The Craig-Bradley Debate:
Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Dr. Craig's Closing Comments

Don Reddick:

Thank you, Dr. Bradley. We will now have Dr. Craig and his closing comments.

Dr. Craig:

In my opening speech I argued that there is no incompatibility between God's being all-loving and some people separating themselves from God forever and being lost in hell. And I suggested that if you are going to show that those are incompatible you have to show these two assumptions to be necessarily true: (i) that if God is all-powerful, He can create a world in which everyone is freely saved. And I think it became very evident during the cross examination time that Dr. Bradley has not succeeded in showing that that proposition is true. He's clearly confused the notion of possible worlds and feasible worlds. Certainly it is logically possible for everyone to freely receive God's salvation and be saved. But so long as people are truly free, there is no guarantee that God can actualize or create such a world. So long as people are free, it may be that if God actualizes a world of free creatures, some of them would freely reject Him and be lost. I think that Dr. Bradley's failure to distinguish between what's feasible and what's logically possible invalidated his refutation of that point.

(ii) I also argued that, in any case, God's being all-loving does not necessitate God preferring a world in which everybody is freely saved over a world in which some people are freely damned--particularly if the worlds that have universal salvation have overriding deficiencies. Dr. Bradley never attempted to show that that assumption was necessarily true. So I think that he has failed to show any sort of logical inconsistency between God's being all-loving and some people freely rejecting God and being lost forever.

Now he did have this positive argument, that did not get discussed very much, based on proposition P. But as I say, it seems to me that P is completely false. P would imply, for example, that a description of God, who exists in all logically possible worlds, is somehow a meaningless description because the opposite cannot be true. And that's just wrong. If you take a logical description of a circle with the properties, say, for figuring the area and circumference of a circle, they can't possibly be false; and yet that description of the circle is obviously meaningful. So all of his arguments based on P and P 1-5, it seems to me are simply wrong; they're logically fallacious. P is false. It's probably necessarily false. So on the intellectual level, I don't think we've seen any good reason to think that it is incompatible or logically impossible to say that God is all-loving and all-just and that some people freely separate themselves from God forever.

Now Dr. Bradley made a good deal of quoting the fiery images from the Bible, which are one image among many others, and these images are generally taken to be metaphors. I don't have to defend such ridiculous things as what "Father Furnace" had to say. These are metaphors for eternal separation from God. And it is interesting that Dr. Bradley misquoted II Thessalonians 1:9 a minute ago. He quit reading right in the middle of the verse. The verse goes on to say they shall suffer "exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." And that's really the essence of what hell is. It is eternal separation from God. And that is awful! I don't want to minimize it. It is horrible. The metaphors of flames and weeping and gnashing of teeth are meant to convey what it's like for a person to be lost forever in a world just of his own, with his own selfish heart, his own selfish desires, and away from the source of all love, all goodness, all truth, and so forth. So it is terrible.

But my point is that God has provided a way of escape from this, and it's entirely up to us whether we avail ourselves of it or not. In fact, I like Dr. Bradley's trilemma here. Jesus, he says, who taught the doctrine of hell, is either malevolent, mistaken, or misreported. He's clearly not malevolent because you look at the way he treated women and children and social outcasts and the disadvantaged; he's not a malevolent man. He's not misreported because his teachings on hell are found in all the of the strata of the New Testament documents. That means that if Jesus is wrong about hell, he must be mistaken. But then the question comes down to "Who was Jesus, then?" Was this man mistaken? I would argue that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the absolute revelation of God. I think there are good historical grounds for believing this. I will be sharing some of these in a talk tomorrow on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.{1} And on that basis I think that Jesus knew what he was talking about. He can't be mistaken as the Son of God and the revelation of God. Therefore it follows that what he said is true. So I think that far from disproving hell, Dr. Bradley's trilemma actually serves to show that what Jesus said is right. And it focuses our attention in the proper place: who was Jesus?

Finally, let me just close by saying this. It seems to me that this problem of the doctrine of hell isn't really for most people an intellectual problem at all. And I think that in many of the comments Dr. Bradley just made in that last speech we saw that. It's an emotional problem. And I think that this is easily proven. How many people do you know who reject God or Christianity because of the question: "How could an all-holy and just God send people to heaven?" As a purely intellectual problem that is every bit as difficult as how an all-loving God could send people to hell. But how many people reject God or Christ because they just can't figure out how an all-holy, all-just God could permit people to go to heaven? Nobody, right?

I think this shows that the problem is primarily emotional, not intellectual. People just don't like the idea of a God who might send them to hell, and so they choose not to believe in Him. But that kind of attitude is just suicidal. Imagine you're standing in the middle of the street, and suddenly a friend on the curb says, "Look out! Here comes a car!" Now what do you do? Do you stand there and close your eyes real tight and say, "anybody who would run over me can't be a very nice person! If I don't believe in him, then it won't affect me! I just won't believe that he exists!" And then it is too late. A lot of people look at God that way. They think that just because they don't like the idea of God sending them to hell, if they close their eyes real tight and pretend that He doesn't exist, then it doesn't affect them. And that kind of attitude is just fatal.

My spiritual journey is different than Dr. Bradley's. I was raised in a non-Christian home and became a Christian in high school. And when I first heard the gospel, it bothered me deeply to think of my friends and others as going to hell. And I said, "How could this be true?" And the Christians wisely said to me, "Don't worry about those others; worry about yourself. God judges them. We can't judge them. Only judge yourself." And when I looked into my own heart and saw the selfishness and evil that was there, I had no difficulty in seeing that God might send me to hell. And that impelled me to give my life to Christ as my Savior and to turn my life around. And I think that he can do that for you as well. [applause]


{1} See "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," on this site at "Articles: Historical Jesus."

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