What if you reject Jesus?
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for believing in God is the notion of Hell. The theory is that a loving God would never want to subject someone to an Eternity of pain and suffering just because they slighted His offer of salvation in this lifetime. If there was a Hell, maybe you could envisage the evilest humans being assigned there. Although some people claim they wouldn’t wish Hell on their worst enemy. Even the grossest atrocities committed by brutal dictators seem much lower on the ‘scale of evil’ than God’s plan to torture forever those who reject Him. Some may begrudgingly concede that Hell is necessary for evil people but if that is what God has ordained for normal folk who merely didn’t accept Jesus in their lifetime, then the thought of worshipping such a God is simply out of the question.
When I look at the Bible verses that teach about Hell, I don’t believe they paint an image of eternal torture for the damned. In Revelation, the epitome of evil – the Devil and his demons – are thrown into the lake of fire. If the Devil and his team are going to be destroyed, then who would exist in Hell to torment humans who find themselves there? The Bible teaches that the righteous (those who believe in Jesus’ sacrifice) “will not be harmed by the second death”. This implies that what awaits those who turn down Jesus’ offer is exactly what they hedged their bets on happening when they died.
God is a loving God who gives you freedom of choice and is true to His word. If you say you want annihilation because that is what you believe awaits you, then annihilation is what you will get. This won’t happen straight away after your Earthly death, however. The Day of Judgment involves everyone who has ever lived being resurrected in order to give an account of their lives to God before their final destination/outcome is declared. Those who accept Jesus will receive Eternal Life in the New Creation. Those who reject His offer are thrown into “the lake of fire”, which I see as symbolic imagery for total annihilation; the “second death”. Our first death is painful, so I guess it follows that the second death will be too. Jesus likened that fate to “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Is that because they would be aware of the prize they have forfeited? Or is it harder to kill a resurrected form and thus much pain will be endured through the process? (See my post on Afterlife Objections).
What about those who die young or those who pass away without ever hearing about Jesus in their lifetime? I believe that they will get the opportunity to decide on the Day of Judgment when they see what is on offer. Some will jump at the chance and think they’ve literally ‘died and gone to heaven’ and some may turn their noses up at it and want nothing to do with it. God “does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. In the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Bible records that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago”. These were generations that lived before Jesus came to Earth. If Jesus wanted to give them the chance to hear the good news and accept it after their Earthly life had already ended, how much more will He do that for youngsters who never got the chance to learn about Him, or those from cultures that were never reached with the Gospel?
Hell – what decides our fate?
Is the descent into Hell solely God’s fault, or as in life, do we have freewill in death too? I propose that some will die and not want to accept Jesus’ offer when they see Him face to face. As Jesus and His teachings are ridiculed, mocked and despised in this life; I think that some people will have so hardened themselves against Him in this existence that they won’t be able to enter “like little children”. Children's faith tends to be filled with wonder and humility, able to admit they were wrong.
Maybe some atheist academics will struggle to accept the offer as they think they have knowledge all tied up this side of Eternity with nothing further to learn;
Maybe some brutal dictators will not want to spend Eternity where servant-hood and love are the fundamental building blocks of the new reality – if they can’t dominate others then they won’t be interested;
Maybe regular people who had a good life on Earth, doing exactly what they wanted to do, without having to submit to God and His ideas of morality would rather pass on this option as well. Freedom is so highly prized. Some may rather be annihilated than forever submit to the God they coped fine without on Earth.
God is seen as the unjust, vindictive, vengeful Judge. But maybe we have more of a role to play in the formation of Hell than we realise. Beware thinking that Eternity in the New Creation will not be worth it and you’d rather take your chances and go another route. If I’m wrong in my interpretation and Hell does turn out to be a physical place, then it will be totally devoid of God. Many of us have wonderful Earthly lives and we get to enjoy experiencing nature; falling in love; having children; growing businesses; building homes; and achieving our dreams. But the Bible teaches that all good things come from God. We benefit from Him in this world without even realising it. The reason “we love [is] because He first loved us”. If He withdraws His presence from us – because we’ve chosen to go it alone – well we can’t even imagine what sort of existence that would entail. We’ve never experienced a world without God this side of death; He promised “never to leave us or forsake us” in this lifetime.
But there will come a time when the decision is made, the line is drawn and some will have chosen to go it alone. Then they will finally realise that all good and perfect gifts came from “the Father of lights”. Hell will be full of people who wanted the gifts but not the Giver and now they have neither. The Devil and his demons will be destroyed – the Bible is very clear on this. So, who will be doing the eternal tormenting?
Sartre said “hell is other people”. The Good Place series one is based on this premise. In Sartre’s play ‘No Exit’, it tells of three people with polar opposite temperaments stuck in a room to annoy, irritate and frustrate each other for all Eternity. In Hell’s reality there will be no good thing to ease pain and suffering because everything good will have been withdrawn. Everything good is now only found in God’s presence, which has been removed from this new Hellish reality because that was the desire of many who wished to live without Him. God is just and fulfils their request. No longer any balm; no salve; nothing to look forward to; no hope, no joy, no peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness or self-control (i.e. the Fruits of the Spirit).
Whether Hell is painful annihilation as I would propose or it’s a real place minus God where “weeping and gnashing of teeth” will abound – neither sounds great. So, why can’t God just let everybody into the New Creation if He is all-loving and merciful? To answer that, I advise reading my four-part series on ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ plus the three objections afterwards.
I was quite reluctant to write a post on this topic as it is a doctrine that I’m embarrassed about. It seems harsh and unforgiving and not in keeping with the Grace-filled God I have personally encountered. But it is actually a very common theme throughout the Bible. Jesus gives many warnings to avoid the “wide path that leads to destruction”. If Jesus did not shy away from this matter, then I can hardly do otherwise. Many prefer to think of Jesus only as meek and mild, with lots of stories to tell and power to heal us. But if you ignore the passages on Hell and never communicate them to others, you actually have to ignore large sections of the Bible which I am not prepared to do. God is giving ample warnings and patient offers to “choose life, so you and your families can live”. What are you waiting for? Get exploring these warnings and either heed their advice or dismiss them altogether. One day you may realise that it was the most important explorative journey you ever embarked on in your current lifetime.
References  Revelation 20:10, 2 Peter 2:4, Rev 20:14, Revelation 2:11, 20:15, 21:8, Matt 10:28, Matt 25:41, 2 Thess 1:9, Matt 13:50  John 3:16-18, Daniel 12:2, Matt 25:46  Acts 24:15, John 5:29, Matt 13:24-30  Rev 20:15  Rev 21:8  Matt 13:50  ‘Afterlife Doubts: It’s Impossible!’ Post  2 Peter 3:9  1 Peter 3:19  Mark 10:15  Hab 1:13, Rev 21:3, Matt 7:21-23, Jude 1:13, Matt 13:41-42  James 1:17-18  1 John 4:19  Deut 31:8  James 1:17  ‘No Exit’ Play, Jean-Paul Sartre  The Good Place | Netflix Official Site  Galatians 5:22-23  Luke 13:28  Matt 7:13  Deut 30:19