This post is intended for genuine believers in Christ, or at least, those who are intimate with the Christian worldview. If you are the type of person who thinks it’s completely obvious that there’s no God, that the idea of sacrifice or vicarious atonement is repugnant, etc., there are plenty of Sundays when I’m happy to debate you–but I am aiming this particular post at fellow believers.
So here’s my question: If we’re saying that only the elect go to paradise, and are “saved” through their faith in Jesus (which itself is not because of their hard work), then what does it mean when we say to anyone who will listen, “Jesus died for our sins” ? Doesn’t it sound like you really should be saying, “Jesus died for my sins, and maybe He did for yours too… Let me ask you a few questions and see if I can give you an educated opinion.” ?
Another common Christian statement: Jesus conquered death. Well hang on a second: If a bunch of people are going to hell, and are dead because of their sin, it sounds like we’re using “conquered” in an odd way.
I have used this analogy before, but I’ll repeat it: Picture a parent who took her 3-year-old to the park. He’s having a great time. But it’s time to go, and the Mom says, “OK Jimmy we have to leave now.” But Jimmy will have none of it. He keeps going down the slide, chasing other toddlers around, etc.
So the Mom says, “All right Jimmy, you can stay here if you want. But I’m going home.” She packs up the sippy cup and snacks, and starts walking to the car. “Bye Jimmy, I’ll see you later. I hope you don’t get too cold when it’s nighttime.”
Now if someone who had absolutely no clue about what it’s like to be a parent saw that (typical) scene, he might be aghast. “What a horrible parent!! She’s either lying to her poor little kid and scaring him half to death, or she’s the most sadistic adult I’ve encountered in a month! That kid is going to have all kinds of abandonment and trust issues later on.”
So I’m wondering if this is how we will all realize typical atheist critiques of the God of the Bible will sound, when we are reunited with Him in heaven and can understand exactly why He did everything that He did. Maybe we will see that yes even Jesus used imagery of unquenchable fire, but that was to drive home the point that you really don’t want to choose hell. You want to choose to follow your parent. Yet at the same time, your loving parent really wasn’t going to let you “choose” something that catastrophic because you had no clue what you were doing.
Let me say one last time in closing: I understand full well that there are a lot of scriptural passages that contradict me here, but that’s why I bring up the analogy of the mom threatening to leave her kid at the park. That bluff only works if the kid believes it. And in that situation, we can understand that it’s not a case of “lying to manipulate your kid,” or at least, that you would have to be completely out-of-touch if that’s how you chose to describe the situation.
Final point: I am not saying that I understand the full situation. What I’m saying is, we necessarily are like the 3-year-old in the analogy. No matter what the Mom said to him, he wouldn’t possibly conceive of how bad it would be if she really took off and left him alone. So please don’t tell me, “Bob, if the situation is more nuanced like you’re claiming, then Jesus would have just told us that.” No, He used parables all the time, because He knew even His closest disciples couldn’t see things at His level. So He had to dumb it down for them, and in so doing, certain things were rendered imprecise. So the one thing of which I am confident is that when we finally understand God’s plan, we will really feel with utter certainty that it was just. Right now, I have to admit that the standard atheist critique–“Your God says, ‘You better love me or I burn you for eternity.'”–isn’t nonsense.