How can a loving God send anyone to eternal torment?

This is a question often asked, and the short answer is, He doesn’t.

God is perfectly loving, and He would prefer that nobody be lost, but He granted us all free will, and many people CHOOSE their fate.  They CHOOSE to do things which are bad for them and/or bad for God, and those things MUST be punished.  God is perfectly holy, and this makes it impossible for any sin to approach Him.  So unless a person is completely without sin, or has all their sins already paid for, that person has no place to go except into the abyss.  Yeah, from our point of view this system seems to be really bad, but our opinion is of no importance in this matter.  Only God’s opinion is of importance.

This leaves us with exactly three choices, but fortunately, there are choices.  The first choice is to never have sinned, not be sinning right now, and never sin for the rest of our life.  Good luck with that one.    As far as I know, only one person in all of history has managed that, about 2000 years ago.  The next is to accept eternal punishment.  Certainly easy to accomplish, but sounds like a really bad choice, which once you find out how bad a choice it was, can no longer be recovered from.  The last choice is to pay for all your sins.

The latter sounds like the best choice.  Unfortunately, there are conflicting ways this can be done being proposed, and it seems likely that choosing the wrong one leads to catastrophe.  Let me suggest that the scripture which shows that God is perfectly loving and that sin separates you from Him, is the only reliable source of of the way to ensure your sins are expunged so that you are neither punished nor separated from God.  That forgiveness for your sins is a free gift of God available to all who will accept it.  This is documented in the New Testament of the Bible; check into it.

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How long is a day?

Most are familiar with the beginning of the Old Testament book of Genesis, where ‘everything’ is created in ‘6 days’.  But how ‘long’ are those days?  If you analyze the history in the Bible, you come out with a historical record which is much less than 10,000 years, and 6 additional days does not extend the age of the earth any past that.  Whereas Science seems to indicate that the age of the earth is billions of years.  And although there is some indication that Science’s ability to date things is not as accurate as they might think, it is highly unlikely that they are THAT far off.

So let us look at the ‘days’ described in Genesis.  The first day, light was created.  Kind of a binary occurrence, so not a lot of time is implied by that.  Furthermore, the light was ‘named’ Day and the absence of light (darkness) was named Night.  “So the evening and the morning were the first day.”  It is claimed that this sentence insists one twenty four hour Earth day has elapsed.  Kind of a problem, since no point of reference which supports that time interval exists yet.

One day on Earth is one rotation of the planet around its axis, which is visible to us by one cycle of our view of the sun from a point on the Earth.  Of course, God can know how long that WILL be, since he planned it, but God is very powerful, and is not likely to need even 8 hours (or 8 minutes) to create light.  Is this the first ‘day’ as we know it?  I think not, but it is the first step and the first task.  To continue.

The second day’s work is not very clear.  It appears either God created the planet and the sky, or the natural realm and the spirit realm.  Or the planet and the spirit realm, but very likely the planet was involved otherwise the next step in the process makes much less sense.  How long this would take God is unknown, but in the case of creating the planet, it COULD have been allowed to take a length of time on the order of magnitude estimated by Science.  And that is what I think, since the alternative is that God deliberately set things up so Science would get it wrong, which would kind of seem too ‘cheezy’ a behavior for Him.

The next step was to separate the land from the seas, and create plants.  After that, the creation of the sun, moon and stars.  (At this point, the concept of a ‘day’ could have the referents it needs to make sense).  Next, the creation of fish and birds, and then animals and man.  Each of these steps are presented as one ‘day’, but again, the amount of time each actually took is open to question, and it is possible that the estimates of Science are not too far off.

Then God rested on the seventh day (as stated in Chapter 2) and this was to be an example to us.  Not that we do ‘something’, ‘anything’, each day for six days and then rest, but that we accomplish six days worth of useful tasks and then rest.

Ok, so the two possibilities are that the first chapter of Genesis took exactly six days as we know them, or six days as God knows them.  Remember, God is not tied to time like we are.  It makes more sense to me that the days described are closer to the epochs that Science postulates than to twenty four hour days as we know days.

You say you don’t agree, that the Bible says ‘days’ and that means it was actual days as we know them today and Science has no validity whatsoever?  Perhaps you should look closer, because that viewpoint seems to force the Bible to have a critical contradiction between verse 1 and verse 2, which throws the whole book into doubt.

Verse 1 states that on the 6th day, God created the animals, and then after them, he created man and women.  Plain and simple, animals and then humans appeared within a span of twenty four hours or less according to your viewpoint.  Certainly that account is possible.

But look at how verse 2 describes the creation of humanity.  First God created man, then planted the Garden of Eden and then put the man into it “to tend and keep it”.  After some unspecified period of time, God decided that the man needed a companion for all that tending and keeping.  Let us make the unlikely assumption that this period of time was very short (implying the first man had an attention span even shorter than today’s youth).  Every creature on the Earth and in the sky were brought before the man to be named and evaluated as a companion.  This would seem to take rather a long time, and no suitable companion was found, so the man was put asleep and the woman was created.  All this and the creation of animals happened in a period of time of 24 hours or less?  Highly unlikely.   Anything that God did could be  ‘instantaneous’, but man is not so gifted.  Just because God CAN do something instantaneously, does not mean He HAS to.

Scripture

You hear about ‘scripture’ all the time, but what is it?

Simply put, scripture is documentation from God.  Hopefully you see the problem with that.  If we can’t even prove that God exists, then how can we prove something is validly scriptural?  We can’t; all we can do is show that it cannot be disproved to be valid scripture.  Just like with God, Himself, we can only hope for a reasonable belief.

What do I mean by a ‘reasonable’ belief?  That is, a belief which is not contradicted by any ‘fact’.  For instance, the belief that the world is flat is not a reasonable belief, since there is ample evidence that the world is NOT flat.

There are several ‘scriptures’ out there; most God-oriented groups have one (or a set).  Most known, of course, is the Bible Old and New Testaments.  Also the Torah (a subset of the Old Testament), the Koran, the Book of Mormon and several other books from or through Joseph Smith, the New World Translation and many others,   Often one group’s scripture contradicts that of another group. How can we evaluate them to see which are really scripture?  It can be a challenge.

First and quite importantly is continuity.  It is best to have a documented path from where the scripture was received from God all the way down to ‘today’.  In police terms, the ‘chain of evidence’.  If you cannot show how the ‘paper’ in front of you got there from where God allegedly provided it, then that casts some degree of doubt on the validity of the paper.

Note that I used the term ‘paper’ twice in the sentence above.  You say your scripture is ‘oral’, that is, not written down?  That casts a lot of doubt on its validity, since showing that it was not changed anywhere in its progression is much, much harder than written scripture, which is often no picnic itself.

The next and perhaps most critical thing to show is internal consistency.  Any document which claims both ‘X’ and ‘not X’ is highly suspect.  The problem is, all scripture I am familiar with has had humans involved in writing down the revelations from God, and processing the original throughout history.  Since humans are incapable of fully understanding God, the concepts from God may have been muted, or colored by societal influences, or provided in a form suitable for human understanding (symbolic or as a parable) rather than bare fact or just have been changed (deliberately or accidentally).  This can lead to an apparent contradiction, which requires further research to resolve.

The Bible has been the focus of relentless attempts to show internal discrepancies, and there are indeed places which appear so.  As far as I know, nobody has ever proven the Bible to be out and out wrong, and many of the people who have tried have become believers.

The next test of a document is corroboration.  If a book was written about, say Ronald Regan, there are still people alive who could attest to the truth contained therein.  And a lot of other books to compare it to.  Much scripture is from too far in the past for anyone to still be alive to ask, and other written sources tend to be scarce.  For the Bible, the writings of Josephus, a Roman historian, are of use.

For older scripture, archeology can be useful.  If valid archeological research contradicts scripture, it would be a severe blow to credibility.  So far, every find I’ve heard of either supports or does not contradict the Bible.  In many cases, recent finds have eliminated claims that a person, place or culture described in the Bible never existed.

These methods can increase or decrease your reliance on the validity of scripture.  But what it really comes down to is whether God speaks to you through the scripture.

Proof

Most people would really like to ‘prove’ that their version of God exists.  So far, no one has managed it.

There are 4 types of proof which can be attempted.  First is ‘scientific proof’, where a repeatable ‘experiment’ has reliable results which proves the premise.  God(s) are supernatural, by definition, so do not follow the laws of science we are constrained by.  This type of proof has never been successfully used.  Will it ever be?  I doubt it.

Next is ‘logical proof’.  This is where you start with provable assumptions and use valid logical arguments to prove your viewpoint.  This has been used a lot – invalidly.  In every single case I’ve run into, either one or more assumptions were not provable or even valid, or at least one step of the logical argument was invalid.  Perhaps the most obvious (and annoying) instance of this is the ever popular “The Bible is the Word of God, because it says so in the Bible”.  Sorry, the rules of logic do not permit the premise to prove itself.  Another is the attempt to just prove that God exists.  “Every design has a designer,  The Earth has a design.  Thus the Earth has a designer”.  In this case, the logic is valid, but let’s look at the assumptions.  “Every design has a designer” is inherently true, so no problem there.  “The Earth has a design”; now this one is problematical.  It sure does seem like it has a design, the way everything fits together in just the right way, but ‘seem’ does not guarantee ‘is’.

Then there is ‘personal experience’.  This is where you know something to be true because you personally experienced it.  This is a very powerful proof to the person with the experience, but much less so to everyone else.  Some may accept it as true because they trust the person claiming the experience; others likely will not if they don’t know or trust the person.

Finally, there is ‘legal proof’, where something is so ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.  As you can tell by a brief glance at the history of our legal system, this is just an indication, not proof.

What it comes down to, is ‘faith’; ‘belief’.  And this may very well be by design.  In the Bible, it is made very clear that belief is very important to God.  Why?  I have no idea, but it does seem that God set things up so that it would be impossible to ‘prove’ Him; you would HAVE to have belief to interact with him.

Before I was saved, I was amused or annoyed at the attempts made to ‘prove’ anything to do with God, but I’ll tell you, once they used invalid logic, unproven assumptions or just stated things as facts which they could not back up, I tended to discount everything they said.

How then can you share God with others?  Forget scientific or logical ‘proof’, it can just make you look silly.  Don’t state your beliefs or theories as facts; state them as YOUR beliefs or theories.  If the people know you well, personal experience may be accepted, but don’t rely on this alone.  Showing that your view of God COULD be true or even better, is LIKELY to be true, is a first step on the path to showing someone the light.  Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to show, by your everyday actions, your relationship to God.  Nothing will ruin your attempts to share God faster or more completely than having your actions be at odds with your words.