The good news: God not a tyrant

If you believe the creation narrative in Genesis, your first observation should be that evil existed before the first humans were created.

I know that is a heavy idea and something you may have never fully considered, so you may want to reread that sentence a few more times before continuing.

Evil existed before the first human beings.

Even more, evil existed before their first decision to break shalom (sin) with God by literally, or figuratively, eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

And that point is essential to understand because, to our knowledge, the first humans, like us, did not have any say on entering a reality in which evil already existed.

People talk so much about original sin, the first sin of Adam disobeying God’s command, and then act like it is something uniquely terrible that this first human did. But we were put into a reality in which disobeying God is absolutely inevitable. There could be no other way.

Just by virtue of being birthed into a hostile world in which evil already existed, we were placed in an impossible situation.

It’s like a dad putting his toddler in a muddy backyard, expecting her to stay completely clean, and then threatening her by saying, “If you get muddy I am going to lock you in the basement the rest of your life and torture you, unless you say you are sorry.”

You may be thinking, “OK. I see your point, but the father offered to forgive her if she would just say that she is sorry.”

But should his daughter be obligated to say she is sorry for being placed in the muddy backyard by her father in order to avoid the father’s judgment, wrath and torture?

All it takes is a reasonable person to admit that this little girl was placed in an impossible situation, without her consent, and with a threat of punishment that seems completely illogical and sadistic. She never asked to be put in the muddy backyard in the first place. And forcing her to say that she is sorry for getting dirty seems ridiculous. And threatening her with a lifetime of torture is absurd. We would lock him up as an abusive father.

A good father would never do this to his child.

And this is no different than our existence on Earth.

If God created a reality in which evil existed before humanity, but then we were placed within it with the certainty of sin, then it’s God’s responsibility to resolve the situation of evil and not blame us for the impossible situation we find ourselves in.

Why ought any human be punished for eternity for entering a reality in which we did not agree, and to which we did not have any say, and for which we were not the original cause for evil?

Because, if I had the choice of entering a reality in which the deck seemed certainly stacked against me, and all of humanity, with the incredibly large percentage of all created human beings going to Hell forever and ever and ever, I would have simply chosen to never enter that reality.

And, if the predominant narrative of going to Hell for eternity (also called Eternal Conscious Torment) is true, then 95% of the people who have ever lived on this planet are destined for an eternity in Hell, because out of the approximately 110 billion people who have lived on Earth from the beginning until now, there have only been 5-6 billion Christians since the time of Jesus.

Are we supposed to believe that every person in history, except for professed followers of Jesus, will be burning in the flames of Hell for eternity?

What about every single person born before the death and resurrection of Jesus?

What about people born before the death and resurrection of Jesus, but who lived in the farthest reaches of the planet and who never heard of Jesus?

What about every single person born after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but who lived in the farthest reaches of the planet and who never heard about Judaism or the saving grace of God through Jesus?

What about every single person born into other religions and who never knew otherwise?

What about every person who ran away from God because their parents physically, emotionally and verbally abused them in the name of God?

What about every person who never wanted anything to do with God because of the hateful wrath of those who yelled and screamed and damned and condemned in God’s name?

I have to tell you, and I am going to be brutally honest here. If God created a such an immensely difficult and impossible reality and then made the entire point of this life a single decision that we would make as to whether we spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell, then God has already failed. There is no way any single person can look at 100 billion people burning in Hell for eternity and think that God is victorious.

There is no Good News in that no matter how you spin it.

If evil existed before a single human was created, then it is God’s situation alone to remedy. And if the majority of human beings are sent to Hell for eternity for something that not a single one of us created, caused or chose in the first place, and then we live within variables that are completely outside of our control, then God is immeasurably more horrific than the worst tyrant or dictator we could ever imagine.

The good news is that God is not a tyrant at all.

In fact, the idea of burning in Hell for eternity is utterly inconsistent with a God that we are told looks exactly like Jesus. If Jesus is the perfect embodiment of God, then how can the two be so radically different from each other? And then, how could Jesus not just preach radical, unmerited, unconditional forgiveness, grace, mercy and love to friend and enemy alike, but then have the audacity to tell us to be the exact same way, if the God that he represents is the complete opposite of that, demanding the most severe retribution and punishment for enemies?

We must conclude that we are either more moral and ethical than this God who is willing to send billions of people to Hell for eternity, or we have monumentally misunderstood who God is and what God’s heart is for each one of us. I think it is the latter.

Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a Christian book author, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. His latest book is “Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage.” He can be reached at his website, brandonandress.com.