As an atheist, I have come across atheists with family members who think they are going to hell. I’ve also known Christians who are afraid to question their faith for fear that doing so would make them a hellbound ex-Christian, as well as (to a lesser extent) atheists whose previous fears of going to hell still haunt them on occasion.
Then, of course, there are Christians who are secretly not sure they are going to heaven or hell when they die. I know from 28 years in the church that it keeps some Christians up at night.
However…although I don’t believe in God, the concept that a God of love would let anyone go to hell boggles my imagination, and is more unbelievable in some cases than God himself. I don’t think God exists, but if God did exist, it seems likely to me that he would have worked so that everyone went to heaven.
Let me give three reasons why.
1. If belief is what saves us, why is belief before we die the only belief that counts?
Most Christians will tell you that belief is not expected to take place in a vacuum – that there is evidence undergirding belief. Act 17:11 says that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonicans, because they actually researched scriptures to see if Christianity was true – implying that it is more noble to use reason when investigating Christianity than to simply accept it wholesale. I Peter 3:15-16 commands Christians to give a reason for the hope they have in Christ. Belief, many Christians argue, is faith that is based on some evidence.
It seems somewhat arbitrary for God to choose the moment we die as the time we stop seeing evidence. Some people have mountains of evidence for God during their lifetime. Some people have none. And the Bible doesn’t really say that you have to believe before you die to be saved in any scripture I know of – we kinda made that up.
What the Bible does say in Isaiah 45:23 and repeats in Romans 14:11 is that every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Why? Because then we’ll be convinced through overwhelming proof.
So if that’s going to happen for everyone, and if John 3:16 says that everyone who believes in Christ will not perish, but have everlasting life…then might not everyone be saved?
2. What if “all” really means “all”?
There are several “all” scriptures in the Bible. I Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Colossians 1:19-20 says, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Romans 5:18 says, “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”
Now, most Christian evangelicals will counter that “all” actually means those who believe in Christ while they are living here on earth. But what if “all” actually, really, and truly means “all”?
Is it really so far-fetched to think that a God of love would save ALL people through Christ? Is it really outlandish that he wouldn’t just say “game over” at the arbitrary moment of their death, before they see evidence that will convince them to bow and proclaim Christ as Lord?
Or does it simply make more sense?
3. If nonbelief is a sin, why can’t God forgive that, too?
Christians often say that we CHOOSE to reject God’s gift of salvation, and that when we die we would prefer to be in hell than in heaven. I don’t see how that makes sense; in Luke 16: 19-31, for example, the guy in hell was anxious for just a taste of heaven. It seems obvious to me that I would NOT prefer to be in a lake of burning sulfur or whatever unpleasant eternity your individual Christian wants to paint.
Then, there is the fact that Christians tend to “sin.” I’m sure that they believe somewhat – but sin, to me, is a sign of some doubt. If you really thought that a white lie would land you in prison for life, you would tell lies a lot less…so if Christians thought that white lies are deserving of hellfire, none of them would ever tell a white lie. And yet, in spite of this obvious bit of doubt inherent in their sin…they believe they are forgiven.
On some level, Christians occasionally prefer to sin than to actually do what God would have them do. Paul talks about this in Romans 7:14-25.
Where is the line of doubt, where doubt becomes an unforgiveable sin? Or…isn’t it true that God died for ALL sins, no matter how extreme they are? If he can forgive doubt, why can’t he forgive disbelief? What makes it so much worse than any other sins? Especially if it’s temporary, and eventually “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”? Honestly…does it make any sense that if God would forgive the sins of murder, rape, child molestation, and so on, that he wouldn’t forgive the sin of disbelief, as well?
Or does it make more sense that this God of love would be forgiving of ALL sin?
If you’re in one of the categories I discussed at the beginning of this blog post, hopefully this post gives you some peace of mind. Hell doesn’t exist, but even if did and the Bible were accurate (which it isn’t)…even in the Bible, there’s plenty of evidence that none of us would be going there anyway.
Questions? Challenges? Please write them in the comments below.