There are some strange bedfellows in Christianity. These odds truths lie side by side, but leave us scratching our heads as we try to figure out how they belong together. For instance, how can Jesus be God and be man? Doesn’t He have to be either/or? No, for it is true that He is God and it’s equally true that He’s man. Along these same lines, how can the elements in the Lord’s Supper be bread and wine and be the body and blood of Jesus? Doesn’t it have to be one or the other? No, it is true that we eat bread and drink wine and equally true that we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. We try our best to understand and to explain these united truths, but in the end much remains mystery. And that’s fine by me because I know that my tiny mind cannot perfectly know everything that God knows fully.
The Greater Mystery of Heaven and Hell
But, for me anyway, there is an even more mind-blowing mystery. It is beautiful and terrible, comforting and shocking, all at the same time. This coupling of truths has to do with the two possible everlasting destinations of every human being. It is simply this: everyone who’s in heaven is there because God chose them to be, and everyone who’s in hell is there because they chose to be. Let’s take a look at these one by one.
Everyone who’s in heaven is there because God chose them to be there. We may choose the town in which we live, the resort where we vacation, the school our children attend. But heaven is very different. It is not a place we choose to be; it is a place God prepares for us, readies us for, chooses us for, and actively brings us to. Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” (John 15:16). Paul takes this divine choice as far back as possible when he says the Father “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world,” (Eph 1:4). Since we are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), “enemies of God” (Rom 5:10), and cannot by ourselves even say “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3), God does 100% of the work of making us children of grace, friends of Christ, and those who confess Jesus as their Lord. It doesn’t matter how wonderful heaven is, sinners don’t want to be there. The only way they’ll want to be with God is for God to make the unwilling willing, His foes into His friends, His enemies into His own dear children. And that’s what the Father does for us in Jesus Christ. He chooses us in Christ, transforms us in Christ, and brings us to Himself in Christ. Everyone who’s in heaven is there because God chose them to be there in Jesus Christ.
Hell is by Choice
But everyone who’s in hell is there because they chose to be there. This seems rather ludicrous at first, for why would anyone choose to be in such a horrid place? But think of it this way: way too often in our lives, do we not find ourselves in the midst of pain and regret and loneliness and heartache because of the choices we made? No one forced us to do it; we elected to do what brought us nothing but pain. Thus if even in this life, we actively choose those horrid, emotional hells that we end up in, why are we surprised when it’s that way even after this life? As the Eagles sang, “we are all just prisoners here, of our own device.” Or as C. S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce,
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.
Hell was not even in the original blueprints for creation; it was an add-on. It was built for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). It had, as it were, to be retrofitted for humanity because there were those who chose it over heaven. Though the Father did everything necessary to save them in Jesus Christ; though He sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but to redeem it; though He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth; indeed, even though God actively and willfully seeks out the lost, nevertheless there are some who steadfastly refuse to have anything to do with Him. And if they want nothing to do with God, then why should they want anything to do with God’s home? We do not even visit the homes of our enemies, much less pack up and move in with them. So it is with the enemies of God. They would rather “pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” (2 Thess 1:9). When God sends them to hell, it is indeed punishment, but He’s only giving them what they asked for. In the memorable words of C. S. Lewis, “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
A Beautiful and Comforting Truth
I said earlier that this coupling of truth is beautiful and terrible, comforting and shocking, all at the same time. But the beauty and comfort override the terror and shock, for if there is anything in all creation worthy of rejoicing over it is the fact that God the Father desires our presence in heaven with Him. And not only does He desire it, in Jesus He has prepared a place for us, done every single thing necessary to get us there. He loves us, He saves us, He calls us, He makes us His children. What more needs to be done? Nothing, nothing at all.
I don’t care who you are, or what you’ve done. God the Father, in Jesus Christ, wants you to be with Him, is calling you by name. Everything is ready. The celestial feast is prepared. Salvation is won. Christ stands there, smiling at you, loving you, forgiving you.
Hell is for the devil and his angels; heaven, in Jesus Christ, is for you.
If this reflection was a blessing to you, please take a moment to check out my book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon.
You may also be interested in my two other books. The Infant Priest is a collection of hymns and poems. These give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. It is available at this website or on Amazon.com. I also just published Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing. This booklet is a clear and concise explanation of the place of hymns in worship. To buy your print copy, click on the link here for CreateSpace or Amazon. It is also available as a Kindle edition here. If you wish to purchase bulk copies at a reduced rate for your congregation, Bible Class group, Board of Elders or Deacons, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Thank you very much for your interest!