An Artifact of Eternity

Infinity is a strange concept.  Did you know that the infinite set of integers has the same number of elements as the infinite set of numbers divisible by 5?  That is to say that the two infinite sets:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 . . .

5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 . . .

have the same number of elements.  If you want to demonstrate this for yourself, go and learn about set theory, countable sets and Cantor’s Diagonal slash technique.  A world of mathematical mystery lies open for exploration.

The reason I bring up the concept of infinity is because it is strongly related to the concept of eternity.  The mathematics of eternity are strange and counter-intuitive, but they are nonetheless very real and they factor strongly in my interpretation of hell and heaven.  I bring this up because a correspondent who calls himself “My Atheist Life” challenged my recent post “Punishment or Consequences” with the observation that “he was living without God’s love now so what was the big deal?”  Let us examine his statement from the mathematical perspective.

Let us imagine that you are a million years old and you have just had a really bad day.  A confluence of unrelated chance events has occurred and you have just experienced the worst day of your entire life.  This is the kind of day that only occurs once every million years.  “Wow!”, you say to yourself, “it cannot get any worse than that!”  Unfortunately, that is not true.  The worst is yet to come and you still have an eternity in front of you.

Let us imagine that you are now a billion years old and you have just had another really bad day.  A confluence of unrelated chance events has occurred and you have just experienced the worst day of your entire life.  This is the kind of day that only occurs once every billion years.  “Wow!”, you say to yourself, “it cannot get any worse than that!”  Unfortunately, that is not true.  The worst is yet to come and you still have an eternity in front of you.

Let us imagine that you are now a trillion years old and you have just had another really bad day.  A confluence of unrelated chance events has occurred and you have just experienced the worst day of your entire life.  This is the kind of day that only occurs once every trillion years.  “Wow!”, you say to yourself, “it cannot get any worse than that!”  Unfortunately, that is not true.  The worst is yet to come and you still have an eternity in front of you.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  This is the nature of eternity.  If chance is your God and you live forever, the worst is always ahead of you.  This result is the inevitable product of the laws of mathematics.

“Aha!”, you say, “but isn’t that also true of my good days?  Will not the best days be ahead of me also?  Doesn’t that mean that heaven and hell will be just the same?”

That is an excellent question, and points out a significant problem with the above analysis.  The above analysis assumes no directional change.  If heaven exists, however, then the people there have the love and guidance of an infinitely loving God who has the power to help them to learn to love and forgive.  Heaven will continually get better as the people in heaven learn to love God and one another more and more forever.  A person in heaven can honestly say, “my worst days are behind me and my best days are ahead of me.”   What happens to those in hell?

In hell, people have rejected the love of God and have no basis for sustained positive change.  One of the points of my earlier essay “Eternity and the Human Need of God” was that human relationships decay over time.  Think of your love for your parents, your spouse, your friends.  Don’t those relationships start off with an intensity of positive emotion that decays over time?  Do you remember Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch because he had found love with a young woman named Katie Holmes?  Do you think he is jumping up and down on any couches now because of that relationship?  Without God’s love to give us positive change in our lives, human loves and joys tend to decay over time and this is a solid basis for believing that things will continuously get worse in hell.

So My Atheist Life has argued that a hell that is just living without God’s love is no big deal, but he argues that from the perspective of someone with only a few decades worth of experience and the confidence that his life will continue to improve or stay the same forever.  The mathematics of eternity and the observations that we can make of the human lives around us demonstrate the errors involved with that kind of thinking.

**Amendment 1**

It is interesting to note that My Atheist Life’s attitude toward hell is itself an excellent illustration of my beliefs about why God uses the language of eternal flames.  God could not say “You will live in eternity forever without my love” because finite people with no understanding of the reality of eternity or their need of love would believe that a life without God’s “rules and interference” would be awesome!  God must use the language of eternal flames, therefore, to convey to us a simple truth.  Rejecting the love of God and living for eternity among those who have done the same would be unimaginably horrible.

While I was thinking about this essay, I came across an informal proof of the idea that infinite countable sets have the same number of elements.  Consider the set of positive integers:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…

Imagine multiplying every number in the first set by a factor of 5.

1*5, 2*5, 3*5, 4*5, 5*5, 6*5, 7*5, 8*5  . . .

What is the result?

5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 . . .

Writing it that way, it is obvious that every element in the first set corresponds to exactly one element in the second set and therefore that the sets have the same number of elements.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
This entry was posted in Biblical Difficulties, Hell and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An Artifact of Eternity

  1. Pingback: Two Identical Islands, Two Different Places | A Thoughtful Christian

  2. Pingback: The Negative Image of Christian Beliefs | A Thoughtful Christian

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s