Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hell and a Loving God? part two

I am happy that Tom Kelley has
taken the conversation on Wade
Burleson's blog in a different, but
still relevant direction.

Blogger Tom Kelley said...

Steven Stark said...
3. I come back to this idea. If everyone really understood the situation, then why would anyone reject Christ? It is incoherent - the action of one who is not of sound mind, or of one who does not have all the facts before him.

I've enjoyed reading your comments. I appreciate the clarity with which you present your thoughts and the respect you demonstrate to those who have different views. Very refreshing.

Not to get into a lengthy point-by-point response to your comments (though it might be enjoyable to think through these things together), but I do have a thought on your question above. The only way in which I see it as coherent that anyone would choose hell over heaven (assuming they understood the significance of their choice, which is itself an interest point to consider) is if they would genuinely prefer hell. I'm reminded of the words of Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost, "It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven."

My point is that, strange as it may sound, what if the nature of mankind is so corrupted by sin that our reason and affections are warped in such a way as to make us actually prefer to be separated from God for eternity? After all, if God is exactly as the Bible and Christian theology portrays Him, and that kind of God seems horrible and evil to those who do not know Him, would not those people perhaps actually prefer not to be around Him? Perhaps the most loving thing such a God could do with those who hate how He is and all He stands for would be to allow them to stay as far away from Him as possible.

Just a thought.

Fri Feb 12, 10:10:00 PM 2010

Blogger Steven Stark said...

Tom Kelley,

Thanks for the words, I really appreciate them!

I am familiar with the idea that perhaps some people would actually prefer Hell. It's like the idea that everyone actually goes to the same place, only some perceive it as Heaven and some perceive it as Hell. It is interesting, although it does take away from the idea that Hell is punishment.

And the person who prefers Hell, if it is an unpleasant (or sadistically horrible) punishment would be quite delusional.

Of course a Christian Universalist's idea of Hell is that fire and brimstone serve only two purposes - to change and to purify. Once again, punishment is only relevant if it instructs - if it makes better. If there is no hope of this, then punishment is pure sadism.

Given an infinite amount of "time", surely everyone would eventually come to God. And if sinners are truly delusional, then God would surely break those chains.

Sat Feb 13, 01:41:00 AM 2010

Blogger Tom Kelley said...

I don't know much about the true nature of hell (or heaven), having never been there. :) I do think they are separate places, and that there is a metaphorical aspect to descriptions of hell (such as "fire"), just as there are of heaven ("the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass" -- I've yet to see transparent gold, though I remember something called "transparent aluminum" from a Star Trek movie).

But I'm not certain that punishment is always about correction or instruction. We send murderers to jail or to death not to teach or improve them, but to exact retribution. Their punishment is not a matter of making them a better person, but of settling the score, so to speak. That is central to the concept of justice -- that things weigh out.

Also, I'm not so certain that the primary idea of hell is that of punishment, rather it seems to be more about torment. A person can be tormented by feelings of guilt, regret, remorse, hatred, revenge, etc. And a person can be tormented from within like that without desiring to change anything about themselves, but they blame all their problems and feelings on someone else.

Could a person actually prefer hell? I think this goes back to what Wade said about how big a deal sin is. If sin has so utterly corrupted human nature as to make us truly believe that what is in reality evil is good, and what is in reality good is evil, then a person would only be following their nature and ultimate desire to want to be separated from God (which is what hell is ultimately all about). No amount of time would change their true nature, and taking such a person out of hell and placing them in heaven would be to that person a greater torment, and genuinely cruel.

Sat Feb 13, 12:40:00 PM 2010

Blogger Steven Stark said...


I must differ with you on the view of punishment. While I agree with you that punishment is about retribution, this only makes sense in the context of it being a deterrent.

If a person murdered one close to me, yet I somehow knew that there was absolutely no chance of this person committing the same act again, and I also knew that the "deterrent effect" would have zero impact on other potential murderers, then there is no reason for punishment.

If this violates something in my spirit, as it certainly would, I chalk it up to the human desire for revenge rather than for justice. Justice would be my loved one not having been murdered in the first place. But nothing changes that. And justice is not served by more suffering if there is no benefit to be derived from the suffering.

Now, you might be thinking that there is another desire at play. The desire for the murderer to realize what he has done, to repent, to find remorse. This may be true as well, but this is punishment as instruction, with the hope of change for the better - which an eternal hell would not provide.

I can understand your idea of an "utterly corrupted" human. But if a person prefers suffering to "not suffering", which we see everyday here on earth, because it is in some sense what we are used to, what is comfortable - I associate this with delusion.

I think your idea of "torment" is right on. We all know that feeling in different degrees. But when we experience that, when we blame our problems on someone else, we are delusional. It does not mean we are not accountable - we suffer for our delusions.

But I cannot see it as merciful to leave a lost human to an eternity of delusion, when God would have the power to show the person love and joy, to clear the mind, to show the true nature of reality, to break the spell of the sinful nature.

I want to see (or not see) some transparent aluminum!

very good discussion,


Sat Feb 13, 04:42:00 PM 2010

Blogger Tom Kelley said...

Good comments. I guess we'll just have to disagree about punishment -- I think that pure retribution, without regard to correction, is a valid aspect of both punishment and justice.

And sometimes the delusional are quite content with their delusions. :)

Sat Feb 13, 09:02:00 PM 2010

Blogger Steven Stark said...

Hi Tom,

"I think that pure retribution, without regard to correction, is a valid aspect of both punishment and justice."

I am curious how you make this work alongside the Christian ideas of forgiveness and mercy.

I think "pure retribution" can only validly exist as a deterrent -in order to keep a society orderly. I am wondering what purpose "pure retribution"serves. It does not correct the initial wrong. If no positive effects are achieved through punishment, then the retribution only adds to the net wrong that has occurred. I guess this is a fancy way of saying "two wrongs don't make a right."

" And sometimes the delusional are quite content with their delusions. :)"

I suppose if you weren't, you wouldn't be delusional. But I agree, that we often choose the path of comfort over the path of greater overall happiness. The question is - if a person is delusional, does he have the power on his own to overcome the delusion? And if not, would a loving parent, or creator who certainly has the power, do something to intervene?

I am going to post our conversation on my blog. I think it is really, really interesting. Thank you again!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hell and a Loving God?

The following is a conversation, in progress, at the blog of Wade Burleson - a Southern Baptist minister in Oklahoma. Wade is a wonderful person to discuss issues with, because he is intelligent, respectful, and yet direct in communicating what he thinks. He recently wrote a blog alleging that non-Christians in Hell will have experiences proportional to the amount of evils they committed on earth. I do not think a loving God and eternal hell can coherently exist together, so I engaged him on the topic. I should mention that Wade has many ongoing conversations, so I am not suggesting that the exchanges below are his “A game”. It’s an interesting conversation. There is also a comment from Kevin Crowder, another Southern Baptist and quite a character.


I find it curious that you use the idea of Hitler, and then talk of what God will do to those who "reject Christ". God's actions appear to be far worse. Hitler could cause suffering and take a life. God can cast out forever, punish forever, according to the views of this blog.

This, by any practical use of the word today, is evil.

I am not sure that concepts like "righteousness" and "holiness" mean anything unless they are words ultimately describing love itself. And the idea that hell is justice makes a mockery of the concept.

And love never fails. One sinner spending eternity in hell would certain be a failure of love.

Thanks for the post,




Some very good thoughts. Thanks for commenting.

I think the best response to your concerns would be an analogy. What is the difference between a man drawing back a bow and firing an arrow into a beating heart and being praised and lauded for his action, and the same man drawing the same bow and firing the same arrow into a different beating heart and being condemned for his action?

Answer: The nature of the heart into which the arrow was fired.

The former was the beating heart of a deer. The latter was the beating heart of a man. What makes the action of the man different is the nature of the one whom the man shot.

So too, the nature of God is so infinitely superior to that of any human being, that any disobedience to the transcedent God's law is a crime of unbelievable magnitude. That law, by the way, seems to be written in the conscience of every human being (Romans 1). So, I think the struggle you may have is over the holy nature of God. It is possible that you see sin against Him as no big deal. If that's the case, then the cross of Christ loses its power and meaning.

However, I do think your understanding of the love of God is spot on. God is love. The question becomes how does a loving, holy God accept unrighteous sinners? Answer: By doing for them what they cannot do for themselves through the Person and work of His Son.

The question then becomes: "For whom does God grant this unbelievable gift of grace? Answer: Those who embrace His Son.




Hi Wade - thanks for the response! I apologize for the length below. I tried to keep each point as succinct as possible.

“What makes the action of the man different is the nature of the one whom the man shot.”

Motivations are not mentioned in your analogy. Why did the man shoot the deer? To leave the body to rot? If this were so, the hunter would be condemned.

Is he shooting the deer because he cannot tolerate being close to deer, because they are inferior creatures - imperfect and dirty? The man would be condemned.

This is the treatment God would be giving those who do not intellectually “embrace his Son”.

Does the man decide to spare the deer, but something still has to get shot because deer are so bad, so he shoots himself? That is not a sane thing to do. But this is the idea of “substitutionary” atonement.

If “holiness” does not include actions that we associate with love, then it has no meaning except “otherness” and “separateness”. Your argument for God is not that He is good, but rather that He is powerful.

For instance, you mention sin against an infinite God. And that infinite punishment is appropriate. But this standard would be considered evil in our world. If a toddler commits a crime against an adult, we do not try the toddler as an adult. And surely, by your own ideas, God is much more far removed from us than a toddler is from an adult.

Plus, I am guessing that your Calvinist theology includes the idea that ultimately God is the one who decides which hearts will accept him and which ones He will “harden.” Therefore God is effectively creating people who He knows will not accept Him. Therefore there is not even a legitimate offer being made here.

Or if you accept freewill, then once again, God is allowing us to make decisions with infinite consequences with our finite minds, which is much worse than me giving a set of scissors to my 2 year old son and then respecting his decision to do what he will with them.

“It is possible that you see sin against Him as no big deal.”

I can think of no greater sin than condemning a person to an eternity of suffering without hope of reprieve. Punishment is only considered good if instructs, if it makes better, or if it acts as a deterrent. Hell does none of this.

“If that's the case, then the cross of Christ loses its power and meaning.”

I disagree with you here. If you don’t mind, I will change your phrase to a version that perhaps we can agree on - “If that’s the case, then the doctrine of substitutionary atonement loses its power and meaning.” Fair enough.

Thanks for the thoughts!!




Good thoughts!

By the way, I want you to know that I believe whosoever desires Christ is a recipient of the grace of God. In other words, nobody desiring the Lord is unrewarded!

Also, I admire your desire to protect the reputation of God. In any way that I have fallen short of presenting a loving, holy God whose justice is always and only perfect and right and love always and only unconditional, then I have failed in my communication.



Thanks for those words, Wade.

Here are your premises taken from two different comments:

“I believe whosoever desires Christ is a recipient of the grace of God. In other words, nobody desiring the Lord is unrewarded!”

“I can assure any sinner who asks that the punishment of hell, though just and according to deeds, is not something even the best of sinners would ever desire.”

(from a comment to Kevin)

If no sinner would ever desire hell, then why would anyone reject Christ?

There are only two reasons I can think of:

  1. They do not understand what is going on.

  1. They are not of sound mind.

Can anyone add to this list? Remember we are assuming Wade’s premises that no sinner would ever desire hell. If this is true then, if presented with all the facts and a sound mind, every sinner would certainly accept Christ, who is the escape from hell.

If a sinner goes to hell because of either reason I have listed, is this justice?





A few things:

1. Christ is not the escape from hell. He is the eternal God who must be worshipped.

2. Christians (those who are "regenerate") daily re-condemn themselves to everlasting punishment EVEN with the knowledge of the Word of God. The facts remains we still love our sins more than we love our God.

3. "but God" (Ephesians 2:4) Best two words in all the Bible.


Fri Feb 12, 09:37:00 AM 2010



Were a person truly unable to understand (like an infant or the mentally incapicitated), I would agree with you wholeheartedly that hell seems unjust.

But Romans 1 says that an understanding that there is an invisible and immortal God and that He is to be worshipped-- and not men or idols--is written in the conscience and heart of every human being. So it seems to me that the Bible is saying just the opposite.

All understand and disobey their natural inclination to worship the Creator.





"All understand and disobey their natural inclination to worship the Creator."

From my conversations with atheists, I think this is false. There are good reasons not to believe (the problem of evil, examples of "unintelligent design", God's hiddenness, etc.). I personally feel that belief in God is a matter of taste, and the only reason to believe is whether you want to or not. Nothing logically compels us to believe. *note that I mean the traditional Western concept of God here.

Your are suggesting that people do have the capability to understand the situation of salvation and damnation. Then why would they choose damnation, something fundamentally outside their own best interest? It's incoherent to think that they would, I think.

Also, according to your view of God being "infinitely superior" to man - certainly this is a much greater distinction than the difference between a mentally handicapped person, or an infant, and an adult of sound mind. If we do not hold infants accountable to adult law, why should an God hold finite men accountable to infinite law?


Some responses:

1. By whose dictate must God be worshiped? By his own. There are better ways to insure your own worship than by remaining relatively hidden and "catching" the non-believers after death. Why not appear in all your power and present them with their options? This would surely convert the entire world.

Some suggest God does not do this out of respect and love for man and his freewill. Of course, this doesn't make sense if He then consigns people to Hell who did not realize it was that serious. This is not love. Love is rescuing someone from a dangerous situation, when they do not recognize the danger.

2. A daily personal condemnation is no substitute for being held in condemnation against your will for eternity.

3. I come back to this idea. If everyone really understood the situation, then why would anyone reject Christ? It is incoherent - the action of one who is not of sound mind, or of one who does not have all the facts before him.

Thanks for a very enjoyable conversation!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kwotes again

History is not the study of what happened. It's the study of what probably happened. And what probably happened is not necessarily what happened.

The eskimo hunter asked the missionary, "If I did not know about God and sin, would I still go to hell?"
"No," said the priest, "Not if you did not know."
"Then why," asked the Eskimo earnestly, "did you tell me?"

Wisdom is not knowing, but being. The Christian mystics instructed seekers to enter the Cloud of Unknowing with a trusting heart. The wise heart is not one that understands everything - it is the heart that can tolerate the truth of not knowing. - Jack Kornfield

You say you can't create something original? Don't worry about it. Make a cup of clay so your brother can drink. - Rumi