Worrying About Loved Ones Going to Hell

imagesMany believers struggle with the notion that a “good” and “loving” God could consign anyone to Hell. Since just about any believer knows someone who has rejected Christianity, this is not some abstract notion that can be easily dismissed.  The more one thinks about it, the more one is led to an increasingly grave and persistent concern that some loved one won’t “make the cut.” It would be one thing if the person in question was objectively evil – a truly “bad” person who lives to hurt others – but what if he’s a “nice guy” who just happens to reject the notion that Jesus is God, or that God cares about us in some personal way? How could a loving God punish someone like this?

Like most believers, I too struggled with this question. I thought about the unfairness of God rejecting those who “love” Him. When I inquired of other believers, I received differing responses: some would argue that a family member going to Hell wasn’t really unfair, as we all deserved separation from God and that if God chose to give someone a benefit they didn’t deserve, that was simply a gift. And a gift giver can give to whomever he chooses. Others would say that in the end, all are saved, that our intuition that God could not punish us that way was in fact correct.

These answers were not satisfying. The latter obviously rejected a major portion of Christian theology and the former did not  reflect an appropriate causal connection between the person who gets the gift and the gift itself. In other words, it seemed unfair to me that “good” people should not get rewarded, as it seemed to me that God’s approach to salvation wasn’t necessarily rewarding the “good.” And rewarding the good is what it’s all about, right?

With prayer and reflection, I began to realize what I was doing. I was substituting my standard of “good” for God’s. I wanted to measure goodness the way the world does, rather than actually knowing a person’s heart the way God does. More importantly, I wanted to make salvation a thing that was “earned” or “merited”, as if a fallen human being had the potential to earn their way to God’s right hand by their good deeds. They could hate God, resist his authority, wish to set up shop in defiance of Him, yet He would nonetheless have to reward them if their good deeds outweighed their bad. In short, it made more sense to me for God to recognize and reward “good,” whether the doer of the good deed was a Buddhist, a believer or a skeptic. 

As I studied Christian doctrine, my mistake came into focus. I had lost sight of how God viewed us – creatures in rebellion – and was measuring man by a convenient standard – the one I happened to hold. When I thought about it from a different perspective, I began to see how a perfect God giving us a tremendous gift – life and eternity with Him – might not be pleased to see us use that gift to rebel against Him. True, he gave us free will because He wanted true relationship with us, not one forced by His will. Consequently, He knew we would choose to use that free will to reject Him, to rebel against Him.

The story could have ended there, but out of love for us, He provided a means for reunification with Him – through the sacrifice of Jesus. We need only accept this gift; Jesus does all the work. He was the portal through which all things came into existence, and He is the portal to reunification with God. As the perfect man/God, he is the only being capable of satisfying justice on our behalf – of taking in our place God’s wrath, which is the just consequence of our rebellion against God. It is for that reason that He says as much. In other words, He is not being egotistical or arrogant in proclaiming He is the only way; He is stating a fact of the nature of things, no different than saying that only through access to oxygen can one breathe.

I realized that God is perfectly fair and just. When I am in His presence someday, and I contemplate the fate of those who have been separated from Him permanently, I too must be able to see this as fair and just. How could paradise be a place of joy if I were filled with anguish over those who chose to reject God? I realized that I too would see with clarity then why God chose to act in the way that He did. The fact that I cannot do so today is a function of my limited knowledge, and not a valid criticism of God or of His plan. So, I am content in leaving it to God. Perhaps those who show their belief in God by doing good works are given a chance to accept Jesus before they die; perhaps they are given to see that they were actually worshiping Jesus though they did not realize earlier in their lives that this is in fact what they were doing. However He does it, whether early in a person’s life or at the last possible moment, I realized that it must comport with perfect fairness, such that in the end, those who reject God and His gift will be given what they have essentially asked for. All of this comports with fairness and justice, though it is God who is the ultimate arbiter of these things, not me.

Many today feel at odds with Jesus for saying He is the only way to God. But his statement is not meant to be haughty or elitist. He is simply stating a truth about the way things actually are. We see as through a glass darkly now. Someday we will see with clarity. And when we do, we will be able to rest in Him, knowing that his ways are perfect and all his actions just – including our ultimate destinations.

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. zilch says:

    Al: Thomas Aquinas opined that Heaven could only be optimally blissful when contrasted to the torment of Hell. Therefore, the saved must be able to watch the writhings of the damned in Hell from their lofty perch in Heaven, presumably on their Hellevision sets. Do you think this is true?

  2. al says:

    I find your challenges to be merely hypothetical, existing only in the mind realm and not in reality. In other words, I see your conclusion but not your evidence or argument. But thanks for weighing in.

    I don’t know if the saved will be monitoring the lost. I would think that for those who embraced evil, the saved will see their torment as justice. For those who rejected God, despite their “good works,” there will probably be the recognition that they received what they ultimately wanted – separation from God. I do not believe that the saved will experience “more” joy by their knowledge of what is occurring in hell. After all, how can “more” be added to infinite?

    • zilch says:

      Al- you ask, how can more be added to infinity? Just google “cantor infinity”. The mathematician Georg Cantor showed that there is not just one infinity, but many different degrees of infinity- for instance, that there are more real numbers than counting numbers, although both are infinite sets. Pretty mindblowing, eh? Check it out.

      In the meantime- when we’re both in the afterlife, and it happens that I was right about the Hellevision sets, I’ll wave up to you. I’ll be the guy happily roasting s’mores over a toasty Hellfire.

      cheers from Dante’s first circle of Hell temperature Vienna, zilch

  3. zilch says:

    Al- if you can calmly accept that there are degrees of infinity, you’re a stronger man than I.

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