Notes to Pilgrims #17
Setting aside for a moment the questions pertaining to the nature of hell (e.g. it is a real ontological place or just a state of mind? is it really a hot fiery place? is the pain and suffering analogous to what we experience here on earth? &c.), I’d like to address one of the common objections that unbelievers often have to the concept of the Christian God who, apparently, sends sinners to hell. “That’s why I can’t believe in Christianity,” they’d say. “I just can’t believe a God who cruelly sends defense-less people to hell simply because they refuse to believe in Him and live according to the way He wants them to live. That’s just plain wrong and oppressive. I can’t reconcile the idea of a loving God with such a vindictive personality who clearly is just power-tripping and bullying sinners with His so-called justice.”
But is this really the case? Is God really just bent on sending people to hell? More importantly, is God the only determinant in a hell-bound sinner’s eternal destination? Or does the sinner, too, have a hand in the matter? The Bible is quite clear on God’s stance in this: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). The Bible says that God does not wish that any person should perish (i.e. eternally, in hell). In fact God is extremely patient towards sinners as evidenced by the supreme restraint He exercises in not justly dealing with us as swiftly as we break His law. Rather than desire our doom, He is lovingly after our repentance and our reconciliation with Him.
Oh, but what proof do we have of this? To what can we point and say, “there, that is how God shows His good faith in not wanting our doom”? The Cross of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8-10) Christ died for His people—absorbing God’s wrath—so that they could be reconciled to God. God did this. And He did it not bPecause of our repentance but in order to secure it. Yes, His wrath remains. He is just and must punish sin, after all. But He does not want to. And for those who find themselves in Christ, He does not need to—no, He can not by virtue of Christ’s full payment.
But let’s go back to the unbeliever who cries foul over this. The unbeliever, by definition, is someone who obstinately rejects God and complains that God wants to send him/her to hell. But the fact of the matter is that such unbelief and rejection of God is actually inconsistent with any desire to be saved from hell. You see, for the unbeliever who wishes to have nothing to do with God, there would be no-worse of a hell than to be with Him for all eternity. That would be like forcing a child to stay in the same room with an annoying and scary clown that she dread, or forcing an acrophobic person to stand atop the tallest building in the world for the very reason that she has an irrationally fear/hate of heights. No, the only unbelievers who truly end up in hell are those who want to be there because they don’t want to be with God. there are no repentant sinners in hell. They may not be happy there but they sure think they are better off than being in heaven. In their case, God is simply permitting them the consequences of what they truly desire.
—Pastor James (email@example.com