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Hard Questions: hell, God's love

My friend had a conversation with her coworker recently where he asked some tough questions about the character of God.

  • How can a God be just and all-loving but know someone is going to hell?
  • How does God allow people to be put into families that are Muslim or atheist and not really give them a chance to know Him?

There’s an aspect of free will, but is it really free will if God knows they’re going to hell?

These are super tough questions, and I appreciate any help or resources to give a good answer.

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… Interesting.
When discussing these kinds of things with your Christian friends or parents or church leaders what do they say?

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It sounds like your core question is whether we can really have free will if God already knows we’re going to hell. Since God can never be wrong, then doesn’t His inerrant foreknowledge really limit all of our future “choices” down to that one thing that God already foresees us doing?

That’s a very good question, and one that I wrestled over for years until I read some things that really helped me put it into perspective.

Let me conduct a thought experiment with you for a moment. Suppose God foreknows that tomorrow at lunch, you’re going to choose the fried chicken. Okay then, from before the foundation of the world, what has God always foreknown that you would choose for lunch tomorrow? Chicken, right?

Ah, but - suppose you suddenly change your mind and go with the fish instead? Now what has God always foreknown that you would have tomorrow? Yes - fish!

But wait - suppose at the last moment you take the meatloaf? Now what does He foreknow you would choose?

Now, we can keep on doing this, but at some point you’re going to have to face the question - who is the one that really keeps changing his mind here - you or God? In other words, is it God’s knowledge that determines your decisions, or is it your decisions that determine what He foreknows? And whichever way you choose to answer that will reveal whether or not you really believe in human free will.

If you say, “Whatever I freely choose will become what God knows,” then congratulations - you’re not a puppet after all. You really do make your own choices, and God’s knowledge becomes a result of your decision.

If you say, “No, whatever God foreknows will be what I eventually do”, then sorry Marionette - your whole life comes with strings attached - and God’s knowledge becomes the cause of your actions.

I think the real key to this has to do with the nature of eternity.

We tend to think of eternity as just infinite amounts of time extending into the past and future. But that’s not really true. Time is not eternal. It had a beginning - Genesis 1:1. And time will have an end when this creation collapses back into the great Nothing from whence God called it at the start - Revelation 20:11.

Time is not eternal, but also, eternity is not time. Eternity is where God dwelt before time began - where He dwells still and always will. But eternity is not a place, it’s a condition. In fact, we’ll often describe someone who died as having “gone out into eternity”. We mean they’ve transcended this realm of time and space, they’ve gone outside of it into the presence of God. Because He dwells beyond time. Of course, He dwells throughout all time as well, but He isn’t bound by it.

Just as His omnipresence means that He’s everywhere at once, not only in this physical creation, but thoughout all of infinity beyond it as well - in the same way, His eternality means that He is “every-when” at once, not only throughout all time, but throughout all eternity beyond it too.

And so the Bible describes Him as the One Who is, Who was and Who will be, all at the same time. He’s the everpresent One. He’s already in all your tomorrows, He’s still in all of your yesterdays, and He’s here with you now as well.

So does God know what you’ll choose for lunch tomorrow? Of course, He does - He’s already in your tomorrow watching you do it. And as C. S. Lewis put it, “To watch someone do something is not at all the same as to make him do it.”

So when we talk about God’s “foreknowledge”, we’re really speaking from the human point of view. Since God is completely unbound by time, nothing is “fore” to Him. Nothing is past. All times are simultaneously present to Him.

Einstein once said that “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” Because we couldn’t handle everything at once. But for God, that’s not even hard.

I’ll close with this. Does God’s memory of everything you’ve ever done in the past cause you to make those choices? Of course not. Nobody ever get confused about God remembering things we freely chose to do. Nobody ever imagines that “from the end of time God has always remembered everything I’ve ever done, and therefore I was post-destined to do them!” That would be silly!

Well, it works the exact same way from the other direction too - because with God, the future, the present and the past are all alike. From His vantage point in eternity, He could say something like, “I remember what you did tomorrow!” Such a statement from us would be sheer nonsense - but with God, it’s the gospel truth!

I hope these thoughts help you make sense of this very metaphysical perspective. But when you’re talking about God, you really can’t expect everything to be easy!

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What an AWESOME reply!!! I really enjoyed reading that!!! Thanks for sharing.

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Hello Hope,

You are correct these questions are tough, but they are not uncommon from those who are trying to understand who God is, what is His nature and His character are like. I have a couple of thoughts that might help you in the conversation with the co-worker. :upside_down_face:

#1 How can a God be just and all-loving but know someone is going to hell?

With this question I think it would be helpful to first look at the question that all world views must answer; what happens to people when they die? :thinking: An important question to ask the co-worker. As Christians we believe there is a place called hell that people go if they reject God or heaven if they will trust Him. Having a destination brings meaning and purpose to the lives of people that is measured beyond our own self determined objectives. For those that don’t believe there is a God, that may or may not allow people to go to heaven, or hell, their lives can only be defined by their own self determined purposes. For most of us meaning determined by self will be lost shortly after we leave this earth by those trying to establish their own purpose. :disappointed:

The second part of the question; how God can be just and loving at the same time. Here I believe only the Christian world view answers this question with any depth of meaning. As an example; if someone violated the co-worker in some way (stole his car); would the co-worker view the judge as loving, if he let the thief go without punishment. Probably not (if the co-worker thinks he would let the thief go, then it will be OK to borrow his cell phone…. forever), but usually, if people are honest our society struggles with, the less than adequate punishment for those that do horrible things to other people. That’s why our society says that black lives matter. So it’s in God’s justice, that we value His love for all people. But here is what sets Christianity apart from all other views of what the character of God is like. Because God’s justice must be satisfied, God Himself came in flesh (as Jesus) to substitute Himself to pay the penalty for the one who stole the car if the thief will trust Him with his life moving forward. Jesus will pay the required penalty for the one that has violated other people and more importantly, the one that has violated God Himself, if they will trust Jesus completely with our lives from here on. :smile:

Here in lies the problem with most people today……we have a hard time giving up being god in our own lives. :frowning_face:

How does God allow people to be put into families that are Muslim or atheist and not really give them a chance to know Him?

This next question is kind of interesting in that the person asking the question seems to know that God can’t reach out and touch or draw unto himself people from other religious backgrounds, or those that have no religious background. :neutral_face: This idea is completely false. I have a son-in-law that was a person born into an atheist family, lived the first 35 years of his life as an atheist, but who has now come to saving faith in Christ. The founder of RZIM, Ravi Zacharias came from a Hindu background to saving faith, Abdu Murry another RZIM speaker was a Muslim before coming to faith. God is searching the world over and will draw unto himself people who really want to know Him. He can and will draw them. If I could encourage you to read Romans 1:18-31. It talks about how God has revealed Himself to all people and the results for those that don’t respond to His revelation. I think it might be helpful to have a look at this passage. I think this question is an attempt to bring God down to a human level and human abilities. Our God is the creator of all people and He alone knows how to reach each person in the whole world if they will respond to His call. :smile:

Your next question around free will, I think has been answered very well by @jlyons The end result being that; just because God knows our final decisions does not mean that He determines them. These are 2 distinct categories.

Hopefully there is something here that will help you speak into the co-workers life in a meaningful way. I pray that your friend, would pray and persevere through these difficult conversations. It can sometimes take a while for people to wrap their minds around some of these concepts, and then also be willing to give up the control of their lives.

Don

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I struggled with the question, ‘How can a God be just and all-loving but know someone is going to hell?’
Then I heard an explanation that helped me.
First, consider the cost of the commitment God made throughout the Bible to bring an opportunity for each person to come to him.
Second, Sin is serious and cannot be dismissed without payment. God’s nature is loving and just. Picture God as a circle love on one side and wrath on the other. Each individual moves himself, by his own choice from one side to the other.

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