Doug Wilson on the Problem of Heaven

Doug Wilson recently published an article addressing a student’s doubts and questions about faith.

I recently received a letter from a student who was struggling in his faith, and the crux of the struggle was how the love of God, as described in the Bible, could be reconciled with some of the choices of God, as described in the Bible.

There are many examples of this problem, so let me pick just several representative ones. God is a loving God, and yet He is the one who commanded the slaughter of entire nations, and He is the one who declares the one who has done nothing but “not hear about Jesus” as reprobate and condemned.

The student’s questions center on a problem, namely the problem where entire nations are slaughtered in the Old Testaments and anyone who doens’t hear about Jesus is automatically condemned to hell.

With this question, and all others like it, everything rides on unspoken assumptions. What do we believe mankind is actually like? If we believe that God does to us what the Bible says He does to us, but we don’t believe what the Bible says we are like, then of course the result will be injustice. We will have a problem because we try to combine one part of the biblical narrative with our rosy evaluation of ourselves, and we can’t do it. But combining the entire biblical narrative with itself is easy.

I’m not sure I like where this is going…

To return to the two issues above, God tells Abraham that his descendants will not be given the land yet because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16) In other words, the judgment of God in these matter was not a blind rage, but rather exquisitely just. And the other nations that were wiped out — what were they actually like? We have a controversy with God, and so we assume that they were all peaceful little Cananites, flowers in their hair, dancing in meadows with pan flutes. But that is not what they were like at all. And as for the reprobate who does not believe in Jesus, we must remember that he is not condemned for “not knowing about Jesus.” He is condemned for violating the standards of his own conscience in fundamental ways, and for doing so every day of his life.

If a judge sentences a man to hang, this is of course unjust if we leave out of the picture the crime that the man was convicted of. But what is our basis for leaving this out? That crime is only “irrelevant” if our dedicated aim is to condemn the judge.

The Bible says that if we don’t believe in Christ, the wrath of God remains on us. But the wrath of God does not rest on us arbitarily or capriciously, as though we were a planet filled with innocent, doe-eyed smurfs. No, the Bible removes the inconsistency by reminding us that we are by nature objects of wrath.

If you start with the assumption that humans “don’t deserve it” then of course you will come to the conclusion that we don’t deserve it. And if the Bible insists we catch it anyway, then the assumption collides with our conceited faith in ourselves — and we will think that the Bible is advocating a fundamental injustice.

But what if we are flattering ourselves? What if the doctrine of a final judgment is not a doctrine of raging injustice, but rather raging justice? We may come to realize that our problem was not really with the justice/injustice part, but rather with the raging part. If everlasting Hell were unjust, then it would be possible for some to console themselves there. But the everlasting Hell is just, and that means there is no consolation.

If we were race of innocents, and some god were flipping coins to determine who would be lost and who saved, then there might be something to talk about. But we are not a race of innocents. Look around. As Chesterton says somewhere, the doctrine of original sin is the one foundational doctrine of the Christian faith which can be demonstrated and empirically shown.

In other words . . . the problem of evil isn’t a problem because people are just getting what they deserve. The slaughter of the Canaanites? They deserved what they got. People who live and die without hearing about Jesus and then go to hell without so much as a chance for repentance? They deserved what they got.

And yet somehow, Wilson also has to bring in original sin. People don’t just deserve slaughter and eternal torture because of the things they do, but also, well, because they are born guilty.

Another point I want to make. What’s that old saying about the punishment fitting the crime? Yeah. The trouble is that there is no possible way that any finite crime is deserving of eternal torture. I mean, Wilson’s suggestion is that every one of those Canaanites deserved to be slaughtered, and that every person who has no opportunity to hear about Jesus and thus no chance to attain salvation deserves eternal torture. For what?

I guess I simply don’t take the same horrifying view of humanity that Wilson does. I don’t look at Sally heading off to preschool and think “she deserves to be slaughtered.” I don’t look at Sean, trying to be a good daddy and live a good life and think “he deserves eternal torture.” And yet, that is what Wilson is suggesting: that everyone—everyone—is so horribly rotten and twisted that they deserve slaughter and/or eternal torture. I’m sorry, but I simply can’t believe that. Wilson would argue that that is why I see the slaughter of the Canaanites, or the idea that even those who never have a chance of salvation must be punished with eternal torture, as a problem.

But Wilson goes on:

If there are ten innocent citizens rounded up, and five of them are shot by a despot, there is a gross injustice. But if there are ten inmates on death row, and the governor pardons three of them, there is no injustice done at all to the remaining seven. The only question of possible injustice arises with regard to the three who were pardoned. In other words, the question of justice does not arise when we are talking about Hell. It does arise when we are talking about Heaven.

The question is not “how can a just God send people to Hell?” The question concerns how a just God can allow sinners into Heaven. A God-centered concern about justice would worry far more about Heaven than Hell. A self-flattering, man-centered approach would worry aloud, and does worry aloud, about the purported justice of Hell. But we needn’t worry. The Scriptures teach plainly that at the point of judgment,every mouth will be stopped. The Bible tells us that when it comes down to it, there will be nothing to say. The debates will be over.

First of all, Wilson contrasts being “God-centered” with being “self-centered.” I don’t think you can really hold those up as the only two options. It is completely possible to be altruistic and other-centered without belief in God. Further, I don’t think that some amount of being self-centered is necessarily a problem, especially if you posit the existence of a God who loves us. Let me give an example. I love Sally very dearly, and I want her to be happy and live a fulfilled life. Would I be pleased if she started making her every decision based on me and what I want? Do I want her to subsume her very self into pleasing me? No! If I did, then I would be being self-centered, and not displaying real love. It is Wilson’s God that is self-centered, not me. But for Wilson, it’s only right for God to be self-centered, because people don’t matter except inasmuch as they make God happy. There is something very broken about that entire theology.

Next, notice that Wilson is trying to turn the problem on its head. Wilson is dispensing with the question of how anyone could deserve eternal torture by making it his premise. In Wilson’s world, every person, man, woman, and child, is deserving of eternal torture from the outset. God has every right to smite them dead or cause any amount of harm to them. The real problem, he says, does not concern how God can send people to eternal torment but rather how he can let any of us, rotten twisted beings that we are, enter heaven. Once again, Wilson and I are starting from two very different points when it comes to viewing people. But how does Wilson resolve this problem, this problem of God’s allowing some of us, disgusting slime that we are, to enter heaven?

The real problem, the problem of justice and Heaven, is resolved in the cross. Christ died as a blood atonement so that God could be both just and the one who justifies. God could be just and send us all to Hell. He could be the one who justifies and let us all into Heaven on a boy-will-be-boys basis. But in order to be both just and the one who justifies, Christ had to bleed.

And … that didn’t actually make this make any more sense.

Let’s remind ourselves of Wilson’s scenario:

If there are ten innocent citizens rounded up, and five of them are shot by a despot, there is a gross injustice. But if there are ten inmates on death row, and the governor pardons three of them, there is no injustice done at all to the remaining seven. The only question of possible injustice arises with regard to the three who were pardoned.

Wilson is right. Simply pardoning citizens who are on death row is unjust, especially pardoning some and not others. So what is Wilson’s solution to this? Continuing his analogy, he has the governor’s son killed and then just fiat declares that that makes pardoning some of the ten death row inmates—though not all of them—just. But how? How does the death of a powerful innocent suddenly make setting guilty people free just when it wouldn’t otherwise? In fact, I would argue that it’s more unjust to require the death of an innocent in order to legitimize setting convicted criminals free than it is to just set convicted criminals free.

And beyond that, how is it just to free some convicted criminals and not others, murdered innocent person or not? I suppose it might be just if you gave everyone the option of mending their ways and then freed those who pledged to do so and not those who were not repentant for their past crimes. But, if we’re going to follow with Wilson’s analogy, some of the criminals wouldn’t even be notified of the option of being freed (just like people who never hear of Jesus’ sacrifice). Again, how in the world is that just?

I grew up thinking that Wilson was a great thinker and that the theology he crafted was deep and profound. But from the idea that we humans naturally deserve slaughter and everlasting torture to the idea that the death of an innocent man somehow makes releasing convicted criminals just, I’m really not sure how I thought that anymore. I don’t know if Wilson’s essay convinced the student who wrote to him expressing doubts, but I know it sure didn’t do me any good. Or maybe, just maybe, it did.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • AndersH

    Wow, Wilson is pretty horrible. A problem that you don’t take up in your post, though I assume he must do that somewhere, is that if we assume that God is almighty and created humanity, and also say that humanity is rotten to the core, it means He created humanity as rotten to the core. By Wilson’s reckoning, it seems, God created a humanity condemned since creation to be tortured by Him – the ways to avoid that everlasting torture is arbitrary (where and to whom you get born and thus your access to a specific religion) and goes against the very rational faculties that God would also have created in us. That is not a God we should love; perhaps we should quite rationally fear that God, but most importantly, we should oppose such a God, were He to exist.

    When I was younger, I called myself an agnostic (though technically you would say I was an agnostic atheist) but after considering the question of morality, I realised that even with a loving God, I could never tolerate a world order that says that morality is based on the preferences a supposedly morally superior being, no matter how good that being might be. Morality is something that must be open to debate, to reason, and it is by virtue of the strength of arguments that we find our way, not the might of the being the arguments come from. When I realised that, I realised that labeling myself an atheist would make more sense – I do not simply have no opinion about the existence of God (on the level of unicorns though it may be), I have an active interest in opposing religion as presenting a vision of the world that is fundamentally unjust, no matter how prettily it’s dressed up.
    As some guy once said: Here I stand, I can do no other.

    • Rosie

      A nitpick: God didn’t create humanity rotten, but it became thus when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and all of us have inherited that rottenness since. I don’t think it’s any more just to hold people guilty for the misdeeds (if indeed it was that) of their distant ancestors than to hold them guilty for how they were created, but it’s an important distinction to some.

      “I realised that even with a loving God, I could never tolerate a world order that says that morality is based on the preferences a supposedly morally superior being, no matter how good that being might be. Morality is something that must be open to debate, to reason, and it is by virtue of the strength of arguments that we find our way, not the might of the being the arguments come from.” Well-said. This is exactly why I now call myself atheist also.

      • That Other Jean

        Not really: if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent—as Christians believe He is–then God created mankind knowing that they were going to fail. If the Christian God created humans as sinful creatures and also decreed that the punishment for sin is eternal torment, then God is a sadist. Substituting the punishment of His own son for the condemnation of those lucky enough to hear of His religion and believe does not alter that. I am a theist, but not a Christian. Such a god does not deserve worship.

      • Besomyka

        I would nitpick with your nitpick. God most certainly did create humanity flawed at the outset: ignorant. God created Adam and Eve without the knowledge of good and evil. He created the serpent and allowed it into the garden. He told them not to eat of the tree, but provided no explanation nor justification. Adam and Eve had no way of knowing if obeying God was Good or Evil. God also knew the future and what would happen when he set things in motion. He could have created it another way, but didn’t.

        When Adam and Eve, ignorantly, try to fix the flaw, they are punished. Humanity is not allowed to be perfect. We must be flawed, and that flaw must be enforced through divine death and violence.

        God created mankind for torture and servitude from the outset. Our nature and ignorance forced us to rebel, to try and be better, and those actions are what the God of Genesis punishes.

        Adam and Eve’s flaws did not come about because of the fruit. They came from God from the outset.

      • Liriel

        @Besomyka – and let’s not forget that after they ate, God said “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” – he was averse to people becoming like gods if they had both knowledge and immortality, as he has. As with the Tower of Babel, he doesn’t say people will arrogantly and incorrectly think themselves god-like/capable, but that people would actually be that, and he doesn’t want that. At least, that’s what he says in plain English – I can’t say something isn’t lost/inverted in translation.

        Still, this does say people know good and evil the same as God does, so it skewers the “we can’t judge God by our standards” argument to me.

        Plus God told them they’d die the day they ate the fruit, but the serpent said they wouldn’t and would know good and evil, like God. God lied and the serpent told the truth. Although I’ve heard it argued God was just merciful and decided to spare them.

        Certainly I agree that it seems to be that God intended to create lesser beings and “keep them in their place.”

        Of course, God is not omniscient or omnipotent in all of the Old Testament, but that’s a completely different thing – though interesting when tracking the changing conception of God and reading different documentary hypothesis ideas and so on. I read about the New Testament first, when reading about authorship and order written, and so on, but really I find the OT stuff much more interesting.

      • Uly

        God created people with the capacity to disobey but not the capacity for full morality, deliberately led them into temptation, lied to them about the consequences, and then punished them for discovering the difference between right and wrong. And has continued to punish every human ever since, even – especially! – the ones who don’t even know this story.

      • Uly

        All this, btw, is why in gnostic texts the serpent is often the good guy of the story.

      • Azura

        Original sin is possibly the worst part of the entire bible, and the only reason Christianity even exists is to find a round-about way of solving that problem without admitting it’s a problem. Basically Adam and Eve were children with a pretty vase set next to them and then were faced with intense physical and emotional abuse, as well as abandonment for knocking the vase over. They had no possible way to know what death was or why it was bad or that God was good before they ate from the tree, God didn’t have to put the tree within reach, and he could have just not made the snake or tree to begin with. But no, he sets them up specifically to fail and then kicks them out of the house/garden, tortures both of them, punishes their offspring, and only offers forgiveness after thousands of years of torture and murder in only the most arbitrary of ways. I’d rather go to Hell, honestly, then face an eternity in Heaven next to that concept of god. At least Satan didn’t lie and was one of few who dared oppose such an unjust deity.

    • The_L

      This exact problem is why I credit “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a contributor to my teenage depression.

      • machintelligence

        I was fortunate enough to encounter this text after I had been an atheist for several years. I remember thinking: why would anyone worship a deity that was so vile? The only answer that I could think of was that they believed that they had no choice. I felt sorry for them.

  • BabyRaptor

    This highlights one of my biggest issues with Christianity: God created humankind, knowing humankind would sin and he would “have to” punish us for it. And yet he did it anyway.

    And somehow, despite being created to fail, *we’re* responsible for our supposed failings?

    God is held up as the epitome of goodness, mercy and justice. But he created a sadistic catch-22 where people are condemned to hell for how he created them unless they kiss his ass.

    The only response anyone has ever given me for this thus far is that “God wanted willing worshipers, so he *had* to give us free will.” I can understand that, and I could condone it…If he didn’t carry on and on about how horrible humankind is, and how he has to punish us for it. If his followers went to heaven with him and everyone else just went somewhere without him, then that excuse would be fine. But the way things stand, it’s utter tripe.

    • Rosie

      And the choice isn’t exactly free or willing if one is threatened with eternal torture as the only other option. It’s coerced.

      • John Small Berries

        Not to mention, one only has to read Exodus to see that the God of the Bible is not a respecter of free will. Over and over, Moses threatens Pharaoh with what God has in store, but then we see “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them” (9:12), “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go” (10:20), “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go” (10:27), “and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land” (11:10).

        When you have your prophet tell someone, “Let us go, or our God will slaughter all of your firstborn children”, and then you make him refuse, that’s not free will, it’s puppetry. It isn’t the act of a just God, it’s a monstrous evil.

        And since in Exodus 12, we see “And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required”, it kind of raises the question of why God didn’t just give them enough “favour in the sight of the Egyptians” to keep them from being enslaved in the first place — or at the very least, soften Pharaoh’s heart so that he would grant the first request for freedom, obviating the “need” to murder children (and rain down frogs, and so forth).

      • Anat

        Going further back, Yahweh promised to Abraham that his offspring will be enslaved, but then the enslavers will be punished and the slaves will be able to take much property when they are freed. The poor Egyptians were set up from the beginning to serve as a prop in a plot to make Abraham’s offspring rich.

      • Liriel

        @Anat – and don’t even get me started on poor Pharaoh/Abimelech and Abram/Abraham/Isaac – he has to pay after he was the one lied to. Because it was one of God’s favorites doing the lying. Doesn’t seem to matter to God who is actually in the wrong.

    • Anna

      God didn’t *have* to create humans at all. Imagine that you have two dominant genes for a disease that causes the people who get it constant pain for their entire lives. You have two copies of the gene, so you know for a fact that every kid you have will get it. Would you have kids, knowing they’d be doomed to a life of suffering? The Christian God is supposed to be omniscient. He knew that humans would “fall” and be doomed to hell (not a life of suffering, an eternity of suffering). He could have chosen to avoid creating humans at all, but he didn’t. It’s not like any other animal goes to hell- if he had just skipped humans there would be no evil in the world. There’s no objective reason why humans need to exist at all. As far as I can tell, the Christian God created humans just to watch most of them be tortured for most of eternity.

  • Gordon

    Heaven is a can of worms. My first problem with it is always: How could anyone be happy in Heaven if a single person they loved was in Hell?

    • Molly

      *One of* the most horrifying things I’ve heard while in seminary was a classmate proposing that when we get to heaven our memories of our time on earth are erased so that we won’t even be tempted to figure out who’s not there. Because, you know, suddenly forgetting about all of your atheist/Wiccan/Jewish/Hindu friends from college is a totally healthy way to launch your postmortem career in perpetual bliss in heaven (only Real True Christians end up there, obviously.) So basically that classmate was proposing a deity so jealous of the friendships we held while living that he’d simply omit all our memory of those who touched our lives simply for not measuring up to his standards. Because it would distract us from praising him.
      And if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to violently shuddering that anyone could lift up a type of soteriology that is almost literally mindrape as a happy, shiny good thing.
      (God is Friend Computer. Happiness is mandatory.)

      • Val

        That’s pretty much the common response I hear as well, and I’ve encountered two explanations for *why* our memories would fail. The first is that the people in heaven are so overfilled with the job of being with God that they will be incapable of feeling sorrow for those who were lost. The second is that, once in heaven, people gain an understanding of God’s plan and see things as he would see them; knowing that people are being sent to hell wound’t be a problem for people in heaven because they would understand it as part of God’s justice and would rejoice in it.
        The former is like saying that an appropriate way to deal with the horror you feel at the actions of a murderous sociopath is to drug yourself into a euphoric stupor such that you can no longer feel anything else. The latter is saying that it would be appropriate to take on the sociopath’s point of view. Either way, it would require destroying that person’s capacity to feel compassion, which is odd since so many see compassion as a natural “fruit” of religious belief and practice.
        “Mindrape” is a good way of putting it.

      • phantomreader42

        Sickening, but still not as bad as “god will mindrape you so you WANT to watch him burn your friends and family alive forever!” Which is kinda the only other option left unless you assume all christians are sadistic sociopaths. Which is a pretty disturbing thought in itself. Of course, if the whole hell insanity were just recognized as sick and barbaric and thrown out, then these problems would evaporate, but apparently there aren’t enough people in charge in christian churches who think their faith is capable of surviving without treating their god as a cosmic mob boss running a protection racket.

    • Steve

      Many of the so-called “church fathers” like Tertullian wrote that people in heaven would look down into hell and take great joy about everyone being tortured there. Tertullian was in orgasmic glee about it when he listed every class of people he hated being tormented.

      • Eamon Knight

        I kind of figure the doctrine of Hell arose during the early persecutions (you won’t find much of it in the OT). It’s the ultimate revenge fantasy — “You bastards will get yours! Multiplied to the Nth degree!!”

      • Rosie

        A friend of mine who has studied this in greater depth than I says that the concept of Hell turned up about the book of Daniel: the first time they experienced persecution by the neighboring tribes and could not, apparently, find any fault in themselves that they were being punished for. Revenge fantasy indeed!

  • Tere

    My understanding of the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross is so that by the resurrection Death is conquered. He defeated Death so that people don’t need to perish (die) but can be raised to Life through Him. Wilson is a nut job – a fundamentalist, Calvinistic, “elect”. He says what he says because he believes he is one of the “elect” and the rest of us are all doomed to hell. My God “wants all people to be saved and have the knowledge of truth” (1Tim2:4). Just because Wilson and those like him say God is God-centered doesn’t make it so. I honestly think that we can spend too much time listening and analyzing (I include myself here) these guys who are so very self-righteous, instead of looking at Jesus himself – his words and actions of love, peace, and compassion. If we spent more time figuring Jesus out, we just may see more of God.

    • David Hart

      It’s not entirely clear from your post: do you believe in Hell or not? If not, then congratulations, you are more compassionate than that large percentage of Christians who are unable to see that the idea of Hell is totally irreconcilable with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god. But you’d still need to explain why that god would have been constrained to set up the universe to require a human sacrifice in order to ‘defeat death’ in the first place.
      And ‘defeating death’ is also something that needs clarified. Obviously it cannot mean that nobody dies – clearly everone does. What it presumably means is that after you die, your consciousness is somehow reconstructed in some other dimension, which we might as well call Heaven if that’s what you’re on about – in which case does everyone go there? Or just the people who believed in Jesus? In which case what about those who didn’t? If there’s no Hell to send them to, do they just cease to exist? (in which case the people that do make it into Heaven are still entitled to be pissed off that they don’t get to share it with some of their loved ones) And how do you know any of this? Have you any way of demonstrating that your interpretation is correct and Wilson’s is incorrect?

    • BabyRaptor

      That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that your God created us to fail to begin with, and then decided WE should have to be punished for his torture fetish.

      How can you honestly call that good and loving?

  • Val

    I’m betting that the student who wrote the letter isn’t a Christian anymore (or won’t remain one for long) after reading Wilson’s response.

  • Steve

    Sounds like the William Lane Craig school of “morality”. It’s just divine command theory. Whatever god says is good, no matter how cruel. These people are literally insane and should be committed to an asylum.

  • Jayn

    Even assuming that we are all inherently wicked, I still have an issue with this, specifically in reference to those who are wholy ignorant of God. Maybe they are truly horrible people, but this mindset is saying that they are deserving of Hell when they have never had the option of choosing to be good. How the Hell (if you’ll pardon the pun) is that just?

    • John Small Berries

      Even worse, a murderer or child rapist who accepts Jesus and repents of his sins on his deathbed gets into Heaven scot-free, all his sins washed away – yet someone who lives a blameless life but never hears about Jesus will be tortured forever after death. That makes a perversion of the very concept of justice.

      (Of course, that brings up another question – if believing in Jesus is the only way to gain eternal life, then how can someone who didn’t believe in Jesus be tortured eternally?)

      • The_L

        This is why I despise “once saved, always saved” and always have. After all, Adolf Hitler was baptized as a Christian long before he took over Germany and oversaw all the cruelty and horror of the Third Reich. If someone like that is in Heaven, I’m not so sure I want to go there.

  • Karen

    “O Thou, Who man of baser earth did make
    And e’en with Paradise devised the snake
    For all the sin wherewith the face of man is blackened
    Man’s forgiveness give — and take!”

    – the Rubayat of Omar Khayyam

  • Maria Lima

    My main problem with this vision is that it is simply not true that the whole humanity is wicked and mean. There are plenty of good, generous and loving people on this planet. That we are all horrible is a lie that these people have to tell to accept the twisted hell story, but it doesn’t make it true.

    • Steve

      Calvinists would say that even when people do good it’s for bad, selfish reasons and not to glorify god. It’s truly the most fucked up, inhuman belief system ever invented. And yet it merely takes standard Christian theology to its “natural” extreme

      • Eamon Knight

        Almost 30 years ago, I was in Bible study and someone said pretty much your first sentence (the subject of conversation was Mohandas Gandhi). I knew right then and there that I was finished with this Evangelicalism thing. White is Black, Good is Evil, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery……

  • AztecQueen2000

    My RA in college, a pretty hardcore Christian, tried this line of reasoning on me. My response:
    “So, you could have the nicest guy in the world–gives blood, takes care of poor people, works with disabled kids, loves his/her family–but isn’t Christian, and a sadistic serial killer that Is Christian, and the serial killer goes to Heaven and the altruist goes to Hell?”
    “Well, yeah. Pretty much.”
    I lost whatever interest I had (not much to begin with) at that point.

  • Matti

    I think Wilson makes a terrific case for the Evil God Hypothesis.

  • Ken L.

    I find this interesting because I was thinking about the prosecution of Aaron Swartz the other day and how our typical definition of “justice” (punishment for crime) isn’t anything like the way the Bible usually uses the term – where it’s commonly seen as a pro-active force for good. When the Bible says there will be justice for the poor it doesn’t mean they’re going to be properly punished for their crimes! I personally filed it away for the next time someone tries to argue that we’re a Christian nation. I’d just point to the Department of “Justice” In this instance the Bible has a far loftier view of Justice than we do and I find that appealing.

    This issue is almost the reverse, where many Christians have an incredibly bizarre view of what counts as justice. The punishment doesn’t have to fit the crime and it doesn’t even matter who is punished.

    I’ve always found the insistence on “God is Just” that has become fashionable recently to be odd. It’s a strange theological construct that seems to be there mostly to support the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement.

  • Tracey

    Actually, Libby, the killing of Jesus for us to not go to hell is farther off than you think from the governor’s son analogy. In Wilson’s lesson, Jesus dying and suffering for part of a day makes up for millions being tortured eternally. That would seem to me more like the governor’s son being given ten lashes and released, making up for the prisoners deserving death, (which would have been a harsher punishment).

    A while ago I retread the part where Jesus alludes to his sacrifice in the gospels, trying to imagine it without the context of Paul’s interpretation. It really sounds to me like Jesus was saying, “They’re coming for me, but I’m taking the fall so none if you need to die.” Even if Jesus really did sacrifice himself for just twelve people I still find that incredibly powerful.

    • Anat

      Jesus’ ‘sacrifice’ completely falls apart when one accepts that Jesus is Yahweh. How can an eternal being sacrifice their life? Compare to Prometheus who gets tortured for eternity so that humanity can have civilization. Now, that’s admirable (though Zeus is not)!

      • Steve

        Christianity in a nutshell:
        God sacrifices himself to himself in order to appease himself for something that he is responsible for in the first place.

    • M

      But Jesus didn’t sacrifice himself. He got arrested and killed by Romans for sedition and/or treason. It’s pretty clear he didn’t go hang himself or have one of his disciples sacrifice him, which would be actual self-sacrifice. Instead he, uh, did what pretty much every Roman citizen did when arrested by large numbers of soldiers: go mostly unresisting to his death. That doesn’t make him special …

      • Steve

        Well, as the story is told he knew he would be arrested hours before and didn’t flee.

        But where the sacrifice bit fails is that he was resurrected three days later. Ok, he was tortured and executed. That’s not fun, but it’s like he had a really, really bad weekend. And then he went to heaven.

  • dj pomegranate

    Oof. Libby Anne, it is like you are reading my mind with your posts lately!

    When I was in college I was pretty darn evangelical and part of a Reformed/Calvinist bible study group. I remember one phrase from a study on Heaven/Hell: “God is not obligated to give freely that which he is not obligated to give at all.” (Pretty sure Piper said it but I could be wrong. Either way, it’s totally in keeping with his theology.) So basically: God can do what he wants because he’s God. At the time I thought this was soooo deep! I hadn’t thought about this in a while, and the other day I saw a tweet from a pastor that triggered my memory of my Calvinist phase, something like, “The question isn’t “Why is there only one way to heaven” but “Why is there ANY way to heaven?”” Same idea: God can do what he wants! Stop whining!

    In my Calvinist days, those answers seemed fine because I’d honestly never thought about other explanations or interpretations. But then I started asking new questions: If God can do what he wants, why doesn’t he *want* to save everyone? What’s even the point of creating humanity if you are going to just send most of them to hell? What about all those verses that say, things like “Jesus came to save THE WORLD”? It’s far too simplistic and, what’s more, far too cruel for a God who’s supposed to BE love.

    And how convenient that all the pastors who espouse Calvinism also believe that *they* are the elect–they are the ones going to heaven, and don’t need to worry their pretty little heads about all their hell-bound neighbors because God does what he wants!

  • Holly

    I am a reprobate. Yay!

  • Lana

    Exactly. Calvinism teaches that God is selfish, but that selfishness is justified because he should be centered on himself. As Piper says, God is most glorified in us when we are most glorified in him. Even the glory of God is more important than even human suffering. People are damned in hell for his glory too.

    I disagree with the whole basis because of 1) eternal punishment is over the top. Even if hell existed, eternally? really? would you lock your kid up in a closet for ten years if she stole a cookie? All our sins are but a moment and eternal is over the top. 2) Even if we were born with a sinful nature, being born a sinner isn’t something we did or asked for. In fact, we are innocent in receiving that sinful nature.

  • Ashton

    Are smurfs doe-eyed?

    • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

      I don’t know, but Doug Wilson is really good at coming up with band names. I was liking Bitch Goddess of Pragmatism, but now I’m leaning toward The Doe-Eyed Smurfs.

  • Rae

    One thing that Wilson doesn’t address is his concept of “innocents”, because almost every denomination I know of puts infants and at least very small children in this group.

    So, despite all of this really squicky line of reasoning (does the “you’re inherently deserving of wrath” thing sound like the reasoning of an abuser to anyone else?), he still doesn’t address why it’s OK for God to advocate the murder of those who are totally incapable of following him. In his analogy about death row, what happens to the people who maybe accidentally caused someone’s death but doesn’t even have the mental capacity for language? Or is he trying to argue that everyone starts on death row?

    And even more complicated, I know that Doug Wilson is the kind of pro-life that believes that fetuses have souls from the moment of conception, and should be equally protected regardless of how they were conceived. So where does that leave a God who orders the murder of every living being in a city, including pregnant women, and therefore their unborn children? Where does that leave the God who causes all women who were pregnant with illegitimate children to miscarry? Because I’m 99.9% sure that if you go back through Wilson’s teachings, somewhere, he will refer to fetuses with the word “innocent” and probably will multiple times. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that he even referred to the 6-year-old children at Sandy Hook as “innocent”, but I’m not in the frame of mind to go back and re-read THAT abomination :-(