“Are Atheists Sent to Hell?” – No, But They Choose It Anyway

I will not deal with the nature of hell (do we eventually go into non-being?) or the duration of hell (is it eternal punishing as in conscious torment or is it eternal punishment as in consequences that last forever?) – even though I have my beliefs on these issues.

Hell is described in many different ways in order to wake us up to its reality (blackest darkness – Jude 13; everlasting destruction – 2 Thessalonians 1:9; weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 8:12).

But the plea of those in hell is not so much “God, let me out, let me out, let me out.” Rather, it is “God, you get out! Leave me alone, you cosmic Sadist.” Hell is a place where people have barricaded themselves in, in order to keep God out. So hell then is a courtesy for those who insist that they want no part of forgiveness, no part of God. Hell is simply the only place left to go for those who will not accept their acceptance by grace. They are successful rebels to the very end.

Lewis held that there are two kinds of people in the world: (I’m paraphrasing) those who say to God “Thy will be done.” And those to whom God will finally say, “Thy will be done.” If you really want to walk away from life eternal and barricade me out, I have made you with free-will and will honor your choice. Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom and the choices we make. Love cannot be forced. Hell exists because love and grace can be refused.

Having tried to win them, God will ultimately say to some, “All right, have it your way.” This is not cruel or unloving at all. It’s the ultimate expression of a self-limited God who refuses to violate free will.

So yes, to the person who refuses to believe in God, acknowledge him as God, and surrender to His love, and persists in these views throughout an entire lifetime – hell is, in effect, chosen.

George MacDonald talks about the “one principle of hell” in one of his sermons written decades ago. “The one principle of hell is: ‘I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the center from which go out my thoughts. I am the object and end of my thoughts… My own glory is…my chief care… My kingdom is comprised of as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them… It is my right to have what I desire.’ (Truth in Jesus)”

But always remember when you are in any discussion on hell, that Christ says, “You can go to hell if you want, but it’s over my dead body that you’ll do it.” Love…true love…



Filed under Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Deconversion, Free Will, Hell, Rebellion

14 responses to ““Are Atheists Sent to Hell?” – No, But They Choose It Anyway

  1. scaryreasoner

    And Santa would visit your house and literally come down your chimney (even if you don’t have one) and deposit presents under your tree if only you’d believe in him and let him.

    Ugh. Your way of thinking is beyond retarded.

  2. You have been created by God (not Santa). You belong to God. You will always belong to God, whether you believe in Him or not. However, you yourself, can opt out of that which has been provided for all of humanity. You will never be forced to go to heaven/new earth existence. As an atheist, you wouldn’t be happy there anyway (even with presents under the tree every morning). As an atheist, you want life without God. And that is what you shall have – total separation from God in hell, should you continue to choose it, and absolutely insist that His way is “retarded” and your way is the best way to deal with suffering, death, and eternity.

    I don’t think I’ll go with Scaryreasoner or Santa on this one. The stakes are far too great.

  3. ricklannoye

    That’s a nice soft peddling of the notion of eternal punishment, a trend that has been gaining momentum in recent decades.

    But it’s clearly an attempt to blur over two contemptable ideas: 1) that a good deity would ever torture anyone, for any length of time, and 2) that he would decide whom he tortures according to accidents of the time, place and condition of their births.

    Also, it’s not at all noble of an idea that the same deity would require the murder of an innocent being, to let some avoid eternal torment!

    Now, some food for thought that you might not have heard before. Consider what your “Heaven” will be like, if you should get there. Surely, a deity who is simultaneously receiving your round the clock worship all the while keeping the Cosmic Flame Thrower lit upon billions Elsewhere is not the type of deity you can trust to keep his promises to you! Anyone capable of creating a race of sentient creatures only to, knowingly plan for their eternal torture is more likely the kinda being who will quickly grow weary of you too, and could just as arbitrarily toss you into the flames with everyone else.

    Fortunately, no such place as Hell exists. But what is very unfortunate is that many today continue to be haunted by this odious idea, making them vulnerable to many abuses by those who would promise them deliverance from it, at considerable cost to their earthly happiness.

  4. You make some substantial errors (reflecting the prevailing views of hell in modern culture today and the mass media unfortunately)…

    1. Hell is chosen and we are allowed to go of our own free will. If I choose to be where “God is not” can you rightly say that He has sent me there? The atheist wants a world where there is no God; it’s not a matter of evidence at all. There’s plenty of that. It’s John Lennon’s Imagine fleshed out in a worldview that says, “I don’t want God, nor a universe like we have.”
    2. Hell was not meant for human beings. The Bible clearly teaches if was meant for other spirit-beings who have chosen it as well, with rebellion as the foremost manifestation of this choice.
    3. Your view of God is false. God never sends someone to hell for, as you say, “accidents of time, place, condition”. You are buying into the misconception that God is a Cosmic Policeman, and is ready to enjoy the suffering of us lowly humans. Not true with no disrespect intended for those in law enforcement.
    4. The vast majority of suffering is caused by your fellow human beings. Just because God takes a life doesn’t mean a life is “sent” to hell. Ceasing to live in a physical body doesn’t mean eternal damanation, regardless of the cause or causes of death.
    5. There is no proof that you exist as a being forever and forever in hell. There could possibly be a moment when you go into non-being. Jesus said to fear the One who could destroy both body AND SOUL in hell. Your remarks reflect a cosmological dualism, that some dark corner of the universe will always exist with evil quarantined within it. Be careful here, especially when you’re trying to caricature God. You may be a product of your own ignorance.
    6. God is not arbitrary, but in contrast, is very faithful to fulfill His promises. No disrespect intended for you, but you demonstrate that you don’t know the Bible very well when you imply this. It’s all about God fulfilling promises and bringing to pass the broad purposes that He has committed himself to.
    7. Hell does exist. It has too. No one is forced to be in a right relationship with God. It’s an expression of God’s love and commitment to allow you the total freedom to respond to that love. Hell is your right to say no.
    8. The reality of hell is only disturbing to those who choose it. It does not rob a Christian Theist one iota of happiness. Heaven and a renewed earth await those who surrender to the love of God and fulfill all that he wants them to be, which is their ultimate good and our greatest joys.
    9. If you go to hell, it will be over the dead body of Jesus that you do so. Only after a lifetime of persistence can you get it done.
    10. This view of hell is not going to sit well with you because it actually demonstrates that hell is your choice, not God’s arbitrary will. He actually is good, but you don’t want him to be.


  5. >But the plea of those in hell is not so much “God, let me out, let me out, let me out.” Rather, it is “God, you get out! Leave me alone, you cosmic Sadist.”

    Where is that in the Bible? This sounds like you are creating a god in your own image. Now, morally speaking, this is a massive improvement over the hell of the Bible, but it puts you in a very weak position epistemologically.

    Luke 16:23-31 paints a very different picture. I agree that it’s meant to be a parable and not a true story, but it’s the clearest picture we have of the afterlife in the Bible.

    Something that is just taken for granted in the rich mans dialogue with Abraham is that it’s too late to change his fate. He’s stuck in hell because of an impassible chasm between them. Through the rich man’s request for his brothers, we can see how he wished he had lived his own life differently. He wants his brothers to do what he didn’t do – repent.

    If the doors of hell were locked from the inside, the rich man should be seething in anger at the injustice of hell. Instead, he recognizes it as the consequences for his actions and does not seek to justify himself. If hell were only locked from the inside Abraham’s reply should have been “Your brothers won’t repent, but it’s not too late for you. You sound like you’re ready to repent. Let me tell you about Jesus…” Instead, Abraham’s response is essentially “Thy will be defied.”

    This might just be imagery. I don’t see how it could be imagery for the more civilized version of hell you are imagining.

    My idea of hell as a place where the accursed are cast rather than a place they choose comes not from modern culture, but from the Bible.

  6. Some points to consider:

    1. It is a parable (as you have said). Literary form is meaning; it tells us how to read something. We must be careful in reading actual physical realities into this. But Jesus did name the guy (Lazarus), something he did not do in other parables, which makes Lazarus more real, but it doesn’t necessarily argue for a strict literal reading of the story (UNLESS THERE’S A LOT OF ROOM IN THE PATRIARCHS LAP). It’s a reversal story – bad experience on earth, but good experience in the after-life. Recognize the imagery allowed by the genre of this story.

    2. Read the story and you’ll see how day after day, the rich guy chose a life without God (expressed in terms of extreme wealth and extreme neglect of a poor man). God was excluded. That’s what hell is. We choose it all our lives and eternity simply reveals the choice that we made. Unfortunately, as best we can tell (contrary to Catholic explanations of purgatory; and assuming that post-mortem salvation is false), death is followed by irreversible judgment. Physical death locks in the moral compass. The direction that he was heading in this life was carried on in the next life. In the story, the rich guy is STILL trying to tell people what to do. But the game is over. “Your money does nothing for you now” is the implication. Your choice has been made.

    3. Life exists after death and physical properties are ascribed to the man, but don’t take it too far. A chasm fixed between them; people could see both sides; they could communicate with each other; they have physical forms; the rich dude sees his brothers. A strict literal interpretation when the genre asks us to read it as parable presents problems. The “hell” of Revelation is different from sheol, hades, gehenna. In final judgment, there are no remaining “non-believers on earth” to send someone to talk to.

    4. I think its safe for us to conclude, then, that at this point in a pre-Cross / resurrection arrangement of things, Jesus intended for us to envision hell as a real place where real people are; that Jesus used descriptors consistent with what his readers had encountered in their prevailing literature; that this place referenced in Luke 16 is an intermediary place that could eventually give way to the hell of Revelation, where we possibly fade into non-being after experiencing degrees of punishment (conditional immortality proponents make a very good argument here).

    Hell is chosen. We experience the terror of that choice consciously for an indefinite period of time. It appears to be irreversible (eternal – in that the results go on forever and ever), with the possiblity of fading into non-being, and thus removing the problem presented by a cosmological dualism. Hell is filled with those who would actually prefer non-being as opposed to existing with God any where around. Hell is filled with successful free-will rebels to the very end. The atheist chooses it; the sending only becomes real after the choice is made.

  7. You have replaced some traditional dogmas “hell is fire”/”hell is eternal” with new dogmas “hell has to be chosen”/”hell is locked from the inside.” But these new ideas are taught with vastly less clarity than the ideas that you reject. If either is even hinted at in the Bible, let me know the verse.

    While you have some basis for questioning the traditional views (fire in particular), I don’t see any basis for replacing it with your new view. You can read Luke 16 and see the rich man ordering people around in the grave, but this is far from the only interpretation. I see desperation and regret – I don’t judge the heart attitudes behind the snappiness of someone’s request for water while their hair is on fire.

    Another problem with your pick-and-choose which parts are literal is the Hades/hell distinction. If it’s a real story it must be Hades, but because it is figurative, why must it be figurative of Hades not hell?

    The final result looks like an idea of hell that you have reasoned through as “how could God make hell work and still be just?” Which is to say that it is essentially just made up, but you have managed to read it back into the Bible.

    You can argue that eternal hellfire isn’t required by the Bible. And I agree. But the possibility that eternal hellfire is how it really works has more biblical support than the alternative picture you are painting.

    If you’re willing to write off eternal hell fire in part due to what you see as its injustice, I should be allowed to write off the God of the Old Testament in part due to what I see as his injustice.

  8. In this particular apocalyptic plague, which happens on the earth, it’s not, “Please stop. Please stop.” that wins the day. Rather, it’s “I will never bow to you, You Cosmic Sadist.” This verse merely serves to demonstrate this Biblical concept.

    Revelation 16:8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

    As Romans 1:24 says, God “gave them up to…their desires.” All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from Himself. The Bible calls it hell; and it’s chosen.

    In addition, free-will substantiates the “hell is chosen” view. This is laced throughout the Bible (all the free-will verses). It’s only after you choose, that you can be sent anywhere. God lovingly made us with free-will – creatures with the ability to make choices, to choose either good or evil, grace or ungrace.

    As a result of our freedom, human beings introduced something new to the planet – a rebellion against the original design which resulted in a massive disruption of creation, a tear in the fabric of life and all of creation feels it. And if we continue in our rebellion, despite the grace offered, God gives us over to what we really want anyway – separation from Him. Hell is the only place left. The atheist who says: “I couldn’t care less about the existence of God or what God put me here to do. I’m basically going to ignore all that Jesus stuff. It’s pointless, void of meaning for me.” – shall eventually have what he/she wants.

    Life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now. It’s over Jesus’ dead body, but we can go to hell. And the attitude is: “I’ll find life outside of Jesus’ death, thank you very much. No one will tell me how to live or be saved.”

    T.S. Eliot commented that “Hell is onself. Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections.” Hell is a place where love no longer works or woos, for it is no longer possible to win anyone there. It’s not that God no longer loves; it’s that we have chosen to never love again. To choose Hell is to invite God’s absence and to say “No” to love…true love…

  9. As you mention, both verses you give deal with people who are on earth.

    They compete with Romans 14:11, “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” The context of this quotation of Isaiah is “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” I’ll take direct statements about what happens before the judgment seat of God over inferences about what on earth must translate into the afterlife.

    Romans 14:11 sounds to me like the wicked are humbled into sucking up to God in the hopes that they won’t be cast into a place where they don’t want to go, but at this point, it’s too late. Some of that is my interpretation, but the verse alone clashes with your mental picture of the post-death attitudes of unbelievers.

    >In addition, free-will substantiates the “hell is chosen” view.

    Biblical teachings on free-will are an inference (granted, a reasonable inference) rather than a direct teaching. This distinction is important because you view clashes with some direct teachings.

    In any case, the existence of free will and hell being a consequence of wrong choices does not imply that hell is chosen. Perhaps people choose to steal with knowledge that it is wrong and in ignorance of the degree of punishment this will cause. The existence of prisons/hell locked from the outside into which people are case is entirely consistent with the concept of free will and punishment as a result of the misuse of free will. So here, your case rests on a second inference which I do not grant as reasonable.

    To go from verses like “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” to “hell is chosen” requires far more subtle inferences than to go from Romans 9 to a Cosmic Sadist.

    Verse 18-19 say “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'” This suggests that if you think God’s plan involves hardening people and then sending them to hell for not being able to resist God’s will, then you are understanding Paul correctly. Paul has a hypothetical questioner ask this because he knows it to be the nature inference of what he just said.

    Paul’s answer is not to correct the understanding of the hypothetical questioner. His answer is to question their authority to make such a judgment.

    If you had written the Bible, verse 20 would be “No, no! You misunderstood me! Vessels of wrath are vessels of wrath because they choose to be – there is no injustice in allowing people to choose hell.” But Paul wrote Romans and he replies very differently. Verse 20 actually reads “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”

    Thus, I conclude that anyone who thinks God is being just according to any understanding of “just” that we know about is misunderstanding Paul. The resolution offered by the Bible is an exhortation to just not think about it.

  10. A couple of things…

    The ultimate wrath of God is God eventually giving us over to whatever it is that we persistently give ourselves to. The “hardening” is simply God allowing us to have our way; it is never an arbitrary choice of God to make someone his vessel of wrath. God hardening is God allowing us to have our own way.

    The wrath of God is coming against all unrighteousness (major and minor prophets and the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation indicate as much). We have an “ark” if you will, a place of safety from “the flood.” That New Testament provision is Christ. If I choose life without him, I expose myself to divine eschatological wrath. This makes me a “vessel of wrath”. But make no mistake; I chose it – I was not relegated to it.

    Finally, we all deserve wrath. That’s what the gospel is about. If you want to understand the Gospel in a judicial sense, then God’s wrath has already been poured out…. on His Son about 2000 years ago – He died in our place. Anyone believing in him will not be subjected then to the eschatological wrath to come. We didn’t earn this standing; Christ’s gift of life is freely given.

    But, the NT makes it abundantly clear – belief/placing one’s trust in Christ (if the message is heard) is absolutely imperative. A rejection of this offer thoughout one’s entire lifetime subjects them to divine wrath that will eventually be poured out on the earth, with the ultimate outcome, being hell for those who have chosen it.

  11. >The “hardening” is simply God allowing us to have our way

    Yet again, I can see how that would be more just … but that’s not how the Bible puts it. You haven’t addressed the fact that Paul disagrees with you. I hope it bothers you that I’m explaining how the Bible teaches what I’m saying it teaches, while you’re just making claims without a backing. You can’t just throw out all these claims about how God works and expect me to nod my head and go “ohh, that’s how it works!”

    >If you want to understand the Gospel in a judicial sense, then God’s wrath has already been poured out…. on His Son about 2000 years ago – He died in our place.

    Well, here you are being biblical … not logical, but biblical.

    In a judicial sense, or in any other sense, this makes absolutely no sense. Suppose a murderer killed one of your family members, and the judge was about to sentence his to life in prison. All of a sudden I walk in the court and say “send me to prison in his place!” You would look up at the judge in the hope that some nut’s ideas don’t set a murderer free. The judge would give me a weird look, have me ushered out of court, and send the murderer to prison. The substituting of a scapegoat, willing or unwilling, isn’t justice.

    If God’s okay with not punishing us for our sins, he should be okay with not punishing anyone for our sins. That’s what mercy means when talking about people, and I see no reason to redefine the word just so that God’s illogical penalty transfer qualifies as “mercy.” The Gospel is that God killed himself in order to not break a law that he wrote. That was really bad planning, if you ask me.

    The best way to make sense of Jesus’ death is that his followers needed some way of dealing with the scandal of the cross. By elimination, they were forced to the conclusion that God needed to kill Jesus for some reason. Jesus didn’t deserve to die, so that had to be the reason! God killed Jesus because he didn’t deserve it! Given the circumstances, the atonement isn’t that surprising of a conclusion for disillusioned disciples to reach to avoid the conclusion that they followed a preacher in vain.

  12. God is righteous and holy, pure and undefiled. He cannot tolerate sin in His presence. To stay consistent with Who He is, He must stand against sin and rebellion. He is a righteous Judge. He will not compromise with evil.

    R. C. Sproul states: “A just, holy judge who winks at evil and refuses to punish it is not a just, holy judge. That sort of judge wouldn’t be worth respecting. He wouldn’t be consistent to the law or what he believed to be right.”

    The question is: How will He go about forgiving sinful humanity as a holy, just God – because He does love us?

    The Gospel teaches us that God himself in the person of Jesus, took off His robes, draped himself in human flesh, and became the payment for our sin, and died in our behalf. God’s justice was satisfied and his love fulfilled, but it came at an incredible price. This is the Gospel, “the Good News.” It explains how a holy God could declare a believing sinner righteous and fit for heaven while still in his/her sinning, broken, and unholy state. The only requirement is that you believe and receive this incredible gift, and when you do, all of Christ’s righteousness is credited to your account and you are free from paying sin’s penalty.

    The book of Romans seems to be a focus book for you. Romans 1-3 – our predicament. Romans 3-5 – justification. Romans 6-8 sanctification. Romans 9-11 inclusio on Israel. Romans 12-16 practical application. Follow the flow of the book before you analyze yourself into a corner.

    God killing Jesus is pure heresy.

  13. I’m well aware of the flow of Romans. Chapter 9 is kind of like “God damn America.” Sure it needs to be view in context, but is there really a context that changes the meaning all that much?

    >God killing Jesus is pure heresy.

    “But the Lord was pleased to crush him…” I’m pretty sure that thinking Isaiah 53 is about Jesus is orthodox.

    >To stay consistent with Who He is, He must stand against sin and rebellion. He is a righteous Judge. He will not compromise with evil.

    God, I notice you have a concept of good and evil. Where did you get this concept if not from a higher God B? After all, if morality comes from you, things wouldn’t be evil, they would only be things that you don’t like. But despite all this clear evidence for God B, you refuse to believe in anyone but yourself because you are “playing dumb” and seeking to justify your hedonistic life where the entire universe is all about you.

  14. Jeffrey. Jeffrey. Jeffrey.

    Substitutionary atonement. Fleshed out, we could say it this way: when One who has known no tyranny or sin offers Himself freely on behalf of another, then death itself turns backwards and life wins (Is.53). Jesus freely offered Himself, at great cost, I might add. And in the Gospel context: God’s justice has been upheld in the Cross and he remains consistent within Himself in showing to us his love, though vile we humans may be. “It is finished” The Jeffrey’s and Joey’s of the world have a free pass, but it cost Jesus everything. All that was necessary is done. You’re in. Humanity has been extended grace. That which God’s holiness and justice required, God Himself provided.

    It sounds as if you want God “in the dock” here, or “on trial.” But He has already been placed in that position by humanity. That’s what the passion of Christ was about. And what we learn is that He died, in our place, fixing a problem that we ourselves behaved ourself into.

    “God you created me. I can see, think, process, write, desire things, sense right and wrong, and appreciate beauty in a just-right world, and even co-create another human life. But I don’t like you. I don’t like the world you’ve made. I don’t want the universe to be like this. You should be asking me for forgiveness. I want the world to be all about me. Therefore, I’m pulling out of this relationship with Perfect Love. I’ll create my own Eden and worship at my own shrine.” PS I hate You! (even though you don’t exist?)

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