While many people find this to be an airtight defense of hell, others aren’t so sure. Philosopher Thomas Talbott is one such dissenter. In his view, the C. S. Lewis defense falls under the category of “hard-hearted theism” a.k.a. “tough love. Many people content themselves with the idea that if people freely choose to reject God, too bad for them. They had their chance just like the rest of us. They just made the wrong choice. And far be it from God to intervene in the face of such poor decision-making. After all, we’re not a bunch of automatons. However, Talbott raises two objections to this line of thinking:
i) it is incoherent to claim that someone could freely and irrevocably reject God, and (ii) in any case, God would not permit such a choice to be made because it would pain the saved.
~from Hellbound? blog
When I read Talbott’s “objections” to the “C.S. Lewis” defense, the question I have to ask is both objection (i) and (ii) is simply, “Why?” Only a shoddy philosopher would present objections in this way, without presenting any premises to support them. In Talbott’s defense, he may very well have excellent reasons for his objections, but unfortunately Hellbound? has neglected to provide them (if they exist at all). I know of no good reason to believe that someone could not freely and irrevocably reject God, and I also see no reason why He would not permit the choice because it would “pain the saved.” Hellbound? does try to explain further, but not in any way that cannot easily be refuted, even by a simple pastor like me.
To help unpack this, many of us imagine someone who rejects God as exercising their free will. But if God is the all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent being Christians make him out to be–if he’s at all like Jesus–what free person would possibly reject him? Like the characters in The Great Divorce, rejection of God only makes sense if people are so bound up in anger, jealousy, pain and bitterness that they’re blinded to the glory all around them. Don’t we all know such people? Haven’t we all been that sort of person at one time or another? And in the face of such a psychological state, does eternal condemnation seem just?
In response to this, Talbott argues that if God were to intervene in our lives by pulling back the veil of our pain, rather than impinging on our free will (which, it turns out, isn’t so free after all), such an intervention should be seen as an effort to free our will. And seeing as Christ defeated death, it’s no longer the end of our spiritual biography. God can continue to work on us essentially for eternity. According to Talbott, such an act is also more consistent with an all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent being “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) than the tough love that the C. S. Lewis defense suggests.
What sort of person could freely reject Jesus? Hellbound? answers their own question: Like the characters in The Great Divorce, rejection of God only makes sense if people are so bound up in anger, jealousy, pain and bitterness that they’re blinded to the glory all around them. Don’t we all know such people? However, Hellbound? objects to this because we’ve all rejected Him at some point, and so according to Hellbound?’s reasoning eternal condemnation is unjust.
Once again, that pesky “Why?” question pops up in my head. It’s as if Hellbound? hopes we will all simply understand his line of thought and accept his conclusion.
Since Hellbound? has failed to provide any convincing reason why eternal condemnation is unjust, I will take this opportunity to give a convincing reason why it is just. God is just to allow everyone to suffer eternal damnation because people are so bound up in anger, jealousy, pain and bitterness that they’re blinded to the glory all around them. That’s all of us. We’re all justly condemned to hell for sin. No exceptions.
God doesn’t prove His love for us by allowing everyone into heaven. He shows His love by providing a way to escape His wrath. The Bible says it this way:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Justice is a horrible argument for universalism because all deserve God’s wrath. However, we do have a way to escape God’s wrath: we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. The real question is, are we all reconciled, or just believers in Christ? If we look briefly, just through the book of Romans, I think we find that only those who live by faith will be saved.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone… hey, it looks like the universalists may be right–oh wait… to everyone who believes. The righteousness of God (which is necessary for salvation) is revealed from faith for faith. The righteous shall live by faith.
It gets better, but not for the universalists.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the unrighteous who suppress the truth. They have no excuse not to believe, because God has plainly shown His power and nature ever since the creation of the world in His creation.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
This isn’t the warm and fuzzy God we hear about in seeker-friendly churches and on television. This is the God of the Bible!
What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
~Romans 3:3-5, 21-26 (emphasis mine)
God is not unrighteous to inflict His wrath on the unrighteous. Only those who place their faith in Jesus will be justified before God.
If you reject Talbott’s argument, you’re put in a position where you have to argue that either God perpetuates our pain-fueled illusions for all eternity (rather than having mercy on us and removing the blinders) or else only irrational people wind up in hell, because those are the only kinds of people who would reject God and choose destruction despite encountering a revelation of his true nature. In fact, some have argued that sin is irrational by its very nature, so yes, it would be safe to say that hell is full of irrational people. But I fail to see how this isn’t a “turtles all the way down” argument, because no free person would make an irrational choice. So something in their biography must have made them irrational, and from that point onward, no choice they make could ever be considered “free.”
Perhaps even more significant, the C. S. Lewis defense also puts us in the awkward position of having to argue that in the end, our will trumps God’s will. That even though God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, it won’t happen.
And by the way, the Greek word thelo, translated as “wants” in the 1 Timothy passage cited above, is a much stronger verb than the typical English translation would suggest. It actually indicates not just willing something to happen but also pressing it into action. In other words, it seems to suggest that God gets what he wants. Not that we want to build a theology on the foundation of a single passage in Scripture, but it does give us something to think about.
By utilizing the “C.S. Lewis defense” am I arguing that God perpetuates our pain-fueled illusions for all eternity? No. What I am arguing is that God has provided a means of escaping the corruption of sin through His Son, Jesus Christ. None of us deserved to be rescued, but we all deserved the wrath of God for sin. Instead, Jesus bore God’s wrath for sin on the cross for us. He plainly revealed Himself to all men, so no one has an excuse before God. If we do not accept Him, we choose either to ignore or reject Him. If we fail to trust in Jesus for our salvation, God is just to pour out His wrath on us–and His wrath is not an illusion.
No free person would make an irrational choice is possibly the most irrational argument against free will I have ever heard.
There may very well be some truth to the next argument against free will. I would even go as far as to agree with Hellbound? that something in our biography has made humans irrational by nature. I do not deny that every single human being is totally depraved and totally unable to do anything to save themselves. However, as a classical Arminian, I have an explanation for free will — at least as far as free will to choose or reject God. God’s prevenient grace, poured out on the world throught the finished work of Jesus, enables totally depraved and totally unable to choose God. But His prevenient grace is resistable.
I think Hellbound? also raises a good question about whose will is stronger–ours or God’s? He points out that the word translated “will” or “desire” in 1 Timothy 2:4 indicates God not only wants all men to be saved, but has taken action to achieve His goal. Here is what Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary has to say about thelo:
“to will, to wish,” implying volition and purpose, frequently a dtermination, is most usually rendered “to will.”
In 1 Tim. 2:24, RV, “willeth” signifies the gracious “desire” of God for all men to be saved; not all are “willing” to accept His condition, depriving themselves either by the self-established criterion of their perverted reason, or because of their self-indulgent preference for sin.
Well, I don’t see anything in Vine’s indicating that God’s will, or desire, for all to be saved is so strong that He took divine action to ensure all will be saved. I do agree with Hellbound? that God did take action. He took on human flesh, lived a sinless life, and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin. As we saw from Paul’s letter to the Romans, the finished work of Jesus Christ can only be received by faith.
Does this mean our will is stronger than God’s? Certainly not! If God granted a measure of free will by His grace, then God’s will can still be stronger while granting us the right to choose. Here’s an illustration: I served in the United States Marine Corps as an 1833 Amphibious Assault Vehicle Creman (AAV crewman for short). AAV’s are large, 26 ton, tracked vehicles, somewhat similar to Bradley’s. They are bigger and more powerful than the Hmmwv (commonly referred to as the “Hum V” or “Hummer”). However, whenever we were out in the field, we pulled always yielded and pulled to the side when a Hummer came down a road in the opposite direction.
Did this mean that AAV’s were actually less powerful than Hummers? Certainly not. We could have forced the Hummer to yield, and if they had not we could have driven over and crushed the Hummer, along with its passengers. What this illustration demonstrates is that God’s will can be infinitely stronger than ours, but He can still yeild to our will if He wants to.
The second objection Talbott raises is part of a complicated argument about the definition of supreme happiness and whether or not this is the sort of happiness God wills for us. I won’t go into the argument here, but in a nutshell, Talbott argues that if love makes us more sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and if heaven is the place where we finally get to experience perfect love, all of us would be in misery, because all we would want to do is be with our loved ones in hell–or to set them free from hell, if at all possible. And if God is the essence of love, well, he would be in the worst position of all.
I’ll stop here, because this post is already about 1,000 words longer than I intended where I first Googled Lewis’ quote this morning, but I’d love to hear what the rest of you have to say about all of this.
In this last quote, I’ll grant on one hand that Hellbound? admits his explanation of Talbott’s objection here is not in-depth, while responding to what Hellbound? actually does say. Hellbound? thinks it will be tough for Christians, and most of all for God, to experience complete happiness in heaven while knowing some are suffering in hell, because perfect love would make us more sensitive to their pain. First of all, I would respond by pointing out that God is love, but He’s also holy and just. In fact, the Bible has a lot more to say about God’s justice and holiness than His love. God’s love is perfect, but perfect love cannot dispense with perfect holiness or perfect justice.
God is infinitely merciful to allow any of us in to heaven. However, God doesn’t do this on the basis of warm, fuzzy feelings for His children. He does this only on the basis of divine justice.
Romans 3:22-26 ESV
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
He put forward His Son as a propitiation for all sin. He plainly revealed His divine nature and power to every human being. That would have been enough, but He didn’t stop there. He commanded His disciples to preach the good news of salvation to Jesus Christ to everyone. Bibles, Christian books, gospel radio and television programs, are plentiful and easily obtained. No one will have an excuse for their choices on the Day of Judgment. He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus; He is just to condemn unbelievers eternally to hell. He will not condemn them for pride, lust, murder, theft, idolatry, or any of the other sins we normally associate with the wicked. Those sins were dealt with on the cross.
All who choose to reject Jesus Christ, either by ignoring God or actually rebelling against Him, will justly suffer eternal torment. A merciful God gives them a path for salvation, but they spit in His face.
In light of that, I think God and His saints will have no problem dealing emotionally with sinners suffering in hell.
It seems to me that the basis of Hellbound?’s faith is based on a philosophy according to human tradition, whereas the classical Christian view on hell is based on a philosophy according to God’s Word. I’ll take God’s Word for it on hell, rather than Hellbound?’s or Thomas Talbott’s.