Even as I typed out the title of this article, I felt a certain uneasiness in my stomach about it. Hell is perhaps the most controversial doctrine within Christianity. There have been hundreds of books written about it—either refuting the traditional idea of hell, or reaffirming it. The Bible doesn’t go into too many details about hell, but it certainly acknowledges that it exists. In this post, I’m going to make a controversial argument—I’m going to argue that hell is fair, and even preferable to some self-proclaimed Christians. This post is not meant to flaunt some personal self-righteousness. Honestly, I wrestle with why God would want to save someone like me on a regular basis. This post is about hell actually being a preference for some who claim to be Christians—most of which (if not all) are completely unaware that this is their hearts desire. I’m aware that this sounds strange, if not impossible. However, give me a couple of paragraphs to unpack what I mean when I say that many self-proclaimed Christians would prefer hell over heaven.
There is a reason why Jesus says that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Many Christians will look at this and think, “This verse is talking about people who haven’t served in the church or haven’t done ‘Christian-like’ things.” But Jesus is not referring to this at all. Because in the next verse Jesus says that many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” Here he is talking about doing Christian-like works, yet he says that people will be rejected from the Kingdom of God despite having done these things. His point is that many people will consider themselves Christians, and do Christian-like things in God’s name, but will still be rejected by God. How can this be?
First, we need a proper understanding of what heaven and hell actually are. Heaven is a place where those who desire to be in God’s presence for the rest of eternity will be rewarded with God. Hell is a place where those who do not want to be in God’s presence for all of eternity will be awarded with an eternity without God.
Many people consider themselves Christians, but are not at all interested in God. They are attracted to Christianity because they agree with its moral doctrines, or because it provides a social outlet for them. There could be thousands of reasons why someone might find Christianity attractive, but one thing is for sure—they aren’t interested in God himself. They may be interested in what God can give them, and they’ll especially be interested in heaven—but what they don’t realize is that the reward of heaven is God. And to them, an eternity with God is actually hell.
CS Lewis made the observation that heaven is a place where a person is free to be in the everlasting presence of God—a joyous and fulfilling experience that grows and spirals out for all eternity. But not all people would want this—many self-proclaimed Christians included. That is where hell steps in. Hell is a place where human selfishness is free to spiral out for all eternity. And we see practically how human selfishness creates hell for people on earth. There will be many people who called themselves Christians, pastors, and missionaries who will stand before God, and he will say to them, “I never knew you.” How is this fair? It’s actually very simple: In the end, everyone gets what they want. Those who want God, get God. Those who don’t want God won’t get God. The truth is that many people, who think they want God, actually want something else. They simply want God because they want a spouse. Or they want God because they want money. Or they want God because they want to feel physically secure. But they don’t want God for who God is. Which is why when love, or money, or security is removed from them, they throw God away. Tragedy has a way of unveiling the desires of a person’s heart. And even some of those who claim to be doing the work of God often use him for power, authority, money or respect. I’m reminded of a scene from The Three Musketeers where the Cardinal, played by Tim Curry, attempts to seduce the queen in her room. Realizing this, the queen reminds the Cardinal that his “devotion [to his religion] is what brings him closer to God.” “Yes,” says the Cardinal “But it is not God whom I wish to be close.” Yes, even religious leaders are capable of using God to get what they want. Believe it or not, there will even be people who will side with Christianity just to escape hell, and will end up there. Why? Because they have no interest in a relationship with God. They simply want what he gives.
Atheist Christopher Hitchens died at the end of 2011 from esophageal cancer. Even though I disagreed with Hitchens on his views about Christianity (to name just one of many things), when I heard about his death, I had my own period of mourning for him. Even if we had no common ground, I would have enjoyed picking his brain over coffee on issues of the past and present. In regard to the subject of this post, I have to remember that Hitchens entered into eternity receiving exactly what he wanted. He once stated in an interview that he found the idea of heaven undesirable—a sort of party that no one could ever leave. Who would want that? He was somewhat right. Heaven is a celebration—a wedding party where at last, the bride (the church) is united with the groom (God). But many people, including those who label themselves as Christians, will not want this. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins was controversial because Bell seemed to be siding with the belief that hell is a place of purification where all of its inhabitants will eventually choose Christ and be freed from their prison. Bell claimed that he had a hard time with the idea of a God who would send people to hell for all of eternity. What Bell has forgotten, is that there are many people who would prefer hell for all of eternity—many of which do not realize it. So what is really worse? A God who allows people to choose their own way, or a God that forces people to worship him for all of eternity? For some—even some self-proclaimed Christians—that is hell. They will prefer an eternity left to their own devices; a prison of the self. In which case, God will say, “Thy will be done.”