Although I understood Moreland's point that the morality or immorality of hell is independent of our feelings toward the issue, I decided my best tactic would be to confront Moreland head-on with Templeton's objections-emotion and all.
I cleared my throat and sat upright, turning to face Moreland more squarely. "Look, Dr. Moreland," I began, my voice notching up in intensity, "I interviewed Charles Templeton about this matter and he was very adamant. He told me: I couldn't hold someone's hand to a fire for a moment. Not an instant! How could a loving God, just because you don't obey him and do what he wants, torture you forever-not allowing you to die, but to continue in that pain for eternity?"'
Then I spit out Templeton's last words with the same tone of disgust he had used in talking to me: "'There is no criminal who would do this!"'
The challenge almost seemed to reverberate in his living room. Tension quickly mounted. Then, sounding more accusatory than inquisitive, I capped the question by demanding, "Dr. Moreland, what in the world do you say to that?"
Now, you have to understand something about J. P. Moreland: he's a philosopher. He's a thinker. He's coolly rational. Nothing seems to rattle his cage. And despite my charged tone, which almost seemed to imply he was personally responsible for the creation of hell, Moreland took no offense. Instead, his mind quickly cut to the core of the issue.
"The key to answering Templeton is in his wording," Moreland began. "He has loaded his question to the point where it's like asking, 'When did you stop beating your wife?' No matter how you reply, you're doomed from the outset if you accept his wording."
"So his premise is wrong," I said. "How so?"
"Well, for one thing, hell is not a torture chamber."
My eyebrows shot up. Certainly that would be news to many generations of Sunday School children who have been frightened into nightmares by gruesome descriptions of the everlasting infliction of fiery agony in Hades.
Moreland shook his head. "God doesn't torture people in hell, so he's flat wrong about that," he continued. "Templeton also makes it sound like God is a spoiled child who says to people, 'Look, if you're not willing to obey my arbitrary rules, then I'm going to sentence you for it. You need to know that my rules are my rules, and if I don't get my way, then I'm going to make you pay.' Well, of course, if God is just a child with arbitrary rules, then it would be capricious for him to sentence people. But that's not at all what is going on here.
"God is the most generous, loving, wonderful, attractive being in the cosmos. He has made us with free will and he has made us for a purpose: to relate lovingly to him and to others. We are not accidents, we're not modified monkeys, we're not random mistakes. And if we fail over and over again to live for the purpose for which we were made-a purpose, by the way, which would allow us to flourish more than living any other way-then God will have absolutely no choice but to give us what we've asked for all along in our lives, which is separation from him."
"And that is hell "
"Yes, that's hell. One more point: it's wrong to think God is simply a loving being, especially if you mean 'loving' in the sense that most Americans use that word today. Yes, God is a compassionate being, but he's also a just, moral, and pure being. So God's decisions are not based on modern American sentimentalism. This is one of the reasons why people have never had a difficult time with the idea of hell until modern times. People today tend to care only for the softer virtues like love and tenderness, while they've forgotten the hard virtues of holiness, righteousness, and justice.
"So in the wording of his question, Templeton has given us a spiteful being who has imposed these unfair, arbitrary rules and who ultimately stomps his foot and says, 'If I don't get my way, I'm going to torture you forever."'
Moreland's intense blue-gray eyes locked with mine. "Nothing," he stressed, "could be further from the truth."
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