The 10 Myths Part 5: “The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell…”

Posted: October 23, 2022 in Matthew Eklund, Mormon Studies, The 10 Myths Mormons Believe About Christianity
We are, as Paul declares, “without excuse”

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”
(Romans 1:20 NKJV)

by Matthew D. Eklund
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
“The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.”

Why It’s a Myth
Few topics ignite people’s imagination, fear, or indignation as the historic Christian understanding of hell. It has been understood as a place of torment for sinners without mercy or reprieve which endures for all time and eternity. The view of hell from the perspective of the teachings of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (hereafter LDS) differs significantly from that of the historic Christian understanding of hell; they have a temporary hell which is called “Spirit Prison” for those who died over the age of accountability (8 years old) and had not yet accepted the LDS “restored gospel.”  and a permanent hell for those who rejected the Plan of Salvation in the pre-mortal council in heaven or for those who commit the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost.1

There are two presumptions involved with this myth that must be addressed:

  1. People, even those who have not heard the gospel, are (or may be) good.
  2. It would be unjust for God to send people to hell who have not heard the gospel.

A logical syllogism2 can be made for these presumptions:

Premise 1: If someone is ignorant of the law, they are not held responsible for breaking that law.
Premise 2: If someone is not held responsible for breaking that law, they should not be punished for breaking that law.
Conclusion: If someone is ignorant of the law, they should not be punished for breaking that law.

A second related one can be made:

Premise 1: If someone is ignorant of the entirety of the law, they are innocent of breaking any laws.
Premise 2: If someone is innocent of breaking any laws, they are good.
Conclusion: If someone is ignorant of the entirety of the law, they are good.

Before introducing the Christian understanding of hell, these presumptions should be addressed on a logical and experiential basis. As for the first syllogism, is the first premise true, i.e., if someone is ignorant of the law, are they not to be held responsible for breaking that law? This would mean that an act is only immoral if it is committed with the full knowledge and recognition that it is immoral.

Let’s step back and use the analogy of man-made laws as they relate to God’s law since sin is essentially the breaking of God’s law, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, NKJV). If someone were ignorant of either the law or the means to escape the punishment for their crimes against the law, does that automatically make someone innocent when they are found breaking the law? For example, if someone didn’t see a speed limit sign on a stretch of road and significantly exceeded the speed limit, does their oversight render them innocent of breaking the traffic code? No; their ignorance does not make them innocent. A crime is a crime whether one knows what they are doing is a crime or not. Perhaps law enforcement would choose to show mercy and abstain from issuing a ticket or arresting such a person for breaking the law based on those circumstances, but they have every right to enforce the law by punishing the perpetrator accordingly. It would hardly make the law enforcement officer a “monster” for giving a person the ticket.

Let’s examine the second syllogism. It seems reasonable that if one were ignorant of all of the laws that are in force, not just a few of them, such a person would be innocent. Imagine a traveler to a secluded island that had been completely cut off from any outside contact. He is completely unaware of any of the laws that have been enforced on that island. Perhaps the inhabitants of the island would also show mercy to the man if he were to break their laws. But, as with the previous example of someone who broke the speed limit, if the inhabitants of the island chose to enforce their laws, as sovereigns of that island, they would be fully in their rights to enforce those laws if they chose to do so. Even if that were not the case and it would be immoral for them to enforce their laws on a traveler who is ignorant of their culture, expectations, laws, and social norms. So, is that the case for mankind and God’s laws as well? That is what will now be addressed.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.”
(Psalm 19, NKJV)

How It’s a Myth
Romans is a beautiful and masterful work crafted by the apostle Paul. He starts by explaining that even those who do not believe in God know that there is a God because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:19-20, NKJV). What is made known to all men? According to Paul here, all men know of God’s “eternal power” and “Godhead” (sometimes translated as “divine nature” as in the English Standard Version or New American Standard Bible). Now that we know what is revealed to men, how is it revealed to them? Paul says God has revealed these attributes to man: “what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19, NKJV) and this has been done “since the creation of the world…by the things that are made.”  Through creation itself, God reveals his eternal power and divinity.  And how does this knowledge affect mankind? We are, as Paul declares, “without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NKJV).

We don’t have a reason to claim we didn’t know at least the existence of God, even if we don’t know much about him. Sure, there are many who claim they either know or strongly believe there is a lack of evidence for such a being, but Scripture witnesses that such people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NKJV). This could be knowingly or unknowingly; when men refuse to acknowledge the existence of God who has made himself known to them in creation, they are rejecting that truth that has been given to all people everywhere. This agrees with the Psalmist who declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, NKJV) Heaven is the canvas of God’s masterful art, and in every sunset, every constellation, every strand of DNA, we see the paint strokes from the master Artist.

As if this weren’t enough, Paul continues this topic in chapter 2 of Romans to show that man is not only without excuse as to knowing there is a God, but we are also without excuse to knowing at least some of God’s laws.3 Here, he is criticizing Israelites who boast of having been given God’s laws through Moses and the other prophets in the Torah (law) of the Old Testament. Paul extols the unbelieving nations, the Gentiles, who seek to follow at least some of God’s laws (whether protecting life, respecting ownership of property, or whatever law that may be).

Paul says that “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15, NKJV).

Even Gentiles who had never heard of Moses, the Torah, the creation narrative in Genesis, the Messiah, or anything related to the laws given to Israel, do what is right by the dictates of their consciences. Paul says they do this because men show evidence of “the work of the law written in their hearts.” This is the conscience God gave to man in the beginning, and though it is imperfect due to the fall, a portion of that law written on our ancestors’ hearts still exists in the soul of man everywhere (what Latter-day Saints would call the “light of Christ”). One need only consider the universality of The Golden Rule (“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” Leviticus 19:18, NKJV) across cultures to see this:4

Ancient Egypt: “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.”
(The Eloquent Peasant” c. 2040–1650 BCE)

Ancient India: “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.”
(Kural 316 from “Book of Virtue of the Tirukkuṛa”, c. 1st century BCE to 5th century CE)

Ancient Greece: “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
(Thales, c. 624–c. 546 BCE)

Thus, no man anywhere is completely ignorant of all of God’s laws; our consciences prick us at one point or another when we do not do that which is lawful according to the dictates of God’s moral law. The second syllogism then falls apart in premise 1. Thus, Paul can say in chapter 3 of Romans, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, NKVJ) and “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV).

“Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.”
(Deuteronomy 10:4, NKJV)

Why It Matters
Having established that none can claim ignorance of the existence of God and of God’s laws, does this not destroy the first premises of both of the syllogisms I presented above? There is no one who is truly and completely innocent of the knowledge of God and his laws, and so to use this as evidence that God is “a monster who sends good people to hell” is incorrect since it has been sufficiently shown that none are good nor are they ignorant or innocent. That is, how can God be a “monster” for exercising justice against anyone when that person is guilty of breaking the very law that He has woven into His creation?

But why does this matter? This shows us that we are sinful creatures. We cannot hope to stand innocent before God based on our works. We cannot be righteous by what we do in terms of trying to keep God’s law by our own gumption and best efforts. And shaking our fists at God for executing justice against those who deserve punishment won’t fix the problem, either. God is fully just and right to punish those who break his law as he sees fit, and he has declared that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NKJV).

However, there is a “but” that follows this statement from Paul. The sentence reads, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NKJV) Thankfully, God has revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and passed down to us through the Christian faith and the Holy Scriptures the ‘good news of the gospel. God has not left all of mankind in this condemned state. He extends his arms open to anyone who will simply turn away from their sins and trust in Christ to rescue them from their sinful state. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) This is the only way to escape eternal death and punishment for our sins against God.

And I pray each one who reads this article will do so, trusting in nothing they can do or offer to God, but that they simply do as Abraham did: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, NKJV). He was justified (declared innocent and righteous) because the righteousness of Christ was credited to him “apart from works” (Romans 4:6, NKJV). And this is the only way we can become completely and wholly righteous before God, standing before him at the judgment in the stainless, seamless, glorious righteousness of Jesus given to us.

But this, of course, always leads to the nagging question, “That’s good news for those who have heard of the glorious news of this gift of God and have received eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, but what about those who haven’t?” Well, first, looking at Christian Church history, this burning question above all else, has driven Christian Missionaries since the ascension of Christ in glory. As Paul says so well elsewhere in Romans:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”’ (Romans 10:14-15, NKJV)

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him,”
(Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV)

Second, as Theologian, R.C. Sproul points out:

“The New Testament makes it clear that people will be judged according to the light that they have. All the elements of the Old Testament Law are not known by people living in remote parts of the world. But we read that they do have a law “written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15). They are judged by the law they do not know and are found wanting. No one keeps the ethic he has even if he invents it himself….

Thus if a person in a remote area has never heard of Christ, he will not be punished for that. What he will be punished for is the rejection of the Father of whom he has heard and for the disobedience to the law that is written on his heart. Again, we must remember that people are not rejected for what they haven’t heard but for what they have heard.”
(R.C. Sproul, “Objections answered”, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Thus, God will be both just and equitable in His final judgment, we have His word on it. The Bible says that it is both, “they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NKJV) and, “(… the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves, their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:15-16, NKJV) and the Bible is also clear that on their own all men will fail at this.

So, now let’s compare what the witness from God as we have seen directly from the pages of the Bible with what Joseph Smith had to say about hell. He says of those deserving of everlasting condemnation, the ‘sons of perdition,’ the following:

“All sins shall be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy… You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance: they make open war like the Devil, and awful is the consequence.”
(Joseph Smith Jr. (Joseph Fielding Smith, compiler), “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Thus we see that Joseph Smith asserted that the only ones destined for “hell” are those who had a nearly perfect knowledge of not simply the existence of God, but also a nearly perfect knowledge of Christ and his work and of the truthfulness of the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This places those who consider Joseph Smith a true prophet in a dilemma: do they believe the Bible, or do they believe Joseph Smith? Do they choose God’s truth, or do we choose something that sounds more comforting but, in reality, isn’t biblical? If you find yourself in this dilemma I urge you to be reconciled to what the Word of God has to say on the topic and reject the erroneous teachings of Joseph Smith.

Summary and Conclusion
The argument that “God is a monster who sends good people to hell” is typically based on faulty argumentation. It assumes that people are good, innocent, and/or should not be held accountable for breaking God’s laws. Scripture states that, due to the fall of mankind, we are not by nature good, innocent, or guiltless before God if left to ourselves. Neither can we become good by our works according to God’s law because we cannot obey it perfectly. It is only by trusting in God in Jesus Christ, turning away from our sins, and not resting on our own good works to make us righteous before God that we may be declared justified (innocent or righteous) before him.

“God has so clearly, clearly manifested Himself ever since the creation of the world, through everything that is made, that you can never use ignorance as an excuse before God.”
(R.C. Sproul, “All Are Without Excuse”)

1 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Hell,” Guide to the Scriptures.

2 A “syllogism” can be defined as “a process of logic in which two general statements lead to a more particular statement” (see Cambridge Dictionary, see “syllogism”). That definition may not really be that helpful, so I’ll try to offer a simpler one. With a syllogism, two premises are presented which lead to a conclusion. The conclusion is only true if both premises are also true; if one or both premises are not true or are not logically sound, then the conclusion need not necessarily follow. One form of syllogism, the hypothetical syllogism, says that if “A” is true, then “B.” If “B” is true, then “C.” The conclusion is, then, that if “A” is true, then “C” is true. This is the type of syllogism used in this article.

3 Throughout Romans 2 and elsewhere, Paul refers to “law.” It is common in my experience for LDS to point to Paul’s references of “law” as referring only to the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (and usually they further limit this to the ceremonial laws, animal sacrifices, other temple sacrifices and ritual cleanliness, etc.).

Thus, in so limiting Paul’s use of “law” to an outdated law, it is understood that God condemns seeking righteousness by laws that are no longer in force while allowing for seeking righteousness by the laws of God employed in the “new and everlasting covenant.” This ultimately results in rejection of justification by grace alone through faith alone as has been taught throughout church history and most clearly made known since the Protestant Reformation.

If their explanation were the case, then they may have a good reason to question why all people everywhere are judged guilty by a law that is no longer in force. Certainly, parts of the law given to Israel no longer apply.

But much does still apply, namely, the moral laws taught in the 10 Commandments. This is evident when Paul, returning to Romans 2, asks those who claim to rest in the law and their law keeping as their righteousness before God, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:21-23, NKJV). Paul here refers explicitly to the eighth commandment against stealing, the seventh commandment against adultery, and the second commandment against idols. He seems to be indicating these are moral principles that are still in force for Israelites today.

Not only that, this is the same law by which Gentiles “who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law” (Romans 2:14, NKJV) when they are following the dictates of their consciences. There is no evidence to suggest that these Gentiles were spontaneously choosing to circumcise their infant boys, offer animal sacrifices according to Torah law, or any other ceremonial component of the law of Moses. But if that is what Paul meant by “law” throughout Romans, then that is what Paul would be speaking of here. However, the more consistent explanation is that Paul was not using the word “law” to strictly speak of the ceremonial law of Moses; the Gentiles were obeying their consciences in regard to the moral law of God, the law by which all men everywhere will be judged.

For a scholarly treatise on the moral, ceremonial, and civil/judicial distinctions in the law of Moses as understood in the Reformed tradition and earlier, I recommend reading, “From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law” by Philip S. Ross.

4 These examples are from Wikipedia, “Golden Rule”. The “Got Questions” website also cites these examples from the Orient that are just as enlightening:

Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you”
(Analects 15:23)

Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you”
(Mahabharata 5:1517)

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”
(Udanavarga 5:18)

About the Author
Matthew D. Eklund was born and grew up in northern Utah. He has one sister, one half-brother, and 11 step-siblings. He served as a full-time LDS missionary to France and Belgium as a French-speaking missionary. He returned home and earned several degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. During his doctoral studies in New York, he resigned from the LDS faith in 2017. He started attending a Reformed Baptist church outside of Albany, New York which holds to the 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. There in 2019, he was baptized as an Evangelical Protestant Christian and became a member of that congregation of believers. At that church, he met his future wife, Rebekah. They now live in Idaho Falls, Idaho where Matthew is a researcher at Idaho National Laboratory.

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