The debate around hell and damnation continues apace. Rob Bell is about to launch Love Wins, and the arguments about whether he is apostate or a Universalist or worse (filth, as one commenter puts it, an egotistical heretic as another says) are making one thing for certain: His Publisher Wins.
But one question keeps coming back to me: I simply don’t understand why God wants to punish people SO badly.
Let’s take Burk’s/Harris’ position for a moment. A person is born and lives a reasonable life. They are perhaps not especially religious, but live and love as most of us do. The have heard about the claims of Jesus but, in the context of a church full of hate for gay people and fighting for right-wing positions, they don’t believe it. They don’t violently reject it, they just don’t believe it.
And their punishment for this? Eternal pain and burning. For. Ever. In. Indescribable. Agony. As Burk puts it, ‘they are thrown into the lake of fire.’ OUCH! He continues:
To sin against an infinitely glorious being is an infinitely heinous offense that is worthy of an infinitely heinous punishment…the penalty of hell–eternal conscious suffering under the wrath of God–always seems like an overreaction on God’s part. If we knew God better, we wouldn’t think like that.
I just cannot accept this. The punishment just does not fit the crime. It is unjust, and unloving. Why should God want to put people into eternal pain? For what? For rejecting him? If someone chose to reject me, sure I would be hurt. But would it be right to want to punish them for rejecting me? Surely the hurt is mine if I love them, and I should not want to then hurt them for what they’ve decided.
But Harris et al want to accept a God that wants to hurt those who reject him, and continue hurting them forever. Not only that, they believe that God is justified in doing this because God is infinitely great. This, I believe, represents a serious flaw. What they are saying is that ‘sin’ is relative, and depends on the relative goodness of the person sinned against. So it is worse to hurt a very good person than it is to hurt a ‘nice’ person. This hierarchical view of the world order is, I believe, wrong.
This seems absurd, and the construct of a twisted mind that is so concerned with being right it creates a projection of terrible punishment for those that disagree. This is nothing like the gospel. ‘Hell’ might be an absence of God, but does that mean actual physical torture and pain and burning for the rest of eternity? What sort of God would create a world like that? Not one that I can believe in.
And yet this is the sort of ‘loving God’ that people like Denny Burke want to give us. A ‘loving God’ that wants people to vitriolically hate people who disagree, call them filthy heretics and send them into pain forever. Erm, no thanks. If God is infinitely great and glorious then God has no need to punish those who disagree. He’s above that.