Christian and Athiest Talk About Hell

A: I can’t believe you Christians would really believe in a God that would want to send people to suffer in Hell forever. I hate the idea of a goody-two-shoes God who thinks like that.
C: So you’d rather be in Heaven?
A: Certainly. And your self-centered God would send people to Hell.
C: Why don’t you come to church and Bible study for a few weeks and I’m sure we can explain it.
A: Are you kidding? I can’t think of anything more miserable than going to church.
C: Really? Are you sure? How about just one Sunday?
A: No, I will never darken the door of a church. Besides being a waste of time, it’s a painfully horrible idea.
C: You do realize that Heaven is one long worship session, right?
A: What do you mean?
C: Heaven is praising God, being in His presence, and singing praises to Him for all eternity. That’s what everyone does in Heaven . . . enjoy being with God.
A: Why, I’d be miserable there. What kind of a God would force someone to worship Him?
C: So you’d rather go off by yourself?
A: Yes, of course. I’d rather be left alone to do what I want.
C: I think God can arrange that. It’s called Hell, which is a place where people can be away from God.
A: But I don’t want that! The Bible says people are miserable in Hell! They get tortured there!
C: The Bible does not say people are tortured in Hell, it says they are in torment. It is a torment of their own making, like a drug addict is tormented by his addiction.
A: But I want good times!
C: You just told me that you didn’t want to be with a goody God. You said you’d rather be away from God.
A: I do want to be away from God. I hate Him! That is, if He existed, I’d hate Him.
C: So you hate someone who doesn’t exist?
A: Exactly.
C: God is good, and being away from Him is being away from good. Do you want to be with God or be left alone, to be away from God? The choice is yours.
A: You’re a fundamentalist idiot.
C: Perhaps you would be better off reading what Heaven and Hell are really like, rather than the caricatures presented by modern atheists. I can show you in the Bible if you want. God is not going to force you into heaven, you know, but He is inviting you. The choice is yours.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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8 Responses to Christian and Athiest Talk About Hell

  1. Nate says:

    Synonyms for “torment” (thesaurus.com):
    torture, agony, persecution, affliction

    What does the Bible say about Hell?

    Matt 13:42:

    They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Matt 13:50:

    and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth

    Matt 25:41:

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

    Matt 25:46:

    “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    2 Thess 1:9:

    They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

    Mark 9:43:

    If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

    2 Pet 2:4:

    For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment;

    Matt: 10:28:

    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    It’s disingenuous to pretend that Hell is not torture or that God isn’t ultimately responsible for it. And your atheist is not very realistic. I was a Christian for many years, and I enjoyed worship service. I went every time the doors were open. It was only when I realized the Bible was filled with inaccuracies that I began to see I had no real grounds for my beliefs.

    • humblesmith says:

      You’d be better off getting meaning of biblical terms from lexicons and bible dictionaries. The translators spend their careers on this, and they give the term as torment. No one disputes the people are miserable, the question is from what source. Insinuating that God is actively torturing people is not found in the verses you quote, and making them say that is reading your biases into the text. I’m sure you did spend time in church, but your view of hell did not come from the bible.

      My representation of atheists is based on numerous interactions and the writings of the current crop of Dawkins disciples. I’ve found them to be quite emotional, often insulting, and frequently illogical. I’ve been called enough names to know what they call me.

    • Nate says:

      Who created Hell? If the souls there are made miserable just by their sinful natures, then they should be just as “miserable” as they are now, right? Yet that does not match the Bible’s depiction at all. Instead, the Bible talks about Heaven as a place where there are no tears and Hell as a place where the fire is never quenched and there is moaning and gnashing of teeth. If God only gives those two places as possible destinations, then yes, he’s responsible for the torment that occurs in Hell.

      I completely understand why you’re uncomfortable acknowledging God’s responsibility in this set up, because it’s difficult to square such a being with the terms “loving” and “just.” Nevertheless, it’s what the Bible teaches. It’s just another thing that helped me realize the Bible is not actually divine.

      • humblesmith says:

        Common grace, Nate. It’s a rather well developed concept. Learn more about it.

        Surely your not so much of a Calvinist that you hold to double predestination, saying we don’t have free will. God, by nature, is good, and does indeed allow people to go away from Him. If this is responsible, then yes, He is. He will not force us into heaven against our will.

      • Nate says:

        I was never a Calvinist at all. But here’s the overall problem:

        You claim that God doesn’t directly reveal himself to us so we can make a free choice to follow him. But he’s so removed, we can question his very existence. Whereas, with our earthly relationships, I don’t question the existence of my employer or the local authorities, but I still have the ability to follow their rules or not. The same was true of my parents when I was a child. I didn’t always obey them, even though I knew who they were, what they wanted, and what the consequences would be of my disobedience. Simply knowing they exist does not take away my free will, so the free will argument is not a good reason for why God is so hidden. Even the Bible shows that with people like Pharaoh, Ahab, David, Solomon, Judas, etc.

        The other problem that stems from this is that since many of us can question his very existence, then we don’t believe because we just don’t believe. It’s not out of rebellion or pride, it’s simply a lack of compelling evidence. That begins to put the onus for our unbelief back on God.

        Finally, Hell is the most backward solution to this problem that one could imagine. Even if it were true that the Bible teaches people are only tormented because of their own natures and not the environment of Hell (which is not what it teaches), it offers no way for people to change. Maybe they live their entire lives unconvinced that Christianity is true. In death, they go to Hell, which is eternal. They have no opportunity for reconciliation. That’s not how punishment works. Punishment is intended to bring about change in the person being punished. If there’s no opportunity for change, then we’re no longer talking about punishment, we’re talking about torture.

        This is a severe contradiction that strikes at the core of Christianity. Many Christians today try to get around this by realizing that Hell is not real and was simply a concept that was added late in Judaism. But for guys like you, you’re stuck trying to argue why Hell exists if God is truly all-loving, righteous, and all-powerful. It’s a tough position to be in, since your source material isn’t cooperating with you.

  2. humblesmith says:

    The central thrust of the post is supported both by scripture, common experience, and your comments: people do not like God, do not like what He stands for, and do not want to be around Him. Disagreeing that God is holy and righteous, you have repeatedly insinuated that He unjustly tortures people against their will. You obviously do not want to be around such a Person, and find it distasteful the entire idea of how God handles His universe. You know as well as anyone how the New Testament presents heaven……the point is not to sit on a cloud and play a harp, or sit at the beach and watch the sunset. Heaven is being around God, which you do not want to do. You obviously do not want to go there…….(or so you say. I’m still not convinced the Holy Spirit isn’t still working on you.) So the main part of my post is shown true.

    Atheists also continue to put God in a paradox, which I’ve blogged on before. You want to be able to do what you want, yet not have any consequences for it; you accuse God of being unjust when He sends people away to Hell, then also accuse Him of evil when He allows them to stay on earth and commit evil; you accuse God of being unfair when He allows people to run away from Him, then say He’s unfair for not forcing Himself on people so they will love Him (even though forced love is a contradiction). When God doesn’t punish evil on earth, He’s accused of impotence or immorality; when He does punish evil in eternity, He’s accused of immorality. Talk about contradictions……..did you wrestle with these logical problems before you walked away from the faith….? I just do not see how you can be comfortable living with such inconsistency. I’m not sure you are comfortable, actually.

    The only other options than the heaven or hell in the Bible are either 1) not rewarding good or punishing evil, or 2) annihilation. The first is unjust, and the second is like God saying, “Love me or I’ll kill you.” No, God respects people enough to give them a choice.

    “No opportunity for reconciliation?” Nate, c’mon, son. What do we have now, but a lifetime of opportunity:
    “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Co 5:18–21.

    But you said something else very interesting. (Not debating here, I’m genuinely saying this is personally interesting); You said “That’s not how punishment works. Punishment is intended to bring about change in the person being punished. If there’s no opportunity for change, then we’re no longer talking about punishment, we’re talking about torture.”

    Actually, punishment is for punishing unjust acts, not rehabilitation. Separate from the degree of fairness question, I think you have to admit that 1. people are unjust, and 2, deserve punishment to some degree or other. So punishment is not for bringing about change. In fact, in my life, I could not change myself…….believe, me, I’ve tried. If I could change myself, trust me, I would have done so and avoided a lot of heartache. The only way we can change is when God regenerates us from the inside out. I think you were from a Church of Christ background, if I recall correctly? They are often (not always) very behavior driven, almost to a point of fully pelagian, saying we must follow God of our own effort. The Biblical position is much different…..it tells us God changes us from the inside out. For example, follow the actions that God does in this passage: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4–7.

    Note that none of this is due to our effort, but wholly on God by His good grace. Just curious, were you ever taught this?

    • Nate says:

      So, we’re getting into a lot of different subjects here, and all of them are pretty big.

      First of all, let me say that I appreciate the tone of this discussion. You and I sometimes come down hard on one another, but I’m glad that we’ve both maintained a sincere tone in this one so far. I know that you’re honestly asking me these things in an effort to understand, and I feel the same way. I’d truly like to understand where you’re coming from. If nothing else, I think it’s safe to say that we’re both very sincere in our respective beliefs.

      Anyway, I’ll try to address all your points, but I may not be able to give them all the depth they deserve.

      First of all, there may be some atheists who are atheists simply to avoid being told how to live. I’m not one of those. My morality hasn’t changed since I left Christianity, because I like to live morally. So rebellion has nothing at all to do with my unbelief. I don’t believe Christianity because of its teachings and the problems in the Bible.

      You are right that Heaven is described as a place of continual worship. There are certainly some people who wouldn’t enjoy such a place. If I believed that God were real, I’d be okay with Heaven. As I said, I enjoyed worship when I was a believer. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that when it came time to create eternal destinations for everyone that he only had two choices: never-ending worship service or eternal oven. That’s why he has to share some culpability here.

      As to punishment, I’m aware that Christianity teaches we have tons of chances to get it right in this life. However, the major problem with that is that God doesn’t seem to intervene to let anyone know they’ve got it wrong until it’s too late. And that’s the point I was trying to make. By the time they get to Judgment Day, and God tells them “depart from me, I never knew you,” there’s nothing they can do. As the parable of the rich man and Lazarus illustrates, there’s no crossing from the punishment side to the reward side. God has the power to tell people that they’re on the wrong track before it’s too late, but he doesn’t do it. That’s simply unjust. Every religion in history has been man’s effort to reach out to God. Why didn’t he answer and save so many from such a horrible fate?

      When God doesn’t punish evil on earth, He’s accused of impotence or immorality; when He does punish evil in eternity, He’s accused of immorality.

      I understand if you feel like this isn’t a fair standard. That’s not my intention, though. The way Christianity portrays God he has no subtlety. It’s like someone with a weed problem either ignoring the weeds and letting them take over the garden, or taking TNT and blowing the whole garden away. There’s a much clearer, rational path that can be taken, but it’s ignored.

      Parents generally want their children to exercise free will. They want them to be themselves, explore their interests, express themselves. However, if their child decides to express himself by beating his sibling with a baseball bat, the parent intervenes. It would not be right to allow the child to mistreat someone else in that way. It’s not right for the child getting the beating, or the one administering it. If there were a parent that decided to stand by and let that happen, but then “punish” the child once he’s reached his eighties by slowly roasting him alive, we would not say that’s a good parent. And we would certainly not say that he was the best parent ever. But when you think about it, this is exactly what fundamentalist Christianity teaches about God.

      And yes, you’re right that my background is Church of Christ. We definitely believed in the importance of grace, but we didn’t have the same view of it that you expressed at the end of your comment. There are many passages that talk about individual responsibility. While the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit guides Christians, intercedes for them, etc, it also teaches that people are responsible for their own actions. So we believed that salvation came from a blend of grace, faith, and obedience. I’d rather not get too bogged down in those details though, since I no longer believe any of that.

      Why is it that you believe? You’re familiar with many of the criticisms of Christianity, and posts like this one show that you’re uncomfortable with the idea of Hell (as you should be). So what keeps you believing? And if that question needs its own post, or even if you’d prefer to talk about it via email, I’d be interested.

      Thanks

      • humblesmith says:

        Nate:
        I can assure you that I am quite comfortable discussing Hell. The focus of the blog is more apologetic than theological, and a good part of explaining hell comes from explaining our relationship to God. As I have said in other posts, the answer is that we do not truly understand holiness nor do we fully understand the depth of our sin. I continue to see atheist complaints about hell that are based in a sense of comparing one human to another, thinking that we are not all that bad after all. To get the answer, we must understand our crime against God, which we typically do not. To explain it, I’d have to get a bit preachy and theological, which is not the tone of the blog. But if I must, here is the essence: God is holy, no human even lives up to what they know to be right, let along God’s perfect standard, so all of us are guilty, and our protests to the contrary is just evidence of how bad we really are. God is perfectly just in punishing all of us, but do to His love, He continually reaches out to us to save us. If you atheists were truly objective, you would balance your complaints with the rest of scripture which shows God’s great mercy (see the links below) I strongly suggest, if you truly want to understand Hell, you start with a lengthy and careful study of God’s holiness…..I suspect you will be surprised. Perhaps you can find a brief summary in Sproul’s “The Holiness of God.”

        http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/does-the-old-testament-present-a-different-view-of-god-than-the-new-testament/
        http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/holiness-and-the-justice-of-god/

        In the end, regardless of how much we find Hell distasteful, the atheist alternative is much worse. It ends up with no ultimate justice at all.

        You have hinted several times you would enjoy a more private discussion……if I recall correctly, the very first response you posted on this blog had the same hint. I have found that these online discussions have limited benefit…….quite often, the back and forth gets nowhere and takes quite a bit of time. My goal in the blog is to try to be educational, and I usually think that if someone has not made their case in 2 or 3 comments, any more will not add much, so I usually quit or stop it after a short back and forth. Those who are genuinely wanting to learn will walk away with something. I usually try to keep my personal opinions out of this, since my experiences and opinions really do not matter much. Nevertheless, you seem to be respectful, whatever your motives actually are. If you want a more relaxed and open discussion of these topics, elswhere on my blog you can find one of my personal email addresses, feel free to contact me. I will be glad to discuss whatever you want, as long as the conversation is going somewhere.

        To support my point, this discussion has run its course and gone a bit astray, so I’ll stop here.

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