This earnest question comes up again and again. Theologians and philosophers have debated it longer than history can record.
How can a loving God refuse to welcome anyone into Heaven?
Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. I used to ask this question a lot. Then, rather suddenly, a thought stopped me cold.
Bear with me, while I unpack this.
God is love. The Bible says so in hundreds of ways. (See 1 John 4:8 and 4:16.) He created man in His own image for relationship. (See Genesis 1:27.)
God doesn’t want anyone to miss out on Heaven. (See 2 Peter 3:9.) Yep, that’s because He loves us. And He wants nothing more than for us to love Him back.
But love can’t be forced. It’s gotta be a choice, or it’s not really love.
Imagine a lover that sets his sight on the object of his affection. He captures his beloved and drags her into his home to live with him forever. Is that love? (It sounds sort of scary.)
What if God did that?
Would a truly loving God snatch us against our will and hold us as prisoners, even in such a magnificent spot as Heaven is sure to be? If God really loves us, how could He insist that we spend eternity with Him, if we don’t want to?
God’s invitation has already been issued.
First, let's be real. Heaven is God’s. The whole thing is totally up to Him, no matter how we try to wrangle the possibilities.
Yet, in His great love, God offers Heaven to all who earnestly desire to recognize our fallenness, accept His immeasurable gift of extravagant grace (bought by the Lord’s own sacrifice), and look forward to everlasting life in His presence.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16, NIV)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10, NIV)
What about hell?
Despite its many depictions in art, books, movies, and other media, we don’t actually know a lot about what hell is like. (Maybe we don’t need to.) What is hell, but the total absence of God and all that is beautiful and good and loving and pure and right?
We don’t have a clear image of Heaven yet, either. Still, no matter how we try to paint pictures of Paradise, its most important feature is the glorious presence of the Ancient of Days. Nothing else matters.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19, NIV)
It seems the choice is pretty straightforward. Each person must decide: Do I want to spend eternity with God or without Him? Do I want to love Him and be loved by Him or go it alone, wherever that leads?
Adapted from public domain artwork
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