Hell: Part Two

God wouldn’t send good people to hell.

Last week, we looked at the idea that there are no ‘good’ people for God to send to hell: There’s Jesus, and then everyone else. Here we want to look at the idea that God doesn’t send anyone anywhere – we satnav our own eternal destination.

A lot of people seem to think that the statements “God is all loving” and “Some people go to hell” are explicitly contradictory. Why would God, if He is all-loving, allow anyone to end up in hell – whatever it is that hell is? It seems so unjust! And I agree, it does seem unjust.

The first thing to say is that without a God of Justice behind everything, our sense of justice and injustice would be totally flimsy. If human death is the end of existence, then there is no such thing as ultimate judgement or ultimate justice. There is no such thing as fairness! Live how you want, and the result will be the same: nothingness.

For something to seem unfair, it has to first be measured against a definite, immovable standard of fairness. An orange wouldn’t approach the colour Orange and say, ‘I don’t think you’re very Orange.’

You just don’t get a definite standard of justice without God. So when we worry about God being unfair, we’re worrying unnecessarily because He is Fairness. He is Justice.

According to the Bible, God’s nature is both perfect Justice and perfect Love. Both of these are equally powerful, and neither can be compromised. With God, you are guaranteed both unconditional love and perfect justice.

But this is precisely the problem! Because God’s Justice exposes our inadequacy. The Bible says that every person has failed to live up to God’s moral law (his standard of goodness) and so we find ourselves guilty before God. The biblical word for this failure is sin. You might think you’re a good person compared to rapists or politicians, but you are not going to be judged against them.

The prophet Ezekiel declared, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel. 18.4), and the apostle Paul echoes, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans. 6.23). You reap what you sow. This is justice in its purest form. By yourself, you fail the entrance test into heaven.

But why doesn’t God just stop us from sinning? Well, because He loves us. God has not made us robots. We have Free Will. We can use that Free Will to accept his offer of love and ‘life in abundance’, or we can use it to do our own thing. He will not and cannot force us to believe in or follow Him. You cannot force someone to love you – we have a different word for that.

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature.” (Galatians. 6.7-8)

Heaven isn’t a treat. It’s not Center Parcs. Heaven is the undiluted presence of God. And if you’ve spent your entire life rejecting that presence, why would you suddenly want to be there in the midst of it?

It’s horrible to think that people I know may end up in hell. I reject it on an emotional level. But I wonder whether we put too much emphasis on how we feel, and not enough on God’s holiness. Sin just cannot exist in the presence of God. It would be like a damp book thrown into a furnace – by the nature of those two things, the book would just get burnt up. And we are sinful – we’re damp books. We can do good things with a small ‘g’, but we are not wholly Good. Without some kind of protective suit, we are going to get burnt up.

Next week, we’ll look at what we call this protective suit. But, to end, remember that we don’t preach hell. We preach Jesus’ offer of ‘Fullness of Life’. Nobody else in history has ever made you that offer. It’s not ‘turn or burn’ – it’s ‘turn, and see what it means to live life in all its beauty’.