A student of mine asked me a short while back, “if God has unconditional love for everyone, then how come He sends people to hell?”
A very fair question, indeed, and certainly one that can generate plenty of conversation and debate – as it did that day in class.
My response to the student and his peers came in true Socratic form, asking them in turn, “Ah, does God send people to hell?”
I was proud of myself for employing the tactic of answering a question with a question, but I was even more proud of my students for catching on and applying lessons from earlier in the semester with fine critical thinking demonstration.
You see, back in the fall, we had discussed at length one of the greatest gifts God could ever give His children – free will.
We talked extensively about how this entitles us to think, do and say anything we wish, and how we are in charge of our own lives.
Yet, we also learned how all of this comes with consequences – positive or negative, depending on what we choose to do with our free will.
Through class deliberation and examples shared, the students recognized how free will can – directly or indirectly – affect one’s reputation, self-esteem and success in life, as well as those of others. They came to realize how nothing happens without impact, either short- or long-term.
So when we discussed God’s unconditional love for His creation, we then applied free will to the notion of humanity’s welcome into God’s Kingdom in Heaven.
Does God send people to hell, or do people choose to go to hell based on their thoughts, words and actions on earth? (Luke 9:26)
Such questions as these can certainly compel us to examine our own living, helping us better identify if we are worthy of salvation or perdition.
As our conversation continued, I aimed to illustrate to my students a point Jesus once made when describing Heaven, reminding everyone there is a place in His Father’s house already prepared for each of us. (John 14:2)
Imagine a hotel nearby – let’s call it Heavenly Inn. This hotel has an infinite number of stories and rooms, and there is always vacancy.
Next to it is another place of lodging – we’ll call it Motel 666. This building, too, has rooms always available and no one is ever turned away.
Now, Heavenly Inn’s concierge desk is welcoming and reassuring that one’s room is ready and in true likeness to a penthouse suite. Housekeeping is impeccable, room service is divine, and exercise equipment and décor are provided with state-of-the-art quality.
Oh, and the price for a room is extremely reasonable and more than competitive with marketplace rivals.
All told, one would be foolish not to stay in such a hotel.
In fact, management stands by its hotel’s reputation with both humility and confidence so much so that it never gives away a room to another tenant, should anyone be so insistent as to refuse their hospitality.
For instance, suppose I arrive at the front desk and, instead of checking in, I ask for a refund on my reservation. My assigned room will not be turned over to the next person in line, for that individual has a different, specific room already awaiting them.
Each person has the freedom to accept or reject the invitation of Heavenly Inn and all of its perfect amenities provided. Should anyone willingly elect to turn down the hotel and stay elsewhere (Motel 666, for example), their assigned room will be left vacant forever, since there remains an endless abundance of other rooms immaculate in quality and preparation.
In other words, as freely as Heaven is offered to us, we are equally free to decline it. Doing so, however, will come at a cost, as Jesus reminds us in the Parable of the Great Dinner. (Luke 14:15-24)
You see, come Judgment Day, God’s Kingdom in Heaven will be filled. Knowing God wants to include us and extends an open, unconditional offer with a standing invitation, the question remains – will we be with Him in Paradise?
I suppose that all depends on us and how we choose to live our lives here on earth, repenting and seeing Jesus in the face of everyone, or perishing through our own choosing.
Looking at the options for eternal accommodations, I know I want to confirm my reservation at the Heavenly Inn.
I just hope and pray I live my free will virtuously on earth so that my credit card payment is accepted and I’m blessed to meet the hotel’s management and CEO.