Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why Doesn't God Save Everyone?

Why doesn't God save everyone? If God is so loving - indeed, if God is Love itself as 1 John teaches - why does he send anyone to hell at all?

This question is something that gets asked by atheists and Christians alike, and it's definitely an important one. The answer - whatever it is - will tell us something important about who God is, and who we are, and what it means to "be in heaven" or "be in hell."

It's that last bit in particular that I think is pretty important, and it's an aspect of the question that I think so many people overlook and take for granted. We know what "heaven" means: It's paradise! It's a place where everyone is happy! And we know what "hell" means: It's a place where everyone is miserable.

But I don't think it's that simple. In fact, I think it's precisely that assumption that gets us into trouble. If we think of heaven simply as a place where everyone is happy all the time, it makes sense for us to wonder why God doesn't simply allow everyone in. that what heaven actually is? No. When we talk about Christians "going to heaven", we don't just mean "going to a very pleasant location." We have to think about what makes heaven pleasant, what makes it paradise. And I think every Christian would agree that the thing that makes heaven paradise is primarily the felt presence of God. In heaven, we will experience God constantly. And as we worship him and submit ourselves to him, we experience that presence as pure joy and life.

That is what it means to "go to heaven." 

And when we come at the question with this in mind, the question changes to something more like this:

Is it possible for God to make his felt presence pleasurable for an unrepentant sinner? 

In my mind, that's the real question when we're discussing why people go to hell. Because I don't think that it is possible. If placed "in heaven" - that is, in unending and incredibly intimate proximity to God - those who love darkness will be blinded by the most intense Light imaginable. Those who hate will be seared by Love itself. And those who choose to be dead will be forever forced to look Life full in the face. 

That is what would happen to an unrepentant sinner who "goes to heaven". And I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything else to call that except for hell. In fact, this is the Eastern Orthodox view of hell (or if not THE view, at least a very popular view). In this view, God doesn't send anyone to Hell, and in fact, "Hell" isn't a separate place at all. Everyone simply experiences God: Some in humble surrender, others in painful defiance.

Now, I'm not positive this is the 100% correct understanding of Hell. But I think it's a distinct possibility. And I think that if it's wrong, then CS Lewis is correct when he calls hell a "painful refuge": Rather than force unrepentant sinners to remain in his presence - in agony - for eternity, God mercifully allows them to instead go into the "outer darkness", where they are cut off from their creator and left to stew in their own wickedness.

In either case, I think the problem of God sending people to hell loses its bite. There is nothing God can do to make his presence pleasurable to someone who rejects him: the only question is whether they suffer because he's there or because he's absent. The only people in hell will be those who choose it over heaven, who reject God and choose their own pride and selfishness as eternal companions. 

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