Atheists often advance the argument that God’s Mercy is canceled out by virtue of eternal Hellfire. However, I’ve always found this objection wanting and more an evidence of the vacuity of those proposing it. How so? Because such an argument seems to redefine the concept of mercy entirely; twisting it into a juvenile trait uncharacteristic of any moral standard.
Allow me to explain.
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 for 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 complicit 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”.
I’d much rather prefer to believe in an All-Merciful God where the word ‘mercy’ actually means something.