A couple of months ago I came across a post on another blog, There is a punishment worse than hell. At that time I responded on his blog and we had a brief back and forth; however since that time he has deleted some of my comments (as well as at least two comments from himself and at least one by another commenter) and locked the post from new comments.
Since a number of my recent posts have been on the topic of hell (or at least touched on the topic) I figured I would delve into more detail about his claim of something “worse” than hell, and why I feel that is not just wrong, but impossible, and immoral.
Some of my directly replies to him were actually bits I talked about in my previous posts here, so I will try not to duplicate too much of that information, but there are a few “new” things I brought up on his site (before he locked comments), and a few other things I would like to add now that I have been preoccupied on the subject of hell recently…
I would like to state that while I personally do not believe that hell exists or that the bible is the word of some deity, for the sake of this discussion I am assuming both since this is a reply to a post from a christian.
Nobody wants to go to hell.
Actually that would depend on your definition of hell. If we are talking about the Dante’s Inferno vision of hell with eternal torture, then I would agree; even a masochist is going to have limits and that version of hell goes beyond any potential limits somebody could ever have.
But there are some who will claim that hell is separation from god, and while there are logical shortcomings with this interpretation, it’s still one that we can use as a theoretical example for this statement. There is a quote that says essentially “Why would God go to all the trouble of designing the universe to look exactly like we would expect it to look if God did not exist?” If the universe is nothing but the result of natural processes (or at least has the appearance of being the result of natural processes) then to be separated from god really would seem to be no different than the last 13.7 billions years that the universe has experienced.
It’s an old joke from Mark Twain that says: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company”. While this is clearly said tongue in cheek, there is a bit of truth to it. I can say that for me personally, I’d rather not spend eternity with many of the most vocal people in the US who are convinced they are going to heaven (people like Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Sarah Palin, Jerry Falwell, etc). If one believes that anything for eternity eventually becomes horrific (and while I touched on this previously, I will make that case in more detail below) then I think of of the primary considerations many people would make, would be that of the company they will be spending time with, and thus Mark Twain’s comment, while meant as a joke, has a ring of truth to it.
In short, before we can make a blanket statement such as “Nobody wants to go to hell”, we must first define not just hell, but the alternative as well.
Nobody wants to bear the punishment for his or her sins.
Here I would firmly disagree on two points. First of all we must define sin. I think most people would agree that murdering somebody is a negative action, perhaps worthy of being called a sin. But by the same right most people in the world would not define working on a specific day as a sin, despite it being prohibited in some “holy books”. So if somebody wanted to punish me for working on a specific day I would certainly not be willing to accept punishment, for failing to follow an arbitrary set of rules that have no basis in objective morality.
Secondly, many people are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. While it’s true that children habitually lie to avoid punishment, by the time we reach adulthood, many, if not most, people have outgrown such childish behavior. There are many things I have done in my life that were deserving of punishment, and I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. Perhaps some people are unwilling to stand up and take responsibility, but to claim that none are is an over-generalization based upon no evidence.
In fact, many professing Christians refuse to accept the doctrine of hell.
In my experience virtually all christians pick and choose which passages of the bible to follow; so I’m not sure why some people questioning the doctrines which speak of hell would be any different than people ignoring those that call eating shellfish an abomination. I don’t know the author of that original post personally, but I’d feel fairly safe making a bet that he does not follow every rule and every law laid out in the bible. If he did, his weekends would be quite busy stoning people for working on the “wrong” day: “Exodus 35:2 – Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.).
It seems so barbaric, so awful. How could a good and loving God send people to an eternity of torment?
Option A: The god of the bible is not good and/or loving.
Option B: The god of the bible does not exist.
Option C: Hmm, I don’t have an Option C. Perhaps somebody else can come up with some alternative which I did not think of.
Although that is irrelevant to my discussion I thought I’d point out this simple flaw. It is based upon the premise that whatever the evidence says, if the conclusion has already been made before, then the evidence must somehow support that conclusion. In this case the predetermined conclusion is that god is all good.; so if you start with that conclusion, and you look at the evidence of suffering in the world or of eternal torment in hell or anything else which seemingly contradicts that conclusion, it forces you to do mental gymnastics in order to make sense of the contradiction.
Perhaps a better question would be, how can a good and loving God send his Son to torment on the cross?
Perhaps that would be a better question if we did not have other information about this “good and loving god”. Since we are talking about christianity, and thus the chirstian god, that means that we are talking about the same god who told Abraham to kill his son Issac. If god is not willing to do the same (sacrifice his son) wouldn’t that make him a hypocrite?
When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) he wasn’t exaggerating. You and I may feel forsaken by God from time to time, but we have this promise from him: “The LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints” (Psalm 37:28).
But Jesus truly was forsaken by his Father.
What does forsaken mean exactly: To leave altogether; abandon; completely deserted or helpless;
If, as most christians claim, jesus is god, then he should also be omnipotent (omnipotence being one of the standard attributes of god according to christianity). This means that he knew in advance he would have to die on the cross, and he knew that he would rise from the dead after. Now if he knew that he “had” to die, and he knew that by the end of the weekend he’d be revived, it’s hard to call this “forsaken”.
I learned to swim when I was 2 years old (at least that’s what I’ve been told) when my brother threw me in the pool, then jumped in to save me from drowning. Each time he threw me in the pool, no reasonable person would say I was “forsaken”; obviously my brother was there to make sure I did not die, and anybody looking at this objectively would understand that (although they might disagree with the method he used). Now if jesus is god and knows all, for him to claim he was forsaken or for anybody else to claim he was forsaken is a gross misrepresentation or misunderstanding.
The other factor that I want to briefly mention (briefly because I will get into it in more detail below) is that given jesus’ omnipotence, he knew that his ordeal would end. In fact he knew the precise moment it would end.
And 1 John 2:2 tells us why. He was a propitiation. God was angry at us for our sins, and rightly so; we are guilty of high treason against him. But then he sent his own Son into the world as a man and poured out his wrath for us on Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, the only righteous man, bore the sin of a wicked world. This means that the cross was a punishment far worse than hell. In hell, a sinner bears the penalty for his own sin. On the cross, Jesus bore the penalty for the sins of his people at least, if not all mankind.
Ahh, I’ve wanted to touch on this subject for a while, but just had not gotten around to it yet. I have previously talked about why god being angry at humanity for sin is at best a logical contradiction and evidence that god is unworthy of worship, so I won’t go into that again here, other than to point you to that blog entry. What I do want to discuss here is the idea of accepting punishment for the actions of others.
Let’s say I commit a crime. Should somebody else be able to go to jail in my place? Would anybody consider that to be justice? Of course not… In fact most people would see that as three distinct injustices (the original crime I committed, me getting away with my crime, and an innocent person being punished for a crime they did not commit).
Now if people are truly guilty of something which is deserving of punishment, then why would somebody else suffering absolve them of that? I understand that this is one of the central ideas behind christianity, so no christian is going to agree with this line of reasoning right away, but I do hope that people will at least THINK about it. Think about how one man being punished for the crimes of others is not just unfair, but actually compounds the injustice of the original crime.
Three hours in the darkness. It doesn’t seem long to us, but “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Each second on the cross was an eternity of suffering, isolation, agony.
Well the first and most obvious question here would be: which is it, is a day like a thousand years OR is each second an eternity? By the very definition of eternity (infinite time; duration without beginning or end), there can not logically be any way to have multiple eternities follow each other. So, I would think we can all agree that since multiple eternities are logical contradiction (like making a square circle), and since even christians admit there was both a beginning and an end to jesus’ suffering, it would be a contradiction to claim even one eternity of suffering, much less multiple eternities.
So, for now at least, I am going to grant the premise that jesus’ suffering was immense, and he suffered for a very long, but finite, amount of time. And we’ll get back to this below.
The Lord did not experience hell on the cross; he experienced a billion hells, because he was not suffering for the sins of only one man but for the sins of the whole world.
There have been roughly 100 billion people born through history (and pre-history) on this planet. To be generous (in case somebody disagrees with those numbers or wants to count all pregnancies that never came to a live birth or in some other way wants to inflate the number) we’ll pump that number up 10 fold AND we will also say that he suffered for every person on earth, except one (so that he is taking the full suffering of all 1 trillion people, minus one person).
We can’t even fathom what hell is like for an unrepentant sinner. Jesus used the imagery of fire and darkness to describe it, but it eclipses any language. How much more does the crucifixion of our Lord surpass comprehension!
Actually the bible describes hell fairly well. There are over 162 references in the New Testament which discuss hell, including such gems as:
Matt 5:22 “the fire of hell.”
Matt 25:41 “you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Matt 25:46 “eternal punishment”
Three different places in Matthew: “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mark 9:48 “hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
Luke 16:22-24 “The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, … ‘…I am in agony in this fire.”
Rev 20:14-15 “The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
In fact the bible describes hell so well in fact that countless books have been written on the subject to teach people what the bible tells about hell. If hell is in fact a real place, then it would stand to reason that a perfect being would be able to describe it in terms than humanity could understand. And if this perfect being did describe it, for a person to assume that the description is lacking would show that the person is claiming god is not in fact omnipotent, which would be surprising to hear coming from a christian.
It’s a solemn reminder of the wrath of God against sin and the incredible love of God for us.
Actual, I have made the point previously, but last thing that concept of hell shows is love. What it actually shows is either the imperfection of the creator of this concept and it paint the picture of a god that I can respect, much less worship, or even believe in…
No mere man could have borne that infinite suffering; he would have been crushed in an instant. Only a God-man could bear it.
No mere man can take infinite suffering? Actually that very much goes against the bible’s teachings of hell, since the bible clearly states that those who go to hell are there for eternity.
Daniel 12:2-3 Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence. But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.
Matthew 25:46 And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
If it were true that no man (excluding jesus) could bear infinite suffering, then every person ever sent to hell would perish, since hell is infinite (at least according to christian doctrine). And if it’s capable to perish in hell, then hell is not eternal. This is just a minor point, but it does point out one more flaw of logic in the original blog.
He sent his Son to endure a punishment worse than hell.
While we have a few concepts of what it means to suffer in hell, without input from the author of the original blog post we don’t know what his version of hell is. However we don’t really need to know what specific version of hell he believes in for this discussion just that those who go to hell, do so for eternity. We discussed the fact that god being willing to send his son to die on the cross is really no different than what he asked of Abraham to do. We have shown that jesus knew not just that he would suffer and exactly when that suffering would end. And we are accepting that he had to suffer for a very long, but finite amount of time. For the sake of this argument, we are also accepting the claim that jesus has to suffer the torment equivalent to that suffered by 1 trillion people. And we have mentioned the fact that for hell to truly be eternal, by definition people sent to hell can not perish due to the suffering they endure. And we can also conclude that even if jesus is somehow suffering more than a normal human due to his god status, he can’t suffer an infinite amount more because we already know his suffering had limits.
So let’s look at just how much it is possible for jesus to have suffered. It was some finite amount of time (t) and some large but still finite amount of pain (S) and that he had to accept the suffering of 1 trillion people. So jesus’ suffering could be shown as suffering * time * 1 trillion (S * t * 1,000,000,000,000).
Now let’s look at any one individual person who is sent to hell. Their pain is less than that of jesus, but still measurable (s) and they only have to accept the suffering of one person instead of a trillion, however their time is infinite (∞). Their suffering could be shown as suffering * infinity * 1 (s * ∞ * 1).
Our three variables that we are unable to put an exact number of (jesus’ pain, the normal person’s pain, and jesus’ amount of time) can contain ANY value you want to fill in and you’ll still end up with the same conclusion the suffering of jesus can not possibly be more than the suffering of the normal person sent to hell. In fact, it can’t even ever be equal to that of the normal man.
(S * t * 1,000,000,000,000 < s * ∞ * 1)
The comment that “no one has suffered more than jesus” would almost be laughable in it’s ridiculousness if not for the fact that it is so offensive to those who truly have suffered with painful diseases, ongoing torture, the holocaust, sexual abuse, etc…
If the bible’s version of events are correct, then even during his final weekend, he still knew that it would end relatively quickly and that afterwords that he would be fine.
Millions of children are starving every single day with no idea if they’ll ever eat again, much less when.
Countless people are sexually assaulted every day, many of them children raped by a friend or family member. They live with this for the rest of their lives and in many cases it causes them problems with ever forming relationships and in some cases much worse than that…
I could go on, but I think the point is clear…
To make this claim trivializes true suffering, and ignores even their own teachings on hell.