Hey! How’s it going? Sure, I’d be happy to answer a question for you. It’s pretty deep? Doesn’t matter, my friend. I got your back. What’s up?
Do I think you’re going to hell? Woah. That’s a tough question. Let’s sit down and have a coffee, friend; on me. It’s a great question. And a hard question. But as any unwise man trying to seem wise will do, I’ll answer with a question of my own.
Do you want to go to heaven?
You see, heaven is not just some place where you don’t get colds. What makes heaven, well, heaven, is God himself. Heaven is complete, unhindered, unmasked, intimate, face to face relationship with God. It will be more intimate than sex. It is our complete fulfilment. He is what we’re made for. Heaven is perfect because He is The Perfect. He is the reason those in heaven won’t get bored in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. Even the funnest parties and best people would become boring after that long.
The thing about God being The Perfect, He won’t force Himself on you. Imagine someone wanting to date you, but you didn’t want to date them: “Let’s just be friends.” Now imagine that person then forced themselves into your life. They never left you alone. Perhaps they altered your ability to make a free choice. They even tried to be intimate with you.
That’s called sexual assault, not love.
And heaven will be more intimate than anything we’ve ever imagined. Would it be loving of God then to force people into heaven, into His life, into His intimate presence, against their will? It would be literally worse than rape.* God is perfect. He won’t do that.
Ah, yes, I know. Hell seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it. Exes don’t torture those who rejected them. That seems quite petty, to grossly understate it.
Why do you think God tortures people in hell? Yeah, I know. That’s just what we’ve been taught from paintings, t.v., and maybe the occasional street corner preacher. And you’re right, the bible does, in multiple locations, portray the people who reject God as being thrown into flames.
Take Matthew 25, for example. In verse 41, through a parable, a metaphorical story used to illustrate a few points, hell is described as an eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.
Yes, hold on, I know I’m not helping right now. 🙂 Be patient.
But why don’t we take a look a little before that, in the very same book, in the same chapter, by the same author. In verse 30, through another parable, hell is described as darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Fire and darkness at the same time? Does that seem a touch odd to you? They seem to be mutually exclusive. If there’s fire, there’s light. What does that tell us? It seems the author doesn’t want us to take it literally!
Weeping and gnashing of teeth, you say? Yeah, that is a strange saying. We certainly don’t use it nowadays. Doesn’t gnashed teeth seem tortuous? Admittedly, the immediate context of that verse doesn’t really help us understand what that saying means. Let’s see if we can find somewhere else that can help us out.
Check out Acts 7. There, this guy named Steven calls out the religious leaders and they were pretty mad about it. They just got showed up and accused by this untrained simpleton. What did they do? It says in verse 54 they were furious and gnashed their teeth at Steven. They hated him. It seems it’s not tortuous, it’s bitter and angry. And it’s the choice of the ones doing it.
Hell doesn’t seem so bad then?! Woah! Hold on! There’s a reason the bible describes it with things like fire! Yes, I think it’s metaphorical, but it’s still describing a place that we should really really not want to be in. Those metaphors are there for a reason. Remember how heaven is the unhindered presence of God? If we want to go all Vulcan for a moment, if someone rejects God, where does that leave them? X or not-X. Presence or not-presence. If someone rejects God, they get what they asked for; the complete absence of God. And remember from James 1 verse 17? Everything good comes from God. And if we get rid of Him, we are left with the complete absence of good. I can’t even imagine that. Hell will be awful. I don’t think it will be torture. That seems more from medieval paintings than the bible. But I don’t think torment is an understatement. When people would rather not have God, they’d rather have literally nothing good, they get exactly that. Hell is God granting the request to be rid of Him.
So what about this sin thing Christians keep talking about, you ask? What does a choice have to do with anything? Isn’t hell punishment for sin? Sort of yes and no, I think. Well, the answer is yes. But I think that’s one of those questions where answering it straight up, even correctly, will give the wrong impression. It’s a lose-lose question, unless we hash some things out first.
Imagine someone steals from you and you take them to court. The defence lawyer stands up and looks up and down the jury. Then they say, “My client volunteered at the food bank for a little bit. He’s generally a good dude. He shouldn’t be punished for this crime.” I think you’d rage. The injustice against you wouldn’t be righted. How generally good someone may be doesn’t come into play. Did they commit the crime or not? Acts stand individually.
I certainly have wrongs that should be righted. I think if you’re honest with yourself, you do too. And I, like you, think I’m a generally decent person, at least if I compare myself to others instead of God. But I think if we really look deep and honestly, compared to God; compared to perfection; compared to the actual standard, neither of us live up to that. Our sins are injustices against God. And heaven is perfect. Literally perfect. What’s more perfect: a place where wrongs have been righted or a place where wrongs have not been righted? Clearly the first. But that means my wrongs and your wrongs need to be righted for heaven to be heaven. That means we need to get our just desserts. If heaven is perfect, those wrongs need to be righted; and, again, there is only two options: presence or not-presence. Our eternal destiny is a dichotomy.
Like it says in Isaiah 59 verse 2, sin separates us from God. That’s why God hates it. That’s why He doesn’t want us doing it. He loves us so much He can’t stand us separated from Him. Let’s look back at a verse we already discussed. Remember in Matthew 25? Hell was made for the devil and his angels. Not you. Not me. We were made to be with God. Not separated.
God doesn’t want us to be separated from Him. He so loved the world that he gave His Son to die one of the worst death’s imagined by mankind, despite our injustices towards Him. That’s why Christians make this huge ruckus about Jesus. He took on the punishment we owe. In 1 John 2 verse 2, John says Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He pays the price.
Some people ask your question like, “Is God going to throw me in hell for not believing in Him?” making God to seem like He’s a kind of petty or jealous boyfriend that arbitrarily punishes those who don’t like Him. But I would answer this somewhat modified question with no. Our wrongs (sin) that need to be righted are why we deserve hell, just like saying we don’t die from a disease because we refuse to see the doctor. We die because of the disease. Similarly, Jesus, being the only cure, can save us. He is the only one that can heal. But making the choice to refuse to see the doctor allows the disease to take its course. What separates us needs to be dealt with so there can be perfection; so there can be closeness. How can Heaven be perfect if we’ve sinned and we’re there?
Through the cross, though, the wrongs can be righted. Not only that, Jesus changes us to be righteous. In a famous verse, 2 Corinthians 5 verse 21, it says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Remember heaven is perfect. It seems for it to be able to stay that way, everyone there needs to be perfect, too. Otherwise it won’t be heaven. It’ll just be earth 2.0. Christ offers that change, as well. That change won’t be completed here, but we can trust God to do what He said He’d do.
God’s not forcing anything on you. Hell is a punishment. But that punishment, just like all our choices to sin, is our choice. We shouldn’t have a choice in the matter, but because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we now do. We haven’t merited that choice. But God offers it. Nor does accepting God’s offer earn anything. Like opening a gift when we’re given it, acceptance is not meriting. It is God’s grace alone that allows our future perfect closeness with Him.
So now, do you want Him? Remember, He’s not going to force Himself on you. God wants you. He loves you. He desires the best for you. He chose the cross for you. But he also doesn’t want robots. God wants a legitimate relationship. That requires giving us a choice. What is love if it isn’t freely given? That’s why we’re saved by grace through faith, as it says in Ephesians 2 verse 8. He asks us to trust Him and to believe in Him. God wants a true love relationship with you! He’s offering, will you accept?
Can’t He just make you love Him? It’s a good question. God is omnipotent. He can do all things, right? Well, how about this: can God create a laksdjfklsdajflkasflk? I don’t think so. That isn’t a thing. It’s just meaningless gibberish. If it were something, God could create or actualize it. But it isn’t, it has no meaning.
Now, can God create a circle with a corner? No! It’s a logical contradiction. The “thing” called a “circle with a corner” isn’t a thing. It’s sounds like something because a circle and a corner are, on their own, real, coherent things. But together they contradict each other. Logical contradictions are meaningless gibberish, as well. Or what about a married bachelor? A bachelor is an non-married man. So can God create a married non-married man? I don’t think so, it’s just empty noise, not a thing. The meaning behind the term is no different than wqoeuroncweolskdhf.
So, can God make you freely do something? You can’t make someone freely do anything; it wouldn’t be free. Making someone freely do something is a logical contradiction. It is thus not a thing that can be done and is just incoherent nonsense. Yes, God can do all things, but making you love Him is not a thing. Love by its nature is free. Making someone love anyone is a logical contradiction. If a programmed robot tells you they love you, is that love? No way. Likewise, God gives you freedom because that’s the only way anything legitimately real and good can come from the relationship. Love requires freedom.
Yeah, that’s a good question. How do we start following and loving Him? When asked a very similar question, Peter, in Acts 2 verse 38, said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Repentance doesn’t mean to stop doing something or to just feel guilty. It’s not a turning away; it’s a turning to. Repentance is not trying to purge bad things from your life. What’s the quickest way to get air out of a cup; try to create a vacuum seal and suck it out? That’s very sensitive to leaks, and do you know if the cup can handle the pressure differential? No; the quickest way is to pour in something else. Repentance is pouring God into your life. Getting rid of the other things will happen as a result. Run to God. Run to the Creator who, having a choice between torture and heaven without you, chose torture.
Right now, that might seem hard. But God is the The Perfect. He is the other worldly desire you have for complete peace, fulfilment, acceptance, and love. As Shane & Shane sang in their song Waging War**:
To see the LORD, the promised land;
where in all sin pearly gates look bland;
but what was once a pearl, now sand;
that blows away, that blows away in light of Him.
Everything we seem to think is such a big deal simply blows away when compared to relationship with Christ.
So, my friend, I can’t really answer your question. That’s not my job. Because of the cross, because of the grace of God, because of nothing you or me do or did, because of God’s love for you and desire for you, because He actually wants you and not a robot, because He offers literal perfection that blows everything else away; it’s yours.
*I have no intention of minimizing or diminishing the horrendous travesty that is sexual assault. I have multiple (yes, plural) female friends who have offered me the blessing and grace of confiding in me regarding how they were sexually assaulted. Saying that God would be committing a worse atrocity if He doesn’t offer us genuine free will is not taken without serious consideration, wrestling, and conviction.