Chapter Ten

Necessary Evil

David Johnson

 

In recent years, there has been a conflation of the problem of suffering and the problem of evil. The Christian hopes to lower their threat profile by conflating the two. But it simply cannot work that way. Suffering and evil are fundamentally different things, and thus, pose different problems for the Christian.

Suffering is a state of anguish experienced in the natural world. It requires no supernatural causes. If you stub your toe, it hurts. If you fall and break your leg, you suffer. Evil has very little to do with the natural world. It is a supernatural distortion of moral constants established in the realm beyond time and space. It cannot be done outside of the supernatural. And its consequences are often not felt in the natural world.

You can suffer without any evil being done. It can simply be the consequence of living in this world. Before sin, suffering was possible. Presumably, falling down a hill would have still left a mark. On the other hand, evil can be done without anyone suffering. One only needs to displease god by acting against his desire. It might make you happy, and benefit people around you. But to god, it is still evil, and must be punished.

Arguably, the problem of suffering is older than the problem of evil. The book of Job was all about dealing with the problem of suffering. Job’s friends suggested that he might be suffering because of some secret sin. But spoiler, that was not the reason at all. Job was a righteous man. Nor was he suffering because of the evil done by other humans. Evil had nothing to do with it.

Over the years, suffering has had to be explained. Evil has only ever been presumed. We have asked far too few questions about evil, starting with what it is. Is evil something that we are, as in ontology? Is it something that we do, as in behavior? Is it something that we contract, as in a disease? Or something in which we are soaking, as in a miasma or matrix? The problem of evil starts with definitions:

Sin: The Physical Expression of a Metaphysical Concept

 

Sin and evil are inextricably linked, so much so, they are practically synonymous. You cannot do evil without committing sin. And you cannot commit sin without doing evil. Regardless of how we say it, sin is what we do. Evil is both the cause and result of the sin that we do. To define evil, we have to define sin.

Sin is any act that transgresses divine law. For sin to exist, there has to be divine law. For divine law to exist, there has to be a divine lawgiver. There can be no sin without god. If you don’t believe in god, by definition, you also don’t believe in sin. Unlike love and marriage, you really can’t have one without the other. We can still have ethics without god. But unethical behavior is not sin. It is only sin in the context of god and religion.

Since evil is both cause and result of sin, it also can’t exist without god. This bears repeating: By Christian formulation, there can be no sin and evil without god. Some Christian apologists featured on Unbelievable? have even tried to make the case that the presence of evil is proof of god’s existence. The argument goes something like this:

P1 : There can be no evil without objective morality.

P2 : There can be no objective morality without god.

P3: Evil exists.

Conclusion: god exists.

This is a blatant attempt to turn a weakness into a strength. Evil is not a problem. It is a proof. I bring this up only to show how the new apologists are defining and positioning evil as a concept. Evil exists as a supernatural substrate. Sin is the physical manifestation of it. Sin comes from evil and produces more evil. We do evil only in the sense that we do sin. And sin is done in the service of evil.

Evil: A Metaphysical Cancer

 

Evil is less about actions and behaviors, and more about a metaphysical condition, like a metaphysical cancer. While sin serves evil, our real problem is that we have the fatal condition of evil. Even when we do good things, we still are in an evil condition. Good deeds are not the cure for evil. And evil is still a fatal condition. We cannot cure ourselves by doing good and avoiding sin. Evil is in our blood. And we need a blood transfusion to cleanse it. That blood transfusion is the blood of Jesus.

We must pause to highlight a major difference between Protestants and Catholics. Protestants tend to believe that we are guilty the moment we sin. Catholics tend to believe we are guilty at birth. Theologically, Catholics may be interpreting Paul more correctly. There is no age of accountability any more than there is an age of cancer. If you are born with cancer, you have cancer regardless of what you do. To be born into this world is to be born into a substrate of evil. Whether you sin or not, you are still stuck with the metaphysical condition of evil.

We all need Jesus. Even Children were encouraged to come to Jesus. It would be ridiculous to say that we all need cancer treatments if we didn’t all have cancer. We all need Jesus because we all have metaphysical cancer. We all have sinned. And if we haven’t, we will before we die. That is because we already have the condition that causes sin. It is like having cancer with no visible symptoms yet. The symptoms don’t matter. The disease is already killing you whether you know it or not.

A Preexistent, Metaphysical Substrate

 

Evil is not only served by the act of sin. And It is more than just a metaphysical condition of the soul. Evil is a pre existing substrate of the metaphysical world before humans entered the scene. We did not invent evil. We were born into a universe that was already dripping with it. Here’s how we know:

We didn’t invent the devil. In the Bible, Satan is the living embodiment of evil. He preexisted humans by an eternity. Humans were not even the first to serve evil on earth. The serpent was created before humans. And he was already evil when he was introduced into the story. Finally, the forbidden fruit was from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit did not create evil. Nor did it unleash evil. It simply stored the knowledge of that which already existed.

So we know with certainty that evil preexisted humans, and even the creation. Just how far back does it go? We also need to know how much evil there is, and how powerful it is. Once we determine that, we have to see if there is any way to counter it. As we can see, defining evil is only the first problem. It gets worse from here.

The Origins of Evil

 

I wonder if the Kalam Cosmological Argument applies here. Did evil have a beginning? Or was it always in existence? It is a problem for the Christian either way. If evil had a beginning, then it must have the same beginner as all things with a beginning: god. It does not work to say that one of god’s creatures created evil. One wonders how such a thing would even be possible. A creation might choose evil. But evil would already have to exist for it to be a choice.

The other option is to say that evil is as old as god. It is as eternal as good. Can there be good without evil? Can morality be represented by a one-sided coin? If good is the only option, then in what way is it good. Evil is a necessary opposite. Some Christians argue that we can’t know a straight line unless we know what a crooked line is to which we can compare it. If that were the case, then god could not have been always good unless there was always evil for comparison.

But if god is the eternal personification of good, should there not be an eternal personification of evil? That means there is an opposite, yet equally eternal and powerful being to contend with god. The god of evil is just as much god as the god of good. Neither has the advantage. Nor, philosophically, can they.

The problem is that makes god only one of a pantheon consisting of at least two equal gods. If there are two, there may be more. If there are more, how can we determine which, if any, is the right god to hitch our wagon? Typically, Christians do not subscribe to this idea. So we must do a bit more exploration into the origins of evil.

Door Number 2

 

The most common theodicy for evil is that it did not preexist god, and god did not invent it. He just made it a possibility for free-willed beings to choose. But that does not get god off the hook for being the author of evil. It doesn’t even make sense on any level. That is because god is not only the personification of good, but of perfection. Yet in Isaiah 45:7, god takes responsibility for evil by saying that it is he who creates darkness and disaster.

If the perfect good decides to create something, at the least, one would expect it to be another type of perfect good. Jesus said as much himself. Fruit trees produce like fruit. He wasn’t just saying that apple trees produce apples. He was saying that good trees produce good fruit. Bad fruit comes from bad trees. For evil to be an option for humans, it would have to be an option for god.

But Christians tell us that god is perfectly good without the option of evil. He does not avoid doing evil. He cannot do evil. That is very different. Evil is not even an option for the one who is the personification of perfect good. So why would evil be an option for his offsprings? The Christian would say that it is so we could freely choose to love him.

But that also makes no sense. God is in some kind of love relationship within the triune godhead: the father, son, and spirit. They all choose to love one another without the possibility of evil hanging over them. So we shouldn’t need it to choose love either.

What Christians seem to be saying is that god offers door number 1 and door number 2. Door number 1 is the good door that leads to perfect good. But door number 2 opens onto evil. For some reason, god thought we should have that choice whereas he does not. We can choose to eat from the good tree, or the bad tree. What is the point of this game?

We should expect that if the personification of perfect good offers two paths, they would both lead to different types of perfect good. One should not lead to the open mouth of a fire-eating dragon. There are possibly infinite goods we could choose from. We can have the perfect vanilla ice cream, or the perfect chocolate ice cream. But one of the 31 perfect flavors should not be deadly poison.

So I am still confused by the notion that god had to make evil one of our choices. There is no reason door number 2 had to be the path to evil when both doors, all doors could have lead to perfect good. That said, let us take a closer look at some of the reasons Christians provide for why we needed the ability to choose evil. I have a feeling they are not going to hold up very well.

Choice

 

We have touched upon this briefly. But there is more to be said. On the one hand, Christians say that for the choice of good to have any meaning, there must be a choice of evil we could make. This is quickly defeated by the other thing they say which is that god is a free will being despite the fact that he cannot choose to do evil.

They also say that god does not want us merely to choose good over evil, but to choose him over any other good. But for that, he could have given us all good choices. From those, we could have freely chosen him. This theodicy of choice is also utterly defeated by the doctrine of heaven. There, we will be like god, perfectly good without the possibility of evil. Yet we will still have our free will intact. Choice offers us no excuse for god allowing the possibility of evil.

Tests

 

Would it make the idea of evil more palatable to you if you thought it was all a big test? It apparently would for many Christians. The idea is that god uses evil to test our worthiness for heaven. It is not a simple matter of whether we would choose evil. He had to know Adam and Eve would do just that. From there, we pretty much had no choice. So it must have been a test of what we would do about being trapped in evil.

Would we cry out to god and accept his offer? Or would we rely on our own abilities? Even after choosing god, the test continues. Will we remain faithful, or take a more attractive offer? What would we do if god took away our comforts and treated us like Job? How would we respond if god allowed Satan to sift us like wheat as he did with Peter? The test never ends.

And this is the problem. Does not god already know the outcome of all the tests? We all have sinned or will sin. What is the point of the test? Also, is heaven some kind of prize for a reality show? Humans get put through all kinds of senseless obstacles. The ones who fail the least get to go to heaven. The ones who didn’t respond so well to hell? Oh well…

Lessons

 

God wants to teach us lessons. And the kinds of lessons he wants to teach us require that we go through hell so that we can avoid it. The theory goes something like this: How can we learn compassion unless someone has suffered some evil so that they need compassion? How could we learn patience were there not some evil keeping us from some fulfillment? How could we learn to forgive if evil was not done to us that needed forgiving? And so it goes…

These evil lessons are a necessary part of building character that will serve us throughout eternity. But that seems like madness to me for two reasons: First, is evil really the only way to teach us valuable lessons and build our character? Second, what is going on in heaven that we need such lessons in the first place?

Why do we need to train like hardened soldiers on earth to experience heaven? Is heaven a war zone? Why do we need compassion in heaven? Will we encounter the less fortunate there? Why do we need patience in heaven? Will we have to wait for fulfillment? What could we possibly do with forgiveness in heaven? Will there be slights against us we will need to forgive? These training lessons on earth requiring evil have no heavenly payoff if the doctrine about heaven is correct. Again, the idea of evil setting up training lessons for eternity fails as a theodicy.

Plans

 

The final theodicy to be explored in this section is that god’s plans require evil. And so evil is a useful tool in the right hands. It is a little like the way the police use drugs to catch drug addicts and dealers. The drugs are bad, and highly illegal. But the use of them is good when used to stop greater evil. Enslavement and abuse of slaves is evil. But god used other nations to enslave and abuse his people when they needed to be punished.

Wild bears being loosed on a population is evil. But god used wild bears to kill some naughty kids. Therefore, it was good. Lying is evil. But god using a lying spirit when it suited him was good when it was used to bring down a bad leader. Letting Joseph’s brothers beat him and sell him into slavery was bad. Using that evil to save the family was good.

The gospel stories hinge on the use of this device. Jesus cannot save the world unless he is rejected by the Jewish leaders, sold out by one of his inner circle, illegally tried by a kangaroo court, and put to torturous death for crimes he did not commit. We literally could not be saved were it not for evil.

Christians tend to believe that it would not have been sufficient for Jesus to live the perfect life and go to heaven without tasting death. It would not have even been enough for him to die naturally. He would not have been able to take his own life peacefully, and surrounded by his friends. No one would have wanted to take his life had he not been misunderstood. Being put to death humanely would have ruined the plan. It had to be brutal. We could not have been saved without so much focused evil.

But of course, none of this makes sense to me. And I hope you are starting to question the sense of it as well. In a perfectly good world where we only had good choices, god could have still brought about his plans by using good to produce even greater good. He is not limited to using evil. So there is no sense in which evil is required to work his will.

Also, we must recognize that god is not playing jazz with evil. In other words, he is not just waiting to see what evil we will do, then reacting to it in some way. Christians speak of god as being proactive, with a plan that predates the creation. He had it all worked out before the first atom was set into motion. It would have ruined his plans had less evil been done.

We must also accept that god is supposed to be able to see the future. He has plans for tomorrow just as he did for yesterday. If god plans to use some evil that hasn’t happened yet, there is no need for you to try and pray it away. That evil is a part of his plan. So it has to happen. And if your Pharaoh tries to back out of that evil, god will just harden his heart. For the sake of god’s sovereign plan, that evil must be done.

But this locks us into a world where all the evil that does take place, must take place. This has to be a dispiriting idea for Christians to contemplate. Could not god have made a plan that required less evil? We suspect it must be the case since god has intervened to stop some evils in the past, and presumably in the present. If god could stop one bit of evil, he could stop another. He is not locked into our free will. He interferes with it as his plan calls for it. So even god’s plans fail as a theodicy for why evil had to be an option.

We have thoroughly explored all the Christian claims that exonerate god for the presence of evil. It is not needed for choice, or tests, or lessons, or plans. We have completely dismissed the idea that evil is separate but coeternal with god. So there is only one other option to consider. And that option will be the focus of the remainder of the chapter.

Evil Is As Evil Does

 

To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s mother, evil is as evil does. In searching for the origins of evil, we have made the junior detective’s rookie mistake: We have overlooked the obvious. Evil comes from god. We have reason to suspect this because in the Bible, god performs more unqualified evil than a planet full of psychopaths could ever perform were they to dedicate their entire lives to the cause.

It is only a rhetorical device to say that god is all good with no possibility of evil. When you read his biography: the Bible, you will find that he is quite capable of evil, and little else. The things he does, orders, and allows in his name by his representatives can only be described as evil. If not the actions and orders of the Old Testament god, I hardly know what one would even mean by evil.

I would need to reprint the bulk of the bible to exhaustively catalog god’s atrocities as recorded by his chosen biographers. So I will only highlight a few of the greatest hits. And I will start with the only place that makes sense for such a list, the beginning.

Eden, the Garden of Evil

 

As the bible describes it, Eden was not a paradise. It was a death trap. It didn’t fall into that condition. It was created that way. And every bad attribute of Eden was carefully designed to be that way. It wasn’t happenstance. It was intentional, premeditated evil.

We might begin by noting that humans were ill-prepared for what was to greet them. They had no forewarning and no defenses. God gave them an order that they couldn’t have possibly understood, or fathomed the consequences. The forbidden fruit imparted the knowledge of good and evil. That means they went out into the world with no real ability to sort right and wrong. They didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil.

Why would they need such knowledge? Because one of the creatures in the garden that god made happened to be a very clever and evil snake. They never saw that coming. But god did. They might not have sinned at all had god not seeded the garden with a creature smart enough and inclined enough to tempt and deceive them. It is clear that god did not want them to succeed.

Why would there be anything dangerous in a playground that was built and maintained for preschoolers? Likewise, why would anything be dangerous and forbidden in a paradise made for innocent humans? What is the purpose of placing poison fruit in the playground in the first place? If it had to be there, why not outside the garden? If inside, why not hidden and out of the way? Why centrally located where they would have to see it every day? If they had to see it, why did god make it attractive to them? It could just as easily have been repulsive.

The reason is because the evil god set an evil trap for the simple humans who had the one piece of necessary information withheld from them. Blaming the humans is like blaming babies for eating a poison cookie placed in plain sight, in easy reach, with candy sprinkles on it for maximum temptation.

God’s evil does not stop there. Handing out the punishments seems to be the whole point of this setup. And god does so with glee. He punishes every human being to come for the sins of the newborn humans. Through Adam, we all die. That is like a father punishing his children with a genetic disease they will pass on to all of their dependents. Nothing deserves such a punishment, unless you happen to be an evil psychopath.

A Flawed Creation

 

Before moving forward, let’s take a brief step back to before the beginning. The creation of humans wasn’t exactly god’s first rodeo. He knew the problems associated with making free-willed beings with the option of choosing evil. He wasn’t unsure of the outcome. He got exactly the outcome that he wanted.

Before humans, there were angels. And as the story is told, a third of them freely chose to follow god’s opposition. The backstory of heaven is that it was a place where evil and rebellion had its day. God knew exactly what would come of this type of free will. He had a chance to evaluate the situation and make note of what went wrong. But instead of doing that, he made humans with the same design flaw, only worse.

God still gave humans that volatile kind of free will with a proclivity for evil. He changed two things that seem to be regressions. In power, he made us a little lower than the angels. Because the egomaniacal god thought the worse mistake was to make angels powerful. He fixed that. Humans have no power. The second thing he did was send humans far away from heaven. That way, they would have to wonder about the existence of god instead of knowing true fellowship with him.

Neither of these changes improved the situation. If the Bible is to be believed, a far greater percentage of humans will be lost to the fire than angels. God had already messed up the creation of free-willed beings. Rather than fix the problem, he doubled down and made it worse. He wasn’t worried about how many humans would be lost. He was only worried that none could oppose him. And his evil didn’t stop there.

Once he saw that he had a little rebellion problem, the responsible thing to do would have been to deal with that problem before bringing more creatures into the war-torn world. You think he would have wanted to get the evil and demons under control first. Imagine what the world might have been had god taken care of evil first. But he didn’t do any of that.

Instead, god made humans vulnerable to the point that they didn’t even know what good and evil were. He set them in this most fragile of universes. And he unleashed the forces of untamed evil upon his new creation. That’s the universe we were born into. The fact that god did not fix the problem before throwing us into the mix might be his most evil act of all. But it is far from being the last evil act he would do to us.

The Flood

 

The god of the Bible is not like a scientist carefully measuring and collecting data to refine his invention. He is more like a child with a big box of Legos. And when things don’t go his way, he gets upset and smashes part, or all of his creation and starts again. The flood is god smashing everything in a tantrum.

A careful scientist might have stopped the experiment right there. When he saw that humans were not able to deal with the type of free will they were given, they could have been scrapped altogether. But god is not a scientist. And he didn’t want the game to end. So he set aside a few of the pieces, and gleefully destroyed the rest.

It is not unfair to speculate gleefulness when one considers how god chose to destroy. He could have just ended all the unrighteous people in a blink. No drama was required. He could have reset the world in 6 milliseconds. No shocked expressions, nor screams of fear and agony were required. God malevolently choose one of the most tortuous and terrifying ways to exterminate humans: death by drowning.

Even when humans utilize the death penalty, we do it humanely as possible. Even chopping off a head is more humane than drowning. But god wanted to extract maximum terror. He wanted the terror to last for the maximum length of time. And he wanted the people to know exactly who it was that was killing them.

One who does not enjoy torture, does not choose torturous means to kill. God enjoyed it because that is exactly the kind of monster he is. Remember, he could have chosen any method he liked. He chose the method that best fit his character. The flood is one of the best and most convincing arguments that god is an evil monster by nature. If some Christians are convinced that a good god would not torture his enemies in flames, they also have to believe that he wouldn’t torture his enemies in a flood. They have god’s biographers to contend with.

The Plagues

 

How easy would it have been for god to free the Israelites and punish the Egyptian leaders who enslaved them? It could have been done in a trice. There was no reason to listen to his people cry out to him for deliverance over a span of 400 years. There was no reason for them to be enslaved for 4 minutes. Instead, god was content to watch the situation for 4 centuries.

This had nothing to do with noninterference with free will. If that was the case, he should have never freed the slaves. If anything, the story of the exodus is all about god’s willingness to interfere with free will. According to the story, god manipulated the situation to get a certain outcome.

God didn’t just want to free his people. He wanted to unleash the 10 plagues. And when Pharaoh tried to give up early, god hardened his heart so that the plagues could continue. god planned 10 plagues. And by god, there was going to be 10 plagues. If that is not evil enough for you, just consider the nature of the plagues. Remember that god could have freed the slaves with no plagues and no violence of any kind. He chose the plagues that suited his evil nature. Here is a list in case you have forgotten:

1.      Water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25).

2.      Frogs cover the land (Exodus 8:1-15).

3.      The dust turns into gnats or lice (Exodus 8:16-19).

4.      Swarms of flies cover the land (Exodus 8:20-32).

5.      Death of all Egyptian livestock (Exodus 9:1-7).

5.      Boils break out on the people of Egypt (Exodus 9:8-12).

6.      Hailstorms kill unsheltered humans, animals, and vegetation (Exodus 9:13-35).

7.      Locusts cover the land and consume all remaining vegetation (Exodus 10:1-20).

8.      Darkness covers Egypt for three days (Exodus 10:21-29).

9.      The firstborn children of all Egyptian people and cattle die (Exodus 11:1-10, 12:29-32).

Source: http://www.religionfacts.com/ten-plagues

This is one of the driest lists of the most horrendous acts ever recounted in history or fiction. With these plagues, the god of the Bible becomes a comic book villain. The god of this story is certifiably insane. You would be hard-pressed to come up with worse plagues. It is as if the writers were challenging themselves to start with the worst thing they could think of, then make nine more, each worse than the last.

Bare in mind that god could have just blinked, and the slaves would have been free. He could have placed a magic force field around them so that they could take their time leaving. And the Egyptians would not have been able to lay a hand on them. God could have executed Pharaoh in his sleep, leaving everyone else with a lesson learned.

Instead, god went all Old Testament on them. It is funny how well that term can be substituted with the word, evil. Not one of those plagues is something that a good person would have even considered. Most bad people would have rejected them. It took a special kind of god with a special kind of evil to start those plagues, and even worse, to finish them.

Plague 10 is beyond satanic. It was specifically to strike down the innocent to emotionally damage the guilty. God targeted the children. They were not collateral damage. They were the ones in the crosshairs. God didn’t stop at targeting the children of the royals. He stabbed, chopped, and hacked all the firstborn to pieces, even the infants.

There is no war crimes tribunal in the history of the world that would not have condemned this action outside of the religions that call this act good. If evil has any meaning whatsoever, it has to apply to the 10 plagues, and the one who conceived and carried them out.

The Census Trilema

 

There is rich competition for the most evil thing ever done in the Bible, in history, and in all of literature. High on that list has to be the choice of punishments god gave to David for taking a census. The specifics of the census don’t matter. The fact that the punishment does not fit the crime isn’t even the point. The actual punishment is even less the point than the choices given:

So god went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” 1 Chr. 21:11-12

David, alone, was the one who insisted on the census. His men were not responsible for it. And even less so, the people who were counted. I can see that. And you can see that. But the god of the Bible could not see that. The way he chose to punish David was to target the people.

They were to be starved with famine for 3 years, destroyed by their enemies for three months, or slaughtered by god’s enforcer for three days. Not one of these options allowed David, himself, to take the punishment. Read the passage again. You don’t really need any other definition of evil than this.

Conclusion: The Final Evil

In the first half of this chapter, we considered theodicies that would exonerate god for the evil in the world. We failed to find a successful theodicy. In the second half of the chapter, we explored three of literature’s worst deeds of evil, all conducted by god, himself. Finally, I want to highlight the ultimate evil he plans to do at some unspecified point in the future.

Hell

 

Justin has acknowledged that over the course of time he has done the show, there are a handful of issues about which he has changed his mind. Hell is one of them. He is no longer a fire and brimstone believer. He envisions a kinder and gentler god who, because of his goodness, would not be capable of doing something so evil as burn people in hell for all eternity.

But with only three of the countless examples in the Bible, I have shown that this god is more than capable of the most monstrous of deeds. Not one of his biographers in either testament have any such qualms. They unflinchingly describe him as having the temperament and character to burn people in hell for all eternity.

Hell deniers such as Justin, have stripped away almost everything the Bible has revealed about the subject so they can redress hell in their own image. For them, hell is probably not even a place as much as a state of mind one is in when faced with the reality that they are separated from god. We lock the door from the inside. They even imagine that there may be a way to leave this Hotel California and be saved. The Bible seems to take a different view:

Hell is a real place:

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matt. 25:41

Look at all we are able to establish with just one passage. Hell is a place prepared for the devil and his angels. To say it is not a real place for humans is to say that there is no place of punishment prepared for the devil and his angels. If it is a real place for them, it is a real place for us seeing that it is the same place.

Hell is fire.

In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not god, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Thes. 1:8

This is one of those times when you just have to reach for the old KJV. More modern versions of the Bible change the vengeance to something more palatable. And some even leave out the flaming fire altogether. But the older translations don’t flinch at the idea of a vengeful god using fire on his enemies. You can call it justice if you like. But god’s biographers called it revenge.

Hell is eternal. Mark 9:48 describes hell as a place, where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.

The academic burden of transforming these words into something that implies a temporary state is too great an undertaking for the average reader of the text. No Christian I know has ever suggested that heaven was a temporary state. We are to believe that heaven is a permanent state of bliss in the presence of god. But hell deniers want us to believe that hell is temporary. If the language of eternity is literal for heaven, I see no honest way to make it figurative for hell.

But the final insult is a nice little bow on the package of evil that is hell:

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Phil. 2:9-11

I was taught to picture it this way: Before that final moment when the souls of the damned were to be splashed into hell, even the most defiant among them would be forced to their knees. God would exert the full force of his terror to extort the final confession from his creation. Like it or not, we will all declare that Jesus Christ is lord. And god will finally have his glory, just before the screams begin in earnest.

This is the portrait of a monster brought to you by those who loved him best. The biblical writers were not trying to make god look bad. They put their idea of god in the best possible light. And in that light, he is still a beast, the only explanation for evil we need. To paraphrase an old saying, with a god like that, who needs a devil.

 

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We started this response with science and philosophy. We continued with a critique of the person of Jesus, and the doctrines that spring forth. Finally, we anchor it with personal journeys that brought us to this point. But before we get there, it is vital that we address the elephant in the room - the matrix that imbues all religions with life-giving power to devotees worldwide: faith.

No matter how you define faith, it is simply not enough on which to hang a worldview. We have all had to slowly, painfully come to this conclusion. We all wanted to believe. We tried to believe. But Christian faith was insufficient. It was not equivalent to evidence for things unseen. And we all found walking by sight to be a superior strategy for life than walking by faith.

We found no paradigm for walking by faith when we drive by sight, we work by sight. We invest by sight. We form relationships by sight. In all these things, we live out our lives with our eyes wide open. To do less is to live irresponsibly, placing ourselves and our loved ones in danger.

With his seminary education from a conservative denomination, Andrew was the right and only choice for setting this final tentpole. Beyond the science and the philosophy and the doctrine and even the personal stories, this chapter on faith can help you form the basis on how to decide what is true and what is not.