Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

If you're reading this post, the chances are very good that (despite the current economic downturn) you live at a higher level of prosperity than 99% of the people who have ever lived. Although we still face many of the physical frailties common to all humankind, we have access to health care unimaginable to previous generations. The variety and quality of food available to us is astounding, and most of us can, if we want, travel to the other side of the world to visit friends or loved ones, or just to see new sights.

Along with improvements in health and nutrition, scientific and technological advances have also served to make our lives more comfortable, safe, and entertaining. Perhaps more importantly, the advance of scientific knowledge--from all fields from cosmology to genomics--has provided our generation with overwhelming evidence not available to our parents and grandparents of the great love and care God had in preparing all these good things for us. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year, our gratitude should likewise be greater than that of previous times, while we share with folks of all generations heartfelt thanks for the supreme gift of relationship with our Maker through His death on the Cross that gave us forgiveness and abundant, eternal life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hell Unfair? (Part 2)

In the previous post I began a response to the claim that
It seems like an eternity spent in Hell is an unfair punishment for sins committed during 70 or 80 years in this life. The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime.
In that post, I suggested that this claim involves several misunderstandings that render it fundamentally flawed, and identified three of those:

1) It may involve a category fallacy, since time is a created part of this universe, and eternity and Hell are portrayed as outside of this universe,

2) Even in our own judicial systems, we don't consider the time taken in committing a crime as having much to do with the appropriate duration of punishment, and

3) A factor that we do consider important is the authority or person against whom the crime is committed.

Regarding this third issue, we discussed the fact that the authority against whom our crimes are committed is the supreme Authority, the One who created all things (including the sinner himself) and the only One who could offer (and has offered) clemency. And this recognition surfaces another misunderstanding in the original claim...

4) The claim seems to imply that the crimes that send us to Hell are sins with a lower case 's,' minor indiscretions, in effect just having a little more fun than the next guy by breaking some rather arbitrary rules that God set up for unfathomable reasons of His own. That, of course, is a huge distortion of the Bible's portrayal.

[Note to reader: In many cases (when defending the Christian worldview) it is inappropriate to place much emphasis on what the Bible says. This is because the person to whom you're speaking likely doesn't consider the Bible to be authoritative. And because the Christian worldview is the uniquely accurate understanding of the universe in which we actually live, there will always be good reason and evidence available in its defense (and the Bible can be brought in later as corroborative evidence). In the case before us today (the unfairness of Hell), it is legitimate to bring in the Bible because the person against whom we're arguing did it first. That is, the idea of Hell that is being argued against comes from the Bible. It is the Christian and the biblical portrayal of Hell that the disputant finds unfair. And so it is perfectly justified for me to allow the Bible to defend itself, to demonstrate that the claim being made involves a misrepresentation of Scripture's full picture of eternal judgment.]

Instead, the biblical picture is that every human being is broken and fallen, that our crime is absolute rebellion against our Creator, and that this rebellion has led to our failing utterly to reflect His glory, the purpose for which He created us. We chronically reject His authority on our lives, we run from Him, we deny His existence, we do as we please, all of this with dire consequences for ourselves, for those around us, and for the rest of creation. Just as each individual lie that So-and-So offers is attributable to the fact that So-and-So is a chronic Liar, so our sins are attributable to the much larger fact that we are Sinners.

The crime for which people are condemned to eternity in Hell is not merely the collection of little-s sins that might bring a blush to their face if shared in public--instead, it is the bold, arrogant shaking-of-the-fist in God's face that says "I'll do it my own way; I neither thank you for creating me nor acknowledge your authority in my life!"

And this leads to the next misunderstanding...

5) The claim seems to imply that the person condemned to eternity in Hell will regret his decision, will wish he could change his mind, will himself find the punishment unfair. I see no reason or evidence--and certainly none in Scripture--that would suggest this to be the actual case.

All indications are that the person who rejects God in this life will continue to do so in the next. The person condemned by God to Hell will--despite the torments inherent there--rather remain there than to face an eternity of offering worship and praise to the God he detests.

God has already judged every human being, finding each guilty of treason and deserving of eternal punishment. But, in His great mercy, He has also offered a way of clemency, of forgiveness. He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve, and gave each of us--for all eternity--the opportunity to accept an everlasting pardon. We can either head to the eternal imprisonment we deserve, or we can walk away completely free, not to go 'back to the streets' as it were, but to a room in His house that He has specially prepared for us.

We either say to this merciful Judge "Thy will be done," and find ourselves eternally in Heaven, or He eventually says to us "Thy will be done," and we find ourselves eternally in Hell.

To put it simply, it's an everlasting fool who dares to shake his fist in the face of a Judge like that.

This brings us to a sixth, fatal misunderstanding associated with this claim that the eternality of Hell is unfair. But (since I'll have much to say about that one) I'll save it for another post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hell Unfair?

I recently came across a challenge I had heard before about the Christian doctrine of Hell. The challenge goes like this...
It seems like an eternity spent in Hell is an unfair punishment for sins committed in 70 or 80 years in this life. The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime.
How should a Christian respond to this? I would respond by pointing out several misunderstandings inherent in this claim that make it fundamentally flawed. (And that's just what I'll do, beginning with this post and running through the next couple...)

First (and this is a relatively minor point), the claim may involve a category fallacy. That is, it seems to treat of eternity as involving the same sort of time as we experience in this universe (only lots more of it). This is, of course, understandable, since as creatures currently confined to this half dimension of time, we have great difficulty imagining other temporal realities. But time--along with matter, energy, and space--is a created part of this universe. And Christian belief (and the biblical portrayal) is that God is transcendent--outside of, unconfined by--the dimensions of this universe. This understanding is powerfully supported by modern cosmology and astrophysics. (Christians have variously understood God either as timeless or time-full, having multiple dimensions of time at His disposal.) Additionally, Christian belief entails Heaven and Hell likewise existing outside the dimensionality of this universe.

So the temporal reality of Heaven and Hell may be completely unlike the time experienced in this life.

Second--and more practically--in our own judicial systems we do not tend to base the time associated with punishment upon the time associated with the crime.

I may go to my job as a cashier at the candy shop, and every other day for two entire years steal $1.00 worth of candy. At the end of that time (a long period of deliberate lawbreaking), I would be guilty only of a misdemeanor, and the punishment would include absolutely no jail time. By contrast, I could conceive of and carry out a heinous double murder in the space of ten minutes; if convicted of these crimes, I might face two consecutive life terms in prison, or worse.

So the claim seems to hinge upon a correlation between the temporality of crime and punishment, a correlation that doesn't even hold in our own imperfect judicial systems.

Third, a factor that does matter in our own systems is the person or authority against whom the crime is committed. If I betray a confidence entrusted to me by my wife, it may have ramifications for my marriage and our relationship; but I will not be convicted of any crime, nor will I serve any prison time. If, however, I betray a confidence entrusted to me by my federal government, the charge is treason and the punishment has historically been execution.

In the case before us--the issue of Hell--the authority against whom the crime is committed is the highest Authority possible, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the transcendent Lawgiver (the Source of the absolute moral code), and the Creator of the one sinning against Him. That same Authority is not only the one against whom the crime is committed but--as the supreme Authority--the only one who can offer (and has so offered) clemency.

Let's say I am lying on the soccer field. An opponent offers me a hand up, and I reject it. This is no big deal; maybe I believe he fouled me in the first place, there are plenty of other players who could help me up, and frankly, I can get up under my own power. But in the case at issue (in the claim we're addressing), I have fallen without hope; I am completely unable to save myself, and there is no one else who can help me... except the very Authority against whom I've sinned and who in His great mercy has offered me a single way of salvation. If I reject His gracious offer of a hand up, the consequences of that rejection are understandably severe.

In the next post, I'll identify additional ways in which this claim--that the eternality of Hell is unfair--is fundamentally flawed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Evidence from Astronomy

I handled the Q & A service at my home church, Antioch, last week. After several questions about biological evolution, someone asked me about the latest astronomical and cosmological research. Here's my answer...

Is there astronomical or astrophysical evidence for evolution? from :redux on Vimeo.