Evangelical preacher Rob Bell has created quite a stir by suggesting in his recent book that there is no hell, because God loves us so much. But this is exactly backwards: There is a hell because God loves us so much. Nobody goes to hell except those who irrevocably prefer something else to God — and He, in His infinite love, allows them their choice.
All goodness comes from God, and since every created thing exists as a signpost of its Creator, a person who prefers something else to God will ultimately find no good in that thing, because he has excluded from his enjoyment of it the only thing that made it good to begin with. Once the scent of God has been eliminated, the enjoyment of the created thing itself becomes a bore. This is why a person who gets pleasure solely from sex or drink or drugs always has to “up the dose”: The thrill eventually fails to satisfy.
Those in hell are those who continue to prefer something other than God over God. They might claim that they sought, and perhaps even received, their hearts’ desires — and so to hell with the consequences. They might say that at least they were true to themselves (Sinatra’s “My Way” will be a popular tune on hell’s jukeboxes, if there are any) . . . and at least they weren’t like those ‘hypocritical ignoramuses who go to church.’ But whatever the reason, the price of surrendering to God — of relinquishing what they thought they wanted for something else — would, for them, be a bitter price. Too bitter: They will not pay it.
And so what if a person never repents? Never gives up preferring something else to God? If we are speaking of those who have died, then they have died to time. Time is a created thing, and they are now outside it; there is no “later” in which they might still change their minds. They have seen what God is about, and they hate it.
So they will, simply and seriously, turn and walk away from God — and in His great love for them, God will let them go. In some sense, Hell is the refuge from Himself that God provides those who reject His love. Think of that: What human lover — who loved deeply but whose love was scorned — would, out of respect for his beloved’s choice, allow her a place away from him?
God created beings who are free to love — but that also means they are free not to love, or to love the wrong thing, or to love the wrong way. Choice is what makes love possible, so God will not take that away. He did not create automatons.
Some object that no one would knowingly prefer self-destruction to eternal Joy, no matter how difficult they find the process of submitting to that Joy. But experience tells us otherwise. We know many people who simply will not do the obvious thing — the healthy and sane thing — which they and everyone around them know they ought to do. The addict will not give up the drug; the woman will not give up her abusive lover; the layabout will not give up his malingering; the wounded heart will not give up its grudge.
This could be us. We must look to the state of our own souls to find out who, through our daily choices and attitudes, we are making ourselves to be. We are created in the image of God, after all, and like Him we are each little creators. By our free will, we make ourselves — he works within us, but the decisions are still ours. It may be that after a lifetime of unwise choices, we will come to prefer something over God. If so, we could not tolerate heaven: It is full of Him.
Bell is right that God’s love is full of generosity, but wrong in the conclusion he draws from it. God loves us so much, that when this life is over, we will get what we want, even if it doesn’t include Him.