Originally Published March 20, 2013
Continuing in my series Christian Answers to Philosophical Questions, I’ll resume this week with:
7. God is nothing more than a tyrant who punishes His opponents and rewards His subjects.
True enough, it is a fact that the older translations of the Bible are rich with references and inferences of rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked.
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee. Proverbs 25.21-22
“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven […]” St Matthew 5.12
“[…] and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” St Matthew 6.4
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. II John 1.8
And I [God] will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. Leviticus 26.17-18
But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the LORD […] Jeremiah 21.14a
~ all quotes from King James Version
So due to the fact of these and similar Scriptures, philosophical challengers (and some psychological challengers) sometimes try to make the case that God is basically nothing more than a self-serving being, just as any common animal, as if to say, “I’ll pat your back if you’ll pat mine.” They paint a picture of Him as some spoiled child who has been given all power and authority to usurp and dominate poor pathetic humans, threatening “hellfire and damnation” to the unrighteous and offering “glorious heaven” to the righteous. They then often propose that any true intellectual adult would never subject themselves to such a primitive incentive-based lifestyle. I have two responses to this challenge, firstly toward the primary argument, secondly toward the Christian community.
(1) To address this argument, the one thing I will not do is to try to state that the Scriptures are not saying what they clearly are stating. Rather, I will attempt to expound more fully upon what they are stating by examining other parts of Scripture.
But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwiilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. II Peter 2.10-13a KJV
In this passage, Peter states that the “reward of unrighteousness” is linked to the consequences of “their own corruption.” Thus in fundamental principle, punishment is simply a state of inevitable decay of the condition of unrighteousness rather than as an active smite from the Divine. Lying will label you an untrustworthy liar. Stealing will label you a social criminal. This type of punishment is simply a result – a principle – of an unjust lifestyle, just as an egg dropped to the ground will result in a broken egg because of the principle of energy transfer.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. I Corinthians 3.11-15 KJV
In this passage, Paul describes reward in an analogy of the forging of metal as a “sort” of work which men do that will endure the fire of judgement, or as I like to say, the manifestation of truth and untruth. This is certainly a different view of rewards than simply being handed a milkbone from a tyrant. Like punishment, reward is something that manifests as we adhere to or digress from the principles of truth. God is simply that Principle of Truth from which an independent existence is impossible.
As a final statement concerning this argument, I would like to address the idea that God threatens humans with Hell. This I have said many times and certainly many more to come:
Hell was created as a dungeon for fallen angels – not humans.
Humans were never intended enter. But when man chose to follow the same path that led the demons to fall (see Isaiah 14), so man fell into that same pit. Now, we are born and destined to exist there, often blind to the reality of where we are. Rather than “threatening” humans with Hell, God simply reveals to us where we currently are. Then He tells us, “My child! I’m coming to save you!” That story began in Bethlehem…
(2) To the Christian community, I would like to take this opportunity to remind and encourage us all – We do not follow God because He offers us reward. We do not seek Him because we get peace, prosperity, success, or anything that is gain to us. We do not receive Him because we want to be saved from Hell or because we want to live eternally in Paradise. These are incentive-based perspectives that very much do exist and are often heavily promoted in the Christian community as a “what God has done for me” type of testimony, and those testimonies provide fertile soil for this type of challenge toward Christianity to spring forth and flourish. Truthfully, God would still be God if He had never provided salvation or blessings in any form to humanity, and He would still be worthy of all worship and praise even if we were all doomed. He is worthy because of who He is – not because of what He gives us as individuals or as a society. He sometimes chooses to give us rewards as a secondary blessing, but as any parent, public icon, employer, etc. knows, relationships based primarily upon incentives are an illusion destined to fail.
My answer to this challenge is this: Biblical Christianity is not an incentive-based philosophy. It is adherence to the Principle of Truth – God.
This is a simple answer, yet one that many Christians fail to realize. My hope is that Christians who endure this type of challenge (or even persecution) will seek deeper answers and come to realize, as I once did, the truth about this incentive-based philosophy. This challenge only exists because most Christians do not understand their own Faith, but once they come to understand it, this type of challenge can no longer find a foothold because it is dependent upon a Christian idea that deviates from the Biblical Faith.