Sitting at Starbucks yesterday I overheard the following exchange between two men I’ll call Bob and Dan. I recount it here not to make any point of my own, but because it perfectly captures the kind of logjam we Christians so often reach when trying to explain our beliefs to non-Christians.
Dan: But that just doesn’t make any sense.
Bob: What doesn’t?
Dan: That the same God who loves me might very well condemn me to hell for all eternity. If he would do that to me, then what God feels for me cannot be love.
Bob: But it is. God loves you enough to let you determine your own fate.
Dan: But at the last minute God could change the fate I’ve chosen for myself if he wanted to. If God really wanted me to be okay after I die, he could choose to send me to heaven instead of hell. Right? He has that power, right?
Bob: Yes. God can do anything.
Dan: Which can only mean that if I end up in hell, that was God’s will. God actively chose that for me. He could have changed it, but he didn’t.
Bob: You chose that fate for yourself by refusing to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.
Dan: That I made that mistake doesn’t alter the fact that God has chosen to punish me for that mistake by forcing me to spend eternity being physically tortured. And anyone who would choose that for me—who would choose to punish me eternally just for having used the mind and soul he gave me to arrive at a conclusion that displeases him—cannot possible love me. That’s not love. It’s something. It sounds to me like the worst kind of shallow vindictiveness. But it’s certainly not love.
Bob: It’s divine justice.
Dan: Whatever. It’s not love. Look: After I’m dead, God either has the power to send me to heaven instead of hell, or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t have that power, then he’s too weak to matter. If he does have the power to send me to heaven instead of hell, and he wills me to go to hell, then he’s without compassion—or at the very least he certainly doesn’t love me. That’s your choice. By your own definition your god is either not all-powerful, or not all-loving. But he can’t be both.
Bob: You’re looking for rational explanations for mysteries that only God comprehends.
Dan: That’s so typical. Whenever Christians run into a simple logical inconsistency that cuts directly to the viability of their entire belief system, they resort to the only “argument” usually left them, which is that we mere mortals can’t possibly understand how and why God works the way he does. At the slightest challenge you absolutely abandon logic. It’s ridiculous—and should be embarrassing to you. If you can’t explain the simplest, most obvious, most terrible contradiction in the qualities you say your God possesses, how in the world to you expect anyone but an idiot to take you or your religion seriously?
Bob: God bless you, man. I fear for your soul.