What If God Didn’t Send People To Hell?
God is often accused of being unmerciful for torturing people for all eternity who really were not bad people; they just didn’t want to be His servants. They simply wanted to live their lives as best as they could and (hopefully) get along with the people they meet along the way. What’s wrong with that?
To be honest, this does seem a little harsh. God sounds like an old-school tyrant who sits on a big throne and squashes anyone who refuses to bow to Him. After all, these people don’t want to hurt anyone. They just want to live and let live.
However, rather than trying to defend the validity of God’s punishment, I want to ask a completely different question.
What if God gave everyone exactly what they wanted?
Those who wanted to do the whole “eternity with God” thing certainly could. Probably nothing would change there. But, what about people who just wanted to go their own way with no interference from God? Suppose God let that happen. What would that look like?
On the surface, this sounds really simple, but because of how humans were made, it really isn’t.
Humans were made to reflect God.
On Christianity, living as the image of God is what it means to be human. We were created to reflect God, and it is the image that is what makes us different from animals.
We were originally created perfect (imagine everyone free from character flaws). However, humans chose to do things their own way and took a step down. Currently, we’re somewhere between the perfect people we could be and something lower (sub-human, like an animal).
The only way to move back up the ladder is to be renewed into the image of the one who created us, Christ. Because of this, the question “Why can’t God just leave the people who don’t want Him alone and let them do whatever they want?” doesn’t work very well. Let me explain.
Humanity is trying to cut off the branch it is sitting on.
If we were made whole and complete by God, then fell from that into something less than fully human, and it is only through Christ that we can become human again, then we are making a huge mistake by asking to be left alone. We are telling the only being capable of returning us to our true humanity not to make us fully human.
Instead, we want to rid ourselves of the image of God, because we want to be on our own (apart from God). However, we can only have the image of God by being connected with God (through Christ).
If we are only partially human now (full humanity being without faults, imperfections, and shortcomings) but are still above the animals, what would happen if we lost that last bit of humanity? We would become nothing more than animals with big brains. We would be really smart brutes.
If God left us alone as big-brained animals (without our humanity), what do you think would happen? Would it not be possible that we caused our own hell? Think of the kinds of things that have happened in desperate situations when ordinary well-mannered people are focused only on survival. When people lose their “humanity,” what happens?
God does actually give us what we want, even if He knows we won’t like it.
To go our own way is to lose our connection to God through Christ and throw away our only hope of regaining the part of our humanity that we once lost. Even worse, to become completely separate from God means that even what humanity we do have now will also be taken away (remember, we didn’t want it, because it meant connection with God).
Whether God actively punishes humans on top of this is a separate question. The point that I want to make is that our desire to live apart from God will not give us what we want. To be fully human is to live in God’s image. To separate oneself from God is to become more and more sub-human and (eventually) to become an ex-human.
As much as we think we want this, the truth is, it’s not such a great option. God knows this, and reaches out to man to try to get him to choose the other option - connection with Him and return to full humanity. I think this is why God does not simply leave us alone to do whatever we want, at least during this life. In the end, though, He does let us have our choice, even if He knows it’s not the best one.