3. A lot of disbelievers have a problem with a loving God sending people to an eternity of torture by way of fire. What is your take on hell?
I also had a problem with that. C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” provided the imaginative framework I needed to get over the ‘hump’ on this issue. We talk as though ‘hell’ is a place of eternal torture, and it is certainly something very much like that, but the torture is self-torture. The phrase in “The Great Divorce” that stuck was, “In the end, there will be those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’ In order for ‘free will’ to be a genuine, truly existing thing, there must be at least the possibility of rejecting God. Now, the mistake is to think that it is possible to reject God and still have a pleasant existence. In the first place, we know that the nature of ‘hell’ is marked fundamentally by the fact that it entails a full separation from God. See 2 Thess. 1:9. The fallacy is thinking that you can experience ‘goodness’ apart from God. James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” So, now imagine someone who says that they would like to have good and perfect gifts, but without God. It can’t be done. The thing is not possible. If people demand an existence apart from God, God will grant their wish; but there is no way for him to give them both the things that they want, simultaneously–existence apart from Him AND good gifts.
I have met too many people who seem to comprehend this, who have said that even if the Christian account correct, they would never submit to God, to view ‘hell’ as unnecessary. I’ve even interacted once who conceded that Jesus rose from the dead and was likely God, but he wasn’t going to submit to him–this gent will submit to NO ONE.
Do they know what they’re asking?
I wrote a short story about this called “Richard Dawkins goes to Heaven.” You can pick it up on Amazon. In it, I explain the above in story form. The New Atheist PZ Myers discovered it and plagiarized it, posting much of it to his website. There were some, like Myers himself, who thought I was relishing the ‘torture porn’ of seeing Dawkins get his ‘heaven.’ But other atheists said that I actually did a good job showing Dawkins as a stout fellow who wouldn’t bend his knee before an evil, tyrannical God.
Now, most of them didn’t read the story before piling onto it, one way or the other. But if they did, then they would understand the implications of the two verses above on the question of what ‘hell’ is and its absolute necessity if they were ever to get their wish for an existence apart from God. Many of them were quite clear in saying that, even if there was a God, they would wish to exist apart from Him. That means that they should welcome a place and manner for them to be apart from him.
And there is such a place; we call it Hell.
As is so often the case with atheists, we give them what they want, and they still aren’t happy. Many of them claim to hate God specifically because of ‘hell.’ They might say, “But why should God honor such a request? Shouldn’t he just compel people to do what is in their best interests?”
In this scenario, between two choices, existence apart from God and spiritual rape, they would choose the latter. But ask them if they think God should just dictate their every move, practically rendering them for all intents and purposes, a robot (but without talking about ‘hell’ as the alternative), they will balk and get all up in arms.
Like was said in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”, “There’s no pleasing some people.”
For the people who can’t be pleased, there is a place; we call it Hell.