Growing up, I spent many years trying to save my mother from the nature of herself, trying to rescue my father, trying to save my sister from the consequences of her own actions, so I am a bit of a rescuer. God has done beautiful work there however, and actually rescued me from the nature of my own self. I now know very well that I can’t save anyone, that only God can, that people are somewhat responsible for their own lives and what they make of them.
There is still sorrow there however, and grief. One of my least favorite things to do is to watch people make a mess of their lives. All our lives are messy, but I mean those who get all tangled up in addiction, depression, hoarding, violence, despair, homelessness, cults ….false teachings. That is just the reality of our earthly lives, I haven’t even got to the people who refuse to avail themselves of salvation and an intimate relationship with their Creator.
Can people in the midst of those tragedies have salvation? You betcha! There are also some who appear to be righteous Christians who do not. It’s not our own righteousness or our own circumstances or outward appearances that save us.
In the course of internet discussions with atheists, a common theme is, “how can you worship a God that would send people to hell?” Sadly, even within some believers there is this bit of false teaching that has just fixed all the uncomfortable feelings by suggesting that there are many paths to the Father and that everything will just come out in the wash, that none shall perish.
I empathize with the discomfort there, with the sense of unfairness, with the survivor’s guilt, with the desire to believe that we shall all hold hands, sing kumbaya, and ascend into the heavens together. Naturally there are no bad people in this utopian vision, only good people who may have done bad things but they are sorry now, so everything is happy again.
I like that vision very much, but is it truth? No. I’ve never seen any evidence of that playing out in the earthly world, so I don’ t see it playing out in the spiritual either. Like it or not, the world can be a harsh place, people suffer greatly for the consequences of their own actions, for the actions of others, and from the brokeness of the world. Than there are still others who have enjoyed every advantage, but given back nothing, and people who can never surrender their own pride and thirst for power.
My own desire is that none shall perish even in the earthly world. My own wish is well stated in 3 John 1:2, Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. It is only a wish however, it speaks to the nature of God’s love, to His intent and desire for us all…..but just the same, some probably shall perish.
That is a harsh truth, that is a tough bit of meat to swallow. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
God’s love for us is so profound, so steadfast, we have such great worth and value to Him, that He gave His own life for us, so that none shall have to perish.
So, how can you worship a God that would send people to hell? I’ve been down that rabbit hole a few times myself, so I empathize with the reason behind such questions, and with the feelings, too. It is a paradox and sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. In a spiritual context, God never intended hell for us, or death or even suffering. We brought that upon ourselves, we continue to bring that upon ourselves. Hell was made for the angels, for those powerful beings that would rebel against God’s authority. However, we are also powerful beings that can rebel against God’s authority, that can choose to follow those dark angels.
It’s one thing to stumble down the wrong path, blind and confused, but there are also people who deliberately make the wrong choice at every opportunity. Sometimes I can actually see God in hot pursuit, knocking on that door, calling to them to wake up, handing them opportunity after opportunity. I cannot see into people’s hearts, I do not know how the story shall end, but sometimes I do see God calling out to them, and I see testing too. He is steadfast and persistent too, as in here are 70 tests….and here are 70 more. People are allowed to fail, a lot, and there is great mercy there.
In the modern Western world, we have pretty much rejected the notion of personal responsibility, of freewill. People are perceived as victims of their childhoods, victims of their addictions, victims of their neighborhoods, victims of mental illnesses, victims of circumstances. There is a powerful rallying cry today that suggests it is not our fault, we are not to blame for anything, that we just don’t know better, that all sin has a logical and reasonable explanation. We can just educate it away, or throw money at it, whitewash all those tombs that hide the dead men’s bones.
There are many reasons why it is important to confront our own feelings around the fact that some shall probably perish. For one, it helps us to discern how we invest our time and resources. It helps us learn how to protect ourselves spiritually and emotionally. Some people are just parasites, what I call emotional vampires. They will drain you and than go seeking sustenance elsewhere.
More importantly however, confronting this truth speaks to our own ability to practice reverence towards God, to surrender fully to the idea that He is worthy of our trust, that God knows the hearts of men better than we do. Trust is the ultimate form of worship, it is a vote of confidence, it is about respecting the fact that the error is never going to be on God’s end. When our personal feelings about things rear up, that can be an opportunity to go exploring, to examine what it is within us that has triggered our fear, our wavering, our lack of trust.
Do we pray for the tares, for the wolves in sheeps clothing, for the dark angels themselves? Well, you can never really go wrong with prayer, but a far more fascinating and worthwhile treasure hunt begins by asking God why one’s own soul cries out against such things. Why does it hurt so much, what is it within us that cannot swallow the truth?
I think the apostle Paul landed in this same place once when he said, “….that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren..”
These hunts, these rabbit holes of faith, can be painful journeys sometimes, but they deliver such valuable treasure. Lurking in my own heart were once feelings of unworthiness, an inability to embrace the fact that those who have been redeemed have been claimed because they have something within them worthy of redeeming. Jesus Christ saw something in each of His disciples that He valued, surrendered pride perhaps, humility, a fighting spirit, a willing heart, or perhaps in Paul’s case, eventually a contrite one.
Redemption is not always just about salvation, but sometimes about being granted the opportunity to right some of the wrongs we may have done. Peter, do you love me? Asked 3 times in perfect measure. Paul, will you now suffer for my sake? God is a God of reconciliation and healing, of redemption and salvation, a God who seals us unto Him, who does not revoke our salvation on a whim or based on our own failures, but rather a God who sees the diamonds in the rough, who hands us beauty for ashes, who molds us like the Great Potter.
Lurking too, within my own heart was pride, the soft and gentle kind, the kind rooted in compassion and love, but pride none the less, the kind that believed I should be able to will it into existence, that I should have power where even God Himself chooses not to. What a treasure it was, what a great blessing, to simply lay that bag of false pride down at the foot of the cross and trade it in for Trust.