“Average Atheist” Trivializes Sin and Hell

Hello Average Atheist, I read your post My Problem with Hell, and decided to respond. You start out with everyone at a party enjoying themselves. Then you shift to someone at the party watching their “daughter in a dark prison cell being bound and strapped to a table. The scene you are witnessing is gruesome and horrible in every way.” Next you ask, “Is it still the best party you’ve ever been to? Do you want to stay there or try to run and help your daughter?” And then state, “My problem with hell is that it is so frequently described as a place where “those in heaven can look down on all the torments of the damned” as if this was an enjoyable practice.” You go on to say, “Hell is a childish place dreamt up by people who simply do not understand what morality, sympathy, tolerance, love, and ethics are. It is a place invented by those who seek revenge. Any time a person tells you, “that belief of yours is stupid, grow up!” the urge you feel to punch them in the face is the same urge that invented hell. It’s playground vindication.” You have misunderstood what Hell is, I’ll try to help you understand.

Heaven probably is a lot like a party where everyone is enjoying themselves, right so far. But then you start to picture Hell, and right away the picture is a distorted one. You picture a little girl. I don’t believe souls exist in Hell as children, any soul in Hell probably has an adult consciousness, and many believe there is an age of accountability around 13 years of age, before which, people who die go to heaven. So I believe your depiction of a poor defenseless little girl is bubbly emotional froth that does not correspond to reality.

Is it still the best party I’ve ever been to, Heaven? Yes. Because everyone in Hell deserves to be there, there are no innocent people in Hell. So we are not in heaven watching what you said we would be watching. You’re whole picture of Hell is an emotion driven fiction.

You asked, “Do you want to stay there or try to run and help your daughter?” It is amazing that you can ask this question at all, considering Christianity teaches that Jesus came to “help” all our sons and daughters, all humanity, but dying in our place for our sins. As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:20,21;61,2:

20  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

21  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

1 ¶  We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

2  For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Today God is here to help, He’s not waiting until we get to Hell, God wants to help us so that we never go there.

You went on to say, ““My problem with hell is that it is so frequently described as a place where “those in heaven can look down on all the torments of the damned” as if this was an enjoyable practice.” Nowhere in the Bible is Hell described as a place where it is enjoyable for the saved to look down on the torments of the damned. There is an aspect of justice in it however, as Christ said in Luke 19:27, ‘But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’” This is not looked on as a joyful part of the party, but rather a sober execution of justice.

You also said, “Hell is a childish place dreamt up by people who simply do not understand what morality, sympathy, tolerance, love, and ethics are. It is a place invented by those who seek revenge. Any time a person tells you, “that belief of yours is stupid, grow up!” the urge you feel to punch them in the face is the same urge that invented hell. It’s playground vindication.” This claim is more than a little audacious and vastly incorrect. Christ said in John 5:28-30

28  “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice

29  “and come forth––those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

30  “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

Hell is God’s justice for a life lived rightly or wrongly. We have courts of law, our society cannot do without them, your suggestion that the God of all the earth would not also have His own court is playground childishness. Indeed, you even set up your own court, and dare to bring God into judgment, as C. S. Lewis observed:

The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin… The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes, or Pagans, a sense of guilt. (That this was common among Pagans is shown by the fact that both Epicureanism and the mystery religions both claimed, though in different ways, to assuage it.) Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.
― C.S. LewisGod in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

So long as you deny humanity’s sinfulness, or trivialize it, you will persist in not seeing things God’s way. Jesus said in John 3:14-21:

14  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

15  “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

16  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

17  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18  “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

19  “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20  “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

21  “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Thomas Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible gives this note on 3:20, “People offer many excuses for not accepting Christ. Some cite the presence of hypocrites in the church. Others claim inability to believe some of the truths about Christ or the gospel. These are merely attempts to conceal a heart in rebellion against God. The ultimate reason people do not come to Christ is that they do not want to.”

And I suppose a natural extension of the conversation is the question, “What about those who don’t hear about Jesus before they die?”

In Romans 9:15 we read:

15  For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”

And Acts 17:26,27 says:

26  “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

27  “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

Therefore, all whom the Lord chooses to have mercy on for His reasons, God causes to be born at a time and place where they will hear the gospel.

Here is an article by Answers in Genesis on the justice of Hell.

Here is an article by CARM on the eternality of Hell.

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8 responses to ““Average Atheist” Trivializes Sin and Hell

  1. “many believe there is an age of accountability around 13 years of age, before which, people who die go to heaven”

    Where is this in the Bible?

    “Because everyone in Hell deserves to be there, there are no innocent people in Hell…You’re [sic] whole picture of Hell is an emotion driven fiction.”

    Consider a person who was never exposed to Christianity in his lifetime. He lives a moral life, according to whatever morality he is familiar with, but dies an unbaptised nonbeliever. That is the criteria for salvation according to Mark 16, is it not? How is he deserving of hell? It is questions like these that make me think that ANY depiction of hell is an emotion driven fiction.

    • Of course it is. It mirrors prison. Lock them up and don’t teach them anything. Burning them in fire forever fixes the problem and keeps people in line. It’s wholly ridiculous.

    • Mark 16 is describing how people respond to the preaching of the disciples. They believe the teaching and are saved or do not believe the teaching and sit condemned. The assumption there too is that truth (Jesus’ version of it) is taught accurately such that the hearer makes an informed choice.

      Romans 1 describes the situation of people outside of the hearing of Jesus’ teaching. The Christian claim there is that the condition: “he lives a moral life according to whatever morality he is familiar with” is an impossibility and that all men, whether born in a Christian or ‘pagan’ context, are prone to immorality.

      Talking with my own friends who don’t subscribe to Christ’s teaching, they have admitted (as I do) that they’ve done things or thought things that they shouldn’t have. If by “moral life” you mean “above average” or “mostly moral” then you are creating an arbitrary cutoff line. Who has lived a moral life? 50% of the populace? 90%, 30%? If this is heaven, the place where a supposedly all-just and perfect God lives, wouldn’t the standard be 100%?

      • So God creates imperfect beings and then sets the standard for admission to heaven as perfection? God must be a very lonely fellow. So he sends his son as a “get out of jail free” card and now heaven is open to rapists and murderers so long as they believe. They’re expected to repent as well, but what good is a deathbed repentence for a man who lived an evil life?

        There are many who say that free will is the greatest gift to man. This means simply that he has both the capacity to make choices, but also to be wrong about his choices. By that logic, no person could ever be 100% correct about anything. If God expects 100% from a person who was made to make mistakes, then it must be God who is in error. I don’t see why man should pay for God’s mistakes.

        Since I am not God, I can’t judge a person for how he thinks. I can only make a determination based on what he says and does. By that standard, if a person on average makes the world a better place for those around him, I would call him moral. If he does so without any thought of personal gain, I would call him highly moral. And to judge this person by an arbitrary standard such as “does he believe that Jesus came back from the dead and is the Son of God” while ignoring what type of man he is I would consider immoral, or at least a mistake.

      • If the standard is 100%, that does not mean that God expects 100% from us. You are right, God would be a lonely fellow and perhaps a little sadistic, depending on your view of Hell.

        The 100% standard is there to humble us. We can not be wholly righteous apart from God. And we also need to reject unrighteous things as we come to knowledge of them.

        There are those who will try and earn their way to God (perhaps believing the standard is an “attainable” 95%) and there are those who think they are “net-positive” or “good enough” (a standard of personal approval); neither addresses God appropriately.

        And that last point may be the crux of some differences in opinion. Belief in a God who is holy colors belief in what is appropriate for communing with him.

        Judging by an arbitrary standard of “Does he believe that Jesus…”

        You know, I agree there is some arbitrariness in the formulation of the Christian Creed. But even Christians will agree that Abraham was declared righteous by his faith without the available knowledge to affirm the Christian Creed. In my post here the only hallmarks of a salvific (word?) faith mentioned are: 1. Belief in a Holy God 2. Recognition of our own un-holiness 3. Repentance from unrighteous things

        And then I suppose I’d add a #4: Petition for Grace from God

        No mention of Jesus or Resurrection in those 4 (though #4 almost assumes a belief in a bifurcated afterlife). A Christian will add a 5th: Recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and therefore the means of grace and salvation. I’d argue that identifying the means, while helpful, may not be necessary.

  2. Dear Phil11,

    I’m glad to see you taking my letter seriously enough to warrant such a thorough breakdown. I am a bit concerned about the first third of this article, however. Nowhere did I say the person in hell was a little girl. The word I used was “daughter.” My father has a daughter, for instance; she’s 35. I don’t mind such interpretations; obviously each person reads what they want to read, but therein lies most of the problems you have with my letter, it seems.

    Nowhere did you address the serious questions I raised on the morality of hell being added in Christianity (which my first letter on hell addressed), and most of your contentions lie with your own version of hell as you’ve interpreted it not lining up with the one I’ve presented. As another Christian commenter noted, there are many versions of hell. You’re simply sticking to one and arguing for that line of thought, dismissing the rest.

    I suggest you read the next letter in the series published Sept 26 titled “Resisting Change.” It somewhat addresses this issue by discussing the tendencies of people to read what they want out of something by comparing it to what they already think they know. I’m glad to have you following along and taking part in the discussion. It’s important to have thinking people join the debate. Welcome!

    Sincerely,
    G