Here are three concepts from the New Testament that cannot be assembled into a coherent whole.
1. God wants people to be saved.
“God our Saviour . . . will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
2. God can do anything.
The disciples “were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:25-27).
3. Most people will not be saved.
Jesus: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
There is no way to combine these three concepts. It just cannot be done, because doing so would empty the words of meaning. You can talk all day long about a square circle if you want, but it is just nonsense no matter how eloquently you say it.
With 1+2, you have Universalism, which is certainly not a new concept. But it doesn’t get much traction, perhaps because it lacks the “us vs. them” element that has such appeal for group cohesion. I like the way Robert M. Price explains the idea of Christian universalism (neither of us is Christian, but we both have a sort of tough-love outsider’s affection for Christianity): “Jesus died on the cross to save all mankind and, whaddya know, it actually worked!”
With 2+3, you have the disgusting sadism of predestination. The idea of God creating people with the intent to torture them forever violates the most basic of our own standards of decency, especially when you are forced to believe that he has created the vast majority of humankind with exactly that diabolical plan in mind. In his fine book Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, Ed Babinski said that he could not “conceive of any reasonably good person maintaining an eternal concentration camp, let alone God Himself” (p. 214).
Just focusing on the suffering most of our 7 billion fellow humans endure in their short lifetimes right here on earth “means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge,” as John Loftus puts it with characteristic clarity in his masterpiece, Why I Became an Atheist. He considers that “as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible” (2nd ed., p. 215).
Now consider how infinitely worse the sufferings of eternal hellfire would be! An omnipotent Deity who would consign even one soul to such a fate—for any offenses committed during 80 years of limited human life and knowledge—is a vicious psychopath guilty of far worse evil than anything some Satan might have done. That is Loftus’s conclusion to a devastating single paragraph dismantling this “theological determinism,” one of the most powerful I’ve ever read against my former beliefs: “Who needs a devil with such a God?” (p. 350).
And what a mockery the idea makes of human existence, including all its modes of worship and piety! We are relegated to being mere predestinated puppets, making futile motions at the hands of the divine puppet master, who has long since decided which of the two boxes he will be tossing us into at the end of his scripted show.
With 1+3, you are left with a limited God who is unable to achieve his will in the majority of cases. That’s not the Deity worshiped by Christians, or even monotheists.
This isn’t something preachers can wave aside by denigrating “carnal understanding” or “human reasoning,” mouthing empty non-answers like “God’s ways are not our ways.” It is a fundamental incoherence in the idea of God, a contradiction that goes to the heart of Christian theology and its view of the Bible as God’s inerrant word. Epicurus figured it out 2300 years ago, but Christian preachers have been disregarding his point, and the plain words of their own Bible, ever since.