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How is an eternal hell an example of a loving God?

Last week I wrote Vengeance: A Lesson From Captain America Civil War. In this post, I talked about how we should stop letting vengeance consume us and instead trust that justice will come. That justice is promised to us by God. We see this in Romans 12:19 which says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Vengeance is the Lords and we need to trust in him and his perfect justice.

However, this may cause problems for some people. The problem for some is that God’s justice means that many people will go to hell. This seems to make God’s love and God’s justice be in conflict. “If God is love,” they might say, “then hell wouldn’t exist.” How is an eternal hell an example of a loving God?

Well as Greg Koukl states in his new book, The Story of Reality, people who ask this question are on to something. “Hell is not an example of God’s love. It is an example of his justice. His love is demonstrated by his free offer of pardon from hell, which many decline. But they will not be able to decline his justice.”[1] It is important to be able to separate these two characteristics of God. God is completely loving and completely just. His love is made perfect through the death of Jesus on the cross by which all are offered a free pardon from hell. If we refuse the free offer of God, then we will face his justice. And as Greg says, “They will not be able to decline his justice.”

Finally, it is important to point out that God is not sending people to hell. Instead, people go to hell as a result of their sin. Without Christ’s forgiveness, we are guilty. It’s like being sick with a curable disease and refusing to see a doctor. When we die, we cannot blame the doctor for our death. We also don’t say that the doctor killed us. It was instead the disease that killed us, and it is our own fault for not accepting the doctors help and curing us. In the same way, we are guilty and have to go to God to be forgiven. Those that reject God’s help cannot blame him. It is a free gift that is offered to every person, yet many reject it. When we reject God’s love, then we will face his justice.

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Discussing The Story of Reality with Greg Koukl

[1] Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality, 162.

 

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Are evil and God incompatible?

Evil exists inside of our universe and appears to be incompatible with an all-loving God. However, the existence of evil is evidence for the existence of God.

The biggest argument against the existence of God is the fact that evil exists in our universe. Many believe that if God is all-loving and all-powerful, evil would not exist. Since evil does exist, God cannot exist. What this fails to recognize is that there may be good reasons for God to allow evil to exist in this world.

First, we are able to have a better understanding of evil when we have an accurate view of eternity. This life is not all that there is. If God exists, we will live for an eternity and the evil of this world will shrink down to non-existence.

Second, we can also understand the existence of evil when we understand free agency. God created each person with the ability to freely choose love. In order for love to be a free choice, one also has the ability to hate. This is the cause of much evil.

Third, we have the problem of limited knowledge. There is no way to understand the purpose God has for allowing every evil act. Now I’m not using this as a cop-out. I’m not saying “we just can’t understand” every time God does something we don’t like. There are many responses to difficult questions that I have dealt with here. What I am saying is that in order to understand everything we would have to have knowledge of everything, and since we are limited beings we simply don’t. When we recognize this, then we can know that even though we don’t understand it, God may have a good reason for allowing the evil in our lives.

Naturalists will use this argument against Christians to show that God does not exist. What they fail to understand is that without a mind, free will, or an objective moral standard, there is no evil. Evil cannot exist if we are only physical beings. We would only be reacting to our chemicals and one would be unable to judge another for actions committed. So, rather than evil being used as an argument against the existence of God, we see that evil only exists because God exists.

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The following blog series comes from a paper I wrote for J. Warner Wallace on his book, God’s Crime Scene. He has given me permission to post my summary of each chapter for this series. This is a short summary of the eighth chapter, not an exhaustive look at all of the possibilities. If you would like more information, you can purchase God’s Crime Scene here, visit his website, or email me and I will provide further resources.

Apologetics Resource: Responding to the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is one of the most difficult objections a Christian can receive. It is easy for a skeptic throw out challenges as to why God would allow pain and suffering if He is all-powerful and all-loving. The hard part is for the Christian to be prepared to respond correctly and convincingly to these challenges when put on the spot. For this reason I have compiled the last ten post on responding to the problem of evil in one location. I hope these posts prepare you so you are ready to defend your Christian convictions the next time you are put on the spot. Enjoy!

1. Answer the Christian: Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?

Short answer: We suffer from Adam’s sin because we were intimately connected with Adam in the beginning.

2. Answer the skeptic: Why does God let a child die?

Short answer: Children die because they are born into a fallen world where there is disease and where people sin and make mistakes.

3. Answer the skeptic: How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?

Short answer: It is fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children because it kept them from further harm.

4. Answer the skeptic: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Short answer: There are no good people.

5. Answer the skeptic: Why is eternal punishment fair?

Short Answer: Eternal punishment is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.

6. Answer the skeptic: If conscious belief is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?

Short answer: God will make sure that those who would repent will have the opportunity.

7. Answer the skeptic: Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.

Short answer: Life as we know it is all about free will and good is only possible if evil is possible as well.

8. Answer the Christian: What good is the suffering I endure?

Short Answer: God uses suffering to teach us, refine us, and help us be more like Jesus.

9. Answer the Christian: How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?

Short Answer: Heaven will dwarf our suffering into insignificance.

10. Answer the Christian: Why does God allow evil?

Short answer: God allows evil in order to keep our free will intact.

You may also find “10 Reasons Why God May Allow Suffering” useful as well.

I hope you enjoy this resource and find that it helps you as you defend your faith. Don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter (@ryanpauly3) for daily articles from many different blogs, subscribe to the new Coffeehouse Question podcast that will be posted every Saturday on iTunes, and send in your questions to questions@coffeehousequestions.com. Thank you for your support and God bless!

Why does God allow evil?

Answer the Christian: Why does God allow evil?

Short Answer: God allows evil in order to keep our free will intact.

In order to stop evil on this earth God would have to destroy our free will. Without free will, we would become robots and be unable to freely love God.  Even though God made evil possible by giving us free will, it is humans that made evil actual by choosing to rebel against God. It is because of evil that humans learn the horror of rebellion. Dr. Jones says, “They also learn to overcome evil with good. This knowledge prepares them to be fit inheritors of God’s kingdom where they will use their free will rightly in their reigning with Jesus forever and ever.” Since we have seen the effect of using free will poorly, we will be able to use our free will rightly in Heaven. We will not want to sin because we have seen the devastating effects of it.

Now one may wonder, couldn’t God give us free will yet not allow evil? Well, in order to not allow evil, God would have to intervene and stop those who use their free will poorly. “And, it seems rather odd for God to bother to give us free will only to have to spend so much time counteracting it.”[1] I used an analogy in my classroom that helped my students understand this concept. Imagine if I told my students that they could sit wherever they liked as they entered my classroom. Then, when they began to choose seats I said, “No, not that one. Not that one. Nope. Next. Next. Okay you can sit there.” And then I did that with every student. Did my students really have the freedom to choose their own seats? No. I told them they had freedom then stopped them from doing something until they did the exact thing I wanted them to do. That is not true freedom.

Instead of limiting our freedom, God has decided to keep our free will intact even though He knows people will misuse it. There will always be people that reject God and use their free will in negative ways. These people will be judged one day, but God has not stopped evil because He desires more people to come to a saving knowledge of Him. Our hope can rest in the knowledge that there will be a day when God steps in and puts an end to all pain and suffering. We don’t have to live with this forever.

Along with this keeping our free will intact, I have written 10 reasons why God allows suffering.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, 98.

How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?

Answer the Christian: How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?

Short Answer: Heaven will dwarf our suffering into insignificance.

It is useless to respond to the suffering in this world without looking at Heaven. If this earth is all that we have, and there is nothing to look forward to, then this suffering is all there is. Without Heaven, we are born into suffering, will suffer most of our lives in different ways, and then we will perish; never knowing a world without suffering. However, a view of Heaven mitigates our suffering on earth and puts things into perspective. For example, if we say the average person suffers for twenty years out of their eighty year long life, they suffered for about twenty five percent of their life. However, if that same person suffers for twenty years and then spends an eternity in Heaven, they have suffered zero percent of their life in comparison. Even a billion years of suffering out of an eternity is zero percent effectively.

Many people do not spend time thinking about Heaven because they do not understand how great it will be. “Some of the devil’s dirtiest deeds regard his doctrinal distortion of Heaven. He’s made it sound like a place no one would want to go. After all, who wants to sport flightless wings, sit on a cloud, strum a harp, suffer amnesia (one devilish distortion is we won’t remember anyone), and sing endless choruses?”[1] If you come to the place where you are not looking forward to spending an eternity in Heaven with God, then the devil has succeeded.

It may also be hard to have a heavenly perspective because heaven is so far beyond our comprehension. It is hard to imagine what we will do for all of eternity. Even though we are not able to comprehend everything about Heaven, there are many things that we can know. We will be living with the all-loving, all-compassionate, all-forgiving, all-powerful, peaceful, good God. There will be no pain or suffering. That is absolutely incredible to think about after living in this broken world. “The Creator of stars and moons and planets and the Milky Way Galaxy and of yellow, orange, pink, and purple sunsets will be there.”[2] We can only imagine that Heaven will have many things from this world as well as things that are far greater. This understanding should help us put our life here on this world into perspective and know that the suffering we endure is only temporary, but life with God is eternal.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] Clay Jones, “Why I Look Forward to Eternity,” Clay Jones, January 30, 2012, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.clayjones.net/2012/01/why-i-look-forward-to-eternity/.

[2] Ibid.

What good is the suffering I endure?

Answer the Christian: What good is the suffering I endure?

I want to begin by saying that we need to be very careful when responding to a brother or sister in Christ that is suffering. We need to be aware of what they need. Are they looking for an answer or do they need a shoulder to cry on? These responses are for a time when they come to a place where they are ready for answers.

Short Answer: God uses suffering to teach us, refine us, and help us be more like Jesus.

1. Sin is stupid.

The first thing we learn from suffering is that sin is stupid. The angels that followed Satan and rebelled against God most likely did not know all of the consequences of sin. There was no example before them that they could learn from. One thing the suffering in this world does is to teach us that sin is stupid. All we have to do is open our eyes and look around to see the effects of our rebellion against God. When we see the pain and evil that occurs in our world as the result of our rebellion against God, we learn how good it will be to be with Him. This prepares us to spend an eternity with God. The glory and peace that awaits us in heaven will be so much better after first experiencing the brokenness of this world.

2. Pain is a great teacher.

Suffering in our life also comes in the form of physical pain. When we experience pain, we are learning about the things that are harmful to us. At a young age, a child may be intrigued by a fire and get too close. However, after being burned and experiencing pain, that child will most likely not get too close again. Pain, even though it hurts, is a great teacher. We also see the pain that certain events or decisions cause in the lives of other people. When we see someone who has been hurt by an action, we will think twice before doing that same action ourselves.

3. Suffering helps believers become more like Christ.

God may also use suffering in order to sanctify us as believers. It is easy to continue sinning if there are no consequences. When a person suffers because of a sinful act, he/she is more likely to resist that sin in the future. Suffering may also be used to refine one’s faith as stated in 1 Peter 1:6-7. Feinberg states that, “James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-4, and 1 Peter 5:10 say that God teaches perseverance or endurance through afflictions. Likewise, Hebrews 5:8 indicates that even Christ in his humanity learned obedience through suffering.”[1] Just as Jesus learned through suffering, so we should also. 1 Peter 1:21 says that we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and Jesus suffered. When we suffer, we are actually becoming more like Jesus and that is the purpose of the Christian life.

4. Suffering leads to eternal life.

A final good that comes from suffering is that, by suffering, we enter the kingdom of God. We suffer because we actively deny ourselves sinful pleasures in recognition of the glory that awaits us in Heaven. Romans 2:7 says, “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” We have to persevere through many trials, and in the end we will receive eternal life with Christ.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, 482.

What is the value of free will?

Answer the skeptic: Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.

Short Answer: Life as we know it is all about free will and good is only possible if evil is possible as well.

It is impossible to even conceive of a world where free will doesn’t exist. The objection is often made that suffering outweighs free will because we have failed to understand the value of free will. We may not see the consequence of destroying free will in order to do away with suffering because all we know is a world in which free will exits. Doing away with hate would also do away with love. Love would not be true love if there was no other option but to love. It would be impossible to learn forgiveness if no one ever did anything wrong against you. What would you need to forgive? It is because of free will that we learn selflessness and choose to help others. All of this good, and more, would be gone if there was no free will.

The question that you need to think long and hard about is this, is it better to live in a world where there is no suffering and no good, or one where there is suffering but also much good? “If we abuse our free will, that isn’t God’s fault, and the possibility of abusing free will is worth it in view of the possibility of using free will for good.”[1] Even without suffering, the world would be worse off if there wasn’t the possibility of anyone using free will for good. Rather than weighing out free will and suffering, we need to ask, is free will really valuable? “If the choice is between being a robot and being free (in the libertarian sense), most, if not all, of us would opt for freedom.”[2] No one wants their every action, thought, and word to be controlled. A robot world without suffering is far worse that a world where suffering exist yet there is the possibility of much good.

It is also fascinating to think that in order to make this objection you need to have free will. Without free will, you cannot make the choice to object. Your objection, rather than being based in reason and logic, would only be a result of previous events affecting your brain. Atheist Richard Dawkins claims that every action has been “determined by antecedent events” and that “When I think I have free will I’m deluding myself” (See the video here). Therefore, it is only because of free will that the skeptic is able to object to the fact that free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, 70.

[2] Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, 121.

What happens to those who have never heard the gospel?

If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?

Short Answer: God will make sure that those who would repent will have the opportunity.

There is not a single person who has lived on this planet that did not have an opportunity to see God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Then in Romans 1:18-20 we see “men that suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and that, “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” We learn from scripture that God reveals himself to all people through his creation and this leaves all people without an excuse. We are all responsible to God because He has shown himself to us.

Now, it is true that conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation. This is taught in John 14:6 and Romans 10:9-10. What we learn about God through creation is not enough to give us salvation since we are only saved through Jesus, yet it is enough to convict us because we should desire to know more about God from what we see in creation. Dr. Clay Jones says, “God gives enough evidence so those that want to believe will have their beliefs justified, but not enough so those that don’t want to believe will have to give loyalty.” John Feinberg says it this way, “Those who don’t get that information don’t fail to get it because it was impossible to attain it; rather, they fail to get it because they reject even the truth they have and don’t seek further truth about God.”[1] God will give further revelation to those that see Him from what they see in creation and seek further truth.

When you realize that depth of human depravity, it is clear that none of us deserve to be saved.  “God’s Word clearly says that all have sinned and so deserve punishment. So, what is fair, just, deserved is condemnation and punishment for all of us.”[2] What we see is that it is only because God is forgiving and gracious that anyone is able to enter into Heaven. God is not under any obligation to save us from our sin. So is it fair to allow those who never hear the gospel to go to hell? “Actually, it isn’t fair, and it isn’t unfair either; it’s gracious that God saves any of us.”[3] Instead of asking if it is fair, we should be thankful that any of us have the opportunity to spend an eternity with God and rest assured that God will make sure that those who would repent will have the opportunity.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2004), 437.

[2] Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, 439.

[3] Ibid.

Why is eternal punishment fair?

Answer the skeptic: Why is eternal punishment fair?

A common objection from skeptics to the Christian view of hell deals with the length of the punishment for a finite sin. If our sin is committed in a finite span of time, how could eternal punishment be fair? One thing this fails to recognize is that the punishment for a crime doesn’t depend on how long the crime took to commit. J. Warner Wallace describes this by explaining that a murder may only take 1 second to commit, but the jail sentence could be a lifetime. So, is there an easy answer to the objection “Why is eternal punishment fair?”

Short Answer: Eternal punishment is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.

God does not send good people to heaven, but instead, sinful people chose to reject God. It is our sin, if left unforgiven, that separates us from God. It is important to realize how much God hates sin. “God hates sin because sin leads to rebellion and the worst kinds of evil.”[1] We have chosen to rebel against God and commit evil acts. It is only through the forgiveness of this sin that we are able to enter into Heaven.

When it comes to eternal punishment for that sin, the problem is that there will be many people that will be eternally unrepentant. We see examples of this in Revelation 9:20-21 as well as Revelation 16:9. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues,” according to Revelation 9:20-21, “did not repent of the works of their hands… and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.” These people were unwilling to repent of their sin even after much of humanity was killed by plagues. Revelation 16:9 says, “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.” These people were being punished for evil and yet chose to remain in their sin. Eternal punishment is fair for these people because God cannot allow unrepentant sin into his presence.

We have to realize, as Dr. Clay Jones says, that “God cannot actualize a good and just world where all people will freely choose to follow him.” There will always be people, who for whatever reason, freely choose to reject God. It’s logically impossible for God to make someone freely choose him. If God forced these people to follow him against their will, then he would be more like a slave master than a good God. If God allowed these unrepentant people into heaven then he would not be just. We all realize that evil needs to be punished. We would not consider a judge to be a good judge if he let murderers go free. In order for God to be both good and just, eternally unrepentant sinners need to be sent to eternal punishment.

Dr. Frank Turek does a great job describing this concept on college campuses. He asks the women in the crowd if they have ever had a guy that like them and that they didn’t like back. They usually respond with laughter because it has happened to all of them. The girl likes the guy but only as a friend. Now what if the guy responded by saying that he loves the girl so much that he is going to force her to love him? How would she respond? Probably something like, “If you really love me, then you would leave me alone!” That is what God does. He loves us so much that He won’t force people into his presence (Heaven) against their will. That is why eternal punishment (separation) is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] Clay Jones, “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites,” Philosophia Christi, 2009, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.clayjones.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/We-Dont-Hate-Sin-PC-article.pdf.

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