Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Would a truly just and fair God send people to hell?

A discussion some time ago at ISCA BBS covered this question in its non-Catholically shallow manner that really makes me wonder why I keep coming back. The few regular posters seem to be comprised of a handful of liberal Protestants, one or two postmodern pagans, and an evangelical. I don't have a problem with discussing things from perspectives I don't personally share, although I'm not as interested in distinctly Protestant and secular opinions as a lot of other people are. To each his own.

It's just tiring to see people going round and round, occasionally making dissatisfied references to Aquinas, but giving his arguments little more than a cursory look--grasping the immediate arguments but not their foundations or the implications they already "just know are so"--and then returning to "Why? Why? 'God is above mortal ken and the moral reckoning of men' is unsatisfying, so there must be a different answer that makes me feel better about an omnipotent God who only pretends to be omnibenevolent."

Perhaps not, for they either run in circles forever or come to pat conclusions that don't fit Scripture well, like hell either is or will be completely empty, or hell is actually annihilation, or some temporal metaphor or illusion. Perhaps, though, it's a mystery, and we should take it in turns trying to understand mysteries like a good citizen of Western civilization and accepting them as is so that we might drink more deeply of them, ponder them with our hearts rather than our minds.

I'm not saying it isn't reasonable to ask why temporary actions have eternal consequences. It's just that all actions have consequences that ripple forward in time forever, on into eternity, and we only imagine that temporary consequences for our actions are the only result.

There were some arguing that since God had foreknowledge that some souls He created would choose eternal separation, then God was effectively creating them for hell. This argument is common, and facile; omniscience in one being does not preclude free will in others, and all other considerations aside, if this argument is impenetrable and impossible to consider, let alone accept, then you need to reconsider what you think the Christian notion of free will is and what it's worth. A merciful God might seem immoral to Odinolaters, as well, but the Norseman must consider the missionary's ethos on Christ's grounds as well as on Odin's. If he looks at heaven and says "But that can't be right, for the glory of the afterlife is reserved for those who die in battle," then he never leaves his own assumptions to make a fair appraisal.

Some made it out to be a cruel game, like a geneticist who creates lab animals that depend on a certain drug to thrive and survive, and then the geneticist hides the drug with a bunch of other drugs and makes them guess. Of course, God wants us to survive, and all the other drugs were concocted by other lab animals trying to replicate or replace the real medicine, and He doesn't leave you to writhe on the floor like a suffocating fish the first time you mistake poison for medicine.

I don't think the drug and lab analogy is good, although it reflects perhaps a narrow aspect of what's going on. A more apt one may be a couple that has a child on a long ocean voyage; the child's needs are met by the parents and the supplies on the boat, but the child is free to fend for himself in the ocean if he chooses to jump over the rail. It doesn't seem like much of a choice, but if he holds out long enough with the people who really do have his best interests at heart, they will reach a land where anything he could want is available and he's not confined to three heaving, 55-foot decks; should he choose the ocean instead, he will never make it. Could the couple have gotten an amphibious pet instead? Possibly, but they wanted someone who was designed to make and receive the most from the greater good of eventual landfall, rather than something that spent its days dodging jellyfish and sharks. Sure, it might enjoy swimming, but it would be swimming alone, which is a lesser good than walking and running and playing with others from the boat.

No comments: