A rebuttal to an atheist's questioning of Hell
by Douglas Eckert
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A line of thinking that I've seen some atheists try to employ in excusing Christianity, or at least, in trying to discredit Christian doctrine, is one that involves asking Christian believers the following question (Or a variation of it) :
"If there IS no Hell, (Or no potential to be condemned to Hell) would you still be a Christian?"
Although this question might seem to raise a legitimate concern, or a compelling "critique" of Christians, it succeeds to miss three very important theological points. All the while, affirming the potential of these theological points actually existing, by the very nature of the question.
On its face, the question is saying that there is no need for a "savior", if there is no Hell. Sure, it could be saying this, but what else is it missing?, that is much more important, but not so obvious.
The question skips past, or "forgets to engage", three very crucial theological points:
First of all, it misses, or doesn't address the point that God is a relational God. That He desires a relationship with each and every one of His creation. The Bible is filled with evidences of this, from the very beginning narrative in the garden, and then, all the way through it. And of course, the greatest evidence is the fact that God came to Earth Himself as the man, Jesus, to make sure that the relationship between Himself and man can go on, into eternity, in what has been called Heaven. But from our own human perspective, it is obvious too, how we are created for this relationship with Him. This clearly manifested by our natural and undeniable propensity to worship something. We ALL do it. We worship any number of things, from our money, to our comfort. From our status to our hedonism. From our heroes, to our baubles. We worship our "distraction" ( from WHAT exactly?) , or anything else that becomes our "idol".
Unfortunately, this idea of heaven seems to have almost taken on a hedonistic "feeling" by many men, and even professing Christians. Hedonistic, because it concentrates more upon a more humanly selfish, "avoidance of hell" and us receiving "rewards of heaven" mentality, more than it does upon concern about actually having a relationship with the God of the universe, beginning right HERE, and right NOW.
I'm as guilty of this as anyone, at times. Especially when I forget to realize the omnipresence of God, that He IS everywhere, and He is IN everything.
One of my favorite Christian thinkers, A.W Tozer summed up this relationship/omnipresence of God idea so well when he said:
"Always, everywhere God is present, and always He seeks to discover Himself. To each one he would reveal not only that He is, but what He is as well. He did not have to be persuaded to discover Himself to Moses. And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord." He not only made a verbal proclamation of His nature but He revealed His very Self to Moses so that the skin of Moses ' face shone with the supernatural light. It will be a great moment for some of us when we begin to believe that God's promise of self-revelation is literally true: that He promised much, but promised no more than He intends to fulfill. Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us. The revelation of God to any man is not God coming from a distance upon a time to pay a brief and momentous visit to the man's soul. Thus to think of it is to misunderstand it all. The approach of God to the soul or of the soul to God is not to be thought of in spatial terms at all. There is no idea of physical distance involved in the concept. It is not a matter of miles but of experience.
To speak of being near to or far from God is to use language in a sense always understood when applied to our ordinary human relationships. A man may say, I feel that my son is coming nearer to me as he gets older," and yet that son has lived by his fathe's side since he was born and has never been away from home more than a day or so in his entire life. What then can the father mean? Obviously he is speaking of experience. He means that the boy is coming to know him more intimately and with deeper understanding, that the barriers of thought and feeling between the two are disappearing, that father and son are becoming more closely united in mind and heart."
-Tozer, A. W. (Aiden Wilson) (2011-03-24). The Pursuit of God (p. 37-38). . Kindle Edition.-
The fact that God IS omnipresent in all of our lives, and really undeniable (If we are truly honest with ourselves), is often something that we, as humans, let get clouded in our awareness (soul?) by the idea of, "It's just too hard, too difficult, or too much of a price to pay; or way too much of a sacrifice ; the kind my naturally hedonistic self doesn't want to make, to accept this possibility that this undeniable "force" in my life, actually DESIRES to have an eternal relationship with ME."
But this kind of thought is just, most simply put, a lie from the pit of Hell. (The place our soul doesn't want to even have to try to contemplate. A place outside of the eternal relationship with God.)
Jesus actually tells us what a lie that idea is, when He says:
"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light."
But, Jesus tempers this idea when He tells us:
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.
John 15: 18-19 NLT
And then, He even lets us know that we WILL HAVE trouble right HERE, right NOW, when He tells us at the end of His great prayer for His followers, (Known as His farewell discourse in John 17) when He says:
In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.
But HOW is it, exactly that we shall "have rest" in light of all of Jesus' dire warnings to us?
Jesus tells us that when He goes away, he will send a helper:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
John 16: 7-11 ESV
So this, "rest", or blessed assurance, comes to us by our faith in the promise of this verse:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16: 13 ESV
And from this verse:
And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don't worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said."
Luke 12: 11-12 NLT.
But another great Biblical testimony that confirms the idea of The Lord being with us, through His Helper, (Even when the most dangerous of times occurs for us) is in the testimony of the very first Christian martyr, Stephen, when the Biblical narrative says :
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God's right hand. And he told them, Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God's right hand!"
Acts of the Apostles 7:55-56 NLT
This "filling up with the Helper", (The Holy Spirit) testimony happened right in front of the Christian persecutor, Saul. (Who had the coats that were worn by the people who stoned Stephen to death, fall at his feet. And he was the man who went on to become the Apostle Paul). Did this "living", to his death, testimony of Stephen, also have a profound impact upon Saul that ALSO contributed to his conversion to becoming a Christian? And not solely JUST Saul's "road to Damascus" experience? I would think, Yes. (Sometime I'm sure that I'll know the answer to this , and all other questions. But, forgive me for this little off- track aside.)
The second, crucial missed theological point is very much related to the first point, in regards to relationship. God gives us the free will to actually choose to want to be in relationship with Him. This is one of God's greatest gifts to us. This great spiritual gift, though, is also what brings into our physical reality, all of the sin, all of the pain and all of the separation between us and the eternal God of the universe. God ALWAYS had a great plan, even before He began to create us, and even before we had the potential to have relationship with Him. What does it mean to us eternal beings, if we choose to be separated from Him for eternity? Isn't it our choice?
The third missed point then, is also very much related to the first two points. In fact, it could probably be said that it is the merging together of the first two points. It has to do with this idea of heaven. Avoiding all of the speculation, what we DO know of Heaven involves this idea of us living on, into eternity with the God, Creator. This, BECAUSE He is relational and because he gives us the free will to live in relationship WITH Him. This idea of heaven or beginning a relationship with Him for eternity, begins right HERE and right NOW, on Earth, "...as it is in Heaven".
I suppose an atheist could ask the question, "Why did God even create this freewill in the first place?" (That allowed sin to come into our reality.) This is more of a strictly theological question. But in my humble opinion, if God did THAT, (Not allow freewill) then we wouldn't, right HERE, right NOW, be experiencing this most incredible, beautiful, transcendent and undeniable thing called "Love".
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