Most people think of themselves as good people. Thinking themselves “good,” they would object to the notion of hell. After all, why would a good God send people to hell? More interestingly, why would a good God send people to hell? Hell is a bad place. Why would God send people to such a horrific place? But are there really such things as good people? After all, when Jesus was commended for being good, he replied by saying,
“‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” (Mark 10:18)
Now, if Jesus, arguable the one who lived the most morally upright life would question this assumption that people generally throw around when they see at least some moral faculty, should the rest of us be so cavalier as to call ourselves “good” without thinking about what that actually means?
Therefore, what people actually think of themselves is really not of any significance. Since God alone keeps the keys of heaven and hell, what’s important is to understand what God thinks of each of us. If the overall biblical narrative is correct, and there are compelling reasons to think it is, then the natural man has rebelled against God. The Bible tells us that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God became a man through Jesus of Nazareth, lived the perfect life, died for us and paid for all of our sins to reconcile us to Himself. Our typical inclinations to call ourselves “good” because we may make donations to the less fortunate and the needy, spend time with those in pain or sorrow, or any of the other morally worthy pursuits, is not as relevant as we may think if we’ve actually not reconciled our broken relationship with God.
As it turns out what God wants is our heart, our love, our very being. He wants a relationship with us. But God has given us freedom of the will to do as we please and He won’t forcibly pull us into His presence against our will. What God desires is for us to make a personal decision to come to Him on our own and to love Him. As C.S. Lewis aptly put it,
“Either we say to God 'Thy will be done' or in the end He says to us, 'Thy will be done.'” [1. Lewis, C. S., The Great Divorce (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) 75.]
He allows us to live according to ours, apart from His love and goodness. A heaven for those who do not like God and do not want Him would be a far worse hell than the real hell. Imagine a person who does not like opera being forced to sit in the front row of an opera house, where he is forced to watch La Bohème indefinitely.
So we now find ourselves in this predicament. We’ve been alienating ourselves from God since birth. We’ve been running away from Him all our lives. And yet, because He still loves us like a father who only wants what’s best for His children, He continually seeks to reconcile our relationship with Him. His offer is always on the table. Accept it, and everything changes! His love is immensely greater than we can possibly comprehend. He died for us while we were still not on speaking terms.
If we have not already reconciled with God, the great rebellion we’ve been living since birth is still in effect. And by that rebellion alone, we are continually opting for separation from God - one way to describe hell. Our assumptions thus crumble. In God’s eyes we are not “good.” We are fallen. It’s also incorrect to say that God is determined to send people to hell or that He actually sends people to hell against our will. The more accurate picture shows us that it is us who have walked away and opted for hell. We have chosen hell ourselves. God is actually trying to accomplish the opposite - offering the free gift of salvation to keep people from going to hell; this is why He continually tries to persuade people with His love. People go to hell because, without necessarily being cognizant of it, that’s what they have chosen.
So, why would a good God send people to hell? He doesn’t! We send ourselves to hell! What do you think? Can you see the parallels between God’s love and a father’s love? Can a father’s love for his children ever come close to God’s love for His children? Can you see how people’s choice of rejecting God can lead them to unknowingly walk their way to hell?