And yet many of these same people recoil at the thought of a place called hell. Some use the argument that a God who is love would never ‘send someone to hell’. In the end He will lovingly and mercifully accept everyone into an afterlife called heaven where apparently we all will unselfishly get along and be happy forever.
If what they say is true, then what is God waiting for? I don’t think anyone would disagree that there are injustices in this world. And if that’s the case, why doesn’t God just end it all now by simply taking everyone to heaven regardless of how we’ve lived. If God is love, shouldn’t He lovingly intervene and stop all the unfairness and injustices now?
Some get around this by saying that those who are doing wrong in this life end up making their own hell on earth, and in this way justice is served because they’re punished before they enter into the afterlife. But in the example of the vicious killer I mentioned, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Some very wicked men leave this life defiantly and proudly.
Others concede that there must be some kind of place one goes where they suffer for a time in order to make up for their bad deeds. Eventually, however, they’re free to move on to heaven. But who decides how long and how much punishment there should be? And if there’s any punishment at all, how does that harmonize with a God who is only loving and merciful? And further, will anyone in heaven be different from the way they were in this life? Will temporary punishment fundamentally change these people for the better? We call our prisons ‘correctional’ institutions, but many hard core criminals simply return to a life of crime. So what kind of heaven will that be if people are essentially the same?
I asked earlier why God, who is love, does not intervene in this world of unfairness and injustices. As it turns out, the Bible, God’s word, tells us that He has. When man decided to rebel against God and try to be independent of Him, God didn’t destroy what He had created. In fact, He so much loved what He had brought into being that He did what was necessary in order to recover what was ruined because of sin.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans we read, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus not only died on the cross to pay the punishment for the sins of believing sinners, but He also procured new life for them in His resurrection from the dead. That’s what being ‘born again’ (as Jesus Himself put it) is all about.
Being ‘born again’ means that God by grace gives one a new heart and a transformed mind such that the believing sinner is now desirous of coming to God on His terms and progressively striving to please Him in the way in which they live. This process of renovation is begun in this life and is completed in the life to come. This way by faith in Jesus Christ that God has provided as a path to heaven means that those who inhabit heaven will not only have been forgiven their sins, but they will be radically changed people. In this way, God is merciful, but not in a way which puts aside His justice because justice has been satisfied in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for believers.
As regards hell, C.S. Lewis, the author of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, wrote, “There are only two kinds of people – those who say ‘Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God in the end says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell”.
What could be more fair and just than that?