What Would You Do If You Were Me? A Christian Response to an Atheist

The following blog is a response to a blog from an atheist on social media who calls himself Atheist Engineer. I have been communicating with him for over six months and came upon his blog yesterday, which highlights a few words I’ve said to him. The purpose of this blog is to offer my response to his opinions on Christianity.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Atheist Engineer is one of the atheists I consider “humanists,” who are half way up the ladder to God. I know this because he has a good set of morals on many issues and aside from our disagreement on Christianity, I share many of his humanist views towards equality, feminism, and the like. That’s why I care about him and others like him and have decided to keep communicating with them on social media.

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I care about his eternal fate and the fate of those like him. I’ve identified several others very similar to him on social media. But what I want to be clear in this comment is (1) that our Lord is loving, fair, and the source of our objective moral code so the punishment will fit the crime; (2) that eternal burning in hell, in my humble and hopeful opinion, may only be reserved for the “weeds” of the Bible — people of Satan with no moral compass — people like Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot; (3) God has made it very clear that He desires all of His “lost sheep” to return to Him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Prodigal Son make quite clear the lengths to which God will go to be sure His children are rescued and the level of forgiveness He offers. Furthermore, the story of Saul/Paul assures us that God is willing to forgive even the biggest sinners, as just prior to Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was busy identifying, jailing, and witnessing the deaths of early Christians who were worshiping Jesus illegally in the years just following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

In other words, we know that God forgives, loves, and embraces His lost sheep as His children. He also knows of the characteristics within His children and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives that have led to their decisions — as He made them the way they are. I’ve identified recent studies indicating that atheism is partially genetic, which tells me that God will be kind to people predisposed to atheism. I’ve further identified studies indicating that people often turn to God later in their lives. With age comes wisdom.

The Biblical Conceptions of Hell

Gotquestions.org, which is a resource used by many pastors, offers an explanation of the afterlife.

“In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46).”

So the questions presents themselves: (1) Do both “weeds” and “lost sheep” end up in the so-called “final hell” based on their earthly decisions or (2) do only “weeds” and “lost sheep” who retained their decisions to deny God even after death end up there? Conservative Biblical scholars are of the opinion that anyone who denies Jesus Christ while on earth will end up in the lake of fire. C.S. Lewis, some Catholics and more liberal Christian scholars consider the temporary place (sheol, hades, or purgatory) to be one in which people are given the (after death) choice of accepting the Lord. In his book “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis spells out his version of such an existence.

Either tradition cannot be proven, so one looks to the Bible for an answer. According to Green, McKnight, and Marshall (1992), the general belief is that once one passes through Hades’ portals (Isaiah 38:10), there will be no return (e.g., Job 7:9-10; Psalm 49: 14-20; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 38:10, 18) and they are bound to silence (1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:18) and darkness (Job 17:13). Some evidence of future hope for the righteous does exist, however (Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Job 14:13; 1 Samuel 2:6).

Based on God’s objective moral standard, we know that whatever the fate, the punishment will fit the crime. Therefore, I tend to lean to the opinion of C.S. Lewis, yet again, that is only my opinion. I can not say for certain the fate that will meet those who leave this world denying the Lord’s presence. I can only pray for them, hoping for the best, and counting on the Lord’s objective moral standard of love. A river can not exceed its source, so our morals and standards of love and goodness cannot exceed those from which we’re born: God. In other words, our ethical standards can never be better than those of the standard Himself.

What Would I Do?

Personally, I have never spent so much time considering the consequence of hell as I have over this past year while on social media. The atheists I now know often discuss the matter, so I have begun focusing on it more closely. The reason I haven’t considered it much is because I have always figured that I and my loved ones would end up in paradise, or heaven. I cannot even imagine gambling on the possibility of going to hell.

So, what would I do if in Atheist Engineer’s shoes? It’s hard to imagine, since I have never been an atheist, exactly what he is thinking. If I were in his shoes, however, I would meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible seems to present negative issues for Atheist Engineer, I would suggest that he initially avoid reading the books outside of the four gospels and Acts. Then, if I were him, I would ask God for an answer. I am confident that Atheist Engineer will receive God’s answer, which will guide him up the rest of the ladder.

To Conclude…

I have not fully addressed all of the issues noted by Atheist Engineer in this particular blog, because I’ve already answered them in other blogs. As examples, in my blog entitled, “A Christian Defense against Atheism,” which was originally a rebuttal to Atheist Engineer, I discuss issues of the problem of pain, free will, omniscience and omnipotence, and arguments such as the teleological argument and the cosmological argument for God. In “10 Good Response to Believe God Exists,” I summarize many of my points made in other blogs. This blog is a quick and easy read. In “Why Were Early Christians So Brave?” and “An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity,” I make a case for the divinity of Jesus Christ. In “Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Penal Substitution Atonement” I explain the atonement. In “Thoughts on the Atheist Experience Show along with a Testimonial in Support of Jesus,” I discuss the fate of those who follow different faiths. Finally, in “The Moral Argument for God,” I make an argument for God’s absolute moral standard.  I hope you’ll take the time to review any and all blogs if you’re interested in the way, the truth, and the life.

Thank you for investing your time.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis

References:

Green, J.B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, USA.

ATHEIST ENGINEER:

I try to treat believers with the same or better respect than they treat me. As a result, a few of them get to know me well enough to realize I’m not the hateful, angry, baby eating, Satan worshiper that some fundamentalists say we are.

Not me. Or any of the atheists I’ve personally met and made friends with.

One of these Christians who has taken the time to get to know me recently asked:

… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve tried to be as convincing as possible. What would you do if you were in my shoes and you had my beliefs and you really cared about someone?

I suspect she was referring to my accusations that she exaggerates the “evidence for Jesus” and presents it without mentioning the known problems or issues with the evidence. I consider it dishonest and I’ve said as much. But her point is that she does it because she feels compelled to try to save us “lost sheep.”

So What Would I Do?

As a former Christian, I can still easily put myself back in my old Christian mindset. I would feel moral anguish if I thought that good people would be punished while I am rewarded, simply because they didn’t believe my Jesus. Such a plan would be horribly unfair to so much of humanity! Social scientists say that the greatest factors in deterring a person’s religious identity are the time and location of their birth and the culture they live in. God is ethereal. His presence is spiritual. There are many competing religious beliefs. In other words, it wouldn’t be their fault if they didn’t believe the right thing.

If I had her beliefs and found myself worrying about good people being excluded from my God’s plan for salvation, I’d start questioning whether I’ve learned true things about my just and loving God’s plans.

I’d wonder why a just and loving god would base salvation on having the right belief. I’d consider the possibility that serious flaws were introduced into my religious text during the times it was oral tradition, then copied, then selected from among many similar manuscripts, then translated, then interpreted.

I’d consider the possibility that some of the more objectionable parts of my holy book were actually just the author’s personal human opinion, not divine revelation.

I’d wonder if the Council of Nicea was actually guided by God or just a group of men making a power grab as usual.

https://goo.gl/GIqG0a

Such doubts would be extremely helpful for her. I think she’s smart enough to realize that there’s a huge disconnect between “just and loving God” and “salvation contingent upon beliefs and worship.” She realized that she cannot enjoy heaven knowing that good people are unjustly excluded from the party.

It’s unethical and I think most modern Christians know this. It’s an unavoidable fact of their religion

The concept of hell is inescapably incongruent with the claim of a just and loving God. Infinite torture is not ethical in response to any finite crime. It would be excessive for even the most monstrous despot in human history (take your pick).

To Conclude…

I wish I could help these kind and ethically awake Christians. It’s tragic that they’ve been taught to believe such hurtful things about the nature of the cosmos and our existence. They’re left to believe they are compelled to fight to save good people from their horrific vision of a spiteful God. However, my integrity is too important to compromise.

I feel sorry for the sense of despair it must cause them when I refuse to lie to comfort them. But I won’t claim to believe just to help a Christian feel better about the unethical foundations of their religion.

But I can still be respectful to them. I will pay them the respect of patiently explaining why the arguments they present (which I’ve invariably seen or heard before) are unconvincing. I can help them face the challenges of secular morality and ethics when they’re ready to admit that absolute morals are not real. I can help them grapple with their own mortality when they’re ready to concede that heaven was an empty promise. But I know I can’t make them see this. They must chose to face it on their own.

The sense of moral disharmony Christians feel about good people being tortured is their conscience telling them that their religion is false. In the end, they will have to either face this spiritual conundrum or ignore it. That’s for them to decide, not me. But having faced it myself, I can say honestly that life is much better without the struggle to find a way to interpret reality so it fits the just and loving God assertion.

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