Response to STR: Is Hell a Solution to the Problem of Evil?

Some time ago I came across a blog post on Stand to Reason titled “Hell: A Solution, Not a Problem.” The author claims that hell is somehow a solution to the problem of evil, but seems to miss some key marks that turns an essay into a work of obfuscation and sophistry. Quite honestly, to say that hell is somehow a solution to the problem is evil seems much like somebody saying that walking is a solution to the flat tire on my bicycle. Frankly, the author just doesn’t seem to understand what the problem of evil is, or why it’s a problem for Christian theism.

The problem of evil is not the problem for Christianity people think it is. It’s a problem for atheism, but not for us. Why? Because our entire story is about the problem of evil. It starts in the third chapter and doesn’t get solved until 66 books later. But it does get solved.

Well, technically I guess the problem of evil is solved in the sense that eventually there will be no more evil, but it certainly doesn’t really deal with the problem in the here and now. Evil is still a problem today, and who knows how long (assuming that this Christian view is actually correct) we would have to wait before God finally decides that it’s time to pull the plug on evil. That could be 200 million years in the future, or even more – we simply have no idea.

As for the problem of evil being problem for atheism, I really fail to understand this point. It simply makes no sense to say that the not believing that gods exist makes the problem of evil a problem. Sure, we can’t wave a magic wand and make the problem disappear (Christians can’t seem to do that either), but it really is something easily explained on a naturalistic worldview. When we look at our closest cousins, the chimpanzee, we see that they will kill other chimps, including members of their own tribe. Frankly, on a naturalistic worldview, evil and suffering are not really are that surprising given that we live in a world with limit resources and where evolution is blind to outcomes other than what produces survival. The problem of evil is only a problem when you start positing that there’s some all knowing, all powerful, perfectly good, consciousness behind our universe and that this was all created with a perfect plan, because the world we live in doesn’t seem to jive with what we should expect if “good”, “all knowing”, and “all powerful” have any semblance of meaning.

Frankly, that anybody would suggest that hell is a solution only shows how poorly the author understands what the problem of evil represents. In fact, when we look at the theistic explanations for evil they are always ad-hoc, and very hypothetical. Rarely, if ever, do theists give concrete explanations that jive well with our understanding of the world and what it means to be “good.”

Christianity has a lot to say in response to evil. We won’t get into all of that here. But one part of our larger response is that, in the end, evil is defeated.

Well, sure, but it shouldn’t be here in the first place. That’s the point of the problem of evil. Now you (as a theist) must explain why the evil is present and explain would even allow for it in the first place. A perfect God ought to be able to create beings who have no desire to act selfishly. In a world created by a perfect God evil would simply be a byproduct of our lack of understanding rather than any conscious desire to inflict harm on others.

The other problem is that pretty much any religion can come along and say that in the future evil will be defeated and it also solves the problem of evil, but just claiming that in the future it will be solved doesn’t actually do anything to solve the problem. It just pushes it back.

Many people have no problem with a God who forgives. The problem is a God who punishes.

My second biggest problem with Christianity (the first being that I don’t think it’s correct) is that it presents God as someone who forgives based on the incredibly arbitrary criteria of “did you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” It means that those who commit incredible evil in this world, do nothing to help rectify it, but believe on their deathbed that Jesus is their savior, will end up in heaven, while those who try to live as well as they can, help to actually rectify the harm they cause, but happen to be of the wrong religion, will end up in hell. That doesn’t even begin to resemble anything that I would call just, or good.

If Christianity is correct then by the very lucky coincidence of being born into a Christian family (where childhood indoctrination can take place), in a largely Christian society (where that indoctrination is unlikely to be challenge), you have the best chance to attain salvation, while those who are born in say India, Pakistan, or China, where you’re very unlikely to be born into a Christian family, and have few Christians around you, means that you’re unlikely to believe that Jesus is your savior in this life and wind up in hell.

If this is the best solution that God can come with to for the problem of evil then I’m at a loss for words, because it doesn’t actually do anything to solve the problem of evil. If God created hell and what you believe is what sends you there, then each and every person who ends up in hell is ultimately a reflection of the gross incompetence of God in the first place.

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