In my last post, Are We Justified by Actions or by Beliefs? which was in response to the post prior to it, Will Atheists go to Hell? I received further comments from a couple of atheists questioning the goodness and justice of God in sending people away to eternal punishment. I will attempt to answer their objections here.
I wrote, “If my justification depended on my actions I (and everyone else) would be doomed to damnation.”
Morsec0de wrote, “Doesn’t that suggest too high of a standard?”
Yes! That’s the whole point of the biblical tension between law and grace. Logically, one leads to the other. Here are a few biblical facts about the law of God:
- It reflects the holiness and perfection of God. To fall short of God’s glory is the very definition of sin.
- God’s intent in revealing the law to man is threefold:
- To show us how we ought to live.
- To show us what sin is and that we are sinners.
- To show us that we cannot hope to justify ourselves; we need mercy and grace.
- In summary, the law is a teacher to bring us to Christ for forgiveness of sin and for salvation.
- By not living up to the law of God man ensures the continued existence of pain, suffering and death. Sin brings all manner of corruption to the perfection and order of God’s creation. “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23). This eternal life will be spent in a new heaven and a new earth, free of the curse of sin and death. It will be the dwelling place of righteousness.
Morsec0de continues, “It also seems, at least to me, to be the strangest combination of arrogance and masochism rolled into one. (Not you personally, but the doctrine itself.)”
How can you consider the doctrine of justification by grace through faith as ‘arrogance’ or ‘masochism’? Boasting in our works as to commend ourselves to God would, in fact, be the height of arrogance, especially in light of the truth that even our best acts of righteousness are ‘filthy rags’ to God. How could we possibly be so presumptuous as to assume that fallen, sinful man can impress Almighty God in any way?
To us the justice of God may appear to be masochistic but what God does he does out of a sense of justice, not out of a delight to inflict pain. God plainly declares,”I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Eze 33:11). Our sense of justice is skewed. The accused will always manage to see things differently than the impartial judge who is not influenced by emotions or by the personal consequences involved with sentencing. A good judge seeks justice in every case. God is the ultimate good judge ‘for the Lord is a God of justice”. (Is 30:18). If he passes a sentence of hell upon unrepentant sinners then we must believe that God is doing right.
While we are on the subject of eternal punishment I’d like to insert here an answer to a common objection posed by a reader in the comment section.
Sisyphus Fragment states, “Also, from a philosophical standpoint, an infinite punishment for a finite crime doesn’t make any sense.”
Put in terms of biblical teaching, the question really is, ‘why must people spend an eternity in hell for crimes committed within the comparatively brief human life span?’ King David gives us some insight into the nature of sin’s offense in his confession of his adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband Uriah and his cover up of the whole scandal. David said this in Psalm 51:4: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” David sinned against many people but in his confession he knew that it was God he had truly offended. he had despised the honor and authority the Lord had blessed him with. All sin is an act of rebellion against a holy God. Our acts of disobedience despises the life and goodness God has freely granted us. Sin is a rejection of his loving kindness, a breach of his holy justice and a hostility to his lordship. Sin in us refuses to acknowledge and worship God for who he is. It denies him the glory he is due. This offense can never be undone. God is immutable by nature; he does not change. Thus, God will never change his mind concerning sin. God abhors sin, he is angry at sin and has determined to pour out his wrath against all transgressions. If sin is an offense to God now it will still be an offense to him in 10,000 years, even in 100 million years! God’s anger toward sin committed against him will remain as long as he remains. God is eternal, having no beginning and no end. He is from everlasting to everlasting and so must his justice toward sin also be everlasting. At no point in time will God forgive sin that has not been atoned for. So while we humans may be finite, the sins we commit are eternally offensive to an infinite God. We must pay a never ending wage for the sins committed in the flesh.
Morsec0de wrote, “If some being, divine or otherwise, will torture me and others merely because I didn’t believe that it existed or because I wasn’t absolutely perfect in my actions, that’s not a being I would like to spend an eternity with. Let alone worship”.
Your words truly sum up what all carnally minded men think of God. Thank you for the honesty! I once thought this way, too. None of Adam’s offspring have any desire to spend an eternity with a God who would dare punish them for being themselves. Unfortunately, there are many ‘religious’ people who feel the same way. These people go through all the traditions and rituals of weekly church attendance, Sunday school and prayer meetings, yet they have no true love for God. They simply want to merit the benefits of eternal life in heaven by good deeds while giving lip service to justification by faith. They don’t appear to give much thought to the fact that they desire to dwell forever in the presence of the God they hate. They want the good life but not the giver of life. What I like about speaking with non-believers is their transparency. So, again, I appreciate your bluntness.
Yes, you will be punished for unbelief – and every other sin committed in the flesh. Admitting that you aren’t ‘absolutely perfect in my actions’ is important. This is the first step toward salvation. You are a sinner and can’t stand before God’s perfect moral standard. This should drive you to accept Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life you can’t attain. He died the death you deserve and rose again for the justification of everyone who would believe. I beg you to please consider these things seriously. You nourish and care for your body, which will someday perish. Don’t neglect your soul, that part of you which lives on forever. Cling to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He will turn away no one who comes to him by faith. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” ( John 6:37).
Sisyphus Fragment wrote, “I agree with morse here. There are probably millions of people who have died never even hearing the story of Jesus. How is it just for these people to be tortured? If the creator of the universe really is this unjust god, the more noble action is to spend eternity in Hell. I would rather go to Hell knowing I did my best with the evidence provided. I would rather endure everlasting punishment beside Gandhi than sit up in Heaven watching him being punished”.
I’ve already discussed at length that all men are guilty before God and every single person is condemned by their own sin. “None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10, 12) No one has any right to claim that God has been unfair. In our natural sinful state we don’t want to be accountable to anyone for our actions. We desire to throw off our yokes and frolic freely through life doing just as we please. This does not include obeying his commandments or humbling ourselves, repenting of our sins and taking up our cross and following a crucified Savior. We don’t want any of that apart from divine grace.
The Apostle Paul addressed the fairness of God’s judgment to his audience in the Epistle to the Romans. In teaching that God has the right to have mercy on whom he will and to harden whom he will, giving Jacob and Esau as examples, Paul anticipates his readers’ objections. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” (Rom 9: 14) A couple of verses later Paul anticipates another objection. “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Rom 9:19-24).
Every person has sinned against God and deserves eternal punishment. The Lord has every right to have mercy on whom he will, while leaving the rest to reap what they have sown. You may think this cruel and heartless, but we must remember that in order to have mercy on those he has chosen, God himself came to the earth in the likeness of human flesh, suffered and died for us. God was under no obligation to save any one person. He would have been just to allow the whole human race to perish, but in his great love and mercy Christ has ‘ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’ (Rev 5:9). I plead with you to run to Christ, that he may have mercy on you. ‘ But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’ (John 1:12).