Dalai Lamas in Hell? Continuing A Conversation

The Wager: on the left, all the host of Hell; on the right, church family and Heaven; in the middle, you, throwing the dice.About the Image: “The Wager” by David M. Hodges, created late 1990s, updated 2013. The version of this image I recovered recently from some old Zip disks dated to 11 September 1998. The late 1990s were the time when my skeptical agnosticism was consuming itself (as self-referentially incoherent thought systems always must if one refuses to stop analyzing and reflecting upon them; I once quipped during this time that, though Socrates had claimed a life not reflected upon was not worth living, I had found a life reflected upon unlivable). I had begun exploring Van Tilian apologetics (I believe my first exposure was compliments of the Chalcedon Report, copies of which were often set out at a local Reformed Christian bookstore), as well as reflecting a good deal upon Pascal’s “What have you got to lose?” prudential case for Christian faith. It was the latter that inspired this image. Created using Photoshop (version 4.0, I think) and carefully selected pieces of many public domain illustrations; updated for the Pious Eye site, using GIMP. I will leave it to the reader to guess why I think this image a suitable choice for the present post.

I have been having an extended dialog with one visitor to this site. Since the dialog has moved into subject matter unrelated to the post upon which this visitor originally commented, I have posted this latest of my contributions to the dialog as a new item, placing a link to it as my response on the original thread.

Hi Ben. Thank you for continuing the conversation. I’ll start my response by answering your Dalai Lama question.

Were I not to be guilty of setting up my own subjective impulses, my feelings, as higher authorities than Scripture, I would not be free to suggest that the Dalai Lama could expect anything but damnation if he refused to accept the saving gospel of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. Though tender-hearted Christians (C.S. Lewis and yourself, for example) have often wished to hold out hope that the many “good people” among non-Christians might end up saved without ever placing faith in the Savior, the Bible seems to provide no justification for this “hopeful agnosticism” (as a past Theology professor of mine worded it):

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18, emphasis added)

The teaching here, in agreement with what we saw in Romans (in my prior response), is that persons are condemned to begin with (“already”)—damnation is the default human status. Perhaps the thinking of some is that “believeth not” is not the same as “actively disbelieves,” in which case awareness of the gospel would be required before failure to accept the gospel could result in damnation. But this understanding, which basically treats humans as saved by default, seems impossible to justify from the text. As many have noted, it also makes the Apostles’ missionary urgency senseless, since if people who never hear the gospel, and so can never reject (“actively disbelieve”) it, are saved by default, telling them the gospel so they can damn themselves would be a cruel act any loving Christian would want to avoid.

All of this is irrelevant to the case of modern Dalai Lamas, of course, since they invariably have much exposure to the West and to the Christian gospel, so that they surely can be said to have rejected that gospel in favor of their Buddhist beliefs. If we accept what Romans says about the nature of false religious belief systems (that they are efforts to escape God’s truth by selectively replacing parts of it with the products of human imagination and speculation), we have no choice but to declare that the Dalai Lamas—however much we may respect much that they do and say, and however much they may seem “sincere seekers of truth”—need to repent of their Buddhism and embrace the saving gospel of Jesus Christ if they are to escape the condemnation that John’s Gospel tells us is already upon them. Whether humans following their own moral intuitions find this “too wrathful” or not hardly matters; God’s nature does not change to suit human preferences. However, it may be helpful to keep in mind that God’s “wrath” is always an expression of his perfectly holy and just character; it is not the sort of irrational anger-for-its-own-sake that we find with human “wrath.” God does not damn persons because they’ve ticked him off; he damns them as an execution of perfect justice. God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, fulfilled the requirements of perfect justice for all who will ever trust in him. If God could simply let sinful humans “off the hook” without their trusting in Christ’s substitutionary work, he would not be perfectly just. No longer could it be said that “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10); instead we would have to say that mercy has overruled truth and peace has set aside righteousness. (Some related remarks may be found in my recent communication with a Jehovah’s Witness who visited me.)

Re: “Judge not.” Interestingly, you bring this directive up as you “judge” Scripture’s portrayal of God too harsh (“wrathful”), presumably on the basis of no greater authority than your own feelings about what is properly just, sufficiently merciful, and unacceptably harsh. (I realize you have in your latest response identified “the spirit guiding [you],” rather than your own feelings, as the authority to which you defer. Though mystical, experience-is-everything types are constantly telling me things like this, none has yet satisfactorily answered my follow-up question: What quality of this “spiritual” experience of yours enables you to reliably identify it as a deliverance of something other than your own emotions or imagination? Perhaps you can give a satisfactory answer to this query where others have failed.) I don’t wish to dismiss human moral sentiments entirely; no doubt humans have a God-given moral sense that provides them with many correct moral insights (so that “most people in most places most of the time will be mostly decent, mostly well-meaning, more good than evil [in imperfect human terms, that is, not by God’s perfect standards]”). But humans are fallen and corrupted, so their innate faculties, moral or otherwise, must always bow to Scripture as the ultimate authority, accepting its correction and guidance. The duty of humans is not to challenge God’s moral judgments, but to submit to them and, as we’re able, come to understand just why they are right and our contrary human feelings wrong. One interesting attempt to come to such an understanding, albeit from an Arminian perspective I cannot embrace (where human “free will” equals freedom to act against God’s eternal decree, freedom to act as an ultimately-autonomous-and-independent entity rather than a created-and-so-dependent one, freedom to actually confound God’s purposes), can be found in William Lane Craig‘s paper, “Politically Incorrect Salvation” (in Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, ed. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1995], 76-97). Craig reflects:

We can actually show that it is entirely consistent to affirm that God is all-powerful and all-loving and yet that many persons do not hear the gospel and are lost. Since God is good and loving, he wants as many people as possible to be saved and as few as possible to be lost. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these—to create no more of the lost than is necessary to attain a certain number of the saved. But it is possible that the actual world (speaking here of the whole history of the world, past, present and future) has such an optimal balance! It is possible that in order to create this many people who are saved, God also had to create this many people who are lost….

[Further,] It is reasonable to assume that many people who never hear the gospel wold not have believed it even if they had heard it. Suppose, then, that God has so providentially ordered the world that all persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people. In that case, anybody who never hears the gospel and is lost would have rejected the gospel and been lost even if he had heard it. (Ibid., 92-93)

Now, it seems to me that the idea that God’s wants “as many people as possible to be saved and as few as possible to be lost” is not a necessary consequence of God’s being “good and loving,” but is rather Craig’s imposition upon God of his own sentiments about what divine desires would qualify as “good an loving.” As well, the whole framing of this as a head-counting numbers game makes me uncomfortable. But, then, Craig’s whole non-Calvinist perspective (Craig endorses the Arminianism-compatible perspective of a sixteenth century theologian/philosopher named Molina) clashes with my conviction that nothing in created reality can be excluded from God’s foreordaining decree as creator of all that is, so I of course lack appreciation for his speculative application of that perspective to God’s moral judgments. Nevertheless, the speculation does show that even someone who requires the secret counsels of God to “make sense” in terms of human moral sentiments may not be justified rejecting Scripture’s teaching that all who fail to accept the gospel, even those who never hear the gospel, will be damned.

In any case, the “Judge not” passage is an interesting one. The fuller context reads as follows:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, emphasis added)

In context, the call here is for delay (care, consideration, self-examination, due preparation) and consistency in judgment, not for avoidance of judgment. Elsewhere Christ explicitly instructs followers to exercise judgment: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, emphasis added). Also, the context seems to be focused on dealings between persons within the house of faith (“brother[s]”), persons who have already accepted the gospel. It therefore parallels Paul’s instructions in Romans:

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, emphasis added)

In both these passages, Christians are instructed to look to their own sanctification before trying to look to the sanctification of others, to never try to fix shortcomings in their fellow believers that they have yet to fix in themselves. If we’re going to try anyway to apply the Matthew “Judge not” passage to interactions between believers (those who have accepted the gospel) and unbelievers (those who have not), then, since believers have removed the beam of unbelief from their own eyes, they now “see clearly” to remove that same beam (and any related motes) from the eyes of unbelievers.

As for “the power of ONE,” and “zen,” you may see what a (to quote your pejorative) “divisive fool” like myself makes of these by reviewing this post.

If this post is a book review, it may also appear, less nicely formatted and typically abridged, on Amazon, on GoodReads, and maybe elsewhere.

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