I have attempted to explore the issue of God’s judgment in three previous articles, not from the viewpoint of a theologian, but from my own limited perspective. Much of what I write is simply exploring the boundaries of issues. I may or may not have it right, but I am striving for understanding and greater clarity.
The title of the series is loaded. “Good” can be a relative term. When it comes to ultimate things, there is only one standard of goodness, and that standard is God. We do not measure up; therefore the question, itself, is flawed. We need to understand the problem so that we can begin to understand the solution.
The typical objections and issues people have with the notion of judgment and hell comes from not understanding the nature of God and nature of people.
God is good and God is love and God can be trusted. Challenges to God’s judgment misapprehend who He is. Everything flows from that.
Many people think that God should give people many chances, and He certainly does, but (contrary to some opinion) we can only count on the chances we have in this life (in the context of time, space and matter). (“[I]t is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment….” (Heb. 9:27)
We might be tempted to think this is not fair. But, as I explored in the previous posts, we do not “set the rules”; reality is what we are given by God, not what we desire to be true. Even from our finite, human perspective, however, what God has provided us is hardly unfair.
What is the point of this life we are given, if we get another life? If one life (one chance) is not enough, how many chances are enough? Where do we draw line? Someone would, inevitably say, regardless of how many lives (chances) we get, that not having another one is unfair.
The bottom line is that multiple chances, multiple lives, would not guaranty that we would make any different choices. There must be some certainty, some finality, and God determined that we get one shot – one life. Within that life, for most of us, we have many, many chances to “get right with God”.
Further, God is good. In fact, He is love. (1 John 4:8) Therefore, we can trust Him. God will not allow people to go to hell if there is a chance they will change their minds. God is patient, not wishing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
God is also all-knowing. He knows our thoughts. (Psalm 139:2) He knows our words before they are even on our tongues. (Psalm 139:4) He knows when and whether people will choose Him. Thus, while some live long lives and others’ lives are “cut short”, God knows exactly how long someone needs to choose or reject Him, if indeed we really have a choice.
Being sinful as we are and, therefore, incapable of changing ourselves, we are utterly dependent on God to accomplish what He plans for us. Our “choice” may only be to allow God to draw us to Himself; our choice may only be to submit our resistant selves to Him and allow Him to have His way with us.
The choice we make in this life, such as it is, is final and irreversible. Some say “the doors to hell are locked in the inside”: if the door is opened to let people out who have rejected God, they would not come out because the only other option is to be with God, and they have rejected that option. If someone does not want God during this temporal life, the reasoning goes, that person will not want God in eternity. God does not lock anyone into hell; people lock themselves in.
This view may give us entirely too much credit and too much “choice” in the matter. Sinful and unregenerate as we are, we may be incapable of even choosing God. He chooses us; yet there is likely some aspect in which we either submit and stop resisting or embrace the resistance. The point is, however, that God desires none to perish – none to end up in hell; we either submit to His desire or we do not.
CS Lewis has said this: “if a million chances are likely to do good, they would be given. Finality must come at some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.” (the Problem of Pain, 112) He also says there are only two kinds of people in the world: “Those who say to God, thy will be done; and those of whom God says thy will be done.”
JI Packer says, “Hell is God’s gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually choose, whether to be with God forever, worshiping Him, or without God forever, worshiping themselves.” (JI Packer, Concise Theology, 262-63)
What we see as being not fair is simply an extension of our willful resistance to God. God is eminently fair; He is good, and He is just. It is not unfair that He is our reality and has left it to us, in some way, to align ourselves with Him or against Him.