As someone who has come to accept the Biblical view of Universal Reconciliation, I need to respond to a common question I get from people which is: “How can bad people go to Heaven?”
It’s not an easy question to answer, but there are 2 assumptions we need to correct off the bat: First, that there will be any “bad people” in Heaven. That’s not to say that those “bad people” won’t eventually enter into the eternal loving presence of God. What I mean is, those people won’t be “bad people”, they’ll be transformed, renewed, and restored to their original innocence having gone through the process of “passing through the fire” [which is a metaphor, not actual flame].
In other words, we won’t be who we became over time on earth. We will be who we were when we were innocent, blameless and vulnerable; like the children we were before anyone twisted us into something capable of doing “bad” things.
What we read in the New Testament is that God is committed to restoring His children. He says he has come to “make all things new” and that includes [of course], us.
We also read that “everyone will be salted with fire,” as Jesus tells us in Mark 9:49, and that all those who pass through the fire “will be saved” as Paul explains in 1 Cor. 3:15.
This doctrine also rests on how the author of Hebrews describes the purpose of God’s discipline for us: It’s never to destroy us, nor is it ever to torture us [because God is a Good Father], but it always serves to but God disciplines us for our good, “in order that we may share in His holiness” [Heb. 12:10] and the result is that “it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” [Heb. 12:11]
So, those “bad people” who die will indeed face the judgement. They will absolutely “pass through the fire” – and so will you – but the purpose of that fire; the intention of that judgment is simply this: “that we may all share in His holiness.”
The Apostle explains it this way:
“So, then, just as by one transgression unto condemnation for all human beings, so also by one act of righteousness unto rectification of life for all human beings; For just as by the heedlessness of the one man [Adam] the many were rendered sinners, so also by the obedience of the one [Jesus] the many will be rendered righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)
As New Testament Scholar David Bentley Hart says in his commentary regarding this verse:
“From the context, one can tell what [Paul] is saying: that just as one transgression (or the transgression of one man) brought condemnation to all human beings, so by one rectifying act (or the rectifying act of one man) all human beings receive a rectification of life (meaning either a rectification of their lives, or a rectification imparted by the life of the risen Christ)…the strict proportionality of the formulation, however, is quite clear, here and in the surrounding verses: just as the first sin brought condemnation and death to absolutely everyone, so Christ’s act of righteousness brings righteousness and life to absolutely everyone. Whether intentional or not, the plain meaning of the verse is that of universal condemnation annulled by universal salvation.” [The New Testament: A Translation, David Bentley Hart, pg. 297-298]
God’s fire is what cleanses us and purifies us.
Are any without the Lord’s discipline? Not according to Hebrews 12:8 which says that “we have all become partakers” of God’s discipline.
God, as revealed by Jesus, is our loving “Abba” who wants nothing more than to receive us in his open arms and prepare a feast for us to share.
He has not counted our sins against us. [See 2 Cor. 5:19]
He has reconciled all things to Himself. [2 Cor. 5:18]
He “makes all things new” again, and that includes every single one of us. [See Rev. 21:5]
He calls to those outside the gates of Heaven and invites them to come inside and drink freely from the living waters. [Rev. 22:17]
Those gates “will never be shut” night or day [See Rev 21:25]. His invitation is wide open, for as long as it takes, until every single person who thirsts can no longer resist the free waters of life that flow from His throne.
Truly, one day, “every knee will bow, and every tongue will gladly confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [Phil. 2:10-11]
Now, sometimes people hear this and say that it just doesn’t sound right to them because “God needs to punish evil”, but this is no more than our human desire for revenge [which we soften into the word “justice”].
For example, when I hear someone say this I usually respond with, “Oh, so you’re saying you really hope that after you die God comes after you and punishes you for all of your sins?”
They blink at me. “No, my sins are covered under the blood of Christ. I mean those other people who did really bad things. They’re the ones who should suffer.”
And right there we see behind the curtain. We want mercy and total forgiveness for our sins, but we want punishment and fire for the sins of others. We’re totally comfortable with our sins being covered by the blood of the Lamb, but we’re not comfortable if everyone else’s sins are too.
Simply put, when we ask “how can bad people be in heaven?” we conveniently leave ourselves out of the “bad people” group. As if we’ve been qualified to enter God’s presence but everyone else needs to show some I.D. first.
That’s one of the things that God will purge out of us when it’s our turn to “pass through the fire.” We’ll sincerely desire that everyone receives the same amazing grace and complete forgiveness that we have enjoyed. That may not be who we are now, but it will be who we are once we are in the presence of Christ made new from the inside-out.
The second assumption we need to correct is that anyone will “go to heaven” because that implies that our eventual destination after we die is some wispy place in the mystical clouds where angels strum harps and billowy clouds surround us.
That’s not how the Bible describes our eventual destination. What it says is that we will all live in the new earth and that the New Jerusalem will come from heaven to the earth. This is where we will live in the presence of Christ forever.
So, to put it more accurately: Only “good people” will make it to paradise [if you want to call it that], but we shall all be changed and transformed into “good people” by the consuming, purifying “fire” of God’s Holy love and mercy.
For more on this, please read my book “Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” which is available on Kindle and in Print and on Audible/Audiobook here>
Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of several best-selling books, including “Jesus Unexpected: Ending The End Times To Become The Second Coming” which is available now on Amazon.