by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
It’s often asked, “How can a sovereign, loving God send anyone to hell? How is that love?”
It’s a fair question.
But before getting into the question, here is another question.
Do you hope that heaven is real, or do you hope, perhaps even more, that hell isn’t?
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Millions of people in the world, particularly in the United States, gamble on the lottery. These millions collectively spend millions in currency every day hoping to beat astronomical odds to win their fortune. Individuals and families, rich and poor, are willing to risk portions of their hard-earned income hoping to finally win.
What if they were guaranteed to win and all it costs is a relationship with the one who is the source of their potential winnings; the one who has it to give, and is oh so willing to give it?
Really, who wouldn’t want that?
So what’s the problem?
For so many, there doesn’t seem to be a problem risking money for a fortune beyond belief and imagination that is all but guaranteed not to be realized. Why does anyone risk anything for something virtually impossible to obtain or experience, but will not risk far less to gain something that is absolutely guaranteed… even if it’s hard to believe or imagine?
Is it because the condition of relationship with God in order to experience the freedom and peace that God offers means an undesired threat of accountability?
Honestly people… Isn’t the real reason anyone rejects the existence of God the problem of judgment, and dare I say… hell?
A God that holds me accountable, judges me, declares me guilty, and sentences me to hell—whatever hell is—cannot exist! If God isn’t real, there is no problem.
Therefore, millions… maybe billions… cannot believe in the reality of God. They hope that God doesn’t exist. They hope that hell isn’t real.
They want us to believe that they don’t believe because they can’t believe in something or someone they’ve never seen. But they will believe that something came from nothing… and, well… no one’s ever seen nothing. Or, they would have to believe that something originated as something smaller than a speck of dust… something smaller than invisible bacteria… something smaller than the atom… ALWAYS existed. It’s just like continuing to play a game like the lottery they know will almost certainly never win because, after all, someone has to win.
So they place their bets—all in—on science, hoping they simply cease to exist when drawing their last breath.
belief according to Merriam-Webster
- a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true
- a feeling that something is good, right, worthy, or valuable
- a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
- conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence
What is heaven? What is hell?
What if hell is merely the absence of good… the absence of compassion and mercy? You would find nothing that is good in hell. What if hell is best described as an existence without good, where evil is given free reign to breed, grow, expand, and abound, seeking to overwhelm and overcome everything in its path? What if hell is the ugly, painful, miserable condition of this world without love in it at all? What if possessing free will leads to selfish thinking and behavior? What if selfish thinking and behavior results in the opposite of giving, which is taking? What if the essence of giving is love, and that taking produces jealousy, resentment, injustice, and ultimately hatred… until it is evil?
What if hell is the light going out in an otherwise dark existence?
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:3-4 (NLT)
“The people who walk in great darkness have adjusted their eyes.” —John Eldredge
What if hell is the absence of God’s presence? What if hell is the absence of a sense, or conviction, of right and wrong? What if hell is the survival of the fittest without any regard for who gets hurt?
When He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (regarding) sin, because they do not believe in Me… When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. John 16:8, 9, 13 (NKJV)
What if hell is the absence of the truth that rescues us from what’s destructive within, and defends us against the bane of evil throughout?
While I have suggested this idea of what hell could be, I do not really know or understand what or where hell is. There are a great deal of people suffering in the world for one reason or another who feel like they are experiencing hell right now. There is so much hate and evil in the world. We all live in the world together. We carry the burden of injustice, entitlement, jealousy, and resentment, doing evil to one extent or another. Then what? We blame a sovereign, loving God for the consequences for our collective behavioral choices?
What if heaven is everything good and right… absolutely everything? You would find nothing bad or wrong in heaven. What if you could go to heaven until you did something wrong or bad and then, oops, to hell with you? Wouldn’t you be living in constant fear in what is supposed to be heavenly bliss? What kind of heaven would that be? So how can heaven remain without flaw with flawed people living there? What if a loving God had a viable solution to such an unsolvable dilemma?
What if heaven is freedom from hatred and evil into all that is loving and good without measure? What if heaven is freedom from all displeasure, discomfort, disturbance, and disharmony into fulfilling peace and contentment? What if heaven is freedom from conflict, anxiety and stress into the experience of what is truly unconditional love between every single one of its inhabitants? Are you kidding me… who wouldn’t want that?
What if there was a sure way out of hell into heaven? What if the only condition behind freedom into that kind of living is having a relationship with the most honest, sincere, compassionate, generous person that ever lived? What if that is all it costs? What… that’s too much?
Why set conditions at all?
People in relationship with each other expect honesty, trust and loyalty if they’re going to expect the best out of the relationship. Without conditions and standards relationships are unmanageable, unstable, and miserable until they fail and die. Parents expect to have trustworthy relationships with their children in order to trust them enough to bless them to the full with the best of their resources. And parents expect their little ones to submit and obey before giving them the stuff and privileges they want and believe they deserve. Spouses expect undivided loyalty and commitment for the relationship to thrive. Otherwise, the relationship fails to survive.
Conditions and standards are essential and make sense in all relationships. Why would relationship with God be any different? The literature I read tells me that God doesn’t care about rules and religion. All God cares about is love in relationship… God with us, and us with each other. That’s it!
Why would God set it all up like that? I don’t know. Ask him! Because if that’s how it is, then that’s how it is. It doesn’t matter if we think relationship with the life-giver costs too much. It doesn’t matter if having a relationship with the creator of the universe who loves what he has created sounds unfair. The reality is that our world is in free-fall into self-indulgent entitlement, and evil and hatred have a clear advantage. If God is goodness and love, and this world is consumed with evil and hatred, the contrast between these realities couldn’t be more stark.
What’s at stake, here?
Which side are you on? You best make the right choice about it. Or else, just continue to live with what you already have until the hatred and the evil in the world catches up with you, if it hasn’t already.
To believe or not believe? Is there a creator? Does God exist? Is God alive? Is God in authority? Is God involved in what happens here? Is God interested in me? Why believe in God? Why not believe in God? What gets in the way of me believing in God?
What do I risk if I am wrong about God one way or the other?
What makes the most sense and what does not? What about all of this is beyond explanation? Can truth always be adequately explained?
What really is tipping the scales for you one way or the other? Is it really about what you can and cannot see… what you can and cannot explain… or is it what you can and cannot tolerate if you’re held to some standard?
What is it about conditions and standards that you oppose? You live and function under the banner of rules, laws, and expectations—conditions and standards—in some form or another every day of your life. So, what is it?
“The people who walk in great darkness have adjusted their eyes.” —John Eldredge
I suspect that those who do not believe in God, tend to not believe because they cannot believe in God. It isn’t that they don’t believe. They won’t believe. It isn’t so much that they resist believing in the existence of God as much as they refuse to believe in the existence of a bigger-than-life authority. After all, justice is ultimately about what’s comfortable, isn’t it? So, how can God exist if it makes me at all uncomfortable?
Why is it that those who don’t… I mean, won’t… believe in God are so passionate in their opposition? Why care so much about something if it doesn’t exist in the first place? Why care about being judged by those who believe in this “God” that doesn’t exist if they’re the fools?
“No one… not even God… dare hold me accountable! No one… not even God… dare tell me what to do and what not to do. No one… not even God… dare dictate to me what is best for me. Who can know me better than I know me? Only I know what is best for me.”
Is that right? Where then lies the hope for any kind of mercy from this hell on earth? Where then lies the hope for redemption from imminent suffering and death? Where then lies the hope for anything more than this? Where then lies the hope for a better life?
The Scriptures say, “If you hear his voice today, don’t be stubborn like those who rebelled.” Hebrews 3:15 (CEV)
Once concluding that God is real and alive, originator of all creation, the catalyst and life-giver to everything evolving and living, then everything after that is possible. If God created the heavens and the earth and all of the life contained therein, then something like the virgin birth and the resurrection of his son, Jesus, are unquestionably possible. If God continues to be invested and involved in what he has made and loves, it only makes sense to be on his side of things. If God is all that he is, and he is for me and with me, then who or what can prevail against me?
Maybe you are reading this and you’re struggling with it because you’ve been scorned by religion or burned by religious people whose rhetoric is not in line with their behavior. I get it, but this is bigger than that. This is less about what sounds or feels religious and far more about recognizing what makes the most sense. God didn’t create religion, people did. What God created is relationship and that is what living is all about. The questions raised here cannot be dismissed because of barriers erected by religion. Putting up walls doesn’t do anything but veil sensible truth. The answers to these questions will inevitably lead to choices about what to do about them.
If you are one that insists that God does not exist, then I suppose you best pray that he does, and that heaven is real. Because the alternative is truly hopeless and worthy of every fear you’ve ever had.