Thursday, May 22, 2014


Over the years, I've heard many discuss the rational problems with the evangelical version of salvation and eternal punishment. One large complaint about their approach has to do with justice. Briefly, the approach I'm speaking of is this:

You must accept Jesus as Lord, confess your sins and embrace a pretty specific understanding of ideas about God, Jesus, salvation, forgiveness and a vague list of other ideals/opinions and if you don't, you will be condemned to an eternity in suffering and torment.

For some, it's not enough to even generally embrace the ideas of an eternal Creator God, God's son Jesus as a man who literally lived on earth, died and rose from the dead, the need of salvation by Grace and several other ideas, but you have to hold a specific understanding of these ideas. If you deviate too far from one specific understanding of these ideas, then you may not be saved. Even if you disagree with the "right" opinion in good faith and it turns out you were mistaken, then you might not be saved, just for simple flawed understanding.

The problem with this is the problem of God's nature as we understand it. Christians and many others accept the notion that God is perfectly loving and perfectly just and fair. But this other version of God and salvation is an affront to justice. How is it fair to punish someone who believed the right general ideas, but misunderstood some of the finer points? How is it reasonable, fair and proportionate to not only punish this person, but to do so for an eternity of suffering in hell for simple misunderstanding?

Or what of the person who heard Christians speaking of God in ways such as this and rejected that version of God as being unjust and irrational? Those people never "accepted Jesus," never confessed their sins, maybe never believed that Jesus was an actual historical character. And some of those people will live lives of relative decency. They'll never once kill, rape, abuse or rob anyone. They will, of course, commit thousands of "sins..." they'll be jealous, gossip, tell some lies, maybe cut some corners on paying their taxes, pollute, maybe have extramarital sex... they will absolutely be imperfect. Humans ARE imperfect, that is our nature, the way we've been made, if you look at it that way.

And so, for this person, they will be punished for a lifetime of these sins which don't rise to the level of human crimes. And, to be fair, they'll also do good deeds - help the poor, feed the hungry, give to good causes, help a neighbor, be good parents and good children to their parents. They'll be just regular, imperfect schmucks, with some good and some bad.

Now, if a nation were to say, "Juan Smith, we know that you've committed 10,000 of these smaller 'sins.' You don't deny it, they clearly happened. Therefore, the nation of Blarbistan is going to punish you to a lifetime in a prison..."

If a nation did that, there would be an outcry. "That is unjust!" people would complain, and rightly so. Yes, sure, these people committed those sins and we may agree that they were bad things to do. But, the punishment is disproportionate to the crime, and that makes the punishment unjust, unfair and unreasonable, as well as those doling out the punishment.

Does anyone dispute this?

Then, if we agree that this would be unjust for a nation to do it for a single lifetime, what of a god who would punish someone for an eternity... and NOT just in a human prison, but in a place of "eternal torment, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth..."? And where there is no chance of pardon or parole... HOW is that a Just punishment? How is that not whimsical, irrational and horribly unjust?

The response you hear all the time... "God's ways are not our ways..."

As someone recently put it at another blog, that God punishes...

...based on HIS notion of love and justice, not ours. He doesn’t think like us and His way is not our way.

So then, in that theory, God isn’t talking about justice, as commonly understood in the English language, meaning “agreeing with what is considered morally right or good; treating people in a way that is considered morally right; reasonable or proper…” but it means this Other Thing, let’s call it “Blarb.”

So, when people like this picture God and God’s justice, they do not appear to be talking about the English language word, Justice, at all. They appear to be speaking about Blarb. And Blarb‘s definition is, what, exactly?

If I were to give a shot at what they seem to be describing, I’d say it’s something like this:

Blarb: adj. according to some in the Christian tradition, this is “agreeing with a rather whimsical and unjust notion of adhering perfectly to some subset of God’s rules, rules which we can not know or understand perfectly, and yet, being held accountable to them as if we could understand them perfectly. This may include a wildly out-of-proportion-to-the-”crime” set of punishments that are neither just, reasonable, consistent or fair, but are “blarb-ish.”

But that’s just my guess based on what they have said (and, to be clear, what I would have agreed with at one time).

If anyone is interested who believes in this Other notion of "god's justice," which is different than the word Justice in the English language, how would you define this Other Idea, the one that isn’t justice as we understand it in the English language, but is “blarb…”?

13 comments:

Craig said...

"You must accept Jesus as Lord, confess your sins and embrace a pretty specific understanding of ideas about God, Jesus, salvation, forgiveness and a vague list of other ideals/opinions and if you don't, you will be condemned to an eternity in suffering and torment."

It would help if you could actually provide evidence that someone has actually said this. A link would be the best as it would establish context.

Dan Trabue said...

No one has said that literally. As I said, I was summing up.

That is, the typical orthodox evangelical belief is, in order to be saved one must:

1. Repent of their sins.
2. Accept Jesus as their Lord.

Now over the years, when I have pointed out that I HAVE done both of these things, some folks have said that's not enough. I haven't accepted the "right" theory of atonement, I'm "too far removed from the Jesus found in the Bible (as they imagine Jesus)," that one can't accept gay marriage and be a Christian, etc, etc.

Believe it or not, it has happened.

Here's Marshall doing this this very week...

Dan appears to all who engage with him as one who has created for himself a god he can get behind, rather than to mold his life to the clearly revealed Will of God of the Bible. His positions are only superficially related to Scriptural teaching. There is no reason to be assured that he has any understanding that is close enough to truth to be justifiably accepted as such and he would insist that his claim that Christ is his savior ignores the fact that one must live according to those clearly revealed teachings if, for no other reason, to demonstrate that it is truly the Christ of Scripture that he claims as his savior, rather than an invention of a Christ he wishes exists.

So, it happens.

Want the link? Look it up yourself. Question that it happens? I don't care, it does.

Now, having said that, do you have any thoughts about this post? What of the nation who started jailing for life people accused of gossip and telling fibs? Would you agree with me that this would be a terrible injustice?

Craig said...

"No one has said that literally."

Got it. You've written a post arguing against something that no one has actually literally said. Somehow that makes sense to you.

To sum up my thoughts on this post, I see no reason to write a post dealing with something that no one has said literally.

"...some folks have said that's not enough. I haven't accepted the "right" theory of atonement, I'm "too far removed from the Jesus found in the Bible (as they imagine Jesus)," that one can't accept gay marriage and be a Christian, etc, etc."

Again, please provide a link to where anyone has literally stated that you are not a christian because of your hunches ab out those things? I've never heard anyone say that they are able to determine anyone else's salvation. If, in fact, someone has literally said that I'd like to know because that seems to be a grave infringement on God's knowledge and prerogatives that should be addressed and corrected.

So, please, help me out here. If this is actually being said then I will gladly speak out against it.

But, only it it's actually literally been said.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig, the point of the post is the problem with the lack of justice involved in a punishment of eternal torment for either mere misunderstanding (IF anyone believes that, I think they do) or a collection of what we might call "small sins..." for which an eternity in torment seems clearly disproportionate to the "crime."

Do you have any comments on the topic of the post?

Marshall Art said...

Since you quoted me, know that that quote is on topic, since this post is based on the discussion that led to my quoted statements. But of course, it's only a piece of a broader thought on which I was trying to flesh out. In a nutshell, it comes down to a question I've raised more than once without a direct response: How mistaken can one be and still be worshiping the actual God of the Bible?

You want to hang your hat on ambiguous concepts that allow for darn near any belief. But Jesus says the path is narrow. This would preclude the ongoing argument regarding whether or not there is something akin to a "list of rules". There must be something we to which we must strive to adhere or else that "narrow path" line is meaningless.

YOU'RE the one who continues to question how much we can be certain is true and factual. Thus far, you give no indication that ANYTHING can be held as undoubtedly true. Four million people can have four million distinctly different understandings and all of them, because they are sincere, are covered? Not only is this the opposite of a narrow path, it is the flip side of your revulsion that what you believe is a minor thing might compromise your salvation. You won't commit either way.

I don't bother with whether or not a seemingly perfect Christian will literally catch hell for not accepting Christ, or if one who claims Christ as Savior burns for what seems to you insignificant. What pleases and displeases God is quite clear and I can defend either with Scripture. In the meantime, you cling to ambiguity as if your salvation depends upon it, because it does. The more difficult it is to truly know, to be certain, the better it is for you and your non-Biblical positions.

So I can surmise why God might or might not punish for any given action and how badly. But I don't worry about it, or how the best understanding of it might strike a non-believer or someone on the fence. The truth is the truth.

Craig said...

"...the point of the post is the problem with the lack of justice involved in a punishment of eternal torment for either mere misunderstanding..."

I've not seen anyone advocate that a "mere misunderstanding"is deserving of eternal torment. Perhaps if you could point to some concrete example of someone actually saying that it might be helpful.


"(IF anyone believes that..."

Since you haven't provide any examples of anyone actually saying that, it seems premature to insinuate that people might believe that.


" I think they do)"

Given your earlier comment.

"No one has said that literally."

And your complete lack of any actual proof. One must ask, why, in the absence of any literal actual statements that you can refer to, would you believe something that you have offered no evidence to support?

Dan Trabue said...

Craig, if you have nothing to say about the point of the post, I'll politely ask you to say nothing at all.

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall, I'm not quite sure you're saying anything on topic. Do you have a definition of Justice that you'd like to offer? That would be on topic.

Do you have an opinion about the nation that puts someone in prison for life for these petty sins? That would be on topic.

How about it?

Craig said...

I don't understand the point of the post.

You appear to have constructed a case against something that "No one has said that literally.", and for which you can offer no evidence to prop up your hunch. A reasonable person might ask why you would do this.

But, hey i wouldn't want to offend the topic cops, would I?

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

I don't understand the point of the post.

Well, thanks for the admission. I welcome you back if you ever understand the point.

Marshall Art said...

"Marshall, I'm not quite sure you're saying anything on topic."

Believe it. It was. But thanks for the admission.

"Do you have a definition of Justice that you'd like to offer?"

In terms of crime, it would be the determination of consequence or punishment suitably reciprocating for the commission of a given crime.

"Do you have an opinion about the nation that puts someone in prison for life for these petty sins?"

I'm agin' it."

Dan Trabue said...

And why are you against it? Would you be able to agree with me that doing so would be an egregious injustice and immoral overreaction?

And, if so, why do you recognize how immoral and unjust it is when a nation does it but not think it's overkill when a god does it for an eternity of suffering?

~Dan

Marshall Art said...

I'm against it because it is not a punishment commensurate with the crime. But it is based on human terms of what is an egregious act and how much so. Despite how horrible a crime might be, or how minor, we can relate to the offense of the crime. On human terms, we know or can have empathy for another human and thus determine a suitable punishment.

But God isn't human, and how a sin offends Him is based upon His notion of taking offense according to His perfect holiness and goodness. You again insist on treating God like He's just some dude on the street. We cannot measure the extent to which a given act is offensive to Him. Thus, we cannot presume to judge the righteousness of a punishment He decides is just for the "crime" of offending Him by a given act.