I appreciate your thoughtful reply. But, perhaps not surprisingly, I'm not very convinced by it.
I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said “god doesn't have to save everyone or anyone in order to exist.” This is a very true statement. He really didn’t, and that is why the idea of God’s grace is so amazing.
Is it really
amazing that a parent would forgive a disobedient child? I don't think so--especially if said parent knows the nature of this disobedience even prior to the creation of said child.
Your “if-then” statements are warranted, but restrictive. Simply because many people don’t know God does not, by necessity, create deficiency in His “omnimax” qualities.
I know. And I agree. That's why I was trying to be careful in my wording. People not knowing God doesn't create a deficiency but it should, I think, raise the question of whether or not such deficiencies exist if we assume that God exists.
The reason for this is that an “omnimax” being may act, or may refrain on acting, on His “omnimax” qualities in the manner in which He chooses. In fact, the Bible presents God as doing this. The hard question then becomes, why doesn’t He just reveal Himself to everyone the same way He revealed Himself to Thomas? There are two answers for this. The first is that God will indeed reveal Himself to all men, when He comes to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, it is not really a matter of if, but when.
I don't think this is at all satisfactory. Here's the thing. If I were to die today then, on Christianity, I should expect to be condemned. After all, if I take what Jesus is claimed to have said in the Gospels seriously then it's already spelled out:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
John 3:18, 19
And to hear Peter tell it:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
And my case is not a tricky one. I am not one of those who has gone unevangelized. In fact, I grew up in a Christian home. So it would seem to me that, unless I suddenly come to believe, I should expect to be denied access to heaven if Christianity is true.
And with no one to buzz me in from heaven's stoop, where can I expect to go?
Second, the revelation of God is very present, but the presence is that which leads to faith, namely, not physical revelation, but spiritual.
This really just goes toward my point. My point was that, if Christianity is true and scripture is authoritative then God has given some people every opportunity to believe while denying others that opportunity. The disciples and all manner of folks that were around to have witnessed Jesus' life and ministry are said to have had experiences with a physical being who performed physical, tangible miracles. Thomas' experience is decidedly physical. Why should I be limited to some vague, spiritual presence or experience rather than a physical one when this generation got to experience both? (Hell, I've never even had a spiritual experience.)
Furthermore, the “heavens declare the glory of God”, and the “law written on the heart of man” displays His institutions. His Word portrays the story He is telling in creation, namely, redemption. Lastly, “[as you become] sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6)
I don't know man. I don't think that the "heavens declare the glory of God." Or rather, I don't think that the heavens point us toward Christian theism any more than they point us towards any other form of theism or any other theological position for that matter. Personally, I think they declare the glory of Carl Sagan.
With respect to His Law being written on the heart of man, I don't really think there's much to that one either. I mean, we all have moral intuitions but I think that we can make better sense of them as a natural phenomenon. Why do we, as a species, for example, tend to prefer members of our ingroups (be they familial, racial, national, religious etc) over members of outgroups when making moral decisions or in our moral feelings? Take, for example, the ending of psalm 137:7 Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Why is it that the author feels free to lament the destruction of Jerusalem while, in the same breath, fantasizing about the children of Babylon being murdered? The infants of Babylon didn't (and couldn't) do anything to harm Judah in any way. Yet the author feels justified in relishing in the thought of their brutal death because they happen to belong to a hated outgroup. Do you think he would feel the same way about Judean infants? I don't.
This makes perfect sense on an evolutionary view but not on the view. We, as a species, flourished in small groups. We are wired to prefer people as part of our group and conversely, to be suspicious of or even hostile to outsiders. It was beneficial to the survival of our genes.
(Or perhaps, they're getting god's law right in those ethnic prejudices. After all, the Torah continually distinguishes between the Israelite and the foreigner. Does God want us to treat people differently based solely on their ethnicity?)
And what do you make of people whose personality is affected by a mental illness, genetic condition or brain disease or injury? I mean, if God's law was indeed written on our hearts, why are there sociopaths? Does God have bad handwriting? (If so, I was indeed made in His image.)
To comment, lastly, on hell, you touch a very sobering topic, but I would ask you, if the glory of heaven is Christ, and in this life you despise Him, would you truly want to spend an eternity with Him?
I don't have anything against Jesus. I just don't think he was God or a messiah foretold in days of old or any of that business. (And no, I don't "despise" that notion either. I just don't believe it.)
I'm not even sure that he was an actual historical figure. (I take the position that, if Jesus existed then he has been all but lost to historical inquiry and that we therefore can't really know much about him. But that's another topic.)
As for spending an eternity with him. Nah. Jesus seems like a nice enough guy but I wouldn't want to spend an eternity doing anything. I'm one of those weird people that would prefer not existing to existing eternally in any state.
Now, by saying this, I am not saying that the natural man chooses hell; he doesn’t. What I am saying is that, as you look at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, you will notice something very interesting of the rich man in hell. You will notice that, although He is obviously in torment and doesn’t wish to be where he is, he doesn’t ask to go to heaven, but instead asks for Lazarus to come with water to cool his tongue. Furthermore, we see a very interesting thing playing out which I think relates will to your questions. The rich man asked for a physical sign to be sent to his brothers. He says, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” And what does Abraham say? “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” So the question remains, would you believe? It’s actually a really serious question.
And here's the serious answer: probably.
If all I have are the Law and the Prophets then no, I would not believe. I'm not aware of any historical evidence that Moses or anyone led a large group of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and I am therefore suspicious of his story and the laws attributed to him--especially since many of those laws are predicated on the fact of this supposed exodus. (Hence the phrase "for you were a foreigner in the land of Egypt.") And I find the laws themselves, especially those in Leviticus, to be mostly arbitrary and often repugnant. (I think the law code in Deuteronomy is a bit better though.) Furthermore, archeological evidence would suggest that Isrealite monotheism is a later development than a lot of believers would like to admit--polytheism being the norm rather than something that Israel was occasionally tempted towards. In addition, there is little evidence to support the idea that Canaan was conquored by the Israelites. (In fact, the ending of Joshua almost admits as much.) I follow the Biblical minimalists in concluding that the Israelites were probably themselves Canaanites.
I think that the entire Deuteronomic history is therefore likely to be an exercise of retrojection--a polemic against indigionous and contemporary non-Yahwehist Isrealite religion as well as competing forms of Yahwehism. And I think that the exploits of Moses and the Patriarchs are just the same sort of founding mythology we find in civilizations all over the world. (This is by no means an exclusively ancient phenomenon. We can already see people whitewashing my country's founding.)
With respect to the Prophets, I can appreciate a lot of it from a literary standpoint, especially the amazingly sarcastic Isaiah, but I don't really see any reason to accept them as authoritative in any way. (I believe it was David Plotz who observed that you can inject, at the end of almost any passage of Isaiah, the phrase "you idiots!")
If, on the other hand, I saw someone that I knew for a fact was dead, I would probably take very seriously what he had to say about the after-life. (Or I might think that I'm going insane or wonder whether or not he was really dead in the first place. I don't know. Hence: probably)
And with respect to the rich man not asking to go to heaven, does that really mean that he doesn't want
to go to heaven? Couldn't I just as easily read it as the rich man accepting
that he isn't going to heaven? For example, if your girlfriend were to break up with you, you might want
to still be with her and yet not pursue her because you accept
that she wants nothing to do with you.