Wouldn’t everyone repent when faced with hell?
Would God let out people who repented?
One argument against hell is this: No person in his right mind would choose eternal punishment in hell over heaven. Therefore everyone would repent when sent to hell. If God lets the repentant leave, hell will be empty (and therefore can be disregarded). If God doesn’t let the repentant leave, God is unjust for continuing to punish them after they’ve repented.
The trouble with this line of reasoning is that repentance is not simply a matter of one saying, “Okay, I’ll say whatever you want me to, just get me out of here!” Repentance involves acknowledging one’s guilt, feeling remorse and the desire to change one’s behavior, accepting Christ’s sacrifice as substitutionary punishment for one’s wrongs and agreeing to love and obey God (including Christ as God the Son). This includes by definition acceptance of eternal punishment in hell as just punishment for one’s sins; while the skeptic may still object that continued punishment of the repentant is unjust, the repentant will respond that their continued punishment is deserved and could only end through God’s mercy.
However, in reality people in hell won’t repent, in particular not any skeptic who makes the above argument. If one thinks God is unjust for punishing people in hell, actually going there isn’t going to make one suddenly decide that God is just and deserves one’s love and worship after all. People are given their entire lives on Earth as an opportunity to repent and accept God; if they refuse each day of their lives to repent and believe they’re justified in doing so, it’s hardly conceivable that punishment in hell would change their minds.
Since hell is comprised of those who would never repent, the second question is only a hypothetical one; it could be argued either way. In practice, someone who would repent in hell would be given the opportunity to repent on Earth and would presumably repent before they died, not after.
This is a perfect example of how the consideration of evidence plays almost no role in the apologist’s reasoning process. For most skeptics, disbelief in the christian god is due to the absence of evidence. All the fun we have poking holes in the bronze age theological puzzles about justice and hell is really just icing on the cake. Even if the bronze age mythmakers cooked up a god whose notions of justice and punishment matched our current notions, there still would be no evidence to believe the fables. Thus, were a skeptic to go to hell, he or she would suddenly have fantastic evidence in support of the supernatural claims made by the evangelists. Because a skeptic, unlike an evangelist christian apologist, holds beliefs proportional to evidence, he or she would realize that hell is real. But, would the skeptic repent? For what sins? Following the evidence, and doubting claims that lack evidence? The only difference between all skeptics and all ‘true’ christians is that skeptics don’t believe god is real and jesus saves. Repenting involves believing god is real, accepting that jesus died for your sins, and accepting his gift of salvation. So, when faced with the all but indubitable evidence of hell, would a skeptic admit that the evangelical christians were right, god is real, and jesus saves? Yes, because then the skeptic would have evidence that those claims are true, and that’s how skeptics form beliefs.
The Apologist says, “if they refuse each day of their lives to repent and believe they’re justified in doing so, it’s hardly conceivable that punishment in hell would change their minds.” Is it so hard to conceive? Each day of our lives we are unjustified in so repenting, because we have insufficient evidence (none). If, as you assert, we do receive punishment in hell upon dying, then we would have sufficient evidence. Thus, we would be justified in changing our minds. Was that so hard to conceive? Yes, for the Apologist, because he doesn’t conceive of any relation between evidence and a belief’s justification.