I was having a chat on Friday with a brilliant agnostic young lady who knew as much about Christian apologetics as I did. It was very strange because she was only in her mid-20s, but she was talking about the Cambrian explosion, the resurrection scholarship of Dale Allison and Bart Ehrman, and so on. She had seen a lot of debates, and even knew about intelligent design. Anyway, she asked me two questions that I wanted to write about. The first was whether I thought that Hell was unfair, especially because it’s determined by having correct beliefs, and the second was whether I thought that God was kind or harsh.
Regarding, I do hold to a traditional view of Hell being eternal separation from God. I don’t think that God will be actively torturing people in Hell. I’m not sure if the flames are literal or figurative. But I do know that the severity of the punishment will be proportional to the amount of sinning, in the same way that the rewards in Heaven will be proportional to good actions here on Earth. The duration is the same, but the rewards and punishments fit our actions.
I don’t have a problem with Hell because I’ve spent most of my life trying to talk to people about spiritual things. Although this young lady was very open-minded and honest and spiritual, more than most people in the church, even, I don’t think that this is normal for non-Christians. Growing up around Muslims and Hindus, and having spoken to Jews, I know that there just isn’t much curiosity about God and Jesus in these other religions. Believe me, I’ve tried to discuss spiritual things with people of all different religions, and the idea that religious beliefs should be bounded by logic and evidence is almost nowhere to be found. It’s not even to be found among most Christians, but at least we have scholars who you can find if you dig hard enough.
So, when people ask me about Hell, the first thing that comes into my mind is my experiences trying to get non-Christians to line up their beliefs about God and Jesus with logic and evidence. Although it may seem harsh to shut the door on people who don’t want to put in the work, it doesn’t seem harsh to me. I’ve had it with people who make everything except an investigation into God’s existence a priority. I have no patience for people who think they are very intelligent in their thoughts about God, but then when they get into a discussion, it is obvious they haven’t put in any effort.
Do you know what they do put a lot of effort into, though? Entertainment, fun and thrills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to give books or debates to culturally Jewish atheists and Muslim-raised atheists and Hindus (because of family and community) in my previous jobs, and got no interest in truth whatsoever. They were too busy watching the Comedy Channel Democrats, and trying to get their kids into Ivy league schools, etc. to care about God or Jesus. And God is not going to force them into eternal life with him, they don’t want it, and they’re not going to get it. It’s important to note that to not prioritize God is a choice. We in the West all have leisure time, and to be ignorant about God after 40 years of leisure time when you have put the time in elsewhere is unacceptable. God expects us to be curious about him and to do our due diligence in investigating him using as much intellect and effort as we put into our educations, careers, marriages, etc.
Regarding her other question about whether I think God is kind or harsh, I just decided to tell her that I didn’t think that God was the kind of God who had to be nice to me so that I would like him. I explained to her that I had wanted marriage from an early age, and had prepared very hard for it, but that it had never happened. I’m not sure that God is able to cause women to freely desire the things I did to prepare for marriage, like chastity, STEM degrees, gap-less resume and savings. I’m not the smartest person in the world, and I did not have family or friends helping me to get ahead most of the time. It was very hard to get ready for marriage. But I realized very late in life that young, unmarried women tend to be interested in a man’s appearance and in having fun – not marriage-ready preparation. They do not want a man who is serious about marriage and children until their mid-30s, which is far too old for my marriage plan to work. So, there’s no point in me marrying now. So does this lack of marriage make me think that God is unkind? Not at all.
I do think that God has been kind to me with respect to health, education, career and finances. Also, I can understand from the Bible (2 Tim 2:3-4) why God might need an unmarried soldier to work for him. And this doesn’t bother me, because I’ve read the Bible, and I didn’t get the impression from it that God was my cosmic butler. Although many Western Christians think that God’s sole purpose is to make them happy, there is no way to actually get that meaning out of the text. God’s own Son has to suffer in order to love his Father self-sacrificially. So it’s clear that God is not “kind” to those who love him in the sense that most people would like him to be. In fact, I would believe in God and serve him, even if he were “harsher” with me than he is now.
So, why would I want to be a Christian, rather than just accept the scientific arguments for theism, and then just say that the New Testament is just not good enough historical evidence to warrant moving from theism to Christianity? Well, I did explain to her the minimal facts argument, and the historical criteria used to obtain them. And I also said that we all need to have some sort of historical explanation for the early belief in Jesus being God stepping into history, and for his rising from the dead.
But I think the real reason why I am a Christian, beyond the evidence, is just this daily experience of dealing with the lack of curiosity about God and Jesus (and sometimes outright self-delusion) that I see in so many people. I see it in uneducated people, unintelligent people, educated people, intelligent people. The willful ignorance about facts that matter, like the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc. It’s not even opposition to Christian specifics, it’s opposition to plain, well-supported scientific facts. I’ve just seen this in action so much with atheists and people of other religions that I have lost all sympathy for non-Christians with respect to what God decides to do with them.
It’s not that I am concerned by their immorality, or their hedonism, primarily. It’s that I am concerned with their lack of interest in puzzling out the big questions of life in a truth-centered way. The only people I really feel comfortable with are Christians who have been serious about proportioning belief to evidence, denying themselves fun and thrills if they have to, and putting their money and time into learning how to defend God’s honor when it’s called into question. A task that simply gets you nothing good from anyone in this world. I find it amazing that there are any of us, but that’s where I want to be – in a room with people like that who put God’s goals above their own desires and needs.
All of my close male friends are either virgins or married as virgins, and they’re all into apologetics. If you understood what it means to be in a room with people who have carefully chosen to live their lives in a quiet, humble way that’s respectful to God and self-sacrificial, then you would understand why there is no substitute for Christianity. In my case, I simply do not want God to lump me in with the people I talk to who have no curiosity about truth in religion. I am not going to be like them, grabbing for happiness, while deliberately shutting their eyes to anything that might cause them to have to take God seriously in a self-sacrificial, two-way relationship. I have more sympathy for God and his reputation and honor than I do for the majority of people who I have seen deliberately keeping him at arm’s length. They want the blessings he provides, but while avoiding the demands of a relationship with him. I’m just not going to be one of them, and I don’t care what people think.