googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: A Friendly Atheist Has 78 Questions for Christians: Part 1

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Friendly Atheist Has 78 Questions for Christians: Part 1

Like I said in my introduction to this series, I'm not going to write a point by point reply to every question Hemant Mehta asks in his video. Several of the questions seem to be making the same point and Mehta did a good job of grouping together questions that deal with similar subjects. The first several questions he asks deal with who is in heaven or hell.

1) Is Anne Frank burning in hell right now?
2) How about Mahatma Gandhi?
5) Should a kindhearted atheist be forced to go burn in hell for all eternity?
6) What about any, non-Christian, good person? Should they be burning in hell?

I dealt with this subject about a year ago in a post titled, Will “good” unbelievers go to hell? Mehta is committing the logical fallacy of appealing to emotion by making God seem unfair for sending “good” unbelievers to hell. Such questions do nothing to establish the existence (or non-existence) of God. What, God must be imaginary because He's mean? You can see how that doesn't work. Critics ask these questions for the sole purpose of trying to make Christians feel uncomfortable. They are not arguments for the correctness of atheism.

Besides their weak footing in logic, the other flaw in these types of questions is that there really is no such thing as a “good” person. Ray Comfort has a ministry called, Way of the Master, where he witnesses to people on the street. His approach is to ask a person if considers himself to be a good person. Most will say, yes. Then he asks the person to judge himself according to the 10 commandments. He will say, for example, “Is it wrong to tell a lie? Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who lies? Then by your own admission, you're a liar!” People lust. People steal. People envy. People hate. Even an atheist will say it's wrong to do these things yet he still does them. On what grounds does he consider anyone good?

Also, people often use extreme examples to excuse the average. Maybe Gandhi was a good person according to earthly standards – but does the critic believe he's as good as Gandhi? Probably not. So ask the critic, “You're not as good as Gandhi, are you? If God were to judge you fairly, according to the 10 commandments, do you think you'd be guilty?” Atheists know they're guilty and they desperately want to believe there is no God who will judge them.

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Like it or not, the truth is exclusive. Everyone faces the same fate – a grave. Everyone also has the same opportunity – eternal life through Jesus Christ. You can pout all you want about it not being fair, that doesn't change the reality of it.

3) Is Fred Phelps in heaven because he believed in the divinity of Jesus?
4) Should a killer who genuinely repents be able to go to heaven?

Just as the questions above, these questions also use the same weak approach of questioning the fairness of God – this time, for God forgiving people who are bad by earthly standards. I've written about this same point before too. And, like above, Mehta is using extreme examples to marginalize the average.

God forgives sin. That's good news! And if we repent of our sins and accept Jesus as our Savior, our sins will be forgiven! That's the gospel. Why does Mehta worry about the murderers? What sins has he committed? Shouldn't he worry about those sins? It's easy to point to someone worse than you and say, “Well, I'm better than him?” What, you think God shouldn't judge you because he's a murderer and you're just a liar? You should rejoice that God can forgive every sin, including yours. God forgives teens who disobey their parents and and men who look at pornography and people who cheat on their taxes and women who have had abortions and husbands who divorce their wives and people who spend time on FaceBook when their employers are paying them to work.

Isaiah 1:18 says, Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” Why would someone scoff because God can forgive a person who's “really bad”? Instead, we should rejoice that God can forgive even you!

As for Fred Phelps, Jesus said that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter heaven (Matthew 7:21). In that same chapter, He told us that we can judge people by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20, et al). The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). I can't say that we saw this fruit in Phelps which makes me wonder if he really was a Christian.

Maybe Phelps believed Jesus was God. But James 2:19 correctly points out that even demons believe in God so simply believing in God isn't enough for salvation. Jesus also has to be our Lord. Did Phelps accept Jesus as his Lord? It doesn't seem like it. In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord and not do the things which I say?” It all goes back to judging people by their fruits. People should see Christ in us. If they don't, maybe it's because Christ isn't in us.

At the end of the day, though, it's not me who must decide if Phelps is in heaven. It is God who searches the hearts and knows who will be rewarded and who will be condemned (1 Chronicles 28:9).

7) Would you be happy in heaven if someone you loved was in hell?

Revelation 20 talks about a grim event commonly called, the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15), where those people who rejected Christ in life will be judged according to their works. If they thought they were “good,” this will be their chance to prove it. Verse 12 says their works will be judged according to the things written in “the books” - which I believe are the books of the Bible. Every lie the person told, every careless act, every evil thought will testify to his guilt. It says also that another book will be opened, the Book of Life. Every Christian's name is in the book and every sinner who's name is not written in that book will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

No, I will not be happy seeing this happen – especially to someone I love. Knowing this is their fate should make us try all the more to reach them. Charles Spurgeon said:

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.


Steven J. said...

Mehta is committing the logical fallacy of appealing to emotion by making God seem unfair for sending “good” unbelievers to hell.

I think Mehta is noting a tension between the Christian doctrine that God has implanted in us a sense of morality -- that (e.g. Romans 1:20) we know, inherently, what is good and what is not -- and the Christian doctrine of eternal unrelenting torment to punish finite offenses against a God Who cannot be harmed in any way by us.

"God is good" is supposed to mean something other than "God is powerful enough that no one can tell Him not to do a thing;" it implies that God is good by standards comprehensible and appealing to us. Yet never mind Anne Frank -- to torture Hitler, not for six million lifetimes but for endless epochs -- seems an offense to any human sense of proportion. Hell appalls because it is excessive for any humanly possible offense.

There is another problem. The Mosaic Law makes no mention of rewards and punishments after death -- God's rewards and punishments are meted out in this life, to oneself or one's descendants. Later prophets raise the idea of a future resurrection for the righteous, but make no mention of a Hell for unrepentant sinners (indeed, this is true of Paul as well, who implies the possibility of failing to attain salvation but says nothing of post-death conscious punishment). The prophet Daniel is the first to raise the idea of a universal resurrection and judgment -- but while eternal life is promised to the righteous, eternal shame -- not eternal punishment -- is the threat to the disobedient. It's not clear that even here the idea of Hell can be found.

My own suspicion is that eternal punishment arose for economic (in the broad sense of why humans make the decisions they do) reasons. Economists are well aware of two phenomena: discounting against the future (a cost you will incur several years from now weighs less on you than one you will incur today), and taking into account the probability of a cost or reward as well as its magnitude. So you can, e.g. convince people that you will flog every shoplifter or hang one in twenty (leaving the others unpunished) of them for roughly equal deterrent effect. If divine punishment only comes after our deaths, and if we can't be sure that the people telling us about it are right about it, then both problems arise, and only an infinitely horrible threat will have an adequate deterrent effect.

This is the logic of Pascal's Wager, which however is subject to Simpson's Rejoinder: "but Marge, what if we picked the wrong religion? Then every time we go to church, we're just making God madder!" The threat of Hell is open to multiple competing irreconcilable creeds.

I note also that Heaven is generally thought of as a place where "God will wipe away every tear" (Revelation 21:4). This seems to imply that the saved will not grieve for their former loved ones who are in Hell -- which raises questions as to how far you can identify the saint in Heaven with the person on Earth who was promised salvation.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for your comments. They're interesting as usual. You've basically doubled down on the argument that God can't be real because He's too mean. I'm sorry. Even though you've explained your point well, I can't get past the empty logic of it. If God is real, the reality of hell is all the more reason to accept Him. What's more, these types of arguments do nothing to show me that God isn't real. Assuming everything you say is true, what exactly are you saying I should do with that information? Reject a real God and spend eternity in torment but comforted with the knowledge that I already knew He was a “meanie.”

I originally intended to include highlights from Revelation 21, which talks about God wiping the tears from their eyes, but my post was getting a little too long. Thanks for bringing it up. This passage immediately follows the Great White Throne Judgment. Rev 21:4 says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” I've heard it suggested that the tears are from the saints having witnessed the Judgment. The same passage suggests that we will not have eternal memory of things from this world.

This brings me to a point about hell. There is not a vivid description of hell given in the Bible. It is sometimes described as the “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The Rich Man from the parable in Luke 16 called it a, “place of torment.” Certainly, there is physical pain there; the Rich Man said, “I am tormented in this flame.” However, he still was able to converse with Abraham so the pain was not such that he writhed uncontrollably. I'm sure the pain is great. What's worse is that the pain is unceasing. But I don't necessarily think it's the kind of pain most people imagine when they think about hell.

I think part of the torment is the eternity of regret and hopelessness as the lost soul reflects on the rash choice he made in life – the wish that he could have it to do all over again. The Rich Man, for example, begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers. In the same parable, Lazarus seems unaware of the Rich Man's lament. Abraham said that Lazarus received evil things in life but now he was comforted. I believe this is how it will be in the afterlife: the condemned will remember and regret; the redeemed will not remember and be comforted.

Thanks again for your comments. God bless!!