Are Christians okay with a god who could send their children to hell? Let’s continue our critique of an article by William Lane Craig (WLC) in which he defends the Christian position (part 1).
The doctrine of hell
WLC had divided the question into a psychological question (“How can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children?”) and a philosophical question (“How can you think that is a fair and reasonable thing for anyone or anything to do?”).
His point about the psychological question is that if this is just someone’s personal opinion, “it would have no implications at all for the truth of the doctrine of hell.”
Hell? So much for Good News. But what is the doctrine of hell? Is it C.S. Lewis’s “gates barred from the inside” or fire ’n brimstone® or something else? He must make sure his answer is in harmony both with every afterlife passage in the Bible and with the doctrine of hell in every other Christian denomination. Don’t give us your interpretation; rather, show that the Bible defines a single unambiguous doctrine about hell.
Objective vs. subjective morality
WLC moves on to emphasize the critic’s relative (rather than objective) position on moral issues.
Suppose I were one of those persons who would not or could not bring himself to do X. That implies nothing about the rightness/wrongness of doing X or the truth/falsity that someone does X. It’s just about me and my personal psychology.
Uh . . . did you just deny the existence of reliably accessible objective morality? Well done, Dr. Craig. You’ve convinced me. I guess even if objective morality exists, that doesn’t matter because we humans can’t reliably access it. One wonders, though, why you keep pretending like such a thing does exist.
Children and the age of accountability
WLC next wants to make a special case for young children.
Neither God nor I would send small children to hell, for they are not morally accountable.
Show me, and again don’t just cherry pick verses to support your position. Make sure that no Bible verse contradicts your claim.
The age of accountability (the idea that children below a certain age are too young to be held accountable for their sin) comes from tradition, not the Bible. But the Bible makes clear that everyone has a sin nature and falls short.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies (Ps. 58:3).
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:12).
There is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10).
These verses argue that children don’t deserve an exemption.
(An insightful video by Underlings argues that God’s plan is either that (1) dead babies go to hell or (2) they don’t. But knowing that most adults do go to hell, option (2) means that murdering babies is morally proper because it saves them from hell. With either option, God loses.)
The Bible and thoughtcrime
Back to WLC:
Neither God nor I would send anyone to hell “simply because of thoughts in their heads.” Where in the world did you get that idea?
Uh, from the Bible? The tenth Commandment demands “no coveting.” Jesus added a few of his own thoughtcrimes in the Sermon on the Mount: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” And, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Coveting, anger, and lust are thoughts in your head, they’re evidently all sins, and you know the penalty for sin.
God’s provision to get us out of the mess we’re in
And now it’s time for WLC to hurry to God’s defense because, Lord knows, he can’t defend himself.
People go to hell because they willingly reject God’s forgiveness and resist His every effort to save them.
How can I willingly reject what I’ve never been given good evidence for? Christianity’s sin/salvation story is nonsense. “God made you sinful, but that’s okay because if you believe in the unbelievable, he’ll not burn you forever” isn’t coherent, loving, or fair.
It’s misleading to talk about God’s “sending” people to hell. He desires and strives for the salvation of every person, but some freely resist His grace and so separate themselves from Him irrevocably. It’s not His doing.
Did he make the rules? Then it’s his doing. If I’m imperfect, blame my Maker. And even if humans are sinful, God could just forgive, since that’s how we do it and he’s done it before.
As for “freely [resisting] His grace,” I’ve never seen evidence of God’s grace, but apparently you think I deserve hell nonetheless.
God’s offer of salvation: take it or regret it
WLC moves on to discuss salvation.
What do you mean by “don’t believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins”? If they don’t believe because they are ignorant of the Gospel message, then they will not be judged on that basis. But if you mean that they knowingly and willfully reject Jesus Christ as their Savior, then, yes, God will judge them on that basis.
Or, option three, they understand the gospel message but have no good reason to believe that it’s anything but legend and myth. They might understand the message of countless other religions, but they probably don’t believe that they’re anything more than legend and myth, either.
I can reject a serving of potatoes at the dinner table, but that assumes I believe those potatoes exist. I don’t reject unicorns or leprechauns, I just don’t have enough evidence to believe in them, or a thousand other mythical creatures, or gods.
The problem is not that they simply lack a certain belief but rather that they repudiate God’s provision for their sin.
You mean the sin that God made unavoidable? Yeah, my bad. Sorry about that.
Anyway, Paul made clear that we’re all good. In Romans 5:18–19, he said that humanity didn’t need to opt in to inherit Adam’s sin, but it also didn’t need to opt in to get Jesus’s salvation. So I guess I’ll see you in heaven, Dr. Craig.
Conclusion for the psychological question
So to sum up the psychological question, “How can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children?” I guess I would answer that I know He would condemn them only if they deserved it. I trust in His justice.
Why trust God’s justice? It doesn’t match what we think of justice in the West. God ordered genocide on the Canaanites (here, here). He set up the rules for slavery. He flooded the world. Much of humanity today live in substandard conditions, which he could easily correct but won’t. These would be crimes against humanity if done by a person. WLC apparently wants to redefine justice so that whatever God does is just. No, God doesn’t get a pass, and Christians don’t get to redefine “justice” to make it easier for God to meet.
He goes on to liken non-Christians who ignore God’s offer of salvation to a drowning man who refuses a life preserver. The obvious flaw in this feeble analogy is that we all know that life preservers exist. A ticket to heavenly paradise, on the other hand, sounds like make-believe.
In part 3, WLC responds to the philosophical question, the one he said deserved attention.
but it does depend on one.
— Daniel Miessler (Daniel’s Unsupervised Learning)
Image from Steve Shreve, CC license