August 01, 2010
Does Creation Benefit the Lost?
Dear Dr. Craig,
Although I'm an atheist, I have a deep respect for you and other Christian philosophers, and I must thank you personally for forcing me to abandon my position of arrogant atheism (that of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris) and adopt the position of friendly atheism. It was a major revelation to me that someone defending Christianity could sound so rational, and even beat atheists in debates.(For the record, I think you have only possibly lost two or three debates, and none of those were on the existence of God, though I think some are too close to call.)
Now, onto my question. In your debate with Victor Stenger, he advanced the argument that God could not logically be a perfect being and creator of the universe. In response you stated that God does not create because of anything lacking in Himself, but because the creation of the universe benefits man, because he can come to know God and have a loving relationship with Him. I was just wondering, how does this square with the Christian doctrine of Hell? If Christ is the only way to God, and unbelief is punished by eternity in Hell, it seems likely that the vast majority of people, or at least a good number, will end up in Hell. In what way could we say that creation benefited these people? The doctrine of Hell has always been one of my major problems with Christianity, and it was my main reason for becoming an atheist.
Thank you for your time
Thanks so much for your kind letter, Mark! As one who has been privileged to have experienced first hand the ongoing revolution in Anglo-American philosophy since the late 1960s, it often pains me to see how desperately ignorant many young atheists and agnostics are. Often as arrogant as they are ignorant, they just have no inkling of the incredible intellectual resources contemporary Christian philosophers have provided for the formulation and defense of basic Christian doctrines. I’m so glad that you’ve escaped from that unhappy subculture.
As for your question, my point in response to Stenger was that because God is a perfect being, complete in Himself with no need of anything, creation cannot have been motivated by any need or deficit in Himself. Creation, then, must be an act of grace, something done not for God’s sake but for the sake of those created; namely, they are given the unspeakable opportunity to be personally related to the locus and source of infinite goodness and love. We were made to know God, and this is, in view of its object, an incommensurable good, incomparable to anything else, to any finite goods. It really is an amazing privilege when you think about it.
Now the tragedy is that the unbeliever freely rejects this incomparable good that God offers him. So in that sense he does not benefit from being created. Nonetheless, it remains true that the reason God created him was for his own benefit, that is, for his own good, and every created person has the incredible benefit of the opportunity of knowing God, a benefit not enjoyed by persons whom God did not create (obviously!).
Think of it this way: if someone offered you a great gift with no strings attached simply because that person loved you, and you freely rejected the gift, then you wouldn’t in the end have the benefit of the gift. But still the person offered it to you for your own benefit. And even having the opportunity to have such a great gift was itself a tremendous benefit that you were fortunate to have.
It can’t be overemphasized that according to the Bible God desires every human being to be saved and find eternal life (I Timothy 2.4), and He takes no pleasure whatsoever in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33.11). God created us for our benefit, not His, and every created person has the benefit of the opportunity to know God and His love forever, if only he will accept it. If he chooses to repulse God and His every effort to save him, the life of the unbeliever is ultimately tragic because he has freely rejected the benefit which God offers him.