In the book, “The Impossibility of God,” atheist Richard Schoenig tries to disprove God by using what he terms the Argument from Unfairness (AFU). This argument basically states that God cannot be consistently fair to human beings who die at different stages of life.
For example, he says that those who die prior to the age of moral accountability, which would include infants, young children and the mentally disabled, may be deemed “saved” without any moral conditions placed upon them.
In other words, they need only to die before the age of moral accountability, and they automatically gain a pathway to heaven. However, those who die after the age of moral accountability may be condemned unless they, somehow, meet the conditions required by God, which would procure their position in heaven.
Schoenig then reverses the script.
Schoenig argues that if God only allowed salvation for those who declared their devotion to Christ, then God is being unfair to those who die prior to the age of moral accountability, since they could neither claim awareness of original sin, nor consciously declare their need for a Savior. Thus, they would be condemned to hell.
However, those who reached the age of moral accountability would, at least, have an opportunity to be saved if they claimed allegiance to Christ.
According to Schoenig, this makes God’s existence unlikely, since God’s omnibenevolence is deemed arbitrary and inconsistent. He concludes that, based on this inconsistency in the Christian doctrine, God does not express universal fairness to all human beings. Thus, the Argument from Unfairness proves that God cannot, and does not, exist.
I think Schoenig makes a fine argument, but I also think we Christians can offer a legitimate counterargument.
We must first start with Scripture.
What does the Bible say about the salvation of those who die before the age of moral accountability? While the Bible shows God’s favor and love for children and the “least of these,” there is no Scripture that speaks specifically or directly regarding the salvation of the young.
Second, there is no Scripture that speaks specifically regarding the age of moral accountability. Although the Bible lacks perfect clarity regarding this, I believe we can say with certainty that the God of the Bible will judge everyone fairly—even those who die prematurely.
These are three reasons I believe God is fair to those who die before and after the age of moral accountability.
First, it was “unfair” that Christ died on the cross.
This answer is unlikely to satisfy any atheist or skeptic. It certainly does not answer the question Schoenig raises, but it’s still the greatest counterargument we have.
The Bible says, “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:9).
God did something unique for humanity. He lowered Himself to take our place and to suffer on our behalf.
The atheist fails to see how Christ’s death atones for human sin. They wonder why a benevolent God would allow anyone to be “left out,” while Christians are still pondering why God would allow anyone to be “let in.”
Second, God’s character of love, mercy and justice are clearly seen in Scripture (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3; Psalm 103; John 3:16).
Again, atheists probably won’t accept this as a legitimate counterargument. They may cite only passages that show God as a “cosmic bully,” like when the Israelites were commanded to kill women and children during some battles recorded in the Old Testament.
If I were an atheist, I would quote these passages too. But to isolate those passages without considering the massive amount of Biblical material that shows God’s loving and patient character is an incomplete and, ironically, very unfair picture to paint of the God of the Bible.
Third, no unbeliever or skeptic can fully grasp what eternal salvation means.
Some former believers claim they, at one-time, experienced God’s grace but now have become atheists because they say the evidence is too overwhelming. I can’t deny their experience, and I have no right to claim they have never experienced God’s grace.
What I can safely say is that the salvation experience is not just an open door that God unlocked from heaven’s side so that we could “freely” enter paradise.
Rather, salvation means the believer is given the opportunity to worship the Creator forever; and not only that, but the believer recognizes it is a privilege and an honor to do so.
Unbelievers have a hard time understanding this. They see salvation only as “earning” a person’s way into the utopian land of paradise where everything is designed for their own benefit. Atheists prefer a Creator who worships His creation; not a creation who worships its Creator.
That is not heaven at all. Heaven is worshiping the Creator and giving Him glory continuously.
By contrast, hell is the opposite. It means total separation from God. It means the unbeliever will suffer eternally, not only because he lives apart from God, but because his thirsts can never be quenched, nor his desires completely satisfied.
The eternally condemned can never achieve true joy because they have rejected the only One who can satisfy every desire, provide them every pleasure and supply them every gratification—what every human being ultimately longs for.
Separation from God means joylessness forever. Now, that will be hell.
I’ve always said that if a person chooses not to surrender to God’s authority and follow Jesus while living on earth, how will that person be able to worship God for all of eternity? If unbelievers refuse to join God’s family during their lifetimes, then why would they want to be part of God’s heavenly family for eternity?
Schoenig’s argument asks us to consider whether God is fair or not. I believe that God will judge perfectly every person of every age and ability, regarding salvation. I believe God knows beforehand who will choose to worship Him for all eternity.
If this is true, then is it too remote for us to believe that God’s free gift of salvation might be extended to those who, had they lived beyond the age of moral accountability, would surrender and worship Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
Perhaps this world we live in isn’t fair. Some feel it is scandalously unfair. But God created this “unfair” world because He knew that this world would lead to another world.
In fact, He knew it would lead to the best of all possible worlds: the kind of world where we can receive supreme joy and bask in His heavenly presence forever, all made possible through the old rugged cross … how scandalously unfair.
Eric Veal has been a member of Southeast Christian Church for 29 years.