The following e-mail is a question that we seem to be getting with increasing frequency: "How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don't do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn't ask to be born, and I won't spend my life worshipping an evil abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches."

This is a person in pain--angry, frustrated, confused, misinformed, misled, and disconnected from reality. Much of this person's problems is due to the traditions of man-made creeds and theories. Much of it is due to assumptions that are not valid or biblical. There are some questions and challenges in the message that I, too, struggle with, and I would make no pretense to have all the answers. What we would like to do in this discussion is to dissect this e-mail in the hope that it will help some of our readers who may have some of the same concerns and struggles as the writer of the e-mail but are not willing to be quite as up front in how they present their questions.

Are we created against our wishes? Have you ever gotten so frustrated with life--especially with people in your life--that you wished you had never been born? I think that most of us have gone through that. Job certainly radiated that feeling when he said "May my birth perish, and the night it was said `A boy is born'" (Job 3:3). As an atheist I said almost those very words in a modernized form, and got so far down the road of despair that I actually attempted in a crude way to end my life. From an atheist perspective, there are times when we feel that life is a worthless, meaningless, painful experience that we would rather not endure.

The fact of the matter is, however, that at the end of every night there is another day and things do get better. For the Christian, the meaningfulness of life is more easily seen because of the purpose that each Christian has in living. If your only purpose in living is selfish desires and pleasures, running out of purpose is easy. If your purpose is made up of a bigger view of things, then life is more full and more pregnant with potential. When Job came to understand his purpose in life, what had gone on, and what he had endured, he said to the Lord that before all these things had happened to him, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you" (Job 42:5). He then goes on joyously praising God because he sees a purpose in his life. I am sure Job always had some sobering thoughts and memories of what he lost earlier in his life, but he was glad to be alive and saw purpose and meaning in his life. Saying "I wish I had never been born" is a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis, but in our rational moments and especially for those of us who see a purpose in our lives, it is not reality.

The e-mailer's view of why God tells us to do things is badly misinformed. God does not tell us what to do because He is a control freak. Many people seem to feel that God's commands are just the reflection of an ego that demands things that make Him feel better. The first problem here is that these folks have a very poor understanding of what God is. God is not a human consumed with human passions and weaknesses. God does not have self-image problems, ego problems, moods, sexual desires, power struggles, or feelings of envy. God is not a human and is not limited to human emotions and feelings. God does not need us. Over and over the Bible defines God as love, light, a spirit, not flesh and blood, not a man, etc. (See John 4:24Matthew 16:17; 1 John 1:5; 4:8, 12, 16; Numbers 23:19; John 1:1.) Suggesting that God tells us what to do because He wants to have control over us and satisfy His own power needs is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of God.

It is also important to understand that even with our limited ability to understand, we can see that everything God tells us to do is for our own good. God's rules for sexual expression are the right formula to give us the best and most fulfilling aspect of sex. Sexual clinicians agree that a single committed relationship is the best formula for completeness in sexual expressions, and the fact that STDs will not spread in a monogamous committed relationship is not questioned by anyone. Even the most radical proponents of alternative lifestyles do not argue that their proposals for gay marriage, polygamy, or whatever are superior to God's plan of one man/one wife for life. They just argue theirs is as good--an argument that the data does not support. No one questions the wisdom of the biblical instructions that oppose violence, murder, or abuse.

Even those things that God tells us to do in worship are for our own well being. Prayer is not enjoined upon man because God needs information from us, or because God needs praise. Prayer is an act which helps us to learn to look to a higher power and reach beyond ourselves, something recognized by every 12-step program in existence. It is interesting that some groups opposed to the existence of God are now promoting Transcendental Meditation and other similar acts as a substitute for prayer. Giving is not something God tells us to do because God is concerned about His accounting. If we believe that God is the creator of all things, then we surely understand that God does not need our money. Giving is something humans need to learn to do for their own well being. The biblical injunction "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35) is really a discussion of what benefits the giver, not what benefits the receiver. The person who never learns to give will be unsuccessful in his marriage, in his sexual relationships, in his family, and in his friendships. Every act God instructs us to do is for our well-being, not for control purposes.

The e-mailer's understanding of hell is traditional, not biblical. The Church has done a poor job of conveying what hell is. No one can answer all the questions about hell with authority, because no one has been there and returned to tell about it. We have been influenced by works like Dante's "Inferno." We have had preachers who have used hell as a scare tactic to control their audiences, and all of this has caused misconceptions about hell to exist. We tend to portray hell as a place of eternal punishing rather than a place of eternal punishment--and there is a difference. When Jesus talked about hell, He used words that were clearly symbolic in nature. In one verse He would speak of hell as a place of flames and burning sulfur (brimstone). In other places He would speak of it as a place of darkness (see Matthew 8:12; 22:13). Sometimes we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus used to explain hell, and the portrayal is taken as literal, and yet no one feels that we are instructed to pray to Abraham or that Abraham is judge, which is also presented in the story.

What we can say about hell is that it is total separation from God. An atheist who never wanted anything to do with God in life is going to be granted that same wish in hell. God never forces Himself on any man. We are always free to reject God if we so choose. The only problem is that we also suffer the consequences of what goes with our rejection of God. God is love, light, good, compassion, justice, etc., and all of those things will be a part of heaven. None of those things will exist in hell. Being lost is frequently described in the Bible as "the second death." (See Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.) Theologians argue endlessly over what this means, and whether the soul can die or not, and I certainly have nothing to add to the discussion, but being separated from God and all that God brings to man is not something I wish to even consider.

The e-mailer states everything in diametric opposition to what the real situation is. God is good, not evil. God is love, not hate. Hell is simply the separation from God that the e-mailer says she wants. God clearly says that He does not want anyone to be lost, but for all to inherit eternal life (2 Peter 3:9), but God also allows us to reject Him and all He offers. This is like the parent who painfully looses a child to travel a road the parent wishes he would not travel, hoping that he will survive and return to the love and care of the parent when the child learns of his mistaken choices. The Prodigal Son story in Luke 1 makes this so obvious that no one can miss it. Our actions and rejection pain God, and He always is there to welcome us back. The problem is that our choices can bring us death and an eternal separation from God which is eternal. That is hell and you do not want any part of it. Come to God, obey Him, and enjoy eternal life with love, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and freedom from pain that we can only dimly imagine.

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, MayJun06.