Bradley believes that God as He is described especially in the Old Testament is an evil, immoral figure because of the violent actions He commanded or authorized or threatened people with, including (P1) the slaughter of innocents, (P2) giving captive virgins to the troops, (P3) causing people to cannibalize their relatives, (P4) condoning child sacrifice, and (P5) fire and brimstone for the unbelievers. (132-142)

Now (P1)-(P4) are unique to the OT; (P5) is unique to the NT. Let’s apply to the former deontology first and consequentialism second.

First, that God had the right to take life in those days (and only in those days) I defend in my “Understanding the Salvation History” and elsewhere.

Second, how does Bradley know that the good that came out of God’s actions in the end did not outweigh the evil that He caused? God, given his perfect foresight, could easily calculate the consequences of His actions from the beginning of the universe till kingdom come. If God is a perfect utilitarian, then He’ll work to maximize human happiness as much as possible. And here is a plausible good that resulted from all those battles and punishments and whatnot: the coming of Christ through Israel and redemption of mankind, the establishment of the Church, the elevation of all humans to the rank of servants of God, and salvation for billions. But even if our author disagreed with this assessment, it would be up to him to show that the evils God inflicted on various people in the OT are not justified by some greater good. As long as the scenario I described is possible, I don’t think that God can be shown to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

And as for (P5) threats of hellfire in the NT, well, you’ve got to be forgiven for your transgressions to go to heaven, and

(1) not believing in Christ entails not believing in the existence of the only being who can forgive all your sins;

(2) not believing in the Holy Spirit entails not believing in the only being who can cleanse and heal and uplift you into fellowship with God; and

(3) not believing in the Father entails not believing in the only being who is pleased to give you the kingdom.

However, we are saved by Christ not by Christianity, so this answer is insufficient.

I answer, therefore, that it is permissible for a Christian to hold that (1) hell exists and is indeed a place of eternal horror but actually is and always will be empty; and further that (2) hellfire is restricted to purgatory and to especially severe cases of sinfulness or self-destruction, where it functions not as punishment but as an ultimate and perfectly serviceable incentive to human moral monsters to reform. No one can feel the hellfire and fail to be reliably terrified into mending his ways right then and there.

It is then possible to go to hell, and moreover one must avoid hell through his own efforts, but God’s mercy is so great that He ultimately saves everyone.


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