The Great Divorce
Text: Luke 16:19-31 | Listen to Message
Is Hell Fair?
“How could a loving God send people to hell?” This is perhaps our culture’s greatest objection to Christianity: it’s impossible for many to fathom why anyone would choose to believe in a God who punishes sinners…forever.
Ironically, the hell most people don’t believe in bears little resemblance to the hell Jesus described in Luke 16 and elsewhere. The “traditional” hell is a pit of fire where God is hurling sinners as they beg for mercy. Everyone is scrambling to escape eternal damnation but God slams the door on them with a maniacal laugh.
But in Jesus’ portrayal of hell, no one is repentant, no one is trying to get out, and God’s not laughing. Maybe the biblical hell isn’t quite what people think it is. And maybe, in the end, it’s fairer than we realize.
First, understand that hell is always freely chosen.
In The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Abraham reminds the rich man, “Child, remember.” Remember you made your choice. You chose to worship the idols of wealth, power, status, and control. You chose to build your identity on them. You chose to reject the Law and the Prophets. You chose to harden your heart against the poor man who begged at your gate. No one forced you to reject God; you did that all on your own.
C.S. Lewis observes:
“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, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” (The Great Divorce)
This has been true from the beginning. In the opening chapters of the Bible, Adam and Eve demanded to have autonomy. They wanted what they wanted. And God gave it to them. He left them alone.
In Romans 1, the unrighteous demanded the same: the freedom to do what they wanted. And God gave it to them (in verses 24, 26, and 28). He left them alone.
This is why Lewis calls hell “the greatest monument to human freedom.” What could possibly be more fair than God giving people what they most want – including the freedom to get away from Him once and for all?
Second, hell is the trajectory of your freely chosen idols and identity going on and on forever.
The rich man chose to worship money. So for all eternity, he’s just “the rich man.” His idols and identity are disintegrating before his eyes – that’s what fire does, it disintegrates – but he refuses to change.
Go ahead, read the story! You’ll see that the rich man’s not repentant. He’s not humbled or broken. He’s still proud. Still defiant. Still bossing people around. Still blaming others in order to excuse and justify himself. Still claiming that God’s Word pointing to Jesus isn’t enough.
Lewis had a poignant observation at this point:
“It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud.” (God in the Dock)
The rich man fed idols of status and wealth. He built his identity upon prosperity, power, and pleasure. He was a slave to these things, but he couldn’t see it. He thought this was freedom. So he didn’t nip anything in the bud. He kept rejecting God’s Word. Kept trusting his idols. Kept ignoring the poor man at his gate. Then one day he died, and God’s wrath came upon his disobedience. And by “wrath,” we have to admit God simply gave the rich man the freedom he wanted. And it was hell. What could be more fair than that?