A review of evangelical theologian and apologist Randal Rauser’s latest book, Conversations With My Inner Atheist, Part 9:
“Mia” (Rauser’s nickname for his doubts): Why does God torture people in hell? What kind of loving, merciful God is that?
Randal: There’s actually a lot of evidence to support a view of hell as a self-imposed exile. We could start with the fact that Jesus warns on several occasions of hell as weeping and gnashing of teeth; for example, in Matthew 13:42 and Luke 13:28. …The image of gnashing in the Greek conveys rage, like a dog bearing [sic] its teeth in an act of aggression. …So the message of this image is that some people will hate God and continue in their act of rebellion…that freely chosen identity apart from God into eternity. God gives us over to our own free wills. God isn’t a cruel, vindictive judge. Instead, he grants us the dignity to choose our own fate.
…In The Great Divine C.S. Lewis describes this self-imposed exile as like an endlessly dreary life in a rainy British city.
Mia: It seems to me that the horror of the solitary confinement unit is a far more apt comparison, especially when you digest the full horror of the warnings about hell that one finds throughout the teachings of Jesus.
Randal: The solitary confinement image is an awful one. And viewed from that perspective, the advantage of conceiving hell as self-imposed isolation is limited. This is probably a good point for me to say that I don’t hold to a view of hell as eternal conscious torment, even of this self-imposed sort. I believe, rather, that hell involves a resurrection to judgment. And the judgment will result, ultimately, in the destruction of the individual and the cessation of their existence (Matthew 10:28). So in my view, hell isn’t a matter of God torturing people or allowing them to torture themselves for eternity. Rather, God resurrects people and then turns them over to their self -destructive impulses in their own spiral that culminates in their ceasing to exist.
Mia: So let’s be clear: evil people die. They go into the ground. Their bodies rot to nothing. …And then God goes through the trouble of resurrecting these evil sinners, reconstituting their bodies like we read in Ezekiel 37, bringing back together dried bones, reattaching ligaments and muscles, replacing the organs and covering it all in flesh, and finally breathing in the breath of life. And he does all that just so Jesus can cut them down again with a sanctified AR-15? What’s the point?
Randal: It’s a matter of justice. …When a person dies they are not dying as punishment for their sins. They are dying because they are mortal and they simply succumbed to that mortality due to the incidental circumstances of their life. But that death wasn’t itself a punishment for their rejection of God. And so it would not be proper for God to allow that to be the end of the story. I think we have to be somewhat cautious here since we don’t understand much about the future resurrection but we can say that it will manifest God’s justice and perfect nature.
Mia: I’m still at a loss as to why that cannot happen simultaneously with death. Why does God need to go through a resurrection?
Randal: It is possible that there is particular significance about a single event of judgment in which God finally sets the world aright, one that reveals his perfect and just nature to all creatures. I would simply say that if annihilation is not simultaneous with death, as I believe, then it follows that God has good and morally sufficient reasons to bring about a general resurrection to judgment after death. And I’m content to leave it there.
–excerpts from chapter 16 and 17
Gary: As I read Dr. Rauser’s words printed above I am deeply saddened. I am saddened that such an intelligent, obviously good-hearted, just man has been forced to commit intellectual suicide to harmonize such an awful, barbaric concept as Hell with a modern worldview of justice and morality. Rauser has done the best he can. He has done the best he can to make this awful Judeo-Christian god, Yahweh/Jesus, as minimally savage and brutal as he can while still remaining (barely) faithful to the teachings of his beloved orthodox Christianity. How truly sad.
But let’s pull out one of Rauser’s statements in this paragraph and replace the Christian god, Jesus, with the name of another person, along with a few minor changes, and see how Jesus’ morality stands up under comparison:
And the judgment [or sentencing] will result, ultimately, in the destruction of the individual and the cessation of his or her existence (extermination). The “final solution” isn’t a matter of the Fuhrer torturing people or allowing them to torture themselves for an extended period of time. Rather, his extermination of these evil people is mercifully instantaneous.
Why is Adolf Hitler’s extermination of millions of people evil and immoral, but Jesus the Christ’s plan to do the very same thing at some point in the future is good and just? How immoral! Exterminating people for who they are, for what they believe, or for their unwillingness to accept and adopt your belief system is WRONG. Full stop. What are you thinking, Christians?? One of the principle justifications used for Hitler’s extermination of Jews was the disgusting subjective morality found in your holy book: If a particular people is deemed evil, it is moral and good to exterminate them (Amalekites, Midianites, Egyptians, “the unrighteous”, “the unbelievers”, “the wicked”.) Sick. Sick. Sick.
Read part 10 here.
End of post.