Free Will from an Atheist point of View

Hello RZIM Connect family,
I was watching a debate with atheist Keith Parsons and he said something like this “it’s not really free will when you go to hell if you don’t choose to follow God.” This is true. It puzzled me. Sometimes I’ve thought about how morally weak we are in nature, what’s a good response for someone when they say “I didn’t chose to be born, I don’t want to play this game of winning heaven yet I’m trapped because If I end my life I go to hell”. Thanks in advance for your comments!!
Grateful for this community,
Jenny

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@Jenny_Cerna Great question :slight_smile: The premise of this statement is false. Free will does not cease to be free just because the consequences for not choosing Jesus involve judgment. Free will means we can choose; it has nothing to do with the consequences of choosing.

This objection is not about free will; it is an attack on God’s character. In particular, it is an accusation that God is unjust to condemn people who reject Him to everlasting torment. And to this objection there are several responses:

  1. None of us know anyone’s eternal destiny. God alone is judge. God knows every person’s heart—He knows every hurt they’ve suffered and every sin they’ve committed. He does not judge as a human judges. His judgment will be just and right and good and true. The proof of this is in Jesus, who showed us that God loves us on the cross.

  2. Christians disagree about the nature of judgment on those who ultimately reject God. The images that we have of people being tortured in the afterlife are pagan----they are not to be found anywhere in Scripture. Well known evangelical Christians, such as John Stott, have believed that unbelievers will cease to exist after the judgment if they ultimately reject God.

I also think we can learn a lot from Pascal’s approach to sharing his faith. He believes that God has revealed Himself in exactly the right way so that people can freely choose to accept or reject. There is no arm twisting; God does not force anyone to choose one way or the other.

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Blaise Pascal

"He gives exactly the right amount of light. If He gave less, even the righteous would be unable to find Him, and their will would be thwarted. If He gave more, even the wicked would find Him, against their will. Thus He respects and fulfills the will of all.

If He gave more light, the righteous would not learn humility, for they would know too much. If He gave less light, the wicked would not be responsible for their wickedness, for they would know too little." -Blaise Pascal

Here is a thread on Hell. I highly recommend reading the resources provided to gain a deeper understanding of this topic.

  1. God will judge each person according to the knowledge they possess - the judge of all the earth will do what is right
  2. It is not clear that Scripture teaches eternal torment for those who reject Jesus - it is possible that after they are judged by God they will cease to exist - this view is called annihilationism

God judges the heart

We should not pronounce judgment before the appointed time when God judges men’s hearts. Rather, we should exhort people to come to Jesus and find life in Him. If we examine Scripture, we see that God’s judgment will in the end be based upon the secrets of men’s hearts. Romans points out that Gentiles are a law to themselves and many passages point out that God will judge men based upon their inner thoughts - their hearts. If someone has never heard of Jesus, we can trust that the judge of all the earth will do what is right.

1 Corinthians 4:3-5 - I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Hebrews 4:13 - Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 - Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Romans 2:12-16 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

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Thank you so much! Now I have to memorize all of this :slight_smile: anything more about the pagan belief of hell you mentioned at the beginning? I didn’t know about that.

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@Jenny_Cerna There are two different ideas that contribute to eternal torment that have their roots in pagan philosophy / religion. The first is the idea that the soul is inherently immortal. If the soul is inherently immortal and it is not with God, then it must be somewhere—hence eternal separation from God. However, there is nowhere in Scripture that explicitly says that the soul is immortal. In fact, 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God alone is immortal.

The second is the idea of torment. Pagan visions of hell did include depictions of torment. In Greek mythology, Tartarus was a place where the gods locked up their enemies and where the most wicked went to suffer. In certain sects of Hinduism / Buddhism, Naraka is a place where people are tormented by evil beings. While the New Testament does talk about a final judgment, there is no depiction of people being tormented by other beings.

I recommend the following resources as a good starting place to understand this question more.

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Hello Jenny, your question is a great one. To answer whether because we were birth not by our choice, we have no choice and have to been forced to play a game God has set, I think can be best answered if we knew who we are in the first place. If we don’t know who we are, how can we really tell we had no choice and are in the wrong place?

  1. We could not have had a choice before birth because, before our birth man was a part of God’s idea.
    Joh 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The word means logos and logos means divine idea. We are a product of the logos, so once we get into the flesh that is when choices begin. So actually, we were created for God and are not our own.

Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

  1. I believe the issue of judgement comes into play because, if anyone of us was to build a robot for a purpose, it is useful as long as it fulfills that purpose. Judgement comes in not because of wickedness but because of just putting thing right in universe. What doesn’t fit in automatically becomes a waste. (a little harsh though)
    However, the love of God in the picture is that, He does not want to create robots but relational beings who will serve their purposes out of love and not without their will, which is what makes relationships. So when we accept Jesus, we step into that will he predestined for us.
    Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

God ordained that we walk in his will of Good works even before we were “built” or created.
we have that choice and yet his sovereignty and justice will make him have to judge when the time is due.

So within the boundary of choices we have a choice, it is only that, I think some people just don’t like the hell option, they wish it is heaven or probably nothing at all. They just don’t like God or don’t understand him, but that also shows they don’t really understand who they really are. I would have advised atheist to first try God before they choose to be atheist. Because in Christ Jesus we really get to know who we are. In Christ we can make better judgement.

Just sharing some thoughts, hope it fit in somewhere.

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Hi @Jenny_Cerna! Thank you for sharing about the dilemma which arises from these statements. @SeanO is certainly correct that the argument doesn’t hold logically, and that alone goes a long way to disarm the apparent dilemma.

As I considered the relation of freedom and eternal destiny, C.S. Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain comes to mind. I recommend to you his remarkably insightful chapter simply titled “Hell” where he addresses the misconceptions of hell, and the most central objections to the doctrine. There he wrote the memorable and heartbreaking line:

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside…

He goes on to explain this statement:

They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free. In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven [they refuse the gift]. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.

In his fictional reflection on hell, The Great Divorce, he addresses the question of free will in a similar vein:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

In sum, what Lewis is highlighting is that heaven or hell as a reward or punishment for choosing Jesus (or not) fails to make the connection between the choice and the outcome—so it appears arbitrary. Lewis is pointing to the intimate connection: we are offered the enjoyment of God, but if we do not want him, he will not force us to have him. Does this help show the difference? Insisting on independence from the only source of Good in the universe (God) can hardly result in anything other than what can be described as hell.

There are certainly other views of hell, but I think Lewis’s perspective is worth considering. His insights are valuable, both in the book chapter I referenced as well as in his imaginative work, The Great Divorce…and they might be especially helpful for you because he is very attentive to the question of the human freedom and will.

I hope it is plain that neither Lewis nor myself intends to be cavalier in discussing such a burdensome reality, somehow reducing hell to an abstract discussion. To assert that people choose hell is not an effort to make it for a moment less grievous (for it accomplishes no such thing); it is to maintain the character of God against arguments which impugn his goodness.

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Thank you so much @radypady! And for including scripture:-)

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@Lizibeth thank you! I will buy and read those books !

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@SeanO You always dedicate time to help me with my questions I appreciate you and God bless you for that. I love reading and will add those books to my pipeline !

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Just a small additional thought.
I think the fact that people would generally rather not go to hell doesn’t bypass our ability to choose freely, it just reveals that we have an intrinsic longing for something good and satisfying instead of pain and suffering is deeper than mere self preservation instinct.
Only God of course can satisfy that longing

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Hi @Jenny_Cerna
I disagree with Keith Parsons quote when he says 'it’s not really free will when you go to hell if you don’t choose to follow God.’ It is free will in action by the person. You see God respects our free will so much that he doesn’t force anyone to love him or spend eternity with him. So while on earth if someone chooses to live their life separate from God, then they will spend eternity separate from God because that’s what they wanted. God’s not going to haul someone to heaven to be with him if they don’t want to spend their time on earth with him. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to say they don’t want anything to do with God on earth but then say they want to go to heaven because heaven, among other things, is eternal worship of God so they would hate to be in heaven worshiping God if they don’t want to worship him on earth. Hope this sheds some light on your question, many blessings. Pete.

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Hi @PetePete thank you! I think his point is that hell is probably a very ugly place to be worse than the world, maybe burning in fire eternally etc. I definitely need more knowledge in this topic I got great resources to read and respond. And yes you are right Heaven will be eternal worship of our Heavenly Father and so am atheist will not like that. Great point.

Welcome and blessings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In addition to listening to the riveting teachings of Ravi Zachariah’s on this subject. I also recommend reading (or better yet, listening to the audio ) C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”. Also, read this article online: “How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus” by Sarah Irving Stonebraker. This is the link: http://www.veritas.org/oxford-atheism-to-jesus/ity

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@Jenny_Cerna Oh I see. After reading your response I had an impression to send you some links of something that has helped me in my knowledge and to better respond to peoples questions. His name is Cliffe Knechtle, he goes to Universities to answer students questions about a wide range of topics, you may already know about him but in case you don’t here are some links:
https://givemeananswer.org/


May God bless you and illumine your heart and mind to His Word in your faith journey.
Your bro in Christ. Pete.

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