A variety of the Christian views that Pucket attacks in these questions are held by a very specific sect of Christian believers, and by no means characterize the whole of Christian views. The questions also occasionally make broad statements which either mischaracterize Biblical teachings, or are backed up with no supporting evidence. Where these mistakes are made, the responses are largely aimed at correcting these mischaracterizations. This is not to say that the attack has no merit, but the attack would need to be re-worked to fit a proper representation of that belief.
One of the important things that the Pucket list teaches is the danger of dogmatism. If a system of belief stands or falls on every minute doctrine or teaching within the system, then disarming one of these causes the whole thing to fall.Christianity has undergone inspection by hosts of intelligent and thoughtful people over its 2000-year history. Some, like Pucket, have come to the conclusion that it was untenable. Many more have explored different ways of thinking about and applying Christian ideas that do not involve abandoning the system. The very fact that Christianity is a system of thought that allows individual thinkers to explore it, rather than to blindly embrace it, at least suggests that it is not a system of intellectual tyranny.
This author suggests that many of things about Christians popularly believe may be found faulty without the entire system being destroyed. For Christianity to be untrue, it would have to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that either humans do not require some sort of salvation from evil and suffering, or that no such salvation has been provided.
The answers provided to the questions in this series may not always be punchy rejoinders, magic bullets, or truth bombs. They may be far from convincing to a skeptic; however they do show that Christianity is at the very least internally consistent and existentially plausible.
Finally, it is worth noting that the questions are sometimes phrased in highly emotive or sarcastic forms. These articles will attempt to respond to the fundamental objection being raised, rather than the tone in which they are presented, however the questions themselves will be presented in their original form.
16 - We know that we feel physical feelings through electrical impulses that send information to our brains through our nervous system. Once we die, we no longer feel pain due to the lack of a physical nervous system and, oh yeah, a brain.
(continued) How could we 'feel' the excruciating flames of hell for eternity? Does God make you feel this torment for all eternity out of pure malice because you wouldn't worship him?
A fairly easy answer to this question can be found in John 5:28-29, which reads:
“…for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
According to this, all people will be resurrected bodily, then judged.
There are two theories about the torment one feels in hell. One is that hell involves eternal separation from the Creator. Since the Creator is the embodiment of all that is good, separation from this same creator means eternity without the good, which would be pure agony. This would be suggested by verses such as Matthew 7:23 which states:
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
And Matthew 8:12 which says:
“…while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The other theory is that the pain one feels in hell is a result of an imperfect, corrupted person being exposed to the pure holiness of a perfect God. This is supported by such passages as these:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
17 - If God is perfect and his creations perfect, why did he fail several times? He had to impose suffering upon the human race because Adam and Eve defied him by eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Failed!
(continued) He had to flood the planet 1,600 years later wiping out all but eight humans. Failure! He had to confuse human language after Nimrod and the Tower of Babel incident so that they could not effectively communicate with each other. Failure! How is this a track record of a perfect being?
The metanarrative of scripture is this: God created a world in which there was no sin. Humans brought sin into the world through a free act of rebellion (a failure on the part of humans, not on God). Since then, God has allowed humans autonomy, but has not allowed them to fall into utter corruption. All of the incidents cited in this question were instances of divine intervention to prevent humans from absolute self-destruction.
God’s holiness demands that he eliminate all that is corrupt. His love demands that he save and forgive. Notice that in each of these instances of human failure God judges, but also creates an avenue to escape judgment.
The final reconciliation between God’s holiness and his love was Jesus, who absorbed the judgment and credited his righteousness to human beings such that humans who fail may call upon his grace to forgive them once and for all.
In reconciling his seemingly contradictory holiness and love, God has achieved ultimate success where humans have failed. The failure of humans has ultimately led to the glorification and revelation of God’s nature including such things as his purity, justice, love, beauty, and power; all attributes that are only seen in God's interaction with imperfect humans; and which would otherwise never have been enacted at all.
18 - If God is omnipotent, why does he not just show himself to all of us, all at once, thereby ending this game of free will and temptation?
God has revealed himself to humans in a number of fairly obvious ways. The creation of the universe out of nothing. The awe-inspiring order of said universe from the smallest possible particle to the largest super-galaxy, and the vast cosmic dance wherein the churning plasma of a star spews forth radiation that can be absorbed by a fragile leaf on a planet 93 million miles away resulting in a stored energy at the cellular level, which makes all earthly life possible. The existence of moral law and conscience. The existence of beauty, the sense of longing and the search for purpose. Transcendent and abstract things such as logic, justice, and math:
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” –Romans 1:20
God became flesh and dwelt on earth, ate bread with humans, died at the hand of humans, and rose again; such that the witnesses felt, saw, and heard him:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” -1 John 1:1-2
This constituted physical, historically verifiable (or falsifiable) proof of God’s existence. To anyone interested in rationally and dispassionately examining this evidence, not only is it compelling, it is difficult to conjure up alternative explanations for these things that do not include a God.
This question could be asked a slightly different way and have the same flavor: “If God is omnipotent, why didn’t he make it impossible to disbelieve in him, thereby ending this game of freewill and temptation?”
The answer lies in the question itself. If people had no choice but to believe in God, they would not be people. They would be automatons programmed to blindly believe. And yet blind belief is the very thing this series of questions seeks to attack. People should be free to examine the evidence and come to their own conclusion.
19 - If, in the beginning, there was only God and he created everything, why would he create angels that had the propensity to defy him? This very fallacy led to Lucifer challenging his authority because he desired to share the same power as God.
(continued) This led to the rise, or fall depending on how you look at it, of Satan, the most notorious enemy of God and his followers. Failed, again!
There are many subjects upon which the Bible doesn’t really teach, or touches only in passing. It doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about finance, political theory, or any particular field of science. To say that it is untrue because it doesn’t discuss these things is absurd. The Bible accomplishes the purpose for which it is written, and that is a discussion of the relationship between human beings and their Creator.
One of the subjects upon which the Bible spends very little time is the origin and purpose of non-human beings such as angels and demons. Certainly they are mentioned in passing, especially as they relate to human beings (humans being the primary focus of the Bible), but their overall story remains a mystery.
Since the story of Satan is more hinted at than told outright, it would be difficult to assess the nature of the story either to justify or to ridicule it. This question states that God created angels, but the Bible contains no creation story for angels. It states that Lucifer challenged the authority of God. Presumably this refers to the passage in Isaiah 14. Since the passage is talking about the fall of Babylon and of its ruler, this may not be speaking of Satan at all.
Satan is called “The accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night ” (Revelation 12:10). This places Satan in the role of prosecuting attorney, appealing to God’s justice to destroy sinful humans. God’s act of salvation through Jesus overcomes his objections. In the book of Job, Satan attempts to question God’s worthiness of worship, stating that Job only worships God for the entirely selfish reason of getting handouts. In allowing Satan to test Job, God proved to Satan that he (God) is worthy of worship because of his very nature, not because of gifts and blessings he doles out.
To suggest that Satan is the “enemy of God and his followers” is to suggest that God has some weakness that an adversary could expose or exploit making him susceptible to attack or defeat.
Satan serves the role of trying to poke holes in God’s plan and nature. In testing God from every possible angle, God is proven to be perfect. In attempting to corrupt God’s creation, God’s revelation of his justice and love were brought about through Christ’s redemption. In opposing God, Satan unintentionally upholds God.
20 - Why would you trust 'God's plan' given his track record of many failures?
“When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him; but in heaven’s name to what?”
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,”
One would have to agree that God’s plan has been a failure before this question becomes pertinent. To call any particular aspect of “God’s plan” a failure is to presume to know what that plan was. Define God’s plan, show how it has failed, and then ask the question. If a seemingly unpleasant thing leads to a goal of ultimate good, that thing becomes necessary.
If God does not exist, it does not ultimately matter what anyone believes. Death is the end, and if the delusion of God gives life meaning – however false – it is as good as any other meaning one may choose to assign life.
If God exists and insists that human beings follow some set of rules in order to win his favor (as most non-Christian religions believe), then many of the questions in this series become pertinent. If humans are responsible for their own salvation, God really has failed them.
If God exists and has overcome the negative consequences of human choices and, indeed, his own wrath towards sin; then all one can do is to trust his plan.