Christian apologists are accustomed to dealing with the “straw man” fallacy. This is where the skeptic paints a false picture of a theistic position, making it easier to ridicule or defeat, and then concludes, triumphantly, that his skeptical view prevails. But not every challenge that misstates our views is intentional. At times, the challenger simply fails to grasp what it is that Christianity holds.
Take for instance the doctrine of Hell – the concept of eternal punishment. Many atheists take this doctrine as evidence that primitive men invented Christianity to control others by threat of eternal punishment. They then reject Christianity because they believe that any God who would punish someone for “failing to worship him properly” would be unworthy of worship. I have heard this argument presented a variety of ways, but common among them is an accusation that the God of the Bible is some kind of “petty egomaniac” whose ego we need to ceaselessly stroke to avoid eternal damnation. Let’s take a look at what is being missed in this challenge and how we might respond.
Is God an Egomaniac?
It is simply mistaken to assert that God “requires ego stroking,” because such a view completely misses God’s true nature. The term “ego” refers to self-esteem and can be defined as “somebody’s idea of his or her own importance or worth, usually of an appropriate level” or it can mean something more pejorative, as in “an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a feeling of superiority to other people.” Either way, the term cannot be applied logically to God. God does not lack any knowledge, including self-knowledge. He doesn’t have an “idea” of his worth; quite the contrary, he “knows” with certainty that he has infinite worth. He can’t have an “exaggerated” sense of self-importance because one cannot add to infinity. He literally is the most important, amazing, immense … you name the superlative… being possible. To the extent that he feels superior to his creation, it is because, well, He is. His knowledge of that fact is not arrogance; it is instead factual.
Human Beings are Egomaniacs
There is a likely cause for this inability to see God clearly. Too many people today focus far too much on their own egos, and their own wants and desires and needs. In so doing, they forget that they are not God but are instead created, and therefore, lesser beings. Nonetheless, they crave recognition, and they desire others to see them at their best and to laud them; isn’t that what most social media platforms are set up to do? In contrast to us flawed mortal beings, God actually deserves recognition for what He is, for such recognition is an accurate reflection of the way reality is. Consider: I naturally recognize when someone or something is “superior” to me; I naturally feel awe and a desire to praise something excellent, outstanding, virtuous, awesome. That’s why people like to watch the Olympics, because of that sense of awe generated when a superior athlete performs. Awe is the natural reaction to witnessing greatness.
“Awe is the natural reaction to witnessing greatness.”
We feel that emotion even if we don’t particularly like the person who is performing so well. For example, a beautifully executed soccer goal still inspires awe even if your favorite team’s rival scored it to win the game. Since God embodies not just “greatness” but utter perfection, it is indeed appropriate for us to acknowledge Him; this acknowledgement, naturally, finds its expression in praise and worship. Responding this way is the correct response not because God somehow needs or desires it (He is a perfect being after all and therefore has no “needs”), but because our refusal to accurately assess him hurts us. In other words, knowing this reality about God but nonetheless rejecting him means we are living a lie, that we are trying to defy the natural order of things. This harms us, not God, because at a most elemental level we need to accurately view and understand reality to remain safe within it. We avoid, for example, stepping off tall buildings because we understand that gravity works a certain way. Our survival requires us to accurately assess the things that are going on around us and not pretend that they are something else.
Worship is an Accurate Report on God’s Value
As Christians, we therefore praise and worship God because we accurately see him. This response to our creator is quite simply the fitting and due response to the fact of his perfection. To deny this – to ignore God’s centrality – is to live a lie, no different than refusing to believe that the laws of nature exist.
How does this relate then to the doctrine of hell? Well, we don’t pray or “ego stroke” our way out of eternal separation from God. Salvation is a gift from God, one available for us to accept, just as eternal separation from God is a choice we make. Consider how justice works: a person who spends his life rebelling against authority, and insisting on doing whatever he pleases, following no rules other than what he wishes to do, will eventually find himself in jail. He will have identified himself as someone who cannot handle freedom, who cannot live in society, for he does not respect what it entails. He will find himself alone and separated. But this separation will have been his own fault, based on his insistence on doing things his way. It will not be because he failed to say the right things to the sovereign, but because the just response to rebellion is punishment and separation.
We see this as human beings, though our sight is far from perfect. A perfect God sees our choices and actions with perfect clarity. We can’t talk our way out of the consequences of our choices, but thankfully God does provide a way for us to be saved… if we will only open ourselves to receiving it.
Recommended Resources Related to this Topic
Hell? The Truth about Eternity (MP3 Set), (DVD Set), and (Mp4 Download Set) by Dr. Frank Turek
Short Answers to Long Questions (DVD) and (mp4 Download) by Dr. Frank Turek
Was Jesus Intolerant? (DVD) and (Mp4 Download) by Dr. Frank Turek
What is God Really Like? A View from the Parables by Dr. Frank Turek (DVD, Mp3, and Mp4)
What is God Like? Look to the Heavens by Dr. Frank Turek (DVD and Mp4)
Al Serrato earned his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1985. He began his career as an FBI special agent before becoming a prosecutor in California, where he worked for 33 years. An introduction to CS Lewis’ works sparked his interest in Apologetics, which he has pursued for the past three decades. He got his start writing Apologetics with J. Warner Wallace and Pleaseconvinceme.com.