One of the arguments people use to say that there cannot be a God is the existence of evil. They say that if an all-powerful, good God existed, He would not permit the pain and suffering we see all around us. People who say such things fail to recognize that if God is to give us freedom, He has to allow us to do what is wrong. If we have genuine choice, it is possible that we will choose things which are against God’s will. Yes, God could prevent evil, but if He did, we would no longer be free to choose. As long as some choose to do wrong, there will be suffering.
On the other end of the scale, there are some who believe in God. They believe that He is all-powerful, that He is good and that He is love. As a consequence, they say, hell cannot exist. Or, if it does exist, it cannot be eternal. God is so good and loving that He could not tolerate seeing anyone burn forever.
What these people fail to understand is that it is precisely because God is loving and good that an eternal hell must exist. God loves us so much that He will never force His will on us. If we choose to do what is evil; if we choose to turn away from Him, He will allow us to do so. However, since God is good, He cannot bear evil. And when we choose to do evil we cannot bear to be in the presence of good because it highlights our badness. When we choose to do what is wrong, the consequence is separation between us and God. We walk away from Him. If we refuse to be with God, what alternative is left but to be where God is not – that is in, hell?
C.S. Lewis writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1946, pp. 72-73.)
While God’s love and goodness makes hell inevitable, His goodness and love also compels Him to give us an alternative. If we choose to accept it, God takes the consequences of our evil and wrongdoing on Himself.
We’re all familiar with John 3:16. But what many are not so familiar with are the verses which come right after it. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:16-20 NKJ)
These verses are very clear: there’s no need for anyone to go to hell, but we can choose it. God will respect our choice. If we do wind up in hell it’s because we chose to be there. It’s because we chose to keep on doing evil rather than choosing Christ.
Each week we gather to remember what God has done for us so that we can escape the consequences of our own choice to do wrong. The bread and the juice remind us that Christ died so that we can have life.
Every time we come to the Communion table, it’s an opportunity to renew our choice: have we chosen Christ? Have we chosen eternal death, or eternal life?