This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
How can you worship a God who might send your children to Hell?
Would you send your child to an eternity of suffering, simply because of thoughts in their heads? If your child or children lead wonderful lives, but don't believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins, would you send them to hell? What if they just can't wrap their heads around the concept? Would you still send them to hell? If the answer is no, how can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children? How can you think that is a fair and reasonable thing for anyone or anything to do?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
There are actually two different questions here which are being run together, the first a psychological question (“How can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children?”) and the second a philosophical question (“How can you think that is a fair and reasonable thing for anyone or anything to do?”).
The psychological question is nothing more than an emotionally loaded red herring. It is just an inquiry about one’s personal psychological state. It is a request for an autobiographical report about one’s subjective condition. As such, its answer will be person-relative and have nothing to do with objective truth.
A Word to the Wise: Whenever people pose questions beginning “Would you. . .“ or “If you were. . . ,” then you know immediately that it is a question designed merely to put you in an awkward position, not to get at truth.
The irrelevance of the psychological question to truth is evident from the fact that even if one answered it negatively, it would have no implications at all for the truth of the doctrine of hell. Suppose I were one of those persons who would not or could not bring himself to do X. That implies nothing about the rightness/wrongness of doing X or the truth/falsity that someone does X. It’s just about me and my personal psychology.
Moreover, Dale, your questions are in any case either based on false assumptions or are ambiguous. For example, you’re assuming that God is to be thought of on the analogy of a private person rather than as someone exercising the official capacity of judge. A judge in a court of law would be forced to recuse himself from the case if his son or daughter were brought before him charged with a capital crime, precisely because his personal connection with the accused would tend to compromise his objectivity. Thus, your question is based on a false analogy.
Furthermore, are you talking about small children or adult children? Neither God nor I would send small children to hell, for they are not morally accountable. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19.14). But adult children are no different than us and will be judged as morally responsible adults, just as we are.
Again, neither God nor I would send anyone to hell “simply because of thoughts in their heads.” Where in the world did you get that idea? People go to hell because they willingly reject God’s forgiveness and resist His every effort to save them. In that sense, it’s misleading to talk about God’s “sending” people to hell. He desires and strives for the salvation of every person, but some freely resist His grace and so separate themselves from Him irrevocably. It’s not His doing.
Again, assuming that we are talking about adult children (the only relevant category), what do you mean by “don't believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins”? If they don’t believe because they are ignorant of the Gospel message, then they will not be judged on that basis. But if you mean that they knowingly and willfully reject Jesus Christ as their Savior, then, yes, God will judge them on that basis. The problem is not that they simply lack a certain belief but rather that they repudiate God’s provision for their sin and so find themselves without a savior from the demands of retributive justice. None of us lives such a “wonderful life” that he deserves to go to heaven. “What if they just can't wrap their heads around the concept?” In that case, we’re talking about either small children or mentally retarded adults, who will not be judged on the basis of what they cannot understand. Neither God nor I would condemn them.
So to sum up the psychological question, “How can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children?” I guess I would answer that I know He would condemn them only if they deserved it. I trust in His justice. I also know that He loves them even more than I do and desires their salvation just as He desires mine. The only reason that they would be lost is if they freely and deliberately resisted God, just like a drowning man who again and again pushes away the life preserver thrown to him or the person who knows he has a fatal disease but willfully chooses not to take the antidote despite the pleas of his family. In such cases, how can you blame the rescuer or the doctor for their self-destructive course of action? God’s heart breaks for the lost far more than mine does! That is my honest answer to the psychological question of how I can worship and love Him.
As for the philosophical question, “How can you think that is a fair and reasonable thing for anyone or anything to do?”, I’ve already alluded to the answer, and I’d refer you to my debate with Prof. Ray Bradley on this topic. It’s reasonable so to believe because Jesus taught the reality of hell, and I have good reasons for thinking that he was who he claimed to be, the divine Son of God, and therefore an authoritative teacher. Moreover, there are no good defeaters of this doctrine, given such facts as (i) the universal reality of human evil and our profound need of forgiveness and moral cleansing, (ii) God’s holiness and justice, (iii) God’s will for universal human salvation and efforts to draw everyone freely to a saving knowledge of Himself, and (iv) human freedom.