So, yesterday I started on the topic of Hell and whether or not people actually choose to be there and, for that matter, why the freakin’ hell we should even have Hell. Well, if you were around for that post, you might have noticed I spent a lot of time talking and didn’t get nearly far enough.
This time, I’ll try to get in some biblical passages to back my ass up a little instead of just providing links to past posts of my own that bear relevance on this topic, so this will probably be an even longer journey than yesterday. An important part of today’s post is found in WNG’s comment to me a couple days past, and in particular one thing she said:
I overheard a discussion this weekend about whether or not hell is actually empty. The two gentlemen discussing the matter weren’t close enough for me to eavesdrop completely but the gist that I got was that God’s love and forgiveness are all encompassing and offered forever, so basically you’d have to CHOOSE to go to hell. I thought hmmm…
Now, I’m sure most people would, upon really thinking about this shit, also say to themselves, if people choose to be in Hell rather than simply being sentenced there, who the hell would go to Hell? The truth of the matter is that it is sort of a combination of being sent to Hell and choosing to be there, in my humble and non-divine opinion.
First, a person chooses to not accept Jesus as their savior, and this choice basically put you on the elevator car going down. By not choosing God’s way, you put your soul into Satan’s hands. I know, that seems a bit harsh—eternal punishment because maybe you didn’t hear about Jesus or no one really told you about him in a way that was truly meaningful. Also, the whole eternal damnation thing itself seems a bit out of line with pretty much any offenses one could possibly commit in a single lifetime on this planet, even if your name was Adolf Hitler or something. Eternity is a damn long time.
And here we need some clarification. Hell isn’t eternal in and of itself. It actually gets thrown away into something the Book of Revelation refers to as the Lake of Fire (Revelation chapter 20, especially verse 10 and verses 14 & 15).
And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. … Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Yesterday’s post provided a link to my post titled End of the Line? and you can look there to see my more complete argument on that front. But the short version is that I suspect that anyone in Hell (at the very least those who weren’t around there when Jesus descended into Hell for a few days and they heard preaching from his own mouth) still has a chance to repent before they stand before Jesus on Judgment Day.
I’ve seen arguments that Hell is where you suffer with images of your impending doom and the Lake of Fire is where every lost soul is utterly destroyed. But I don’t get the impression that the soul is something that can be utterly destroyed. Also, isn’t that pretty mean of a loving God to torture you with images of your destruction, then destroy you, having given you no hope of redemption? That kind of two-step punishment is cruelty entirely out of step with a God who would let His son be a sacrifice for our sakes instead of lifting Jesus off that cross that he never deserved to be on. If God wanted to destroy you, wouldn’t he just get straight to the ultimate penalty? So, I so see Hell as being a place where you are separated from God’s grace but only as a means to give you that final “Don’t you get it yet?” before you go to the place where you will never get out of, namely the Lake of Fire, in the hopes maybe you’ll have a saving epiphany.
Still, you might argue: Who would choose to stay in Hell and be discarded for eternity and an endless separation from God? True, I should think a short stay in Hell would be more than enough to make it clear that it’s not someplace you want to be (unless Satan is making it look good to fool people into thinking his way is still a good choice, which certainly is a possibility). But even if it’s a really horrific place to be, does that really mean that before you go before Jesus to be judged, you’re automatically going to accept him as your savior because you endured suffering and are facing the prospect of more of the same?
Because it’s about accepting Jesus. It’s not about being afraid of punishment and saying “Please save me.” It’s about saying, “I’ve sinned against God and I am sorry and I want to be a child of God…please lift me up and guide me on that path.” If one doesn’t accept that they have wronged God and rejected God—and they don’t seek to be reunited with Him through Jesus—there will be no forgiveness. And that isn’t because God is cruel but because you won’t do your part. The parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15, verses 11-32, is something worth mentioning here as an example of that, because the younger brother comes back not to demand anything or to justify his actions, but in humility. Yes, he doesn’t return until he hits rock-bottom, but that’s the way some people have to roll, just like many alcoholics don’t seek help until they truly crash and burn. The point is, the prodigal son doesn’t come back with excuses and doesn’t assume he’ll be welcomed back as a son (figuring he’ll only be worthy to act as a servant), and that is exactly why the father does take him back.
God can reach out to you, but He expects you to reach out too. And I think that is fair. I also believe that a lot of souls in Hell are not going to be willing to accept accountability. They will act out of fear and self-preservation and justifying their actions and making excuses (see, for example, the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7, verses 21-23):
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.
And the decision to defend their wrong decisions instead of atoning for them is a choice that will keep them in damnation. Too many people think their deeds will get them into Heaven instead of realizing that it’s their faith that will do that. And plenty of people in Hell will believe that they can still talk their way into Heaven by explaining why their works were good and why those works should be enough.
And the fact is, even if my musings in the Party that Never Ends? post that I linked to in my post yesterday are accurate, and Satan has put a nice facade on Hell to convince you to stay and party, I don’t think it’s like God is going to just let a lie like that go without a challenge. I think souls will be told, “Satan is lying to you and there is something better for you if you just admit that you’ve done wrong and listen to Jesus and accept his sacrifice for you.” But I also think that even if that is so, there are people who will cast their lot with Satan because they will gamble that things aren’t as bad as God says they will be and that maybe Satan really has a chance of winning. Because they want the petty things they have always clung to and won’t reach out to be lifted to something better.
There is also an interesting concept put forward in The Sandman: Master of Dreams mature comic series that ran from 1989 to 1996, and that is that everyone in Hell is there by their own choice and not by God’s design. The gist is that many people expect punishment and end up in Hell because that is what they secretly desire. Either because of their belief in a punishing God or their own internal sense of worthlessness, they simply cannot have a satisfying afterlife if they don’t suffer torment for their perceived sinfulness. I don’t think this is the way of things generally speaking, but it is an interesting concept and it might be that some people go to Hell for that reason as well.
Despite all I’ve said over the past couple days, it’s probably still going to appear cruel. After all, why should people who didn’t hear about Jesus have to go to Hell for that, for any period of time, instead of being judged on their personal merits?
I don’t know. That is, I don’t know why…and I don’t even know if that’s how it really happens. I just don’t know. My father-in-law, who is a reverend, has a theory that some people are born again and just don’t know it. In fact, he believes there are people who are born again and aren’t even Christian or even Jewish for that matter. And that may be the case. Perhaps there are people who have other faiths but know deep inside there is something wrong with them (sin and separation from God) but they don’t know exactly what. They simply realize deep down that they aren’t getting the answers from their own faith, and maybe people like this are considered to have accepted Jesus because they seek him without knowing who he is exactly or how and where to find him.
There’s also the possibility that Hell might not be a homogeneous place. Maybe those with seeking hearts but who haven’t received the gospel end up somewhere more contemplative than punishing, even though they might remain separated from God until the final judgment. Pure conjecture on that though, even more so than most of what I’ve presented so far.
In the end, my point isn’t to try to convince you of a certain vision of Hell, only to show how it is possible that people might choose Hell, explicitly or implicitly.
And whether I’m right that it’s really our choice or whether I’m wrong and God is capricious (which just seems so unlikely to me), all I know is that it’s a hell of a choice.
And I pray that none of you reading this make that kind of decision.
…finally, if I may overuse the “hell” puns a bit more…it’s taken me a hell of a long time to get to the end of this topic. Apologies for any dry, achy eyes out there.