“How can a good God condemn people to Hell?” It’s one of the biggest questions people have about Christianity, and it’s a perfectly valid question to ask.
We all have an in-built sense of justice. From an early age we are aware of things being fair or unfair. That same sense of justice leads us to question God’s apparent choice to condemn to Hell those people who are not Christians. After all, is this not flagrant injustice?
Let me say at this point that I am by no means offering the last word on this subject. The perspective I’ll present in this post may seem too simplistic for some. It is intentionally so. I’m not trying to belittle in any way the valid concerns many people have with this issue. I hope that this one thought added into the mix of the discussion will be helpful to some people as they wrestle with this huge question.
I’m also not going to try and deal with all the Biblical references to Hell, or this would become a book and not a blog post. My focus for today is one parable told by Jesus, which is found in Luke chapter 14, verses 16-24.
“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
It is easy to assume that God arbitrarily condemns people to Hell, while choosing a select few to join him in Heaven. However, what this parable suggests is the opposite. The host of the banquet sends out invitations in advance, which are accepted by the guests, but when the time comes to join him at the feast, one by one they decline with various reasons. Not wanting the food to go to waste, the host invites everyone he can find, but shuts the door to those who refused his invitation.
The banquet in this parable represents Heaven. The invitation to Heaven is not a limited one, but goes out to everyone. God shows no favouritism, but indiscriminately beckons us all to take a seat at the banquet. The Bible tells us that God’s desire is that everyone should join him in Heaven (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4), but it laments that not everyone will take God up on the invitation (Matthew 7:13-14).
The invitation to Heaven is not a limited one, but goes out to everyone. God shows no favouritism, but indiscriminately beckons us all to take a seat at the banquet.
Since the invitation goes out to everyone, it’s not a question of whether or not someone is a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ person. The people who refused the invitation in the parable were not presented as morally evil people, they were just normal people. Equally, those who accepted the invitation weren’t portrayed as morally good or more virtuous than those who refused.
So the question really is not “How can a good God condemn people to Hell?” but “Will you accept the invitation to the banquet?”
As I said at the outset, some people may find this too simplistic a perspective. There are, of course, other questions to consider; questions like “What about people who don’t hear the invitation?” There isn’t space in this post to discuss that, so perhaps I’ll do a future post about it.
God’s invitation goes out to all people. The choice is yours: do you accept it or not?