This question is built on four problematic assumptions which are often accepted as reasonable. It is best to start out by spelling them out as they are problematic:
1. What right does god have on humans to ask them to do anything for him and punish them when they don't?
2. If humans reject or associate partners with god this doesn't harm anyone, how is it morally wrong and why should one be punished?
3. Why shouldn't punishment for humans be imprisonment rather than pain?
4. Humans live a short life and cause little harm, how are they deserving of eternal torment?
These assumptions suggest eternal torment is unjust therefore leading to three liberal views about how to tackle revelations of god when they go against liberal morality:
Liberal arguments against hell and god's justice are irrational and therefore wrong. The Islamic understanding of god's justice and hell is consistent, justified and importantly just.
What is Justice?
Justice is a term that is used a lot but it is absent of a definition. For example, to base justice on equality seems fine enough, until we ask the question "equality of what?"
If Liberals were to argue all humans are equal, we could ask "equal in what regard?"
Humans are clearly different from each other, in temperament, personality, intelligence, health, life experience and ability.
How can we ever have any basis to claim equality exists, when 'nature' clearly doesn't make everyone the same?
The only definition of justice that could make any sense is to give what is deserved and to be consistent in applying what is deserved.
But this still leaves us with the question "what is deserved" and "who decides what everyone, or everything, deserves?"
Any discussions or questions of whether god's creation of hell being just, is pointless to a liberal. What can be discussed is whether god is consistent with his acts towards his creation. So when god declares he will not be unjust, then this means that no one will be dealt with unjustly. In response to these objections the following will be demonstrated:
God's Right to Hold Mankind to Account
There is an underlying bias originating from the following ideas that needs to be addressed:
1. Man is totally free, by some fundamental right, of any control
2. Man exists to seek happiness, which is often little more than pleasure.
3. Man is the best arbiter or judge of his own pleasure
4. Therefore man is the decider of his own purpose and destiny
This portrays god as an interfering intruder whose judgement and punishment of us is unjust. Liberalism believes man is deserving of pleasure, hating the concept of hell.
God has a right to define our purposes just like he has defined our existence. If something creates other things for no reason, then the creator has no will and is just random. But if a creator possesses intentionality then what he creates has a purpose, the relationship between us and our creator.
We are god's creation therefore his property of which he exercises the right of to do what pleases him. God has defined our "good" as that he should be worshipped by us, this takes the form of us recognizing him being infinite and unlimited. He is the initiator of heaven and the earth. He is thus the sole reference for our belief and action.
Therefore only god has the right to hold mankind account for fulfilling their purpose or not.
God Is Just In His Accounting of Humans
God just doesn't have the right to hold humans account but is fair to humans by holding them to account. God has revealed:
1. The presence or 'Mens Rea':
Humans held accountable will be aware of the gravity of the actions they undertake.
2. Breach of Covenant:
All humans agreed to undertake the trial of fulfilling their purpose independently.
3. The Right of Disposal:
Humans are the property of God not ourselves.
4. Merciful Mitigation:
God lessens his accounting with consideration of human tendency to be ignorant and make mistakes.
For judgement to be fair humans must be aware of the consequences if the actions they take. No one should be punished without being warned about the truth. Those who will be sent to hell will be asked: 'And those who disbelieved will be driven to Hell in groups until its gates are opened and its keepers will say, "Did there not come to you messengers from yourselves, reciting to you the verses of your Lord and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours?"' [Qur'an 39:71-72]
God didn't create us independent from himself, he sustains our existence because we are not self-sustaining beings and therefore we can't argue that we should be left alone to live our lives like children who have grown up and leave the parents house in liberal culture.
If god has told us to do something he's made us for and we refuse he is well within his rights to punish or forgive us. 'If You should punish them - indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them - indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise' (Qur'an 5:118)
The Right of God to Punish with Pain or Torment
In the afterlife why is there pain and pleasure? This is for the same reason as to why pain and pleasure is in this life. Both of these emotions are experienced by living beings as motivations and consequences. A part of how we live our purpose is that we need feelings to reward us for fulfilling a motivation and to reprimand us when we don't fulfil our purpose.
In the afterlife we will be accounted for our commitment to our purpose, by using the two types of emotions. Pleasure for those who have fulfilled their purpose and pain for those who haven't. Pleasure and pain are tools god gave his creatures as a part of their purpose during their lives, why should the afterlife be any different?
The Justice of God in Punishing Some for Eternity
Justice is giving a person what they deserved based upon what they have done for example the actions they have done can lead us to two possible just uses for god's creation of hell:
1. Hell as a payment for sins
A sin is an action done by a person which is opposing to the commanded purpose of that person. As stated earlier, God has the right to define the purpose of created beings and hold them to account for choosing to fulfil or not fulfil that purpose. Hell is used to settle the balance of sins for unrepentant sinners who have not been recompensed with sufficient punishment during their lives, who will be then granted paradise. The term 'unrepentant' is used, because a person who repents by feeling guilty is making a commitment to not repeat the sin by asking god to forgive him. This is a deed that shows worship to god and the person changes and does not repeat the sin. If god chooses to forgive the person it would be just.
The Prophet (saw) said: "The one who repents from sin is like one who did not sin." [Ibn Majah, Tabarani]
God's forgiveness is merciful because he gives his creation an opportunity to repent and have the sin forgiven. He could have chosen not to give the opportunity of repentance all together or to keep the repentance as a good deed to be rewarded separately but still punish the person anyway. This is similar to the courts who don't pardon convicted criminals even if the person has made up for a crime with a good deed later. Therefore, if god punishes he is just. If he forgives he is merciful, but still just.
People don't have a problem with a finite punishment in hell. However, they claim hell produces an infinite punishment for a finite sin.
There is a difference between action and sin. Not all actions are sins only those actions where god has stated he will punish if committed are sins. For example if you were in a battle and u killed the enemy this is not punishable by god fighting in the way of god. But the same action killing someone on the street this would be punishable by god.
A bad action can cause a greater length of evil than the time or effort it took to commit it. For example, ten seconds to murder someone doesn't deserve ten seconds of punishment.
The moral value of an action forms the significance of the action and consequently the magnitude of the punishment required.
Rejecting the rights of someone has a negative value equal to the degree the right has been denied. If I denied someone's right to peace and security by physically bullying him, this is greater in degree than if I denied his right to peace and security by verbally harassing him.
Equally the person we commit the offence against also plays a part in the moral value of action.
God is our sole creator and provider; he has the rights to be worshipped. To deny god, or say he has partners, is to claim a limitation against his power. The gravity of this action would be tremendously extreme.
This sin is so severe, that it earns from god an endless punishment. How much is god's right worth? Anything less than permanent punishment is an injustice to god's right over us.
God used the same word for the magnitude of the crime of those associating parents with himself, as the word he uses to describe one of his names. 'Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him; less than that he forgives to whomsoever he will.' (Qur'an 4:48)
Thus the Qur'an confirms the gravity of the sin of shirk.
2. Hell as a residence for people who intrinsically deserve it
Purpose isn't the measure just of our actions, but also of our nature. If humans not only commit sins, but they become a rejecter of the truth, such that it becomes the nature of whom they are. Then these humans can be called intrinsically evil humans.
The words good and evil only make sense when they are used to describe whether a human completes their purpose or doesn't. A person who rejects their purpose and does actions against it is called a kafir on the day of judgement. Such humans will be judged to deserve to have their rights permanently rejected by means of permanent frustration in hell.
The rejection of god by these people is never ending. It's who they are so why shouldn't they deserve a residence in hell which is also never ending?
Rejecting the truth is a part of who they are, if these same rejecters were given freedom again, they would revert and start rejecting god.
'If you could but see when they will be held over the Fire! They will say: "Would that we were sent back (to the world)! Then we would not deny the Ayat [signs] of our Lord and we would be of the believers!" No, it has become manifest to them what they had been concealing before. But if they were returned, they would certainly revert to that which they were forbidden. And indeed they are liars.' (Qur'an 6:27-28).
In the afterlife those who believed in the existence of god will be given eternal paradise as a reward. But those in hell only turn to god when it suits them. They will be kept in hell begging god to leave it because it is the only place they would believe god to be their sole lord.
One might ask why god doesn't just destroy these types of people. But if they were destroyed, this would allow them to escape their punishment. Hell is the only place that will make them regret what they did and make them willing to recognise god.
God reminds us: "And fear the Day when ye shall be brought back to God. Then shall every soul be paid what it earned and none shall be dealt with unjustly" (Qur'an 2:281)"
Prior to getting into the notion of eternal punishment, let's discuss what 'mercy' actually is. The concept of mercy today - when applied to those who have committed some sort of wrong - has come to be construed as a selfless act of forgiveness towards the wrongdoer, without any necessary reciprocating factor. Meaning, to be defined as 'merciful', one is obligated to release a criminal from punishment without any strings attached.
But this isn't mercy. To forgive a criminal who refuses to repent of their crimes is not forgiveness, but stupidity. Without the reciprocity of remorse and guarantee of reform, such "mercy" ultimately becomes a means of supporting criminal behavior and completely invalidates every ideal of justice ever conceived. Thus, the type of mercy that many atheists seem to have in mind is really no different than that of a child's; one who seeks to evade reproach every time he's caught with his hands in the cookie jar. In other words, It is an irrational plea for moral agents to sanction immorality. But how can a moral agent do such a thing and still be considered moral? Is that not a contradiction?
But the atheist(s) reading this post may retort that I've strawmanned their understanding of mercy. But have I really? Because when examining their reactions to the Islamic version of Hellfire, it seems that I'm right on point. You see, in Islam, people don't go to Hell for eternity because of one single finite criminal act, nor does God force them to remain in Hell arbitrarily. Rather, the punishment is eternal because the offense is eternally committed. This is stated in the Qur'an itself in numerous places, including the following:
"If you could but see when they are made to stand before the Fire and will say, 'Oh, would that we could be returned [to life on earth] and not deny the signs of our Lord and be among the believers.' But what they concealed before has [now] appeared to them. And even if they were returned, they would return to that which they were forbidden; and indeed, they are liars." (Al-Qur'an, 6:27-28)
Here, Allah states clearly that those who are being punished in Hell will never get a chance to leave, because He Knows they're insincere in their remorse and desire to reform. They are far too arrogant to admit they were wrong in any meaningful way. It shouldn't be surprising then that the Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes that Hell is for the "arrogant" (4:36-37, 4:137, 40:76, 7:36, 34:31-33, etc.).
Thus, because these people refuse to accept God's Mercy, it cannot be argued that God lacks mercy. It would be fallacious to state otherwise.
That said, I expect a subsequent retort from atheists, such that it reveals yet again the vacuity of their objections. No doubt the following argument will be given: "Why doesn't god just not create people he knows will go to hell? Or why not just make these people cease to exist?"
And the answer is simple: because both these options would be a contradiction to God's attribute of Mercy. By denying people their free will to make the choice to rebel against God for all of eternity - whether by refusing to create them or having them cease to exists - God therefore destroys any potential for Him to give His Mercy eternally. Remember, mercy requires the potential for reciprocity. And if there are no people willing to violate the rules and be given mercy, then such mercy ultimately becomes meaningless. In other words, claims that God "lacks mercy" also become meaningless, because this objection rules out the eternal potential for mercy to be given. In summary, there can be no mercy without justice - and no justice without punishment.
But really, is this so hard to grasp? Or are atheists just projecting their own failure to comprehend what a Divine Being should be like? As far as I'm concerned, I don't want to believe in atheists' juvenile version of an "ideal god".
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