God actively chose that for me. He could have changed it, but he didn’t.

Bob: You chose that fate for yourself by refusing to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

Dan: That I made that mistake doesn’t alter the fact that God has chosen to punish me for that mistake by forcing me to spend eternity being physically tortured. And anyone who would choose that for me—who would choose to punish me eternally just for having used the mind and soul he gave me to arrive at a conclusion that displeases him—cannot possible love me. That’s not love. It’s something. It sounds to me like the worst kind of shallow vindictiveness. But it’s certainly not love.

Bob: It’s divine justice.

Dan: Whatever. It’s not love. Look: After I’m dead, God either has the power to send me to heaven instead of hell, or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t have that power, then he’s too weak to matter. If he does have the power to send me to heaven instead of hell, and he wills me to go to hell, then he’s without compassion—or at the very least he certainly doesn’t love me. That’s your choice. By your own definition your god is either not all-powerful, or not all-loving. But he can’t be both.

Bob: You’re looking for rational explanations for mysteries that only God comprehends.

Dan: That’s so typical. Whenever Christians run into a simple logical inconsistency that cuts directly to the viability of their entire belief system, they resort to the only “argument” usually left them, which is that we mere mortals can’t possibly understand how and why God works the way he does. At the slightest challenge you absolutely abandon logic. It’s ridiculous—and should be embarrassing to you. If you can’t explain the simplest, most obvious, most terrible contradiction in the qualities you say your God possesses, how in the world to you expect anyone but an idiot to take you or your religion seriously?

Bob: God bless you, man. I fear for your soul.

————-

“God can either love me, or send me to hell. But not both.”

As you might have guessed if you’ve read Pocket Guide to the Afterlife, I’m fascinated with the subject of hell and how it’s been viewed during the last two thousand years of Christianity. I’m also way conflicted by it as a Christian. I honestly don’t know how to talk about it or think about it in any logical, intellectually satisfying way. In fact, hell — the fear of it — played a huge role in the evolution of my childhood faith, and in a lot of ways gave birth to the spiritual doubt I struggle with today. So the statement above resonates with me on multiple levels.

If any, what role does an eternal hell play in your faith?

Do you identify with Dan? Or with Bob? Do you have a good answer for either? Please share…



Advertisement
Comments read comments(31)
post a comment
codyjknutson

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm


I believe we send ourselves to hell…we broke the rules…we pay the crime…but God, being a loving God, gave us an out…but we have to take the out, believe it, and use it.Of course Piper wouldn't agree…



report abuse
 

Melanie

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:55 pm


Today, I identify with Bob. At one point, I would have identified with Dan. I would have felt embarrassed for anyone who said, "That's a mystery. There's no way a human can fully comprehend how God can be both loving and just." But after you think about the Crucifixion for a while, you start to realize that God made the worst thing that ever happened into the greatest thing that ever happened. Our limited perspective does not allow us to judge these things properly in the moment.



report abuse
 

Kyle

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:56 pm


Dan absolutely nails the inconsistent (and dangerous) theology that comes with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life…" God loves, salvifically, His people.It doesn't say anywhere that God loves every single human being He has ever created.His common grace is evident to all and enjoyed by every single person ever created in varying degrees. But that common grace is given to human kind by a patient God who is just and right to send every sinner to eternal Hell forever and ever.The real question is not why does God send anyone to hell, but rather why would a Holy God save any sinner from hell?



report abuse
 

David W. Congdon

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm


The Calvinist position under attack here is, I think, rightly criticized for subordinating the love of God to the justice/righteousness/glory of God. It divides God's love from God's justice, and subordinates the former to the latter. The basic problem with it is that it posits a God who is not the God revealed in crucified Jesus.The "Arminian"/free-will alternative is nicely summarized by the first comment. The problem with this position is that it logically posits a salvation-by-works. We have to save ourselves by making a commitment of faith. The distinction between faith and works only succeeds when faith isn't itself a work. But under the Arminian model, that is precisely what it becomes. We save ourselves from hell, or we send ourselves there. Either way, God is off the hook.I believe, as I have argued extensively on my blog, that the only consistently biblical and theologically sound way to be a Christian is to accept a version of universalism. There are practical reasons why I wouldn't recommend a church adopting universalism as part of their creed, but that doesn't mean it isn't the correct position to hold theologically.



report abuse
 

AmarleneA

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:12 pm


If your Dad punished you by not allowing you to play outside (which is very similar to hell for a kid) for disobeying him does that mean he doesn't LOVE you??Exactly.



report abuse
 

Natalie Witcher

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:14 pm


What stinks about this whole thing is that it's darn hard to defend what seems to be such a crappy reality. Sure, cut and dry, you don't follow God, you go to hell. Hmm, not so cool.But, what is really the kicker, that I've seen the most in people who hate the fact that this "loving" God would send people to hell, is that it has to do with Lordship, not love."Don't tell me what I have to do and don't have to do."It's very difficult to get around the idea that love doesn't mean, "Hey, everyone, do whatever you want and well, I'll just look past it all!" Instead of this love actually having reciprocal conditions. It's a love that comes with authority, not weakness.His love doesn't equal passivity when it comes to righteousness. It's his way….or not. In the word of Francis Chan quoting someone else :) When you get a universe, you can do it a different way. (or something like that)I'm so glad Jesus is the way to God, because if it was up to me…I'd be screwed.



report abuse
 

Diane L. Harris

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:17 pm


Every thought expressed by both Dan and Bob I have expressed at some point in my life. But I think we make this question seem more difficult than it is.If I decided (God forbid) to divorce my husband, would anyone call him unloving because he didn't physically force me into a locked room to keep me from leaving him? I don't think so, but that's what Dan wants God to do to all who don't choose Him.Because I am in love with my husband, being in a locked room with him sounds like a wonderful idea. But if I decided not to love him, it probably would seem awful to have him lock us up together.God can love us all He wants, but I still have no relationship with Him unless I choose to love Him back. That's the whole point of God's gift of free will, the exercise of which determines where one ends up for eternity.Unlike Bob, I don't think it's possible for God to force anyone into heaven, because if my arrival is by force, it wouldn't be heaven for me, would it?



report abuse
 

codyjknutson

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:20 pm


David…incredible response, I definitely can't debate your stance.I just want to make my "Arminian" stance non Arminian if I may…I have done nothing to earn my salvation, nothing because it's impossible. Yup it's all about faith for me…I can't prove anything and I have yet to see anyone else prove it either. Works is proof and the proof of what real love is is found in 1Jn3:16. Why was Is53 penned if we were not to live by faith…if God says yay or nay to heaven why did he say our faith would be tested?



report abuse
 

Angela

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:22 pm


As I'm reading the dialog, my first thought was the major theological debate regarding predestination. And to be honest, I'm still trying to get my head around the whole thing. I know we're not discussing predestination, but I'm just pointing out my first thought when reading this. I can identify with both guys on some level I suppose because (1) I used to be a Dan, and (2) I now agree with Bob. All I know is God is sovereign but permits free will. You either accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and spend your life glorifying Him, or reject Him and spend eternity in Hades. There's really no gray area when it comes to salvation in my opinion.



report abuse
 

jskogerboe

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:23 pm


"…they (Christians) resort to the only “argument” usually left them, which is that we mere mortals can’t possibly understand how and why God works the way he does. At the slightest challenge you absolutely abandon logic…"I empathize with Dan here. It's a catch 22. As a believer, I have the Holy Spirit, which allows me to understand that God's ways are not understandable. And who am I to think that my little mind can sort out the depth and mystery of God's ways? This isn't a cop-out. Actually, it's the MORE logical position if you accept that God is THE God – creator, sustainer, omniscient omnipotent and omnipresent God. He's simply beyond us.So the only choice is to take His Word at face value in matters beyond our understanding.But this will not satisfy Dan. He does not believe, ergo he does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help him understand what he can't understand.And that is why logic fails to convert. RELATIONSHIPS and Christ-like love are the building blocks of successful evangelism.



report abuse
 

Melanie

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:37 pm


I don't think God "condemns" us to hell, rather he "Graces" us with heaven. Heaven is a gift. Hell isn't the removal of this gift, rather the natural course if this gift is not accepted.I think too often people look at hell as a punishment.I think this is a major flaw in the way we talk about hell.I don't think it's punishment, if we got what we deserved we would all be in a world of trouble. The point is he doesn't punish us!If we think about God holding a present out for us. Imagine it is just sitting in the palm of his hand. He is not holding on to it, his hand isn't cupped. Heaven is just sitting there available for all of us. God never closes his fist, never. We simply push his hand away. If we don't want that relationship with him, then he won't force it on us. For anyone who has ever felt the difference between a life in true relationship with God and a life without, they could probably tell you that the life without is certainly what hell might feel like.It is our choice…



report abuse
 

Everett

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:53 pm


Jason, first, what's with the ad on your blog? LDS? that is interesting for this site.throughout childhood and until about 5-6 years ago, i held a pretty conservative, evangelical position on hell, but as i grow older, i am becoming less black-and-white on issue such as this. in fact, i rarely even discuss these things very much. i just let people share their opinions and sometimes interject questions. i am worn out by these questions that cannot be answered definitively, and i am sick of people using their interpretation of the Bible to beat others down. i also hate how we label people as soon as something they say sounds "conservative" or "universalist."



report abuse
 

Angela

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm


I really, really agree with jskogerboe – well said…we can't evangelize with people by logic….just can'tJust gotta be the hands and feet of Jesus and continue to love, love, love….beating people over the head with radical behavior (i.e. standing outside of a strip club yelling "you're going straight to Hell" to everyone walking in and out of it) AND people arguing "logical" explanations are my two biggest pet peeves in trying to bring people to Jesus….sorry…went off on a rabbit trail



report abuse
 

Lauren

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm


About five minutes ago my sister left me a message on my phone with the same logic as "Dan." This must be something I'm meant to wrestle with today. ;-)I guess I tend to ignore the afterlife – I don't like to think about it. I don't like even thinking of heaven too much because I think it will distract me from my purpose on earth. And believing that my family and some of my friends are hell-bound is not a thought I like to entertain. Is this wrong (and really childish) of me to ignore? Ha, probably. But it makes me uncomfortable.I don't know, I guess I believe that you can't boil Christianity down to anything … it can't be adjusted to fit a formula or be put into some 4-step way to salvation.Christ is something (someone) that happens to you. You find yourself in need of him and you follow him. I'm wary of many methods of evangelizing for that reason. I don't think you can sell Christianity like you can a product. I can't sit down with hypothetical Dan and tell him this is what Christ did and expect him to believe. There's gotta be something supernatural involved. Something's (or Someone's) got to happen to Dan.Perhaps I'm rambling … but, like I said, this issue came up just five or ten minutes ago and I'm deciding what to make of it. I can't deny hell's existence, but at the same time, warning people like "Dan" or my sister of impending doom doesn't sound like much of a conversation starter (or a good method of conversion).



report abuse
 

Jason Boyett

posted August 24, 2009 at 3:20 pm


@Everett:The ads rotate, but I'm guessing it was a Book of Mormon ad? Part of Google's ad server, I guess, based on some kind of tricky content+ad word algorithm. *Not all ads are endorsed by this site. (Except the Pocket Guide one at the top.)But the Book of Mormon is kind of fun to read, though. As are these comments. Keep it up!



report abuse
 

Kevin D. Hendricks

posted August 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm


Wow, Bob makes God sound very libertarian when he talks about God letting us choose our own fate. ;-)



report abuse
 

Budster

posted August 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm


I've been moving in your direction, David. How we view hell also has an impact for me. If it's eternal torture, then "We broke the rules…we pay the crime" doesn't work for me. What could we possible do on earth that warrants eternal torture? Keeping a child in his/her room might not mean we don't love them, but torturing them with fire sure makes it clear.



report abuse
 

codyjknutson

posted August 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm


@ Budster…"What could we possible do on earth that warrants eternal torture?"um…how about sporting wood when you undressed you're home room teacher with you're eyes…or when you told that joke about "big feet"…or when you told you're mom that you didn't eat the cookie, while you had crumbs on you're chin. Rom 6:23



report abuse
 

Jason Boyett

posted August 24, 2009 at 3:50 pm


@codyjknutson: I'm not sure where you're going with your response to Budster, but I think he brings up an important point. The traditional Christian view is that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment by fire, right? And that such torment is payment for our capital-S Sin. And that even one, tiny sin is enough to merit this torment, because it separates us from God.The question he's asking is this: None of us, as parents, would see any love whatsoever in a father who spent 10 minutes, or 1 minute, torturing a child for telling a lie. Kids can be disobedient, sure, and require loving discipline when that happens. But the punishment should fit the crime. Based on human logic, I can't imagine anything my kids would do that merits me burning them. Even for a second.Is eternal conscious torment a fitting punishment for one single sin, like lying about a cookie? Even for a lifetime of sins? That's where things get difficult for me. And "the mystery/holiness/justice of God" or "His ways are not our ways" doesn't help any as an explanation.



report abuse
 

codyjknutson

posted August 24, 2009 at 4:11 pm


@jasonConcerning your last statement…then what is the point of "Discuss: One of the Hardest Questions"? It doesn't sound like any answer will suffice. My answer to, "Is eternal conscious torment a fitting punishment for one single sin, like lying about a cookie? Even for a lifetime of sins?" is found vaguely in my first comment…if I go to hell it is my fault.Did Jesus deserve the life and death He lived here on earth? I say no. But thankfully that life allows me not to worry about suffering one day because I ate a cookie.But what do I know…?



report abuse
 

Jason Boyett

posted August 24, 2009 at 4:22 pm


@cody: Noted. But I think open, honest discussion is always valuable — whether you arrive at a satisfactory answer or not.



report abuse
 

Thomas

posted August 24, 2009 at 6:52 pm


Two things I noticed that warrant pointing out:1. The 'negative' of hell isn't being counterbalanced by the 'positive' of having a loving relationship with Jesus (so far only servitude to Christ has been mentioned) where we receive Joy in this life and hope for the next.2. It seems like the 'justice' of God is only being talked about from one vantage point. Dan is having a problem with the justice/love conflict of God without considering that if God allowed people who didn't 'obey and have a relationship with his son Jesus' to go to heaven, it would be an injustice to all those people who did…therefore allowing those people to enter Heaven without meeting the biblical qualifications that the others were held to and adhered to. Can't believe that came out as clearly as it did. Although I imagine it's gonna be harder to decipher from outside my head. :)Also, of final note (and this just came to me) I don't know that Bob will be able to convince Dan of any of these things that he believes without having a 'personal relationship' with Dan in the first place. Actions speak louder than words…and Bob is in a jam because he doesn't (neither do we really) have the right words to convince Dan, save for Bob 'letting his light shine'.



report abuse
 

Matt @ The Church of No People

posted August 24, 2009 at 10:43 pm


Most people who reject God in that way believe they are completely deserving of heaven, that they have lived moral lives, and thus God is in the wrong for allowing them to go to hell. That plays into the devil's lie – that we are okay, we are ethical, we 'deserve' heaven, when in fact they have rejected God in the hearts far more than in their minds.



report abuse
 

ChrisSkeen

posted August 25, 2009 at 4:04 pm


I can't believe someone compared not letting a child play outside to "God" condemning one of his "children" to hell!



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted October 16, 2009 at 9:45 am


Jason,"It is not His will that anyone should parish" is proof, to me, that God loves everyone that He created. I have watched my mother in law & my grandmother suffer from Alzheimer's. My mother suffered for almost 2yrs with encephalopathy before she passed. It gave me a small glimpse of what hell will be like. To have everything you ever knew and loved striped from your memory, even God is hell! Hell is the total, eternal separation from your first love, The One who loved you first, while you were yet a sinner. Not that you ever loved Him, but that He first love you. "God has put eternity in the hearts of all men". We don't know it but He is our first love, the only thing that will fill that God-shaped hole in each of us. He has provided a way for us to avoid hell, the equal & opposite reaction to heaven's existence by the way. Where do people think our laws of science come from? The "gnashing of teeth, I clinch my teeth when I am stressed, I have strong ridges on my gum's and TMJ to prove it. The complete and udder darkness, the logical absence of "The Light". The thirst that won't be able to be quenched, I thirst/hunger to be with the people I love. The torment, anyone who's ever lost someone they dearly loved knows that condition. The fire, who hasn't burned with desire, or envy or regret, or hate? The bible is type & shadow, not necessarily literal. Hell is not a punishment for any sins, it is a consequence/result of our not making one simple choice that would cover our sins, past present & future forever. God won't force us to love him because, like us, he want's love to be given to Him, not Him taking it from us. Would you want your spouse, children, parents to say they love you only because you made them say it? Remember, we were created in His image. We have more similarities than people realize.



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:17 am


Correction: Hell is not just simple a punishment for sin.



report abuse
 

Buddy Ketelle

posted October 20, 2009 at 11:42 am


"If your Dad punished you by not allowing you to play outside (which is very similar to hell for a kid) for disobeying him does that mean he doesn't LOVE you??Exactly."I think its more like this:If your Dad punished you by locking you in the basement and setting it on fire with you inside does that mean he doesn't LOVE you?Yes. Yes it does.



report abuse
 

Anonymous tonight

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:31 am


I found this blog about hell, which I confess is a part of my Christian belief that I struggle with all the time. Since God set up these rules and regulations, it's perfectly understandable that people who have not yet been touched by His Spirit would think we're crazy to believe that a God of Love could set up a place like hell, let alone send people or allow people to be sent there. So I'm never going to try and scare someone into the Kingdom. I think what it comes down to for me is that if I'm going to share Christ with someone, I'm not going to focus on hell. I'm going to focus on Life, both here and in the ever after. I'm going to focus on what Jesus said about love and what his life and death and resurrection symbolizes.My personal hope is that when a person who does not know Jesus dies, the GOD OF LOVE comes to him in that split second before death and says, "Will you believe?" But whether that is true or not, all I can believe is that the true God, the one God, is bigger than us and bigger than our imaginings, and Jesus came not to send us to hell, but to give us Life and that more abundantly. So maybe we shouldn't try to convince people by playing the 'hell' card. Maybe we should just show them the love of God, and He will show them everything else He wants them to know. And then when the questions come, they will have His Spirit within them to guide them, not us.Just a thought.



report abuse
 

moodman

posted February 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm


OK. I am going to ask only one question. If you can answer it, then I think you can go a long way towards answering where we go when we die:Ready? OK.Where in the bible does it say, explicitly, that at the end of our life on this earth we will go to hell if we haven't accepted Jesus?Your answer will help you understand hell a lot better. Remember though, that the scripture you use has to be in context and be explicit.



report abuse
 

dewi

posted March 8, 2010 at 10:03 pm


Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.(John 3:18)



report abuse
 

dewi

posted March 8, 2010 at 10:39 pm


But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.(Luke 12:5)explicitly enough?



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting O Me Of Little Faith. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!

posted 2:25:22pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Farewell, O Me of Little Faith
You said you had a big announcement coming today. What is it? The announcement is this: Right now you are reading the final post on this blog. Ever. Ever? Ever. So you're shutting this blog down? Well, I'm going to stop writing any new posts for it. But the blog will still be here. Th

posted 6:11:49am Jun. 01, 2011 | read full post »

My Introvert Interview
On Monday, author Adam McHugh delivered a guest post about the "snarling 8-headed monster" of the writing process. Today I return the favor -- sort of -- via an interview at his blog, Introverted Church. We talk about how my introverted personality has impacted my faith and doubt, and how the extrov

posted 3:05:36pm May. 25, 2011 | read full post »

Harold Camping: "Invisible Judgment Day"
When the rapture didn't occur as predicted on May 21, 2011, Harold Camping had a few options. Here is how he could have responded to the failed prediction, in descending levels of crazy: 1. He could announce that he was wrong. This is the most reasonable option and was therefore unexpected. I wou

posted 9:06:24am May. 24, 2011 | read full post »

The Phases of Writing (Adam McHugh)
If you've ever felt out of place among all the exciting, expressive, emotional enthusiasm of a contemporary church service...or an evangelist's demands that you need to constantly be sharing your faith boldly to strangers...if it simply wipes you out to be surrounded by people all the time,  then y

posted 7:46:00am May. 23, 2011 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.