So many of us have family and friends who are suffering in some way. Perhaps a chronic illness such as cancer, or some other ailment has taken over the lives of people who were once vibrant, happy and well. Some may very well be suffering when we don’t know about it–struggling with internal depression or substance abuse. Whatever be the case, whether we live to a ripe old age relatively healthy, or pass away young due to unexpected circumstances, there is generally some level of suffering before death. And we all want to believe that when our loved ones pass away, their suffering has ceased. We want to believe they are in a better place now. This desire to believe this, however, has unfortunately set the stage for many false beliefs to become mainstream in our lives and is rather poisonous to our souls.
One of the toughest pills to swallow for a “religious,” or “spiritual” person is the notion that a loved one may be in Hell. Even the strongest of believers have a hard time with this. It’s not always necessarily because one doesn’t believe the Scriptures, but as human beings, we all have moments of weakness. Even the great Apostle Peter had extreme moments of doubt and unbelief. During tough times, it’s natural for us to fall back on our own human reasoning and desires, rather than trust fully in God. We don’t want to believe that a loving God might send our son, or our brother, or our mother to Hell, because they were such a “good” person. I know people who have even taken to such extremes as contacting a psychic medium to try to confirm that their loved one is okay, and more often than not they are deceived into believing they have made contact, further validating their conclusions.
Much of what sets the foundations for this thinking is our own hearts. We choose to invalidate the Word of God by elevating our own worldly desires and our will above the authority of Scripture. Scripture, however, tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The word translated here as “wicked” primarily means “sick” and “incurable.” Our hearts, our desires have an incurably sick concept of what is right, good, and just. While the Scriptures teach us that God alone is good (Mark 10:18, Romans 3:10), natural man has no perception of his own wickedness and is unable to see himself as fallen. Our hearts are so sick we can’t even know it ourselves. While sin is any transgression against the law or nature of God, in our modern culture sin has been redefined as anything that causes perceived or unwanted pain in one’s life. In other words, if it’s not hurting anyone else, there’s nothing wrong with it.
If a loved one commits suicide we may question, “why would God punish him for one mistake? After all, he was such a good person.” But is this true? The Bible says that we are all sinful, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are lawbreakers–that is we break God’s laws, and just like everyone else, the suicide victim is unrighteous (Romans 3:10). Anything that he has done that may be perceived as being good is still tainted by our sinful nature, and unacceptable in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6).
Jesus says in John 8:34 that anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. A slave must be set free in order to have freedom, but without being set free from our sin, our wages are death (Romans 6:23). We are dead in our sins (Col 2:13, Eph 2:5). The Bible says we are all murderers, idolaters, immoral and faithless, and that our end is eternal fire (Revelations 21:8). Likewise, this is what our loved ones deserve as a transgressor of the law of our creator. They deserve to go to Hell, just like you and I deserve to go to Hell. We must understand that whatever standard of evaluation is used to determine the goodness of the passed loved one is infinitely short of our perfect, holy and righteous God’s standard. God’s standard is absolute perfection, and sadly, our loved ones, whether they are suicide victims, brothers, friends who were struggling with depression and substance abuse, do not meet that standard.
But all is not lost, there is good news. There was one who does meet that standard. There was one who walked the earth 2000 years ago, who committed no sin, yet took the punishment for our sin (2 Cor 5:21). He bore God’s wrath by fulfilling God’s infinite and perfect standard, yet still taking the punishment our transgressions. He has totally satisfied God. His name is Jesus. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We are able to partake in Jesus’ sacrifice through faith in him. But don’t breathe that sigh of relief just yet, because the Bible says that there are very few who enter into this life, and most reject this sacrifice while clinging to themselves (Matthew 7:13-14). Most people will choose the wide gate that leads to destruction. Jesus says unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5). You must die to yourself, and be reborn in Christ, you must be given a new spirit (Gal 2:20).
And this new spirit we receive through this new birth will show evidence of our changednature (James 2:14, Eph 2:10, etc). As a believer, who is born again, there are no exceptions that we will begin to show evidence of our salvation through obedience to God, and to his Scriptures. Our desires change, we no longer have human worldly desires, but we begin to desire the things of God. This isn’t to say that it’s these good things we do that save us, it’s not. We are saved by grace, through faith (Eph 2:8-9). It’s a free gift. But, this free gift produces, with no exceptions, a change of heart, a repentance of sin toward God. And the fact is, if you don’t desire the things of God, you are not a Christian, you are not born again, and you will not see the Kingdom of God.
So, while it’s possible that our loved ones, who rebel against God, could have come to a saving faith shortly before passing away, it’s unlikely. So before we assume that our beloved grandmother, who was always there for us, or that loving dad who would do anything for his family, is now at peace in the glory of God, we must understand that as hard as it is to accept in God’s glory, and righteousness, eternity in Hell is the only option for those who reject Him. God is love, but God is also just.
Hell is an expression of God’s love and mercy. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. We must understand that Hell is glorifying to God, because of God’s mercy to those who hate him. God gives us a free will, and we can choose to freely love him, and fellowship with him through his Son Jesus Christ or we can freely choose to reject him. God is not going to force you to love him, or fellowship with him for eternity if you have chosen to reject him. This is why Hell is merciful. While Hell is a place of eternal torment, totally cut off from all of God’s love, fellowship and blessing, it would be even worse on someone who hated God to be forced to partake in his Kingdom for eternity against his will. God will turn you over to your sin if you so desire. Hell also gives the believer a glimpse of the darkness and despair that he deserves, providing a contrast to the glory of God. Jonathan Edwards made this case, saying,
When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it…They shall see the dreadful miseries of the damned, and consider that they deserved the same misery, and that it was sovereign grace, and nothing else, which made them so much to differ from the damned.
If you’ve softened your view on Hell simply because you can’t stand to bear the notion that your loved one may be there, please, let go of that belief. Understand that God is right, and just, and that they got not only what they deserved, but what they wanted. It would be unjust, and against his nature, for God to make exceptions. If your loved one was not born again, reconciled to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, then your loved one is spending eternity in Hell.
For a presentation of the Gospel, and how to be saved, please see this article.