Can the concept of a Loving God & Hell coexist?
Before any discussion of hell begins, I want to establish first and foremost I believe God is Love. Goodness, Justice, and Mercy are bound up in the previous statement. I also humbly accept that I see in a mirror dimly. I do know my personal convictions about God have changed how I live this side of death, but I’m ok if my hot take on heaven & hell is completely wrong. There’s no way to know. As has often been quipped, ”The dead tell no tales.” That being said, I know the way heaven/hell has been taught and understood by many of my peers is often a stumbling block to their ability to trust God’s Love, so I think it’s a beneficial conversation to have.
You want a small glimpse of what heaven and hell might look like? You can glimpse them here on earth.
Hell is a complete absence of God’s Presence. Hell is a Loving God not forcing us to worship Him if we don’t want. Hell is simply the complete removal, the complete absence, of God and all that is Good. We catch glimpses of hell through the evil acts of humanity committed against one another in disobedience to God’s call to love.
Heaven is that place for which we long. We catch glimpses of it—in the field of wildflowers or the hug of a loved one—but we find ourselves wondering, “Is this as good as it gets?” The answer is No. We were created for something better, and something deep inside us longs for it.
We were created to belong in God’s presence, but God does not tolerate the presence of evil in Heaven, so God, through Jesus, brought his presence to Earth. He loves us enough that he chose to live among us. He didn’t respond to the ills of our world in typical selfish human ways. He chose love. He associated with the lowly and undesirables of society. While Jesus was on earth:
the blind received sight, the lame walked, those who had leprosy were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the good news was proclaimed to the poorMatthew 11:5
Many were attracted to Jesus, but many others hated the light of his goodness that revealed the ugliness of their selfishness. Jesus respected the dignity of choice, so he chose the hard path of love over the easy path of power. His love led to rejection and betrayal. He was beaten, humiliated, sexually shamed, and killed on a cross. He lived selflessly and took the sins of the world upon himself at the cross so that we could be with him in heaven if we want. If you’re attracted to Jesus (God in Flesh), you’re going to enjoy Heaven.
To be in Heaven with a God you Hate would be Hell. I think there’s going to be a lot of surprises on who’s “in” and who’s “out” on Judgment Day.
In love, God gives us the dignity of consent. We have to humble ourselves to recognize our need for and accept the gift of a humble Savior. If we repent of our selfish ways and accept the good news of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, he gifts us with his Holy Spirit. As we choose to listen to the Spirit and follow Jesus while we’re living here on earth, we grow less selfish and begin to be able to love God and love our neighbor as God loves us, and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
There’s so much I don’t understand, but I don’t see how a loving God could force people to be in his presence that don’t want to be there. Ultimately, it’s God’s choice, but I do think it’s possible to believe in a good, loving God and the existence of hell. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes:
Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself. -Madeleine L’Engle
I discovered the above quote in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. I read it over 20 years ago, so I don’t know how it would hold up if I read it today, but I know this book strongly influenced my views on heaven/hell.
Title Image: The Last Judgment by Michelangelo