“Good people” & Heaven

The Pugnacious Irishman had a thoughtful post titled My own goodness is enough . . . or is it?  It had a good illustration to consider about how you’d evaluate your “goodness.”  It also reminded me of this post, so I thought I’d re-run it.

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a.jpgIt is common for people to say, “I’m a good person. Good people go to heaven.” 

This topic is a good way to insert a truthful and winsome witness – namely that Christians, by definition, are saying we are not good enough on our own and that we need Jesus’ work on our behalf.  An authentic Christian worldview is the opposite of self-righteousness (though we often sin and act that way anyway).  The truly self-righteous ones are those who think their good deeds will require God to let them into his Heaven.

Also, if being 51% good was the standard, we haven’t even been that good.  When I consider all of my sinful thoughts, words and deeds plus all the right thoughts, words and deeds I should have had but didn’t, I’m lucky if I’m at 10%.  Many of the “good” things I’ve done were for my glory, not God’s, and those go into the loss column.

I think some Christians parrot this view because they worry about unsaved relatives and it helps them rationalize their eternal state.   Also, why do the hard work of evangelism if “good” people are safe?  After all, 90% of prisoners will tell you they are basically good people. 

Here are some questions you might want to ask someone who says that “good people go to Heaven.”   Ask them nicely and interactively, not as if you were a prosecutor!  The idea is to get them to realize the implications of what they are saying on their own.

Can you define “good” for me?  For starters, this may help them see that if 6 billion people each get their own definition then something may be wrong with this worldview. 

Regarding who gets into Heaven, who would get to define “good” – you, me, someone else or God?  Seems like the creator of the universe might have the final say rather than the created beings.

Is that 51% good? Or 50.001%?  Islam teaches that God weighs your sins to determine your eternal destiny.  Interestingly, the real God – as revealed in the Bible – isn’t soft on sin like Allah.  All sins get punished instead of overlooking up to 49% of them. 

Are sins done on a weighted average, or just raw numbers? Where is the scale?  All sins offend a holy and perfect God, but we intuitively realize that some sins have worse consequences than others.  But again, who gets to decide?

Do you have a spreadsheet to keep track of your sins?  I tried, but my hard drive got full.

What if you missed some?  Do you want your eternal destiny based on some rough estimates?  We sin so much that it is impossible to remember them all.

If you have no hope of getting to 51%, should you give up and just be evil?  This might be a bad question to ask . . . seems like many people have gone down this path and we don’t want to give anyone ideas.

If you are at 70%, is it OK to sin on purpose?  After all, you have room to spare!

Where is your assurance?  The fact that Christianity offers assurance isn’t what makes it true, but it is one of the great things about it.  Since we’re trusting in what Jesus did for us instead of our own works, we can be confident of our salvation.

Most importantly, what does the Bible say? 

Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9:  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.   For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

I’m glad to be relying 100% on the Jesus plan instead of my not-such-a-good-person resume.

0 thoughts on ““Good people” & Heaven”

  1. Great post. That’s exactly why it baffles me that so many people can think they can “work” their way to heaven. It’s just another why of humanizing God. What can we possibly do to impress the all powerfull, all knowing, creator of the universe? We should be humble enough to realize the answer to that is nothing; and grateful enough to accept his gift of Jesus Christ.

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  2. This entire subject is one of the main reasons for the Reformation. Works-based religion saturated everything and Martin Luther was calling for justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

    We have the same need for a Reformation again today. Too many, when asked what it takes to get into heaven, say something about being good enough. Even among Christians.

    R.C. Sproul tells of a poll done that a Christian booksellers convention where the question was: what do you have to do to get into heaven? 99 out of 100 answered, be good enough. Remember, this is a Christian booksellers convention. Of all people, they should have known the gospel. But alas…

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  3. This post, with it’s 51% good and tallying of sins to good acts reminds of a Steve Martin bit:

    “Wouldn’t it be funny if Heaven were just like the stories said it was? ‘Aw, c’mon, I didn’t use His name in vain too many times….A BILLION & SIX???!!!!!””

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  4. Neli, very good post. I couldn’t resist a few answers:

    Is that 51% good? Or 50.001%? – I don’t think He carries it out that many decimals, but He does round (based on the math rules He created) and fortunately, He grades on the curve.

    Do you have a spreadsheet to keep track of your sins? I tried, but my hard drive got full. – I fixed that when I bought an external hard drive.

    What if you missed some? I fixed that too, number 6Billion and 2 – “Anything else I screwed up.”

    If you are at 70%, is it OK to sin on purpose? After all, you have room to spare! – In college, I had a Catholic friend who would go to mass in Saturday evening before a night on the town. We always accused him of going back on Sunday morning if he was real bad.

    While I like to joke about it, it’s really not a joking matter. As you’ve said, it’s 100% or nothing and only one Person can meet that standard. Thankfully, we don’t have to, he did it in our place.

    Good post to read on a Sunday morning.

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    1. Thanks, Dan — great video! I particularly like the “that’s why it is called grace” response to the “that’s not fair” line.

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      1. Justice is fair (getting what you deserve). Grace, by definition, is not fair: You don’t get what you deserved.

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      2. Neil said: Justice is fair (getting what you deserve). Grace, by definition, is not fair: You don’t get what you deserved.

        Then God cannot be characterized by both unless his justice is only partial. If justice is fair (and that’s pretty tautological), he can’t be all-just if he isn’t always fair. I think there’s really nothing left to argue about here, it’s simplicity itself. If he makes exceptions to his justice, he isn’t perfectly just. He could have a little justice and a little grace, they could temper each other, but he couldn’t embody that absolute inexorable justice which one sorely needs to justify hell.

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      3. Seas, if you took the Christian worldview seriously (whether you ultimately believed it or not), I think you’d concede that it is quite logical. Sins must be punished. All of them. 100.000000000%. Jesus took the punishment for those who trust in him and accept God’s pardon. The individuals who don’t trust in him take their own punishment.

        All sin gets punished = fair.

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      4. Hi Neil,

        Neil said something like: “…I think you’d see it’s quite logical: sins must be punished. All of them. You stayed out past your curfew, and since you weren’t around I punished your sister in your place: all sins must be punished.”

        Not so logical. If all sins must be punished, then you’d better *punish* them, not abuse a scapegoat or whip yourself. Surely “God’s perfect justice” implies that the offender pays the penalty? Otherwise what’s the point of taking justice so deadly (literally) seriously? The Christian solution is unjust in two ways: punishing an innocent man (Jesus) in order to let guilty parties off scot-free; punishing other guilty parties to the full extent of the law, even when they may be guilty of much lesser crimes than those given amnesty.

        Note that when I say “the Christian solution is unjust,” I mean “unjust” according to the Christian notion of justice. As far as my own definition is concerned, it would be perfectly just to punish nobody, ever, whatever their offenses. Maybe not always wise or helpful, but perfectly just.

        It would be a strange and sociopathic personality (allegedly God’s, in this case) that required every jot and tittle of infraction punished. Imagine any human with such a hang-up: we would pity and fear him. Things go along just fine with all manner of forgiveness and forgetting. The only truly “proportionate” rehabilitation is when a person comes to deeply empathize with his victim, understand what he has wrought. That’s all there is to be learned from past callousness, is deeper tenderness. Fear for one’s own well-being — fear of punishment — will do worse than nothing to open one to repentance.

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      5. Neil said something like: “…I think you’d see it’s quite logical: sins must be punished. All of them. You stayed out past your curfew, and since you weren’t around I punished your sister in your place: all sins must be punished.”

        Please don’t waste my time with straw man arguments.

        As far as my own definition is concerned, it would be perfectly just to punish nobody, ever, whatever their offenses.

        You are making yourself god then and coming up with a ridiculous concept.

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      6. I wonder if you meant to leave this comment after my newer comment, the one beginning (after quoting you): “You’ve made that claim…”. My suspicion is you did mean to, since the comment of mine you’re answering here is old news, and you didn’t reply to the new one — the one where I took you to task for … saying “what?!?”, basically. For claiming my Buddhistisch ideas are incoherent without explaining why in even a token case.

        Needless to say, I don’t find your new attempt here much more satisfactory. Chicken? You chicken?

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      7. Wow. Straw men, ad-homs, and conspiracy theories. I always appreciate reading your comments for their entertainment value. Ever think of going to LA to write comedy scripts?

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      8. You misread me, though I could have been clearer. There’s neither ad hom nor straw nor conspiracy theory here. It’s just a point of clarification surrounded by fluff. Let me rephrase for clarity. I meant no more and no less than the following:

        1) I think you probably meant to post that reply under a different one of my comments…?
        2) I don’t consider “…What?” a sufficient answer to my points, shockingly enough. (Didn’t think I was delivering any news there…).
        3) Chicken? You chicken? (Sheer goofing, perhaps not of top shelf comedic quality).

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      9. Justice is that by which every person receives what is due to them.

        Mercy is not the opposite of justice. Rather it is a positive action with an end of either ending some misery, or addressing some want/need that a person is not due to have addressed.

        All are judged equally under divine justice. And divine mercy is also extended to all equally. It is a matter of free choice if someone will avail themselves of the gift or not.

        We see this in earthly courts. If a prisoner admits their guilt and throws themselves upon the mercy of the court (asking to receive what they are not due), the court is almost always generous in this regard. The exception being if the person is not believed to be sincere.

        Even serial killers are offered the mercy of the court.

        Though the practice has faded in our modern era, it was once common for an individual accused of a crime to have their crime judged against the merits of another person (say, a war hero father’s merits being weighed against his son’s crime) as an act of mercy upon the son out of the court’s love and respect for the father.

        In a similar way, as an act of mercy, God allows us to be judged not on our own merits but on the merits of Jesus Christ, if we choose to accept that form of merciful judgment.

        Mercy is a complicated concept, but you may find this article helpful:
        http://thedivinemercy.org/library/article.php?NID=2213

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      10. I tend to think that the divine mercy of Jesus, if it existed, is not something that is distributed equally. It was distributed to one small area of the world, to a certain group of people. If God had wanted to distribute the mercy a little more equally, why did he not have a few more kids, and drop a few in South America or China? It’s taken 2000 years, and there are tons of people living happy lives having never heard of this divine grace. Yet you feel it is distributed equally.

        I’m sure God was a pioneer in viral marketing, and overall, it’s worked quite well for him, but I think he could have found a better method.

        Also, LCB, every time a concept in the Bible is questioned, you usually tell me I’m wrong about it, and that it’s a complicated process. Now I’m no Darwin (come on, that’s funny), but I know my way around literature. Why would God write a book that contains the most critical information possible, that can only be fully understood by a select few? Everyone I know who is a Christian thinks different things about the Bible. Certain passages mean completely different things to different people, and many of them are completely certain that they know the truth. Logic tells us that most of them are wrong. What makes you right?

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      11. It isn’t that we couldn’t be wrong. I’m sure we’re wrong on some things. It is that some people are wrong because when you analyze the text more closely you can see that they are wrong.

        For example, some pro-abortion Christians use a translation of Exodus that they think supports their view, but when you look at the original languages you realize that it is a pro-life verse — http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1523_Exodus_ 212225_and_Abortion/%22 . Oddly, these readers ignore so many other pro-life texts and in my experience are completely uncorrectable about the meaning of the original languages.

        For you, that is evidence that these Christians just can’t agree so the Bible must be wrong about its claims to be God’s word.

        For me, it is evidence that they like their (misinterpreted) pro-abortion passage more than they like the truth.

        Just because the Bible can be misunderstood doesn’t mean it can’t be understood.

        There are plenty of things that I don’t understand in the Bible, but many others that are crystal clear.

        You can’t read the Bible in any serious way and not see that God is against religious pluralism, that Jesus is the only way to salvation, that Jesus is God, that the Bible claims to speak for God, that you are a sinner in need of a Savior, etc.

        That doesn’t make those things true, but any honest skeptic should concede that those teachings are clear.

        I think I’ll post on this.

        P.S. Jesus said if you seek, you shall find. God knows where everyone is (Acts 17:26-27) and if anyone turns to him He’ll be there. No one will search in vain.

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      12. Well, since you brought up my mentioning how you are sometimes wrong, I see no need to break from a fine and venerable tradition…

        “Why would God write a book that contains the most critical information possible, that can only be fully understood by a select few?”

        It can not be fully understood by a select few. To be exact, it can be fully understood by no one. But I think the meaning of what you said is nonetheless plain, to paraphrase, “Why is Scripture so hard to understand, especially if the information in it is so essential?”

        And that is an excellent question.

        Firstly, Scripture, being the Word of God, is a mystery. That means that we must enter into it to begin to more fully understand it. An outsider has no hope of really and deeply understanding what is taking place in Scripture, because they are not entering into the mystery.

        Secondly, the most essential parts of Scripture are very easy to understand. They are expressed plainly, their meaning is clear, even to an outsider.

        Thirdly, most individuals have these things called “hermeneutics” which are a fancy way of saying “intellectual sunglasses.” With these blinders on, folks often look at scripture and find exactly what they expected to find, instead of finding what was there. The feminists find patriarchial oppression, the hippies find a pot smoking free love Jesus, the Quakers find a pacifist and the materialists find a bunch of fairy tails.

        So to really begin understanding scripture we must
        A) Work to eliminate our hermeneutics (interact with what is actually being said instead of what we want to be said)
        B) Read what is actually present, and learn to understand what the original meaning would have been in the original context
        C) Enter into the mystery to understand the spiritual meaning that transcends context.

        Using literary and form criticism we can often understand very clearly what the human of the author of the text is expressing, especially if we allow sociology to inform our understanding of who the original intended audience was.

        So in terms of what scripture says in most places, there really is very little disagreement even across denominations. When we consider scripture in the wider sense (the meaning of various long sections, books, or even groups of books) there can be more disagreement, but that tends to be disagreement of the academic sort, about the very precise application and refinement of generally agreed upon matters.

        The core denominational differences arise at the stage of entering into the mystery and what that means for living out the Christian Vocation in our current historical context.

        As a general rule you can start filtering out interpretations of scripture that tend to 100% justify the person making the interpretation, and provide a god that is exactly like them and doesn’t ask them to change but grants victim status on the interpreter and demands the rest of the world conform to the interpreter’s desires.

        It may sound absurd, but that’s more widespread than you’d think.

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      13. As an addendum. Scripture must be read (or heard) to be understood, and that requires hearing it (or listening to it).

        I often hear folks complain “It’s too hard to understand”, only to admit that they haven’t tried at all.

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      14. Hi LCB,

        If salvation is offered to all equally, and I need only accept the gift — let me hereby declare, I do not refuse it. I’ll take the delivery. Good deal.

        What’s that you say? I need to believe that Jesus is the son of God, too? Oh, sorry, I’m not able to believe that. Oh well. The offer sounded good in the ad, but I don’t think much of these extra fine print conditions.

        An earthly court doesn’t give prostrate serial killers total amnesty while condemning unrepentant litterbugs to death. That would not be justice. It’s no more justice when God does it.

        Anyway, if it’s about throwing yourself on the mercy of the court, why isn’t “repent” enough — why must it be “repent and believe?”

        I’m all for mercy, but remember that God’s perfect justice is the Christian excuse for *hell.* Which suggests he takes his nature as perfect justice pretty seriously: since he loves us, he doesn’t *like* tormenting us for all time with no chance of rehabilitation, but he has to. Someone who treats justice *that* sternly shouldn’t go granting total amnesty to everyone who comes to a certain historical conclusion.

        (I know I know Neil, I’m without excuse, I’m repressing a truth about these historical events that I somehow know a priori. Why then has no-one in history come to believe in Christianity without somebody explaining it to them first? To say that unbelievers are without excuse is a steep failure of imagination, steep failure to absorb the lessons of cultural relativity*. You think that deep down everyone believes just like you)?

        *There are things that are culturally relative and things that aren’t. That’s the commonsense integration of postmodernism.

        Thanks for the link about Aquinas on mercy & justice, LCB. I enjoy following his moves, but they’re chockablock with contradictions. I won’t go into those now, just make the obvious point again: he says that “God’s justice must always further His purposes of mercy, and never detract from those purposes.” (He’s being paraphrased, but it’s a fair paraphrase of the preceding direct quote). But surely torment for just half of eternity would exhaust all God’s merciful uses for justice: deterrence, rehabilitation? Surely the second half detracts from his purposes of mercy, doesn’t further his purposes of mercy, &c.

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      15. Anyway, if it’s about throwing yourself on the mercy of the court, why isn’t “repent” enough — why must it be “repent and believe?”

        Because those are God’s terms, for one. A lifetime spent mocking the judge who determines your eternal fate is a bad strategy, in my opinion.

        (I know I know Neil, I’m without excuse, I’m repressing a truth about these historical events that I somehow know a priori. Why then has no-one in history come to believe in Christianity without somebody explaining it to them first? To say that unbelievers are without excuse is a steep failure of imagination, steep failure to absorb the lessons of cultural relativity*. You think that deep down everyone believes just like you)?

        You are conflating the knowledge that there is a God with the detailed knowledge of Christianity. Big difference.

        Yes, you are without excuse to know there is a God and that you are a sinner. On that point, yes, deep down I think people believe like me (or at least until they repress it).

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      16. Neil said: You are conflating the knowledge that there is a God with the detailed knowledge of Christianity. Big difference. Yes, you are without excuse to know there is a God and that you are a sinner…

        Okay, that’s a little better. Would you add “know that you need a savior” to the list, or does that count as a learned detail…? What about “know that the wages of sin is death,” i.e. “know that your sins will necessitate proportionate punishment?” Or even “know that the other monotheisms are false, once you’ve been exposed to all three?” (Or all four, whatever).

        “Without excuse” is such an outrageous claim that I’d really love to hear you break it down, what is the nature of this knowledge you think I have inbuilt. Even if it’s just knowing, as you’ve said, that there is a God and that I’m a sinner, those are both huge categories. To know that something called “God” exists implies more than a little innate knowledge of its nature, for instance. And you could argue that “sinner” implies what I mentioned above: knowledge that I’m bound for perfect justice — since calling my foibles “sins” and not “offenses against my fellows” displays knowledge that God is the essentially offended party, that my offenses are tallied in the heavens and exactly.

        Which is extremely weird. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of, but good-humored irreverence is not among them, not for a moment. (You wrote “A lifetime spent mocking the judge who determines your eternal fate is a bad strategy, in my opinion”).

        (I ain’t scared).

        Anyway, God the creator, God the designer, these are purely abstract and imposed ideas to me, hypotheses. Hypotheses found direly wanting. They can derive weight only from evidence in their favor, like any other idea; my soul adds none.

        And it’s easily provable that I’m not alone in having no inbuilt sense of God: monotheism made a late appearance in human history. The idea never occurred to a single soul for a good long while, for aught we can tell. Monotheism built necessarily on an accretion of previously established supernatural beliefs. (Robert Wright’s worth watching on “the evolution of God,” by the way). (I haven’t read the book).

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      17. since calling my foibles “sins” and not “offenses against my fellows” displays knowledge that God is the essentially offended party, that my offenses are tallied in the heavens and exactly.

        Yes, your sins are also against God.

        Re. “without excuse,” see Romans 1:18-20 “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.”

        Call it outrageous if you like, but that is pretty plain. God’s divine nature and eternal power are evident in his creation. You suppress that in unrighteousness and thus incur God’s wrath.

        You’re not scared? You can bluster all you like, but that will vanish in an instant when you face God.

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      18. “But surely torment for just half of eternity would exhaust all God’s merciful uses for justice: deterrence, rehabilitation? Surely the second half detracts from his purposes of mercy, doesn’t further his purposes of mercy, &c.”

        Now we’re getting somewhere. I wish people asked questions like this all the time.

        To this I reply:

        What is hell?

        Folks talk about it so much, but what is it? What does it consist of? What defines it?

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      19. What’s hell? ‘Tis of course something different in every head that houses it, being dreamed up. It’s a lake of fire, or it’s seven circles, or it’s a place of exile from God’s love that’s “locked from the inside.” Which last one is quite a nonsense, if it’s torment to be there; not to mention that if it were truly locked from the inside, and our free will is a supreme interest of God’s, there would be cases of souls changing their minds and opting for heaven. What do you think hell is?

        Heh :), that’s pretty cute about theologians arguing whether Jesus was superman.

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      20. Okay,

        This is a good start. We’ve run through some imagery of hell. Some better than others.

        Images are important, but they are not the substance of a thing. Instead they represent the substance. So, what is the substance of hell? What defines it. How, precisely, is it different than heaven?
        Jesus refers to it often as Fiery Gehenna, which is a valley where trash was burned and was relatively close to the Temple. How do we make sense of this?

        When we answer this question, you’ll see that a lot of pieces we’ve discussed in the last 2 weeks will fall in to place.

        As for the Jesus-As-Superman, it is funny, as some of the medieval debates are, but they are also tremendously important for fleshing out the meat and potatoes of the Faith, because it takes the doctrinal foundations we have and attempts to really draw them out to their fullest conclusions in order to know more about who God is.

        The classic example is “How many Angels can dance on the head of a pin.” It’s often mocked, but it’s really a terribly serious question. Can Angels in physical form somehow violate the law of non-contradiction Can two angels, in physical form, be in the same place at the same time?

        The answer is 1. Angels, in physical form, can not violate the law of non-contradiction. God is rational and reasonable.

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      21. Please proceed then, I’ll be curious to hear.

        re angels can’t violate the law of non-contradiction: I note, though, that God in his trinity violates the law of identity….

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      22. 1) On the tangential point of the Trinity, I’d be glad to discuss that in a different set of posts.

        2) On the main point.

        Since Christianity is throwing the term hell around, it seems safe to use the general Christian understanding of hell.

        Hell is always defined in terms of what it is not. The same is done for evil (the absence of good). So in the first, we can define hell as the absence of being in heaven eternally.

        This forces us to define heaven before proceeding, since we are defining hell by what it is not.

        Heaven is, in short, eternal unending perfect relationship with God. It is what we were created for, it is the goal of life.

        As I have said elsewhere, our God is not a tyrant. He does not force people into relationship with Him, rather, His relationship is freely offered. People are free to accept or reject it.

        Hell, being the absence of heaven for all eternity, is the absence of relationship with God for all eternity.

        Fiery Gehenna is an important metaphor, because it is located relatively closely to the Temple. The Temple was where God chose to dwell on Earth, making his dwelling place among the people in the holy city of Jerusalem. That is contrasted with a burning valley of trash (where pagans used to sacrifice children). That is not where God dwells. To be in fiery Gehenna for all etenity is to be absent of God’s presence, and of relationship with him.

        God is not a tyrant and does not force himself upon people. Hell is giving people exactly what they have chosen in life, no relationship with God. Why would a loving God ever force people into a relationship that they freely chose to deny and shun?

        Decisions, choices, are something that take place in time. We are given a lifetime, a few years for some, many years for others, to make the choice for God. But once we die, we are outside of time, and the choice can no longer be made. It is indeed, at that point, too late.

        Only a tyrant would force a person to spend all eternity in a place with someone they absolutely don’t want to be with. And Our God is not a tyrant.

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      23. Oh whoops, that’ll be confusing: LCB’s tale of theologians arguing over Jesus as superman was in another thread, a roundup. An earlier roundup.

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      1. Don’t feel bad, I do that a lot! I’m glad homophones are just a misdemeanor. And, for the record, I didn’t notice yours until you pointed it out.

        Fortunately, most bloggers are pretty gracious about typos and such.

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      2. My wife is a writer and abhors such misdemeanors. She will actually take a different route into a town just north of us to avoid looking at advertising signs and billboards that have misplaced apostrophes.

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      3. Better keep her away from my writings then!

        My wife hates things like “Toys [backwards] R Us” or anything that deliberately misspells something to be cute. It is that school teacher / librarian thing. I tend to agree with her.

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      4. As well she should!

        And then there’s Muphry’s Law. Note the spelling; Muphry’s Law, not Murphy’s Law.

        “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”

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  5. Ta, LCB, lucidly laid out. Objections:

    1) I seriously doubt it makes sense to say that a soul can suffer outside of time.
    2) You acknowledge that God removes our free will upon entrance into hell, our free will to choose his company or not: problematic.
    3) If God’s company is the happiest possible condition, someone could only reject it based on a misunderstanding of what it was, an overestimation of the rewards of sinning. It couldn’t be that they *truly* don’t want his company, only that they don’t know what it really is.

    Elaborations of those objections:

    1) Meditation retreats can feature (as well as gorgeousness) long stretches of tedium, discomfort, even considerable sustained pain if you’re sitting in a lotus posture. (It isn’t masochism … topic for another day). Something you learn deeply at these times is how much mental and even physical suffering is caused by psychological time, the incessant mental modeling of time. “HOW much LONGER must I SIT here MOTIONLESS!” type of thing. When resistance to what-is gives up, as it will at some point in that intense intimacy with yourself, mental time subsides; and then, “all life is just-this-much” (as the old monk said, holding thumb and forefinger an inch apart). Who can’t endure an instant of discomfort? And an instant of discomfort is all we ever have to endure.

    So, in the very heart of any experience lies the realm of freedom — regardless of what that experience is, mountaintop marvels or achy doldrums. In the very heart of it where there’s no resistance and no (psychological) time, one is free of it. But of course during an experience of timelessness, the blood is still pumping, the clock is still ticking, the cells are still aging. Whereas in the timelessness-on-all-levels you’re speaking of, freedom from suffering should be yet more perfect. Even an instant is still time, after all.

    Suffering takes time, quite as much as changing one’s mind does. You can’t say timelessness removes free will but not suffering.

    2) Your excuse for which, I’m guessing, is that he has no other logical option: timelessness doesn’t allow for changing your mind. Not very persuasive. Why couldn’t he have whipped up a little extra time for hell when he made it for Earth, if he values free will above all the world?

    I know you’ve defined hell as just non-heaven, and heaven as timeless. But it doesn’t obviously follow that hell must be timeless too. You might almost expect the opposite, if the reason heaven is necessarily timeless is its *proximity* to God. Anyway hell isn’t merely non-heaven, nothing, nowhere, an absence, if souls experience it. It’s a place, a place outside of all relationship to God.

    (…And how can that be, if God’s the creator and sustainer of all)?

    Also isn’t God outside of time? Yet it doesn’t seem to render *him* impotent.

    3) My obvious frame of reference is the Buddhist “nibbana:” crudely, the dimension of peace and freedom when craving* subsides. People don’t seek it out because they think they’ll find something more fulfilling in pursuing their rainbow of cravings. They’re mistaken; nothing could be more full and lively than peace. If they were thoroughgoingly acquainted with peace, they (I) wouldn’t make that mistake. Likewise, anyone profoundly acquainted with God couldn’t make the mistake of choosing hell.

    *”Craving” (translating “tanha,” I believe…?) has a pretty particular definition here. It isn’t the usual caricature of Buddhism, “all desire is suffering!”

    But your version of hell is at least somewhat more reconcilable, psychologically, with a loving God than Neil’s version — do you guys think I’m right that you differ…? LCB’s version (at least as presented above) doesn’t invoke justice or punishment, rather God’s reverence for free will. (Again, it’s therefore odd that hell is precisely where free will gets removed for all eternity. …Or just plain “eternity,” if you like your eternity timeless).

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    1. My version and Neil’s versions are the same, best I can tell.

      Though Neil and I have some doctrinal differences on other issue, I would be very very surprised if we had any differences on this matter at all.

      Justice is that by which every person receives what is due to them. What is due to a person who rejects God and God’s offer of mercy? Receiving what one is due is the definition of justice.

      Let’s discuss punishment. As always, terms must be defined, and for this I turn to the ever-precise Aquinas. For something to be a punishment it requires two parts. The first part is that the punishing activity (say, being put in the stocks and having rotten fruit thrown at you by the villagers) must be something which a right minded person wants to avoid (like the above example). This is essentially saying, depriving a person of some good. Secondly, punishment must be against the will of the person being punished (I don’t want to be put in the stocks and have fruit thrown at me by villagers!) (to clarify, this is to say that they would not will this for themselves)

      For a punishment to be a just punishment, there must be some associated crime that the individual is guilty of. Further, almost all crimes are failures of the will (either an individual failed to control their impulses, or the individual willed something evil). Through defect or intention, almost all persons are responsible for their crimes.

      Sin is of course an offense against God, a crime. The judge has offered complete and total leniency, if you put take the plea bargain offered. To fulfill justice, if you refuse to take the plea bargain, you will be punished. Since your crime was an infinite and eternal crime against an infinite and eternal God, your punishment must also be infinite and eternal.

      The punishment must meet the criteria above. 1) The punishment must deprive the person of a real good 2) The punishment must be something that they would not actively will. Since we have committed the greatest possible of offenses we must be deprived of the greatest of all possible goods. Further, loss of the greatest of all possible goods is obviously not something a person of right mind would will for themselves.

      The greatest of all possible goods is eternal perfect relationship with God. The punishment is being deprived of that good for all eternity. A person of right mind would not will hell upon themselves. And the individual in this case is guilty, and the punishment is rendered without malice by a perfect judge. The person has received their due. It is, by definition, a just punishment by a just judge for a real crime.

      It can be clearly seen from the above that a just God, in His justice, can indeed condemn a person to hell as previously defined. A loving God provides a way not to go to hell for every single person that wishes to take it.

      Further, God is loving by allowing us to be really free. He could not permit us to sin, thus preventing us from ever entering hell. He could even FORCE us to love and serve Him. But it is better to be really free than to be a robot, and he wants the best for us. Radical freedom has radical consequences. Consider it this way: does a person want a spouse who is forced to marry, or does a person want a spouse who freely chooses out of love? That’s what God wants too, from those who would love him and spend all eternity with him in perfect relationship.

      If you have specific questions or objections I’m glad to address them. As someone who has spent a lot of time with philosophy and theology books, I have trouble with implied questions (like your first 1-3 above), so it helps me a lot if you can state them as concrete questions (such as number 3, I think i know what you’re asking about folks not understanding fully what a great good Heaven is, but if you ended it with something as simple as “Could you address this problem?” I would then be able to answer the question you’re asking, as opposed to the question I think you’re asking).

      One thing is becoming clear, Seas, your attempt to reconile quasi-buddhist beliefs with logic and reason pretty much fails whenever you try it. To be clear, it really doesn’t make sense at all. That is because those beliefs are incorrect, illogical, and unreasonable.

      I highly advise you to repent of your sins and follow Christ. Not only will you win perfect happiness for all eternity, but your thinking will be much more clear for your remaining years on Earth.

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      1. LCB, if I might ask you about one of your statements, you mentioned an analogy of a husband wanting a wife to choose to be with him. Do you regard this offer God something that could ever be refused by a reasonable person who knows the alternatives? If not then it is not really a choice. To truly love someone you would not only respect their wishes to not be with you, but you would wish them well, and hope they find happiness elsewhere. That is love.

        This is a big issue for me in my disbelief. I have a real problem with punishing people. I forgive very easily – almost too easily. As soon as I see that someone had understood the mistake they have made, I feel like I should withdraw the penalty and forgive. I think that the best way to deal with a person that has committed a crime, or has done something to hurt you, is to show them what they have done. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, you know what it feels like when you need to punish them somehow. It hurts a lot, but you know it’s for the best, because the punishment will end, and the child will have learned something. Could you punish your child without end? Could you look them in the eye and say “sorry – you messed up – bye bye”? I couldn’t.

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      2. LCB said: One thing is becoming clear, Seas, your attempt to reconile quasi-buddhist beliefs with logic and reason pretty much fails whenever you try it. To be clear, it really doesn’t make sense at all. That is because those beliefs are incorrect, illogical, and unreasonable.

        You’ve made that claim a couple of times, but you haven’t given a single specific, you haven’t engaged the ideas. I just don’t see them as incoherent, so you’ll have to get much more particular if you hope to have any effect on me. The two Buddhisty points above — about the peace of non-craving and the peace that comes when hallucinated anxieties about past and future subside — seem quite straightforward.

        I’m sure I don’t always express my ideas clearly, but a couple new habits of summing-up or what have you would be a whole lot more help than Christianity. Failure to get an idea across doesn’t mean the idea itself is incoherent.

        I think your understanding of the various Buddhisty points is hampered by treating them primarily as philosophy, as logical edifices, where in fact they’re basically descriptions of experience. You can just enter into them, see if they ring true or not, and discuss from there.

        LCB said: I highly advise you to repent of your sins and follow Christ. Not only will you win perfect happiness for all eternity, but your thinking will be much more clear for your remaining years on Earth.

        And I in turn warmly advise you to meditate! Not only will you enjoy some unique glee and beauty, you’ll grow acquainted with the clarity that transcends all particular thoughts: the wholeness of being-here, before thought divides the world into this and that, me and you. This isn’t an *anti*-conceptual orientation — that would be fragmenting things again. It’s just the active recognition that concepts are a derivative reality, approximate and after-the-fact.

        Says Mary Oliver (I think she’s describing an insect chorus or frog chorus or something): “…the damp and sonorous exultation of the dead, or the not yet born, who still know everything.”

        Thinking, too, functions more lucidly and creatively in this womb of non-thinking: where all assumptions remain transparent to the wakeful, non-conceptual intelligence out of which all thought arises. Awareness itself, namely.

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      3. Whoops, that’s a reply to LCB, not Ryan. Meant it to come after the post beginning “Hi LCB, forgive the hiatus.”

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      4. Hi LCB, forgive the hiatus: been quite busy, had deadlines and such.

        Your/Aquinas’s definition of punishment is probably fair enough, but it entirely begs the question of why punishment is a good thing in the absence of some positive effect — remedial, deterrent. Why is harming evildoers a good in itself?

        It flatly contradicts Aquinas’ contention that “God’s justice must always further His purposes of mercy, and never detract from those purposes.”

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      5. 1) That isn’t what begging the question is.

        2) We do not judge actions by consequences (consequentialism, which means everything is acceptable provided the actor likes the consequences), rather they are judged by intent, circumstance, and the act itself.

        3) To clarify your confusion, punishment when done justly is good unto itself because justice is satisfied and the errant will is reigned in.

        4) I do not understand your point re: Aquinas, for all punishments before hell can serve as a) a source of grace b) a deterrent to hell.

        5) The quote from Aquinas is “The work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy and is based on it.” The quote you gave is a paraphrase to explain Aquinas’ general concept in a specific situation.

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      6. Evenin LCB, I think we’re probably winding down, what? I mean what can I finally say to those of my comrades who think that every brick in hell was laid lovingly, by someone overflowing with tenderness?

        1): Possibly not a textbook example of begging the question, of circularity, since you didn’t explicitly state that your purpose in defining punishment was to show how hell is a good, doesn’t contradict God’s goodness. But this was implied, and you were surely assuming what you need to prove: that punishment is a good thing in itself.

        LCB said: 3) To clarify your confusion, punishment when done justly is good unto itself because justice is satisfied and the errant will is reigned in.

        The point is that where punishment *exceeds* what’s necessary to rein in an errant will — to prevent it doing harm to itself or others — there’s no reason to consider it a good. You’re claiming that doing someone (extremest!) harm with no possibility of a good outcome therefrom is a good thing to do. Doesn’t sound to me like a justice that “presupposes mercy and is based upon it.” Of all things you could say it’s based upon, mercy is the very last.

        Do you agree with that line of Aquinas, by the way?

        So, the onus is very much on you to demonstrate why doing evil is a good. Again, I contend that half of eternity is plenty long enough to serve deterrence purposes, and has the added benefit of allowing for rehabilitation on the part of miserable sinner #26503. (Plus the benefit that you’re not torturing him any more).

        Do you even have a *moment’s* doubt that eternal torment is the most sensible and merciful solution for all concerned? Are you sure your capacity to justify it isn’t based merely on the *necessity* to justify it, in order to keep your non-negotiable system intact?

        P.S. you objected to implied questions in my earlier post: they weren’t implied questions, they were objections, what I see as flaws in your argument. It’s for you to agree or disagree that the objections are valid. I don’t share your assumption that what we’re doing here is “clarifying my confusion.”

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      7. I’m having a lot of difficulty making sense of your posts this evening.

        However, you may find some earlier posts I’ve made concerning how we get to be in hell, and God not being a tyrant, to be helpful in regards to hell.

        The quote you are providing is not from Aquinas, but is an attempt at paraphrasing Aquinas for a particular circumstance. I have addressed that as well.

        I would strongly recommend this book: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Superstition-Refutation-New-Atheism/dp/1587314517

        It contains an excellent primer on philosophy and the language that I’m using.

        Finally, I have difficulty taking your difficult to understand posts seriously when you end them by calling my a chicken.

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      8. This time around I used the quote that you said was direct from Aquinas.

        Didn’t call you a chicken, it’s a question! 🙂 You’re free to answer in the negative.

        (It’s just a tease. One more attempt to coax a direct engagement with some of the ideas out of you).

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      9. I was incorrect concerning the quote, I did not realize that you were quoting Aquinas directly.

        “The work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy and is based on it.””

        That means that God’s activity of divine justice presupposes that God has an activity of divine mercy, and one of the roles of divine justice is to make present and known the divine mercy for those who would accept it.

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