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Questions on the Afterlife, The Atonement, and Time, Part 1

December 23, 2018     Time: 16:49
Questions on the Afterlife, The Atonement, and Time, Part 1


Dr. Craig offers answers to thoughtful questions he's received from around the world.

KEVIN HARRIS: A cornucopia of questions from all over the place. This one from Spain, Dr. Craig:

In your answer to a recent question on annihilationism, you drew a distinction between eternal life (the saved) and eternal existence (the damned). Leaving aside possible philosophical niceties, my simple question is this: what is the difference between life and existence?

DR. CRAIG: Let me interrupt at that point and give a straightforward answer. The difference between life and existence is that someone who is alive has a relationship with God, and someone who merely exists is spiritually dead; that is to say, they do not have a relationship with God.


Does the former imply self-aware consciousness whereas the latter is merely some kind of mindless vegetative state?

DR. CRAIG: No, obviously not. I'm not saying that spiritual death is a matter of being unconscious.


And if the latter does, in fact, involve personal sentience in whatever form then does that mean some kind of endless suffering on the part of the unsaved – a question you seem, to be frank, to have sidestepped in your response to the question?

DR. CRAIG: I don't think that I sidestepped it, but most certainly it does involve endless suffering on the part of the unsaved. The damned will experience torment in hell forever, and this will be the torment of eternal separation from God.

KEVIN HARRIS: A similar question from Australia, from Jason:

What does it mean to be spiritually dead yet have eternal existence? I saw on your recent answer about hell and eternal punishment you mentioned this idea and I would like you to elaborate on it. If God destroys the body and the soul, how can you still eternally exist? Thanks for all you do.

DR. CRAIG: Obviously, if God destroyed the body and the soul you would no longer exist, period. But those who are in hell are not destroyed body and soul. They certainly have a soul, and there are suggestions in the Scriptures that they will also have bodies as well. So these will be persons like ourselves, but they will no longer have a relationship to God. They will be separated from all that is good and from love and fellowship and God's kindness and generosity. Instead, they will be cut off left with their own crabbed and selfish heart for eternity.

KEVIN HARRIS: Question number two:

Dr. Craig, I'm a relatively new Christian. It has been roughly a year since my baptism, a year and a half since I came to faith. My friends are mostly Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and atheists. This has led me to really want to flesh out Christian theology and my own beliefs, not for the sake of evangelism but for the sake of having an answer for, and assurance in, my faith when I am challenged. The reason I mentioned the religious views of most of my friends is because I've had so many questions asked to me about the doctrine of the Trinity. I understand that when we say God is one in essence or substance or nature but three in person we are not making a philosophical contradiction. But my question comes from this reasoning – if each person of the Trinity acts freely according to his will and has independent consciousness, what exactly ties these persons together in the one substance? I have scoured the Internet to understand what this substance or essence is. How was this essence of God a significant thing? When I try to defend it, I am told that it just seems like a cheap way not to have to admit to polytheism.

DR. CRAIG: I am appreciative of the question here, and would refer him to my chapter on the Trinity in the book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. It appeared recently in the second edition with InterVarsity Press. What I argue there is that God is a soul. He is a spiritual substance, just as you and I have souls. Our souls are one person because they are equipped with one set of rational faculties sufficient for personhood – for self-consciousness, freedom of the will, and intentionality. But I invite us to think of God as a soul that is so richly equipped that it is endowed with three sets of cognitive faculties each sufficient for personhood. Therefore, this soul would literally be tri-personal. I think that gives you, not tri-theism or polytheism, but a single spiritual substance or soul which is tri-personal.

KEVIN HARRIS: That answered the rest of his question, so we can go to the next one.

Dr. Craig, in the current state of my spiritual and intellectual journey, it doesn't seem to me that I can honestly continue to believe the Christian story. When I try to hold on to my long-held Christian beliefs, it feels like I'm not being honest with myself. What would be your advice to someone who, in the pursuit of truth and in being completely honest with oneself and their interpretation of the world, one can no longer maintain their Christian belief?

DR. CRAIG: I would tell Cody that he should embark upon a two-pronged project. First would be a spiritual project to engage in spiritual exercises like personal devotional reading, reading the Bible daily, in prayer, in meaningful corporate worship with other believers. He needs to be engaged in things that will quicken the work of the Holy Spirit in his life so that he senses the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the Christian faith. If you're living a life in the power of the flesh (or the fallen human nature) then the witness of the Holy Spirit will be eclipsed or quenched, and that will make it very, very difficult to live a victorious Christian life. So I would encourage him not to neglect the spiritual aspects of this problem. Doubt is never just a purely intellectual issue. It has a spiritual dimension as well that we need to attend to. But then, secondly, I would suggest that he begin to read some books that lay out an evidential case for Christian theism. If he's not familiar with these sorts of things, I would start with my book, On Guard, which gives several arguments for the existence of a personal Creator and Designer of the universe who is the locus of absolute moral goodness and who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ by raising him from the dead. I would encourage him to study On Guard and the arguments given therein. If he gets through that, he could graduate to the book, Reasonable Faith, which is a more sophisticated and in-depth defense of that same case. Should he want to see how people respond to these arguments, he could look at any of my debates on YouTube and see how critics react to the arguments and the evidence that I present. I think if he does this with an open mind, he'll find that Christian belief is quite reasonable and sustainable.

KEVIN HARRIS: This next question is on the atonement. It is rather long.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, we'll have to take this one in pieces, I think.


In your book on the atonement you state that views of penal substitution where God punishes Christ are superior to those that don't punish Christ because if the suffering or harsh treatment is not punishment then the demands of retributive justice seem to go unsatisfied.

DR. CRAIG: What he's talking about here are two theories of penal substitution. One of the theories says that God did not punish Christ for our sins; rather, he inflicted on Christ the suffering that would have been punishment had it been inflicted on us. It was our just desert, and so Christ bore the suffering that would have been the punishment for our sins. The other view says that our sins were ascribed to Christ – they were imputed to Christ – and that therefore Christ bore the punishment for sin that we deserved. God punished Christ in our place so that we might be pardoned and set free. The claim that I make in the book is that, while the view that Christ was not punished for our sins is attractive in some ways, it seems to me that one of its drawbacks is that it doesn't explain very well how Christ's suffering satisfied the demands of God's justice. If Christ's suffering wasn't punishment for our sins, then how was God's justice satisfied? For example, suppose that the punishment for my wrongdoing is deportation. I'm going to be deported by the government. Suppose that instead you voluntarily go into exile in another country – say, I'm going in Bill's place. Goodbye. And you go.

KEVIN HARRIS: As long as it's Hawaii! [laughter]

DR. CRAIG: How are the demands of justice satisfied in that case by your going into exile rather than me being deported? It's hard to see how your doing that (however loving and beneficial that might be to me) would satisfy the demands of justice. So I'm inclined to the view that the suffering that Christ bore was indeed a punishment, and that thereby the demands of God's retributive justice were satisfied. This questioner is drawing that into question.


But couldn't the demands of retributive justice be overridden in this particular instance because the atonement would keep the entire world from destruction?

DR. CRAIG: This is a point that I do discuss in the book. What I claim is that it is very plausible that retributive justice is essential to God and therefore couldn't be overridden but must be met. The demands of retributive justice belong to God's very essence and would need to be satisfied.


The objection that it is unjust to inflict punishment on the innocent in certain circumstances is true if one holds to a retributive theory of justice. But the cup of God's wrath wasn't penal. It was corrective, medicinal, and disciplinary. The Hebrew word here is musar – discipline, chastening, correction. There's no penal element in the Hebrew word. God did not inflict Christ with penal punishment. So the objection doesn't hold.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think that's inaccurate. It is true that the Hebrew word there means the chastisement that we deserve was laid on him. But more important was the notion that the righteous servant of the Lord bore our sins. And in Hebrew, this is a typical idiom for saying that this person was liable to punishment. To bear your sins or to bear your iniquity means to be liable to punishment or to endure punishment for those sins. So I think that the idea that the suffering of the righteous servant in Isaiah 53 is both substitutionary and punitive is pretty convincing. It's not medicinal or corrective, as he said, because it wasn't for the sake of the righteous servant. The righteous servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 doesn't need correction, chastening, or discipline. This is God's righteous servant. But it says that he bore our iniquity; that the chastisement for our sins was upon him. It's substitutionary, and I do think that it's punitive.


Rather, Christ voluntarily took upon himself death which would have been the penal punishment for us had it been inflicted upon us. Christ willingly paid the penalty for our sins. Since Christ didn't suffer God's penal wrath, God didn't unjustly punish the innocent. This would fit with the Old Testament sacrifices. Death is the penalty for sin, and the animal would die in the place of the worshiper, but it wasn't being punished by God with penal wrath. Rather, the animal suffered the fate that would have been the worshiper’s penal punishment had it happened to him.

DR. CRAIG: This is a point that I make in the book. In the Levitical sacrifices that were offered in the tabernacle and later the temple, you don't want to say that the animal was punished by being sacrificed. But rather what you say is that the animal suffered the fate which would have been the worshiper's punishment had it been inflicted on him. The worshiper deserved death as the just desert for his sins, but that the animal bears this instead. So, as I say, I do think this is a legitimate interpretation of penal substitution – this sort of counterfactual notion that the victim bears the suffering that would have been the punishment had it been inflicted on the wrongdoer. But my argument is that this doesn't satisfy the demands of retributive justice.


Justice would be satisfied because of Christ's death, but the suffering was medicinal.

DR. CRAIG: And, again, that seems to me to just be clearly wrong. Christ was sinless. He didn't need medicinal suffering or correction. 1 Peter 2:24 says, quoting Isaiah 53, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. It was for our sins that he suffered and died. So I don't think in any way can we think of the death of Christ as a corrective or medicinal. I don't see how the demands of retributive justice for my sins are going to be satisfied. The questioner here doesn't address: how is the punishment that I deserve for my sins satisfied? How are the demands of justice satisfied for my sins if Christ wasn't punished in my place?


The Bible tells us that Christ learned obedience through what he suffered.

I think he's trying to tie that into the medicinal.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that's right. And certainly we do want to affirm what it says in Hebrews that Christ learned obedience through what he suffered. But that has nothing to do with the satisfaction of divine justice or the bearing of sin. That is more a topic of sanctification that just isn’t relevant to the issue before us.[1]


[1]           Total Running Time: 16:49 (Copyright © 2018 William Lane Craig)