Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hell is for [some of your] children

It occurs to me that some of you reading this might be parents who are working hard to make sure your kids are brought up in the nurture and instruction of Christ in order to keep them out of hell. You should know that if they turn around and reject Christianity later, you’ve essentially made hell that much hotter for them according to many people's theology. Regardless of whether you believe that or not, the fact remains that you chose to bring them into the world in the first place knowing full well there was a chance that they might apostatize just like people like me and be damned to hell forever just like me.

Have you ever considered that? And if you have, why would you bring children into this world knowing full well that there was at least an outside shot that such an outcome would result? I’m not trying to be mean and nasty, I'm just pointing this out to illustrate that regardless of whether you view salvation as solely the work of God based on a decision God made in eternity past or whether salvation is based on an individual’s free will, in either case you can’t really trust that God will save your own children. There are no guarantees. You can work as hard as you want, but if you're honest with yourself, you have to admit that the possibility remains that one day one of your precious children will turn out just like me. It would seem that there’s really only one way to make sure that none of your children will ever be tortured for eternity in blazing fire and outer darkness. Never have any.

Seriously, why would you bring a child into this world knowing there is even a remote possibility she might grow up to reject Christ and burn in the Lake of Fire forever? You can come up with rationalizations and talk all you want about the promises of God and how he commands you to be fruitful and multiply. You can speak of how it would be your child’s fault if she rejected Christ. You can even openly proclaim that God would be just and right in sending your child to hell for all eternity, but you cannot escape the fact that you would have unwittingly brought that precious child into this world simply for her to grow up and be used as a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction (Romans 9:22). Are you resigned to that fact?

While you go to heaven and praise God for all eternity for showing you his love and mercy, your child will be experiencing his torment and wrath forever and ever. How is any parent in their right mind OK with this? Imagine a scenario in which you find yourself in heaven actually rejoicing over the burning torture of that precious child you chose to bring into the world. At least a couple of famous theologians have envisioned things this way.

Thomas Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologica that, “in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.”  Similarly, Jonathan Edwards believed the saints in heaven will behold the torments of the damned, including and especially burning family members writhing in agony when he wrote, "Can the believing husband in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving wife in Hell? Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? Can the loving wife in Heaven be happy with her unbelieving husband in Hell? I tell you yeah! Such will be their sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish their bliss (Edwards, Discourses on Various Important Subjects 1738).”  Both men cite passages like Isaiah 66:24, Psalm 58:10 and Revelation 14:10 in support of their view.

According to this view, God is going to give you a front row seat to witness the eternal torment of your unbelieving children and other relatives and when you hear them crying out in agony, not only will this not bother you in the least, but you’re actually going to like it thanks to your transformed heart. Think about that. The Christian god is literally going to miraculously transform mothers into sadists that take pleasure in watching the children they carried for nine months and raised for eighteen years being tormented in everlasting fire and they will praise him for it.

Even if you don’t accept the arguments of Edwards and Aquinas, but you still believe in the existence of hell, the best you can hope for is that God will make you forget that you ever had that unbelieving child. Perhaps when he wipes all your tears away he’ll also wipe away from your mind forever all of the now-precious memories you have of that unbelieving child so you can fully enjoy eternity without having to think about their everlasting torment and agony. Praise Jesus for the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

There's a problem with both of those views, however. The problem with the first is that in order for God to turn you into a sadist that enjoys watching the rest of humanity screaming and wailing and crying out in painful torture for all of eternity, he's going to have to remove the empathy you feel toward your fellow human beings and especially those you may have loved who didn't believe in him. Once he does that you will no longer be you. The empathy you feel toward your fellow human beings and the desire you have to not see your loved-ones tormented is part of who you are and part of what makes you human. It will be gone, making that version of you not the same person.

The same is true for the other solution. If God is just going to wipe away all memory of your unbelieving loved-ones so that the bliss of heaven won't be interrupted by the occasional stray thought of these people you cared about weeping and wailing, then he's removing an important part of what makes you who you are. Your memories of those loved-ones and the care and concern you feel for them right now is just as much a part of you as anything else. If God takes that from you, it means that the version of you in heaven will not really be you.

But what if the good news is that nobody's child or wife or mother or brother is going to hell to be tormented for eternity because there is no hell? What if hell is just the product of people's imaginations overreacting to the injustices they perceived in their life experiences? Then we needn't worry about it.

However, if it's not and there really is such a place of eternal torment, then every person who chooses to bring a child into this world is putting that child at risk of one day going there. You can evangelize all you want, but at the end of the day the only truly effective way to keep people out of hell is to stop making more of them. And yet, many Christians have this idea that God has commanded them to be fruitful and multiply in spite of this fact. That's quite the conundrum he's placed you in. One might even call it a double bind.

When you set the table
When you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle that you knew they would fail
Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale
Did you push us when we fell

What am I afraid of?

Who did I betray?
In what medieval kingdom does justice work that way?
If you knew what would happen
And you made us just the same
Then you my Lord can take the blame 


  1. Great post. Love the song. Love the name of your blog, though I wonder if it should be accompanied by a picture of FSM?

  2. I considered that. FSM seems to be more associated with confronting the ID movement and I didn't want to give the impression my blog was going to be about debating evolution. I may reconsider, given that FSM seems to have moved beyond that association. It fits with the blog name and we are all indeed swimming in his noodly goodness.

  3. Thanks for articulating this argument so well. It is one of the areas that I have thought about when looking at things that just don't make sense about Christianity. Another aspect that leads on from this is the objection to abortion that most Christians have. From my experience most of them believe unborn children have souls, and if aborted those souls go to heaven. The logical extension from this, for those who believe in heaven and hell, is that Christians should be in favour of abortion as it has a 100% success rate of getting souls to heaven.

    1. Yes, there are quite a few doctrines that don’t make sense and quite a few that place Christians in those double binds. Hmmm. That might make for a good series of posts. I can see how this particular issue might lead to considerations about abortion. In fairness, I do recognize there is probably a difference between the ethics of taking it upon oneself to directly terminate or at least permit the unrestricted termination of human life (assuming that is indeed what abortion necessarily entails) and simply refraining from participating in procreation.

      According to Divine Command Theory, if God commands that abortion is wrong, then it’s wrong regardless of whether or not the end results in a 100% success rate of getting souls to heaven. This would be equally true for the command to procreate, regardless of the fact that you’re putting that new person at risk of suffering eternal hell. It doesn’t solve bind it puts Christians in, but it does explain why they would still feel compelled to procreate and oppose abortion.

      Also, as you suggested, not every Christian has a contrived doctrine of “the age of accountability”, though most Evangelicals do. Catholics have Limbo and Reformed Protestants either look to covenantal union or just admit they simply don’t know which babies (if any) are predestined. Consequently, both groups can oppose abortion on the grounds that there may not be a 100% guarantee that aborted fetuses get a free pass to bliss.

      It doesn’t help them that the Bible isn’t even that clear on the abortion issue. Numbers 5:11-31 seems to contain a ritual for performing an abortion on a woman suspected of adultery. Since it’s not clear if the phrase “her children come out” in Exodus 21:22 should be translated “miscarriage” or “premature birth” there’s not much else to go on in the OT for guidance. The NT is pretty much silent.

      On top of that, so many questions stem from the idea that human bodies get souls at fertilization. What about twinning? Do they share a soul? What about chimeras? Do those people have two souls? What about the fact that it’s estimated that nearly 50% of all fertilized eggs never become successfully implanted? What about all the frequent miscarriages, many of which the women aren’t even aware of because they occur so early in pregnancy?

      Is heaven populated with untold billions of people who never had any sentient experience on earth? If so, their numbers will surely be far greater than the number of believers who actually experienced life on earth. How will their personalities develop? What kind of memories will they have? Wouldn’t they have to be considered a completely separate class of beings? The whole thing just gets really absurd.

  4. You make some further good points. I am actually very much anti-abortion, for personal reasons. However this is just one area where the more you think about the ramifications of the doctrine of hell the more difficulties emerge. I'm not at a stage where I would say the I have completely walked away from Christianity, however I no longer believe most of what I am supposed to believe. You are right - so much of it is really absurd.

  5. I posed a similar question to my (evangelical pastor) brother. If God is all love and all knowing and he is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance", then what the hell is going on with the delay in ending this thing? Why doesn't Jesus just return already? Statistically, 2/3 of humanity is non-Christian- i.e....GOING TO HELL. But god just sits on his hands, waiting for...what? Every day, if 1,000 souls die and enter heaven, then 2,000 souls are entering hell. And God is OK with this?! That is some messed up theology. Absurd indeed.

  6. In my case my mother went with forgetting about me as the best answer. That was comforting.

    1. That does seem to be the less sadistic option. It's funny how the less sadistic option for believers almost always has the least amount of biblical support.