Why Did God Create People—Knowing That Many Would Go to Hell?
[Author’s Note: The latter half of this question, which concerns hell, is a sentiment that is often used by skeptics to cast doubt on the veracity of the Bible and the God depicted in its pages. We will deal with this question in two distinct sections. First, we will see what the Bible has to say about why God created humans in general. Then we will proceed to show that the concept of hell, and God’s foreknowledge about who will choose to go there, does not rationally or morally militate against the God of the Bible.]
If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful God (and there is, see Existence of God), then we would expect His motivations for action to be, in many cases, unknown to us. Since there would be so many things that He would know and we would not, it would be virtually impossible for us to understand His reasons for certain actions unless He condescended to explain them. As Isaiah the prophet wrote: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In one sense we could liken God’s relationship to humans to the knowledge that a five-year-old child would have of some of the actions of her parents. Suppose a child sees a parent pull out a small, rectangular checkbook, write something on a check, pull the check out and put it in an envelope, place a stamp on it, and put it in the mail. The child might ask, “Mommy, why did you do that?” The mother might respond, “So that we can keep driving our car without the bank taking it from us.” How could the child possibly connect a piece of paper to driving a car? Without knowing the details of how a check represents money, how the car was purchased from a dealership, how the bank loaned the parents money, etc., then the child could not grasp the significance of the check.
In a similar way, there are things that God has done that we humans can never fully understand for the simple reason that God has not told us why He has done them. Or, perhaps He has told us, but His answer does not give all the details that our human curiosity might wish. Moses well understood this idea when he wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which have been revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Some things God tells us; some things He does not.
When we approach the question of why God created humans, we find ourselves dealing with a question for which God has not provided an extensive answer. The simple answer given in the Bible is that God created humans, as well as the rest of creation, by His will and for His glory.
BY HIS WILL
Revelation 4:11 declares: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (emp. added). The “take home” message from this verse is that God freely chose to create and was not constrained by any outside force or by a need to fill any type of deficiency. Psalm 115:3 says: “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” The simple, but none too informative, answer to our question is that God wanted to create humans, so He did.
We must stress, at this point, that His desire to create humans was not because He needed them for some reason. There have been those, especially in ancient religions, who have suggested that God was lonely or in some way deficient and needed humans as companions or helpers. This suggestion has no merit. In Acts 17:24-25, the apostle Paul plainly declared: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (emp. added).
The fact that God does not need humans to “help” Him is also reflected in Psalm 50:10-12, a statement that quotes God’s own words: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine and all its fullness.” This passage is certainly not suggesting that God would actually get hungry. On the contrary, it is implying that God would never need anything from His Creation.
Neither was God “forced” to create humans because He was lonely. Being the all-sufficient Being, there is nothing in God that needs more of anything. God’s eternal communion with Himself (in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has always provided all the fellowship God needs to be complete. We can clearly see this communion of the three persons of the Godhead in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’” Jesus echoed this sentiment of God’s eternal communion when He prayed to the Father: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, emp. added). God’s free will act of creating humans had nothing to do with a need to assuage any loneliness. As Stanley Grenz correctly concluded: “Thus, God’s creation of the universe is a free act, a non-necessary act. God is not driven to create, not forced by some sense of compulsion to bring the universe into existence” (1994, p. 99).
Just because God did not (and does not) need humanity for anything, does not imply that humans are unimportant to God. Once He freely chose to create humans, He endowed them with importance by forming them in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). As theologian Wayne Grudem rightly commented:
Someone might wonder, if God does not need us for anything, then are we important at all? Is there any significance to our existence or to the existence of the rest of creation? In response it must be said that we are in fact very meaningful because God has created us and determined that we would be meaningful to him. That is the final definition of genuine significance (Grudem, 1994, p. 162, italics in original).
God chose to create us by His free will. When He did, He endowed us with meaning and importance by creating us in His image.
FOR HIS GLORY
The Bible also says that God created humans “for His glory.” The God of the Bible declared: “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory, I have formed him, yes, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7, emp. added). It is at this point that we must confess that the phrase “for His glory” opens the door to a great deal of speculation. What does the Bible mean when it says that humans (and all creation) were brought into existence for God’s glory? Does it mean that His creation will praise Him and give Him glory? Does it mean the mere fact that human existence brings glory to God as a manifestation of His power and ingenuity? Does it mean that our continued worship of God, in spite of the existence of suffering and hardship in this world, vindicates God and glorifies Him in contradiction to Satan’s expectations, as illustrated in the book of Job? Everything that is involved in this idea will never be truly understood by humans. We can only say that humans are here “for His glory.”
Some have suggested that if the God of the Bible made humans simply “for His glory,” then this would imply that God is an egotistical dictator Who simply wanted more “subjects” to grovel at His feet and tell Him how great He is. This suggestion fails to comprehend important aspects of the phrase “for His glory.” Not only are humans designed to bring glory to God, but they are also designed to enjoy God’s glory and find their own completeness in it. As Jack Cottrell stated: “Herein lies the purpose of human existence, i.e., to receive God’s goodness and to give him glory” (2002, p. 109). God created humans to live a blissfully happy life receiving His glory and responding in turn to the gift of His glory. It is a perfect feedback loop of humans receiving God’s glory, responding with obedience and praise, and being complete and fulfilled by their reception of God’s glory as well as by their proper response to it. We can say, then, that God created humans to live blissfully perfect lives receiving and reciprocating His glory. Understanding the situation in this light brings to the surface the folly of accusing God of selfish egotism.
KNOWING MOST PEOPLE WILL GO TO HELL
Once we establish the fact that God created humans by His will, to live completely happy lives as they receive and respond to His glory, the skeptic is quick to seize upon the fact that many people are not blissfully happy. In fact, a large number of people are unhappy. Not only that, demands the skeptic, but most people, according to the Bible, are destined to be punished eternally in hell. How is it, the skeptic queries, that a loving God could create humans, knowing that most of them would go to hell? Atheist author David Mills demanded:
If we conclude, then, that God would create Hell to deter human behavior which He disliked—knowing beforehand that the majority of humanity would, as a result, suffer eternal torture—then we would be forced to label this god as evil and sadistic also, because He likewise would have inhumanely tortured individuals in order to accomplish His goals (Mills, 2006, p. 180).
Skeptic Vistonas Wu posted similar thoughts on the Web in an article titled “Debunking the Arguments of Christian Fundamentalists and Evangelists”: “If you were God, and you were omnipotent and could see throughout all time, would you create a world where you knew beforehand that the majority of people would end up in an eternal hell?” (2009). The answer implied by the skeptic is, “No.” But the problem with his reasoning is that humans are not all-knowing and that is why humans are not in such a position. In fact, in light of humanity’s limited knowledge, it easily could be the case that the information we do not have at the present is the very information that would lead an all-knowing Being to create the world as it is. The simple sounding question, “If you were God…,” can never be asked in any legitimate sense, and certainly cannot be used as “evidence” to impugn the character of God. If a person really could be God, then his thought process would be so different from what it is now, there is no way he could say what he would or would not do. It needs to be noted in this context that God has created humans in His image, endowing them with the ability to distinguish truth from error, and those ideas that are rational from those that are not. We are not contending that God’s choice to create people is irrational to humans, but rational to God. We are simply saying that God’s omniscience puts Him in a position to know all the details that would be needed to make a perfectly rational decision.
DISSECTING THE SKEPTIC"S ACCUSATION
The skeptic’s accusation that God is evil because He created humans, even though He knew that most would go to hell, crumbles under closer scrutiny. First, the skeptic is quick to include the idea that “most” people are going to hell. This word “most” must be included in the accusation, because if more people go to heaven than go to hell, one could easily argue (using the skeptics’ own humanistic morality) that the present world is arranged for the benefit of the majority. Since humanistic morality claims an action is moral as long as it brings about the most good for the majority of people (Butt, 2010, pp. 33-36), then skeptics cannot, according to their own standard, criticize a God that saves “most” people in heaven and allows a minority of them to choose hell.
So, can we be sure that “most” people are going to hell? No, and here is why. Numerous verses can be cited that seem to indicate that a majority of people choose hell. The most common passage is Matthew 7:13-14, which states: “Enter by the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” According to this passage, many choose the path to destruction, and only few choose the path to life. What is implied in these verses, however, is the idea that those under discussion have the ability and capacity to choose. Those who are not in view in this or other such passages are those who have not yet reached an age or mental capacity to choose—unborn babies, infants, and children. If we can show that children go to heaven (and we can, see Butt, 2003), and we can show that there is at least a possibility that more children have died in a saved condition than adults who have died lost, then we can do away with the idea that “most” people are going to hell. When we consider that worldwide, there are an estimated 42 million abortions each year (Johnston, 2010), and when we understand that children often are the first to die in periods of famine and disease, we are forced to conclude that it is at least possible, and most likely probable, that more humans have died in a saved state than those who will be eternally lost. [NOTE: At this point in the discussion, the skeptic will often change the subject and demand that God cannot be loving and allow all those children to die. This accusation is false and has been definitively refuted, see Butt, 2009]. The skeptic, then, cannot know if “most” people are going to hell, and thus, according to humanistic morality based on the majority, cannot accuse God of evil. In truth, however, the concept of “most” people has very little to do with justifying God’s actions. Because God’s morality can still be justified even if most people are lost and only a few saved.
GOD WANTS ALL PEOPLE TO CHOOSE TO BE SAVED
The Bible is clear that God allows all accountable humans to choose their own final destination. Throughout the Scriptures, we see God placing before humans the ability to determine their own destiny. Moses wrote: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:13-14 about the narrow and wide paths included the idea that His listeners had the ability “to enter” whichever path they chose. Joshua underscored this idea of choice when he declared to the Israelites, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). The skeptical community likes to parade before the masses a picture of a tyrant God Who arbitrarily casts people to eternal destruction based on nothing more than whim and caprice. That is not true. Any person who goes to hell will have consciously made the decision to be there. As atheist Dan Barker so clearly stated: “Speaking for myself, if the biblical heaven and hell exist, I would choose hell” (2008, p. 170). C.S. Lewis insightfully noted: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it” (1946, p. 72, ital. in orig.). Timothy Keller added: “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?” (2008, p. 79).
God allows people to choose their final destiny, and He wants all men to choose to be saved. First Timothy 2:4 says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Second Peter 3:8 says that the Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Not only does He not want people to choose hell, He sent His Son as a sacrifice for sin to dissuade people from choosing hell and to persuade them to choose heaven. In fact, the book of Hebrews explains that those who choose the path to destruction will trample the Son of God under their feet on their way (Hebrews 10:29). The concept of hell does not militate against God’s love or justice (Butt, 2010, pp. 17-24). [NOTE: I understand that the skeptic does not accept these verses as inspired and does not accept the story of Jesus’ sacrificial atonement. If the skeptic accuses the Bible of portraying God as immoral, however, he must allow the Bible to answer for itself. I am simply saying the Bible presents a cogent, logical argument that shows the skeptics’ accusation of God as being immoral to be wrong. If God really allows people to choose, and if He sent His Son to demonstrate His love and persuade people to choose right, then He cannot be accused of immorality.]
GOD SHOWS NO PARTIALITY
Another key concept to understandingGod’s dealings with humanity is His lack of partiality. The apostle Peter correctly stated: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). This verse testifies to the fact that the Bible presents God as a perfectly impartial, fair Being Who gives every person an equal opportunity to respond to the truth. We must understand, however, that we are not saying that all people have the exact same number of opportunities to hear the Gospel, or are born into identical socio-economic situations, etc. What we are saying is that God fairly judges each person based on the opportunities he or she has been given. As Jesus said: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). In all the examples in the Bible in which people responded properly to the truth, God provided those people with enough information to be saved (cf. Acts 8:26-38; Acts 10). God, therefore, takes into account every aspect of a person’s inherent make-up and external environment and impartially judges that person’s behavior based on what he or she should do given all the circumstances.
YES, BUT GOD KNEW SOME WOULD CHOOSE HELL...
Once the skeptic realizes that he cannot rationally conclude that God is unfair for allowing all people to choose their own destiny, he must insist that the mere fact God knew some people would choose hell should have kept God from creating those people. An adequate response to such a statement is simply, “Who says?” Is there anything about the skeptic’s charge that shows some type of inherent moral rightness? There is nothing. And while, “Who says?” is an adequate response, it is not the only one at the disposal of the biblical theist. While it is true that God could have only created those humans that He knew would choose heaven, would the skeptic call that “fair”? Would it be fair for God not to create a person, and thereby deprive that person of the same opportunities and chances as other people, simply because God knew that person would choose hell? Such a course of action would actually be truly “unfair” and would land God in the real moral dilemma of showing partiality. On the contrary, the only way for God to be truly fair to all His human creatures would be to allow each of them the same opportunity to choose their own final destination.
The skeptic might then contend that it would have been better for God not to have created humans at all. But the answer to such a statement once again is, “Who says?” Who is the skeptic to say that a world with no humans is one that is better than a world in which humans are all given an equal chance to respond to God’s love, with many millions actually responding obediently and receiving eternal life? On what grounds does the skeptic demand that his perceived world is better than the one that we have? He can appeal to no greater authority than his own personal opinion. In essence, the skeptic is saying nothing more than, “I think it would have been better if humans were not created if some would choose hell.” The response to such an opinion is simply that God, Who knows everything and is completely impartial and perfectly moral and loving, understands at least one thing about the Universe that the skeptic does not know (or refuses to acknowledge) that calls for the situation to be as it is.
There is no possible way for our finite human minds to understand all the reasons behind why God created humans. There is enough information about God and humans for us to reason properly that God is not immoral for having created humans. We can know that humans were created by an act of God’s free will to receive and respond to His glory. The skeptic’s vacuous charge that God is immoral for creating humans, knowing that some would choose hell, cannot be sustained. God has given every responsible person an equal opportunity to choose heaven. There is no ground upon which the skeptic can maintain that a world without humans would be a better world than one in which some humans choose eternal life and others choose eternal destruction. In fact, God’s attributes of omniscience, impartiality, and love provide the basis to conclude that only He would be in a position to determine which world would be the very best. When understood properly, the Bible presents a completely consistent picture of God’s moral perfection in regard to His choice to create humans.
Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1201.
Butt, Kyle (2009), “Is God Immoral for Killing Babies?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=260.
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Cottrell, Jack (2002), The Faith Once for All (Joplin, MO: College Press).
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