Objection 1: There is no judgment to fear because there is no God. There is no afterlife either. Death is the end of consciousness.
How can you be so sure? Are you really so sure? Be honest with yourself. If you are wrong, you are risking your fate for eternity!
The vast majority of human beings through history have believed in some form of God. If you’d like to know all the arguments for God’s existence, I can run through those now or give you some materials to watch or read.
But let’s focus on what happens after death. The vast majority of human beings through history have also believed in some form of afterlife. Jesus stressed that there is one.
Surely you wonder about this, at least occasionally? Most human beings, if they are being honest with themselves, harbor doubts about the afterlife. The Bible says that this is so because God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
According to Shakespeare, doubt about the afterlife is one reason why suicide is not much more prevalent. Shakespeare described death as “the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns”. He added that death “puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of.” (Hamlet)
Objection 2: Judgment is a bad thing. It’s intolerant!
Your complaint is really about judgmentalism – by imperfect, hypocritical human beings who rarely know all the facts. The Bible denounces that sort of judgment (Matthew 7:1-3).
But fair, impartial, well-informed judgment is quite different. Think about it. Would you really want to live in a world without any human judgment? How can there be justice without judgment?
We rightly insist on justice being meted out in our courts of law. All of us, in their daily lives, routinely pass judgment on others (family, friends, work colleagues, etc.) and sometimes for reasons of genuine love (e.g., a parent or school teacher correcting a child for their own good).
In truth, human beings yearn for just judgment. We all are enraged when “righteous men get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men get what the righteous deserve” (Ecclesiastes 8:14)
So, what is the scarier prospect: that God will ultimately administer perfect justice, or that the grossly imperfect “justice” meted out by human beings on earth is the best we can ever hope for?
Objection 3: I’m a pretty good person. God would not presume to judge individuals like me.
For the purpose of honest argument, please can I ask you to assume that the God in which Christians believe actually exists – i.e., a Supreme Being who created the Universe (Genesis 1), who knows everything about you (Psalm 139), and who speaks to you as an individual through the wonders of nature and through your conscience (c.f. Romans 1:19-20, 2:14-16).
Now, therefore, would you not agree that the notion of divine judgment is entirely logical – and, what is more, entirely fair? At any rate, there’s nothing to be gained from complaining about it.
Why? Because it is God the Creator who “sets the rules” of His universe, not human beings (cf. Job 38). The clay pot can’t talk back to the potter who created it. God’s “rules” have been planted in your conscience, and are clearly laid down in the Bible. And because God knows everything, His judgment about you will be totally informed.
Also, try to be completely honest with yourself – are you really such a good person? Admit it – aren’t there things you’ve done or said or thought, big and small, of which you’re ashamed? Aren’t there things you’ve not done which a better person would have done? Let’s assume you’re a better person than most - isn’t there at least one thing which deserves judgment?
Objection 4: God’s judgment would not be fair because His moral standards are too high. He might know all about me, but He couldn’t empathise with me.
I repeat: there’s no point complaining about the standards that God has set.
But there’s another answer to your objection. This is one reason why the Christian God is so amazing. God can empathise with how hard it is for any human being to comply with His moral standards, because God lived on earth as a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 5 BC- c. AD 30). Jesus experienced temptation and suffering of every kind (Hebrews 4:15).
It’s vital to grasp what Christians believe about the New Testament: that it’s a totally reliable written record of what Jesus and his immediate followers did and taught. Among other things it teaches that Jesus will be our ultimate judge (John 5:22, John 5:27; Romans 2:16) and that Jesus is fully qualified for the role (2 Timothy 4:8). The New Testament also contains many examples of Jesus in “judgment mode”. There is no need to guess about how Jesus will approach the task.
Objection 5: Okay, God or Jesus has every right to judge me. And I admit that I’m far from perfect. But a God of love and empathy still would not judge me – and maybe anyone – adversely.
Yes, God is a God of love. But lovingness is not His sole attribute – the Bible teaches that God is also holy. Holy means “morally pure”.
God’s holiness is such that He cannot simply ignore or “tolerate” human sin. (Habakkuk 1:13) A great Christian writer (A.W. Tozer) explained it this way: “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. … God has made holiness the moral condition necessary to the health of His universe.”
The hard truth is that because everyone has sinned – albeit to a greater or lesser extent – everyone stands in danger of being judged adversely by God. (Psalm 14; Romans 3:23) As another great Christian writer (Francis Schaeffer) once put it: “How could a perfect God say, ‘Just sin a little bit?’”
Objection 6: Okay, I stand at risk of adverse judgment. But surely the “test” won’t be whether I believed in God or not? I don’t believe God exists – but that’s because there’s not enough evidence. What’s so bad about that? Even if there is some kind of divine judgment, surely God will just balance the good I’ve done against the bad.
Would you really want to be judged by a balancing of the good and the bad you’ve done? Would anyone? A lot of people would long ago have passed a point of no return. Questions of motive, means and opportunity come into it too. With all due respect, I suspect that you and many others overrate the “good” you’ve done and underrate the bad. I know I do.
But the biggest problem with your position is that you are massively underrating the importance of God. You say there’s not enough evidence – but have you really, seriously, conscientiously studied all the evidence? What evidence do you need?
Once again, please can I ask you to assume that the God in which Christians believe actually exists – i.e., a Supreme Being who created the Universe (Genesis 1), knows everything about you (Psalm 139), and speaks to you as an individual through the wonders of Nature and through your conscience (cf. Romans 1:19-20, Romans 2:14-16).
Then imagine, that on Judgment Day, Jesus asked why you rarely if ever took the trouble to seek Him out, or to understand what He wanted of you. Do you honestly believe that “I didn’t get around to it” or “It didn’t interest me’” or even “the evidence didn’t persuade me” would be a satisfactory answer? No – your conscience can certainly tell you that much. The Bible says that everyone is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20)
Objection 7: I know some Christians who are horrible people. Okay, I know some nice ones too, but according to you they are sinners like me. So why do Christians go to Heaven? Surely not just because they believe that God exists?
You’re right. Christians are sinners too – even the best of us. We deserve to be judged by God adversely.
But a person is not a Christian merely because they believe in the existence of God – let alone because they say they do. That really would be unfair! God has not set “the bar” so low.
Faith is much more than mere intellectual belief (James 2:20). Faith is putting your full trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Real Christians demonstrate their faith constantly by the way they live their lives. I’m very happy to talk to you about what real faith is. It’s challenging but amazing - a wonderful way to live.
Objection 8: Do good people of other religious faiths go to Heaven? Do innocent babies? Do children who haven’t been raised as Christians? If they don’t, that’s so unfair! Lots of people have never heard of Christianity or are too young to understand it.
These are tricky issues, I admit. Christians have held different positions on them over the centuries.
But let’s examine a few of your assumptions. First, are there really many, or any, truly “good” people in the world – of whatever religious faith? There are certainly none who are morally perfect, or anything like it. Second, in the twenty-first century, are there really many people who have never heard of Christianity? It’s extremely hard to say that about any adult Australians today.
I’ll tell you what I believe, based on the Bible: ultimately, God will judge everybody justly. He will take all circumstances into account (age at death, upbringing, nationality, level of knowledge, etc.).
In the meantime, the focus of all Christians must be to tell as many people as possible about the Gospel. That’s the overwhelming message of the New Testament (cf. Matthew 28).
Objection 9: Okay, maybe genuine Christians go to Heaven. But surely the unsaved will not suffer eternal conscious torment in Hell? Surely I won’t suffer like Hitler or Stalin? If that’s what Christians believe, the whole thing is too ghastly for words.
Well, many Christians do believe in eternal conscious suffering. It’s a frightening idea to contemplate, yes. But if you assume that it’s true, it’s all the more reason to take Christianity seriously.
But don’t think that God will not discriminate between different categories of sinners – He will. That applies to Christians too, by the way (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
And I’d urge you not to be misled by stereotyped images of people literally burning up in fires, or boiling in oil, for squillions of years. That is not the Christian idea of Hell. The essence of Hell will be knowing that you deservedly missed your opportunity for eternal life in Heaven and that you will be separated from God forever. That it was your choice. That you got what you wanted – life without God (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:5-9).
Some Christians hold a somewhat different idea of Hell. It’s still awful and final. But it does not involve the unsaved suffering eternal conscious torment. Rather, on this view, the unsaved will simply be “annihilated” – destroyed. At some stage after receiving their adverse judgment – and perhaps after enduring some suitable period of conscious punishment – they will cease to exist.
Whichever you look at things, the stakes are enormous. What is certainly at stake is the gift of eternal life in Heaven. The unsaved will lose out on that gift.