It’s common to hear people say that they will never submit to God because of His threats of eternal torture. That is interesting because I have yet to hear someone refer to hell as eternal torment. Torture undoubtedly refers to some type of unmerited experience, where torment could be entirely deserved. The Doctrine of Endless Punishment has nothing to do with eternal torture. If one finds himself in hell, it is a punishment he earned because he rejected his Savior in favor of a logical error. Adhering to a fallacious argument like the argumentum ad baculum, or the Threat of Force fallacy, is unwise because it cannot diminish the reality of hell.
Universalism is the preferred religion of post-moderns as it ignores man’s sinful nature and the threat of hell along with it. Joel Osteen’s brand of Christianity encapsulates this perfectly as sins are regarded as no more than mistakes, and if we have positive vibes, God will shower us with gifts because we deserve it. This “God owes me” mentality is impossibly stupid. How can we have the audacity to demand anything from God? He owes us nothing but wrath, but we feel entitled to His grace. This reasoning reduces God to an instrument that we wield to satisfy our carnal desires.
If we believe that eternal punishment is too mean, what other alternatives does God have? In his commentary on Revelation, Chuck Missler suggests that there are three other options at God’s disposal, all of which would result in something worse than hell.
God could let the world just continue to exist forever.
On the surface, this seems to be perfectly reasonable. But what about the cruelty and injustice? What about pain and disease? This would go unchecked, and this Garden of Eden would go on and on.
God could force man into automata.
Can anyone honestly say they would prefer life without free will? We would be nothing more than mere robots carrying out orders. Maybe this would be easier, but would we have meaningful lives? Of course not, but without free will we would never realize it. As a result, God would be forcing us to love Him which runs contrary to His nature.
He can withdraw Himself.
We might assume that this would look something like number one, but in this case He would not be simply be ignoring His creation. He would be turning His back on it. The world was spoken into existence, and if the Word (revealed as Jesus in John 1:1-5) chooses to withdraw from His creation, we could expect that we would not exist. It is impossible to imagine what it would be like without Him, but I suspect it would be much like it was before Genesis 1.
These are all bad scenarios for man and they all go against God’s nature. From man’s perspective, the best option is an eternal hell. What makes hell so appealing is the fact that God provides a way for us to avoid hell through Jesus Christ. For many, this is preposterous as this would require submission to God. Some find it much easier to impugn God’s character. After all, if we must repent of our sins, we have to acknowledge our depravity.
You’ve heard the old atheist canard regarding how the Bible is written by a bunch of illiterate sheepherders, so it must be devoid of all wisdom and has no value (literary or otherwise). If you read the Bible carefully, you find some of the greatest literature. There’s poetry that rends the heart. There’s stories of intrigue. There’s battles and prophesy. All of this is written from 66 different authors and the entire text points to Christ and his work on the Cross. That is an achievement in itself to have a book written over thousands of years that is cohesive.
Atheists really are not concerned with what the Bible says. It comes from God, so they spend their efforts to undermine Him. Proverbs 21:2 states it succinctly:
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
The unregenerate believes that he is good because he has devised his own moral code that he lives by. Even when he falls short of his own standard, those sins are regarded as one-offs. But to have a proper grasp on the idea of goodness, we need to have a firm understanding of wickedness. In matters of eternal justice, there are two places for the righteous and the wicked: heaven or hell. Silenceofmind explains, “[I]f a person does not understand the meaning or idea, or form of justice, then it is not possible to understand the meaning or idea, or form of Hell.” Essentially, the unregenerate decides in his own mind that this is unjust, therefore God is a bully, and they reject Him outright. At this point, the atheist is clinging to a fallacy. He is adhering to the argumentum ad baculum. The Threat of Force fallacy.
The problem is that one cannot grasp the wisdom of the Bible without the Holy Spirit. The atheist regards the Bible as rubbish, so while he may read it for trivia games and to indict God for being a big meanie, he cannot understand it as the ultimate author (God) intended if he is not born again.
It’s true that much can be gleaned by the atheist (like the Ten Commandments), but he thinks they are a quaint set of rules that are simple to maintain. “I’m good, I’ve never murdered anyone, I’ve never told any real lies, I’ve never stolen anything of consequence, I don’t covet my neighbor’s fancy car, I’m not committing idolatry when I place little Tommy on a pedestal, or I don’t idolize possessions though I have my credit cards maxed out.” The unregenerate mind cannot see his inherent badness. In fact, he is rotten to the core and he is blind to the fact that he is already dead. The unregenerate mind believes that he is good and his works are good, when in fact, he cannot keep even one law perfectly. James said it best when he said if you are guilty of breaking one law, you are guilty of breaking all of them.
The point is that the Christian knows he is broken and is in dire need of a savior. The unregenerate believes he is good because he rationalizes his sins. He is certain that he is in no need of a savior. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law. He didn’t come to make bad people good. He didn’t come to share some new philosophy. He came to make dead people alive.
Paul explains, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sinsin which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesusso that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7 ESV)
That is why true understanding of scripture is elusive to the atheist.
Before I wrote this piece, I spent a lot of time in contemplation and prayer. My intention is not to impugn my friend’s character or beliefs. I have genuine concern for him and hope my words are not misconstrued. This is simply an attempt to understand him better, and at the same time, it has been a great opportunity to consider my own views and the fallacies I cling to. This is an important matter but my arguments are often met with silence. All I can do is assume that my argument is completely valid until I’m shown otherwise.
Have you ever felt like you are wasting your time? I’m not denouncing the integrity of Candy Crush, either. We all know that is not a silly diversion, but is an important application that we use to hone our skills to effectively crush candy. Even burning ants with a magnifying glass carries more import than some discussions into which you may ensnangle yourself. (As far as I know, ensnangle has not found itself into the English lexicon until this moment. You’re welcome.) I’m reminded of something Jesus said that illustrates my quandary. He confesses, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Matthew 13:57 ESV) The fruitlessness of sharing the Gospel with people that know you well is apparent.
I have a number of unbelieving friends, but there is one in particular that makes me want to set my hair on fire. There was a time when he was an angry atheist who raged against anyone who exhibited any belief in God. I’m specifically discussing the Judeo-Christian God because I don’t recall any moments where he became unglued at the mention of Brahma, Dagon, Zeus, or any other false deity. He has since completely changed positions since he read some of the Bible. Now, instead of his entertaining conniption fits, discussions are loaded with fallacy upon fallacy. That’s fine, but the moment I call shenanigans the discussion is immediately terminated. (I know that some know me as Captain Fallacy, so before you pick apart my argument, I already know it is probably fallacious. I believe that statement alone is known as the Fallacy Fallacy.)
In a previous post, I explored his argument that people are basically good. You can always find someone more evil than you that makes you look virtuous. It’s an association fallacy known as reductio ad Hitlerum, or the Hitler Fallacy. Nobody thinks the idea of going to hell is very appealing, but if we rationalize our comparative goodness against Hitler’s badness, we might conclude that only Hitler deserves to go to hell. Jesus’ own words dismantle this argument when He said, “No one is good but God alone.” (Luke 18:19 ESV)
In the same discussion, my friend pelted me with the Genetic Fallacy. His belief is that the matter of faith is merely based on geography and the parents’ faith. Essentially, I am a Christian because I was raised by Christians in America (when Christianity began about 2000 years ago after the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Judea.) If we follow this logic, should I not be in Israel or should I hold a belief native to North America? It is true that faith is influenced by geography and family, but that isn’t the point of the Genetic Fallacy. The argument is to subvert any validity of any one faith over another. Instead of boldly rejecting John 14:6, the unbeliever can rely on an error in logic.
He also tells me about his new philosophy of not judging peoples’ beliefs. As you may have guessed, this includes his refusal to “impose” his ideology on others. Is this an act of respect or nescience regarding his own convictions? Perhaps he thinks that truth is relative. If truth is relative, then it doesn’t matter what you believe, so why bother discussing belief systems, right? The Relativist Fallacy is quite popular as people seem to be so unsure about their own beliefs that everyone else’s must be just as valid. In my estimation, nihilism is preferable to the postmodern nonsense in which we are subjected. Let’s reject all principles if our beliefs are so squishy they are not even worth sharing. Additionally, how do we know that judging (or discernment) is inherently wrong? The sheer fact of stating you don’t judge someone’s beliefs is a judgment statement in itself.
Finally, my friend paraded the tour de force of fallacies: he will not submit to God because of the threat of hell. (This is the argumentum ad baculum or the Threat of Force fallacy.) He actually said, “If it results in him facing everlasting damnation, then so be it.” Really? That is a ridiculous conclusion, but Christians have to shoulder some of the blame for perpetuating this argument. He should be afraid of hell as the Bible is clear as to who will go there. John, the author of Revelation, states, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV) Though true, the eternal damnation argument for those who choose unbelief is not likely to win any beauty contests. We should want to submit to Christ because of His mercy and love for His creation. We should turn to Him out of gratitude, not fear.
What is interesting is that this argument unveils logical inconsistencies. Why is submission to God so loathsome? Submission is not foreign to us. We submit to parents, teachers, the police, the government, etc., but we don’t want to submit to God. Certainly it’s not because He is unworthy as the people we submit to are definitely flawed, and in some cases, may not even deserve submission, but we do so anyway.
If we choose defiance over compliance to basic demands such as following the speed limit, are there repercussions? We are threatened with consequences, and most of us choose compliance. I, however, choose to reject authority and am inclined drive 55 mph in a school zone. Will there be consequences? I’ll have to pay a hefty fine. Again, I am determined to defy The Man and I refuse to pay the ticket. That won’t work because the police will track me down and throw me in the hoosegow. My rejection of authority did not nullify the consequences.
The same is true with God. We have sinned against Him and we have a fine to pay. We can allow Jesus Christ to pay our fine for us, or we can pay the fine ourselves by going to hell. Unbelief in God is a sin that condemns an individual to hell, but even if we set that one sin aside, we still have to answer for a lifetime of sin. Yet we still insist that we are good when, in fact, we are utterly depraved. Paul said it best in his letter to Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
Life is much easier when you can pick up your toys and go home. I can be defiant by withholding the Gospel. It saves me grief. I can shorten my prayer list. Besides, my friend is intelligent. He might figure it out. He might embrace the cross. He might not. Even Penn Jillette, an atheist, believes it is exceedingly unloving for a believer to withhold the Gospel. He states, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Jillette’s appeal to emotion may be fallacious, but that doesn’t abrogate our responsibility to share the Gospel.