How do you respond to someone who believes that Christianity teaches that the majority of people in the world are condemned to an eternity of suffering after physical death?

Dave, sometime commenter at IASP, was recently confronted with this question and sent me an email with his proposed response. Here, with his permission, is Dave’s thoughtful reply to a question that troubles many people who believe the Christian vision of God is of an arbitrary, mean, uncaring, judgmental force that, for no good reason, intends a large portion of humanity to suffer for eternity.

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Dave writes:

This relies on merely human logic. My apologies, but it’s the best we’ve got.

Any thoughts have to start from at least a few assumptions or articles of faith that are impossible to prove.

My three starting assumptions or suppositions: God exists. God is greater than us. God is good.

God is greater than any human being can imagine or understand. Human beings are limited in our intelligence and consciousness, and therefore we cannot ever claim or assume to have the whole story when it comes to our picture or understanding of God. This applies to humans as individuals and also collectively in the form of our institutions, philosophies and religions. Whatever we think or say about God will be, by definition, incomplete and flawed. We need to be humble.

The Indian story of the blind men and the elephant sums this up well.

Despite this, it is fair to say that humans are “made in God’s image”.

This doesn’t mean that God has a beard or a body.   What it does mean is that there are no positive attributes that humans can have in greater measure than God.

Humans have intelligence and consciousness.   Therefore, God is not an unconscious force of nature, but must have greater intelligence and consciousness than any human being.

Humans are capable of making decisions and acting on them.   Therefore, God must have free will and not be simply on autopilot. God must be capable of acting in the world if God chooses.

Humans are capable of feeling and of exemplifying goodness. Therefore, God must not only be more smart and aware than humans can be, but also have more goodness than a human can. God must have greater love and compassion than any human can have or can even imagine having. God must be more just and fair.

God cannot be less than human.

The goodness of God is central to this. It cannot be possible, if God is God, for us humans to imagine a version of God that is more compassionate or loving or fair than God really is.

How could it be, then, given God’s greater compassion and love and given the limitations of human understanding and goodness, that God would condemn the majority of humanity to eternal damnation for not getting it right in their intellectual beliefs and in their attitudes? In particular, how could it be fair or compassionate if most of those people were doomed through being born in countries with a culture that did not embrace wholesale the religion of a foreign culture?

If we can imagine God being too compassionate to do that, surely the real God cannot be harsher or less caring.

For me, that seems to rule out the traditional Christian belief that everyone who doesn’t buy into Christian doctrine regarding Jesus will burn in hell or expire in nothingness being the final word on God.

This logic does not tell us or inevitably point to who Jesus is and what his true role is. It does imply that God will still love and forgive those who do not assign Jesus the same role in their belief system according to Christian doctrine.

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