Is the Road to Hell Really Paved with Good Intentions?

By: Nate
January 8, 2014

Personally, I don’t think so.  I came to this conclusion after examining the life of the Apostle Paul and his beautiful theology.  It is remarkable that so many stunning theological innovations came from the heart of a former murderer, a blindly fundamentalist Pharisee, who thought he was doing God’s work by murdering and imprisoning Christians.  Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus was unique: a blinding light, a voice from heaven, specific instructions to go to the next town.  This is not a typical conversion story.  It is doubtful someone like Paul would have been converted by missionaries knocking on the door, or a friend’s invitation to come to church.  But Paul responded very positively to dramatic physical manifestations of God’s power. The first thing out of His mouth was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”  Not everyone responds as well to these kinds of manifestations, as the example of Laman and Lemuel suggests, who after seeing an angel say, “but how can we go against Laban, he has power over thousands” or Zacharias, who says, “but I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years.”  But Paul took no time in completely changing his worldview in response to the vision.

Saul is No Different than Paul

This makes me wonder exactly what kind of change occurred in Paul’s heart, and how did it happen so quickly?  I often hear people say that a change of heart is something that sometimes takes a lifetime, abandoning our pride, forgiving those who have wronged us, coming to terms with lies we have been telling ourselves.  These changes take years.  Even for Alma the Elder, it took several days of purging in the fires of hell during his fainting spell.  Yet Paul seemed ready to change immediately.  This leads me to speculate that Saul the murderer was perhaps no different from Paul the apostle.   Paul’s intentions did not change before and after the vision.  His intentions were always good: to love and serve God.  The only thing that changed was the path he felt he had been called to.

Jesus told his disciples, “the time shall come when those who kill you will believe they do God a service.”  Jesus is suggesting that these murderers have good intentions.   Paul strongly believed he was doing the work of God by killing Christians, and he did it as passionately as he preached the gospel afterwards.  You’ve heard the phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  But is this true?  Would Paul have gone to hell if he had never had the vision, and had died a murderer?  Yes, if we are judged by our works.  But no, if we are judged by our intentions.

Are we Judged by our Works, or by our Heart?

This story makes me wonder how much we can really judge people by their works.  If we cannot judge Saul for his murders, because his intentions were good, how can we judge others for their murders, because their intentions might also have been good?  For example, the murders of Nazism and Communism were often done in pursuit of what some people honestly believed was a higher and more noble philosophy, same as the murders committed by the children of Israel in the Old Testament were done in pursuit of what they believed were the commandments of God.  Which Nazi murderers would have turned directly into saints if they too experienced something on the road to Damascus?  And if this applies to murderers, should we not ask ourselves, which sinners or apostates among us would turn immediately into saints with such an experience?

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Do we really take this Jesus’ request at face value?  Joseph Smith changed this meaning in the JST to refer only to the Romans, not the Jews.  Was Joseph Smith right to change this meaning?  Did the Pharisees truly “know” what they were doing?   Or did the think “they were doing God a service.”  I noticed that Stephen’s final words were also “lay not this sin to their charge.”  It’s also interesting that Peter in Acts preaches to the Pharisees, saying “Christ whom you crucified is risen…repent and be baptized that your sins may be blotted out when the days of refreshing shall come.”  It seems clear that Peter views the murderous Pharisees as candidates for salvation, if he is asking them to be baptized, in spite of what Joseph Smith might have believed about Jesus not forgiving them.

What think ye?

When Jesus said “Father, forgive them” was He referring only to the Roman soldiers and not the Jews?

How responsible is one for sins  committed with good intentions?

Is the road to Hell really paved with good intentions?

9 Responses to Is the Road to Hell Really Paved with Good Intentions?

  1. Mike on January 8, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    Yes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There are no good intentions for the unredeemed because of the corruption of human nature after the Fall; all intentions have become selfish at the core. You said, “Paul’s intentions did not change before and after the vision. His intentions were always good: to love and serve God.” But since his intentions were towards pleasing a false god they were not good intentions. You also said, “Would Paul have gone to hell if he had never had the vision, and had died a murderer? Yes, if we are judged by our works. But no, if we are judged by our intentions.” With all due respect that is a false dichotomy. He would have gone to hell if he would have died unredeemed of the Lord because of his selfish deeds manifested in his insubordinate works. Our works will be judged but we will not be judged by our works; our old Adam and our new Adam will be judged however. The only works that are pleasing to the triune God are the works of the new man created in the image of Christ after being born again.

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  2. Nate on January 8, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    Mike, thanks for your response. You bring up some good points. On a doctrinal level, you are correct that those who die “unredeemed” all automatically go to spirit prison (hell) where they will be taught the gospel. I was speaking more of hell as a state of the heart, a place where those who are willfully rebellious, who love darkness more than light.

    But you also judge Sauls works as “selfish” and “insubordinate.” I don’t know how you can discribe Saul as insubordinate, when the first thing he says when he sees God is: “what wilt thou have me to do?” Saul, as Jesus said, thought “he was doing God a service.” Saul was obedient, he was righteous, he was doing God’s work. Yes, it is a false God, but we are judged ONLY according to the light and knowledge we have been given.

    What do you make of Jesus’ phrase, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”?

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  3. Mike on January 8, 2014 at 5:41 PM

    “Yes, it is a false God, but we are judged ONLY according to the light and knowledge we have been given.”

    That is not true with all due respect, we are judged according to the blood of Christ and it does not cover everyone. Only those who have been born again by God’s grace through faith in the only true Son of God have been made children of God. That is the standard by which humanity will be judged, not according to their knowledge or station in life, but according to their faith in the one true triune God exclusively.

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  4. Nate on January 9, 2014 at 5:06 AM

    Mike, I understand that that is the Biblical position, but it is a bit more complicated in the LDS position. Yes, we advocate a set standard by which we are all judged universally: repentance and baptism by one having authority. But the arbitrary nature of this standard is overcome by the doctrine of baptism for the dead, which claims that all men will be given a full and equal opportunity to accept or reject the gospel.

    But in LDS doctrine that is not the only measure by which we are judged. We believe in multiple levels of heaven and hell, according to the degrees of glory we have achieved through works and faith, according to the light and knowledge we have been given, the talents we have developed, whether we have endured to the end. As Joseph Smith said: “He will judge them, ‘not according to what they have not, but according to what they have; those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law.”

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  5. New Iconoclast on January 9, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    Mike, I understand that that is the Biblical position

    It is most emphatically NOT “the Biblical position.” Even non-LDS Christians can’t agree on what “the Biblical position” is. Some say, as does Mike, that the Bible teaches that the blood of Christ does not cover everyone; some say that it teaches that it does. Some claim as proper Biblical teaching that we are all children of God, some claim only some of us are. Your Calvinists (Mike?) and your Methodists and your Lutherans and your Episcopalians, to say nothing of your Catholics and your different flaovrs of Orthodox, can’t agree on what “the Biblical position” is. It all depends on which part of the elephant they’ve latched on to.

    LDS theology is as consistent with the Bible as anyone else’s, and more consistent than most. At least it resolves many of the inherent contradictions between the divergent flows of Christianity.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on January 9, 2014 at 3:57 PM

    I thought the Biblical position was lights out, curtains drawn, eyes closed, thinking of England. Maybe that was something else.

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  7. Nate on January 10, 2014 at 1:45 AM

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the “biblical position” is always a distinct theology, like Mike’s “faith in the one true triune God exclusively.” Iconoclast is correct that interpretations vary widely. But a biblical position would be one that seeks to define itself exclusively from the Bible, even though those definitions may vary.

    Mormons define themselves only partially upon the Bible, so theological discussions with must start with an understanding that Mormons are different than most other Bible based religions, almost all who claim exclusive authority from the Bible.

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  8. New Iconoclast on January 10, 2014 at 7:18 AM

    Meandering a bit, I never have understood either the claim of authority from the Bible or variations on the theme that the Bible is “sufficient” (“sola scriptura”) and self-contained, or inerrant/infallible, etc. That is to say, I understand those claims, but I don’t understand how anyone can believe them. It’s like believing in homeopathy.

    For example, the claim of Biblical sufficiency, which isn’t even claimed anywhere in the Bible in any meaningful sense, seems to me to be circular reasoning. If a book claims to be the only source of truth, but the only evidence for that claim is that the claim is made by that book [which it isn't, but that's a different story], we would be justifiably a little suspicious of that claim. I suspect, as I’m starting to try to trace the evolution of this belief historically, that it was invented out of whole cloth long after the canon was firmed up, for the pure and simple reason that absent apostolic authority there wasn’t anything else to go on. People, and especially leaders of religious movements, are generally not so comfortable with ambiguity.

    It was actually doubletalk like “Sola Scriptura” that kept me out of any Protestant movement after I quit being Catholic.

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  9. New Iconoclast on January 10, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    I thought the Biblical position was lights out, curtains drawn, eyes closed, thinking of England. Maybe that was something else

    There’s a good line in here somewhere about the Biblical position vs. the missionary position, but I’m afraid it’s beyond me this early on a Friday morning!

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