Have you ever been talking to that friend – the one who acts like a teenage philosopher, frequently dismissing God and faith and organized religion with their own brand of “logic” and (what they believe to be) “common sense?”
I had a lot of those friends in high school. I had a lot of those teachers and those professors, too. Some were annoying. Others were lost. Still others were carrying some deep-seeded hurts in their life and God and the Church became easy targets to blame.
The most common question I heard from my self-proclaimed agnostic and atheist friends was, “If God is forgiving and all-loving, why does this God send people to Hell?”
Now, their question was not new. People for centuries have argued that “a loving God” would not allow people to go to Hell. Some even argue that Hell doesn’t exist – that all roads eventually lead to Heaven. That idea, however, renders Jesus both a liar and a fraud (Matt.7:13-14, Matt. 25:31-46).
Jesus spoke about Heaven, hell and judgment, often; He spoke about them lovingly but forcefully, there was no mistaking God. The truth is that Hell exists precisely because God is so loving. This is where the confusion sets in.
Let’s be clear here: God does not send people to hell. Hell is a decision on our part. Hell is basically a choice that we make, one that God – out of respect for our free will – honors out of His immense love for us.
Put very simply, you can look at it this way:
“Tim” lives his life “his way.” He does what he wants – whatever seems to make him happy. He rejects Christ’s teachings on faith and morals. He shuts out the people who try to share Christ’s love with him. He chooses to do things his way. Tim wants nothing to do with God during his time on earth. When Tim dies, he is judged – according to what he heard and what he was exposed to in terms of God’s truth. Tim, living in 21st century America, has lost the excuse of ignorance. He can’t pretend he never heard about God, witnessed modern Christians’ lives or was never exposed to the truth. Tim’s life, however, became his response to truth of God.
God now – out of His immense and unconditional love for Tim – basically says, “Tim, my beloved Son, I tried and tried again to reach out to you in love. I shared truth with you. I provided countless opportunities for you to know and love me…but you rejected me. So, Tim, since you wanted nothing to do with me on earth, and that was your choice, I will not force you to spend eternity with me in Heaven. I will honor your free will and allow you to spend eternity where I am not.”
And we call that “place” hell.
Hell is the absence of God and His love. Hell is a choice on our part. Those souls in hell are eternally removed from God. There is no way for them to know His love or anything about His plan. They are eternally frustrated. There is no love, no goodness, no beauty, no sacrifice, no peace and no joy. There is only selfishness, ignorance, bitterness and hatred. The absence of God is so horrific we cannot even fathom it. We call it hell, but a simple word or mental picture cannot begin to do justice to this reality.
As much as Heaven is the fulfillment of all goodness, knowledge, and love, Hell is the opposite. When we die, our wills are set. We have freely chosen in this life whether we want to be with God for all eternity. This isn’t like the movies where you “argue your case” before God. Heaven is an invitation into God’s life for all eternity. Our lives on earth are like the RSVP. Heaven is an invitation. Hell is a decision.
Live wisely, my brothers and sisters, and seek God’s grace.