In my last article I broached the subject of life after death. I mentioned that everyone was going to spend eternity somewhere. That was a problem for some people. Let me explain.
Most people believe in heaven. Few people believe in hell. Many Christians don’t even believe in hell. I have two questions for them. Why is it you choose to believe in heaven but not hell? The same Bible that teaches that there is an eternal heaven also teaches that there is an eternal place of judgment. Why do you choose to believe the one but not the other?
Generally, when I ask that question, the response I receive is, “Well, I don’t see how a God of love could send anyone to hell.” The easy answer to that objection is that God has indeed said that he is not willing that any should perish (that is go to hell–2 Peter 3:9), and he has made a way out of hell, but many simply refuse to believe in him and accept his way out. Namely, Jesus Christ became the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and when we come to him by faith, we find forgiveness and acceptance by the Father and receive the marvelous gift of heaven.
Permit me to pause here in my writing and mention that only Christianity offers anyone a Savior. All other world religions base entrance into heaven on the individual’s own merit. We hope that our good works outweigh our bad actions, and we thus might gain entrance into eternal bliss. John Lenox likens this to the pirates of old. He mentions that these pirates had their own code, and with one another they acted in a certain way that might even be considered kindness to one another and fairness in their dealings with other pirates. Still, the pirates had broken the laws of the land, and if caught, no amount of arguing their virtues among their peers would be sufficient to earn them their pardon. Lenox points out that the same is true with God. While we may act good toward other human beings, the fact remains that it is God’s moral law that we’ve broken and therefore it is that moral law which must be justified.
Every religion in the world tries to justify this by the individuals’ actions. Only Christianity offers a Savior who came himself to pay the penalty that our sin incurs, make us right with the God we’ve offended and offers us the forgiveness we so desperately need. My entrance into heaven is not because of the good I’ve done, but because of the finished work of Christ on the cross and validated by the resurrection. Anyone can receive God’s marvelous gift of life if they will place their full confidence and faith in Jesus Christ.
We human beings are stubborn people though, and we insist on having things our own way. Thus the ultimate answer to those who complain that God shouldn’t send anyone to hell is the very real counter “He doesn’t. He’s made a way of escape. If we refuse to accept it, we send ourselves to hell.” The bottom line is simple: If we live our lives here insisting that God leave us alone, heaven to us would become a hell because there we would be forced to comply to his will. That could never be considered a loving relationship could it? No! So hell ultimately is the final accomplishment of all of those who wish to be left alone; God gives them exactly what they asked for. That is the essence of this place the Bible describes as the place of the living-dead. Those who populate hell are successful rebels to the end.
Now, quickly, the second question I ask those who choose not to believe in hell is this: if there is only a heaven, where is the justice in that? If you only believe in eternal reward, Hitler is in heaven: are you comfortable with that? Before you answer too quickly, understand what you are saying if you say “Yes.” To believe that heaven is compulsory for all is to believe that it really doesn’t matter how you live or what you do, in the end, everyone ends up in heaven anyway. So where is the motive for doing anything good or worthwhile? You have none.
Jesus said, ““Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way. But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, The Living Bible). Based on this statement by our Lord, you have to do some real mental gymnastics to proclaim that you believe in heaven but do not believe in a place called hell.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.