Why does God create people who are seemingly destined for eternal damnation?
This article is an extended version of one written in answer to that question posed by someone very close to me.
The question strikes at God’s character, how can such a God be good? Is God just like us, a mixture of good and bad? Study the books of the Bible and you find many examples which seem to give evidence, both for and against. God is criticised for creating people who are unfairly judged. Why? Because having knowingly created them he knew that their mindset and actions would cause them to be forever lost. However, try reversing that question. Do you think it would be be fair if everyone God created was saved and entered paradise, regardless of their mindset and acts? How could that be fair? It is like the famous Jesus parable of the workers in the vineyard, only much worse. In that story there were some people who worked all day, while others worked for only an hour. But at the end of their working day they were all given exactly the same wage. Many people think such a set up was thoroughly unjust. But in comparison with everybody being saved regardless of what they do, the workers in the vineyard story seems a very minor injustice. Could it ever be fair if those who chose to hate both God and their neighbour entered paradise alongside people who chose to love both God and their neighbours?
This goes against everything we instinctively feel about justice. We want justice whenever we are cheated: we want it when a person offends us, we want it desperately when a drunk driver runs over and kills a child and does not stop or report the incident. We cry out for justice. It is so unfair! We are appalled when a filthy rich oligarch lives a life that uses and disposes of people at will; makes sexual slaves of immigrants and uses the poor and child labour in his factories. A man who enriches himself at the expense of others, robs and steals, rapes, murders, tortures and executes and then goes on to live a long life in comfort and die in peace without ever paying the penalty for all the evil he has done. We will cry out,”Make this person pay the penalty due!” Suddenly hell is well deserved or not enough. Then we want, demand justice. But an afterlife and a judge is the price you have to pay for this kind of justice. An atheist can never hope for it, since he or she believes that death ends everything. There is no justice in atheism.
A strange thing is that while we play the mercy card and want to use it all the time, we are at the same time prepared to endorse killing zones on peoples who have in our opinion gone beyond what is tolerable. The Second World War was fought and most of our population accepted that it was just, moral and necessary to carpet bomb, day and night, cities in Germany filled with civilians: men, women, and children. We went beyond that, and with no noticeable protest from either us or the Americans when we took the decision to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Once again the targets being primarily civilian. We can therefore, when it comes to crimes against humanity carry out what we think is a proportionate response, and this is not considered a crime against humanity. Are we all hypocrites? In these cases I do not think so, these decisions were probably absolutely necessary. My point is simple, judging from a position of the judged against, those being wiped out or maimed or traumatised for life will see things one way; judging from a position of taking a malignant, otherwise unstoppable evil out of world we may see things very differently. Not one of us has either the insight or overview to judge accurately. That is why God is needed to judge, because he has insight, seeing into the heart of humankind, and he has total overview, seeing and knowing all things. The only question is whether or not the judge is good and wise and of exemplary character. The judge is Jesus. Read the scriptures and decide for yourselves if you can find anyone better. Not that we have a choice in the matter.
The question of Free Will.
If a new born child’s parents knew in advance that it would grow up to become another Adolph Hitler, then would it be right to give birth to that child? That is not such an easy question if you believe in free will, because if the parents bring up their child with good principles they will always hope that it may make different choices to the ones that seem to be written in future history. And those choices were available to Adolph Hitler throughout his life. You could say the same to me and I could say the same to you. I could decide to throw away my belief in God and ruthlessly chase money, fame, women etc and be prepared to kill and wreck marriages and ruin people in the process. I could if given sufficient power nuke civilians and oppress entire populations. I could do all of that but at the last hour of my life truly repent and be saved. Is that fair? No, but it does prove that God will show astonishing acts of mercy which are seemingly totally undeserved. This shows that God’s nature is very different to ours, and arguably vastly superior.
You seem to accuse God of being unjust, but judgement is necessary. Without judgement and punishment there can be no justice. So how exactly does God judge us, is it by a tick box legalism or is it done some other way? I believe it is some other way.
If I am to be judged then I want to be judged by the God of the Bible rather than any human judge for the following reasons. Because He knows me through and through, because He has stated that He desires the death of no-one. He personally took our physical form and lived and died in order to save us, and at our judgement He brings witnesses we never knew to plead on our behalf. The saved who did not even know who Jesus was, speak out in amazement:
“When did we see you in prison, or in need…” And the reply, “…when you did it to least of these my little ones you did it to me!”
These saved people did not realise that caring for others contributed in some major part to God’s judgement of them. But Jesus, because he is God, knew everything about these people, and it was Jesus who provided the witnesses. That is not a sign of someone wanting to consign us to Hell. This is the character of the Christian God. It is also demonstrated by His original creation. It was VERY GOOD, according to His own testimony. Not a single one of his human creations were ever intended to be put in this position. Creation was originally perfect, no death, no sin, no damnation. We, or our original parents, knowingly took the decision to disobey God’s only commandment. And if you ask,’ what was a tempter doing in that original paradise?’ then you should know that angels also had the free will to love or reject the God who created them. And all that first fallen angel could do was ask a question and make a suggestion. He did not cast a spell over them. All that was required of our parents was to refuse to do what was suggested. Doing what we wanted in disobedience to our Maker’s commandment led to the first expression of free will. God let us have the gift we so desperately wanted: self determination, our choice, freedom! And we misused it. If you do not like this judgement by association then I wonder what you thought about the entire German people suffering for the sins of its leaders.
According to the scriptures Adam and Eve were greatly superior to us, without sin, with good intellects and clear sound minds. But all it took was an insinuating question and they failed the simplest of simple tests. If they failed we most certainly would have done. Was it inevitable, no, I do not believe it was. Foreknown yes, and that is a difficult question to answer. But while we all pay the penalty the one on whom it fell with the greatest weight was our Saviour. Jesus took it all and by so doing reclaimed the ground lost in the Garden. Rebellion against God by both Angels and humans brought sin and death into the world. Sin leads to the loss of every good promise of God relating to the afterlife. An indifferent or disappointed God might well have decided that as we have chosen to rebel against our Maker we deserve the consequences. Rebel and reject the commands of any ruler anywhere in the world at any time in history and you were dead meat. The chances of this judgement being commuted were not good.
If an electrical manual informs us that sticking a metal object in a socket could cause death then most of us avoid doing it. It is not Rocket science. If the maker of anything says a particular act could cause a fatality then we are plain stupid to go against the instruction. This Jesus, this King and God whom you find such fault with comes to the help of both the stupid and the rebellious, He chose to do what no human king has ever contemplated, took upon himself both the form of those who had rebelled, and, the judgement of death upon their and our sin. Why? So we could get to the very place He always intended us to live, which is with Him. And the reason? Because He loves us, and calls us to be His sons and daughters. If we, who know this history decide to throw that back in His face, then are we in any position to complain? Those who know nothing of Jesus or the Gospel are a separate issue. Paul indicates that in these cases decisions will be taken according to whether or not they have listened to and obeyed their conscience. But that is not your question. You do know enough of the Gospel to make a decision, one that every human on earth has to face during their lifetime. For most of us it is the only life or death decision we will ever have to make. That is why it is a good idea to check the matter over, and seriously.
If we are honest we realise that we scarcely know how to judge ourselves. We want our own way, we are self-centred by nature, we think our opinions are superior to any other, we know we are right, and that if we ruled the world it would be a better place. And at the same time we suspect that this cannot be true. You want God to be like you, we all want God to be like us. You and others who agree with you are in effect continually stating that if God had planned and acted out things according to principles you endorse then things would be much fairer and better. The truth is the Dali Lama, Mohammed, Hitler, all philosophers and political thinkers and a host of others all thought the same. Being wise in our own estimation is a sin, and I along with everyone else am guilty of this sin. If you were taking a daily dose of a drug that someone you trusted said was lethal, would you take notice? If they also said there was a way out, an antidote to counter the effects of this lethal poison, would you say, ‘I can’t be bothered to read the instructions and neither do I see the need to do anything.’ To do that would be to condemn yourself to death. God is not deceiving you, it is all clearly laid out and many people have tried their best to make it understandable.
God cannot give us free will without the inevitable consequence that some will freely choose a life they know to be set against the will and command of their Maker. Our maker, like any maker has the right to make the rules. And we have been given free will so we can make a free choice. If we had no free will then you would have cause to complain. I accept your statement that you really want to know the answers to these questions. The answer is that sin is the lethal drug and God in Jesus has provided a way out. A way out that cost more than a king’s ransom. You and I have cost our God. The measure of it was a good man, a perfect man, who took our place, endured arguably the worst method of execution ever devised by man, to get you and me into this paradise where according to His Word “every tear will be wiped away.”
The question you posed is a great one for a critic, it gives what looks on the surface like a good excuse to do nothing other than complain about the ways of God. But when you analyse it, does the objection look as good an argument as it first appeared? There is another point to be made and it relates to free will. Without free will there can be no such thing as love. If love is not a free choice it is immediately devalued. We value freedom almost above all things. Enslaved individuals long to be free, occupied nations fight for their freedom, you along with most adult people hate to be told what to think or say or do unless you respect the person asking, or can see the sense in it and approve the objectives. We demand the right to question and challenge any prevailing view that goes against what we hold to be good or true. The God you find fault with has given you every freedom. The decisions you will make either for or against God are entirely within your power. You know this and yet still find fault.
God could say ‘depart from me’, and there would be no turning back. Hell awaits. He could have washed his hands of the problem, just as Pontius Pilate did with Jesus. God could cast us all away, because none of us deserve anything less than judgement. We are spoiled, ruined by sin, a batch that went wrong. What creator faced with this reality would do anything other than throw away the dross. I throw away every failed painting once I think it’s recovery is impossible. God faced this kind of failure and chose to go to the furthest limits of love and sacrifice to recover what was lost, including you and I. The only way God could save a free born people who had rejected him was to take their deserved punishment upon Himself and then proclaim them not guilty. In Christ we are not guilty, outside of Christ we are lost. We have a choice, God has done everything possible to prove to us His love and care and we have refused to look at it, creation speaks enough of Him, but Jesus says everything there is to know of Him, all that is necessary for your salvation and mine.
There is one way God could have done it that does not involve the faith route. And the amazing thing is that you would hate it, because you value your freedom to choose: your free will. God could have reasoned, if I take away the gift of choice then no one would have to be lost. This would mean that God would oversee every thought and every potential word or action. Every neuron in your brain, you have approximately 100 billion (100,000,000,000) of them, would have to be supervised by God every moment of your life in order to prevent some aberrant thought or action. You would be God’s robot, doing nothing other than his will. The cost of this: damn near everything you value. Love cannot exist in this relationship because there is no relationship. You would be programmed to conform. It takes a Creator of almost unimaginable love to willingly create a being who can turn round to his creator and say I hate, I have no need of you, I spit upon you and think you cruel and heartless to give me a choice as to whether to live or die. Why not force me to love you, why cause me to have to seek you out and acknowledge your existence, to have to say sorry for what I have become, to repent, to use your word, and then to have to worship you because of who you are? Why did you have to love me like this?
The answer is simple, it is God’s nature to love you like this. Give him a chance and God will touch your life.
The painting at the heading of this article is a part of one I did of the story of the Prodigal Son. At the lowest point of his life, when all had been lost his thoughts returned to the father and the home he had left behind.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
That is an act of repentance, and it is all that is required. We have a choice, return to our Father through the sacrifice of his Son or die in our sins. God is good enough to face us with the reality rather than leave us in any doubt. As to the nature of hell, there are many speculations, no-one knows for sure, but no-one in their right mind would choose it if there were any other option, and there is. Jesus made a way for you and for me. It cost him everything, and he did it for you.