Loving God inconsistent with eternal damnation?

I find the idea of a loving and all-powerful God inconsistent with the idea that some people suffer eternal torment in the afterlife. It seems that if God loves all people, he would surely use his infinite power to prevent eternal suffering from being inflicted on any of them. I’d be interested to hear how those of you who believe in both a loving God and eternal damnation reconcile these two seemingly (to me anyway) contradictory ideas.

This is one of the issues I can very stubborn debate on and especially with those who think that everything is and should be black/white in this matter.

A few possible points of view:

  1. You can not know on which standards God “reasons”. Hence you also can not know what “eternal damnation” exactly means in these divine standards.
  2. Your religion provides you for clear rules and the guidance to make sure that you know where and when you transgress them. Hence the choice is yours to make and your responsibility only.
  3. For Islam especially counts the rule that only God knows what is in people’s heart. This means that only God can judge if some trangression really is one or not and only God can see the reasons behind your behaviour and what led to that behaviour. Since there is good in everyone, even in the people you think they can not have anything good in them, you know that God takes this into account.
  4. If you take all of this into account whenever one talks about “eternal damnation”, then clearly point 1 should be taken as your starting point and your guidance for interpretation.
    Salaam. A

I hope that all beings eventually receive salvation through entrusting themselves to God through Jesus. I believe that every opportunity, in this life or the next, will be afforded to everyone. I have to concede the possibility that some will reject every opportunity & irrevocably harden themselves against God/Jesus. Those that do will cut themselves off from all Love & Enjoyment of existence, even if, maybe especially if, they dwell among the Blessed Souls in Heaven in the Full Presence of God. Thus, they may well chose their own damnation, feeling torment from the very Loving Presence of the God they rebel against. God in His mercy may well allow them then to fade from existence.

I do agree that the scenario in most conservative C’nity that if one doesn’t accept Christ in this life (no matter the circumstances), one immediately goes to eternal torture at death is not consistent with the belief in a fully compassionate or fair Deity.

Actually, the Bible never uses the word “torture,” and I don’t ever remember hearing conservative Christianity use that precise term either. The Bible does mention eternal torment, which is not the same thing. As J.P. Moreland pointed out, we can expect the lost souls to be separated from God and eternally cognizant of what they had missed out on, which is most certainly a form of anguished torment.

This is a problem for me too. In another thread (there is no God) Lib gave what I thought was an interesting answer to the problem-from at least a Christian POV.

Here’s the thread.

I think that eternal torment is a big problem (if it is the case) with a benevolent God, however I also think a big problem is the mixing of the message-so-to-speak. I haven’t done nearly enough research to make any sort of concrete statement about God/religion/etc, but there are only three ways to look at the matter of multiple religions (at least that I can think of):

  1. Only one of the 3,000 + different religions is ‘correct’ and will get you an afterlife. Eternal torment, suffering, gnashing teeth etc await the nonbeliever or sinner.

  2. The point of religion is to provide a pathway to the divine. There isn’t one path that everyone can walk on, hence multiple religions. In this scenario, I don’t think it’s really possible to say if anyone gets damned or not. I’d say no because it would strike me as particularly fair…

  3. Religion was created entirely by man. God doesn’t exist.

I’ve flip flopped between all three of these extremes and as of right now I’m fairly skeptical about the whole state of affairs, to be honest.

Don’t know if this helps at all…

I didn’t mean to imply the Bible taught eternal torture, but that the common conception among many conservative C’tians was that Hell was eternal torture. Of course you are right that the Biblical concept of torment is much more nuanced than that.

a) If I am a 1st grade teacher and I tell my young students “Do not be careless playing on the monkey bars. If you hang upside down and lose your grip, you will fall and it will hurt”, I am not a cruel mean grownup punishing disobedient kids when some of them do, in fact, fall and it does, in fact, hurt.

b) Even if I were a very special 1st grade teacher with the authority to make the rules of gravity and elastic collisions and the bodily architecture of pain-sensing neurons and so on, it would still not be an act of personal cruelty if Theresa or Jerry fall and get hurt – it’s not like I made the rules specifically to apply only to Theresa or Jerry, I set things up like this a long time ago, and it’s mainly a good and sensible setup, but it is nevertheless a world with consequences to actions, and some consequences hurt.

c) Beyond the black-and-white of “either you believe in God or you don’t” lies a lot of room in which to consider that it may not be true that God is going to personally judge you and personally and deliberately and vindictively condemn you to hell under certain circumstances, and yet still may be true that if you do not live as many wise people have suggested you should – Jesus of Nazareth among them – then it will be as if you fell from the top of the monkey bars and landed badly. It will hurt.

d) Living your life in a certain fashion is more of an ongoing thing than a moment at the top of the monkey bars. If you live your entire life in a fashion that brings you pain, well…

I hate to dispute a metaphor by pointing out how it isn’t perfectly analogous to the situation being discussed, since once can say that about every metaphor. However, I do think a key difference between this monkeybar situation and Hell is that the pain caused by falling off the monkeybars is temporary, whereas the torment of hell is eternal (if I am correctly understanding Christian theology.) If you were a first grade teacher, and you told your kids not to play on the monkeybars because underneath the monkey bars was a pit of molten lava that would burn them for a hundred million years, and a kid ignored you and played on the monkey bars and fell, I think it would be somewhat uncompassionate of you to just leave them there burning for all eternity when you have the power to save them.

I’m not trying to say the Christian God is cruel or lacking in compassion, I just don’t understand how Christians (or others with similar beliefs) reconcile this view of God with the belief that God is infinite love.

Martin Luther used to struggle with this problem and after a while he said ‘if it were man’s justice and not Gods justice, it would make sense to man’. SOmething along those lines. I dont agree with it (dont really believe in god anyway) but thats the conclusion he came to, that Gods justice and the reasons behind his are pure and infallible while mans are not.

It’s a toughie, isn’t it?

The metaphor does break down, but not for the reason you suggest, I think.

As best as I understand it, in current mainstream Christian thinking, the pain of hell is complete separation from God. The lakes of fire, fumes, demons with pitchforks etc are a metaphor for this pain (or, in some traditions, they are regarded as real, but nevertheless are insignificant beside the pain of separation).

God does not condemn people to complete separation from him; on the contrary, he invites all people to come to him.

One aspect of God’s love is that he has given people free will, and he accepts their choices.

People have to accept God’s invitation to come to him; it is not forced upon them. They can choose to separate themselves from him. God cannot rescue you from your choice except by denying you free will, which is to diminish you, to make you less than you are. And, because God loves you, he cannot diminish you.

Hence hell exists, at least as a theoretical possibility, because it is the inevitable consequence of our having a free choice to accept God or to reject him. To deny hell is to deny human freedom.