A year or two back, a friend of mine (also an atheist, but without the indoctrination history I had, nor the particular urge to explore this sort of stuff over and over again) made an interesting remark as we were bantering over a hair-splitting topic. I’ll paraphrase, because I don’t remember his exact wording, but he basically said:
The church’s big mistake was making god out to be All-Powerful. Once they made him Omnipotent and Omniscient, they made him completely impossible.
I’ve been thinking that through lately. The more I think about it, the more right I think he is.
In fact, I think that they very “biblical” definition of god by Evangelical standards provides enough logical data to actually prove that the LORD (YHWH/Jesus/Holy Spirit) does not exist.
Let’s clarify our definitions. In the context of this argument, when we say God, we specifically mean the Evangelical “Godhead,” consisting of God the Father (YHWH), Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If we discuss individual members of the trinity, we’ll address them as the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
God, as defined by Evangelical theology, is by nature:
- Omnipotent: He is all powerful. His power has no limits unless He should put limits upon Himself for His own purposes. There is nothing he cannot do should, and no created thing (i.e.: absolutely everything else that exists besides him) can resist His will.
- Omniscient: He knows everything, past, present, and future. There is nothing that He does not know. He is not surprised by anything ever. There is nothing that can be hidden from Him by any volitional act of any created being. He knows every outcome of every act or decision from beginning to end, every cause and every effect.
- Omnipresent: He is everywhere. There is no place where He is not present, so there is no place any created thing can be that is out of God’s presence.
- Omnibenevolent: God is wholly and completely good. There is no evil in Him at all, not one hint of wrong or sin.
Now, there is more to God’s nature theologically speaking, but these aspects are key to the argument at hand, and there is no additional theology that contradicts these aspects in relation to the argument.
We also need to address the Bible (by Bible, meaning the 66 books common to protestant/evangelical denominations, with the most common translations being the NIV, NASB, NKJV, and NRSV.) According to Evangelical theology:
The Bible is the perfect, inerrant word of God. Inerrancy has a small range of meaning between denominations. For some, it is perfect as read in English, with no mistake or ambiguity. For others (increasingly many, in fact, as the scriptures face more and more scrutiny) it was inerrant in its original expression, in the language originally transcribed. This allows for some ambiguity, but generally only in the face of skeptical opposition. Within the fold, it is presented as inerrant on the face of it, without dispute. There are no mistakes within, and it is not up to the Christian to pick and to choose which parts of the Bible to trust and obey.
- The Bible is also, for most denominations, the sole expression of God’s will for the church age (that period between the death of the last Apostle and the apocalyptic return of the Jesus Christ.) The Christian does not need any additional information from God to inform every part of his or her life. There is no additional revelation necessary, nor expected, until the actual return of Christ (or rapture, depending on one’s eschatological position.)
- The Bible is the literary expression of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh, and the Bible is the expression of Jesus Christ necessary for the understanding of the things of God.
- Finally, the Bible can only be fully understood with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Only inasmuch as the Holy Spirit ministers to either the true believer or the true seeker, can that individual be expected to properly understand the Word of God and thereby apply it to his or her life.
The nature and state of humanity should also be addressed briefly.
- Through the sin of Adam, man is born in a fallen state, and, upon reaching the age of accountability (versions vary on that point) is wholly responsible for their state, and the resulting sin, and is bound for Hell in the afterlife without the intercession of Jesus Christ.
- Man is endowed by God with Free Will, and is free to choose either the Salvation offered through the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, or permanent and eternal Destruction and Torment in Hell through the rejection of that Salvation.
Now, my regular skeptical readers are already sputtering “But…but…but!” I know. It’s all right. We’ll get down to brass tacks shortly.
As far as theology goes, that should be enough to go on to this point.
Up front, I’ll state my primary assertion:
The fact that, according to Evangelical theology, God will allow people to spend eternity in Hell is proof that God, as defined by that same theology, doesn’t exist.
The bottom line is that the Christian definition of God basically paints them, and Him, into a corner.
Consider the following verse:
2Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
According to this, God does not want any person to perish. “Perish” is understood to mean “spend eternity in Hell.” It is not His will that anyone spend eternity in Hell.
And yet, according to the bible, people have perished, do perish, and will continue to perish. In fact, the passage preceding the quote above reads:
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers (like me, I assume) will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s wordthe heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
Of course, this is just one of many New Testament mentions of eternal punishment, destruction of the ungodly, the lake of fire, and so on.
Evangelical theology emphasizes the culpability of man in the face of this eternal punishment, to the point that theology states that each soul “lost” brings deep sorrow to God. He is forced to send men and women to torment because of his perfection and justice. If he had his way, however, we would all, every last one of us, believe and go to Heaven with Him.
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Emphasis mine)
In fact, most of Romans 1 is a screed against people who think for themselves, are vilified for it, and catch teh gay because of it (no, really!)
Where we run into a problem is when we compare this to their concept of God.
- If God is Omnipotent, then He can do anything He wills.
- It is His will that none should perish.
- Therefore none should perish.
“Ah,” the Christian will say, “some men will still perish because we have free will. God granted man the freedom to choose his destiny, therefore He will not circumvent man’s free will by forcing them to believe.”
Seems reasonable, so I’ll put the question this way:
- Is God Omnipotent?
- Does God wish everyone would come to saving belief in Jesus Christ?
- If so, then is He able to bring every person to saving belief WITHOUT circumventing their free will?
- If the answer is yes, then nobody should ever go to Hell.
- If the answer is yes, and people still go to Hell, then He is not truly willing, and the Bible is in error.
- If the answer is no, then He is not Omnipotent.
Furthermore, Evangelical theology claims that God is Omniscient, knowing everything there is to know, down to our inmost thoughts.
The Lord knows the thoughts of man,
That they are futile.
If this is the case, then God would know exactly what it would take to convince any unbeliever to come to saving belief in Jesus. No matter how outlandish the supposed necessity, He would know exactly how to convince each and every person.
The believer might respond that some people will not be convinced, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, to which I refer back to God’s supposed Omnipotence. Either He is all-powerful and able to convince anyone and everyone He wants to, or He is not Omnipotent.
And remember, according to Evangelical Theology, He wants to convince everyone.
If He wants to convince everyone, but doesn’t do so, it’s either because He is unwilling and actually does want people to go to Hell, or He is unable, and therefore not Omnipotent, or He is ignorant of how to convince some people, and therefore not Omniscient.
They can’t have it both ways. He is either the God they say He is, or He isn’t.
As defined by the Evangelicals, their God is impossible and a self-contradiction. He cannot exist in the manner they assert.
But just to twist the knife a little bit, even the Bible itself contradicts His supposed will that all come to saving faith in Christ:
Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
So according to the author, God not only is willing to send people to eternal punishment in Hell, he purposely creates some to go to punishment, from the very beginning, to demonstrate His power. In the biblical economy, these poor souls never stood a chance. They were specifically created to go to Hell for punishment in order for God to make a point. Eternal suffering for playing their part.
And to add insult to injury, he chastises anyone for the idea that they should question God on this point? Just take your eternal torment like a man.
The Evangelical explanation for this (and believe me, I had it pastorsplained to me more than once. (Oh, and I coin that word. You may send royalties to me via PayPal)) is that God actually really does want even those people to believe, but already knowing they won’t, He uses them for His purpose.
Great – until we remember how they defined God in the first place. He is either willing or unwilling to send people to Hell. Being Omnipotent, the only thing that could prevent Him from bringing each and every person, including Pharaoh mentioned above, to saving belief in Jesus would be His own will. Nobody or nothing else can resist His will. And He could do all of it while preserving their free will, because He knows how, and He’s powerful enough to do it.
So if even one person goes to Hell, it’s only because God was willing.
Either the Bible is in error about His willingness, and therefore about his Omnibenevolence, or it is in error about His power and knowledge.
Or, and this is most likely, it just isn’t true. I strongly suggest that, in the end, that is the most reasonable conclusion. If there is a God out there, it isn’t the triune God of the Evangelicals.