Does Norman Geisler’s view on hell make God into an abusive father?
Geisler wrote The Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. It’s basically an encyclopedia of Norman Geisler’s beliefs, in the sense that it offers Geisler’s perspective on the A-Z of Christian theology and philosophy (if you think that’s not a fair summary, have a look at the encyclopedia’s rather hostile and unfair treatment of Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology. That is not a fair summary).
In the encyclopedia there’s an entry for “Annihilationism.” It’s a very short entry, just long enough for the author to tell us in several different ways that he doesn’t think annihilationism is true or biblical, but the exegetical issues aren’t unpacked in any detail. This, however, caught my eye under what Geisler calls the “philosophical arguments” against annihilationism (remember, Norman Geisler believes the traditional doctrine of the everlasting torment of the damned in hell):
Annihilation would demean both the love of God and the nature of human beings as free moral creatures. It would be as if God said to them, “I will allow you to be free only if you do what I say. If you don’t, then I will snuff out your very freedom and existence!” This would be like a father telling his son he wanted him to be a doctor, but when the son chose instead to be a park ranger the father shot him.
There are two issues here, and I’ll focus on the second. The first issue is that there’s much to be said for the thought that annihilationism is less like murder and more like suicide. If God is the source of all life and a person has freely and resolutely chosen to be without God, then neither that person nor Geisler is in a position to raise a moral complaint about anyone’s freedom being violated or not respected if that person loses their life as a result. In other words, the very thing that people freely choose when they reject God is ultimately the loss of their very being. God will give them what they have asked for, which is, to borrow C. S. Lewis’s phrase, “to leave them alone.”
But secondly, and forgive me if this sounds a little blunt but the situation is just so odd, I can’t believe that Geisler walked into such an obvious trap!
If Dr Geisler believes the doctrine of eternal torment, and is happy to use the above analogy of the way a father treats his son to provoke objections to the way annihilationists allegedly see God (as I’ve explained above, they need not see him that way, but let’s set that aside for now), how exactly should the analogy be re-cast to describe the way Geisler thinks God will treat people who reject him? Would this be akin to a father telling his son that he wants him to be a doctor, but when his son decides to be a park ranger the father drags him downstairs to the basement, straps him to a table and begins horribly mutilating and torturing him for the rest of his life, giving him medication to ensure that he never sleeps or passes out so that he must experience the maximum amount of excruciating suffering imaginable?
How could Geisler not have seen that coming?
(You can see Geisler’s piece on annihilationism reproduced here.)
- Hanegraaf on Annihilationism
- Loftus on eternal torture
- Name that Fallacy! Robert Peterson on Annihilationism
- Theopedia: shifting lines in the sand
- How to escape the Bible with your theology intact